Friday, January 31, 2014

Recent Enlightenment

Recently I've had very interesting discussions with two people that I respect very much. They have helped clarify my thinking on a number of issues, mainly, that I'm really just going to try to focus on what these brethren say, and not get so caught up in what others say.

These conversations and thoughts I had because of them are the impetus for this blog post, but neither of my two interlocutors are responsible for what I've posted here.

The first conversation was an online chat with a friend Ben, who is an Old Testament scholar. He blogs at Patheos, and you can find his stellar supplements to this year's Gospel Doctrine lessons here, in case you are interested in some personal study beyond the manuals. We were discussing many things, but in particular the LDS groups online, and how they seem to tend towards one end of the Mormon spectrum, and how we both dislike that to varying degrees. I've talked about this before. I keep being added to various FB groups (because FB allows others to add you to groups without your consent, which is overall a stupid feature) and I keep having to leave those groups. I remember about a year ago I got added to one and when I looked at what was being discussed I saw that there was a poll. "Would you rather have had sexual experience before you were married?" Since the majority of the respondents had said "yes," I left.

It seems to be hard to find Mormon discussion groups that are actually, you know, Mormon.

For me it's annoying and disheartening how much negativity there is towards the church, even on blogs or FB groups or email lists or whatever ostensibly dedicated to a discussion about Mormonism by Mormons. I do think this phenomenon makes sense on some level. If you're a regular, run-of-the-mill Mormon, you go to church every week and interact with many other regular, run-of-the-mill Mormons. If you're not, then you probably don't have many in your local congregation who think like you. In in this marvelous day and age, you turn to the internet, where you can quickly find others like you. A danger that seems to happen more often than it should, however, is that you quickly find that when people of that like mind get together, then they all start suffering from selection bias. When you spend more time online in these groups than you do in your local congregation, it's just the natural course of things. I've found that these groups often become echo chambers, and suddenly I find myself in "Mormon" groups that think the prophets are out of touch (because they don't travel the world talking to local members at all, of course), the family proclamation is bupkiss (um, no), the church is going to cave on gay marriage (our theology is literally as heteronormative as it could possibly be, even though I await further light and knowledge on the subject of Mother in Heaven), female ordination (I am not holding my breath, but am okay with the idea if it comes from God, actually), or [insert other item here]. Another problem is that the "conservative" or "traditional" voices don't want to participate (like me) because the environment is too hostile towards them, and so it enhances the echo chamber aspect of these conversations.

During my discussion with Ben, this scripture came to mind, from Helaman 13:25-28:
And now when ye talk, ye say: If our days had been in the days of our fathers of old, we would not have slain the prophets; we would not have stoned them, and cast them out. 
Behold ye are worse than they; for as the Lord liveth, if a prophet come among you and declareth unto you the word of the Lord, which testifieth of your sins and iniquities, ye are angry with him, and cast him out and seek all manner of ways to destroy him; yea, you will say that he is a false prophet, and that he is a sinner, and of the devil, because he testifieth that your deeds are evil.
But behold, if a man shall come among you and shall say: Do this, and there is no iniquity; do that and ye shall not suffer; yea, he will say: Walk after the pride of your own hearts; yea, walk after the pride of your eyes, and do whatsoever your heart desireth—and if a man shall come among you and say this, ye will receive him, and say that he is a prophet.
Yea, ye will lift him up, and ye will give unto him of your substance; ye will give unto him of your gold, and of your silver, and ye will clothe him with costly apparel; and because he speaketh flattering words unto you, and he saith that all is well, then ye will not find fault with him. 
Now I'm not saying that everybody who posts on internet forums against the church is a false prophet. For one thing, I think that's being way too loose with the idea of what a "prophet" is. Second of all, I think that most of them are genuinely sincere in their beliefs about what is right and what is not, and want the church to succeed, and those desires are righteous, even if they are misdirected on occasion. (Those desires are misdirected on occasion for all of us, so I don't want this to be a stone-throwing post, since I myself am not without sin). But something about the general idea and tenor of this scripture from Helaman stood out to me with regard to these internet forums and their echo-chamber aspects.

The second conversation I had was with a close acquaintance of mine. This acquaintance sent me, and others that he is close to, an email to let us all know that he is a 4 or a 5 on the Kinsey scale. He was very specific in his terminology, because this person doesn't want to actually use the terms "come out," "homosexual," or "gay," mostly because those terms are now so loaded with negative connotations for what he wants to communicate about himself that he finds them inaccurate. In fact, the only thing he wanted to say about himself really was that he is a 4 or a 5 on the Kinsey scale. He is a member of the church, plans to remain so forever, wants to get heterosexually married (he has fallen in love with girls before, though he is also going to make sure this is all discussed before he and his future wife tie the knot), and doesn't consider his Kinsey scale rating to be central to his identity. In short, he somehow makes being a 4 or 5 on the Kinsey scale and being Mormon . . . easy. In his view, as I understand it, it's because he understands the gospel of Jesus Christ, the plan of salvation, and the teachings of the prophets of God. He's making a conscious choice to focus on the teachings of the church instead of the voices telling him that it's impossible to be a gay Mormon, and that the church is oppressive and misleading to people like him, and that he should embrace his sexuality, not delude himself, and leave the church because that's just not going to work out. Talking with him was a breath of fresh air on this subject because of the strength of his testimony, the depth of our love for each other that he trusted me enough to talk to me about this, and the ease with which he expressed his views on this issue that are completely in harmony with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I'm not entirely sure why these two conversations have hit me as hard as they have. I feel somewhat like Joseph Smith, in that he had James 1:5 enter with much force into his heart. Maybe it's that the church is moving in such a direction that the more complicated aspects of the church will be more easy to discuss among regular members. Maybe it's that I'm no longer the gospel doctrine teacher, attempting to make sure that some amount of nuance was provided in my classes. Maybe it's that I'm now an Elder's Quorum president, and that has radically changed my point of view now that I feel more responsible for the welfare of others' souls. (Not that I didn't feel responsible before, but now I have a mantle of very specific responsibilities and priesthood keys, and in some ways that mantle is heavier and more paradigm-shifting than I expected.) Maybe it's just that it's time to move on to a new chapter in my development spiritually, intellectually, and emotionally. This seems to be what I've been feeling this past week or so. Then again, maybe it's all of the above.

So while I think that I in general have received some enlightenment and some nuance from reading and even participating occasionally on the internet forums, I'm done. I've declared this before (see the first link above), but really, like, I'm done now. You'll notice that there is no longer a series of Mormon Blogs linked on the side of my personal blog here. I've also unsubscribed from certain podcasts that will remain nameless. He who has ears to hear let him hear. This is a personal conscious choice to simply not look at them anymore. It's too tiring, too time-consuming, and it's not really the conversation that I most want to participate in. I want to have intelligent conversations about Mormonism by Mormons who actually believe in Mormonism. I've not really felt like I have had those since I left my religion classes at BYU. I can't find it on the internet, apparently. Some days I want to start my own podcast, or my own Mormon blog, but, really, that just seems to be too much work to create it, populate it with bloggers, moderate it, or do the interviews and the post-production required for a quality podcast.

Of course, I'm not deleting my Facebook account, so I'll probably still occasionally get sucked back in. I am not disavowing my friends. If I'm the one Mormon apologist that my friend Jeremy will still go golfing with, he remains one of the few people antagonistic to the church that I will still talk to.

I'm not sure how many blog entries there will be on Mormonism here on my personal blog from here on out, because many of the ones I did so far were in response to some negative thing said about the church in some way or another. You'll notice that those entries have also disappeared from the side of my blog, which, if I'm being honest, was just getting everything too cluttered anyway. They will remain up, with a new link to this blog post. I don't want to disavow my journey, but it seems to me that from here on out my own journey will no longer really involve these "alternate voices." I seem to be being called a different way now. I'm not entirely sure why, and I'm not entirely sure how this will play out. I've tried to be intentionally vague about which forums and blogs and whatnot that I'm going to stop participating in and reading, because I don't think that to be so specific would benefit anybody. No stone throwing, remember? This is more a general comment on a new direction in my life. Perhaps a similar story will be of benefit. I do remember one interview with the founder of one of the big Mormon blogs. She explained that the blog remains up for her because she wants it to be available for others to work their way through the issues it talks about. However, she no longer felt that she needed the blog. She had already worked her way through the issues, and came to find her own peace with the church (she remains an active member). That, more than anything, is what I think I've been feeling. I've worked my way through those issues and those kinds of forums, and while it has been beneficial in many ways, well, I'm out.

My patriarchal blessing uses the word "imperceptibly" to describe how my testimony will grow. That word choice has turned out to be exceptionally spot on. Every few years I'll have an experience that will make me look at where I am, spiritually, and make me go "whoa! How did I get here? When did that happen?"

These two conversations over the past week were that way for me. They've both brought a serious amount of clarity to my current thinking about the church.

I won't disavow the path I took, but that path has now taken me out of wanting to participate in those discussions. Engaging with them so much has had the effect of muddling some things that ought not to have been muddled. Perhaps it was part of the Lord's plan, to let me wander in this path a bit so that these recent moments of revelation would be starkly juxtaposed in their clarity. They were pretty clear.

I say, along with Joshua of old, with more fervency than I was able to a week ago, "As for me and my house [and all the voices in my head] we will serve the Lord" (Joshua 24:15).


Kant66 said...

Hear hear. Nehemiah 6:30. There's so much else in this world that is true, beautiful, and worth spending time on. The New Order Mormon stuff "is confusion." I've often envisioned them in a C.S. Lewis, Great-Divorce situation where they spend eternity snipping at each other and nursing some perceived historical slight and never really getting it.

Charles Cranney said...

It is always hard to see those who are calling good evil and evil good, and their rancor seems to have been getting louder lately. I was a little involved at the inception of and was stunned at the acidic, hateful comments that tried to overwhelm our attempts to have a clear, faithful dialogue that would leave a intellectual space for people to be able to explore the doctrine of Jesus Christ and the LDS Church spiritually. It was good we had control over the post so as not to overwhelm the viewer with the raw sewage being spewed out.

But I do worry about those who are searching for faith, for truth, through the google searches if thoughtful, faithful people don't contribute (electronically) to the grand march, toward knowing the remarkable nature of the Lord Jesus Christ and his Saints in the latter days.

I hope we (speaking collectively and not individually) don't become too weary to somehow continue to lend our voices—as hard as it may be—so that the light can be seen in the darkness.

Kristine said...

I think it's time for a study of these exit narratives from Mormon discussion groups and their sequelae. I think there are almost enough to form a genre now :) A compare and contrast with exit narratives of people who leave the actual church would be interesting.

Chris and Trina (mostly Trina) said...

Really, really, good blog post Carl. I see so many "intellectuals" here in Utah who have such difficulty. You are a great example to us all.

Tom Bartlett said...

Carl, It was suggested by someone that you know (can't remember who) I think your brother in law, that I connect with you on facebook. So I did. I want you to know that I was once a very active LDS member. Had a tragedy in church,(yes we were way offended)stepped back and did something we had never done, we actually studied the church doctrine and it's history, while attending a real Christian church with a very different Christian message. We officially left the LDS church about 1 year ago. I don't belong to "a church" but attend one that we really like mthe message, Grace based, message. I have been on facebook threads, LDS apologetics, etc and have been completely abused by Mormons. It does go both ways. I chose to opt out, it was no fun. There are very rude people in "the church" and without. My wife and I study the Bible everyday, we have found so many contradictions to what we were taught in th LDS faith it is amazing. We have just tried to share or ask questions and it always turns into a big argument with name calling. I hope that you are including those that go to your church as well because I know personally that just as many jerks are in the LDS faith as there are outside of it. I hope some day to have a good conversation with you regarding " belief in the LDS doctrine when things have changed so much, including doctrines. I would like to know how you still keep your belief. Thank you.

heidi said...

Excellent post. You very eloquently stated many things that I have been feeling for quite a while. I even banned myself from reading comments on ANY online article I read because the backbiting is so acidic and hateful. I'm done with waste and I choose to fill my time with productivty and personal reflection. I've already seen the benefits, especially in my relationships with my children. You carry around with you what you read and children are incredibly perceptive to that.
Thank you!

zgin said...

Does this mean that you don't want me to post that response that I finally managed to write up? (Sorry--it's been a rocky start to the semester.)

Carl said...

I don't even know who you are, zgin. :)