Why I Write for Wheat and Tares

By: Mike S
June 21, 2012

It’s been over 16 months and 40+ posts since Hawk invited me to try my hand writing a guest post for Wheat and Tares, and I’m still plugging along.  With some of the recent posts and comments, it made me step back and wonder – why do I keep doing this?  This site has been accused of having a majority of “non-believers” (although that is a sophomoric misinterpretation of statistics, likely to make a pithy headline).  My mother reads some of these posts, and I’m sure she bats her head wondering where she “went wrong”.  People disagree with things I write and question my assumptions.  It can be messy.  So, why continue doing it?

There are several reasons, some of which I alluded to in a comment on hawk’s recent post.  These include a need for a “middle ground”, providing support for others who might otherwise feel alone, and to examine my own faith.

1) Need for a middle ground

People have a wide range of relationships with the Mormon faith, and various Mormon-themed blogs have different roles in this.  On one end of the spectrum are those people who are completely “out” of the church.  They have found fulfillment in something else – be it another religion, a community group, meditation, whatever.  They don’t really have much interest in the LDS faith one way or another, and likely never seek out any site like Wheat and Tares, or any other Mormon-themed site.

There is another group of people who are also “out” of the Church but who are still coming to terms with what that means.  For nearly all people, leaving or changing a religion can be a very disruptive thing.  We actually celebrate and encourage this changing of religion, even if it leads to being “disowned” by family and friends, as long as it is TO the Mormon faith.  This is the basis of our missionary program.  If someone is converting FROM the Mormon faith, however, support can be lacking and pejorative terms are often used such as “anti-Mormon”, “ex-Mormon” or “apostate”.  Change like this can be difficult, especially when there is little support from friends and family, so it seems normal that gathering with other people in a similar situation can be healing and beneficial – hence sites for people going through this.  Personally, I‘m not in that situation so don’t frequent those sites, but I don’t begrudge them either and don’t feel “threatened” by them.  Regarding Wheat and Tares, folks from this group occasionally drop by.  They are very welcome as long as they respect the other visitors.  I don’t really know if things I might write really appeal to them, and that’s perfectly fine with me as I don’t expect to.

On the other end of the spectrum are fully engaged members who don’t really need or want to discuss more problematic aspects of their faith.  They generally read only Church-published or Church-approved materials.  There is counsel that supports this attitude, such as “when the prophet speaks, the thinking is done”, etc. Because much of what the people in this group need is available on Sundays and/or in the manuals, many don’t necessarily see a need to regularly visit any internet site.  If they do, the sites they visit tend to be fairly heavily filtered.  Positive posts are the rule and comments are moderated to avoid any discord or potential controversy.  In reality, I think there is a lot of benefit for many people to have a “faith-promoting” place to hangout and discuss things.  At the same time, I don’t really visit these sites much either.  They don’t tend to stray far from what I have heard in Church for the past 40+ years (although admittedly I can always work on those things).  Regarding Wheat & Tares, some people from this group might also occasionally drop by.  They are also very welcome, but some of them might feel uncomfortable with some of the topics discussed here – ie. the wolf in sheep’s clothing analogy.  That’s completely understandable and is fine too.

I don’t know if it’s my makeup or something in my psyche, but I personally feel most comfortable somewhere in the middle.  But while I may be “in the middle regarding things about which I think, I would probably be indistinguishable from anyone sitting next to you in church.  I have always been active; I hold callings and leadership positions; I went on a mission; I have always paid tithing and held a temple recommend; I have children involved in scouting and YW and Primary; I teach children and youth and adults; I give the standard and expected answers to questions on Sunday; I’m a perfectly average active Mormon living in Salt Lake City.

However, for me and many others, there are things worth exploring as a Mormon without an “official” forum to do so.  Before explaining why Wheat and Tares is such a place, I want to mention what it is NOT.  In my time here, I have never seen a post suggesting Joseph Smith was a con man, a charlatan, someone out to mislead or deceive, or anything of the like.  I have not seen any posts suggesting that he was anything other than what he claimed to be.  I have not seen posts suggesting that the General Authorities or other church leaders are anything other than good and honorable men and women sincerely trying to fulfill their sacred callings.  I have not seen any posts suggesting that there is no God or Christ, that the Book of Mormon is a fraud, or anything “anti” Mormon.  And the few times a commenter has drifted into these areas, they have fairly quickly been shut down by the community.

So if that is what Wheat and Tares is NOT, what does it mean to me?  What attracts me to this place enough to write from time to time?  From my viewpoint, most of the posts here seem to talk more about the INSTITUTION of the Church as opposed to the core of the gospel.  Examples: What are implications of the Church’s statements on gay marriage, and how has its approach changed over the past few years?  Why do some people in the Church make a big deal about the number of earrings or tattoos someone has?  If there are practical struggles with wearing garments, can we continue to modify them as we’ve done over the past century, yet still retain their significance?  Does it make sense for a religious organization to spend billions of dollars on malls and commercial enterprises?  Are there scientific explanations for angels appearing “out of nowhere”?  Why the ban on blacks and the priesthood, and if absolute statements by Church leaders about the topic in the past were wrong, what does that mean for current statements?  If Christ and Joseph Smith and the Nephites and Brigham Young all drank wine, how does that play into the role of the Word of Wisdom today?  Etc.

In reality, there really isn’t anywhere else to discuss these things besides sites like Wheat and Tares.  They aren’t appropriate topics for Sunday meetings.  They won’t be discussed by the institutional Church.  Some people are content to just put these things on a shelf and ignore them..  For me and many others, however, there is an “itch”.  There is a need to at least talk about and question random topics like these.  Some members feel questioning these topics is questioning our leaders and should be avoided.  Perhaps they are right, but in reality, our entire Church was built up through questioning – starting with Joseph Smith asking which church to join.  Policy and doctrinal changes have all come through people questioning the status quo.  Admittedly, it can be a fine line between questioning policies of the Church and criticizing specific Church leaders, and perhaps someone might drift back and forth across that line.  But the alternative is to simply ignore problematic thing like an ostrich, and that doesn’t work for me.

So, I post at Wheat and Tares.  These topics aren’t necessarily welcome on the “purely faithful” sites, yet because they come from an active member, there aren’t necessarily appropriate on a site for people who have decided to leave the Church either.  I appreciate the chance to explore these ideas here.  I appreciate the input that visitors have contributed.  I appreciate what this site can (hopefully) accomplish..

2) Support for others

At first, I felt my posts were really just written for me – so the analogy some have made of a soap-box is correct in some ways.  However, as time has gone on, I have had a number of people comment both publically and privately that they appreciate what we are trying to achieve.  For example, here is part of an email I received regarding a post on Changing Garments (with no identifying information to protect the sender):

I loved the ‘If I were In Charge’ series. You don’t know how much it helped my wife when she read your article about making garment wearing easier. She does not read any blogs, but I showed her your article she felt a burden being lifted from her.  You see, she thought she was all alone with this ‘burden’ and the only one with issues with wearing garments. I mean, who could she talk to?  Why was it so hard and what’s the true reasoning behind it? The Stake Presidency didn’t know and could not understand why she was so upset about it. To know that she was not alone and that others have struggled and thought this through really helped her. She still struggles over it, but she knows she’s not alone.

BTW – after reading your article, did you know that when she started talking to other sisters about this, she finds that many others struggle too? How many more members are silently struggling over this? It is just so sad, when we could make the burden so much lighter.

So thank you, Mike, for doing the series. I know you’ve taken a bit of a beating over it, but keep at it. There are silent voices out there cheering you on

Messages like this have come from saints around the world.  There are many people who struggle with various issues.  They are faithful saints, contributing time, talents and money to the Church.  But they, too, have the same issues.  No one wants to talk about them in a normal “Church setting”, because we all want to have the stiff upper lip and say all the right things.  So we struggle silently.

If, in writing these posts, I can help just a handful of people feel they are “not alone” with whatever they are struggling with, it is absolutely worth it to me.  For some people, it might be garments.  For others, it might be wine.  For some, it might be Proposition 8.  For some, it might be billion dollar malls.  I would rather provide a place for people to talk about these things in a constructive way then see them throw up their hands and leave.  It seems that these practical topics will never be addressed by the “official” channels of the Church, so these discussions will necessarily be on sites like Wheat and Tares.  So I’ll continue to write here to hopefully offer support for other people who wonder about the same things I do.

3) Examination of faith

And finally, I go back in time to Socrates.  He said that  “the unexamined life is not worth living”.  He taught that the purpose of human life was personal and spiritual growth, and that we were unable to grow toward greater understanding of our true nature unless we take the time to examine and reflect upon our life.

Faith is important.  We teach it as the first principle of the gospel.  We read that without faith, nothing is possible.  Even a non-Christian like Buddha taught that “faith is the beginning of all good things.”  To develop our faith, we need to explore it.  Some people only explore the positive side of things, which is encouraged by people like Elder Packer when he said: “There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful.”

While I understand the sentiment of this idea, I feel that truth is powerful and can be scrutinized. If something is true, there is nothing to fear.  If I want to fully develop faith in God and in Christ and in our eternal potential, I should be able to examine the good, bad and the ugly and it should still be true at the end of it all.

I’ll end with a quote from a Buddhist teacher who perhaps exemplifies my attitude towards faith, and why I wrote here at Wheat and Tares:

“To develop a verified faith we need to open to the messiness, the discordance, the ambivalence, and, above all, the vital life-force of questioning. If we don’t, our faith can wither. If we don’t, our faith will always remain in the hands of someone else, as something we borrow or abjure, but not as something we claim fully as our own.”

I don’t want to believe in something because of someone else, but want my faith to be my own.  I’m willing to question, to be open to the messiness, and to accept the discordance, and that’s why I write for Wheat and Tares.  I hope that I can help provide a place where we can discuss “non-Sunday School” topics.  I hope that I can help provide support to people who also have concern about these same issues.  And I hope that I can develop a verified faith as we work through these ideas together.

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Any comments?  Does this work for you?  Feel free to share, even if you’ve never commented before.

Also, like when I started, if you have an idea for a guest post, drop us a line.

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25 Responses to Why I Write for Wheat and Tares

  1. Howard on June 21, 2012 at 6:33 AM

    Thank you for writing. I love the If I were In Charge series. It’s great to have a Mormon blogs that aren’t staffed by Pharisees.

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  2. Stephen Marsh on June 21, 2012 at 6:36 AM

    In my time here, I have never seen a post suggesting Joseph Smith was a con man, a charlatan, someone out to mislead or deceive, or anything of the like. I have not seen any posts suggesting that he was anything other than what he claimed to be. I have not seen posts suggesting that the General Authorities or other church leaders are anything other than good and honorable men and women sincerely trying to fulfill their sacred callings. I have not seen any posts suggesting that there is no God or Christ, that the Book of Mormon is a fraud, or anything “anti” Mormon. And the few times a commenter has drifted into these areas, they have fairly quickly been shut down by the community.

    I think that is important that the OPs here fit that mold.

    I should note, that like the e-mailer, I really enjoy your posts too.

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  3. Geoff-A on June 21, 2012 at 7:04 AM

    Mike S, I too very much appreciate your thoughts and particularly the “If I were in charge series.”
    I like the way you think. And feel supported that I am not the only one who feels like this.
    I had not realised you did not express your views on Sunday. I feel like I should, to encourage those who do not think like the copy book mormons, but are afraid to say so.

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  4. An Imperfect Saint on June 21, 2012 at 7:31 AM

    Thank you for sharing your experiences blogging, and how it fills a space in your life. I think I come from a similar place, at least most of the time. I definitely end up sharing more, and asking more questions, within the bloggernaccle communities than I ever would/could at church.

    I do have a question: I am assuming you are using your own name, so have you ever gotten any “blow back” from your local leaders about posting here?

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  5. Mike S on June 21, 2012 at 8:17 AM

    #1 Howard: It’s great to have a Mormon blogs that aren’t staffed by Pharisees.

    I think we’re all Pharisees to an extent – just about different issues. :-)

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  6. Mike S on June 21, 2012 at 8:28 AM

    #3 Geoff-A: I had not realised you did not express your views on Sunday. I feel like I should, to encourage those who do not think like the copy book mormons, but are afraid to say so.

    I agree with you in principle, and think that like the email I got, we all think we’re alone when there are many who think like us.

    However, the reality is that I don’t think bringing these things up on Sunday is my role for several reasons. First, just like on Andrew’s recent post on boundaries and communities, there are some people at Church who simply don’t want to consider these things. They want a “faith-promoting” experience. It would be a bit presumptuous of me to bring up things that might “burst their bubble”.

    And second, and most importantly, it’s not what the Church wants. As an institution, the Church mirrors any other multi-billion dollar corporation. They jealously protect the trademarked name and have “style guides” for how reporters should report on it. They have an “operating manual” – ie. the Church Handbook of Instructions. They expect Sunday meetings to follow a scripted and correlated manual, with no outside sources added. Even the exact timing of the meetings is pre-determined. There is a standard uniform that the leaders and salespeople are expected to wear. They invest “excess funds” in other companies, in the stock market, in land, in whatever. Our conferences are scripted and telepromptered and scheduled down to the minute, even rerecording talks than “went awry”. Leaders in the hierarchy are chosen who most closely toe the party line. It is all extremely tightly controlled.

    If I worked at Nike, I would be expected to emphasize cool features to sell shoes, and to NOT talk about how the shoes were made in sweatshops around the world. If I worked at McDonalds, I would be expected to emphasize the new healthy food on the menu and the tastiness of what we have, and to NOT talk about the pink slime that goes into the Chicken McNuggets. Similarly, at Church, I am expected to give faith-promoting answers that support the correlated lesson. There is not a lot of room for true discussion or spontaneous investigation. Even the General Authorities have their conference talks submitted ahead of time.

    So, while at Church, I follow their rules.

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  7. Mike S on June 21, 2012 at 8:35 AM

    #4 An Imperfect Saint: I am assuming you are using your own name, so have you ever gotten any “blow back” from your local leaders about posting here?

    No, although my name is slightly changed from reality. If you’ve read any of my previous posts, it would be very easy to figure out what I do for a living and very easy to figure out who I was. The reason my name is slightly changed is simple – many patients Google me ahead of time, and I don’t want the main thing they see to be random musings about Church things.

    Also, I’m quite realistic about this place. I think the number of people who actually visit sites like W&T is minuscule compared to the number of members of the Church, so I doubt my leaders have the time or inclination to even look here.

    And finally, I’ve never written anything bad about the Church. I’ve perhaps questioned some policies, but if a policy or practice can’t withstand investigation, should it really exist? Even in the “If I Were In Charge” series – I’ve NEVER suggested anything that would be a doctrinal change – merely practices that are non-essential and non-eternal which act as stumbling blocks.

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  8. An Imperfect Saint on June 21, 2012 at 10:19 AM

    Mike #7
    Thank you for that perspective. It is actually helpful in making some decisions within our own family. I don’t consider myself to be someone who wants a doctrinal change, or someone with a crisis of face, but I do want people who have had similar experiences to know that they aren’t alone.

    I think in many ways we have a lot in common about why writing makes sense. Thanks for answering my question!

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  9. Paul on June 21, 2012 at 10:22 AM

    Mike, I also appreciate your posts, and I appreciate W&T in general for many of the reasons you cite. Good faithful members of the church can have productive discussions about a variety of issues that may not be found in a Sunday School or priesthood lesson.

    And there’s a lot to learn from those who are no longer (or never have been) firmly aligned with the institutional church.

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  10. BrotherQ on June 21, 2012 at 10:30 AM

    I just want to say that I love Wheat and Tares. I read it every week. I rarely post any comments, but I read all the comments. Wheat and Tares is the only place in my life where I feel that free and unfettered discussion about real issues involving the LDS Church takes place. It is safe. It is full of information (which is often accompanied by citations so you can get to source material if you feel the urge). I love the variety of viewpoints and the variety of people that present them. I welcome hearing what people from all parts of the “big tent” have to say, and their views and opinions often deeply impact me and shape my thoughts and beliefs. Wheat and Tares is important. It feels like the friend I wish I had in my ward, but never have had, someone with whom I could share my doubts and fears and questions, and not be judged or shunned. Many times, questions that I have had for a long time are answered in Wheat and Tares. I love what you are doing, and I hope you can keep it up for a long time. I know a lot of work goes on “behind the scenes” as the contributors research and write their pieces. Please know that I, and I am sure many others, are very grateful for the efforts, and that my life is greatly benefited in a deeply spiritual way. God bless you all!

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  11. Will on June 21, 2012 at 11:06 AM

    Mike,

    I have always liked and respected your comments. With that said, we disagree frequently and I think your comments offer a level of popularism. I am more conservative and stick to what has always worked.

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  12. Mike S on June 21, 2012 at 1:48 PM

    #9 Paul: Good faithful members of the church can have productive discussions about a variety of issues that may not be found in a Sunday School or priesthood lesson.

    I absolutely agree. It is unfortunate that these things can’t really be discussed at Church. And, in fact, having private meetings to discuss things like this would also be discouraged.

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  13. Mike S on June 21, 2012 at 1:49 PM

    #10 BrotherQ:

    Thank you for the support.

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  14. Mike S on June 21, 2012 at 1:53 PM

    #11 Will:

    While we often disagree, I think we have much more in common than not. I also do appreciate the respectful disagreements that we have had.

    I am more conservative and stick to what has always worked.

    This is perhaps where we differ the most. If we truly followed this, we would would have a very different church. We would still follow polygamy; we would still ban blacks from the priesthood and temple blessings; we would still ban women from praying in sacrament meeting; etc.

    I’m glad that members before me looked at things and said, perhaps this DOESN’T really work. Perhaps there IS a better way. Perhaps we should change. It’s just a different viewpoint.

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  15. Paul on June 21, 2012 at 4:09 PM

    #12 Mike, I do believe that PH is a place where some of this ought to be able to be discussed, and when I teach, I sometimes allow some broader discussion. I feel less so in Sunday School, which is (or should be) more doctrine, less institution.

    I think there is a fear of people’s being “led astray” and it’s easy to see why. There are examples of “private” discussions that have resulted in such a thing. The other place that I think these things ought to find a clear airing is in a Home Teaching situation. But in my case, one of my home teachers is probably more willing to discuss such matters than another. So we don’t. I suppose the other place the discussion takes place is around my own dinner table from time to time.

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  16. Martin marprelate on June 21, 2012 at 4:28 PM

    I love this post. I love wheat and tares for the same reasons. It gives me intellectual and spiritual fulfilment that I don’t get in many other places. It has this wonderful ability to make you feel that you are not the only one who thinks like this, without becoming an echo chamber that reinforces your own biases and prejudices. It is thought provoking and challenging in equal measures.

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  17. postmormongirl on June 21, 2012 at 10:08 PM

    Thanks for writing this, I really appreciated your perspective. I am a person who is fully out of the Church. However, my family is still very much within the Church and by extension, issues within church culture are issues that I care about. The fact that I am no longer Mormon hasn’t affected my love for my family in any way.

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  18. Bonnie on June 21, 2012 at 11:10 PM

    Attaboy, Mike. ;)

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  19. Ray on June 22, 2012 at 1:22 PM

    I am assuming you are using your own name, so have you ever gotten any “blow back” from your local leaders about posting here?

    Fwiw, I have used my real name in my public blogging ever since I started back in the day. I’ve never gotten any “blow back” – except for one time when a sarcastic comment I made on a Times & Seasons post about a sensitive political issue came across as serious and, literally, was quoted as being serious on multiple anti-Mormon sites. That comment unintentionally hurt the Church in some circles in a real way, and my Stake President and Mission President talked with me about it. (They knew of my participation and had thanked me for it on multiple occasions.)

    Mike’s approach is one I like, and I continue to read posts at W&T specifically because I like intelligent posts and diverse commentary without having to wade through slime to find the good. I don’t comment any longer, generally, but I read and appreciate.

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  20. Ray on June 22, 2012 at 1:23 PM

    Obviously, the intro question in my last comment should have been in quotes.

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  21. [...] discussion of how those communities function to set up safe zones (to use Bruce’s terms.) Mike has structured our place as a niche community of questioning that feels welcoming to people who may [...]

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  22. Mike S on June 22, 2012 at 3:08 PM

    #15 Paul: I think there is a fear of people’s being “led astray” and it’s easy to see why. There are examples of “private” discussions that have resulted in such a thing.

    That is a very valid point, so I understand why the Church discourages “non-sanctioned” gatherings like that in wards, etc. At the same time, there are some very real concerns people have.

    Ironically, I think that a big reason the bloggernacle even exists is in reaction to Church policies. We are encouraged to stick to the correlated materials and lesson plan in Sunday meetings, and are discouraged to get together privately to discuss things in our wards, so an obvious place to discuss them is places like this.

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  23. Mike S on June 22, 2012 at 3:17 PM

    #16 Martin: (Wheat and Tares) has this wonderful ability to make you feel that you are not the only one who thinks like this, without becoming an echo chamber that reinforces your own biases and prejudices.

    I think a large part of this is thanks to the founders of Wheat & Tares (not me), who have gathered a somewhat eclectic group together. There are writers who are both-feet-in fully-active. There are writers who are less/non-active virtual agnostics. There is representation from our “sister faith”, the CofC. There are conservatives and liberals, whatever that means. There are people living literally around the world contributing.

    And most of all, while the moderation as to the substance of comments is very light (nearly to the point of non-existence), the toleration of disrespect is much less. And importantly to me, as I mentioned above, people here are fundamentally believers. No one is bashing the principles of what it means to be Mormon. If this was an “anti-” site, I wouldn’t be here.

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  24. Mike S on June 22, 2012 at 3:19 PM

    #19 Ray:

    Sarcasm on the internet can be very hard to do. I have found myself rewriting posts and comments several times for that exact reason. Sometimes I’m sure things I’ve said have been misinterpreted for lack of visual clues during communication, but luckily not to the extent where anyone has felt they needed to talk to me about it.

    Thanks for stopping by.

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  25. Joe S on June 28, 2012 at 12:41 AM

    Mike S: Thanks for all the work you do here. I mostly stop by because of you. Sincerely, –Joe S

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