We are at a Crossroads in Mormonism. For the first time ever we live in a generation where information of broad scholarship and deep reflection is available to all who have a computer or smart device and a internet connection. In this cultural milieu people are able to step outside insular beliefs and are opened up to tons of perspectives. Perspectives that differ from the Church’s official paradigm. When people are confronted with differing informed opinions that contradict their present beliefs they can make at least two choices. One is to entrench, dismiss the info and double down on orthodoxy. The second is to study all sides, be open to a change of views and willing to judge the argument on its merits and make the necessary changes in their paradigm to welcome truth.
In Mormonism this very moment there are a multitude of voices and some are calling for a paradigm shift that moves beyond where the Church is at its present moment, while others are calling for us to hold tight and not encourage the good ship Zion to turn faster than the appointed leaders desire to turn it.
Lets take a look at these voices and discuss what each are calling for and what is holding back a more reasonable and progressive Mormonism. It must be stated that discussion of these voices has little to nothing to do with Faithfulness or criticism. While the person’s motives can be debated this about what is seen as positive change and who and what they are suggesting. Lets dive in.
The Maxwell Institute has made a very observable shift from the Dan Peterson led direction of a few years ago to the William Bradshaw direction of today. When reading what the Maxwell Institute is putting out and listening to their podcast with Blair Hodges it becomes evident that they are working to implement a wider scholarship than just what is found within Mormonism. That they are discussing and even supporting an awareness of a wider Christian scholarship that disagrees with the way mainstream Mormonism has interpreted itself. There seems to be an understanding that if we are ever to shift towards a more realistic interpretation of our faith that we must be open and vulnerable to Christian Scholarship that often runs contrary to the way we have formed our interpretations.
Richard Bushman recently stated that “the dominant narrative is not true”. If I am interpreting him correctly he is suggesting that Mainstream Mormonism or orthodox interpretations of our history and the story we have told in our manuals and the inferences our leaders have made need at least some serious adjustment on some if not many of those perspectives. Richard has also recently discussed things such as the 1832 First Vision (Which differs in important places from the official account) being very credible to him, the 19th century sections found in the Book of Mormon, and a recognition that prophets are more fallible than mainstream Mormonism wishes to acknowledge. His book “Rough Stone Rolling” shows that Joseph smith and Mormonism is a whole lot more complicated than the Mainstream Mormonism and the Church’s curriculum painted it.
Mason has on two recent occasions stated that Mainstream Mormonism needs to redefine what it means to be a prophet and it needs to happen quick. He also has stated clearly that we have put too much into the truth cart and must find ways to unload that which never should have been there. He has been an advocate for better understanding of the doubters in the Church and that mainstream Mormonism must do more to recognize the reasons why people lose faith and work to provide a better and safer space in which to wrestle with the paradoxical nature of Mormonism’s history and theology. Patrick has also recently emphasized that we must let go of the unapologetic stance we as a faith have taken and began to repent for the serious mistakes we have made and even names the theories behind the Priesthood ban that were once taught as Doctrine and the Mountain Meadows Massacre as good places to start. His recent book Planted speaks at length to those who love and support the doubter to better understand the paradigm shift that must take place.
Fiona has been adamant that Mainstream Mormonism must wrestle more with itself. She has opened up discussion of Heavenly Mother to the public arena in ways that push for us to have vulnerable conversations. She has been a strong voice that seems to openly acknowledge we are falling short in places and that to meet this challenges we have to start having uncomfortable discussions. Her and her husband Terryl have been doing firesides where they validate the doubter and validate the problems while calling on us as a community to have faith as we sort this out.
Terryl and his wife Fiona have written a flurry of books recently including “Crucible of Doubt” and “The God Who Weeps”. Terryl too has validated that there are valid reasons to doubt, that doubters should not be shamed, and that one must find nuanced ways in order to reconcile the difficult issues. Terryl at times has emphasized a more principle based approach that involves deep empathy and offers reconciliations that are very different from Mainstream Mormonism. Terryl’s use of of literature and other resources that are found outside official Mormonism lends emphasis to our need to be well informed outside of official sources. Terryl often leans on scholarship found in the larger Christian world and this should be a tip to us on a shift we must make.
Adam is more Philosophy bent as per his training. Adam seems to steer clear of going off into the doctrinal weeds and instead seems to focus more on the usefulness of faith in his life and the life of others. One example is when I asked Adam on a REDDIT AMA whether he subscribes to a Global Flood or a local flood (both of us knowing that each has theological problems that are difficult to reconcile) Adam’s response was “Good question. I guess I don’t considerate it a big deal one way or the other with respect to the things that matter to me.” Adam though does fully acknowledge that Mormonism must and is changing. His recent book “Future Mormon” speaks to the very heart of this as he addresses Future Mormons and speaks at what those future Mormons may find most important. He also wrote “Letters to a Young Mormon” which works to help the Young Mormon who has doubts to slow down and work through his or her faith transition and their questions with validation that there are paradoxes and contradictions but with the encouragement to take their time.
Grant Hardy recently at a FairMormon conference made it clear that he is suggesting a more pastoral apologetics. That we should allow more room for one to hold a non-historical belief in the Book of Mormon and that said belief can very well still be “saving”. He validates in his work that Deutero-Isaiah is a real issue that standard apologetics doesn’t have great answers for. He is calling for a much more nuanced and more human grasp of how to understand the Book of Mormon translation.
The host of “A Thoughtful Faith” Podcast, Gina is constantly helping us to see that we are missing the mark culturally and that from the top of the Church down, the things we are doing to some extent are not working and that change must occur at all levels.
THOMAS WIRTHLIN MCCONKIE:
Thomas has been working on two fronts. #1 is he has helped bring in Faith Development and its application formally into Mormonism through his book “Navigating Mormon Faith Crisis: A Developmental Map” which works to help doubters their loved ones better understand the reality and progressive development of a faith transition. #2 he has brought in his Buddhist experience to help Mormonism as a whole better deal with the pain in our faith in the very here and now.
I could name countless others Claudia Bushman, Greg Prince, Julie Smith, Boyd Peterson, Kristy Money, Suzette Smith, D. Michael Quinn, Carol Lynn Pearson, John Dehlin, Dan Wotherspoon, Lindsay Hansen Park, myself and countless others.
If I could be so brazen as to create a list of what these folks to one degree or another agree on, it is the following. Please note I am not speaking of tone nor of whether any of these individuals agree 100% with my points. Only that they have in some way moved in this direction from Mainstream Mormonism in their encouragement to shift.
- We must shift to be more inclusive (Gender equality, LGBT community, Intellectuals, Doubters, race, and Ethnicity and I am sure others). From top to bottom our World Wide Faith too often privileges White, Utah, Male, Middle Class and up, & American over anything that falls outside those labels. Increased Inclusiveness is a must.
- Mainstream Mormonism has told a narrative that doesn’t hold up to scrutiny. Thomas Marsh may not have left over milk and stripping, Symonds Ryder didn’t leave because his name was spelled wrong, The Brigham Young Transfiguration may not have happened, The Book of Mormon as we have it likely was translated by a stone in a hat, the Book of Abraham may very well not be connected directly to the Egyptian Papyri, The Flood may not be Global, the Tower of Babel may not be as literal and historical as we thought, Men may never have lived to 900 years old, god may not have been happy with Joseph’s implementation of polygamy, The Nauvoo Expositor may not have told lies, Brigham may have indeed taught false doctrine and prophets seers and revelators going forward may have struggled to recognize that Brigham had done so.
- We must leave room for Members to hold non-historical and non-literal views of the Church’s stories, Narrative, and canon. Leave public space for members to believe stories as figurative or allegorical and still be faithful and believing. One need not believe in a Global Flood, a Literal Tower of babel where all languages disseminated, nor a literal Adam and Eve in a Literal Garden in Missouri where they partook of Literal Fruit and hence were susceptible to a Literal expelling from the literal garden. Job need not be a real Person, Moses need not part a real sea. Who is real and who is figurative and even for those who are real, are their stories embellished? And in the end can’t we just make room for it not to matter as much?
- We should encourage the members to develop their own inner authority and trust in the “Holy Ghost” more and to let go to some degree of the authority of others including leaders (recognition that prophets sometimes contradict the spirit and the spirit is the ultimate source of truth (Moroni 10:5). To this end Leaders must also relinquish to some degree the authority mainstream Mormons have placed in them. What it means to be prophet must be reinterpreted. This doesn’t mean Prophets have no use. To Contrary they still must be essential to Mormonism, but must come off the pedestal we have set them on, and they must help to make this happen rather then cling to authority.
- Leave room for disagreement with an interpretation and still be faithful and believing. Rather than say opposition will not be tolerated, leave safe space for people to raise valid concerns and disagreements. In other words create mechanisms for true legitimate avenues for faithful dissent. This is healthy and much needed.
- Shift away from a Mainstream Mormonism that claimed a definitive answer on every question to a Mormonism that can comfortably say I don’t know, we don’t have a good answer for that, and while there is valid reasons to doubt we call on you to have faith while we figure this out.
- We must ensure that we have a theology of Doctrine and policies that do not harm others and distance them from God. Our job within the Church is to bring all unto Christ and to do that we may need to leave more judgement in God’s hands and do our best to love in the here and now.
The question is do the folks listed above regardless of whether seen as faithful or unfaithful generally encourage these points? Do they disagree with them? Would they if here acknowledge they have moved at least to some degree away from Mainstream Mormonism closer to this kind of a perspective?
There are other voices too. These voices seems more reluctant to encourage such a shift and are more often calling for us to stand back and not steady the ark with suggestions of better critical thinking, or a raising of concerns, or an encouragement rethink one’s paradigm. I will not name these as to do so will put everyone on the defensive.
For those who are resisting change including leadership, I want to make a plea. The internet age is here. People everywhere each and every day are having their eyes opened to the fact that the “dominant narrative isn’t true”. This number seems to be growing and have hit some level of critical mass. A Critical Mass because now every member is confronted with the real life examples of people leaving. These people in turn are exposed to the contradictory nature of reality juxtaposed against the narrative the Church teaches. The Younger generation seems to crave transparency and crave the truth no matter how uncomfortable it makes them. I know many wish not to turn the ship or at most to turn it slowly. I personally don’t see the room in today’s information age to do so. Many of our members are removing themselves from the fold… sometimes all to drastically even to the point of taking their lives. As long as Leaders say and manuals teach a Mormonism that is extremely different from truth and realty people will have to reconcile that cognitive dissonance and the feelings of betrayal.
What are some of these voices recommending that provides cognitive dissonance and betrayal
- Don’t trust google (hard to convey that a source of information should not be trusted when the voice saying it hasn’t been transparent)
- People who lose faith and leave are less than in some way and there loss of faith is because they were not as strong, or as smart, or didn’t try, or wanted to sin.
- Dissent in all its forms and types are unwelcome and unwanted.
- You must believe in the way I do. This takes on many forms. Literal interpretations, always taking the words of the leadership as the mind and will of God, interpreting social mores like what is a honest tithe, what is an appropriate interpretation of the Word of Wisdom, what color shirt one should wear
- Stating that the blame belongs anywhere but at ourselves. Blaming secularism, intellectuals, feminists, doubters, critics, and even Satan while never accepting accountability for our own faith’s contribution. Resisting any public effort acknowledgment that we (the institution) set you up for those feelings of cognitive dissonance and betrayal due to our whitewashing approach to history and our narrative.
- Stating that questions are honored and welcoming but never taking on or fielding the questions.
- Privately acknowledging the contradictory nature of our history and doctrine, but publicly dismissing most if not all criticisms so as to double speak to some extent in order to keep comfortable members comfortable.
- Unwillingness to admit that our leaders get very serious things and be falling short on serious matter at this very moment. To acknowledge we make mistakes but resist ever having named one.
- Asking us to give Brother Joseph a break while at the same time being unwilling to have a vulnerable conversation regarding the possible foibles within.
- Using the defense that God will work it out on the other side without validating the real problem on this side. There is real hurt and pain on this side, and dismissing that pain and any effort to address it with future possibilities does not help in most cases.
- An unyielding stubbornness to refuse to apologize for mistakes. We have been taught our whole life that repentance requires us to confess our sin and make restitution. Certainly Church leaders for instance could apologize for institutional wrongdoings. The avoidance appears to many struggling to be a effort to cling to authority.
I simply want to end asking everyone reading this to look at both agendas and sets of behaviors. Then looking to your gut and perhaps the Holy Ghost ask yourself which of these seems to hold more truth? Which of these two lists of behaviors and perspectives is more appropriate? Which of these will better help us move forward and have a thriving faith? Which of these truly encompasses the ideal that “Mormonism is truth”