Lowered Expectations?

One meme that is constantly bandied about the bloggernacle is the idea that people leave the church because they are too black and white in their thinking. That if people could just see more shades of gray then they wouldn’t be so disappointed in the shadier aspects of Mormon history. In fact, I think this view is very common amongst liberal leaning Mormons. I also think that this idea does more harm than good and ignores the issues and people it is meant to help. It is the liberal equivalent of the conservative Mormon’s “get your mind right by reading the scriptures and praying more.” And it is just as helpful. I see at least three problems with this idea.

Problem #1: It ignores the issues. Liberal Mormons are much better than conservative Mormons at hearing people out and showing sympathy for the doubts of others. This is to be commended. Conservatives tend to ignore the issues with knee jerk apologetics and calls for greater personal righteousness, prayer, fasting, etc. They don’t want to deal with the issues, in fact many of them don’t even want to hear about the issues, preferring to treat hard history like hard-core pornography, something to be avoided. Liberal Mormons listen, sympathize, and attempt to help. However, once liberals invoke the shades of gray argument, they are avoiding the issues just like conservative Mormons. The shades of gray argument basically amounts to telling someone that for whatever reason the issue just isn’t enough to make one lose their faith, and that the doubter just needs to see the issue as gray and move on. Notice what has happened, the issue has been taken off of the table and replaced by something wrong with the doubter. It’s the doubter’s fault that they wanted an answer when they should have been happy with gray. The tactic is different from conservative Mormons but the end result is the same.

Problem #2: It is condescending. It basically amounts to saying that people leave the church because they were a bunch of simple minded fundamentalists. Those who are sophisticated can navigate the waters of doubt because of their ability to see gray. How is this different than a conservative saying that people leave the church because of their pride and desire to sin? I don’t think it is very different at all. In fact, each reason plays to the biases of the group that spouts it. For conservatives, personal righteousness is seen as a great strength, so labeling those who leave as unrighteous strengthens them as a group and allows them to ignore those who leave. Likewise, liberal Mormons value open mindedness and intellectual agility. By labeling those who leave as black and white thinking rubes they strengthen their own group’s biases and ignore those who leave.

Problem #3: It is self refuting for a liberal Mormon to say this. Lowering expectations is a tool to conserve current social, political, and intellectual groups and ideas. Lowered expectations preserve the status quo, thus are inherently conservative, not liberal. A perfectly valid response by an Aristotelean to a Newtonian in the 17th century would be that Aristotle is just fine, so long as you have lower expectations of what a scientific theory can do. Horrible marriages are more likely to last provided that spouses have low expectations. And the worst dictatorship in the world will last as long as it’s citizens have low enough expectations. Now, I am not comparing the church to Aristotelean physics, bad marriages, or dictatorships, I am just pointing out that low expectations can lead to profound and sometimes dangerous conservatism. And don’t liberals reject this kind of conservatism?

Of course a liberal Mormon might retort that they advocate no such thing, that they do not suggest that expectations be that low. If so, then you have to make explicit just how low expectations should be allowed to go. However, I have never seen this spelled out by a liberal Mormon, at least in any detail. I think this may be avoided because of fear. If the liberal Mormon sets expectations too high, a critic might be able to hit them hard enough to push them over the edge. If they set the expectations too low, they and others may begin to wonder what’s the point of even bothering if one expects so little.

So, what’s my point? I think liberal leaning Mormons need to think very carefully about advancing a shades of gray point of view (EDIT: was agenda). They need to set clear boundaries as to what can be gray and what cannot. It can’t all be gray, not in a religion that makes as many truth claims like Mormonism. They also need to very clearly delineate just how low expectations can be set and honestly stick to them. However at that point, if they are honest, they may have their world shattered when they discover their expectations weren’t low enough and black and white becomes gray. Then perhaps a well intentioned even-more-liberal-Mormon will tell them their expectations were too high and they need to see in shades of gray. Turnabout is fair play.

109 Replies to “Lowered Expectations?”

  1. The way I see it is that we as mortals….human beings with huge ego and expectations are always deciding that we can create our own boundries and rules, no matter what the laws and “word” of God has declared.
    Simply put, you can “play” all day in the playground of the existence of a true “gray area in behavior and character attributes…as well as the existence of such an area of standards in any section of life.
    But as far as science goes, there is either (magnetic frequency) positives or negatives….a definite one or the other…….in spiritual things…truth or lies (falsehoods)…powers of LIGHT or DARK… the ‘ole’ black or white sides.
    Jesus himself said..I would you be either hot or cold and that he would spew out the lukewarm (gray) leanings.
    In problem #3 you say there is no reference to physics, but on the whole we have to keep or use as reference the tried and true boundries or guidelines to keep a true meansurement of what something really is, and where it is as well.
    That tried and true measurement is the “FRUIT” of the spirit, for any religious. In practice the “blowing back and forth with any WIND of DOCTRINE….(whatever mood strikes us / or political correctness / or the latest findings in studies or surveys) only makes a mess in the yard from the wind-blown debris and dust, as well as the damage of limbs off, broken flowers or whatnot.
    Being liberal is the same as being loose.
    Being conservative is being tight…….(holding FIRMLY to the rod?)
    Low expectations result in LOW fruit and outcomes.
    High expectations may not always hit the highest mark, but hey, ya gotta aim for the higest to make a decent mark..because we are all weak and make mistakes or need re-adjustments! (Repentance of course)
    THE BEST FRUIT comes from living water, a diligent gardener, best weather conditions.
    A liberal gardener will get a poor crop at best, if the tree doesn’t wither in the end bad storms.
    I totally agree with your assesment and PLEA for all liberals to think hard about their agenda.
    It’s not fun to be tossed to and fro and be spit out.
    If not now, later.
    Especially with the way their agenda affects this and the future generations. Ego aside, only a true hot FIRE produces true GOLD. Go Conservatism.
    Love to all…..

  2. Interesting post.

    You have criticized conservative methods for staying, and liberal methods for staying. But I fail to see what your approach is. Have I missed it? What IS a person to do then? Leave?

  3. “In fact, I think this view is very common amongst liberal leaning Mormons.”

    I think you need to spell out exactly what you mean by “liberal-leaning” here. I say this because I know many Mormons I would consider conservative (historical BoM, First Vision, etc.) who have this view. My Dad who happens to be a Stake President, is one of them.

    My other response to this post is anecdotal but important. I’ve seen a lot of emails from struggling LDS in my connection with FAIR and spent time looking at RFM and other such sites in order to understand the mindset of those who do eventually leave the Church. In many cases, it is exactly this problem of a rigid black-and-white worldview. The view doesn’t change, only the side of it one is on. The Church goes from Truth and Perfection to Lies and Deception. It’s not so in every case, but in a significant enough number that I consider it a valid meme, not just something “liberals” use to self-justify.

    As for your #3, I disagree with several aspects. Asserting a need to develop a tolerance for ambiguity and/or unanswered questions does not entail an intellectual/emotional passivity or apathy, nor does it entail a global “greyness” or complete dissolution of doctrinal boundaries.

    I teach my students that some things are grey, others are not, and we spell out exactly what those are.

    What constitutes a liberal? Is it a set of doctrinal propositions (non-historical Book of Mormon, etc.) they hold or reject? Or an attitude?

  4. Methods for staying?
    Sorry don’t understand.
    I was trying to show the clarity of meaning of just what it means for a person to have liberal standards.
    We are all seeking answers.
    We are all seeking understanding.
    We are all hungry for acceptance.
    We are all needing comprehension.
    We ultimately are desperate for true love and social structure that meets the needs of our well being and happiness.
    I am trying to point out that you cannot get a silk purse from a sow’s ear.
    We have to use the BEST and STRONGEST PROVEN ingredients / materials when we are building our lives.
    Liberal things are shaky because they are loose…tied to TOO wide of outlook.
    Our hunger and search for satisfaction has to come from stable and true sources for us to be filled.
    Over the decades, history has proven that liberalism only produces eventual decay and suffering for most of it’s participants (in a liberal mentality / living standards / politics / morality, religious worship).
    In our differing and varied search, it is never an answer to “GIVE UP” and “LEAVE” a difficult position or a struggle. We can find true and realiable answers and solutions by looking in the “RIGHT” places of tried and true answers….that have been proven over centuries.
    TRUE conservatism…that which is of God…is boundless LOVE, power, help, truth,
    Unconditional love …….which sound liberal to me, but it is under eternal laws.
    We don’t have to leave to get resolution with our religion or our God.
    It just is a whole lot of work, qualifying for revelation, looking in the mirror, repenting, searching, study, and like with this post, discussion getting new input.
    Love to all again….

  5. Ben……..I think a ‘liberal’ can be applied to both doctrine, and attitude/ behavior.
    The positions of hard line conservatism and liberalism, as a whole are a compound anyway. The more I read all the posts, including mine, it seems more clear that there is a mix between in all things….”must needs be an opposition in ALL Things”????? Yes?
    As for shades of gray Ben…..It still bothers me that everyone wants a ‘middle’ ground. There IS a distinct line between black and white. Light and dark.
    When it comes to truth, doctrine, facts. ONLY in painting / art / coloration/ nature (THE NATURAL)…..is there gray..shade thereof. (The natural man is an enemy to God….Mosiah 3:19) Would you explain why using that concept / term would be valid and applicable?
    Back to Eric: Sometimes in order to justify our own desires and choices, we strive to change the things around us to “FIT” what we feel / do / believe.
    A person who is striving for excellence, in knowledge as well as life’s practical following of his religion hungers for truth and wisdom. A starving soul is always on the hunt for a spiritual feast !!!

  6. Clearly a rebuttal of Kevin Barney’s blog on the same topic. I do agree with portions of both.

    I hate the concept of “lowered expectations”, especially in a Church where we obtain the celestial kingdom by being valiant.

    Perhaps instead of stating “lowered expectations” we should use the term “Correct Expectations.” The Church leaders continually teach us that they are mortal. Pres Packer recently stated that in General Conference. The Church’s official news site “Approaching Mormonism” tells us the difference between core doctrine, regular doctrine, and teachings. Both the Book of Mormon and D&C warn us about the weaknesses of the prophets in their writings and teachings.

    We should correctly expect the teachings of the prophets to get us into the Celestial Kingdom. We should correctly expect the core doctrines to stay relatively unchanged. We should correctly expect that this is a revelatory Church, and thus, other doctrines can and sometimes should change. And we should correctly expect that prophets and apostles will occasionally be wrong, which is why we have living prophets and apostles to gradually get us closer to the complete truth as it is clearly revealed by God.

    With this “Correct Expectations” view, we do not have to dip into the fundamentalist nor the liberal view points of “Unrealistic Expectations” by making the world too black/white or too gray.

  7. David,

    I am not sure if I am followiing (even less following what Sharon is saying), by why does the “shades of gray agenda” have to rhyme with the “gay agenda”?

    I didn’t know liberal Mormons had an agenda, I just thought they had a different perspective.

  8. Reading SharonLDSiTenn’s comments is pretty awesome. Her style is kind of like Bryce H.’s but more whimsical and punctuated. They should combine their respective virtuosity and blog under the handle “Temple Study in Tennessee.” You could pretty much say adios to all these filthy liberals because who would not be convinced by their arguments? Proof textology–boo yeah!!!

  9. I realize some people didn’t like the label “lowered expectations.” I thought it was funny based on the MAD TV parody and used it for that reason. People are free to substitute their own preferred terminology. But I was using high expectations to refer to fundamentalist assumptions (prophetic infallibility and scriptural inerrancy), and so for me lowered expectations mean backing off of those assumptions to recognize the role of humanity in the production of our scripture and doctrine. And humans, being such, are fallible and prone to err.

    Anti-Mormon rhetoric takes advantage of common Mormon assumptions of perfection in everything related to the Church. That’s the basic anti-Mormon playbook. Just take something like the Tanners’ Mormonism: Shadow or Reality? and page through it. The whole thing is based on the premise that everything should be perfect and consistent, and then proceeding to show that it isn’t, that there are contradictions. And if people accept the premise, they will be shocked by the presentation and will lose faith. That’s the whole game plan, and if people think in black or white terms and are incapable of handling any ambiguity or as you put it gray, they’re going to have a tough time when they encounter such literature.

    So when someone encounters a tract screaming that there have been 4,000 changes to the text of the BoM, their first instinct is to reject the claim as an anti-Mormon lie. But it isn’t hard to learn that there have been lots of changes to the BoM text, and the Tanners actually understate the number. People with high expectations perceive the BoM translation process as hardly involving human actors; Joseph was a mere conduit and is just reading the English text from a divine teleprompter, the words are the very words of God himself. And God is perfect and doesn’t make mistakes. There cannot be that level of error and inconsistency in the text.

    Take the editing done in the D&C. Or the First Vision accounts. Or all sorts of things. If people cling tenaciously to their high (read “fundamentalist”) expectations, they are setting themselves up for a fall. Because there is no way I can prove to you that there haven’t been thousands of changes in the English text of the BoM, or substantial editing from the BoC to the D&C. Those changes happened. To preserve faith, one needs to “lower expectations” and acknowledge that fallible humans were involved in the process.

    If one insists on maintaining the high expectations of a fundamentalist mindset, when challenged those expectations are essentially indefensible, and a loss of faith is likely to ensue.

    And I think that’s a damn shame and entirely unnecessary.

  10. Maybe my definition of what are high expectations is wrong, but I see it as the belief that the gospel as one currently understands it explains the universe, that you have the definitive answer about most things. So the value of lower expectations is to believe the gospel is sufficient to return you back to your God in good standing, but what has been shared with you is not the whole picture. There will be events that you just will not understand or be able to explain, and in the end that is okay.
    Purely personal experience, but I have seen people lose faith because they hold tight to extremely rigid orthodox positions not necessarily based in fact. That is what they learned in Primary, youth leaders, seminary, their parents, etc., Then as they grow up and learn that these closely held beliefs are not as true as they thought, they cannot handle that disconnect. So I see the value of admitting to yourself that just maybe you don’t know the absolute truth about everything and when something comes along that is different, that possibly there is an explanation beyond what I once believed wherein the church is still true.

  11. I didn’t know liberal Mormons had an agenda, I just thought they had a different perspective. Thanks for pointing this out, it was a poor choice of words on my part. I only wrote agenda once in the original post, but I have now changed it to “point of view.”

    As for the rhyming “gray” and “gay,” feel free to translate it to a foreign language (such as Spanish) where the two words don’t rhyme.

  12. Sorry, we political types find certain terms more charged than others might. I have translated it into Vietnamese and it is working better for me. I read a student comment about the “gay agenda” recently and it must have stuck with me.

  13. Pretty good post. The main problem is that there are certain elements that expectations clearly have to be adjusted downward for some issues (such as prophetic infallibility, scriptural inerrancy, etc.), while other expectations such as God’s power and ability to intervene in our lives may need to increase. Like Bitton said in his presentation, “I don’t have a testimony of the history of the church”: we should have REALISTIC expectations of the church. Everyone should read his talk on this topic, I think it is very illuminating.

  14. Eric (#2),

    You have criticized conservative methods for staying, and liberal methods for staying. But I fail to see what your approach is. Have I missed it? What IS a person to do then? Leave?

    No, you haven’t missed it. I simply don’t know what the answer is.

  15. While bloggernaclers do often praise “nuance” and “shades of gray’ — or “hair-splitting” and “compromise” viewed from the other end — that’s not what I with a few others were endorsing when we agreed with Kevin.

    I don’t want to water down the truth or compromise something that should be black-and-white. But if I have a false understanding, if I have absorbed from somewhere a mistaken (whether fundamentalist or liberal) idea on a matter where the church teaches something else or hasn’t even taken a stand, then I ought to be willing to soften (muddy, compromise, admit I was mistakenly black or white) my view.

    It isn’t compromising the truth to retreat from a false position.

  16. Ben (#3)

    I’ve seen a lot of emails from struggling LDS in my connection with FAIR and spent time looking at RFM and other such sites in order to understand the mindset of those who do eventually leave the Church. In many cases, it is exactly this problem of a rigid black-and-white worldview.

    By your own admission in many cases it’s not. What about those people? The other problem you have is that my guess is most people don’t go from conservative to DAMU overnight. The path is usually something like 1) Conservative Mormon -> 2) Liberal Mormon -> 3) New Order Mormon -> 4) DAMU. Presumably as a liberal Mormon they are seeing shades of gray, yet they continue on to 3 and 4. How do you explain that? If you say that they are still just seeing black and white, I would submit that you are bending the facts to fit your theory of why people leave. If you have a different explanation I would like to hear it.

  17. Ardis – Such an important willingness to retreat from falsehood is exactly what I mean’t to purpose.
    Also to add to another side of my view….I am not coming so much from the side of normal church interaction is…ie., with an ATTITUDE of hard line OR the other opposite an emotional or ‘ya gotta change this cause it’s just NOT fair’ argument from ANY side = liberal or conservative.
    I’m coming from the VERY personal / PRIVATE SELF-imposed guidelines and way of daily living currently understood doctrines / principles and the one-on-one revelations received from God to us as an individual for our very own individual and probably different lifestyle.
    Because we are being ‘sifted’ and finding our own level of comfort , or at least striving to do so, or even doing it by NOT doing anything……that level where we are happiest BEING……there are almost no ways to describe the detailed exact PLACE each of us is trying to create / or FIND. That the Disney movies called a “Happy” place.
    My application or state of being either conservative or liberal is in short…own on restrictions and guidelines WE demand from ourself..taking ALL that we understand and want to use in the process of developing self and future self. WE are empowered to CHOOSE and my reference is that we MUST CHOOSE a ‘well tried out’ path, that PREDICTABLY determines a sure outcome.
    IF we are liberal with ourselves, it’s a slippery slope.
    IF we are cautious and conservative, it gives us time and means to investigate and “give place in our hearts for the true things of the kingdom AS God suggests”
    It’s a huge assortment of things to choose from, BUT when we humble ourselves and LET THE HOLY GHOST BE OUR GUIDE, we CANNOT go wrong. What is so cool, is that you get the proof of the correctness of your choice by seeing IF you feel or are the character feelings and attributes in 2 Thessalonians, Chpt. 5.
    EASY monitor…to see IF our liberatlity is working for OUR GOOD, or if any level inbetween.that and conservatism in our choices is the right thing.
    and it’s free!………..just let go of my ego !!!

  18. Rameumpton,

    The Church’s official news site “Approaching Mormonism” tells us the difference between core doctrine, regular doctrine, and teachings.

    Could you please provide a link. I think I know what document you are writing about, but perhaps it is something I don’t.

  19. Adendum……Also was referring to PERSONAL progression headed towards personal enlightenment , NOT about whether to leave church, but instead to have an ongoing relationship with God, ongoing personal revelation where all these issues are settled…NOT with a Bishop necessarily….but between the Godhead and yourself…….knowing all things what you should do and being told all things you should know..II Nephi 32, almost whole chapter. I have a great story that applies, but gotta go to work. RATS.
    No computer there…..Love to all.

  20. …as I run out the door:
    Joseph Smith said: “I teach them correct principles and then they govern themselves”….or something close to that.

  21. #6 Rameumptum,

    I like the “correct expectations” idea. If we could see things as they really are, in many cases if we would just open our minds to the truth instead of closing our minds we could avoid much heartache.

    Once, in casual conversation, I stated the fact that Jesus was not born on Dec 25.. This girl I was talking with freaked out and began crying. Somehow, I destroyed her world view. For her it was a small crisis of faith. I’m sure she got over it.

    I’m sure that many people in the church could be hit with the very same thing. My brother was watching the “Mormon” episode of South Park and kind of freaked out when they showed Joseph Smith using the stone in the hat to translate the BOM. The same thing might have happened to him.

    I suggest that thicker skin needs to be grown among people who watch South Park.

  22. Kevin (#9),

    If one insists on maintaining the high expectations of a fundamentalist mindset, when challenged those expectations are essentially indefensible, and a loss of faith is likely to ensue.

    I would have to ask, Where do people get these expectations? Is it unreasonable that they should have these expectations? By that I mean were they delusional or did they simply believe what they heard in General Conference? If it’s the latter then one is force to the ironic conclusion that the way to preserve belief in general authorities inspired callings is to simply ignore what they say.

    While I agree that fundamentalist expectations might be indefensible, I would argue that liberal Mormonism may be unmaintainable, a conclusion which liberal Mormons don’t often trumpet. If your expectations are low, then it’s easy to just not go to church, because after all expectations being what they are you aren’t going to miss much. I think one sees this in liberal protestantism, it’s statistically undeniable that it is dying. While the liberal protestant position is more defensible, it seems that empirically it is not sustainable.

  23. “The path is usually something like 1) Conservative Mormon -> 2) Liberal Mormon -> 3) New Order Mormon -> 4) DAMU.”

    Is it? I think you might be assuming quite a bit. I do not think there is actually a pattern that people follow. There are many paths to apostasy. Not sure if Liberal Mormons or NOM are just a station along that path.

  24. Kent (MC) #13,

    About the Bitton article. I know what he is trying to say, unfortunately I think his position is not defensible. Of course he has a testimony of at least part of the history of the church, otherwise he would be a Catholic, Episcopalian, atheist or whatever. You simply can’t separate at least a kernel of church history from a testimony. However, Bitton never specifies what that kernel is. I have a hunch I know what he would say, but those areas are where the critics have a field day.

  25. “If your expectations are low, then it’s easy to just not go to church, because after all expectations being what they are you aren’t going to miss much. ”

    But Kevin and I keep going to church. Maybe I am just young, but Kevin is still going.

    Define Liberal Mormonism for me.

  26. Re #23,

    I don’t think I am assuming too much. I have heard the same story enough times to know that it is relatively common (not 100% of course, but common). The problem is that this destroys the shades of gray approach to dealing with doubts, so I think liberal Mormons may be disinclined to see it, because it nullifies their favored approach to dealing with doubt.

  27. But Kevin and I keep going to church. Maybe I am just young, but Kevin is still going.

    Define Liberal Mormonism for me.

    Simple, someone who thinks like me, I’m a liberal Mormon. This whole exercise has been as much self critique as critique of an abstract position. I can’t give a definition of liberal Mormon because it’s a series of family resemblances a la Wittgenstein, not a permanent reality a la Plato.

    I still go to church, my wife makes me 🙂

  28. Chris (Re #25, again),

    I would be interested in what you think of the data for liberal protestantism dying. Why is it happening? Why would liberal Mormons be any different from liberal protestants? They hold very similar views regarding authority, inerrancy, literalness, etc. Yet, it’s undeniable that liberal protestantism is dying. How are liberal Mormons different?

  29. Somebody please throw Sharon a bone here. She is putting out a serious volume of words and no one is acknowledging her efforts–except for me and I was being a snarkwad.

  30. Sharon,

    oudenos, is right, we have been ignoring you. Thank you for your posts, they are very heartfelt.

    I also think that your being ignored is actually proof of what I am saying, that liberal Mormons, want to ignore more conservative members and just tell them to “be more like us.” My apologies for ignoring your posts. Whether we liberal Mormons like to admit it or not, people like you are the heart and soul of the LDS church. Thank you for your comments and keeping the church strong.

  31. Rameumpton (Re #34),

    The document is a nice idea. However, it basically punts on all the issues. Also, it doesn’t qualify as doctrine based on it’s own definitions. If it’s doctrine, it proves that it’s own definition is inadequate, if it is not, then I can ignore what it says. See here.

  32. Chris,

    I agree it’s not an FPR answer. However, I would need to take a couple of hours to craft an essay on what a liberal Mormon is. Even then, no one would be happy with the definition, so the link is the best I can do for now.

  33. David #22 wrote:

    I would have to ask, Where do people get these expectations? Is it unreasonable that they should have these expectations? By that I mean were they delusional or did they simply believe what they heard in General Conference?

    I think we are still suffering from the methodology of the Church in the pre-1980s. Back then, General Authorities were encouraged to speculate, even in General Conference. To have Elder Benson endorse the John Birch Society, Elder McConkie predict the “atomic holocaust, which is sure to come”, and the tensions on evolution, etc., caused a period of infighting to achieve preeminence of faith. No LDS scholar will miss the fact that President Hugh B. Brown was relieved when Elder Benson was sent to Europe for 3 years.

    We were given books to read with titles such as: Doctrines of Salvation, Mormon Doctrine, etc. Just what do we make of such bold titles? Well, books written by GAs with such titles MUST be the gospel truth! Or so it was believed back then.

    Now we live in a time when actual scholars are entering the game. President Packer has told the GAs and church leaders to “teach the doctrine.” We are to officially get away from gospel hobbies, and onto real doctrine in the Church. This is fantastic. This allows the research to be done by true researchers, and not by GAs who should focus primarily on doctrine, so as not to muddy the waters. We don’t have to have fights over “my apostle is bigger and more authoritative than your apostle.”

    Still, we suffer as a Church from the remnants of those times. Mormon Doctrine is still found on a lot of LDS bookshelves. And many non-doctrinal teachings are still found in some of our older manuals (Institute – isn’t it time to update your manuals????). The Institute manual, btw, still quotes Elder McConkie as saying that Jesus was born April, 6, 1AD, despite the fact that science shows otherwise. It will take time to get past this fundamental view.

    But modern prophets ARE taking the discussion beyond. As I stated, they are focusing on the doctrine. They are trying to be more correlated. They are opening up the books (JS Papers, etc) as never before. They are willing to admit errors in things such as MMM. I think it will just take time for the membership to catch up with the leadership of the Church.

    BTW, I’m a very conservative member, but I am also a very realistic one in knowing that if I do not have correct expectations, I cannot have a correct understanding of the gospel.

  34. David (#37),

    I, too, am not Platonic and only wanted your answer. Not looking for the true definition. I will return to not being the “heart and soul.”

  35. I’d like to see some responses to Kevin and Ardis.

    “By your own admission in many cases it’s not. What about those people?”

    A solid testimony is a mix. Those who view everything rigidly and black-and-white need to embrace more gray. Those who think everything is grey need to move back to the center where there is some black-and-white. This is entirely possible. I do it, so do lots of others I know. My focus has sometimes been to help people identify which areas should be which. I think TSteven’s description in the last half of #10 is a good example of what I’m getting at.

    You seem to be assuming that “liberal” Mormonism (whatever that means) inevitably leads to apathy and inactivity.

    “If your expectations are low, then it’s easy to just not go to church.” Not if I take my covenants seriously, which I do.

    The conversation is suffering from a lack of clarity over “expectations” “liberal” etc.

  36. Re #40

    You seem to be assuming that “liberal” Mormonism (whatever that means) inevitably leads to apathy and inactivity.

    I’m not assuming that at all. I am simply pointing out empirical data (that’s the point of the liberal protestant example) that suggests that liberal religious beliefs may not be sustainable.

  37. Ah. I strongly suspect there’s equivocation in the term “liberal” between “liberal protestantism” and liberal Mormonism (which we again, have not defined well.)

  38. I strongly suspect there’s equivocation in the term “liberal” between “liberal protestantism” and liberal Mormonism (which we again, have not defined well.)

    I’m not equivocating. I would also accept as a response an explanation of how liberal protestants and liberal Mormons are different enough so that the statistical death liberal protestants are experiencing should not be seen in liberal Mormons. I would also accept statistical data showing just how active liberal Mormons are over the long haul. It’s hard to equivocate when you would accept just about any answer.

  39. Well let’s go back to the beginning then.

    Point #1- “ignoring the issue.” How does one respond to a LDS who thinks that any changes in the Book of Mormon undermine its inspiration? You don’t seem to allow for any kind of response without charging someone of “ignoring the issue.” Can you clarify what you mean? How, in your view, should one respond to this person?

    Point #2- It’s only condescending if a) it’s not true and b) it’s used to make someone else feel superior or self-righteous. Or do you want to suggest that in actuality no one leaves the Church because of either sin or fundamentalist assumptions? Again, can you flesh this out more?

    Point #3- I find this to be incoherent without some kind of definition of what “expectations” “liberals” are advocating.

  40. Not to belabor this, but I am not quite sure about your use of sustainable. I am actually very interested. The questions are not meant to be annoying. I have further questions, but I want to get on the same page.

  41. No, you haven’t missed it. I simply don’t know what the answer is.

    So I guess it’s a good thing I wasn’t expecting a real answer. Otherwise, I might be seriously disillusioned with this blog.

  42. I cannot find the source, but I recall a perceptive critique I read once along the lines that “liberal religion is the anesthetic that is applied while amputating the belief in God.”

    The way I read David’s post is what happens at the end of the day when we jettison many of the demonstrably false teachings (or faith promoting rumors) we have learned in the Church; what happens at the end of the day when we open ourselves up to alternate explanations for the universe or to fundamental religious narrative, or to less exclusivity of the LDS Church? What, in the end, are the core truths that are black and white, or should be black and white, for a practicing believing (liberal or non-liberal) Latter-day Saint

    To me, the question(s) narrow down to the same ones Joseph asked at age 14 (according to the 1838) account–what am I to do? how can I be right (be saved, according to the 1832 account) with God? Should I follow the LDS path, or shall I choose another? And I think those questions can only be answered, by consulting with our hearts, bearing in mind the intellectual “grayness” of the questions, and by seeking a connection with God, with the numinous for direction.

    I suppose that might be deemed a “conservative” answer–“pray about it”. But I think it is a slightly different approach from the traditional conservative advice, which seems to focus on praying about an entire set of truth propositions, and accepting them wholesale in a “black or white” fashion.

    My own feeling is that we, or at least I, can only see “through a glass darkly” as to the elaborate theological structures of most religions, including our own. I do accept and am comfortable with what seem to be the fundamental truth claims of the LDS tradition, but that is not the reason I have chosen to be and stay LDS. It is because I believe in a God, a Higher Power, who loves and cares for me (and all creations), and because I am comfortable that God is pleased and blesses me in being LDS and wishes me to continue in that path.

  43. Ben (re #45),

    Also, given that I am formally unfamiliar with “Liberal Protestantism”, does the wikipedia article accurately reflect what you have in mind when using the term?


    Yes, that’s pretty much what I mean. I forgot about those liberal Catholics, so it’s good the author of the wiki article put them in there. The article doesn’t say much but if you read or have read some of the works by the authors/theologians on that page you will get a good feel for what liberal Christianity is all about.

  44. Chris (re #46),

    By sustainable I mean: Do liberal Mormons (or more generally liberal Christians) successfully pass on their religious views to their children? Do the children of liberal believers attend church at about the same rate as their parents do? How likely are liberal believers to evangelize others to accept liberal beliefs?

    Now, these are hard to measure, especially in the LDS church. It’s hard in the LDS church because everyone, conservative or liberal, gets lumped in as “LDS.” Thus liberal protestantism becomes an attractive proxy measure because protestants tend to self sort into denominations based on their views. What one tends to see is that denominations which are predominately liberal are losing members in droves, which I take to be a measure of unsustainability. It doesn’t of course exactly answer the questions I posed in the previous paragraph, but it’s about as close as one can get without doing expensive longitudinal studies and in depth interviews.

    There is another proxy measure for how sustainable liberal LDS beliefs are, and that is the Community of Christ (RLDS). As a group they are much more liberal than LDS are as a group, yet there is a fair degree of overlap in shared doctrines and history. However, again what one sees is unsustainability in the form of budget shortfalls and decreasing membership.

    Taken in the aggregate, I think this shows that there is some correlation between liberal type belief structures and lack of sustained growth. One also sees the reverse, extremely conservative groups such as Pentecostals and JW’s are growing rapidly. Their beliefs may not be defensible, but their growth appears sustainable.

  45. Chris,

    Also, I have reconsidered defining liberal Mormon. I couldn’t think of a way to do it, but while having my lunch of steak chalupas and Dr. Pepper I thought of a way of doing it that is not immediately self-defeating. I think it may be most fruitful to define liberal Mormonism in terms of necessary conditions and sufficient conditions. I don’t think there are any necessary and sufficient conditions for being a liberal Mormon (which would be a Platonic definition of sorts). I plan on doing a post on this and inviting everyone to add and comment on my proposed FPR definition of liberal Mormon.

  46. As Al Gore often quoted Samuel Clemens as saying, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

  47. David Clark,

    The truth is, the “shades of gray” argument does in fact work for many Mormons when confronted with difficult issues. For others, the argument doesn’t work at all. I think that Kevin and Ardis (et al.) raise important points that this isn’t about side stepping the issue, but about questioning the assumptions of the implicit argument that those struggling with their faith have (Problem 1).

    As for point 2, that this claim is condescending, I think you have a good point here, but this seems to be more about presentation than substance. Isn’t it equally condescending to say that the church isn’t true because of problem X that I read on the internet, especially to someone who not only knows about problem X, but about problems A-Z?

    I think that you are getting off track from your original point by trying to set up categories and statistical data around your claim that liberal views are “self defeating” (Problem 3). While interesting, I am not sure that you need any of this to make your core claim that the “shades of gray” argument is not necessarily satisfying for many people who are struggling with their faith. Beyond that, you are really overstating your case about what will eventually happen to “liberal Mormons” or why “liberal Protestant” churches are struggling. Looking for a reductive explanation for some supposed correlation between being “liberal” and being committed to one’s religion is bound to fail.

  48. TT,

    The truth is, the “shades of gray” argument does in fact work for many Mormons when confronted with difficult issues. For others, the argument doesn’t work at all. Agreed, what do you with those in the latter group? Are they to just be ignored? Are they beyond the pale? One can of course say that some will leave no matter what, and that’s perfectly valid. But that brings up a subtle problem, because it implicitly assumes that those who can be convinced to stay take a liberal point of view, while those who can’t leave. It’s basically saying the only way to deal with issues is by becoming a liberal Mormon, and if you can’t then God speed.

    As for point 2, that this claim is condescending, I think you have a good point here, but this seems to be more about presentation than substance. I think it is substantial, I don’t think that it is about marketing and packaging, but I suspect we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

    I think that you are getting off track from your original point by trying to set up categories and statistical data around your claim that liberal views are “self defeating” (Problem 3). Yes, it does get off track. However, I don’t see the statistical data as being related to Problem #3 at all, problem #3 is purely one of self definition. The statistical arguments are related to a point I made later in the comments. Blogs are designed to go off track, so I am following the laws of blog here. That liberal theological views may be unsustainable is an unrelated point, brought up due to the rambling nature of blog comments.

    am not sure that you need any of this to make your core claim that the “shades of gray” argument is not necessarily satisfying for many people who are struggling with their faith. It’s not. I am simply addressing the belief that many liberal Mormons have that being a liberal Mormon is an unproblematic good thing, uniquely able to solve problems that those darned conservative Mormons ignorantly inflict upon themselves. I simply wanted to point out that both sides of the issue face problems. With conservatives it is defensibility of position, with liberals it is sustainability of position.

    Beyond that, you are really overstating your case about what will eventually happen to “liberal Mormons” or why “liberal Protestant” churches are struggling. Looking for a reductive explanation for some supposed correlation between being “liberal” and being committed to one’s religion is bound to fail. I am open to other interpretations. Why are liberal churches going out of business in droves while JW’s and Pentecostals are growing like wildfire? I, like Weber, see a connection between belief structures and social reality, so I see a correlation and think belief structures are likely causes. Again, I am open to different interpretations or statistics which refutes the correlation.

  49. I do not know what a more ‘liberal Mormonism’ would mean (or result in) for the church institutionally.

    To the extent I am or share views of “liberal Mormons” (or liberal Protestants, Catholics, Jews, Muslims or others) it is because that is my view of reality, not because I think that the adoption by others of my views would enhance future Church growth or not.

    If these more liberal views are correct, I think, over time, the Church will adopt them. And I do not think it will hurt the Church, because the Church (believing as I do that it is of God) will only be strengthened as it accept “all that God will yet reveal” from whatever source.

  50. The reason “liberal” denominations are losing business and conservative denominations are remaining steady or are growing is because liberal denominations suffer from free riders (see Iannaccone’s “Why Strict Churches are Strong” for more information)…this is not related to the belief system, but rather to the necessary *actions* and *costs* needed to be apart of the community.

    Conservative denominations simply happen to be strict and demanding denominations…and because of that, the people who join are those who are genuinely seeking for these kinds of structures, and who once they step inside, they maintain a cost to staying inside.

    So, liberal Protestants don’t go to church because there isn’t a strong cost for not going to church. But if Mormons do not go to church, or they do not strive to attend the temple, or they do not continue paying tithes, etc., then they face the social punishment from the community (whether it is unofficial — what people say in general — or official — church disciplinary action). If you are an apostate Jehovah’s witness, you are shunned, and if you want to be in the community, you are encouraged not to deal with the disfellowshipped.

    So the question should be…does “liberal Mormon” belief (whatever it is) lead to “liberal Mormon” activity demands? It seems that certain commenters here are saying that it does, and that ‘gray thinking’ leads to ‘gray actions’.

  51. Andrew S,

    Stark and Bainbridge were the originators of the rational choice theory applied to religious studies. They posit that stricter churches solve the free rider problem as you point out. They also posit that stricter churches produce a better religious product. This is because religious “goods and services” are collectively produced, thus the more people collectively work on the religious “goods and services” the better the product will be.

    They also posit that religion is “a system of general compensators based on supernatural assumptions.” Thus the rational believer will most likely choose those religions which can deliver the most on the best package of general compensators. By mitigating free riding and increasing collective participation stricter churches do that.

    However, what are the goods and services that a church provides according to Stark and Bainbridge? They are doctrines, rituals, and practices. So there is a very tight link between strict practices and beliefs, at least if you subscribe to the rational choice theory of religious participation, which you appear to do.

    I think this is also empirically sound. I know of no denominations which have liberal theologies and strict activity demands. Perhaps someone knows of one?

  52. You lost me here, David.

    So there is a very tight link between strict practices and beliefs

    It seems there is a *correlation* between strict practices and beliefs, but not a “link,” which might suggest causation, or suggest that “liberal” beliefs necessarily lead to less strict practices.

    Basically, from everything you said summarizing Stark and Bainbridge, I see nothing about “strict beliefs” or beliefs at all. I see things about the “products,” or the “goods and services” or the “compensators” or things like this (and I agree), but nothing about these things could be exported to say that “orthodox” beliefs necessitate these things more than “liberal” beliefs (however we want to define orthodox and liberal, which hasn’t really well been defined, as many have pointed out).

    What I would have to say is something like this…liberal Mormonism is distinct in a way that makes it different from liberal Protestantism, etc., So, liberal Mormons, though they may hold things like Prophets or the institutionalized church as “grey” areas (e.g., not infallible, but not just average joes with no divinity whatsoever), I think they do hold certain things rather strictly (e.g., existence of God, atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ, the testament of scripture such as the Book of Mormon). And just as well, they grow up in “strict” Mormon culture just the same as an orthodox Mormon regardless of heterodox beliefs. So because the church is so expansive in terms of belief (aren’t we supposed to be “creedless?”), liberal Mormons that you can talk to every day on the Bloggernacle or throughout apologetics sites or wherever are the liberal denomination that empirically has strict activity demands.

  53. I agree that fundamentalist assumptions and a belief in something approximating infallibility often result in a crisis of faith which is difficult to overcome. Faith built on those assumptions is becoming increasingly difficult to sustain. However, it is not enough to convince people that they need to adjust those beliefs. We have to provide reasonable substitute for those beliefs, and this is where we often fail.

    When we explain that sometimes prophets and apostles can make predictions that don’t come true, that they are products of their time and culture and, as a result, their teachings are often heavily influenced by their own biases, and that they can be dead wrong even on certain doctrinal issues, then what does it mean to be a prophet? Can they be dead wrong on gay marriage or other controversial issues? Can their advice on birth control, maintaining a year’s supply, sexual morality, the role of women etc. be largely a function of their own biases? If so, what distinguishes a prophet from any other good, wise man trying to lead and teach to the best of his ability?

    What do we tell somebody who was taught all of his life that the earth was literally baptized by immersion by the Flood? Or that we are descended exclusively from a literal Adam and Eve whose fall resulted in expulsion from a literal garden of Eden located in Missouri approximately 6,000 years ago, and that this fall brought physical and spiritual death into the world and this was the reason for the atonement? It is fine to try to disabuse people of these fundamentalist teachings, but what should they replace them with? We have to reconcile our doctrine with scientific fact, and it is not enough to say “well, someday we will understand”.

    If the fundamentalists are wrong, then what is the truth? What is the church if it is not what they thought it was? How are they to reconcile doctrine with science? The attempted reconciliations of which I am aware are not without significant problems, and virtually none of them are ever taught through official church channels. If you are going to blow up somebody’s foundation of faith, you have to build another structure for them to live in. Otherwise, they have nowhere to go.

  54. Andrew S,

    Since you were summarizing a facet of rational choice theory of religion I thought I could be more pithy about what Stark and Bainbridge were saying. Suffice it to say, their theory does posit a link between strict practices and belief structures, though it is much more complicated than I initially let on (again my apologies in being so pithy).

    Their theory is pretty hard to explain, it would take forever, and I would end up doing it badly. If you are interested two relevant works are Rodney Stark and William Sims Bainbridge, A Theory of Religion and Rodney Stark and Roger Finke, Acts of Faith: Explaining the Human Side of Religion. If you like audio, lecture 9 of Introduction To The Study of Religion covers Stark and Bainbridge’s theory.

    As for the rest of your post, you posit a false dichotomy between liberal Mormon beliefs and orthodox Mormon beliefs. The dichotomy is between liberals and conservatives, who both have equally good claims to being orthodox. As for the characterization of liberals you suggest, I think you might be surprised to see that some liberal Mormons are even more liberal than you think they are.

    Finally, liberal Mormons do not constitute a liberal denomination with strict activity demands. Obviously, they are not a denomination. I also think it fairly obvious that the majority of all church members and leaders fall into the conservative category, so the strictness is pushed by conservatives, the liberals really don’t have much of a voice in it. Hence, they are not a self-determining liberal group like say Episcopalians, but rather an amorphous group lacking institutional power. Lastly, even if one grants that they are a liberal denomination with strict activity demands, one still has to show that they are self sustaining and have the same activity level as conservatives do. My hunch is that they don’t. Data anyone?

  55. The dichotomy is between liberals and conservatives, who both have equally good claims to being orthodox.

    ?! Really? How? It would seem that since the leadership of the church *is* conservative that that is what defines orthodoxy as conservative…so, I don’t see how liberals and conservatives could have equally good claims to being orthodox.

    Of course there could be some liberal Mormons who are even more liberal than I suggested…but I do not think these are the ones that are being described by commenters here. I’m imagining that when people here (or elsewhere) describe liberal Mormons, they want to have a definition that includes themselves (and they are arguing that they are still genuinely Mormon, so I would think they would argue that liberal Mormons aren’t so liberal as to be on the way to apostasy or whatever).

    I agree with you that liberal Mormons do not constitute a denomination in the sense of being a self-determining liberal group. But at the same time, I do not think it is safe to say they are conservative Mormons. Rather, their denomination is weaving an ‘amorphous’ path in the midst of a group whose power is in the hands of conservatives (the way you classify this is why I say liberal vs. orthodox, btw). Regardless, precisely BECAUSE they have this combination, I think this is what gives them to the strictness of activity (it is what they keep from their enveloping denomination) with liberal belief (this is what they gain from themselves). So, I set this out…liberal Mormons as an experienced fact do have liberal beliefs. And I set this out…liberal Mormons as an experienced fact also do have strict activities (they are still in Mormon culture, fellowship, and activity). So, this is why I say they are a group that has liberal theology and strict activity — it’s the just way things are.

    You’ve got me on your last point though — I don’t have any data about sustenance or activity level contrasted with conservatives. I might try to say that liberal Mormons are sustaining and have same activity level as conservatives insofar as liberal Mormons are properly socialized as cultural Mormons. Because this cultural Mormonism would account for strict activity level, the products and services of the group, etc., but doesn’t necessarily require conservative belief.

  56. ?! Really? How? It would seem that since the leadership of the church *is* conservative that that is what defines orthodoxy as conservative…so, I don’t see how liberals and conservatives could have equally good claims to being orthodox.

    They both can have claims because while liberals do not have much institutional power, they have, for whatever reason, been the ones wielding the intellectual power. They are the ones driving most doctrinal, theological, and apologetic discussions in the church. FAIR, FARMS, Sunstone, and Dialogue are for the most part all made up of liberal Mormons (theologically speaking). It seems odd that the two groups which have become the de facto centers for defending the church (FARMS and FAIR) would be considered unorthodox, though they are populated with tons of theological liberals.

    Also, you may have a point about liberal Mormons being different from other liberal Christians. I think on average a liberal Mormon is much more conservative than say a liberal Catholic or a liberal Jew, if for no other reason than the Catholic and Jewish liberals can pretty much say what they want while liberal Mormons learn very quickly when to shut their mouths.

  57. I don’t understand your liberal/conservative dichotomy either. Whatever their other beliefs, I think most mature people understand that no one is perfect, including church leaders, past and present. I think most people understand that no one has all the answers and everyone believes things at some point in their lives that they later find are not so. I’m sure every member of the quorum of the twelve and first presidency, although they believe in the divinity of the church, knows that they themselves and their predesessors make, have made, and will make mistakes. It doesn’t necessarily follow that they lose thier faith.

    I think some people just don’t believe, and that’s fine. But there do seem to be a lot of people who are very black and white in their thinking, and these people cannot tolerate imperfections in their leaders. Thus everything about the church is pure sweetness and light, or it’s the darkest evil. No one can ever make a loony comment in church or have a different interpretation of the gospel than theirs, because it sends them over the edge.

  58. Hey, I’m just back from full day at work.
    So much has been contributed.
    So much to digest and consider.
    Question, please.
    What then is the generally accepted title for someone like me. I am almost entirely independent from the norm of church activity. I attend Sacrament, hold a Temple recommend, everything except being very social in the circles of members. My sustanence is almost entirely self generated. I have always considered myself orthodox, but recently felt the title mystic more applicable. My mind is always open. My end authority is always a direct witness of the Spirit. No matter the origination of the information, same thing. Ask God, go on what HE says. However, it has, for the MOST part, ALWAYs gone perfectly with all scripture. Never gone 100% on people. Always got second witness. Always have been taught from other side. But I KNOW THE CHURCH is true and IS the BEST path to the presence of God, because I tried other churches and no religion and this (LDS)ALWAYS had the clearest, fastest, most “totally makes sense with NO confusion” answer or path / way to follow. The Book of Mormon is the most incredible Liahona. POW.
    I worked in the LA temple. Never paid attention to people. Just kept my mouth shut, listened to the Still Small Voice and studied, sacrificed, learned, ASKED questions of God, etc. I have a hard time understanding why so many people have not yet gotten a real testimony and just go through the motions for family pressure or stability…….easier path than leaving, etc.
    It seems like so much complaining… Throwing words around. Wish I could take my heart out of me and give everyone a tiny piece of my testimony. Is it possible that only a few people have ever really read the book of Mormon, gotten on their knees and followed the instructions to be able to REALLY KNOW???? When you really know it’s true, the changes in the BOM don’t matter, the political things don’t matter, the gay issue boils down to my brothers and sisters who are each having their own trials and problems understanding their own burdens and tests. I am giving them the space to
    make all their own life path, and loving them unconditionally with only a desire to be treated back with respect and consideration for my own testimony.
    Father explained to me long ago, that WE MUST NOT JUDGE ANYONE. I leave all the postulating to those who simply don’t understand YET. I also don’t think you can lump anyone ….anywhere…into an instant label or group. Everyone is such a distinct individual with millions of factors making up their being. That’s why I love the term COMPOUND. It can apply fairly to so many things in time and in eternity. Each of us may look similar (the conserv. or lib. thing) (active / passive)…but we are very, very different layers….it’s no wonder everyone today cannot put a handle on this subject in posts …regarding a perfect definition or explanation of levels of LDS membership. Genius review and testing STILL won’t get a good answer that makes total sense for such a huge subject. Remember Lehi’s dream…they were ALL church members…and there was a lot of “mists of darkness”! Doesn’t it all still boil down to the crux of the matter is…..Are we focusing on Christ and the Atonement???? We alone are responsible for our immortality and eternal life progress and journey, why should we waste hundreds of hours on things that don’t apply directly and strongly to THAT?
    After all what I said I think I am going to call myself
    just “Sister of EVERYONE” or SOE. Thanks for letting me participate. I hear the sincere “call” for answers in the area of life today as a compound LDS. Please believe that your loving Heavenly Father is waiting for you to personally ask HIM directly. I believe He will answer you somehow.
    Love again to all……SOE…Sharon

  59. Sharon, I think you might just defy titles and labels. Good for you. Really, they are never very satisfying, though I guess they are useful for discussion.

  60. re 63:

    I recognize the distinction, but orthodoxy is determined by the institution…not the intellectuals. So, yes, apologists like FAIR and FARMS *are* unorthodox. Dialogue *is* unorthodox. Sunstone *most DEFINITELY* is unorthodox, to a level not matched by the others sometimes.

    In the end, the best reason for why we don’t generally call apologists “unorthodox” is NOT because they are giving authoritative statements (or even “intellectually” authoritative statements)…No, it is because their un-authoritative statements are details are inconsequential to the institution’s judgement of what makes or breaks the faith. It doesn’t matter if Noah’s flood covered the whole world or if it was localized. It doesn’t matter if the Book of Mormon took place hemispherically, only in a small strip of land, or in a different land completely. So, this is where the “gray” is…and no one’s faith suffers for it. Rather, it does matter if, say, Jesus Christ died for our sins. And people’s faith will suffer if that has to be dropped.

    These liberal Mormons, by the way, are precisely who I am thinking of when I assert liberal Mormons’ difference from libereal Protestants. Consider the very status quo: liberal Mormons make, out of whole cloth, Sunstone and Dialogue and FAIR and FARMS and make things “work out”. Liberal Christians, on the other hand, can’t seem to find their beliefs’ relevancy and leave.

    I think the reason that liberal Mormons learn very quickly to shut their mouth is evidence that they have a stricter religion and pay heavier prices for not fitting in.

  61. Sharon,

    Mystics do tend to defy easy categorization, perhaps you are one of them. Your attitude of being not judging others is something both liberal and conservative Mormons should do more of. Thank you for your comment.

  62. I think Andrew S #67 hit on something important. There is a big difference between Kevin Barney’s unorthodoxy at FAIR, and a liberal Protestant, who might even question the divinity of Jesus Christ.
    While some unorthodox LDS may have issues with Prop 8, you don’t often hear them questioning issues on faith – such as the atonement, or the prophetic call of Joseph Smith. They really dabble on the edges, trying to tighten up the story. But they do not question the core doctrine, per se.
    True liberals in other faiths often stab directly at the core. Some CoC liberals question the divinity of the Book of Mormon, for instance. It has become an optional belief in their religion for many. But at FAIR, you get people defending the historicity of the book.
    Yes, there are some LDS that probably do go beyond this point. I know some who question the historicity of the BoM.
    I guess the question comes, at what point do people stop being liberal/conservative believers and become liberal/conservative non-believers? Personally, once one begins to question the core doctrines, she no longer is a believer, but a non-believer, a MINO.

  63. David Clark,

    Bitton’s main point was that those elements of our faith that involve divine manifestations are not available to be scrutinized by the historical method or science. We cannot know whether the priesthood was restored by angels or whether Joseph Smith saw the Son (and/or the Father). We can scrutinize their testimonies, but we cannot know the facts (so to speak). That only leaves the manifestation of the Spirit to serve as the trumping evidence. Now the real issue is whether you give primacy to spiritual experiences and use them as personal evidence or whether you choose another philosophy as the framework for evaluating evidence.

    In the end, the need for interpretation never goes away, but Blake Ostler has a lot to say about spiritual experiences as the basis for belief and commitment to a religious tradition that I think you may have overlooked. That is to say, I think that some individuals will give primacy to a different framework than what you term conservative Mormons, but in the end it truly is a matter of choice and faith regardless of the side you end up on. The underlying philosophical assumptions of all belief systems (including sciences) are unproved and unprovable and are hopelessly circular and self-referential. In the end, belief is a choice (regardless of what you choose to believe).

  64. The underlying philosophical assumptions of all belief systems (including sciences) are unproved and unprovable and are hopelessly circular and self-referential. In the end, belief is a choice (regardless of what you choose to believe).

    And yet you live in a world with computers, the internet, modern medicine, cars, planes, etc. Your very lifestyle refutes your invocation of the worst of post modernism. This also goes without saying I have no idea why you even bother to bring this up since by your own admission it’s mere opinion, without any hope of ever being supported by empirical reality. Of course you leave room for the Spirit touching me, but then wouldn’t the Spirit have to somehow touch me in empirical reality, I am an empirical being after all. And could I even decide if the Spirit communicated with me since everything is hopelessly circular and self referential.

    Of course the logical think at this point would be to invoke Spirit to spirit communication as a means of directly overcoming this epistemological difficuly. But then, you have snuck in a Cartesian meta-narrative throught the back door, but I thought post modernism rejects all meta-narratives, what’s up?

    Suffice it to say I don’t your position is a coherent explanation for reality, nor something that can adequately convey Mormon theology.

  65. Kent MC,

    By the way, there is a reason I was being so snarky (I mean besides being the jerk that I am). You basically foreclosed any rational discourse with your invocation of extreme post modernism. It’s all just power relations and opinion right? The only tool one has against extreme post modernism is extreme emotional rhetoric, because the only argument that matters is the one that for whatever reason convinces you. And, extremely vituperative attacks seem to be a favorite tool of extreme post modernists, so I figured I would try it out.

    As for following the link. Why should I? By your own admission Blake Ostler can only be arguing a cased based on unproved, unproven, and circular reasoning. Furthermore, it’s all just relationships of power, right? So you live in your post modernist fantasyland, I’ll live in mind, and we’ll all be happy.

    Now, back to reality. I don’t believe any of this, but the extreme form of post modernism you are invoking forecloses any hope of coming to any agreement based on objective reality, and I don’t want to go down that path.

  66. Yes, and ironically your extreme post modernism closes people’s minds. I am open to being convinced otherwise. My guess is there’s nothing I could possibly tell you to change your mind about anything. Your beliefs are as good as anything else, so why bother? It’s like you said, a closed mind is a closed mind.

  67. David Clark (55),

    I repeat that I think you are getting sucked into either losing arguments or irrelevant arguments that are obscuring your most important points. Not only are you using a bunch of ill-defined categories such as “fundamentalist,” “conservative,” and “liberal” Mormons, but now you’re being sucked into a discussion of “post-modernism” (I’m afraid that your caracatures are pet-peeves of mine). I don’t really think that you are after some positivist “empirical” truth in raising this question of the value of gray area thinking (at least I hope not). I worry that the value of this conversation decreases as the imprecision increases. I think you are better off sticking to what I see as the core issues.

    1. Agreed, what do you with those in the latter group [those for whom gray area thinking doesn’t work]? Are they to just be ignored? Are they beyond the pale? One can of course say that some will leave no matter what, and that’s perfectly valid. But that brings up a subtle problem, because it implicitly assumes that those who can be convinced to stay take a liberal point of view, while those who can’t leave. It’s basically saying the only way to deal with issues is by becoming a liberal Mormon, and if you can’t then God speed.

    I think that this is an incredibly important question. I think that it also points to the difficulty of defining the difference between gray and black. I’ll say at the outset that I will stand by the claim that the ability to think through gray areas, not just in religion but in anything, is a sign of intellectual maturity and is a value in and of itself. This doesn’t mean that one doesn’t pick a side, or defend a certain position, but that one is able to acknowledge the perspectives of competing points of view. This does not mean that I think that those who can’t handle gray area thinking in the church are necessarily intellectually immature, which is why I think that you raise a good point. There are many who are only comfortable with a certain amount of gray after which they can no longer tolerate it. How should we respond to these people? This is the important point that you raise. I’m not sure I know the answer, but I hope that the discussion can work on this issue.

    2. On the issue of whether or not the advice to accept gray area thinking is inherently condescending, you say: I think it is substantial, I don’t think that it is about marketing and packaging, but I suspect we’ll just have to agree to disagree.

    I’d like to discuss this point more before we agree to disagree. The brunt of your claim seems to be that by offering a counter-argument to someone’s concern, it is by definition condescending. My point is that your labeling here seems to apply to anyone who offers an argument at all, including those who “condescend” to benighted believers that since Joseph Smith translated out of a hat, the church can’t be true. My claim is that condescension in an argument is rarely about the substance, but rather about the way that one interacts. Otherwise, your is claim that all-knowledge transference and teaching is “condescending” such that a literature professor teaching his students how to think critically is hopeless. Gray area thinking is critical thinking, which can taught in a condescending way, or not.

    3. I’m going to continue to advise against looking for reductionist explanations for the decline in so-called “liberal” churches in the past few decades. The rational choice theorists are wonky because, well, rational choice is a crappy theory. Really, you don’t need this argument to make your point, and you’re going to have a hard time convincing bloggernacle commenters, who nearly universally fit your definition of a “liberal” (anyone capable of gray-area thinking) and who are nearly universally active, committed members of the church.

  68. David, honestly, learn something about “postmodernism.” Terry Eagleton’s Literary Theory is an accessible introduction, or check out the Postmodern Bible. I think you are confusing postmodernism with some sort of imaginary relativism.

  69. “The rational choice theorists are wonky because, well, rational choice is a crappy theory.”

    Ahh yes, something the Kantian and Postmodern can agree on.

  70. I think the following might be helpful in understanding postmodernism (from a philosophy direction):



    Postmodernism can be easy to dismiss, largely because it is hard to get a grip on it. It is not easily defined. Postmodern analysis (see TT’s use of Judith Butler) is actually rather enjoyable to read.

    This is not to say that there are not important critiques. One of the above links discusses Haberma’s critique of postmodernism and Martha Nussbaum thrashes Butler. Both of these are critiques on the left.

    I would think that postmodernism would be particulary useful is looking at religion. There is nothing more fun than deconstructing religious concepts.

    Either way, let us all peace out.

  71. This is one of the most informative and provocative exchanges I have seen, my thanks to all.
    Back to Stark, commitment has to do with cost and investment not liberal or conservative. A so-called liberal can have just as high an investment as a so-called conservative. If my investment is high I am going to protect my investment, which may include “keeping my mouth shut”. That does involve fear on some level but not always the fear of not fitting in. Second, if it is agreed that liberals keep quiet then can it be said with assurance how many there are?

  72. TT,

    Thanks for the advice. I get my postmodernism from philosophers, not from some watered down version as filtered through literary critics. Yes, I know it is not relativism, but when you selectively pick and choose which parts you want to believe, which Kent seems to have done, then it does start looking that way (though I am sure he would vehemently deny it), and so because I engage Kent’s version of it, it looks like that’s what I think of it. FWIW, I think a moderate version of postmodernism is helpful in getting modernists to see the weaknesses and limitations of modernism, and to be much more careful in asserting truth claims.

    As for the rest, I am not even trying to defend my original points any more, though I still think they are valid. The comments have wandered far from the original point. That’s the point of a blog, it’s a meandering conversation. If it is not going to be that way, I will have to mercilessly stay on point and mercilessly delete any off topic posts. I have long ago realized that blogging is not about high quality intellectual discourse, but about mere discourse. If some high quality intellectual discourse happens, one just got lucky.

    As for harping on rational choice theory, notice I didn’t bring it up, someone else did. I was simply trying to have a conversation using language I thought someone understood (an I appeared to be wrong about that). I don’t really have an opinion on it one way or another, I just know a little bit about it. I guess you can say I expressed an opinion on it when I said that I think it’s prediction of only conservative beliefs producing strict behavioral demands is empirically sound. I don’t know of any liberal denominations which have strict behavioral demands. I am open to being shown wrong on this point.

    However, if I investigate rational choice theory further, I’ll take into consideration your opinion that it is “crappy.”

    P.S. I’ll have to think about your more substantial points and respond a little later. I need to get back to work now.

  73. David, my point (now that you have written so much more on the topic) is mostly that I choose to give primacy to the framework of spiritual experiences and less to other frameworks. As a result, my beliefs are certainly subject to change and influence, it just changes what counts as evidence. Isn’t that really the issue at hand? What counts as evidence and what does that evidence imply? For x group or y group, they will talk past each other because they have different underlying assumptions about what counts as evidence in a discussion like this.

    I accept science as a methodology while rejecting radical materialism, I truly don’t see a problem picking and choosing among available philosophies to fashion a worldview that works for me; since of course everyone is selective about what they choose to believe.

    To quote from Blake Ostler here:

    When we approach people who are not LDS and ask them to consider what we have to offer, we don’t suggest that we offer a superior theology of axioms and propositions (though I would suggest we have a compelling and beautiful theology and we may even share with them our best take on how our theology works for us). And we don’t try to persuade them through arguments from scripture that we can read the Bible better than they can, or that we have the best reading of scripture based on the most recent biblical scholarship (though we definitely will share our scriptures with them and will do our best to get them to read scripture, and I believe we have a persuasive reading of the texts). In fact, the last thing on earth we would do is send out a bunch of 19 year olds to argue with people about the Bible if that’s what we were serious about. Now, we don’t try to persuade them that we have overwhelming empirical evidence to demonstrate that we’re right (though we may offer them empirical evidence). Rather, what we offer is a way to enter into an interpersonal relationship directly with God to get answers directly from God. We don’t say, “Trust me and my brain and how well I can argue;” we say, “Despite the fact that I’m not such a great instrument, you can get it for yourself and you don’t have to rely on me.”

    Now let me be up-front about what I won’t do, because I can’t, and because it trivializes what I want to focus on. I will not give some argument or evidence to try to persuade you or anybody else that your spiritual experiences are valid and trustworthy. If I were to attempt to argue with you to prove that to you, I would only show and prove (quite conclusively) that I believe that in reality there is something more basic and trustworthy than spiritual experiences; that is, the arguments I would give you. If I were to argue in that way, I would show conclusively that I really don’t believe what I am about to tell you. Now in saying this I’m not stating that I won’t give reasons, or that I won’t do my best to reason with you. I am saying, however, that at bottom, these arguments are not what is most trustworthy and basic in Mormonism. What is most basic in Mormonism is the individual experience of the Spirit.

  74. David,
    what exactly are you arguing for at this point?

    What philosophers are you reading that lead you to believe that the Internet and automobiles disprove postmodern epistemology?

  75. Kent,

    My problem with the Blake Ostler quote is that it doesn’t say anything unique about Mormonism if you take what he says at face value. In fact it seems to suggest that other religions have inferior spiritual experiences or perhaps none at all. That’s just downright condescending, this line in particular: “Rather, what we offer is a way to enter into an interpersonal relationship directly with God to get answers directly from God.” Do we Mormons really think that God doesn’t have interpersonal relationships with those of other faiths, or inferior relationships with those of other faiths?

    Of course we don’t. So one supplements this by saying we offer spiritual experiences with regards to specific objects of faith; that one should pray about Jesus Christ as Savior, Joseph Smith as prophet, priesthood authority etc. But once you have done that you are back to making truth claims about objective reality. And once you are back in objective reality history, rational argument, empirical evidence, etc. come back into play. To argue that only spiritual experience counts for these particular facts strikes me as both unrealistic and special pleading.

  76. D&C 93:24 says: “truth is knowledge of things as they are, and as they were, and as they are to come;”

    That is realism writ large. Confirmation by the Spirit is an epistemological issue.

  77. Blake actually does have some interesting things to say about the spiritual experiences of other faith traditions that are quite liberal and pluralistic in some senses. Back to the evidence question though, what should count as evidence for you David? To me, you seem to be arguing that one can’t rely on spiritual experiences to serve as evidence that (for example) Joseph Smith saw the Son and was authorized by divine messengers. What counts as evidence for you then?

    I find it interesting if you think that some framework to approach the truth of an event via other types of evidence must hold primacy. If you feel that there is a different framework that can really get me at the “objective truth” of the foundational events of Mormonism, I’d love to hear what that could be. The fact that I have an experience doesn’t mean that it should count as evidence for you. If I did argue that you should trust my experience over your own, that would defeat my own argument. Back to Blake:

    Now, one of the characterizing aspects of the experience, as I said, is that it reorients our lives; it reorients the way we see the world. I suggest that spiritual experiences, at least within the LDS tradition, are based on what is given in all experience and all reasoning that precedes and exceeds both reason and experience. Such presence is always already known because it is the basis for our very experience itself. It’s like the lens. Without the lens we can’t even see; we don’t know what we’re seeing. And so it is with our religious experiences, we can’t even make sense of the experience unless we experience through it already.

    It is the very “first principle” of all of our experience. By the very “firstness” of what is always already included within our existence, it cannot be preceded by something more basic or be justified by some other explanation or argument. That makes it sui generis, or something that stands on its own. Moreover, such experiences are “regulatory assertions” which play a different role in thinking than evidence or arguments. Such experiences therefore resist logical and evidentiary proofs. Religious experiences may be the basis of truth claims, but not the same kind of truth claims as empirical and logical explanations or assertions. Rather, by their very “firstness” these experiences make other meaningful experiences and reasoning possible where they apply. Everything that we experience and say already presumes the truth of our experiences reoriented by the Spirit, and they become the lens that gives us eyes to see what would otherwise only be a blurry jumble of data without meaning.

  78. what exactly are you arguing for at this point? That blogging is an excellent way to waste time and avoid real work.

    What philosophers are you reading that lead you to believe that the Internet and automobiles disprove postmodern epistemology?

    David West, An Introduction to Continental Philosophy p. 197-198:

    Lyotard describes postmodernity as a ‘condition’ or ‘mood’ that corresponds to the present stage of ‘post industrial’ society. Post modernity is, therefore, a sign of the obsolescence of modernity. Lyotard defines modernity in terms of the role played in western societies since the Enlightenment by ‘metanarratives’ for the legitimation of both science and state….Lyotard proceeds to list a number of forms which metanarratives can take, for example ‘the dialectics if Spirit, the hermeneutics of meaning, the emancipation of the rational or the working subject, or the creation of wealth.

    Generally, I reject the idea that modernity is obsolete. Science, liberal politics, and market economics are not legitimated by some fake metanarrative which good postmoderns can no longer believe in, but by the fact that they have literally fed the hungry, clothed the naked, and unleashed the capacity of human beings to have a measure of physical comfort and security. What are the most visible and practical products of modernity? Clean water, abundant food, iphones, computers, and abundant leisure time for people to study for extended periods of time at elite graduate schools. I take this progress to mean that humans are achieving real knowledge of objective reality, not that we have whipped up some legitimating metanarrative.

    In the face of all this progress postmodernists generally try to denigrate it by simply writing this all off as “instrumental rationality” and that rationality as such is always legitimated by cultural, social, and political power structures. I believe we can and do have objectively secure knowledge of reality, as evidenced most forcefully by the fact that my sons and daughter survived childbirth and eat three square meals a day, while if they lived in say, 6th century Palestine they would most likely be dead by now.

    Now, one sneaky thing that postmodernists do, as pointed out by John Searle, is that they set up their epistemological system to be impervious to rational argument. So, I can’t disprove postmodern epistemology. I can simply offer evidence that modernity is not obsolete, that it’s a good thing, that it is a path to secure knowledge about reality, and that the evidence is all around us.

    Anyway, if you would like to have further discussions on this, it would probably be best done offline via email.

  79. Kent,

    Back to the evidence question though, what should count as evidence for you David? Both spiritual feeling and empirical evidence have to count and I think it’s silly for us to pretend that one always overrules the other.

    The best analogy is marriage. I love my wife, that’s why I married her. I have deep feelings for her. But, if she became a heroin addict, engaged in multiple extra marital affairs, and beat our children I would divorce her, despite any feelings I may still have for her, or the fondness of the good memories of her past self. It’s a complex interplay between empirical facts and the feelings of love that one uses to engage in marriage and continue the marital union. The same relationship between feelings and facts hold for joining a church or continuing in the church.

  80. TT,

    I am embarrassed to admit, in the spirit of full disclosure, that David West, though he wrote a purely philosophical book, is actually a political scientist. Oh the shame! Can I live this down? I am sure Chris will nurse me through this.

    However, I can take pride in the fact that John Searle is a purely analytical philosopher in good standing, and has never pretended to be anything but that. And he kicked Derrida’s butt in debate (though that’s debatable, pun intended).

    Chris, is butt a valid postmodern term?

  81. The problem with spiritual experiences, as I seem them at least, is that they are beyond feelings and only subject to my own ability to understand and are outside the bounds of communication with others (which understandably will drive many up the wall). They are interpretive as well as interpreted, approached but not communed with others. I think the analogy fails to approach my experience, because it isn’t Joseph Smith that is the heroine addict in this one, but God. The fruits of the gospel come from God, not his leaders in the church. Obviously, if believing/living the gospel as I understand it makes me miserable, why should I believe it? There is always the possibility that I’ve misunderstood the gospel and that is why I’m miserable; but that says nothing about the truth claims.

    So, what are the black and white areas of the gospel that you asked about in your original post which a liberal Mormon must stake out? As I see them:

    #1 The man Jesus Christ was resurrected and lives today as a potentially maximally powerful and knowledgeable being who loves humanity and seeks to serve them.

    #2 Joseph Smith received divine authorization from divine messengers to establish and administer Christ’s church (while not necessarily at the exclusion of other organizations or traditions).

    #3 That same authorization resides in Thomas Monson today.

    If any of these propositions fails, Mormonism fails, but I really don’t see the need to stake out much more than this. Do you?

  82. “…offline via email.” David, you totally just blew my mind. Take that postmodernists–this (now faltering) postmodernist smartass just had his constructed consciousness smashed to pieces in three words. Word.

  83. David Clark,

    Adam West is a political philosopher in a political science department. Most political philosophers working with postmodernism are in political science. I am a analytical political philosopher with political science.

    Postmoderns tend to be in political science, English, sociology, and anthropology. The postmodern departments within philosophy tend to be marginalized (somewhat unfairly, though with reason) by the rest of the discipline.

    If you look at Foucault, a philosopher, much of his work is considered to be sociology/social theory (though the same could be said about Habermas). In a way that is true what it comes to his class studies of control and punishment. But in the end, who cares how we classify it….it is good.

    BTW, they are not arguing against the achievements of modernity (though they might argue, correctly, that not all of modernity should be considered positive progress), they are arguing for a different lens through which to view the world. Whether it succeeds or not, I really do not care, but I do think that you are not giving it a fair treatment. I actually think you are using the terms in a historical sense while trying to make a more philosophical argument. It is not working. TT is the expert on this; I would defer to him on the meaning of postmodernism. It is what he does.

    For the first time, I am bummed to no longer be part of the behind the scene FPR conversations. Darn my temper.

  84. OK, let’s get this straight for the record.

    The postmodern stuff came out when I thought Kent was bringing up an extreme form of postmodernism. I admit I got hot under the collar and fired back something snarky at Kent. To his credit Kent remained cool as a cucumber. Thank you Kent for your forebearance and patience. It does you credit. I don’t think we agree, but I respect your attitude.

    Next TT, called me out on postmodern stuff. I go back and think after returning snark for his snark.

    Kent posts later using more Kuhnian/paradigm type language. So, now it looks like Kent is approaching epistemology from that framework, not postmodernism. I think there are problems with this approach, but at least it’s much more well defined. Postmodernism has all of the coherence of super heated plasma.

    Next, I post my take on post modernism, including my admission that I unknowingly read a book by somebody who works in a political science department. I say 50 Hail Marys and 50 Our Fathers to repent. God forgives me, He is merciful.

    Finally, ChrisH informs me that TT is the reigning champion of the universe when it comes to postmodern theory. Fine, TT, you pwned me. I admit that my grasp of postmodernism doesn’t come close to yours.

    Now, postmodernism has done one and only one thing that I am interested in. It has made moderns be less dogmatic and more critical. Which essentially means it forces moderns to be even more modern, which is a good thing in my opinion. Apart from that postmodernism interests me about as much as a debilitating case of hemorrhoids.

    Peace Out, Yo!

  85. I did not say that “TT is the reigning champion of the universe when it comes to postmodern theory.” I am not sure if TT is even a real person. Anyhoo, I thought this was interesting. No need for frustration.

    Peace out to you, too.

  86. And you’ll notice, I dropped out completely as soon as we started slinging -isms about 😉 I’m totally out of my league with that stuff.

  87. ChrisH,

    Sorry for the frustration leaking through the hyperbole. I never enjoy enjoy being offensive, you have my apologies.

    Kent (MC),

    You was also on the receiving end of frustration, you also have my apologies.

  88. Ben,

    You and your ism-phobia.


    No offense. taken. This stuff should be fun. Afterall FPR is a family (in a postmodern kind of way ;)).

  89. So, back to topic (hugs and loves to all), I drew my line in the sand on the three core beliefs that a liberal Mormon should not attack without abandoning the community. What say ye?

  90. I am happy leaving it with the hugs and kisses, but I am willing to play.

    I could agree with your three points (Christ, Joseph Smith, Living Prophet). I am not sure if these have to be black and white since there can be a variety of approaches. But I believe that Jesus is the Christ. Joseph was called to be the prophet of the restoration, and Thomas S. Monson carries that mantle today. Not sure if these things have the same meaning as they do for other.

    Would the temple somehow fit under number 2 (Joseph Smith). The Book of Mormon, likewise? I guess I would say that you list is a decent start for discussion, but I am not clear as to whether it is sufficient. Likewise, would there be some sort of rank order with some being more vital than others? I think there would need to be.

  91. Chris, I am willing to grant baptism to anyone that holds those three beliefs (and is willing to live according to the church’s moral standards). I say you can ignore the temple and the Book of Mormon and remain in full fellowship. The way you interpret their presence in the historical record can be all over the map (from disbelief in any literalness to accepting the standard correlated versions) and not affect your membership. Again, the issue is about Christ’s divinity and authority. Everything else is just tactical in my opinion.

  92. Maybe, I am just too conservative. Haven’t said that in a while. I actually do not think it is so much about specific belief, but about participation in the kingdom. This is how we worship Christ. Temple worship is part of this participation. Sure, we must believe in the divinity of Christ, but fellowship should be about worship and not mere belief.

    I might have differing views about the historical nature of the Book of Mormon, but I cannot ignore it. I might get different things out of the temple than others, but I cannot ignore it.

  93. I don’t think that calling it “Correct Expectations” or “Realistic Expectations” is any better. The question is, if I can expect less-than-perfection from the prophets, who speak for God (follow the prophet, he knows the way, right?), then what level of expectation should I have?

    Where should I expect to find errors? What should I do when I find them? How low should the bar be placed before the Mormon Church simply isn’t worth believing in?

    If it’s just “Jesus is the Christ,” then we had no need for the Mormon Church. The Bible teaches that adequately (at least, most other Christian churches seem to think so). If we add “Joseph Smith was a Prophet,” then we need to know what to expect from him. Do offhand remarks count (“Mahonri Moriancumer,” for instance)? Do we accept the D&C as true, as written? Can we change “White” to “Pure”, back to “White”, then back to “Pure” in the Book of Mormon? How about the Book of Abraham? Can we accept that as scripture, but decide that Joseph Smith simply was confused as to the original document?

    You are correct; saying “lower your expectations” is no different that saying “pray and read the scriptures.” It’s a way of avoiding questions. But, if our faith is suffering because of questions (and they seem to be same questions over and over for most people), then shouldn’t we expect that a prophet of God would answer the question? What *should* we expect from a prophet?

    And, most importantly, what would the *prophet* say we should expect?

  94. Kent (MC),

    I appreciate what you are trying to do with the 3 things that people should hold to or leave the church. I don’t see any problem with those three things, I just think that it can’t be only those three things for two reasons, one theoretical and one practical.

    The theoretical reason is that believing those three things (Jesus as Lord, Joseph Smith as restorer of authority, Thomas S. Monson as continuation of authority) cannot be done in a vacuum. You can’t carve off those three beliefs and isolate them from everything else. Belief in Joseph Smith as a prophet/restorer logically entails certain beliefs about what he did that cannot be separated from his prophetship. I’m not claiming that he has to be perfect, but when he claims to do prophetic things repeatedly and over a long period of time you have to believe that is part of being a prophet. Because if you are going to ignore everything he said or did, then what’s the point of calling him a prophet? If the word prophet is going to have no content behind it, what’s the point of calling him that? And what’s the content behind this? Book of Mormon, Book of Abraham, Doctrine and Covenants, polygamy, Zion, city building, priesthood authority, divine messengers etc.. And these seem to be the very things your very carefully crafted 3 point summary seeks to avoid, all of the things that cause all kinds of consternation among liberal Mormons. If you are going to believe he was a prophet, then believe he was a prophet, not just a prophet in name only.

    On a practical level it just won’t work. We have a lay clergy which means that everyone has to pitch in and teach and lead. If all you assent to are those three points, how are you ever going to teach the deacon’s quorum? How are you ever going to be Relief Society president? At some point you will have to deal with things other than those three points at which point you either lie or really start ruffling feathers. If you are lucky you will have an understanding Bishop who will allow you full social participation (participation in ordinances, temple attendance) without full participation in callings, but that’s simply not a universal solution for people who only subscribe to your three points. And, you are essentially consigning yourself to life as a second-class, ostracized citizen in the kingdom.

  95. Goldarn,

    I think this is the plight of the liberal Mormon, wanting to carve off a core of doctrine and history that is both easily defensible and yet still uniquely Mormon. I don’t think it can be done, at least not presently.

  96. #106 Goldarn,

    But if we have personal belief systems all over the board (I would like to bear my testimony that the Brother of Jared was named Mahonri Moriancumer…), then there is nothing that holds us together.

    What holds both conservative and liberal Mormons together is not the political actions of the Church. Nor is it the vast technology nor history.

    Correct Expectations, means that if we establish core doctrine that everyone agrees upon (including GAs), then anything outside that realm can be embraced or dismissed at the individual’s whim.

    I believe that the 3 key points mentioned are at the very core of the gospel. I also believe there will be important doctrines that come out from these, most of which are briefly described in the Articles of Faith. Note that these doctrines are not always well fleshed out. Jesus is the Christ is a doctrine, but from there many different viewpoints can come up with varying details of what that exactly means.

    I think we need to be wary of the Pharisaic work of building a wall around the Torah. If we try to create an official doctrine that gets too deep and stiff, we might as well start creating a bunch of creeds and boxing in our faith as other religions have done (this being one of the Church’s strengths, according to Terryl Givens).

    With a minimal set of core doctrines, supported by a minimal set of other doctrines, we allow for more people to fit inside the LDS tent comfortably.

    As Pres Kimball once stated, it doesn’t matter whether the Pearly Gates swing open or slide open, as long as they open.

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