Who gets to be a Mormon?

I have a few questions about boundaries and numbers that I would like to put before the group for your collective insight. While the questions are related, they are not building any particular argument.

1. If the Church excommunicated everyone who quietly disbelieves any or all of the core doctrines that John Dehlin has rejected, how many people would we lose?

2. If the Church dropped from its rolls all those people who have slipped or stomped out of activity, those who opt out of meetings and callings and the home and visiting teaching programs, how big would be the fold of the Lamb of God?

3. Can people remain “Mormon” without belief and/or activity? Has our church been around long enough to have secular Mormons? What does it mean to be a Mormon?

4. John Dehlin has said that he will continue to call himself a Mormon, but “Mormon” is trademarked. Is the Mormon Stories Podcast vulnerable to legal action?

5. I can understand the rationale for excommunicating Dehlin. Moves to make the tent bigger could also been seen as undermining and destabilizing the existing tent. And this excommunication vindicates the position of both those in Dehlin’s camp and those who are very concerned about boundary maintenance in the Church.

But there are people in the middle, how many, it’s hard to say, who are troubled, people who want to remain in the community but are still struggling through doubts and questions. If matters of faith and membership are conflated and polarized, we deny people the time and space to work out their salvation before God (an individual struggle) within the support of our community. Group statements of certainty (we all know…) alienate those who are trying to build up the faith to overcome reasonable doubt. While Mormon Stories may have sought to create that space in the past, I’m not sure that it could do that anymore.

So what will all of this look like in one year, in five years, in ten? Is this a tempest in the bloggernacle teapot, or do you think we will see significant and lasting change? (I tend to think that the loss of Jon Stewart from The Daily Show will have more of an effect on my life than the excommunication of John Dehlin, but I’ll survive even that.)

105 comments for “Who gets to be a Mormon?

  1. Re. 4 trademark. The term is a registered trademark in the US for a narrow use. Teaching religion, I believe. Attempts to register it for all purposes were rejected by the PTO as generic. If JD were trespassing on a legitimate trademark, I’m sure Kirton McConkie would be on him like white on rice.

  2. I think boundary maintenance, per se, will have little long term impact.

    However, what may affect members is the newsroom confusing where the boundaries are. In other words, if you want a smaller, more dedicated church at least own it. It is dishonest for the media relations arm to be constantly out spreading the tolerant “I’m a Mormon” campaign and for the newsroom to argue for a great diversity of opinions even as those in actual power privately make it clear that certain positions will not be tolerated.

  3. I think the recent LDS response to Dehlin’s excommunication explains very well that a particular opinion is not a problem if the context is not a clear criticism of the Church or its core Doctrines where the intent or effect is to influence other people to distance themselves away from fellowhip. Accepting Revelation through the First Presidency is central to the LDS faith. Trying to resolve one’s questions within that basic framework is fine—telling the public or a large LDS audience you think the First Presidency is wrong on something is not OK. I grew up in the 60’s in the Bay Area. Protesting a public institution is different. It’s a hard distinction for newbies to understand–as and LDS Faithful I can picket the napalm factory but I can’t really picket the First Presidency and suggest on my picket that they’re off base.
    Cooperation with local LDS leaders is vital–accepting their limits on what you do to avoid apostasy is key to membership, just as cooperating with them is key to obtaining a temple recommend.

  4. For John Dehlin and his family a great loss. For the rest of the church it’ll be forgotten tomorrow.

  5. I know this will probably be an unpopular opinion, but here goes.

    Dehlin is nothing new. In a broader sense, the whole thing is barely a ripple, however tempestuous for individuals.

    The “middle ground” that he created was an illusion. That “middle ground” nurtured and cultivated doubt. I know there will surely be some people who say it kept them in the church, but I see far more people who subscribe to his perspective growing in doubt and dissatisfaction than in faith and satisfaction with the Church, whatever their church status.

    The only reason he can get away with selling his pitch is because of a certain belief in the “TBM.” That was always largely a myth, and it’s becoming moreso as people become more educated and the Church does a better job of teaching principles. He tells people what they want to hear, and makes money from it. I think that niche of appealing to people who believe everyone around them is too blind or scared to discuss real things is shrinking.

    From my perspective, most of what he has publicly done in the last ten years has been a fairly savvy business decision. This included.

  6. Is there anyone on any internet forum, chapel pew, or in the plush offices on 47 East South Temple that stops to consider or even remember:

    Pray for them which despitefully use you…

    Whosoever will smite thee on the right cheek, turn to him the other also…

    Blessed are ye, when men shall hate you, and when they shall separate you from their company, and shall reproach you, and cast out your name as evil, for the Son of man’s sake.

    And behold, ye shall meet together oft; and ye shall not forbid any man from coming unto you when ye shall meet together, but suffer them that they may come unto you and forbid them not;

    32 Nevertheless, ye shall not cast him out of your synagogues, or your places of worship, for unto such shall ye continue to minister; for ye know not but what they will return and repent, and come unto me with full purpose of heart, and I shall heal them; and ye shall be the means of bringing salvation unto them.

    38 ¶And John answered him, saying, Master, we saw one casting out devils in thy name, and he followeth not us: and we forbad him, because he followeth not us.
    39 But Jesus said, Forbid him not: for there is no man which shall do a miracle in my name, that can lightly speak evil of me.
    40 For he that is not against us is on our part.
    41 For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.

    52 Then said Jesus unto him, Put up again thy sword into his place: for all they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.

    49 And when Enoch heard the earth mourn, he wept, and cried unto the Lord, saying: O Lord, wilt thou not have compassion upon the earth? Wilt thou not bless the children of Noah?

    32 And he said, Oh let not the Lord be angry, and I will speak yet but this once: Peradventure ten shall be found there. And he said, I will not destroy it for ten’s sake.
    33 And the Lord went his way, as soon as he had left communing with Abraham: and Abraham returned unto his place.

    God in Heaven help us

  7. One-time Utahn, I’m surprised by comments like yours which can so definitely claim to know what will be remembered in the future. Why, exactly? Because we don’t remember past high-profile excommunications? Also, if I read you correctly, you don’t feel that other people are feeling a sense of loss? Just Dehlin and his family? God weeps, I’m sure. And so should we anytime a sheep is lost. Confused.

    SilverRain, I can’t understand some of you comment. You claim he’s barely a ripple and then argue that you “see far more people who subscribe to his perspective,” suggesting that it “cultivated doubt,” implying that he was indeed dangerous. Then you claim that the idea of a true-believing Mormon is a myth anyway. So apparently, there really is a “middle ground” and he didn’t just crate it? Also, it seems like you are claiming that you can read the thoughts and intents of Dehlin’s heart and actions. Is that correct? Again, confused.

    Stallioncornell, From what I understand, Dehlin clearly fit into both categories 2 and 3. As far as number 1, I agree, he was not “quiet.” Though even from what leaders have said, it’s not clear that being “unquiet” is a problem as looking as one is not advocating. I’m not sure that your easy dismissal of the OP and Dehlin really helps people who with sincere questions or doubts. A third time, confused.

  8. SilverRain – I pretty much always agree with your comments, including this one. Though I will disagree and say that this opinion is probably more popular than you realize.

  9. sean, you quote 3 Ne 18:32, but you may want to also add 18:31:

    “But if he repent not he shall not be numbered among my people, that he may not destroy my people, for behold I know my sheep, and they are numbered.”

  10. Brian—no contradiction is present. I said he was barely a ripple in the broader sense, however tempestuous it might be for individuals. For those individuals, his approach cultivates doubt and makes them less satisfied rather than more. Those few who are staying (so far) stay to change the church, not themselves. I have found that staying in any relationship in order to change the other is far more dangerous for the one staying than for the one they hope to change.

    But please don’t pretend you are “confused.” If you disagree, step up to the plate and disagree. From this end, it certainly seems that you aren’t truly asking for clarification, you are trying to trap me by deliberately “misunderstanding.” I don’t waste much time on those sorts of tactics.

    Dehlin is the one who made himself a public figure. I don’t have to “claim” to “read the thoughts and intents of [his] heart” in order to judge his actions. If I am wrong, I’m certainly open to accepting any demonstration of sincerity he wishes to make. But I’ve withheld judgment on Dehlin’s actions (note: not his heart) for nearly a decade. I think that, after gathering data for that long, I’m at least as qualified as anyone to make opinions about them.

    People have every right to judge someone’s actions, so long as they leave final judgment of heart up to the Savior. If I’m ultimately wrong and Dehlin has been sincerely trying to help develop people’s faith in Christ and in the Church this whole time, if he hasn’t once thought about the money he can make out of selling people’s stories and promoting his interpretation of truth, if he in no way considers himself more enlightened and in tune with God’s will than those God has called to be prophets, seers, and revelators, I’ll be the first to tell him how glad I am that I was wrong. But so far, every action he has done has supported my current opinion.

  11. 1. If the Church excommunicated everyone who quietly disbelieves any or all of the core doctrines that John Dehlin has rejected, how many people would we lose?
    There is no way to know the answer to that question because a.) everyone is different b.) God will judge and c.) people change. Which is why the church does not excommunicate those people. But I believe those who actively disbelieve core doctrines of the church should be exceedingly wary, lest they fall. Excommunication is, to my mind, the formal recognition of something that has truthfully already happened – someone has withdrawn himself/herself from the church of God.

    2. If the Church dropped from its rolls all those people who have slipped or stomped out of activity, those who opt out of meetings and callings and the home and visiting teaching programs, how big would be the fold of the Lamb of God?
    Again, people can and do change. And excommunication isn’t death. I’ve known those who were excommunicated, repented, and returned to full fellowship. Repentance is real.

    3. Can people remain “Mormon” without belief and/or activity? Has our church been around long enough to have secular Mormons? What does it mean to be a Mormon?
    The term has no meaning without belief (faith). Any attempt to define a disciple of Christ (which is what the term Mormon should really mean) without faith renders the term functionally useless. It’s just semantics after that.

    4. John Dehlin has said that he will continue to call himself a Mormon, but “Mormon” is trademarked. Is the Mormon Stories Podcast vulnerable to legal action?
    Mr. Dehlin may call himself whatever he likes, but it would be only an empty gesture at best and an outright lie at worse. It will not hlep him. Legal action should be the least of his concerns at that stage, but I’ll defer to legal experts on that interpretation.

    5. I can understand the rationale for excommunicating Dehlin. Moves to make the tent bigger could also been seen as undermining and destabilizing the existing tent. And this excommunication vindicates the position of both those in Dehlin’s camp and those who are very concerned about boundary maintenance in the Church…
    I don’t view this as a particularly unique occurrence. It has happened before and will likely happen again. Only the details differ and those not significantly. I don’t think any lasting change will come of it, at a macro level, so I suppose I subscribe to the tempest in a teapot scenario.

  12. Frank

    I omit that consciously, I have faith that if we err on the side of mercy and compassion God will be true to his word to judge us according to our judgement and measure to us according as we have meted.

  13. I’m not sure that the distinctions that folks are drawing here between acceptable and non-acceptable dissent are as useful as they appear to think they are (by “useful,” I mean either at describing what happened in Dehlin’s case or for purposes of application to new cases going forward). The distinction proposed by effervescentfrancois, for example, appears straightforward enough: “you can’t say publicly that the brethren are wrong” (I’m paraphrasing). I suspect that relatively few dissenters will literally say that the brethren are wrong. For example, I’m not sure that Dehlin ever actually used those words, although I don’t know for sure. But no matter, because other dissenters may not use those exact words. So, what is the equivalent of saying the brethren are wrong? What if someone says: I don’t believe in Book of Mormon historicity (or Jesus’s divinity or Joseph Smith’s virtue or something like that)? Is that enough? What if that person then says that nevertheless, the church is valuable to him or her (perhaps because of its emphasis on helping others and the essential goodness of the members)? Should that make a difference?

    And what about silverrain’s test? It seems to be based solely on the negative effects of the person’s statement on other people’s testimony. So, let’s say that we determine that 1,000 people left the church over Rough Stone Rolling (I personally know of a few people who did), do we excommunicate Richard Bushman? I wouldn’t be in favor of that.

    I think one reason why these tests are problematic is that we don’t have a good theory (at least to my knowledge) about what excommunication for heresy is trying to do as a normative matter. It’s difficult to come up with a test without a good theory. Silverrain’s test seems to be aimed at simply minimizing the sowing of doubt. Is that right? Personally, it seems very normatively problematic for me, given the role of doubt in religion. Effervescentfrancois’s test by contrast seems to be aimed at maximizing authoritative control in the church, which again seems (to me at least) to have its normative problems. So, what is our goal here anyway? Are we only focused on the costs of dissent? What about the benefits? Are there benefits? And are these normative goals different at different times in church history, meaning that examples of excommunication from the past are less useful for the modern day? I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I think they’re probably important.

  14. SilverRain, I’m not trying to ‘trap’ you; I’m not “pretending to be confused.” Yikes! Again, you seem very anxious to read things into other people’s intents; you can’t seem to take them at face value. You present your interpretation of the events, that’s fine. You read him as making decisions based on a “fairly savvy businesses model?” But don’t think that’s reading into his actions? Because working for Microsoft was bad for business? I see contradictions your comments. That you don’t, or don’t care to address them is part of the problem. I could argue the same thing you are to me: that you are deliberately ‘misunderstanding.’ I don’t like to felt like you are wasting my time any more than you think I am wasting yours. Being told to ‘step up to the plate’ doesn’t feel very kind or trusting. Please. Clearly, you set yourself up to be defensive. That’s doesn’t mean a questions is an attack. Or is it? Is this your problem with the OP? Also, your statements about Dehlin creating a false middle ground and the “myth” of the true-believing Mormon seem contradictory. Perhaps you didn’t grow in a culture or house where that myth was present? Also, if, as you say “that niche of appealing to people who believe everyone around them is too blind or scared to discuss real things is shrinking,” are you saying you don’t think people and forums like Dehlin had anything to do with that? Is that right?

  15. You give me a great deal of unwarranted credit by calling it MY test. 3 Nephi 14/Luke 6/Matthew 7 sets it out pretty clearly.

    But determining whether to actually excommunicate is thankfully in the hands of direct leadership. There are far more concerns than simply that which weigh in the balance. The mere idea of setting up tests to determine whether or not someone has sufficiently diverged to warrant excommunication demonstrates a distinct lack of understanding of Priesthood power, church membership, and the role of God in the management of this Church.

    There is only one real “test,” and that is by the Spirit after we do all we can to humbly understand the situation. You are approaching something scientifically which is plainly not scientific in any sense. Our only goal is to do our best to follow God’s will. Full stop.

  16. zjg,

    Remember the purpose of excommunication is ultimately repentance. While I am sure Richard Bushman has need to repent like the rest of us, he has never stood in open defiance and opposition to the church, its leaders or its doctrine in the way that John Dehlin has. It is not just what JD said or that he discussed “difficult” historical or doctrinal issues… it was that he was plainly, at least in the eyes of his priesthood leaders, teaching that that the church was wrong and leading people out of the church through his influence. We should also remember that Dehlin is setting up a “support structure” and local groups for those who support him and want to leave.

    Clearly there is a difference between what Dehlin has done and what authors like Bushman have done. and clearly there is a difference between a member who isn’t sure about the BoM historicity or JS’s polygamy and what John Dehlin has done.

  17. Brian, I’m not anxious at all, nor any of the other things that I gathered you were saying when I skimmed your comment. I think you are projecting. I don’t take people at face value. I used to, 100%. But then I married a narcissist and learned better by miserable experience. Few people in this world are completely open and frank. I make no pretense to the sort of “kindness” you mean: by which you seem to intend gullibility.

    But no, I don’t think it’s reading into his actions. I think it’s a pretty fair judgment, which is why I made it.

    At any rate, you are becoming fairly agitated. I think I’ll leave you to it at this point.

  18. SilverRain, after admitting you have no ‘kindness’ for a sincere question, I now understand your positions on Dehlin and me well enough to now thank you for leaving us (well, at least me) alone. Thank you.

  19. Silverrain, Yikes! My comment seems to have offended you in some way. That certainly wasn’t my intention, and I apologize if that is the case. I wasn’t suggesting that you are somehow going to be held accountable in any way whatsoever for what I’m calling (perhaps inartfully) a test for excommunicable dissent. I attached your name to it simply because you mentioned it in your post and that seemed an obvious and I thought unobjectionable way of referring to it. And no, I’m not suggesting that we create some technocratic bureaucracy full of tests for determining excommunication without regard to the Spirit. I understood what was going on here in these comments as a collective attempt to explain what had happened in the Dehlin case and what should happen going forward (which I think is a totally reasonable and healthy exercise). And to that end, people are coming up with what I’m calling “tests” (other terms might be standards. guidelines, frameworks, whatever) to make sense of it all. What I thought I was doing was making some suggestions about what we might want to think about in undertaking this exercise. I guess I’m sort of at a loss for why, after you yourself suggested one of these frameworks or tests, you would respond to me by suggesting that the fact that I’m discussing such frameworks or tests reflects a failure to understand the Priesthood and God and that all that should really matter is the Spirit. (To be clear, I don’t take offense at your allegation. It doesn’t bother me in the least.) This and the last post about the Dehlin case represent the first times I’ve ever commented on a blog. My background is academia. Obviously, the standards of inquiry on blogs are, well, different, let’s say.

  20. Thanks, ABM. I agree there is a difference separating Bushman and Dehlin (in fact, a yawning chasm you might say). I didn’t mean to suggest otherwise. My question has to do with the underlying normative principles that are driving your (really all of our) judgments about that distinction. You say it’s repentance. But that just raises the question how we decide when someone’s dissent is sufficient to require excommunication for repentance.

  21. Silverrain, the original post, and many of your comments, proceed from a false premise. The Church does not excommunicate passive disbelievers; it does not excommunicate those who refuse to accept callings and/or home teachers, and it does not excommunicate so-called “secular” Mormons culturally identify with the church and nothing else. Certainly John Dehlin was not excommunicated for any of the above, nor does his excommunication serve as a warning to the person who tells the bishop that he won’t be the Webelos leader that he’s next on the chopping block.

    I don’t think this episode signifies any change in church principles or practices at all, but if it does, I think it makes those in the first three categories less likely to be excommunicated, not more likely. The brouhaha over excommunicating a prominent detractor of the church could make leaders more wary of disciplining members who don’t have the kind of notoriety Dehlin has worked for years to achieve.

  22. Well, I think that is where disciplinary councils differ from other kinds of courts. I don’t think we need to necessarily establish precedent or normative principles. JD’s ordeal was only public because he made it so. If he didn’t say anything, we wouldn’t even know about it. That tells me that “the church” is not trying to establish precedent or send a message that we need to try to decipher.

    So, in my mind at least, the only principle at work here, or at least the most important one, is the Holy Ghost and the interaction between leaders and members on a case by case basis.

  23. stallioncornell, I never claimed those (refusing to accept callings, being a secular Mormon) were reasons for excommunication; I was simply correcting the categories where you had placed Dehlin; he does/did fit into both 2 and 3. Also, I’m not arguing that he should not have been excommunicated; neither is the OP. Sorry for any confusion I may caused. I think we’re probably on the same page for most of this.

  24. Fair point, ABM. And yet, as is evidenced by this blog post and pretty much every other one I’ve seen on Dehlin in the wake of the excommunication news, we as members are apparently not so satisfied with saying “We’ll just leave it up to the Spirit” to guide. We want to come up with principles or frameworks or theories or models or whatever you want to call them to explain when dissent is an excommunicable offense. And in my mind, that’s entirely reasonable and even welcomed. After all, we want to try to understand what is going on as a matter of intellectual curiosity. And, perhaps more importantly, we want to know what is expected of us as members (with respect to dissent) going forward. Additionally, I think you and I might differ on the point that there is a conflict between “letting the Spirit guide” and trying to come up with normative principles or guidelines. Not sure why there has to be a contradiction there.

  25. zjg, Good points. I will agree that there does not have to be a contradiction between the spirit and normative guidelines. I should clarify that I see the former ultimately being the standard while the later is helpful but not necessary.

    For my part, I participate in this bloggernacle-wide discussion because I believe that a lot of people, who have doubts, questions or concerns, are somewhat foolishly applying JD’s case to their own situation and causing unnecessary stress for themselves and their relationship to the church.

  26. Who gets to be Mormon? I think anyone who wants to except for those who confess behaviors that warrant excommunication according to LDS church code and those who attempt to bring it down from within. Dehlin certainly promoted himself as trying to keep people active. Perhaps he did in many cases. But church leaders undoubtedly saw his website, and the frequent promotion of doubts and advocacy of change, as having the effect of emboldening, or at least planting the seeds of, disaffection among many members. I have no doubt that Mormon Stories had that effect. Dehlin was effective at gaining a following because he was, according to his view as well as the status on his church records, an active Mormon. Were he vocally inactive or excommunicated or disfellowshipped, many would-be active Mormon listeners would probably have dismissed him as illegitimate. He may not have been able to interview the people he did were he not promoting himself to be an active Mormon. I think that any regular person who hadn’t gained the attention that Dehlin did, would have had really no interest in remaining in the LDS church having all of the doubts and criticisms that Dehlin had.

    I admire Dehlin for what he did. No one else showcased the diversity of Mormonism like him. However, the reasons behind his excommunication are not just because he expressed doubts or support for gay marriage (although those were factored in by church leaders pushing for his excommunication), but because he garnered so much publicity and because he virtually helped members be more open about doubt and criticism and find the courage to say something or leave. Ordain Women seems to have foundered with the exing of Kate Kelly, I wonder if the same will happen with Mormon Stories.

    Of course, Mormons can still openly express doubt and support for gay marriage and not fear excommunication. But sometimes I wonder if the culture is experiencing a retrenchment. The increasing publicity of actively Mormon figures such as figures Dehlin, Kelly, and Joanna Brooks seems to have made the US Mormon rank-and-file increasingly sensitive to people whom they perceive as interlopers among them and seek to out them and push them out. I see evidence of this all over the blogosphere. Commenters who subject other commenters to litmus tests of their Mormonness for asking simple questions. Bloggers going on tirades about doubters and questioners. I sense a polarization in the Mormon belt coming on. The hardline Millennial Star types will be the new guardians of LDS church culture within the Mormon belt. The middle pathers will feel increasingly less welcome and fall out. The leaders won’t be pushing out the middle pathers, the culture will. The recent excommunications will provide a strong precedent for Mormon hawks to undertake an inquisition-like purge.

  27. zjg—I’m long past being offended by all but the worst comments on the internet. You misunderstand me. The first paragraph was to you, and was meant with a dash of humor. It’s flattering that you think I’m intelligent enough to come up with that sort of test, but I’m really just following good advice.

    The rest of my comment wasn’t directed AT YOU so much as at the general prevailing attempt to corral/define excommunication (the same thing you note in #29.) I could have made that clearer, sorry that I didn’t. I have no problem with you or anyone discussing what sorts of things might be considered when determining whether or not excommunication is just. I just think we need to be careful to realize that they are all considerations, and not a series of pass/fail tests. You can’t diagram excommunication into a flowchart. I think that’s a feature, not a bug, though I know a great many people are stressed about it.

    Ultimately, if you’re (general “you,” not specific) trying to legally define the rules of membership to see how far exactly you can depart from Church teachings without being excommunicated, you’re kind of missing the point. From the sounds of your #29 comment, you agree with me.

  28. This is the death of Big Tent Mormonism and a victory for the new retrenchment. This is not a good development for the Church. When, ten years ago, the attempt to excommunicate Thomas Murphy fizzled, I thought that was evidence that LDS leaders had learned something from the September 6 fiasco. I was wrong. They apparently learned nothing.

  29. Part of the difficulty is there has to be a number of judgment calls in each situation. I doubt a bishop would go through formal disciplinary proceedings with a teenager who espouses fringe theories, but there comes a point, whether after mission, temple ordinances, service in different callings in the church, that advocating fringe theories becomes more inappropriate. Playing into this is the perception of how authoritative the offending individual is. A recent convert is going to be viewed with relatively little authority, but a former bishop, stake president, or general authority will sway many people if they decide to disagree with the heirarchy. JD, in my view, developed his own high level of authority in reaching out to as many members as he did through his interviews. His unorthodox views became a target for discipline precisely because he was so influential.

    As for #3, I’m not sure that our culture has developed to the point that you can have a truly secular Mormon. With Judaism, you can claim being an ethnic Jew without being religious because the Jewish people have a habit of keeping themselves separate from surrounding communities for centuries. Within the Jewish community you are not just an ethnic Jew, you are Ashkenazi or Sepphardic or Ethiopian. With being a secular Catholic, you aren’t usually just identifying yourself as Catholic, but also tying to a specific community (Irish Catholic, German Catholic, etc.). With Mormons, the purpose of the church is to streamline all Mormons (BIC or convert) into a single organism, defined primarily by standards of religious practice (meeting requirements for baptism, attendance at meetings, participation in callings). Mormons worldwide do not typically consider themselves part of the church because of ethnic heritage, but by participation.

  30. Steve, (31) “The recent excommunications will provide a strong precedent for Mormon hawks to undertake an inquisition-like purge.”

    I’m skeptical of that. Similar claims were made back in the 90’s with the so-called “September Six” (two of whom were rebaptized as I understand). Yet while certainly tensions persisted there was no continuing purge so far as I was aware. (Correct me if I’m wrong) It’s just unusual to be excommunicated for these sorts of things. But it happens. I note that no one seems equally upset and Denver Snuffer’s excommunication last year, for instance. Is this part of a trend from that? Probably not. I think the evidence is that they only notice when people get a big following. Other than that they rarely care.

    Again, I may well be wrong. We’ll see over the following years I guess.

  31. While this particular issue and the questions surrounding it are certainly important, a more significant issue is the fact that of the 15 million members the Church claims, only maybe 4 million are relatively active. A missionary I know just sent a letter recently claiming that in his mission boundaries there are about 70,000 members. But on any given Sunday, only about 5,000 attend. That’s an activity rate of about 7 percent. Yikes. He may have his numbers wrong (missionaries are wrong about a lot of things), but we know that retention across the world is pretty dismal. The BIG question we need to be asking is why. What is it about Mormonism that turns most people off to begin with and then can’t keep them happy if they happen to embrace it? All the upbeat PR, all the “Meet the Mormons” type of hype, and all the efforts to portray the Church in a radiant light don’t seem to be working very well. Obviously, if the Church were meeting people’s needs, they would be flocking to it and sticking with it. Any thoughts on this, other than the tired old explanation that if it were easy being a Mormon it wouldn’t be worth it?

  32. Retrenchment? You mean we can’t follow Dehlin’s lead and get away with claiming the Book of Mormon is absolute fiction, that church leaders are in error and that Jesus is not the Christ repeatedly on an internet forum? They have raised that membership bar to such astonishing heights. The world as we knew it has changed drastically overnight.

  33. He called the Church a cult (audio) and made comparisons to Nazi complicity.

    “To remain an active member and be silent is like being in Nazi Germany and watching them throw bodies on the pile and just staying quiet. And so most people find the StayLDS position over time just isn’t tenable on the grounds of integrity alone.” — John Dehlin, Mormon Stories ep 178–181, 9/21/2010

    That goes far beyond “having doubts or questions” and I suspect few LDS who actually have doubts or questions would find themselves making such public declarations.

  34. “Obviously, if the Church were meeting people’s needs, they would be flocking to it and sticking with it.”

    Lew, I’m not sure what you would define as “needs.” Physical? Emotional? Spiritual?

  35. Clark, I don’t mean a top-down purge from the leadership, but more of a bottom-up purge from the rank and file who will create a space that is much more restrictive for middle pathers to be half-hearted participants at church.

  36. Steve (41) if the church ‘purges’ someone now, as they have reiterated, it is to hopefully catalyze the repentance process. Better now than at the judgement bar when the lukewarm are spit out.

  37. No, I understand Steve. My point is that didn’t appear to really happen back in the 90’s so I’m skeptical it’d happen now.

  38. Cameron, what you say makes perfect sense to a true believer, but little sense to someone who is like John Dehlin and just wants to be a cultural Mormon. My point is that the space for cultural Mormons is being diminished.

    Clark, times have changed since the 90s. Now, we have the internet and social media.

  39. Given that the Church worked with John Dehlin over a period of years, before finally coming to this ultimate conclusion of excommunication, suggests the Church is not out to round everyone up. We see the same thing with Kate Kelly, where Ordain Women is still around, and most of its members are still Mormon.
    I do not think it will have any long term effect, except to show members that there are boundaries. Most of those who struggle with doubts do not even know who John Dehlin is, so I do not think it will affect more than just a small group of Internet-goers.
    That the Church does not go after the less active or doubters, unless they are very vocal in the media on their doubts, we will see that most members will not be impacted one way or the other.

  40. Lew, there’s no doubt that members of record and self-identified members don’t match with the latter being much smaller. This is also much more of a problem in some areas – especially Latin America. In the US though the numbers are surprisingly closer. (Surprising to me anyway) In 2008 the Church claimed 5,974,041 members of record in the US whereas according to the ARIS survey 3,158,000 self-identified as Mormon or 1.4% of the US population. That means fully 52.9% of members of record are still active. (Note that the ARIS numbers exclude children so those under 18 aren’t counted although members of record include anyone baptized – so the actual percentage is somewhat higher)

  41. Steve, it’s possible the internet would change things although I’m a bit skeptical of that. That said it’s true that the typical Bishop wouldn’t know who was attacking the Church at Sunstone whereas someone posting on Facebook probably gets noticed more. That said though I’d be shocked if we see a whole lot more of this unless there start to be more movements agitating for various kinds of change. That seems to always draw more reaction, which is why I suspect Dehlin thought it was his actions there that were behind the excommunication rather than the stated reasons.

  42. SilverRain,

    “In a broader sense, the whole thing is barely a ripple, however tempestuous for individuals.”

    Barely a ripple? You have got to be kidding me. Mormon Stories is probably a huge factor in the ongoing REFORM the Church is going through. You think recent essays to explain Joseph Smith’s polygamy, the different versions of the first vision, the priesthood ban, etc was the result of pure “leadership inspiration.? Sorry but you seem naive, and that’s something I wouldn’t have used to describe you.

    The Church is clearly moving from being blatantly dishonest with the way they represent themselves, to being deafeningly silent and pretending to ignore the causes or roots of many awkward things, to finally being minimally open to honest discussion about its difficult past. If you think the work of people such as John Dehlin is barely a ripple, then I feel for you if you think this reform has been solely an internal event in the Church.

  43. Clark, my dad identifies as mormon, but hasn’t been to church in 40 years. Your analysis of who is “active” might need some work.

  44. FGH, any criteria one gives will have problems. I find self-identification far more meaningful than how many meetings one has attended. However if you prefer a better one of people who self-identify as Mormon 79% claim to pay full tithing and 67% claim to be “very active.”

  45. Oh, I don’t mind in the least and I didn’t take you as being snarky. It’s a good point and I should have explained why I used that criteria. I should also note that I’m a bit skeptical of those Pew numbers as I’ve discussed in various places. It seems a bit staggering that of self-identified Mormons nearly 80% would claim to be full tithe payers. I do think though that even even close to accurate that it suggests most inactive people by the typical criteria of not attending church simply don’t self-identify as Mormon.

  46. sean, I think it’s dangerous business to decide that we can ignore certain scriptures as less enlightened and the commandments that they issue safely ignore-able. I don’t see how the church (those gluttonous fat cats in their office building! with cushiony chairs! bah!) has violated any of the scriptures you quote.

    Dehlin is perfectly free to attend church services; he hasn’t been cast out of our places of worship. His leaders have clearly been praying for him for a long time. Whether you see the church’s action as “living by the sword” or failing to turn the other cheek depends, I suppose, on whether you believe that excommunication is a way to let a person repent and start over, or whether you see it as mean-spirited revenge.

  47. I agree—losing Jon Stewart from The Daily Show is so sad. I’ll probably watch every episode now until he leaves.

    As for John Dehlin, I don’t think this is going to stop him from doing what he’s doing. Kate has lessened her activism about The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because she moved to Africa; when she gets back she’ll probably take it up more strongly again. John, though, is still in Utah, and doesn’t have any plans to stop his podcast. I don’t think his change in organizational membership will change that at all. Also, since he formats his podcast in a way that puts a much greater emphasis on his guests than himself, I don’t think it will really affect who watches/listens to it, either. When I visit Mormon Stories, it’s always for the guest, not John—that’s one of the things I like about him.

    The one thing I see happening is it becoming less balanced than it is now (and no, it already wasn’t super-balanced)—Latter-day Saint paid scholars will probably be reluctant to come on, since they’ll worry being seen around him will threaten their livelihood.

    So, I’ll just throw this out: I will gain MASSIVE respect for the first active, professional Latter-day Saint scholar who comes on Mormon Stories after this. To me, that’ll signify that she or he is the real deal. And no one care what I think, but I think a lot of doubting members or non-Latter-day Saints will feel the same way. I feel this will be seen as the new bar for being taken seriously as an apologetic.

    It will show a person actually wants to convince people, and doesn’t just make his or her living on making already-active mainstream believers feel more smug about their worldviews.

  48. To the contrary: the “real deal” Mormons are out ministering. Teaching the children, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, easing the sick, binding up the brokenhearted, and testifying of the Savior by their actions, not just their words. They are far too busy with the real work of the kingdom to bother with Dehlin, which is why so many members barely even know who he is.

    Apologetics is one of the smallest, most insignificant ways to witness.

  49. Manuel, you can call me naive all you like. But it hasn’t been until the last several years that I’ve truly come to understand. There have been many like Dehlin, with different tools but the same story, and there will be others. Mormon Stories plays its part, but is not the least bit important when it comes to the whole of the work of God. It appeals to a particular segment which, even on just the global scale in the current slice of time, is relatively tiny. It will ripple for awhile, then fade away.

    Time will prove which of us is truly naive.

  50. Back to the questions in this post, I would like to add my very limited perspective.

    There are many who quietly are unorthodox and have a different perspective on the truth claims of the church, but how remain active, serving and loving those around them.

    How many?

    I don’t know.

    But I am currently a stake leader in my stake and provide service to the tune of 5 to 10 hours each week in my area. I pay a full tithe. And I actively attend all of my meetings. However, I am highly unorthodox, to the point, I would clearly be one of the people excommunicated from the church according to the questions raised in the post.

    How many more are there like me?

    I don’t know.

    But I do personally know no less than 15 current and past bishops and 15 relief society presidents who have either already left themselves or are actively unorthodox. I know personally three CES instructors/directors in the same position.

    And this is on top of dozens of other tangential acquaintances who serve or who have served in other types of significant stake and ward leadership positions, just not as bishop or relief society president.

    Are we legion?

    Probably not.

    But there is high likelihood that someone sitting next to you on Sunday in sacrament meeting is me.

    If the church wants me gone and no longer wants my time, energy and service then so be it. But I take my faith seriously and if the test of being a true mormon is adhering purely to the orthodoxy taught today, then I guess I would fail that test.

  51. I think it’s going to be tough for the church as time marches on. The truth claims are hard to support given the mountain of evidence everywhere on the Internet. I see the church trying to go more authoritarian maybe in the short term. But the backlash will be real if it’s stance on orthodoxy stays too rigid.

    It’s simply not what it claims and that’s the problem. So in the future there will have to be a change in order for the church to survive. Maybe that’s one of the reasons why Hinckley started leaning evangelical?

  52. SilverRain,

    “Mormon Stories plays its part, but is not the least bit important when it comes to the whole of the work of God.”

    Seriously? A group of people with doubts are not the least bit important. I know I don’t need to remind you this, but the very existence of the LDS Church is based on the events that happened after a young man pleaded for understanding after having doubts of his own religious upbringing. I don’t remember you being this cold, but maybe this is simply who you have become nowadays.

    Yes time will tell, unless we blind ourselves to how the church evolves, then not even time will be able to show those ones who will tangle reality to insist the LDS religious journey is solely dictated by “revelation.” They will probably go to the grave telling themselves that.

  53. “To the contrary: the “real deal” Mormons are out ministering. Teaching the children, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, easing the sick, binding up the brokenhearted, and testifying of the Savior by their actions, not just their words.”

    That would be great if that were the reality of the Mormon church. If only! But my Mormon experience has been far different from that. It has been one in which I have been under huge expectation, if not major social pressure, to serve in callings and to serve a mission. In a great deal of those callings and on that mission, I was to expected to promote and defend ideas such as Joseph Smith doing more for humankind except Jesus Christ (thus esteeming him as a near god), the idea that the Books of Abraham and Mormon were translations of ancient texts which Joseph Smith managed through revelation, and that people are in serious trouble if they doubt, or even question, the words and counsels of modern-day LDS church leaders. While much of the Mormon experience does involve acts of service as you mention above, a great deal is devoted to defending doctrinal and historical propositions. And those who spend considerable time and emotional effort defending the LDS leaders’ assertions about doctrine and history are emphasized much more in present Mormon culture in the Mormon belt as ‘real deal’ Mormons than the do-gooders, who often go unnoticed.

  54. Steve Smith,

    I am confused. As a Mormon, I can’t seem to recall many instances of defending the propositions you mentioned outside of the following contexts: 1) on the mission to people who usually weren’t listening anyway, 2) The bloggernacle/facebook

    It just seems outside the common experience of most Mormons to even discuss or care about those things, which is what I thought was a common criticism of the average active Mormon to begin with.

    Your description of what a great deal of time is spent on in the church by members seems inaccurate to me.

  55. Steve, I just don’t see that. Not denying your experiences just that I rarely see many people defending historical or doctrinal propositions. Heck I think we have a hard enough time just getting members to read their scriptures. Hopefully you aren’t making this judgment on the basis of blogs though. Blogs are not terribly good as a marker of people’s religious practices. For instance I went years without blogging much and mainly fit blogging into short periods of relaxation. However in practice its a terribly minor part of my religious life.

  56. “The law is a causeway upon which, so long as he keeps to it, a citizen may walk safely.”

    Robert Bolt, A Man for All Seasons. Like zjg, that’s what I’m grasping for.

    I relate to Dehlin to SOME DEGREE because (a) I don’t merely “doubt” or “question” certain truth claims; I’ve tentatively concluded that they’re untrue. But (b) for familial harmony and due to social indoctrination—like singing pioneer songs from the age of four—I still feel Mormon and I see value in remaining in the village. And (c) I’m trying to figure out how to do that with as much authenticity as possible—both for my own mental health and to avoid being a white sepulcher. (Matt. 23:27.)

    So, for peace of mind, I’m grasping for a test–or even workable rule of thumb–that I can count on. It’s the comfort of predictability that the rule of law gives.

    It’s no solace to hear that a rule with criteria is impossible because it’s a matter between the spirit and the local leader. To say that the spirit is different from the human judgment of the leader, however, is to say that the message of the spirit would be the same no matter the leader receiving it. But it seems, based on the anecdote with both Sterling McMurrin and Juanita Brooks, “the spirit” can lead even simultaneously living prophets to different conclusions. Smith and Lee thought they should be excommunicated; McKay didn’t.

    The arbitrariness is just unsettling. Thanks for letting me vent.

  57. Clark, ABM, did you go on missions? On mine, almost every day we promoted the idea that the Book of Mormon was a translation of a record of ancient peoples, that Joseph Smith was a person chosen by God to bring forth the restoration, and that the modern LDS church leaders were representatives of God whose words and counsels were to be hearkened to as if coming from God. It didn’t matter whether people were listening or not, this is what we promoted. And in the missionary circles, if you didn’t promote these ideas or had some issue with them, well, there was something wrong with you. The standard line of defense may have been simple, ‘I know x is true because of the spirit,’ but it was a line of defense on a number of key historical and doctrinal propositions nonetheless, most often regarding Joseph Smith’s contact with the divine, the historical truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, and the divine authority of the modern church leaders.

    Have you ever had callings in the LDS church? In most every one of my callings that I’ve held, except service coordinator and piano player, required me to uphold the teachings about doctrine and history that I mentioned above: Joseph Smith saw God and restored the true church, the Book of Mormon is literally another testament of Jesus Christ (OK maybe we don’t talk about the Book of Abraham all that much), follow the leaders and be saved, reject them and risk eternal punishment.

    Have you ever been to fast and testimony meeting? In almost every F&T meeting I’ve attended, I hear at least once the assertion of knowledge that the Book of Mormon is true, that Joseph Smith is God’s true prophet, that the current leaders are God’s representatives.

    “It just seems outside the common experience of most Mormons to even discuss or care about those things”

    Have you been to Sunday School or Priesthood/Relief Society?

    While much of the Mormon experience may be related to service, a great deal of the Mormon experience is related to learning the church’s distinct doctrines and historical narrative and promoting/defending it before other members and non-members. So either you two really didn’t have the typical Mormon experience, or you’re just being disingenuous.

  58. Steve Smith,
    What you are describing in your latest comment seems different than what you said previously. Yes of course we testify and teach that 1) the book of Mormon is the word of God, 2) JS was a prophet, etc… because these are among the basic doctrines of the church… I am pretty sure Baptists mention the Bible and the atonement frequently as well.

    This to me seems different than your assertion that most Mormon callings and time is spent on “defending doctrinal and historical propositions”

  59. Steve, seriously a mission where you are a teacher of key doctrines full time seems a very different situation. I guess I’m just not understanding what you’re arguing. Of course people testify of beliefs. I’m not sure that’s the same as spending most of their time defending the ideas. But maybe I’m just missing what you’re arguing. No one is saying Mormonism is just about service. I think you’re attacking a straw man here.

  60. SilverRain,

    Now that you have explained your fallacious polarity, I better understand where we disagree. The same fallacious polarity could be applied to the LDS church itself, and anything else… but for the sake of not continuing an unproductive cycle of dialogue contradiction, I will simply agree to disagree. I believe you are living a religion different than that originally established by Joseph Smith. Different than that established later by Brigham Young. And we will for sure disagree as to the means through which it became different.

  61. ABM, isn’t the idea that God calls prophets, such as Joseph Smith, to establish true social orders/churches a doctrinal proposition? Isn’t the idea that the Book of Mormon is a record of ancient inhabitants of the American continent and their interactions with Jesus Christ a historical proposition? In a large number of callings, it is the expectation that you acknowledge central doctrinal and historical components to be true.

    Clark, isn’t testifying of beliefs a form of defense or promotion of those beliefs? As I wrote before, saying, ‘I know x is true because I prayed and received a witness’ is a line of defense, even if it is a simple one. In fact, I would think that for the believer to arrive at saying those words, even before other believers, requires a lot of emotional energy. My point was in response to SilverRain’s assertion that ‘real deal’ Mormons are involved in service or orthopraxy. My response was that I wished that Mormonism were more that way, even if a part of the typical experience is, but that the ‘real deal’ LDS person is often perceived as one who is invested in matters of orthodoxy probably more than just serviceable acts. The ‘bearing of testimony’ is very much an orthodoxy-centered experience and one that receives a huge amount of focus in the LDS church, perhaps even more so than in other religious traditions, such as Catholicism, where one’s profession of sets of distinct beliefs is not as expected of the typical member.

  62. Clark (68),

    How do you do italics?

    I occasionally use ALL CAPS because it’s the only way I know how to emphasize in this format. I’m afraid that comes across as shouting.

  63. Joel. You can use simple html tags in your comments. http://www.simplehtmlguide.com/cheatsheet.php

    Steve it depends upon the nature of the testimony. But as I said I think the issue is how much time people do that vs service. From what I can tell while ideas and doctrine are important in practice its service and a practical focus on others that’s the main concern. Further I’d argue that often when doctrines are focused on the reason has service as its aim. Certainly a mission is like that IMO.

  64. Manuel, I’m glad you’ve come to a point where you can agree to disagree because I’ve tried to be patient, but until you learn more polite use of adjectives my conversations with you are over.

    Steve, that may have been your experience, and I’m sure it’s a common one. I was differentiating between Mormons and the “real deal” Mormons. You can’t get more real-deal than rolling up your sleeves and laboring in the service of God.

    Defending ideas is the grade school part of the gospel. It’s not ’til you get out there and actually do that it has any significant meaning. No doubt we teach, because that is the schooling and it is important to learn principles before we can apply them. But teaching the principles of the Gospel is FAR from apologetics, which consists of gnawing over whether or not Joseph Smith actually had sex with all his wives, whether or not the Book of Mormon is a purely factual history, or any of the other relatively inconsequential things we love to stress about in order to consider ourselves intelligent.

  65. Steve Smith,

    I am not sure what I have to disagree with your position at this point. I think your original assertion caused me to think you were talking about something else.., though I would say that Mormonism, more so than most religions, actually relies less on a strict set of beliefs and more on a strict set of actions… callings, missions, tithing, temple. A good Mormon is more likely to be someone who DOES rather than someone who just holds the orthodox beliefs.

  66. You can’t get more real-deal than rolling up your sleeves and laboring in the service of God

    I agree with you on that SilverRain.

    But teaching the principles of the Gospel is FAR from apologetics

    The principles of the Gospel, according to the LDS church, involves the assertion that the Book of Mormon is literally an ancient text translated by Joseph Smith. Such an assertion is hardly inconsequential. According to Gordon B. Hinckley, the Book of Mormon is a cornerstone of the faith. And of course, Joseph Smith’s polygamy isn’t inconsequential. The fine details of polygamy seemingly undermine his character, and severely so. And part of the missionary program, which each member is to be involved in, has to do with defending JS’s character. So while polygamy isn’t brought up in church, members who engage in missionary work (bringing new people into the church or reactivating them) are often forced to confront the issue of polygamy whether they like it or not. Also, whether we like it or not, polygamy is a major reason why people leave the church, or at least it is a reason why many are not prone to return or convert.

  67. Steve I so agree with you that many people that leave or choose not to come back site polygamy as a reason. But is that really the reason or the only reason? In my interactions with people leaving or not wanting to come back it usually is only a minor component of a larger issue. What that larger issue is varies person to person though there may be many similarities. I have often seen that polygamy begins a line of questioning that eventually leads the individual to ask questions that really do have a much greater weight when deciding if a person wishes to continue in the Church. Questions like, is the book of Mormon a historically accurate account? Did Joseph Smith translate it through the power of God or was it something that he (or someone else wrote)? Did he receive visitations from angels and resurrected beings, did he actually see, in the flesh, God the Father and God the Son, and some questioning (like John has) is Christ even a real person, let alone the literal Son of God. In the end I think that these are much more foundational questions than the validity of polygamy. If all the other questions are answered in the affirmative, polygamy is simply relegated as an interesting occurrence that may not be understood, but does not rock the foundation of ones faith. Again with most individuals I have dealt with once the questioning begins, they find that it is fact one of these much larger questions that troubles them, and how disproportionately upset they are by polygamy comes from a doubt in the divine origins of the Gospel itself. But because the questioning started at the point of polygamy they site that as the reason for leaving the gospel, because the truth is that outside of a strong belief in all of those other questions, polygamy is weird, strange, upsetting, and a very strong reason for distancing oneself from the Church.
    For me there are things that have occurred in the Church that bother me a great deal, but because I do have an affirmative answer to those core questions, it isn’t that I am not disturbed by those things, but that I believe, and have personally experienced that often with sufficient study and prayer, intellectual and spiritual, the questions may be answered, I have by no means answered all of my questions and doubts, but enough have been that I continue forward.
    As far as statement that much time is spend “defending” the doctrinal assertions of the Church. I do agree with you. But I think that the perception of weather it is seen as just a learning opportunity, a habit, or if it is perceived as a defense has to do with 1. Where you live. The experience of those living in the Wasatch front is VERY different than those of us living, else where. Living in the Mormon belt those things become much more of and intellectual exercise vs. living like I do in So. California, where it is required to “defend the faith” on a much more regular basis, even when you do just go out to perform service with no thought of possibly needing to defend beliefs. So the experiences in F&TM and various classed become more of a practice ground for what is out side of Church Walls.
    2.How an individual perceives what it means to be converted, and what is entailed in spiritual growth over time. If conversion is a one time event, with only maintenance needed after that event, If spiritual growth is something that is seen as more a matter of maintenance, once a certain level has been achieved, than yes I can see how the constant focus on these things can be seen a defense. If on the other had conversion and growth are seen as a continuing process, that is infinite in depth and scope, then, in my mind, it becomes less defense and more constant search and process for further enlightenment, and greater knowledge.

  68. But is that really the reason or the only reason?

    No, but it is often an important reason. I’ve interacted with a fair number of former Mormons both in person and online, and they frequently bring up polygamy as a major reason for why they lost faith. Sometimes, something else caused them to leave, but finding out about the fine details of Joseph Smith’s polygamy is why they decided not to return. In the CES Letter, Jeremy Runnells mentioned polygamy as a significant reason for his disaffection. I think that much like we should take at face value believers’ reasons for believing (i.e. they believe they felt the spirit, believe they had a revelation, etc.), we should accept at face value explanations of the disaffected for why they left/aren’t coming back. I could be just as cynical about why people go to church/remain in the church as many LDS are about explanations for leaving. Just like many LDS attribute disaffection to getting offended and not being able to let go of some ‘sinful’ behavior, I could easily attribute believers’ attachment to the LDS church to interest in climbing the social ladder, tribalism, confirmation bias, groupthink, etc. I could say people are active Mormons not because of their stated reasons, but underlying reasons that they do not understand. That may be, but I like to give believers the benefit of the doubt. I think that we should do the same for the disaffected.

  69. Well, I see faith in Jesus Christ and in the power of repentance, charity towards the children of God, belief that the ordinances are authorized by God, etc. as far more important. Historicity, Joseph Smith’s true motivations, and similar issues simply can’t be proven one way or another. It is a waste of energy to gnash our teeth on them when compared to the divine power found in lifting hearts, healing souls, and teaching others how to rely on the Spirit. When one focuses on such real-deal things, the rest resolves itself in time.

    James 1:19-27

  70. I served a mission, by the way, and watched many a missionary wear their missions away on apologetics. I never once saw apologetics convert anyone. Convince for a time, perhaps. Maybe even encourage someone to be patient. But actual conversion is the sole domain of the Spirit, not of logic.

    Joseph Smith can take care of his own reputation. Those who sincerely try to tune themselves to the Lord’s will tend to worry far more about their own character than about Brother Joseph’s.

  71. Clark and ABM,

    While practice is an important part of being a Mormon, the practices that SilverRain mentions in comment #56 don’t actually seem to be the main focal points of Mormonism. Of course, while these practices are encompassed within Mormonism, “feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, easing the sick, binding up the brokenhearted,” and other acts of general charity actually factor in very low in conference talks and lesson topics (I wish these were more stressed in the Mormon experience, but they just aren’t). Instead, the practices that are commonly stressed are related to the very particular beliefs of Mormonism. For instance, temple work, keeping the Sabbath day holy, going on a mission, strict avoidance of coffee and alcohol (and sometimes caffeine) and foul language, not watching R-rated movies (or supposedly minorly morally loose media productions), and other actions that are tied to very particular Mormon beliefs are very commonly stressed topics. We cannot deny that acceptance of specific doctrinal and historical claims plays an extremely important role in being a Mormon. The ideas that God has a body of flesh and bones, that baptism has to be done by complete immersion, that you must end every prayer in the name of Jesus Christ, that God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Ghost are distinct personages, etc., not to mention what I believe are the three most emphasized beliefs of Mormonism (Joseph Smith’s chosenness and revelatory powers, the ancient origins of the BOM, and the divine authority of current leaders) are huge. Try mentioning in a PH/RS/SS class in most any chapel that it is not a big deal if you don’t get the sacrament prayer words exactly right, or that if someone’s toe came out of the water in a baptism that it is still valid, or that God might just be a spirit, and they will go nuts. Your Mormonness will be questioned if you deny that JS received revelation, that the BOM was a 19th century fabrication, and that the words of the leaders should be evaluated on their merit and not because they are an authority (Heck, my Mormonness has been subjected to question for mentioning basic facts such as JS being arrested for treasure digging and Brigham Young making racist statements). Beliefs matter. Beliefs are one of the main defining factors of Mormon identity. Mormonism is hugely devoted to getting its members to get certain beliefs right, and getting the beliefs right for yourself as well as making sure that other Mormons get them right is an undeniably huge part of the Mormon experience. It is a large expectation on the part of the leadership as well as the culture that you believe properly.

  72. SilverRain, the express purpose of almost all missions (except strictly service missions or missions in areas of the world that don’t permit open proselytism) is to sway as many people as possible to accept a certain set of beliefs. On your mission, was it your priority to go around and persuade people to devote more time to “feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, easing the sick, binding up the brokenhearted, and testifying of the Savior by their actions, not just their words?” I highly, highly doubt that. If your mission was like most missions, your priority was getting people to accept Joseph Smith as a prophet of God and restorer of the one and only true church, to accept the Book of Mormon as the words of God brought forth by ancients in the American continent, to accept the divine authority of the modern LDS church leaders on the basis of Joseph Smith having received proper authority from God and passing it down to them, and then to get baptized and became active participants in the LDS church.

    You and others on this thread are imagining a Mormonism that simply isn’t and are curiously in denial of the centrality of belief in and promotion of specific doctrinal and historical claims in Mormonism.

  73. Silver Rain, do you mind me asking a question? What is I about John Dehlin that makes you so opposed to him? I have read your blog, and you two seem very similar to me—two people who have been disillusioned by the world, but are still looking optimistically for a core of goodness somewhere in it, while no longer being sympathetic to the false promises and deceptions that have hurt you. Maybe I’m wrong about that, but I don’t think so. So why the opposition? This question isn’t meant as a trap; I’m honestly curious. To me, it seems within five years he could become you, or vice versa. With that last part I probably am wrong, but that’s the impression I get from his interviews and your public writing.

    To me, John is just trying to invigorate his faith, and trying to do the service of God mentioned, by letting other people share their stories. I feel like generally he tries to push the focus away from himself, and that he is driven by his antipathy toward perceived falsehood.

    To me, that mindset, if it is what he possesses, embodies one possible path to being a disciple of Jesus Christ.

    By the way, it seems, incidentally, that everyone misunderstood what I was referring to when I said “real deal”—I was talking just about paid apologetics, people who make their wage either from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or from its members by way of Deseret Book in return for promoting its doctrines. I feel going on Mormon Stories after John’s excommunication is proving that they are sincerely invested in using their apologetics to teach and convert, not just to reinforce members’ preconceived notions.

    I wasn’t trying to say that to be a real Latter-day Saint someone needs to be devoted to that kind of thing. To the contrary, I don’t think labels can be nearly that simple. I still consider John Dehlin to be a real Latter-day Saint, as well as Kate Kelly and other people who have been excommunicated, as long as they still self-identify as Saints of Jesus Christ.

    I don’t think distinguishing between “real,” or sincere believers is possible, except in the case of ourselves. The hearts of others are hidden to us. I feel community service can be an important part of being a Latter-day Saint, but I wouldn’t restrict it to only that, either. There are holy people who are too physically weak to serve others, and I do not think that affects their discipleship. Every person just does what she can, and it’s between her and God whether she is His servant and follower. At least, that’s how I feel. Every person is unique.

  74. Steve, your estimation of Mormonism isn’t in line with my experience. Those who follow the Savior are the real-deal, and I seem to have recognized many more of them than you have.

    At the beginning of my mission, my mission president introduced me to “Teaching by the Spirit” by Gene R. Cook. I took it very seriously. It and the example of Alma the Younger shaped my entire proselytizing mission. Because of that, I learned early that it isn’t my job to convince, only to testify so the Spirit could have am opportunity to convince. I would like to think that is still how I approach the gospel.

  75. mirrororrim: You are possibly right, that we are similar. I had never considered it. From the inside, it’s hard to judge. But, if you are right, I would say it is our very similarities that drive me to warn against the differences. My experiences have made me far more cautious in taking people at face value. I tend to weigh what they say against what they do.

    Of course, no one is perfect at living up to ideals, but when something called “StayLDS” is encouraging people to stay, not out of faith, but out of a desire to change the Church, it is a red flag. When someone takes it upon themselves to use their disillusionment and “attempt to reinvigorate faith” to make money, I question the sincerity of his stated intent. When someone illegally smuggles a tape recorder into a private meeting and attempts to deftly manipulate the conversation for a public stage, I am utterly convinced that they are telling people what they think they want to hear, and not acting out of sincere trials of faith.

    By sad experience, I have become intimately familiar with the patterns of lying. John Dehlin uses the same tactics as every other narcissistic liar I have met, which are thankfully few. That isn’t a judgment I level lightly. He does not urge people towards faith in Christ and patience in His servants, which is the core reason I write publicly at all. By his actions, Dehlin urges acceptance and faith in himself and his reasoning, not in God’s power or the atonement.

    If you want an honest endeavor to share stories, check out Story Trek. It uplifts where Mormon Stories finesses. Mormon Stories is a front for an agenda which becomes less cleverly disguised as the years roll by. Were it not so, Dehlin would not have said many of the things he has said, nor done many of the things he has done. He would certainly not be where he is now. I pray I am different enough to not fall into that trap.

  76. For the record, I don’t think everything in Deseret Book falls under apologetics. From the last time I was in there, I don’t think most of it even qualifies as books…Apologetics is a specific type of “promoting the doctrines” through reason and the use of interpreted history.

  77. “You and others on this thread are imagining a Mormonism that simply isn’t and are curiously in denial of the centrality of belief in and promotion of specific doctrinal and historical claims in Mormonism.”

    Steve Smith, I find that it odd that in a thread about Mormons and self-definition, you seem intent to tell SilverRain that she cannot define her personal experiences with Mormonism as valid because they conflict with your own views on what those experiences should be.

  78. Steve Smith,

    I think you are strangely focused on some aspects of mormonism just so you can ignore the rest of it. Those doctrinal and historic propositions are the reason that mormons do service… including missionary work. If the church is what it says it is, then missionary work and temple work are tremendous services in deed.

  79. Roman, read the thread a little more carefully. I’m not trying to tell SilverRain what her experiences with Mormonism are. But she is undoubtedly getting the trend wrong. Leadership initiatives and cultural trends in Mormonism are devoted to indoctrination primarily, and general service projects (referred to in SilverRain’s comment 56) secondarily. Perhaps SilverRain’s Mormon experience has involved more of an emphasis on general service than I usually see, and I would commend her for that. But speaking of general service as the primary emphasis in Mormonism and the general trend in the culture is just not true.

  80. Those who follow the Savior are the real-deal

    Would you be willing to say that a Mormon who accepted Joseph Smith as a lustful fraud, the Book of Mormon as a 19th century fabrication, and the current leaders as old men with antiquated opinions about gays and women could still be a ‘real-deal’ Mormon by being involved in acts of general charity and the following of Jesus’ words as recorded in the New Testament?

    At the beginning of my mission…

    Our discussion has nothing to do with whether you are doing the convincing as a missionary or the spirit. The fact remains that missionaries are asked to go around and tell people first and foremost about Joseph Smith being God’s and Jesus’ emissary, the Book of Mormon being a second testament of Jesus Christ, and current Mormon leaders having authority to administer God’s affairs on earth. Do you deny that that is the case?

  81. ABM,

    I think you are strangely focused on some aspects of mormonism just so you can ignore the rest of it

    Yes, there is a lot to Mormonism. But the Joseph Smith story, the BOM, and the authority of the current leaders are foundational. As I mentioned in comment 91, it all starts with emphasis on those issues, service and other aspects of Mormonism are secondary. And you are strangely in denial of this. It is like you want Mormonism to be something that it just isn’t.

    Those doctrinal and historic propositions are the reason that mormons do service… including missionary work. If the church is what it says it is, then missionary work and temple work are tremendous services in deed.

    Here, you seem to be confirming what I’ve been saying all along: key doctrinal and historical propositions are emphasized first in Mormonism, then service. Also, bear in mind that missionary service is primarily devoted to getting others to subscribe to the church’s foundational doctrinal and historical assertions, so it isn’t really an act of general charity mentioned in comment 56, although it may involve such, but mostly only secondarily. Of course, in order for the ever time- and resource-consuming missionary work and temple construction/attendance to be considered acts of service to humankind, it is all contingent upon the church’s doctrinal and historical claims reflecting reality. For if the claims aren’t true, then these so-called services are nothing but giant wastes of time and money. Hence the church’s primary goal is to promote and defend its foundational doctrinal claims. I think that you agree with me more than you like to admit.

  82. Steve Smith,
    More foundational than all of that though is Christ and the atonement. that is the crux of what I am thinking you are missing in your evaluation of the church.

  83. Thanks for explaining, Silver Rain—that helps me understand a lot better.

    And I will definitely check out Mormon Tracks. I didn’t know there were any other websites that do something similar to Mormon Stories. I’ll have to see how they compare.

    And I also think it’s fair to be more skeptical of someone who makes money off of what she or he is saying. That is the very reason I often question the statements made by paid apologetics, religion teachers, and public relations representatives. If someone wants to do one of those things for her or his career, that’s his or her choice and I’m not going to judge it. But I think that person needs to accept the heightened public incredulity that comes with that, just in the same way a public business like McDonald’s needs to know that people should question any claims they make to be better or cheaper than their competition. They may still be right, but it’s their job to go above and beyond to prove it to us.

    (for the record I prefer Wendy’s, but I’m a vegetarian so it probably doesn’t matter)

  84. Steve Smith, at this point I have a hard time convincing myself you’re not being deliberately obtuse.

    Mirrororrim-It’s Story Trek. I think Mormons do it, but the stories are not strictly Mormon. It’s just an example of how sharing stories can bond people together rather than drive wedges, and how you can do it for the people, and not for an agenda.

  85. ABM, you’re right that the doctrine of Christ’s atonement plays an important role, but 1) that confirms my original point about the primacy of doctrine and 2) JS, BOM, and continuing authority of current leaders are still more emphasized in the LDS church narrative, for a) that’s how the LDS church distinguishes itself from other Christian churches, and b) there is more to believing in Christ’s atonement than simply believing the record in the NT, according to Mormon doctrine, JS revealed more about Jesus than was supposedly previously known, thus making Mormonism’s Jesus a bit different from the Jesus of the rest of Christianity.

    SilverRain, Mormonism = doctrine first, service second. I don’t see how that’s obtuse. At any rate, you don’t seem to have addressed my original objection to your comment.

  86. Steve Smith,

    I am almost not sure what we are discussing anymore and as coincidence would have it, mine is the 99th comment. Suffice it to say, you and I see mormonism as focusing on different things.

  87. For the “doctrines” of Mormonism to have any value, one’s Mormonism must be a lived religion. Some Latter-day Saints try to live their religion, day by day — that’s great! That’s where the power of Mormonism in particular (and Christianity in general) is most effective in the work of saving souls. Essays and discourses on doctrine do no good whatsoever unless and until someone tries to live his or her religion.

    To the person whose Mormonism is primarily doctrinal intellectual, that’s a good start — if he or she makes it a lived religion, that’s when the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ can become most meaningful.

  88. ABM, you originally got confused about what I meant by “defending doctrinal and historical propositions” in comment 62. I thought it was fairly clear, and that I was stating something rather obvious. But you had some bone to pick with my comment, and I could never tell exactly what it was. I almost felt like you were in blatant denial of what should be patently apparent in Mormonism, but I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt.

    I think it would be apropos to conclude by tying my string of comments back in with the OP. Who gets to be Mormon? About anyone who desires to, but all those wishing to become Mormon or remain Mormon must be willing to interact with a group of people who places heavy emphasis on a number of doctrinal and historical propositions, probably much more than other religious groups, such as the Buddhists or liberal Protestant groups.

  89. Steve,

    Which person is more likely to be considered a Mormon? Not only by other Mormons but by non-Mormons?

    1) A person who believes in all or at least most of the foundational doctrinal and historic claims of the church, but is rarely at church and doesn’t usually involve his or her self in church functions and initiatives. (Calling, temple, tithing, activities, etc..)

    2) A person who holds some unorthodox or unusual beliefs in some cases but is often or always at church and is very involved (calling, temple, tithing, activities, etc.)

  90. ABM, no. 2, clearly. But I think that it is safe to say that most who attend regularly subscribe to the foundational doctrinal and historical claims of the church. Nonetheless, I don’t see how that challenges my previous point, which was that by virtue of being attending church regularly, you will likely be asked to devote some of your time and energy to callings. And most of those callings aren’t service-oriented in the way that SilverRain was talking about in comment 56. Very few actually are. Instead they are oriented towards teaching/advocating/defending/promoting (fn1) a number of key points about church doctrine and history. Even something as simple as teaching nursery involves the promotion of specific ideas about doctrine and history. Check out the updated 2015 curriculum: https://www.lds.org/manual/behold-your-little-ones-nursery-manual?lang=eng. Note lesson 9, which is about us having a body like God’s, lesson 21 about Joseph Smith seeing God and Jesus, lesson 22 about ancients in the Americas talking of Jesus appearing to them, and lesson 24 about following the prophet. Whatever general service (fn2) aspect there is to Mormonism (and Mormons are serviceable people by and large, don’t get me wrong), it is generally overshadowed by emphasis on key doctrinal and historical claims.

    fn1 I think that you and others may have gotten confused with the term ‘defend’ thinking that I mean to produce a long apologetic formal defense of something. No, I mean simply to stand by an idea in the face of any perceived opposition. For instance, a believer in the idea that Joseph Smith saw God might defend the idea in the face of any perceived questioning or doubting by saying, “I prayed and asked God and could feel the spirit testifying the truthfulness of the first vision.”

    fn2 As opposed to belief-specific service, such as proselytizing or temple service, which is recognized as serviceable only by cobelievers (I don’t know, might you or other believing active Mormons regard Southern Baptist proselytism to Mormons in Utah an act of service or Muslims praying in a mosque an act of service? I doubt it). Voluntarily attending to the sick and needy, by contrast, is recognized as serviceable by a large swath of the human population (at least we can hope that most human beings regard that to be serviceable).

  91. 1- If we do not support our leaders, we do not accept God’s words
    2- The church do not out people who want to be in, the ones that want to go are not force to stay.
    3- If you do not support or believe in the LDS doctrine, why don’t ask and get a personal answer.
    4- John Dehlin can call himself whatever he wants, I call myself LDS
    5- We can have questions but do not doubth this is the Lord’s church, the world tells us to quesstion
    every thing and if we are not satisfy with the answers, then it is not true, Im as Adam in the past
    do not know avery thing but I know this gospel is true and it’s leaders inspired

  92. Thelma,
    1) Couldn’t someone claim to support God’s words and then not support the LDS leaders when they say something that he/she perceives to run counter to God’s words? The LDS leaders aren’t to be treated as if they are gods, right? Are all their words to be treated as if God is saying them? Too many contradictions to entertain that possibility.
    2) “the ones that want to go are not forced to stay” – the possibility of ostracism, divorce, shaming/blaming, estrangement from family in essence force a great number of people who would like to leave the church on their own accord to stay in. Also, think of the relatively large number of LDS people between the ages of 8 and 17 who are in essence forced by their parents to go to church. The pressure on them to get baptized, attend church, attend activities, serve missions (if they’re male) is often so great in the Mormon belt that it could very well be considered a form of force. Sort of ironic given the fact that eight-year-olds are told that they have a choice to get baptized.
    3) A great many have asked, or claim to have asked (including Kate Kelly), and believe themselves to have received an answer that is different from current LDS church doctrine and policy.
    4) In terms of his culture, background, and heritage, how else should we define John Dehlin other than LDS?
    5) The LDS church leaders tell missionaries (and they encourage all members to be involved in missionary work, so in essence every member is considered a missionary) to have believers in other religious doctrines question every piece of doctrine that they believe in that does not correspond with LDS doctrines. Questioning every claim to truth that someone makes and holding as true only that which is backed up by strong evidence seems like a good idea to me.

Comments are closed.