Strange bedfellows for progressive MormonsBy: Andrew S
…if you wanted to make a TBM (true believing Mormon) cry you just tell him that the church is not true. If you want to make an uncorrelated Mormon cry tell him the church is not changing. ~Kiley, “The middle path…” We were going to be queens.
The above quote was just part of an expression of something that I think is best described as the second disaffection from the church (of which it appears from the rest of the post that Kiley is undergoing)1. If you’ve been around the Mormon blogging world, you may have heard of something called the Disaffected Mormon Underground (or DAMU)…which has gone through informal rebranding over time2.
Whatever it is called, if you are aware of the DAMU and of its major players, certain images and stereotypes may come to mind about it. You probably have the image of angry ex-Mormons. Why are they so angry? If you have heard some of their stories, then the reasons they would probably employ would be par for the course for the first disaffection. These reasons shouldn’t be tough to summarize: they feel deceived about what the church is and claims to be.
The First Disaffection
For me, the idea of the first disaffection made sense. It made sense in a way that, for a long time, I considered it to be the only disaffection. It was easy to believe that most people who disaffect and disassociate from the church do so because, one way or another, they have come to disbelieve that the church is true5. With this assumption, I have expressed skepticism about “New Order Mormons” and “uncorrelated Mormons” who still hold fast to Mormon identity while believing differently about many truth claims of the church. That is why I asked uncorrelated Mormons in a previous post to put their money where their mouths are.
My hypothesis and assumption in writing that post was that no matter what uncorrelated, New Order, liberal, or otherwise heterodox Mormons ended up being comfortable with, they would not be comfortable with serving in some critical capacities in the church as a direct result of their not accepting some truth claims of the church. To put it bluntly: if you don’t believe in the truth claims of the church, then you can’t honestly make a good missionary preaching about those truth claims.
I extended my post further with a weaker hypothesis: if you do not believe in the truth claims of the church, you do not have incentive to pay a full tithing6.
The funny thing about that post was that the responses didn’t go quite as planned. People were responding in ways that I just couldn’t comprehend (and the same happened when I posted the topic on the New Order Mormon forum). One such person whose responses I couldn’t comprehend was Chino Blanco.
If you’ve seen Chino Blanco comment or post throughout the Mormon internet sphere, you may probably already have a strong opinion of him. He’s a distinctive character, for sure. I’m sure that he’s infamous around the Bloggernacle for being critical of the church and unafraid to post his criticisms anywhere he hasn’t yet been blacklisted. He doesn’t mince words. But one other thing I know about Chino is that he often says things I don’t comprehend. So, I thought that his responses to my post were just more examples of that.
However, I’ve been re-reading his comments, and over time, I’ve started considering something quite different…that my entire mental image of Chino Blanco has been incorrect.
I’ll start with a comment of his from my post on uncorrelated Mormons:
One of the dynamics that I suspect is going on with quite a few of us is that we feel we could potentially be helping the church to address any number of issues … but they never ask. I hit the wall as an AP in Brazil after working as an interpreter for the Area presidency. There was simply no mechanism available for suggesting how we might do better at retaining the members under our stewardship. Lord knows, I tried. And, yeah, I know I’m an outlier. 99% of the mishies just wanted to complete their two years in honorable fashion without bothering about outcomes.
At the end of the day, there’s the meritocracy that folks like us are comfortable with in the workaday academic or professional world, and then there’s church. And maybe I’m all alone on this, but I’m totally mystified (and yes, offended) by the lack of interest the church has displayed in my abilities.
And yes, there’s a point here. For anyone who’s listened in on John’s podcasts, what voices do you hear? I hear a lot of folks who sound just like me. I mean, folks from the same social class. We might have some skin in the Mormon game, but we’re also used to running the game, calling the shots, in our other pursuits. And we excel at networking. We’re not plebes. So unless you’re gonna utilize us, we’re gone anyways.
The interesting thing about this comment is that it’s a discussion about what the church does or allows its members to do, and not one about what the church is or claims to be. The reason why Chino says people like him are “gone anyways” is not (necessarily) because of anything about the church’s truth claims, but because of how the church operates with respect to members within it who perceive of certain weak points and issues, and who want to help the church with respect to those issues. To the extent that Chino Blanco is discouraged by the church, discouraged enough to leave it, it’s because he thinks the church’s hierarchy is too inflexible ever to change in meaningful ways. It’s because when progressive Mormons like Joanna Brooks write out of a prescient and perceptive awareness of an increasing demographic that has nontraditional views of gays, feminists, and intellectuals, Lyman Kirkland of the LDS Newsroom rebuffs her articulation.
…If you want to make an uncorrelated Mormon cry, tell him that the church is not changing.
All Mormon Blogs and Bloggers Aren’t Made Equally
Within the next week or so, I plan to begin a comprehensive series on the different players and factions of Mormon blogging (since I suspect that while many of you are familiar with the idea of a “Bloggernacle” and of some blogs within it, you may not quite understand its dynamic). One lesson I’ve learned is that blogs and bloggers aren’t all equal in tone or topics.
Every day, many of you come here from the Mormon Archipelago, the Gateway to the Bloggernacle7. So even if you are vaguely aware that “Mormon” + “blog” doesn’t necessarily equate to “part of the Bloggernacle,” you probably suspect that we at Wheat & Tares fit the bill (and we authors certainly think so too.)
Nevertheless, if you visit other blogs occasionally, you’ll find Chino Blanco around various posts, expressing what he feels of their approaches. In an email, he summarized it thusly:
I respect what John D and Joanna B try to do. Whether or not it ultimately results in any institutional changes, I think it opens up space for Mormons to breathe easier and think more freely. It’s why, on the other hand, I don’t respect much of what happens in the Bloggernacle (a place that gives me the same suffocating feeling I used to get from the LDS hierarchy).
What does this mean? Why are John Dehlin and Joanna Brooks in the clear, but Bloggernacle blogs not? Are we in the clear?
…and who are the strange bedfellows I alluded to in the post title? Allow me to try to wrap everything up.
Strange Bedfellows: The Wind Down
During and after Prop 8, many bloggers commented on how the LDS seemed to have “strange bedfellows” with (among others) the evangelical community. After all, why would the church join sides with a group that disagrees with us theologically and considers us to be a cult?
Well, perhaps the theological differences did not matter as much as the political similarities.
So what I would like to assert are that there are some strange bedfellows for progressive Mormons as well…and an opportunity for action. In a Millennial Star post that began as a discussion of a possible blog award hosted by M*, the discussion quickly turned to the need for boundary maintenance and redefinition. Scott B made the case that while a faithful/critical demarcation is necessary, various believing Mormons should not separate and divide.
John C continued that point, arguing that the believer/nonbeliever distinction is significant, but that a divide between, say, the generally politically conservative blogs of the Nothing Wavering aggregator and the (in comparison) more moderate-to-progressive blogs of the Bloggernacle is unnecessarily divisive.
My argument, which I’ve been thinking about ever since these comments were made, is that perhaps we should reconsider the boundary lines. Instead of thinking in terms of theological similarities and differences (as John C and Scott B’s comments do), why not think in terms of political similarities and differences?
It sometimes feels that some Mormons view ex-Mormons as aliens from outer darkness (rather than outer blogness), unable to be communicated with. When ex-Mormons intrude in the Mormon blogging midst, they must be watched carefully and dealt with swiftly before they become hostile. And it’s all because we believe differently about what the church is and what it claims to be.
…but couldn’t we instead look at what we want the church to do? My argument is that here, there is far more similarity than perhaps we would be willing to admit.
I’ll go and state it bluntly again: Mormons in the Bloggernacle for the most part are progressive folks.
What does this mean? I think that Mormons in the Bloggernacle can be feminist and call for a reevaluation of the role and worth of women within and without the church. I think that Mormons in the Bloggernacle, even if they may not support gay marriage per se or even homosexual relationships, are in general aware of the pain that gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people experience and do not want their church to exacerbate that pain. That Mormons in the bloggernacle would, even if they do not actively campaign for certain changes, be very grateful and thankful if revelation was received on one of these or other social issues. I think that Mormons in the Bloggernacle want to find a way to re-engage young adults, to re-engage single adults, to revitalize missionary work and re-engage the non-Mormon public.
And you know what? The same is true of the so-called disaffected Mormon underground, or Outer Blogness. Of many ex-Mormons. When someone like Chino Blanco thinks about the change that could occur in the church to improve the church, this goal is not counter to a faithful Mormon’s own desire for the church to be more successful.
So, why do we continue to divide by faithful and non-faithful? Why don’t we look at what we want to do, or what we want the church to do?…for that matter, what do you want the church to do, anyway? Are there some wishes you have of the church that you no longer have hope will ever occur?
Do you think that a shift in focus to actions over beliefs is workable, or is there a necessary chasm between ex-Mormons and Mormons?
- If you are familiar with Ricouer’s Second Naivete (of which, I’m not, except through reading summarizing blog posts), then I would suppose that the second disaffection is what happens if the second naivete doesn’t work out so well for you. ↩
- See, for example, Holly’s post on the idea of a “Mormon Alumni Association” or, even more recently, the Outer Blogness aggregator. ↩
- I am well aware that the term “true believing Mormon” is a loaded term whose use serves best as a Mormon shibboleth. Nevertheless, I’ll use it with the defense that I do not intend to imply its more acerbic possible connotations. ↩
- Please understand the implications of this statement. Many disaffected Mormons are former “TBMs,” whatever the term means. ↩
- Ironically, I believed that even while believing that I was a rare exception: I do not feel like I came to disbelieve the church’s truth claims (because I never believed them), but rather I came to a point where I realized I didn’t have to pretend to believe in something I didn’t, and that for other Mormons, church is not a game of pretending. (Or maybe it sometimes is.) ↩
- Now, this hypothesis seems even weaker than it did before. It requires some crazy leaps in logic. ↩
- Yeah, I check traffic daily. ↩