Pop Mormon Studies: John Dehlin’s Gift to Mormonism

By: Andrew S
July 4, 2012

In his review of Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine, Isaac Chotiner describes of Lehrer’s book:

IMAGINE is a collection of stories—all pop-science these days must be translated into stories, as if readers, like children, cannot absorb the material any other way; but some of Lehrer’s stories do not necessarily support his thesis, and some of them contradict it. Consider the tale of Don Lee, who worked as a computer programmer before deciding to embark on a life of inventing cocktails. At this he has succeeded: he is currently the head mixologist at one of David Chang’s restaurants. Lee’s creation of a bacon-infused cocktail, Lehrer notes, can be attributed to the fact that Lee is an “outsider.” “It’s a parable about the benefits of knowing less—Don was a passionate amateur—and the virtues of injecting new ideas into an old field.” This story is only a slight variation on the previous discussions of horizontal thinking, conceptual blending, and the glories of the right hemisphere. Lehrer concludes the chapter by noting that “knowledge can be a subtle curse.”

Chotiner continues with what I believe to be a particularly interesting description of the genre to which books like Imagine belong:

IMAGINE is really a pop-science book, which these days usually means that it is an exercise in laboratory-approved self-help. Like Malcolm Gladwell and David Brooks, Lehrer writes self-help for people who would be embarrassed to be seen reading it. For this reason, their chestnuts must be roasted in “studies” and given a scientific gloss. The surrender to brain science is particularly zeitgeisty. Their sponging off science is what gives these writers the authority that their readers impute to them, and makes their simplicities seem very weighty. Of course, Gladwell and Brooks and Lehrer rarely challenge the findings that they report, not least because they lack the expertise to make such a challenge.

“Pop-science books” (and their patron popularizers — journalists like Lehrer and Malcolm Gladwell who have the dual gifts of being able to craft a coherent narrative and of divining clarity from the murkiness of scientific research) seem to have popped (pun not intended) out of nowhere. Obviously, this is not true — there have been plenty of people working to convey complex and complicated scientific research results to the public. There have been plenty of people who have simplified (and perhaps oversimplified) experimental data to fit certain paradigms, narratives, and metaphors. I fully admit that I am not an archivist of all of the major science popularization works, but from my (quite) limited experience, it seems that even if they do not mark the start of any tension, journalists like Lehrer and Gladwell still represent distinctive, recognizable examples of tensions in science popularization.

Malcolm Gladwell

That tension is this: Lehrer and Gladwell’s talent for telling stories makes them extremely popular with the consumer public. When people read books like Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, they come away feeling that they have great insights about human sociology. In a critical article, Edward Champion likens Lehrer as being the Malcolm Gladwell of the mind — reading Lehrer, you might feel that you now know certain secrets of the human brain (even on really trying and troubling psychological and neurological issues, like depression).

…but as you may have assessed from the articles I’ve been linking, writers like Lehrer and Gladwell are not universally appreciated. The other side of their fame with general readers is their infamy with more science-savvy readers.

What does this have to do with John Dehlin?

If you have ever heard of or listened to the Mormon Stories or Mormon Matters podcasts (there are certainly other efforts Dehlin has pioneered, but these are a couple of the biggest), then you should know the name John Dehlin, as John Dehlin is the founder of these efforts. John Dehlin, like Jonah Lehrer and Malcolm Gladwell, is a polarizing figure — there are hundreds, if not thousands of people who would view Dehlin positively as someone who has helped them traverse various issues in Mormonism. (Granted, there are quite a few more who would find Malcolm Gladwell insightful.)

John Dehlin Gradaution

…However, for all the people who think that he is doing a great deal of help, there are others who believe him to be harmful, naive, or otherwise uncompelling. Rosalynde Welch’s recent Patheos post (among other goals) critiques John Dehlin and Mormon Stories.

(As an aside: there is a lot of history behind Welch’s post. I won’t go into detail on that, and it is not the focus of this discussion.)

Welch summarizes and comments on the genesis of Mormon Stories:

What is currently available for investigation are the goals of the Mormon Stories organization, at least as stated on their website. Dehlin has described the genesis of his organization as a personal crisis in 2001, when he discovered some basics of early church history and was thrown into confusion. By his own account, there were no interpretive resources available in 2001 to help him make sense of these issues, and Mormon Stories was born to fill that void: through a series of podcasts, Dehlin would develop a repository of unbiased historical information and interpretation to bring to light and make sense of the issues he encountered.

In one sense, this is a bit silly: in 2001, there were numerous Mormon journals—including BYU Studies, Dialogue, Sunstone, Irreantum, and others—that had been dealing with precisely these issues for decades, and by 2004, long before Mormon Stories got started, the Mormon blog-world was well launched on its treatment of the same. To my knowledge, Mormon Stories has not brought to light any new historical knowledge or even any novel historical interpretation; the organization does not fill any actual intellectual void.

What was novel about Dehlin’s project, it seems to me, was its non-textual platform—podcasts rather than essays or articles—and the edge of anger in the social community surrounding the podcasts that was generally taboo in mainstream Mormon blog discussions at the time. This anger brought an energy to the community ethos, and thus an intensity to the social bonds formed there. This is hardly a remarkable achievement: feelings of community are easy to generate on the internet simply by provoking any intense emotion in the audience and providing a place for discussion. Still, it did represent a novel contribution to the landscape of Mormonism.

When I read this part of Rosalynde’s post, I thought there were things that she definitely got right: Mormon Stories doesn’t really bring to light any new historical knowledge or even any novel historical interpretation. Additionally, it does not necessarily fill any actual intellectual void.

But here’s the thing: that’s not what it’s for. This is in the same way that Jonah Lehrer has not set himself out to pursue groundbreaking neurology research — he just gives narrative and story to what already exists. He popularizes what already exists. One can critique whether or not Dehlin’s “repository of…historical information and interpretation” is as unbiased as he would assert it (that’s not the point of this post, either), but the real question is not whether there were other journals around, but whether they in any way reached a popular audience.

Popularizing Mormon Studies?

The problem with Welch’s criticism is that BYU Studies, Sunstone, Dialogue, Irreantum, and others are not for a general audience. I actually don’t think that all of these things go together (with Irreantum specializing in literature), but broadly, I would state that these journals are for a more scholarly, intellectual audience.

That’s certainly not a problem; in fact, it’s great that there are journals like this for this audience…but if these things aren’t for a general audience, then who will reach out to a general audience?

In his article on Practical Apologetics, Dave Banack recognized the need for personal and practical apologetics. As he wrote:

My view: the FARMS approach has become outdated. Mormon apologetics will become more decentralized and more social as people (both LDS and non-LDS) turn to Google and Facebook rather than the bookstore, the library, or journals to get answers to their Mormon questions. Apologetics will therefore become more personal and more practical. People still want answers.Mormon.org, blogs, and Mormon Stories are the shape of the future for apologetics: diverse, personal, interactive. [Disclaimer: I'm not endorsing the agenda of Mormon Stories, whatever it is, just noting the popularity of the format.]

Emphasis preserved.

While blogs, Mormon.org, and Mormon Stories certainly reflect more diverse, personal, and interactive ways of providing answers to Mormons and non-Mormons on historical and theological issues, I’d say their notability can be summarized more simply: they popularize the groundbreaking work that scholars, historians, philosophers make in Mormonism.

I think the issue is this: most people do not have the time, energy, resources, or background to pursue the issues to the level that scholars, historians, philosophers, and scientists can. This is something that is true in response to critics of science popularization, and this is something that is just as true in response to critics of Mormon studies popularization. What I so often see from critics of Gladwell, Lehrer, and now, of Dehlin, is that the critic is someone who often has done a lot of leg work with science, or history, or whatever the fraught topic is. As a result, the critic is often an insider who is well aware of the specialized literature in that field — and they may either take for granted that knowledge or expect others to invest the time that they did if they want to join the conversation. (This is especially true of science, I think, because of the paradigmatic value that scientific experiments should be repeatable and their findings verifiable and reviewable.)

With Welch’s post, we can see this in how she describes Dehlin’s personal faith crisis as being over discovering “some basics of early church history.” (The many, many people who experience crises of faith would not see these issues as being “basic” early church history, even if someone like Welch, who has a lot more experience as a scholar, would look at these issues as basic — or even if these issues may, in fact, be basic.) I have seen similar sorts of attitudes elsewhere: Ben S described certain returned missionaries who had not heard about Joseph Smith’s seer stone usage (and who had not read various sources in which the issue is broached) as being naively arrogant and lacking intellectual curiosity. If you only do the “absolute minimum” (relying on what you hear from Sunday School and Seminary for what you know about the church), then there is no sympathy for you.

To a certain extent, I sympathize with these ideas. The material is out there. There is research and history being done. The church does not necessarily have the responsibility of teaching everyone about every issue.

However, for whatever reason, different media do not penetrate the general Mormon consciousness as effectively as other media do. In many cases, someone’s access to Sunstone and Dialogue (or even their acceptance of these journals as being legitimate) may depend on their home environment — and that’s not something that will stay constant from member to member. Whatever the case is, as early as 2004 and 2005, John Dehlin was suggesting using podcasts as the media to reach more folks.

…Over the past 35 years, we’ve made some progress with the written word, Internet, and now blogs, but how can new technologies, and new formats, help us achieve 1 & 2 [dialing up the intellect as part of the overall development of LDS folk, and making our collective contributions more permanent] to an even greater extent than it has thus far?  We know that there is a “generational issue” with subscribers and participants in Dialogue and Sunstone being largely “chronologically gifted” (shall we say).  So how do we reach out to the “new generation”?  How do we penetrate not just academics, but college students, and young married couples, BEFORE they stumble on the wrong things and spiral into destruction (as they are doing now in decently large numbers)?  Are there new media, and new formats, that can take the facts and truths behind Sunstone, Dialogue, and the Bloggernacle and blast them into the mainstream?

…I hate to say it, but the prose and length in Dialogue and Sunstone, as well as in many Bloggernacle posts, are not very accessible to young, or average LDS folk.  The level of the conversation is just too elevated.  There are names, and dates, and events, and issues, and facts that are just plain ASSUMED to be known…that an average LDS person simply does not know, or even know that they should know.  Then there is the “stink” issue…that I believe is “over-come-able”…but only with time–and until that happens, there are legion who won’t touch Sunstone/Dialogue purely because of the murky name/reputation/”brethren denunciation”.  Also, the articles are often far too long, or detailed, for the average LDS reader. Don’t get me wrong…Dialogue and Sunstone have an irreplaceable place in Mormonism….and they should not try to be all things to all Mormons or they will lose current subscribers as well….but NEITHER publication will have as broad a penetration as they wish if left to their own devices.  If they don’t “raise up a ‘thoughtful seed’ ” now, they will have little to no subscribers later.

So, some of the questions I have wold be these:

What do you think of John Dehlin’s podcasting efforts (such as Mormon Stories and Mormon Matters)? Do you think they reach a broader audience than Sunstone, Dialogue, or even FAIR or FARMS apologetic organizations? Are you even aware that FAIR has a podcast as well? If you think there are issues with Mormon Stories or Mormon Matters, how would you instead propose spreading information to a more general audience?

Do you think that a comparison with someone like Malcolm Gladwell, as a “popularizer” (rather than researcher) is valid? What is your opinion of Gladwell or Lehrer and their works? If you think there are issues with those guys’ books, how would you instead propose to spread information regarding sciences both soft and hard to a more general audience?

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45 Responses to Pop Mormon Studies: John Dehlin’s Gift to Mormonism

  1. brandt on July 5, 2012 at 8:41 AM

    Intriguing post, and I do agree with you about John Dehlin being the “Gladwell” of the Mormon world, in regards to breaking new historical ground vs. presenting information in a more “pop-history” kind of way. I think that while blogs have done that, the reach of Dehlin’s audience is proof enough that his Mormon Stories movement is something to be accounted for.

    I would compare the Mormon Stories dialogue efforts to that of a blog, rather than an academic journal. It’s not the presentation of facts, but the interpretation weaved with the personal on many of the blogs and podcasts that has listeners coming back. I think that’s the biggest difference. I even think the LDS Church is attempting this through their “Mormon Channel” online broadcast. However, I think that one of the biggest pros (and cons) of the movement is the fact that the loyalties of the supporters is unlike anything I’ve seen in a while, and if anyone makes any comments other than positive about either the Mormon Stories community, or Dehlin as the leader of Mormon Stories, the supporters are out there in full force. I was going to use an analogy, but self-edited due to hyperbole. The Rosalynde Welch article was a perfect example. Rather than engage discourse, many of the comments revolved around a personal “testimony” of how MS has helped. And I’m not saying it hasn’t, or won’t help people. But instead of engaging the article, they engaged either the person (which John made sure to bring up her “lineage” when he announced the article to Facebook), or nuance her words, which turned me off as they usually decry old-school LDS apologists for doing the same thing.

    The best thing for the Mormon Stories movement? Get a good PR firm under contract, and understand the followers can give a worthwhile movement a bad name.

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  2. Debbie on July 5, 2012 at 8:45 AM

    Nice post Andrew. It’s true that a lot Mormon history covered by podcast has been available for a long time. The podcast format, however, makes a huge difference in accessibility by the average person. Most people don’t have the time or attention span to sit and read for long periods of time. But the audio format makes it much more convenient. I can listen to a podcast or audio book while driving, exercising, working, or doing house work. I can get through a book on audio in a week that would take me months to read.

    Besides availability, MS and MM work well because the hosts are really good at what they do. I think of John Dehlin as the Oprah of Mormon podcasts. Yes, I know about FAIR podcasts and I’ve listened to a few of them but they are usually very boring, kind of like listening to General Conference. Also they don’t tickle my cerebrum like MS and MM do. :-)

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  3. Jared on July 5, 2012 at 8:57 AM

    Wow, very well thought out and written post that leads to interesting reflections. I think one advantage of Mormon Stories is that because it is interview format, it allows the specialists to speak for themselves. John Dehlin is not writing a book popularizing this information; he is giving the words of experts (and other voices) greater reach.

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  4. Howard H. on July 5, 2012 at 9:26 AM

    [This comment has been deleted as it is irrelevant to the discussion, and there is a pattern of comments from the IP address and (fake) email address associated with this comment of ad hominem comments. If you would like to discuss this further, dear commenter, we would love to reach out to you, but as mentioned previously, all of your comments have different names and a fake email address. Maybe try posting with a real email address next time?]

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  5. Russ Gray on July 5, 2012 at 10:06 AM

    So what’s WRONG with popularizing the work being done in a particular field? Gladwell and Lehrer make very difficult concepts accessible to ordinary people. In doing so, they manage to make science more inviting to the reading public. I don’t see anything wrong with that.

    Mormon Stories/John Dehlin do basically the same thing. I’m not a scholar of mormonism, and it is extremely unlikely that I will ever become one. I don’t have the time, energy, or frankly the stomach for it.

    I think what Mormon Stories does is it provides a safe format for learning more. There are a lot of episodes that focus on troubling or problematic issues facing the church — its fact claims, its foundational doctrines, etc. — but there are a lot of other episodes that simply focus on mormons in all places and points in life. Its overall approach doesn’t seem to advocate for any particular method for dealing with the issues, it merely seeks to raise awareness. And in doing so, because of its podcast format, it allows the listener to control the speed and timing of what it presents.

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  6. Andrew S on July 5, 2012 at 10:14 AM

    re 1,

    brandt,

    Great comment…I wanted to address the latter part though:

    I think that one of the biggest pros (and cons) of the movement is the fact that the loyalties of the supporters is unlike anything I’ve seen in a while, and if anyone makes any comments other than positive about either the Mormon Stories community, or Dehlin as the leader of Mormon Stories, the supporters are out there in full force. I was going to use an analogy, but self-edited due to hyperbole. The Rosalynde Welch article was a perfect example. Rather than engage discourse, many of the comments revolved around a personal “testimony” of how MS has helped. And I’m not saying it hasn’t, or won’t help people. But instead of engaging the article, they engaged either the person (which John made sure to bring up her “lineage” when he announced the article to Facebook), or nuance her words, which turned me off as they usually decry old-school LDS apologists for doing the same thing.

    The best thing for the Mormon Stories movement? Get a good PR firm under contract, and understand the followers can give a worthwhile movement a bad name.

    I see this too…I think this is also part of Rosalynde’s critique (although I didn’t focus so much on that here) — so it’s especially unfortunate that the discussion on Rosalynde’s post turned out the way it did. After all, one of her main points was that MoSto narratives generally sound the same — so for people to make several comments similarly defending John D doesn’t disabuse her of that notion.

    Moving to official PR would be interesting…in some ways, don’t a lot of people have problems with the church relying so much on PR efforts (to the extent that PR has sometimes been in the position of answering questions about doctrine and policy to the public even when General Authorities have been silent.)

    re 2

    Debbie,

    I definitely agree that the medium changes things — I think it’s definitely great to have multiple forms for the information, because ironically for me, the podcast format isn’t as accessible to *me*. I would much rather read transcripts (like the ones that Mormon Heretic have been transcribing) That being said, I do have some long drives, in which case I load up Mormon Stories and Mormon Matters episodes on my iPod.

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  7. Andrew S on July 5, 2012 at 10:15 AM

    Hey everyone, we are experiencing some unknown technical difficulties with the site…so when you write a comment, please try to save it in a txt file or email draft before you click “Post Comment,” so that you can repost it in case the site goes down.

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  8. prometheus on July 5, 2012 at 10:23 AM

    Well, I for one enjoy a lot of the interviews. There has been a lot of good, meaty history / doctrinal stuff there, that I haven’t found in an audio form anywhere else. I also agree that while journals are great, the time investment is pretty big to be current – journalists who fill us in on the general shape of things do a valuable service. That being said, I think that we also need to understand that their work is just a starting place, not a comprehensive understanding.

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  9. Andrew S on July 5, 2012 at 10:26 AM

    re 3

    Jared,

    I think that this is a good point about the interview format…still, I think that the character of an interview can be shaped by the questions the interview asks — I think the way that Dehlin (or any other interviewer) makes an interview accessible to a general audience is by asking the kinds of questions and follow-up questions that he can anticipate that audience would have…the interviewer is, in a way, the representative for the audience’s POV, whereas the interviewee, as an expert, might take certain points for granted if s/he is not prodded further.

    This introduces a lot of personality into the interview, but it can also introduce some of the same criticisms that people have of science popularization…so, the interview, like the popularizing journalist, has to determine what to drill deeper on, what to ask for clarification on, what to challenge. If the journalist/interviewer is not informed enough about either the subject or his/her audience, then I think this is what can happen:

    …Gladwell and Brooks and Lehrer rarely challenge the findings that they report, not least because they lack the expertise to make such a challenge.

    re 4,

    Howard H,

    I don’t think this is relevant to the discussion. Can we stay on topic?

    re 5,

    Russ Gray,

    I don’t think that the critics of Lehrer, Gladwell, etc., are against the idea of popularization. I don’t think they want science just to be something that a select few scientists do and understand.

    However, I think the criticism comes because these guys don’t believe that the popularizers have enough of a grasp of the material to explain it well. So, Jonah Lehrer and Malcolm Gladwell can tell a good story that they argue is based on hard data…but how well do they know the data? How do they verify that their story is true to the data?

    So, I think the issue in either case of Lehrer/Gladwell or with Mormon Stories is that people disagree on whether the information is being summarized/processed/presented in an accurate, fair way.

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  10. Frank Pellett on July 5, 2012 at 11:19 AM

    The difficulty I tend to have with popularizing is the tendency for people to take (and some popularizers to push) items that have no real basis as facts. Instead of promoting the idea of learning more, it can promote the idea that what they’ve learned is enough.

    For example, my wife recently read a non-fiction book about King Tut that included conversations he evidently had while having sex. While some would go, “duh, he (the author) is just popularizing the information to make it easier to read”, others would go “they really have a transcription of this conversation, it must have happened exactly like that!”.

    In a way, lessons (and talks) in Church are just as popularizing as the podcasts. Neither should be used as an absolute authority, but as the start of learning.

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  11. J Stuart on July 5, 2012 at 11:24 AM

    I feel that Mormon Stories is/was a powerful tool for many faithful LDS to learn/hear/discuss Mormon Studies in an approachable way. Dehlin is a phenomenal interviewer. His podcasts with Margaret Young and Darius Gray, Richard Bushman, Terryl Givens, and others have been important to my understanding of Church issues. Other podcasts he’s done have been less valuable to me personally, but I can see how they would provide value to many.

    Dehlin has started a new movement, because of comments concerning Mormon Stories, to make it “less negative.” I think that the easiest way for him to do this would be to stop making himself the forefront of the movement. Being friends with him on FB has led me to new discussions with friends I didn’t know were into Mormon Studies, and have led to deeper friendships and understandings. But it’s also made Mormon Stories far more Dehlin-centric than Mormon-centric.

    In addition to having him be the poster child of Mormon Stories, perhaps his most ardent supporters are former Mormons. While I respect that he caters to such a wide audience, (especially with his admirable forthcomings about losing faith in many of the Church’s teachings), I think he’s opened himself up to so many negative views that it is hard for him to see what is “fair coverage” anymore. What was once a place for those on the intellectual and cultural fringe, has become a gathering place for the disenchanted. FB groups focus on people leaving. Anything “pro” LDS that is posted is shouted down as “apologetic,” rather than just interesting or worthy of notice or praise by any type of person who believes in the goodness of mankind.

    I think Dehlin could do a world of good by separating Mormon Stories into two groups: the support group for those leaving the Church (a valuable project of his) and call it MORMON STORIES SUPPORT COMMUNITIES, and the MORMON MATTERS discussions, where Brandt Gardner, Terryl Givens, and Joanna Brooks and others can offer their liberal/scholarly/accepting voices. Dan and John could alternate leading discussions, and could pander to different audiences, playing to their own strengths in building separate forms of community.

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  12. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 5, 2012 at 11:51 AM

    That was fascinating, especially since I have had friends who were both researchers and populizers (eg Suzzette Hadin Elgin on verbal violence).

    Being a popularizer will often cause you to be rejected for other roles.

    I say that, given that my web site adrr.com is focused on the accessible end of a spectrum. Some times you have to choose to be accessible rather than not (and there are times when it is more a split between accessible and not rather than researcher and populist).

    Good point.

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  13. Andrew S on July 5, 2012 at 1:37 PM

    re 8,

    prometheus,

    That being said, I think that we also need to understand that their work is just a starting place, not a comprehensive understanding.

    Really great commentary. I wonder how many people start pursuing the more substantive history and philosophy works as a result of listening to a Mormon Stories podcast episode?

    re 10,

    Frank,

    In a way, lessons (and talks) in Church are just as popularizing as the podcasts. Neither should be used as an absolute authority, but as the start of learning.

    Great thought!

    re 11

    J Stuart,

    So, I like your ideas about splitting things further (not sure if John D would agree — having so many different items underneath the Open Stories umbrella already)…but do you think that all of these different things can exist under the same brand identity?

    For example, can creating a safe space for people undergoing faith crisis and doubt (and potentially helping them in their navigation outside of the church) coexist with creating a space for members to be more informed about thoughtful, faithful perspectives on a wide number of issues?

    re 12,

    Stephen,

    What sorts of things would be involved with choosing to be accessible rather than not? When things are inaccessible, is this a conscious decision to be inaccessible?

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  14. Bonnie on July 5, 2012 at 1:43 PM

    Very nicely drawn ideas, Andrew.

    I think it’s interesting that you compare John Dehlin with “outsiders” who are working with the material provided by intellectuals within a field and who tailor that material for general audiences. In any field in which someone engages in that kind of work, the “insiders” are going to find that kind of reductionist effort offensive.

    Would Dehlin classify himself as an outsider? There’s a pretty animated discussion over at T&S about the whole question of a speaker’s orthodoxy and its impact on the subjects s/he chooses to address.

    Still, “insiders” suffer from a lack of communication skills and a paralyzing desire to protect the boundaries of their communities. In essence, the power of the community is its shared language and “doctrine”, its correlated review processes, and its freedom to speak clearly without the invasion of the less well-versed (sociology and physics as much as religion). You’ll note the tiredness of some of the commenters in having to deal with the uninitiated.

    The purpose and constitution of various communities contorts their discourse as much as the converse. Whenever one self-identifies as a populist, one risks losing the “high ground” of an insider. Ranks and levels of inclusion naturally develop, as do labels and, unfortunately, pejoratives.

    I am very curious about how Jesus, who was at once both the most initiated insider and the most powerful of teachers of populists (we see very quickly in his ministry how it shifted to training the evangelists) accomplished this mission of communication. It seems that he allowed a certain degree of self-selected insider commitment while advancing a populist agenda. I wonder if we can apply those same ideas to both our insider and populist communities.

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  15. Troth Everyman on July 5, 2012 at 1:52 PM

    I would agree with your assessment Andrew. JRR Tolkien did the same thing when he wrote the Lord of the Rings. Dwarves and elves and trolls had all been around prior to his books, but he popularized them through an accessible medium.

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  16. Porter on July 5, 2012 at 1:58 PM

    Andrew, I like your approach on this. I was a Sunstone and Dialogue subscriber for years but find John’s approach to some of the same issues to be far more digestible, and fun. Can I say that? Some of those scholarly articles, particularly in Dialogue, are so verbose and academic that the average reader finds them overwhelming. I put myself in that category BTW, even though I have a law degree and a masters degree.

    Dehlin has made this material accessible to everyone — and therefore is VERY dangerous to the LDS Church. Rough Stone Rolling was a long slog to read, but Richard Bushman’s interview about it was fantastically easy to listen to. The podcasts are like Reader’s Digest for Mormons who are interested in history.

    But I don’t think he is the first to have taken this approach. I have read many books by Lowell Bennion and especially Eugene England and I think their approach was in ways similar to Dehlin’s. It was practical and enjoyable, but also polarizing and controversial. Would you call England’s work “pop mormon studies” as well? Isnt John following in their footsteps?

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  17. hawkgrrrl on July 5, 2012 at 2:39 PM

    When I read Malcolm Gladwell, I often come to the end and think, “Hunh. That was like good dinner conversation. What’s next?” It’s not life-changing. It’s often just something interesting to think about. I do think popularizers are important to the discussion. Although I’m not a fan of podcasts, I can see that John fills this role for many. Good analogy!

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  18. Andrew S on July 5, 2012 at 2:45 PM

    re 14,

    Bonnie,

    I can see how John Dehlin would consider himself an insider (if the subject is Mormonism), but I would consider him an outsider, since the subject isn’t so much Mormonism as it is history, philosophy, theology, science, etc., Even if you’re born and raised in the church, that doesn’t make you a historian and it doesn’t necessarily prepare you with the tools for effectively historical critique. that doesn’t make you a philosopher, and doesn’t give you the tools to critique argument logic. And so on.

    I agree with the relative strengths and weaknesses of outsiders and insiders that you allude to in the comment, though.

    I like your last paragraph: what would Jesus do? Unfortunately, I fear that too many people ask that question and uncritically come up with something like, “Jesus would do things that look quite similar to what I am currently doing, so the problem is not with me, but with the others who won’t get with the program.”

    re 15

    Troth Everyman,

    And oh, how popular he made them! Now, they are ubiquitous when people think, “Fantasy.” I wonder if there are any things in Mormonism that have been popularized by a non-institutional source to such an extent?

    re 16,

    Porter,

    I notice that you wrote: “Dehlin has made this material accessible to everyone – and therefore is VERY dangerous to the LDS church.” But does that imply that Rough Stone Rolling, Sunstone, Dialogue, etc., are ALSO dangerous to the LDS church (except they just aren’t as accessible, so they don’t reach as many people?)

    As for your final paragraph…I would say that it’s not just about making it easier to read — I think the podcast format is definitely iconic to John Dehlin’s approach…so perhaps we could say that is John’s evolution from Lowell Bennion, Eugene England, etc.,

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  19. Bonnie on July 5, 2012 at 3:04 PM

    Andrew, I agree that Dehlin is an outsider, for all the reasons you list but also on the track of faith. We have multiple “insider” groups in Mormonism (depending on the subcommunity in which people participate), but the ultimate insider group is the priesthood structure, what for many people is the “faith group.” As a self-professed atheist, he approaches discussions of the history very differently than someone, say an apostle, who speaks from a position of cultural authority rooted in faith/annoitedness rather than academia or populist discussion.

    I think this is important in the debate, because the degree to which one self-identifies on the faith track determines how volatile one’s words and efforts will be considered. As an outsider with a professed contrarian position to many basic tenets, Dehlin is not only a reductionist, but an underminer. After all, how better to derail an effort at communication than to misrepresent it from a populist platform? One would then not only have access to the communications grid, but the entire structure.

    In this way, he draws the ire of both those on the faith track and the academic track. He’s not just preaching a new twist on the theory of high energy particle physics, he’s rewriting the field of physics and he’s taking it to the masses, sort of a cold-fusion populist. Such could be, and often is, the reaction of those groups.

    Intent matters. Is he marketing a cold fusion design because he wants cheap, available energy, or is he a scam artist co-opting a working energy distribution network? I actually like populists, in all fields, but I ask a LOT of questions about their motives.

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  20. Porter on July 5, 2012 at 3:33 PM

    Andrew, I think anything that makes historical problems like the Book of Abraham, polyandry, etc, etc, easily accessible and understandable to people is very dangerous for the church. My point is that although that information has always been “out there” it was NOT easily accessible for regular members of the church. Much of it was too difficult to read, too academic.

    And to some members (like my father) having a subscription to Sunstone is like having a subscription to Penthouse. Seriously.

    John Dehlin has changed all that. Because its the Readers Digest version anyone can read and understand it without having to slog through Bushman’s work. Accessibility is the danger.

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  21. Stephen M (Ethesis) on July 5, 2012 at 6:44 PM

    What sorts of things would be involved with choosing to be accessible rather than not? When things are inaccessible, is this a conscious decision to be inaccessible?

    You choose whether or not to use normal language vs. specialized words. Some times you can’t simplify concepts, but often you can.

    Do you explain the basics, or do you write with those as assumed, so there is a starting wall to understanding.

    Consider economics. An awful lot of it can be done in words everyone can understand or mapped over to math equations that look more academic, but are really much less accessible.

    It is basically a choice of audiences. Do you write for people in your field or for people interested in your field?

    http://www.freakonomics.com/ == accessible economics by experts/researchers.

    For mediation, a little less accessible, http://www.mediate.com/

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  22. Andrew S on July 5, 2012 at 8:24 PM

    re 19,

    Bonnie,

    Good points, all the way.

    I think, to provide a broad overview of things, that the basic problem is this. Here are three premises:

    PREMISE 1) There are many issues that seem to be problem points for many Mormons.

    PREMISE 2) There are many ways to address these issues in a way that can “resolve” them satisfactorily, but…

    PREMISE 3) Insiders to the church (or, as to analogize to your model…insiders to faith) aren’t really doing a good job of providing these answers in a general way.

    Is point 3 because the insider to faith cannot explain his/her position to a general audience without betraying his/her position of faith?

    It seems to me that a lot of people have introduced the term “populist” to the discussion, whereas I have consistently used “popularist.” Is the “populist platform” incompatible with the platform of faith? (e.g., you say After all, how better to derail an effort at communication than to misrepresent it from a populist platform? …is it the populist platform that misrepresents..?)

    Anyway, when I talk about popularizing research, I don’t think that this is at odds with faith. I can agree that John really isn’t the person to do this, because he can NOT say, “Well, I read this, and listened to this, and now I have faith.”

    …but here’s the thing: the people who have faith who would fit this criteria aren’t really doing anything like Mormon Stories. They either have generally inaccessible works (e.g., academic/intellectual pieces) or they seem to have an attitude of weariness or disdain toward those who do not share their level of development.

    Is he marketing a cold fusion design because he wants cheap, available energy, or is he a scam artist co-opting a working energy distribution network?

    These are good questions for a different sort of discussion…but I would think that there are other questions we could still ask even if we set these ones aside. So, to ask if he is a “scam artist co-opting a working energy distribution network” begs the question as to whether there is a working energy distribution network…so my question would be: do you disagree with my premise 1?

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  23. Andrew S on July 5, 2012 at 8:56 PM

    re 20,

    Porter,

    If I copy and paste the three premises I had from before…

    PREMISE 1) There are many issues that seem to be problem points for many Mormons.

    PREMISE 2) There are many ways to address these issues in a way that can “resolve” them satisfactorily, but…

    PREMISE 3) Insiders to the church (or, as to analogize to your model…insiders to faith) aren’t really doing a good job of providing these answers in a general way.

    Do you disagree about premise 2? That there actually is a way to “resolve” problems with the Book of Abraham, etc., faithfully?

    I’m saying accessibility is not really the danger. To use the inoculation paradigm…the problem is that no one got chicken pox when they were kids, so now when they get it as adults, it’s a whole lot worse then.

    re 21,

    Stephen:,

    I would think that the reason people use specialized language is because it allows them to capture more complex concepts in fewer words. So, yeah, they might be able to use more generally known words, but then the article lengths would probably balloon.

    Either that, or you have to define and analogize those concepts to stories or ideas that the audience would readily recognize, and then you fall into the problem where if your metaphor/analogy is off, your entire narrative is off.

    I think Freakonomics is a good example of a popular work done by insiders to the field…but there’s also more to economics than just what is written about in Freakonomics.

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  24. MH on July 5, 2012 at 8:56 PM

    I thought that Rosalynde Welch’s article was quite interesting and had many valid points. But the point that she seemed to be missing was that John is a popularizer, not a researcher. It seems that she just didn’t see that the populalizer was valuable, and I think many would see John’s role quite differently.

    As for Andrew’s question I wonder how many people start pursuing the more substantive history and philosophy works as a result of listening to a Mormon Stories podcast episode?

    Well, I can say that after listening to several of his podcasts on the priesthood/temple ban, I have delved deeply into that issue. There are other issues such as polygamy, consecration that I have taken his first introduction with, and then I have run with it. Mormon Stories was my first real exposure to historical issues, and it has been fun to blog in depth as I learn more. I will also say that many of the books I have read are because John specifically recommended them in a podcast. (Sort of like Oprah and her book club.)

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  25. Bonnie on July 5, 2012 at 9:06 PM

    I love talking with you Andrew. Good points as well.

    populist – I use that term because I find it more descriptive than popularist, which sounds too PR to me. (Sorry)

    YES! The populist platform is compatible with the faith platform if it’s correlated. (That should bump most of our audience’s blood pressure up a few points.) I’ve been reading on other issues today about the spirit of Elias, the spirit of Elijah, and the spirit of Messiah. Elias is a preparatory role, populist if you like, that prepares people for the more expansive spirit of Elijah.

    One analogy that was used (and I’m sorry, I’ve forgotten where I read it) talked metaphorically about stonecutters who size and prepare the block and sealers who seal it in place in the structure, building on the work that went before. In order for stone masons to work that way, they have to agree on the size and shape of the stone from the beginning. Any old populist platform isn’t going to be supportive of a faith platform; it needs to be a platform that the builder can ultimately build the intended structure on.

    Is JD doing that? That’s the problem people on both the faith and academic platforms are having IMHO. What can they build on from what he’s begun?

    Now, is anyone else doing that from a, pardon the use of that inflammatory term, correlated process? No. You’re right. There is discussion in other circles about this, of which I’m peripherally aware, but we don’t have anything in place now. I think mormon.org and the mormon channel and other sources are bridging into that, but real populist discussion forums? No. I would love that. I admit that the absence of that is what prompted me to join W&T, as small and insignificant a voice as I am.

    And I disagree that his motives are a different discussion. To a truly correlated series of platforms, motive is everything.

    Regarding your premises, I largely agree, though I don’t think the three of those wrap around everyone equally. The reason for #3, again IMHO, is that it forces us to publicly navigate a tension that has been with us since the first decade after the restoration: the pursuit of democratic, individualized revelation and the demands of a correlated church. What explains one person’s question and/or answer does nothing to address someone else’s different take on, nor does it take into account the dramatic differences in approach even just the people on the faith platform take.

    For instance, the “discussion is a slippery slope” argument. We are in the middle of the Friends of Scouting drive and where I live scout committee members walk around asking for donations and it’s announced from the pulpit. I stopped typing this note to have a discussion with my kids who wanted to let me know that the donation slip was on my desk. I explained that I saw it and threw it away. I explained that I have a difference of opinion with this funding drive because (1) there is not something similar for young women, (2) scouting is an organization with a different structure and I don’t agree with our financial propping-up of it, and (3) I think the ideals of scouting can be well-supported without financial contribution. I also explained that my difference of opinion has absolutely no bearing on my testimony, my willingness to support local and general leaders, or my feelings about my faith. I don’t try to talk anyone else into agreeing with me, I just don’t write a check. But I also realize that that is not sufficient to settle someone else’s feelings on the subject.

    In a faith that encourages us to “find out for ourselves” how does one structure a populist platform that works for everyone?

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  26. Joseph West on July 5, 2012 at 9:22 PM

    John Dehlin isn’t comparable to Gladwell because Dehlin isn’t really a scholar. Even his graduate degrees are professional degrees aimed at training people for work outside of the academy.

    The more apt comparison is Bill Moyers or Terry Gross — educated talk show hosts whose role is facilitating a discussion.

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  27. Andrew S on July 5, 2012 at 9:33 PM

    re 24,

    MH,

    Yeah, I’d be interested in hearing whether Rosalynde opposes popularization per se, or just Dehlin’s slant of it — as Bonnie mentions, not all popularization is the same. My initial reaction was similar to yours — it seems she doesn’t see the popularizer role as all that valuable to begin with.

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  28. Andrew S on July 5, 2012 at 9:37 PM

    re 25

    Bonnie,

    D’aww! :3 Thanks.

    I guess I don’t want to get caught up in a discussion on semantics (trust me; I’m very prone to doing just that), but I don’t really get how you’re seeing popularizer vs. populist. I won’t stick on that point, though.

    I think your point about the populist point being compatible with the faith platform if it is correlated is certainly something that can make sense — especially given brandt’s discussion of the church’s efforts with the Mormon Channel and Frank’s explicit statement that lessons in church are just as popularizing as the podcasts…when looking from this perspective, it seems pretty obvious that correlation has been an attempt to popularize very diverse ideas and concepts of Mormonism…

    I guess my question here is…correlation seems institutional…when I look at your earlier comment 19 under ‘correlation,’ then it really takes on a different meaning. The priesthood structure is the ultimate insider group because the priesthood structure is the only thing authorized to direct correlation. Our blogs — no matter how faithful — cannot move faster than the speed of the institution in a correlated manner. To try will end up developing folk doctrines or otherwise separating from the faith platform.

    Do I understand that right? Is my conclusion something that follows from what you’re trying to say.

    The question I have based on that is…if correlation is institutional, and thus, we can only resolve issues at the speed of the institution, then this really constrains us. I think that Dialogue and Sunstone and the Mormon History Association and all of these other non-institutional sources have these great answers and thoughts about various issues relating to Mormonism, but even when those authors and writers are coming at the issue from a faithful perspective, I have to ultimately admit that those are all outsider perspectives — not a one of them is uncorrelated because none of them have the prophetic authority to develop correlated, faithful answers.

    What explains one person’s question and/or answer does nothing to address someone else’s different take on, nor does it take into account the dramatic differences in approach even just the people on the faith platform take.

    …In a faith that encourages us to “find out for ourselves” how does one structure a populist platform that works for everyone?

    Right, right. I think something that we aren’t seeing a lot of is something similar to John Dehlin’s (evolving) perspective. So, John has come a LONG way from how he used to be in the Mormon Stories process…years ago, he would upset a LOT of disaffected/post/former Mormons, because his position was pretty much, “EVERYONE can and should make the church work out, and I think my project can show how that works.”

    However, now, his projects are a lot more neutral (which raises questions of motives from the faithful side.) If you want to stay, then here’s what you can look at for that. If you want to leave, then here’s what you can look at for that. If you want to be somewhere in between, then here’s what you can look at for that.

    So, his “popularization,” I would say, isn’t providing a “one-size fits all” populist platform. Or rather, it isn’t “x, y, z and then you’ll be able to stay.” Rather, his platform is a more generalized way of thinking — if you emphasize “health” and “authenticity” (two things that Rosalynde critiques), then the Mormon Stories idea is that you’ll be OK whether you are in or out of the church. The particulars may vary to reach those goals.

    I think that from a correlated standpoint, there need to be more messages saying that the particulars may vary for you as a member, but you can still be faithful and in the church. In other words, the populist platform is “find out for yourself” — the issue is that this platform shouldn’t be contradicted or conflicted by competing ideas: “find out for yourself…but if you get a different answer than the Prophet, then your answer is wrong.”

    I think, then, that this explains some of the opposition to labels like “TBM” and “NOM” that have popped up whenever there is a discussion on these things. Notwithstanding the baggage around these terms, the essential element of opposite is that these terms don’t allow for “finding out for yourself” to be an acceptable, normal, valid part of being a true, believing Mormon.

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  29. Bonnie on July 5, 2012 at 9:56 PM

    Your points about moving at the speed of the institution are right on, Andrew, if we’re talking about a public discussion.

    However, look at JStapley’s comments about Virginia Pearce’s article in the forthcoming book, The Beginning of Better Days.

    Pearce’s essay is honest, fresh, and sincere. It recounts her recent introduction to the minutes after their inclusion in the Joseph Smith Papers Online, and her experience studying them in a way that is ultimately performative. She offers a suggested methodology for immersion into the sermon texts, and provides a pattern for others who are not familiar with them or early church history to approach what Joseph Smith was communicating. He was presenting a vision to the Relief Society. He was revealing something new and he did it with language that is different than we now use. Pearce recapitulates the experience of those women who sat in the small room above the Red Brick store. She works for and receives a vision. And on several occasions, her account stole my breath away.

    It is the revelation that Joseph Smith delivers to the Relief Society that is so compelling to me. Like President Beck, I do not believe that we have lived up to our potential in our Relief Societies and quorums. Joseph Smith’s sermons rend the veil of our lived experience and demand something more expansive than we have seen or known. Pearce’s self-confessed messy pattern of prayer, reading, noting, questioning, researching, contrasting, and applying is that expansion in a modern life. Her concluding words relate this in the form of exhortation: “Read Joseph’s words. Pray about them. Study them. And expect angels and epiphanies”

    This is available to every member and nothing in correlation interferes with one’s ability to do this. If you look at the work of the church, it is putting all kinds of primary sources at the fingertips of everyday members (how much more populist can you get than put the unedited primaries in people’s hands, like the explosion that occurred when people began to own bibles). The church says, “please, study this, have an experience with this.” I’m not seeing any hide and seek. I’m seeing a genuine resurgence in democratic revelation encouraged from the highest levels.

    I think the “if you get a different answer from the prophet then you’re wrong” comes from local, not general leadership.

    And I think your summation of JD as neutral is probably not a widely held opinion among a lot of folks, and that grows to include all of the populist platforms, including this one. My participation here in some ways brands me as less faithful because I break the code of respectful silence about my personal path of faith and questioning. I hope to do it in the vein of Virginia Pearce, but you know, I’m not as smart as she is.

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  30. Chris on July 5, 2012 at 10:17 PM

    John Dehlin’s podcasts have saved me! During the past two years, I experienced a major faith crisis as I examined the history of the Church (polyandry, book of Abraham, women’s issues, black issues, temple ceremony changes, etc.), and Carol Lynn Pearson’s podcasts gave me peace, comfort and hope. After listening to her, I concluded that God will truly yet reveal many great and important things pertaining to His kingdom, and that the Church is often influenced more by cultural issues than by inspiration.

    I believe that God is truly no respector of persons, and John Dehlin’s podcasts have helped me realize that there is a place in the Church for someone who questions anything that the Church does than makes a person feel less that whole or loved by God.

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  31. hawkgrrrl on July 5, 2012 at 10:38 PM

    Bonnie – “As a self-professed atheist” I confess I missed this one. John professes atheism now? That’s a change, but it goes to your other point: “Intent matters. Is he marketing a cold fusion design because he wants cheap, available energy, or is he a scam artist co-opting a working energy distribution network? I actually like populists, in all fields, but I ask a LOT of questions about their motives.” I always imagined his motives as inviting others to share his experience and come along for the ride, plain and simple. That’s like a popul(ar)ist, but with a slightly different angle. So maybe I’m coming off my popul(ar)ism position a little bit. He’s not observing and commenting in a disinterested fashion. He’s not distilling complex information for the masses. He wants a shared experience; he wants to know that others have been through what he has been and is going through. What’s unusual is that he isn’t really offering any personal wisdom or taking actions based on a set of unchanging principles, just listening and connecting people. That makes him more like the Zuckerberg of Mormon disaffection.

    A different way to look at this might be: is he a doctor or a carrier? That’s a pertinent question. Does he create, identify, or cure symptoms? Or does he just create a sick room where people commiserate? I believe I’ve seen him do all these things at various times.

    I’m also not sure whether he’s co-opting the Mormon network (as you ask) or if he’s just using the skills we all have as Mormons to create and nourish networks, even though in this case it’s mostly within a sub-strata of Mormonism. I tend to think it’s the latter, but a case could be made for the former.

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  32. [...] my latest post at Wheat & Tares, I assert that what John Dehlin is essentially doing with Mormon Stories is serving as popularizer for others who are …. In this sense, we might view him as the Malcolm Gladwell of Mormon [...]

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  33. Bonnie on July 5, 2012 at 10:49 PM

    Crud. I knew a day of reading without taking notes where was going to bite me. I don’t have a reference, so his comment about his present faith and my repetition of it doesn’t count in the dialogue.

    I do agree that his position is less disinterested, but then, so is mine. I’m just frank about it and pretend to no objectivity, no large-minded inclusiveness (though I don’t peruse MS and don’t know if he pretends to anything). I see us as people on different sides of the tent pulling against one another to hold it up.

    I like your doctor/carrier analogy. I can see myself in that one as well. And frankly, I think we all co-opt the network at one time or another. Intent, however, matters. I couldn’t judge his, though I know it’s a significant question for some folks.

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  34. KLC on July 6, 2012 at 8:34 AM

    John Dehlin is hardly Oprah, he’s more like public access cable. He needs to learn how to edit or find someone who does know. His podcasts are always too long for the content they provide.

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  35. Andrew S on July 6, 2012 at 9:10 AM

    re 28,

    Bonnie,

    I had actually seen Stapley’s review before…perhaps I’m just a negative person, but what struck me more about it was what he said about Sheri Dew’s part:

    while Pearce was able to find meaningful context and history regarding female administration of healing rituals into the twentieth century and then draw personal lessons from Joseph Smith’s teachings, Dew offers a battery of unsupported possibilities, and then repeatedly claims that simply “we don’t know” (49-50). I agree that Dew’s approach leaves only that conclusion, but it is an approach that is self-constrained.

    So, which approach will people internalize…which approach do we see more of? The “we don’t know” approach seems more prominent to me, because we’ve also seen that elsewhere — with the Bott controversy on race and priesthood, for example.

    That being said, I *do* see books like these and others as being a positive development. I just see these things as being evidence of the fact that change is very slow, very tentative, and other folks are able to go a lot quicker than institutional sources.

    I think the “if you get a different answer from the prophet then you’re wrong” comes from local, not general leadership.

    This is definitely not the topic for today, but I don’t think one can easily say, “The local leaders say this, but the general leaders say that.” I think that across the levels, different leaders are saying different things, which means that unfortunately, yes, *some* general leaders are saying things like this.

    And I think your summation of JD as neutral is probably not a widely held opinion among a lot of folks, and that grows to include all of the populist platforms, including this one. My participation here in some ways brands me as less faithful because I break the code of respectful silence about my personal path of faith and questioning. I hope to do it in the vein of Virginia Pearce, but you know, I’m not as smart as she is.

    Yeah, I wouldn’t say “neutral” is a good term. BUT I would also say that putting him cleanly in one category or cleanly in another category also doesn’t work. You can’t call him an ex-Mormon — that doesn’t fit. I’m certainly not saying he is an orthodox, believing Mormon — that certainly doesn’t fit. For whatever value of “New Order Mormon” you have, he doesn’t really fit there either because his reasons are different. And you could pretty much do this with every label out there.

    But the last part I’ve quoted above right here…I guess it’s just a difference in opinions (the idea of public/populist discussion vs. private/living room discussion), but to me, I think that a ‘code of respectful silence’ hasn’t really don’t much to help people. It hasn’t done much to show that Mormons are diverse people. It hasn’t done much to help people who think they believe differently know that they aren’t alone. I just don’t think that it’s healthy to faith, but what do I know about faith?

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  36. Bonnie on July 6, 2012 at 9:47 AM

    Andrew: I wasn’t terribly surprised by Stapley’s response to Dew. If there were a polar opposite to the attitudes at BCC, she would be it. I’m going to reserve judgment on what she said vs what Pearce said until I can read for myself. In that light, I can’t really comment on which of the book’s interpretations is better, although I’ve commented above on my preference for approaching texts. And I just don’t think the institution limits me in any way, so I’m not worried about what speed it’s moving.

    I agree with your comments about the code of silence not really doing much to help people, and change coming slowly. It’s why I write – this belief that we need to talk ourselves through things in a somewhat public environment to break barriers of misunderstanding and unhealthy conformity and to decrease the barriers of entry.

    And though your final comment was tongue in cheek and made me laugh right out loud because I like your brain so much, you make the same point that I did from my earliest comment: how helpful is the outsider platform to those interested in the insider track? I love your observations, and I love talking to you, but I don’t lose too much sleep if you disagree with me (as I’m sure you don’t as well!) It’s not because I don’t value your opinion; it’s because I know we feel differently about the core thing: faith. Just as sociologists might feel about Gladwell, I think there are important nuances that are lost when the populist platform is managed by an outsider – like JD.

    I think we need a correlated populist platform diverse enough to include the Mormon Channel, mormon.org, and the video clips from lds.org (which do reach a segment of the faith group) as well as interpretations of scholarly work that are a bit more accessible than FAIR/FARMS and other forums of questioning that don’t get invaded by people with axes to grind who dominate the discussion. In that light, I think you’re absolutely right: we have a lot that we can learn from JD, and I hope we do.

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  37. Andrew S. on July 6, 2012 at 10:00 AM

    re 29,

    Chris

    Thanks for commenting…I think Carol Lynn Pearson definitely should be popularized even more!

    re 30,

    Hawkgrrrl,

    He wants a shared experience; he wants to know that others have been through what he has been and is going through. What’s unusual is that he isn’t really offering any personal wisdom or taking actions based on a set of unchanging principles, just listening and connecting people. That makes him more like the Zuckerberg of Mormon disaffection.

    Another really good simile…(also loved the doctor/carrier question.

    re 33,

    KLC,

    I definitely have to admit, when I see some of the Mormon Stories podcasts stretch over 4, 5, or more hours, that’s kinda daunting to me. However, I also know that my long drives can be that long, so sometimes, it’s good to have that. I think it would definitely be good if there were summary points/highlights, but that’s a lot more work as well.

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  38. Andrew S. on July 6, 2012 at 10:09 AM

    re 36,

    Bonnie,

    I think there’s something really interesting in what you say here:

    And I just don’t think the institution limits me in any way, so I’m not worried about what speed it’s moving.

    I think the major distinguishing factor in how people will react to various issues is whether they think they are limited in certain senses…in other words, it seems to me that the people who don’t really come through faith crises with faith felt more limited in what would count as a faithful response…so their limited faithful options don’t really satisfy them, and they think they must leave instead…

    For people who remain with faith, I’ve just seen a trend that they often have a more expansive view point of what can be believed, stated, etc., in a faithful platform.

    FWIW, I feel quite limited. So dialogue like this with folks like you is really helpful — and I think it’s only possible because you and others are willing speak somewhat publicly.

    Maybe that’s not quite what John provides with Mormon Stories (because he’s too much of an outsider on the faith position) — but that’s where I would definitely agree with you here:

    I think we need a correlated populist platform diverse enough to include the Mormon Channel, mormon.org, and the video clips from lds.org (which do reach a segment of the faith group) as well as interpretations of scholarly work that are a bit more accessible than FAIR/FARMS and other forums of questioning that don’t get invaded by people with axes to grind who dominate the discussion.

    And, you know, I completely understand the need for spaces not to “get invaded by peopel with axes to grind who dominate the discussion.” I completely understood what Ardis and others were saying to that extent on the Times & Seasons discussion…I am starting to understand J. Max Wilson’s whole approach to “living room blogging.” I still think it’s not ideal, but I can’t disagree with people being tired because even *I* get tired of it.

    (anyway this is probably really off topic now so I’ll stop that here.)

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  39. Andrew S on July 6, 2012 at 10:19 AM

    re 26,

    Joseph West,

    Just wanted to apologize first…for some reason, your comment triggered our spam filter, but there’s obviously nothing wrong with what you’re saying…sorry it took so long for that to get published; Bonnie ultimately caught it.

    Now, to address what you have said:

    John Dehlin isn’t comparable to Gladwell because Dehlin isn’t really a scholar. Even his graduate degrees are professional degrees aimed at training people for work outside of the academy.

    The more apt comparison is Bill Moyers or Terry Gross — educated talk show hosts whose role is facilitating a discussion.

    I would have thought that Malcolm Gladwell would be a perfect comparison to John Dehlin — Malcolm Gladwell isn’t a scholar either. But I think that given the fact that John Dehlin isn’t writing any books, then Bill Moyers or Terry Gross (and the educated talk show host metaphor) probably would be more apt.

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  40. Bonnie on July 6, 2012 at 11:43 AM

    Andrew – LOVE this thought:

    I think the major distinguishing factor in how people will react to various issues is whether they think they are limited in certain senses…in other words, it seems to me that the people who don’t really come through faith crises with faith felt more limited in what would count as a faithful response…so their limited faithful options don’t really satisfy them, and they think they must leave instead…

    For people who remain with faith, I’ve just seen a trend that they often have a more expansive view point of what can be believed, stated, etc., in a faithful platform.

    I have a whole new perspective on what offends people and I can be more open-minded with that. Thank you.

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  41. Chino Blanco on July 7, 2012 at 12:30 PM

    Q: “What do you think of John Dehlin’s podcasting efforts (such as Mormon Stories and Mormon Matters)?”

    A: Mormon Stories is a hit (as in homerun). I think Mormon Matters suffers a bit from Bloggernacle syndrome, a condition described in this random FB comment I noticed today:

    “Don’t confuse an unwillingness to believe in needlessly complicated ideas with an incapacity for complex thought.”

    As far as Welch’s post is concerned, it gets the same “meh” I reserve for much of the Mormon Studies crowd/approach. I mean, Mormon eggheads get quoted in the NY Times, and that’s fun, but sometimes I wish I could get a little of what they’re smokin’ … for example, this cracked me up:

    “These are all signs of a new openness … The LDS church is pushing for detente with historians.”

    Seriously? As far as I can tell, “openness” is going to do for Mormonism what the Russian invasion of Afghanistan did for détente. But, then again, my job/hobby doesn’t depend on pretending that something called “Mormon Studies” actually exists (or that my aspirational fantasy Mormonism actually maps to reality).

    I was at a baby blessing in Parowan, Utah last week and the fast and testimony meeting that followed reminded me just how detached from Mormon reality some of its brightest defenders and observers can be.

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  42. Andrew S on July 8, 2012 at 12:19 PM

    re 41,

    Chino Blanco,

    I have definitely heard that sort of critique of Mormon Matters — great quote, BTW. It’s interesting how the MM reboot was supposed to be a more accessible, shorter sort of podcast (in contrast to Mormon Stories’ very long, podcasts), but in some ways, it’s kinda become its own niche.

    It seems that a major message from your comment is that you see a lot of this stuff as being detached from Mormon reality or aspirational…do you not think that 1) aspirations can create change or 2) that various individuals are simply reflecting Mormonism as they experience in in their wards (but obviously, not all wards are the same?)

    Speaking of aspirational, I am reminded of this post from the LDS Newsroom

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  43. Chino Blanco on July 8, 2012 at 3:18 PM

    Don’t you mean “Mormon” Newsroom? ;-) In any case, there’s plenty of good advice at that link, but speaking of private/public “character” …

    Have we helped improve the manuals rank-and-file Mormons read from every Sunday? Do members get a copy of the annual budget as part of tithing settlement? Have any letters been read over the pulpit letting Mormon parents know it’s illegal to threaten their minor children with abandonment for refusing to toe the line? Has there been a single Bloggernacle post critical of Meridian magazine’s for-profit FUD campaign? Can my wife join me in blessing our next baby? Can her (Buddhist) family join us at our temple wedding? Has anything we’ve done served to reassure a substantial portion of active Mormons that they’re *not* nuts to pause and wonder at it all?

    Same as it ever was.

    Anyway, enjoy 2012. Personally, I’m enjoying the hiatus afforded by Mitt’s candidacy. No questions will get answered, no real progress will be made, but at least the institution will pretend to play nice for a change. If the folks at FARMS didn’t get the “play nice” memo, well, that’s little more than a sideshow. “We surround you” (in the words of my dad’s favorite Mormon) and there are plenty of us in the exmo community who are committed to continuing to do what we can to facilitate healthy transitions for a generation of kids who’ve seen enough of the LDS church to know better than to expect “insiders” to effectuate anything like meaningful change.

    The crazy thing is, I’d actually prefer for the kids to leave only after a year of engaging with the thought on offer at Dialogue, Sunstone and the like, but the reality is that Dallin has opted to bunker down rather than open up the kind of space required to make that an option, so here we are, and there the kids go. Somewhere else. And I’m not about to apologize or make excuses for somebody else’s dunderheaded decision to make Mormonism a pass/fail proposition.

    2013 is gonna be a hoot. Irrelevance is the gerontocracy’s biggest fear and it’s just around the corner. All that “negative buzz” Gary Lawrence sold to the boys upstairs is gonna disappear like tears in falling rain and they’ll finally reap their just reward for all the hate they’ve sown in defense of their temporal kingdom: forever alone.

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  44. Jon on July 9, 2012 at 4:41 PM

    I haven’t read all the comments yet but here’s my two cents.

    I enjoy MM and MS. They sound professional and are enjoyable at the same time.

    I listen to Faircast to give balance but theirs tends to have less of a professional tone and you feel like the target audience is for teenagers. The topics aren’t in depth. They don’t have their own separate website. I follow the RSS feed, sometimes I’m wondering if they even post podcasts that often because they are not very frequent. It would be nice to have someone take ownership of the podcast project and put out good quality interviews on a regular basis. It would be nice if they had a separate podcast like MM for a forum.

    I listened to Mormon Expressions too. They’re a bit of a turn off too. They do have some interesting topics but their podcast is unprofessional also. They make many illogical leaps in their thinking, which is bothersome. They make the illogical thinking and make fun of people (unprofessional) to the point where I couldn’t listen anymore.

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  45. Jon on July 9, 2012 at 4:53 PM

    Just a quick critique of MS too. Some of the shows seem balanced others are way out of whack and no one from church seems to be willing to step up. I would love to hear a podcast from the couple that wrote the book on how Joseph Smith wasn’t a polygamist. Unfortunately that isn’t their style. Is anyone else willing to step up and participate in Dehlin’s podcast? Probably not because of the stigma it has and how faithful mormons shy away from that. I’ve heard people on the fair podcast that are well read on the subject, I would love if someone would come out and give MS a more balanced feel. A lot of things going on that make it difficult for the communities to truly be “non-biased.”

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