Why it’s so hard to help the Disaffected

By: Mormon Heretic
August 20, 2012

Scott Gordon invited the first non-Mormon to speak at the recent FAIR conference.  She spoke on the similarities between conversion and de-conversion stories in Mormonism.  Many active Mormons just don’t understand de-conversion stories, and it was Scott Gordon’s attempt to help active Mormons better understand why some people feel they can no longer believe.  Richard Bushman discussed why it’s hard to help the disaffected in his interview with John Dehlin.

Bushman, “So all of that got me to thinking about the whole business of responding to Grant Palmer or other of these people who write attacks on Joseph Smith.  I keep trying to figure out why it is I can’t really respond.  It’s never satisfying.  It always seems partial and ineffective.  And the image that came to my mind is someone being attacked by a swarm of bees and being stung all over all at once, so I come up and say what can I do for you?

They say, ‘I’ve been stung by all these bees’, so I go to one of the bee stings, and I try to take out the stinger and I try to administer some ointment and it gets better a little bit, but it still kind of hurts.  Now I say, do you feel better?  Well no, I’ve got all these other bee stings and it’s so difficult to sort of go back one by one and pick off each one of these little problems and satisfy them, because it usually ends up as being not completely satisfying. It’s always sort of in the middle, like in this case.  Well you can say well, that definitely discounts the witnesses altogether so far as I’m concerned, or you can say well I can see they were witnessing to something that was very powerful, something that persuaded them so we still have to take the witnesses seriously.  So the result is not clean cut, and you don’t really feel you’ve answered it, you’ve just sort of moderated the problem.  So those are a couple thoughts I had, I have some others, but do you want to jump in and say something in response?”

JD, “No, I just have to tell you how good of a sport you’ve been because yeah, it is overwhelming, and it’s overwhelming to be as you know and you’ve acknowledged, it’s also overwhelming to be on the end of the bee stings, and to not—because sometimes when someone stumbles on to this stuff they’re accused of adultery or their accused of kicking against the pricks or disobedience.  But it’s usually, you know people don’t fall into this because they care too little.  It seems like the ones who take the time to actually study the history, most often they are motivated because they care so much, and that’s what makes those bee stings so painful is that I didn’t ask—and I just have to tell you that people that sent me feedback on your interview so far, I’ve had one lady actually tell me that she’s now believing in Joseph Smith again after years of disbelief just from hearing your testimony. So I just want to say that it is overwhelming for you and for anyone to try to respond to the critics and it’s also a sad situation because it’s overwhelming for a lot of the people who are struggling with it, but to try and fight off those bees and to try and help with the stings, it may not solve all the problems, but I don’t know, to extend the analogy, sometimes I feel like it’s better than to leaving the person to be eaten by the bees, and that’s sort of the spirit with which I was hoping to have the conversation, but I know it’s not clean, it’s not precise, it’s messy, but I think you’ve done a marvelous job in helping me and many of my listeners.

Because who will stand up and try and answer these question?  Most of the feedback I’ve gotten is well, isn’t’ that oh they solved my problems.  It’s like I’m inspired by the fact that someone’s willing to stand up, take the questions in an unscripted, uncontrolled forum and take the heat, because that shows a courage and a conviction that this is something worth fighting for versus like on a Sunday morning political talk show trying to not answer the question or dodge the question or avoid even having to go answer the question.  So I just can’t say enough how courageous and helpful for many of us your time just so far has been.”

Bushman, “Well let me say something about that group that we seem to be conjuring up here with people who have encountered a lot of problems.  They’re disturbed, maybe don’t quite what they believe anymore.  Maybe they’re angry and want to dump the prophet entirely.

It’s very easy to feel in a situation like that that you’re outside the Church, that you’ve somehow marginalized yourself.  You may even get excommunicated or people cast aspersions on your sincerity or your morality or all sort of other things.  One way or another you feel like you’re not in the church anymore. I for one don’t believe that.  I think Mormonism is not just home teaching and bishopric meeting, it’s all these individual souls wrestling with the scriptures, with God, with their own souls trying to find out what’s right and true, and doing that in sort of this overall Mormon context.  I think people who are struggling may be obsessed with these questions to a certain extent, are showing us a kind of worship and devotion that is deeply Mormon. I mean who is more committed to the Prophet Joseph Smith than Dan Vogel?

Think of the millions of hours that he’s spent with very little reward. On the prophet’s documents, on his life, and even though we think of him as an antagonist, probably an atheist when it comes to religion, still he is engaged to Joseph Smith. There’s a kind of devotion there that I for one think has to be respected.  So while the institutional Church may have to protect itself and cut these people off and label them as agnostics, I think looking at it from God’s point of view, there are a lot of these people are really struggling souls.  Some may be really evil, some may really be trying to harm and destroy, but I think there are a lot that are just trying to find out what they think is right.  So I hope none of them feel like they’re outside of Mormonism. They can’t be outside of Mormonism as long as they think about Joseph Smith.  That puts them inside of the Mormon cultural boundaries, and that is of great importance.”

JD, “Yeah, I’m sure that Dan Vogel and others and many of the people who feel that those people have been unduly picked upon will feel will really appreciate those words.”

Bushman, “I had one other thing to say that I’d like to hear discussed, and you’ve referred to it so I have the nerve to bring it up. I’m just wondering.  I think it would be good to have a discussion inside your group of what happens to a person sort of morally and spiritually after they’ve gone through one of these combats over Joseph Smith and the gospel?

You know we had this one image that I’m sure is true in lots of instances of people who kind of begin to let up on the standards, they don’t pay tithing anymore, and then they may take a glass of wine, and they may smoke a little bit and maybe have a few brief affairs or what have you. Not that they’re becoming demons, but you just sort of a slackening.  That moral rigor that is required of Mormons and upheld by the sense this is God’s purpose and will.  Once that’s relaxed, you know everything kind of relaxes.  I don’t know whether it ends up that people stop praying or stop thinking of God or not, but that’s one course that I can see people following as a result of this disruption.

But there’s another course that I’ve seen in certain people I’ve known which is quite different. Not so much, I am not thinking so much of moral standards, because I don’t have any evidence of how that works, but spiritually.  These people begin to feel like of all the things they learned in the Church, the thing that really registers and seems true and lasting is Christ.  It’s the sacrifice of Christ and the promise of forgiveness, and the belief that Heavenly Father is working with his pitiful children to try to bring them along in some way, and Christ becomes very big.  I know that there are a lot of these ex-Mormons for Jesus for whom that’s natural, but I’ve seen it even with more intellectual types that sort of stand on the margins of the Church, and they carpet the general authorities and this and that, but they still see Christ as of great importance to them.  And these people I think probably pray I don’t know that for a fact, but they have deep spiritual Christian yearnings that still govern their lives.  So I’d be just curious to have your people discuss what happens to those who have been beaten up by some of this historical evidence.”

JD, “Yeah.  That’s a great topic, and I have some great anecdotal experiences and I definitely think it runs the gamut.  I think for many the initial reaction is to just loosen up on the standards, and frankly I’ve met far many unhappy people who have decided to throw it all away, than I have people who have found more joy than they had when they were in.  So I for one am a huge advocate of praying, or maintaining membership, of attending and not throwing anything away. I even know of a guy who couldn’t feel good about paying tithing, but he couldn’t feel good about not paying tithing, so he instead picked his five favorite charities and taking that 10% and reallocating it because he couldn’t let go the Law of Tithing even though he was still struggling with the church.  But that’s a great question.  That’s a really great question.”

My questions for you are these, (though you’re welcome to comment on anything that strikes you from this conversation.)

  1. What can believing Mormons do to help the disaffected?
  2. If you consider yourself disaffected, what advice to you have for believers in how they treat you?
  3. What do you think of Bushman’s anology of a swarm of bees?  Is it accurate?
  4. Do you agree with Bushman that antagonists can be considered “inside of the Mormon cultural boundaries”?

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64 Responses to Why it’s so hard to help the Disaffected

  1. hawkgrrrl on August 20, 2012 at 2:56 AM

    1 – I think that question is sort of backwards. It is probably more reasonable to expect disaffected Mormons to know how to get along with believing ones. After all, they used to be believing. Presumably, many of the believing ones have never been disaffected and perhaps can’t relate. That’s just a thought.

    3 – The bee analogy works partly. I agree that the sting doesn’t go away just from removing the stinger. And really, a person removing the stinger doesn’t do that much. Time might help, but some people are allergic to bees.

    4 – In many ways, those who have dug into the history are more Mormon than those who are satisfied with superficial Sunday school answers. Who’s exhibiting greater interest in Mormonism? The one putting the time and depth into it. That’s one view anyway.

    I am troubled (to some extent) by the relaxation of standards among the disaffected. Why do we as Mormons do the things we do? Why do we not sleep around? Why do we not drink alcohol? Why do we go to church? I think for many, their reasons are a house of cards, easily knocked down. They don’t have good reasons for what they are doing in the first place, so it all falls down together. I also think for some, relaxing the standards is self-justification. And in those cases, it’s not going to lead to happiness. But that’s not all cases. I don’t begrudge those who have been unhappy in the church and for whom setting down the burden gives them relief. People need to create their happiness.

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  2. Stephen M (Ethesis) on August 20, 2012 at 6:57 AM

    The bee sting metaphor fits some people I have known. They just can’t focus because of all the stings.

    Many also seem to form an OCD link with their issues as well, so that they can’t quit looping.

    A “why not X” and if you can show X, then “why not Y” and them back to X. An example I saw recently was watching a guy want an archeologist who was not LDS. The other guy knew two who has joined the church.

    By the end of the discussion the poor guy had looped back to claiming no non-member archeologist would … He was stuck in his loop. The other guy eventually blocked his emails.

    But I think the sense of someone being stung by bees as a reason for their getting locked into the loops is a good one.

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  3. Jettboy on August 20, 2012 at 8:08 AM

    What Steven M. said is more truthful to the situation I’m afraid than what Richard Bushman said. It is difficult to deal with them because they really don’t want to discuss their disaffection, but validate it. No one is going to help them unless they decide to help themselves (and sadly I have almost never seen them do that). They more often than not are looking for reasons to leave rather than remain. Its their attitude and not their concerns that keeps them the way they are, in an almost hopeless loop because the answers are out their. They just refuse to accept them.

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  4. Brian on August 20, 2012 at 8:09 AM

    Hawk, I look at you as the resident genius at W&T. I think you must have written your response in the middle of the night. Either that or I am reading things in that aren’t there. Regardless, I am responding to what I read in your post.

    “I am troubled (to some extent) by the relaxation of standards among the disaffected.”

    The standards of the disaffection “relaxing” is obviously a person by person issue. It is interesting in our family. My wife is still the most Christian among us. Annoyingly, she still refuses to watch R rated movies. I am the same person, for better or worse, that had a temple recommend for 35 years. My gay son is still the most Christian of all my boys. He visits his disabled aunt two times a week. My rock star son, at 33, still has not had a drink of alcohol. As far as I can tell, all of my sons are the same, good people they were as Mormons. The only difference is they don’t believe JS’s story. Although I know you did not mean the standards of all are blown into the wind when they leave the church, many Mormons make it sound that way. I have always been a decent person, even before I joined the church.

    “Why do we as Mormons do the things we do? Why do we not sleep around? Why do we not drink alcohol? Why do we go to church?”

    Lots of reasons. Family pressure, desire to “win a prize”, faith, desire to be better people, employment security. I recently had a pompous member come to my office to tell me what a horrible decision I had made to leave the church. In the discussion, he explained how grateful he is for the standards of the church because he loves women and if it weren’t for the church he would be a real womanizer. I told him I am faithful simply because I love my wife.

    “They don’t have good reasons for what they are doing in the first place”

    I don’t even know who or what you are talking about here. Life is complicated.

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  5. Stephen M (Ethesis) on August 20, 2012 at 8:22 AM

    But I think the desire to validate is driven by the bee stings overwhelming everything else.

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  6. Brian on August 20, 2012 at 8:26 AM

    As to the helping the disaffected, you can lead a horse to water, but can’t make it drink. When I decided I was no longer coming to church I told my HPGL that I didn’t want any formal PH visits. I told the bishop I would talk to him when I was ready, which I did a year later. After I met with the bishop and told him that JS was a liar and a charlatan, he asked to see me a month later. Since he was a good friend, I agreed. He proceeded to call me as the gospel essentials teacher. Would you want me as the GE teacher in your ward? I reiterated my reasons for leaving. For me, I put as much effort in the decision to leave as I did to join the church at 17. It was not easy.

    Those members who have taken the initiative to come to see me with the express mission of telling me how wrong I am have disappointed me. Not one of them asked me why I left the church. One asked me how I could do this to my precious wife. Little does he know she is only active because the likes to play the organ at church. Do what to my wife? Tell her I no longer believe in just the same she no longer believes?

    If you are going to “help”, I would suggest treating the disaffected like they are adults and they have made the decisions they have made with the same effort and sincerity that members make their decisions. Do not treat them like they are “less”. They aren’t less. They are different. Do not assume they have been offended or are living in sin, as the company line goes.

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  7. Bonnie on August 20, 2012 at 8:34 AM

    This is an amazing interview. I love Bushman’s take on this, which refuses to focus on any of the disagreements and instead looks for reasons why, building bridges of understanding. Few people who are untroubled by Mormonism have the capacity to understand why those who are, are, and even fewer are willing to engage the conversation.

    I can sometimes, but I was raised with a core value that one does whatever one does politely and with respect, so I can’t engage sarcasm or attack. It’s a personal thing. Although I agree wholeheartedly with what Hawk has said, I can see Brian’s point in 4 because it devolves sometimes to personal experience. Our individual hurts have sensitized us to those issues and it’s extremely difficult for us to objectively discuss those things, though we might look at other issues and wonder why they are so sensitive to others when they seem so cut and dry to us.

    For instance, I put up with a lot of attacks on my religiosity from my ex, so when people, like Brian, throw out the surface reasons for the seemingly shallow obedience of others, I feel my hackles rise within seconds. I have to remind myself that he hasn’t walked in my shoes, so he doesn’t know how offensive that is. Because so few of us have walked in each others’ shoes, we simply don’t know how potentially offensive everything we say is.

    For that reason, the bee sting analogy holds nicely for me. We all have different reactions to bees, and we are all largely ineffective at helping someone else with their stings. Time is on our side, and time is sometimes all that we can offer people who are stung by aspects of faith they were surprised or hurt by.

    I have to say, I love these interviews with Bushman. He is a genuinely interesting historian and believer.

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  8. hawkgrrrl on August 20, 2012 at 8:37 AM

    Brian – “In the discussion, he explained how grateful he is for the standards of the church because he loves women and if it weren’t for the church he would be a real womanizer. I told him I am faithful simply because I love my wife.” Actually, this is exactly what I’m talking about when I say that some of the disaffected who relax their standards are troubling to me. A friend of mine was telling me his BIL became an atheist and immediately went out and cheated on his wife (my friend’s sister). I said “Really?? That’s the only thing that was holding him back?” That just doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me. If the only thing keeping you from having an affair is a belief that “it’s all true or it’s all false” or a fear of going to hell, you’re already on a slippery slope IMO. What ever happened to caring about how our actions affect other people?

    But I’ve also seen some disaffected who immediately act like it’s Spring Break. Their disaffection becomes a late-life teen rebellion of sorts. In that case, it just seems kind of ridiculous. You live your life a certain way for decades, and suddenly all bets are off.

    But it is certainly not everyone who behaves that way by a long stretch.

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  9. Brian on August 20, 2012 at 9:38 AM

    “the answers are out there”

    To those who believe, the answers may be “out there” one day, as there are many unanswered questions in Mormondom. To those who do not believe (literally 99.9% of those on planet Earth), the answers are not “out there”.

    “It is difficult to deal with them because they really don’t want to discuss their disaffection, but validate it.”

    If by discuss you mean change their minds, I guess you are right. I know I discuss my reasons for leaving to any member of the church who brings it up. I never raise the issue first because I don’t want to have any negative affect on their feelings for the church. Most chapel Mormons have not even heard of the issues which drove me away. I recently met with my life-long friend who helped me in to the church. When I told him I no longer believe, he was interested in the issues that led me away. He is one who studies the church in depth. I told him I wasn’t interested because I would say things about church leaders I didn’t want him to hear. The church is everything to him.

    Those who tell me what I should be doing, acting as if I am the village idiot, are the ones I certainly talk to.

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  10. Andrew S. on August 20, 2012 at 11:44 AM

    I was reading this transcript, and nodding along with it, especially to Bushman’s very wide tent of Mormonism (e.g., critics who spend so many hours focusing on Joseph Smith cannot be “outside of Mormonism”)

    …but then the conversation became a bit more disappointing to me…Even though the publication year for this MS podcast episode is not stated in this post, it is very clear, just from the things that John Dehlin says, that this is one of his earlier podcasts.

    The part I’m talking about begins with this:

    You know we had this one image that I’m sure is true in lots of instances of people who kind of begin to let up on the standards, they don’t pay tithing anymore, and then they may take a glass of wine, and they may smoke a little bit and maybe have a few brief affairs or what have you. Not that they’re becoming demons, but you just sort of a slackening. That moral rigor that is required of Mormons and upheld by the sense this is God’s purpose and will. Once that’s relaxed, you know everything kind of relaxes. I don’t know whether it ends up that people stop praying or stop thinking of God or not, but that’s one course that I can see people following as a result of this disruption.

    But there’s another course that I’ve seen in certain people I’ve known which is quite different. Not so much, I am not thinking so much of moral standards, because I don’t have any evidence of how that works, but spiritually. These people begin to feel like of all the things they learned in the Church, the thing that really registers and seems true and lasting is Christ. It’s the sacrifice of Christ and the promise of forgiveness, and the belief that Heavenly Father is working with his pitiful children to try to bring them along in some way, and Christ becomes very big.

    This is one of those times when I realize that a response is going to feel inadequate almost no matter what, because the other person is coming at things from such a profoundly different starting place that we’d have to start from scratch.

    Firstly, Bushman speaks of these things as a “slackening.” What are examples of this slackening? Not paying tithing anymore, having a glass of wine, smoking a bit, having a few affairs, etc.,

    Does he not see what he’s saying and doing here?!

    He has wrapped up all of the rules that Mormonism has as being “moral rigor.” But I think that most disaffected Mormons would point out that most of the rules that Mormonism has have NOTHING to do with morality…and as a result, faithful Mormons appear to be out of touch when they make certain statements.

    For one, not paying tithing does not belong anywhere on a list of “moral slackening.” Taking a glass of wine and smoking a cigarette do not as well. But even if you believe these things are morally “slack,” these things certainly do NOT belong on the same list as “having a few brief affairs.”

    It’s incredibly difficult to have a conversation on morality when we can’t even move past the idea that all the rules that Mormonism prescribes may not have anything to do with morality. If you’ll notice, I am actually fairly cautious in my statement here — but if I wanted to become more radical, I could point on that many people challenge the inherent morality of monogamy that we seem to take for granted. I personally will not go there, however.

    But even more troubling is the idea that Bushman shift from the moral discussion to the spiritual discussion. I just get this sense that he values a disaffection into atheism (or into non-Christianity) as being somehow “less than” someone who might disaffect, but keep Christ and God and prayer.

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  11. Brian on August 20, 2012 at 12:00 PM

    “He has wrapped up all of the rules that Mormonism has as being “moral rigor.” But I think that most disaffected Mormons would point out that most of the rules that Mormonism has have NOTHING to do with morality…and as a result, faithful Mormons appear to be out of touch when they make certain statements.”

    I liked it so much I had to write it again.

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  12. Matthew on August 20, 2012 at 12:11 PM

    As one of the disaffected, here I go:

    1/2. Stop assuming that “helping” the disaffected entails convincing them to believe again. Accept the fact that reasonable minds can disagree w.r.t. the truth claims and (contra Jettboy) stop treating doubt as a self-inflicted disorder. This is particularly hard for orthodox Mormons, who have been raised to moralize belief propositions. This is why (contra Hawkgrrrl) Mormons *do* need to learn to get along with the disaffected. The disaffected remember (to an often limited extent, however) what it’s to believe, so they can relate to their family and friends, but if the faithful don’t even try to understand what it’s like to doubt, you get a one-way street: the believers are permitted to preach repentance to the disaffected, while the disaffected are required to remain silent. We already get you; if you want to help, you should try to get us.

    3. It’s not terribly descriptive of my disaffection. You’ll often hear the phrase “death by a million paper cuts”, which evokes a similar idea, but I think it’s only part of the story. My disaffection had less to do with specific pieces of evidence and more to do with epistemological objectives. Instead of trying to make the pieces fit, I decided it was okay to conclude that they didn’t. Once your goal is no longer to affirm your faith, your perspective changes forever, and it was impossible for me to return to belief. So, rather than a swarm of bees, I like the analogy of a heavy switch, which once flipped is not easily reset.

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  13. Enri on August 20, 2012 at 12:31 PM

    Matthew: You’ve got it!

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  14. Mike S on August 20, 2012 at 12:52 PM

    This is an interesting post. In answering your question: “Why is it so hard to help the disaffected?” I think the primary issue is the asymmetrical nature of the issue.

    For 99.9% of the world, they have found a relationship with the Divine in some way other than being an active Mormon. We expect that for some of these people, the path they are following isn’t satisfying for some reason, so we offer them Mormonism. This is the core of the missionary program.

    It makes sense, therefore, that there are going to be people who, for whatever reason, decide that Mormonism perhaps isn’t the “right” path for them. While some people who “leave” the Church might tend towards atheism, it seems that many (most?) still have a belief in God and Christ. For some, their lives seem to become even MORE Christ-centric as opposed to Church-centric. And ironically, many people who are disaffected know MORE about Mormonism than they did when they were more active members.

    So, when it comes to “helping the disaffected”, we really approach it one-sided. We expect essentially ALL of the change needed to come from the person rather than “us”. We don’t really want to address non-doctrinal things that have somehow come to define what it means to be “Mormon”. We don’t really want to truly talk about the difficult issues in our history that might be bothersome (on an individual bishop-member level). We don’t really want to address the things that might be an issue.

    Instead, we offer a basic blueprint – read the BofM, pray, follow the commandments, and you’ll be fine. But many of them WERE doing all that when they became disaffected. They were serving in callings and paying tithing and reading the scriptures and doing all that – often for years and decades. So, that approach doesn’t seem to work, unless we’re truly willing to address some of the real issues.

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  15. Mike S on August 20, 2012 at 1:01 PM

    An additional point: I normally agree with hawk on most things, but I do take issue with this concept: I am troubled (to some extent) by the relaxation of standards among the disaffected. Why do we as Mormons do the things we do? Why do we not sleep around? Why do we not drink alcohol? Why do we go to church?

    This is conflating many things on so many levels. There are many people who are not Mormon who don’t “sleep around”. It is part of Islam and Christianity and Hinduism and Buddhism. It is part of societal mores. It has nothing to do with being Mormon.

    Regarding alcohol, it is completely different. In this case, the only reason to not have a glass of wine with dinner could very well be because you are active and want to keep a temple recommend. There is nothing inherently wrong with having a glass of wine. Christ’s first miracle was making wine, and He instituted it in the sacrament. Joseph Smith and other prophets drank wine. The Nephites made wine. Again, there are societal issues with becoming an alcoholic, but this is true whether you’re Mormon or not. So, in the current version of Mormonism, having a glass of wine is forbidden, but if you’ve decided that Mormonism isn’t your path, why not? (NOTE: If I were to ever be disaffected, I still wouldn’t drink wine, but it’s more of a pride thing. I wouldn’t want anyone to point to that and say that I left “because I wanted to drink” or some other equally inane comment)

    So it is with other things you mentioned. Not going to church anymore? Duh. If you’re not active in the Mormon church, why go to the Mormon church?

    I don’t think most people become disaffected BECAUSE they want to do things frowned upon by the Church. But even if that were true, the sad thing is that we tend to judge people who might smoke or drink enough that they aren’t comfortable being around us. If someone doesn’t agree with that statement, ask the average Primary child if someone is a “bad person” if they drink.

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  16. Howard on August 20, 2012 at 1:51 PM

    The problem is betrayal many times over. When we follow what we are told by the church and humble ourselves in faith becoming teachable like little children, we also become naively vulnerable and our trust is misplaced because the church lies, spins and obscures. When we first discover one of these discrepancies we think surely there is some kind of a mistake here! So we begin to look and research deeper and as we do, sting after sting follows! Removing a few stingers and kissing it better does not reverse the betrayal! They cannot be helped except through love, sympathy and understanding. To stop this the church must walk an honest line (which is not it’s strong suit), resolve the issues it can and honestly inoculate members to the rest. Lying for the Lord is a time bomb that destroys testimonies.

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  17. MD on August 20, 2012 at 2:00 PM

    When I was explaining to my new VT companion that one of our sisters hasn’t been attending to church for the past year or so, she responded by asking me, “Why did she stop coming to church? Does she smoke, drink, or something like that?”

    I wanted to tell her that people don’t become disaffected so they can have bacchanalian orgies every night. Sometimes people burn out. Or their lives get busy and they fall out of habit and don’t see a reason to go back.

    If my own spouse were not so insistent, once a month attendance would be enough for me. The three-hour block and all the emotional manipulative games that are played are spiritually draining for me. My lamp is never refilled at church. Actually spending time away is what helps me refill it.

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  18. NewlyHousewife on August 20, 2012 at 2:31 PM

    I think the problem is that no one addresses the first bee sting to provide a structure of support for when more come.

    Time truly does solve a lot of problems; mainly because the more time goes on the more we realize we don’t have all the answers to our problems and learn to let it go.

    I think it’s the reaction, and lack of support, to the first bee sting that puts the nail in the coffin.

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  19. hawkgrrrl on August 20, 2012 at 6:49 PM

    “This is why (contra Hawkgrrrl) Mormons *do* need to learn to get along with the disaffected.” I agree that believers need to learn to become comfortable with doubt. Frankly, that’s part of growing up. But not all believers are grown ups, nor are all disaffected. People talk past each other. Some believers see the disaffected as a threat. Some disaffected see believers as ignorant. And in some cases, both are right. But the attitude isn’t helpful. My only point was that you’ll never get through to some of the believers, but the disaffected at least should be able to relate to them on some level, even if the reverse is not true, since the disaffected see themselves as having “graduated” from belief to a more enlightened state. Right?

    I agree completely with Andrew S that most church standards have nothing to do with morality. Having an affair has no business being on the same list as drinking a cup of coffee. I just think members in general have weak reasons for complying with these standards. If members were more thoughtful about it, their actions might be different whether they are in the church as believers or disaffected.

    But we’ve imbued these somewhat arbitrary things with meaning, so they do become significant to people’s state of mind. For example, if we had a rule that you can’t wear the color pink, then some people would take great pride in having not only NO pink, but no red or purple either (avoid the very appearance of evil). Red would be seen as a gateway color. People who were a little bit disaffected would start wearing light scarlet and would say “oh, it faded in the wash.” Some of the disaffected would go out and buy something flashy like a fuschia coat, daring people to say something about it.

    I’m just saying these types of behavioural changes are kind of ridiculous, and of course very human, whether inside or outside of the church. We are like Dr. Seuss’s star-bellied sneeches. Outlawing pink (in the above example) is the beginning of the ridiculousness, but our attitude toward the standard is also kind of ridiculous.

    Why is this? I believe this is because the standards represent authority. Arbitrary rules DO represent the power someone or something has over us. But that power is in our own mind – we’ve given them that power. I don’t think that’s Bushman’s perspective, BTW. I just think being rebellious is another way of acknowledging authority outside yourself. Why not just make up your own mind and choices?

    Many disaffected and believing DO just make up their own mind. More power to them. But those that are just reacting to authority (either in obeying or disobeying) look a little silly to me.

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  20. hawkgrrrl on August 20, 2012 at 7:23 PM

    This is a great comment from another forum that I think fits well here:

    “I really don’t think there’s any way the church is literally True. Like, no way. There’s way too much evidence that a lot of it is made up. That doesn’t mean it isn’t inspired at all, it just means that the TBM interpretation isn’t correct.

    That may seem really obvious to you, but I realized that I’d been hanging on to the idea that maybe I’d get “back” to where I was before.

    I feel like I’ve finally moved on. Like now, since I admit it’s not 100%, I can step back and figure out what *I* really believe. If mormonism isn’t 100%, I’m pretty sure nothing else is, so that means God isn’t as picky as I thought, and won’t blame me for honestly trying to figure things out.”

    Not all disaffection is unhealthy. Someone like this can talk to a believer and not have an argument and vice-versa. But I don’t know what a believer (in the TBM sense of the word) has to offer someone like this.

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  21. Howard on August 20, 2012 at 7:46 PM

    Paraphrasing hawkgrrrl: If we had a rule then some people would avoid the very appearance of evil, some of the disaffected would would do the opposite. Why is this? Because the rule is Pharisaical and people are immature. One begets the other largely because our prophets have failed to lead us out of it. The Ten Commandments are Mosaic not Christian, 2,000 years ago Christ brought us the beatitudes! Neither the higher law group or the disaffected are living the spirit of the law, they are focused on the letter.

    Regarding 20; I see orthodox Mormonism as the bottle neck in a horizontal hour glass that members pass through in this life or the next.

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  22. Stephen M (Ethesis) on August 20, 2012 at 7:51 PM

    Part of the problem is that so many people who have left later return and are grateful to return.

    That creates a narrative with a great deal of power.

    Those who leave need a narrative to explain why they are not going to return like others have. Why they are in a final state instead of an interim one.

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  23. Howard on August 20, 2012 at 8:18 PM

    Stephen,
    “So many” seems like an exaggeration to me, I aware of only a small percentage who actually do return, but I believe you have a valid point! Careful to not throw the baby out with the bath water.

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  24. ji on August 20, 2012 at 8:59 PM

    The parable of the prodigal son might help. The father allowed the son to leave, and rejoiced when he returned. I like that example.

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  25. Stephen M (Ethesis) on August 20, 2012 at 9:08 PM

    Howard, I have lived in many wards and branches and there always seems to be a couple – three in each that applies to.

    To me that is a lot. Enough it is part of the common LDS experience and creates a narrative force.

    Good point though that is not necessarily quantified the way I did.

    I also think that those who drift off in core LDS areas may have a different path than those in the hinterlands.

    A lot to think about.

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  26. Andrew S on August 20, 2012 at 9:14 PM

    re 19,

    hawkgrrrl,

    I just think being rebellious is another way of acknowledging authority outside yourself. Why not just make up your own mind and choices?

    That presumes a lot of freeness of will that isn’t forthcoming. No man is an island; no one is independent (not even the free spirits who consider themselves as such.)

    re 23,

    Howard,

    Keep in mind that the entire field of “people who left the church” is a lot broader than we often consider. Most folks I know who “left the church” did not do so because of intellectual reasons, moral disagreements, etc., They just stopped being engaged, or found better things to do with their time.

    …These are people whom I would normally consider just being “inactive”…but which to the average person, might look like someone who had “left the church.” And because these folks don’t have a whole lot of sturm und drang under their inactivity it’s not surprising that they might eventually return.

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  27. MH on August 20, 2012 at 9:33 PM

    Sorry I didn’t make this more clear in the post. (I forget that people don’t always read my previous posts (like these other 3 transcripts) on the Bushman interview.) The Bushman interview comes from 2007 at Mormon Stories.

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  28. hawkgrrrl on August 20, 2012 at 9:56 PM

    ji – the issue with the Prodigal Son is that the older son, the one who didn’t leave, is bitter about the younger son getting a feast and being welcomed back. Church members who don’t create a place for the disaffected are like the older son, feeling out of joint because it’s not fair that someone else is getting all the attention or can be forgiven.

    There’s a nasty pang of jealousy in that story. The older son is jealous that the other one “got away with it.” People like that are not rejoicing in their own choices. They wish they didn’t believe or weren’t a “good” person so they could go out and sin. Therefore when someone else leaves they resent that the other person doesn’t have to carry their burdens. They don’t own their choices. To me, that’s the key problem with how believers view the disaffected.

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  29. Bonnie on August 20, 2012 at 10:21 PM

    EXACTLY Hawk. I wish there were more compassion. I think the brethren are constantly encouraging that. So many in the church are afraid that the disaffected are somehow going to undermine the whole system. It’s a classic conservative response. I love how you talk about the joy of owning one’s own choices. It’s the reason I’m LDS and very active. I’m so grateful! I love this life! And it’s the reason I get really ticked off when the disaffected tell me that I’m brainwashed and not thoroughly evaluating my choices or the church or gospel. I’m fine giving them their space to experience that, but that doesn’t mean it’s the only experience available. It’s a two-way street and tolerance needs to go both ways.

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  30. Julie L on August 21, 2012 at 12:24 AM

    I bristle a bit at being called “disaffected”–this is such a negative label and implies attitudes and traits that I don’t believe describe me. I describe my self as a non-believer in Mormonism. This didn’t come about because of bee stings or learning about church history or being offended by members or falling into sin and looking for a way to justify it.

    I married in the temple at age 19 because “that is what you do when you are a good person.” I called myself a believer because that is what I had been taught I was. As I began to mature, I asked myself what I really believe versus what other people (my parents, my friends, my church community, my church leaders) tell me I believe. As I reviewed my life and searched my heart, I realized that I do not “believe” in Mormonism as “the one true church.”

    I appreciate the many good experiences that I had growing up in the church and the good values that I learned in my community. But I don’t find these so different from many good people I know who are not members of the church. I still hold a calling (with my TBM husband) and attend church most Sundays to be with my family. I still pay tithing to support my husband and his desire to do so. I am still the same person I have always been and my lifestyle is almost entirely the same. But I know my own mind and I have to trust my own experience. Please don’t call me “disaffected.”

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  31. Zara on August 21, 2012 at 1:33 AM

    I agree with Andrew S–once you are convinced the truth claims of the church aren’t valid (for you personally), all the little rules you never really bought as having anything to do with morality, such as not drinking alcohol or coffee, or covering your shoulders, or having a tattoo or a second earring hole or whatever, become things that have no value judgments attached to them. You start to evaluate morality on your own terms. Do I still think it’s wrong to lie, steal, cheat, or sleep around indiscriminately? Yes. Because that’s kind of part of the human morality code. Doing those things hurts others. If we don’t want to hurt others or ourselves, we don’t do stupid things. But if we make mistakes, we deal with the natural consequences of our actions. Mormonism didn’t make me a good person. I learned some good things, such as service and community, from Mormonism, but leaving the church didn’t make me “relax my standards.” I simply get to evaluate and implement my own standards, which in a way, makes me value them even more.

    I don’t really think TBMs need to “help” the disaffected. Helping us means you’re trying to rescue us, at least to me. We just need you to respect our opinions/judgment, and not see us as “having fallen away,” but rather as having made a different personal choice. We can still love each other.

    I do find that there is somewhat of a wall there when I discuss issues with TBMs because we’re coming at it from different starting assumptions. In another thread about the First Vision, Stephen M decided that I just “didn’t get it,” with regard to the theory that Joseph was telling different pieces of his story to different audiences. I do, and did, get it–but I just didn’t buy it. Part of my not buying it has to do with my picture of JS in context with what I know now about his life. So I have to realize I’m bringing skepticism to the table, and can’t just evaluate the “different situations” argument as-is, in a vaccuum. But I also believe that the TBM side is bringing the benefit of the doubt due to belief in JS’s divine role as prophet, which may lead to giving JS more credit that he deserves (in my opinion). So without getting into the other contextual stuff, which wouldn’t be faith-promoting, I have to just walk away. I genuinely don’t want to deconvert anyone (and I wouldn’t be so presumptuous to believe I could). But I also don’t want anyone to assume I’ve just loosened my grip on the Iron Rod, or that I don’t understand where they’re coming from. We’re just coming from wildly different starting points with our own respective biases.

    Really, all the disaffected want, usually, is respect for their conclusion and continued friendship.

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  32. Hedgehog on August 21, 2012 at 2:33 AM

    1. Acknowledge the pain (where there is any) and recognise that pain can lead to lashing out. Respect their conclusions. In fact mutual respect would probably go a long way.
    2. /
    3. Hated the picture. First reaction was to call for a hose… Not so much a swarm in all cases perhaps, but individual stings built up over time, and not properly addressed. Too often I think members attempt to bung on a sticking plaster without dealing with the sting at all…
    I have an atheist brother, who grew up in the church, but prefers the approach of Richard Dawkins. Back in youth Sunday school, he thought Korihor was hard done by… He’s a lovely guy.
    I don’t think the analogy applies to everyone, but then perhaps not all who leave would be described as disaffected either…
    4. Are antagonists the disaffected? I think I’m a fully functioning member, but there are things I criticise, and would like to see change.

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  33. Julia on August 21, 2012 at 6:07 AM

    Maybe this is too simplistic, but I think the real issue is; can two people with different experiences love and support each other? Can someone live their testimony of Christ by following His example, without needing an outside confirmation of their beliefs? Can someone who is not LDS or associated with any religion still be close friends with someone who is a practicing Mormon?

    (I have to say that I hate how imprecise TBM is. Who was the idiot that thinks all active members fit in a three letter category? How does this describe the huge variety of levels of faith, adherence to nebulous standards, that take very different forms in the lives of different people, and attempt to respond and interact the same way, with all of them? Does five months of not being in a sacrament meeting mean I am not a TBM? Does my reason for not being there, or my husband’s reason for being there impact what or who we are? Okay, end of rant. I just think that like “disaffected” is a terribly imprecise word, TBM doesn’t have any real meaning.)

    I think that this post, (whose link is after this paragraph) and especially the comments after the post is the kind of discussion and attitude that helps those who consider themselves to be ex-Mormons or post-Mormons to be able to talk openly about their experiences, and be heard.

    http://postmormongirl.blogspot.com/2012/08/the-price-of-honesty-why-ex-mormons.html?m=0

    As Post Mormon Girl and the commenters (including me) exchanged thoughts on our lives, it was helpful for all of us. If we are asking how to communicated with the “disaffected” it seems that engaging them on their “home turf,” as friends, might be a good place to start.

    Julia
    poetrysansonions.blogspot.com

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  34. Glenn Thigpen on August 21, 2012 at 8:30 AM

    Okay, just what help do disaffected LDS need? From a believer’s standpoint, at least mine, I think that a loving “let them alone” unless asked policy would be the best route in most cases. The leadeship of the local branches, wards, and stakes will usually reach out at first to one who wishes to leave the church. Once that happens, I think believers should try to maintain frienships that had already developed, uncritical friendships.

    I do not believe that it helps for believers to pursue those who left the church either in private life or in forums such as “Mormon Discussions” to try to tell them “how wrong they are.”

    I have really seen no positive results from any who have left the church engaging in discussions on strongly LDS boards, such as “Mormon Dialogue”. Just about all such threads devolve into personal attacks by some on both sides.

    From my perspective as a believer, I am saddened by those who do become disaffected from the church, but also, as a believer, it is not my place to judge them, to try to tell them what their reasons were for becoming disaffected, but to respond with charitable thoughts and love. I really like the idea of leaving doors open, not burning bridges, etc.

    You see, I cannot honestly understand why anyone would leave the Church. My testimony is too deeply ingrained into my being, through a life time of struggles and adversity, for me for the idea that it is not God’s church to even bother my mind any longer.

    But I realize that everyone does not have my persoective. But it is incumbent upon me to apply the principles of love and compassion to those who do not believe or no longer believe.

    Glenn

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  35. ji on August 21, 2012 at 9:16 AM

    hawkgrrrl (no. 28) — I used the father as the good example. Both sons are bad examples, albeit in differing ways. But there is good in both, too. The good thing about the younger son was that he recognized his sin and returned. The good thing about the older son was that he stayed.

    The father might have had reason to criticize the older son, but the younger son did not. Even so, the father did not criticize the older son. I like his example. We don’t need to criticize the older sons among us today.

    All the way around, the father is a good example.

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  36. postmormongirl on August 21, 2012 at 12:08 PM

    I would like to weigh in on this topic as someone who was raised in a staunch Mormon family but is no longer Mormon.

    When I left the Mormon Church at the age of 17, I had already spent two quiet years thinking long and hard about what I believed. Since then, I have spent another ten years evaluating and re-evaluating who I am and what I stand for. Right now I consider myself an agnostic atheist humanist, which is just another way of saying I don’t know if there is a higher power, I suspect that there isn’t, but for me to take a firm stance on a particular religious view, I need evidence. In the meantime, I derive great joy from the idea that we all share a common bond of humanity.

    The funny thing is, when I left, no one asked me what I believed in. No one asked why I left. No one asked me anything. Instead I was branded with the broad brushstrokes that Mormon authorities use to describe apostates – people assumed I had been offended, that I was immoral, that I had just never bothered to listen during all those years of near-perfect attendance in Sunday-School and early-morning seminary. I was also accused of taking Mormonism “too seriously”, which is a direct slap in the face to someone like me, as I firmly believe in giving my full effort to anything I do in life.

    My advice to faithful Mormons dealing with people who decide to leave is to listen. Ask them why they have decided to leave and take the time to listen to what they say, instead of focusing on what your rebuttal to their points will be. Don’t go in with pre-conceived notions as to why they left, as everyone leaves for different reasons.

    I think it is a faulty assumption to assume that everyone needs to be Mormon. That was one of the very early cracks in my testimony, when I looked around me and realized that everyone was different and that Mormonism may not be the best fit for each person.

    I am someone who invests a fair amount of time thinking and studying Mormonism. I do this because I want to have a better understanding of the experiences that shaped my up-bringing, as well as to better understand the family I love so much.

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  37. Porter on August 21, 2012 at 1:33 PM

    I am a disaffected member, and I really am doing just fine thank you very much. I don’t want or need to be “helped,” and in fact I think its the TBM’s who really need help.

    I would like to see a new post titled “Why are members unwilling to engage in meaningful dialogue with the Disaffected.” We have had many TBMs come to us and bear their testimonies, and give us guilt trips about how our children will become alcoholics and drug addicts if we don’t go to church. But the minute we start to discuss some of the substantive issues that we have struggled with and which led to our disaffection these faithful members run away. They have NO INTEREST in having that discussion. Its like they are worried about getting infected by some foul disease if they even listen to our concerns.

    What is going on here? Why are members only interested in sharing their views on the church, but refuse to listen to mine? Are their testimonies so weak that they are literally scared of hearing an opposing point of view?

    Lots of people know that I am disaffected, and some have asked me about my life in a concerned way — obviously wondering if I am addicted to meth yet. I tell them how much happier I am these days, and then, not wanting to offend, I occasionally ask if they are interested in hearing about the reasons we no longer attend the LDS church. Invariably they decline. Its like being a missionary again, only in reverse.

    BTW, I don’t think this comment applies to most of the people who read this blog. We have had this experience with your basic fourth generation TBM here in Utah.

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  38. Matthew on August 21, 2012 at 3:00 PM

    Sorry, Hawkgrrrl; I didn’t see your comment last night. You wrote:

    “My only point was that you’ll never get through to some of the believers, but the disaffected at least should be able to relate to them on some level, even if the reverse is not true, since the disaffected see themselves as having “graduated” from belief to a more enlightened state. Right?”

    It seems that you’re making a descriptive statement, whereas I’m making a prescriptive one. I agree that we can expect the disaffected to put themselves to empathize with believers more than vice versa. But if we’re talking about what *ought* to happen so that believers can “help” the disaffected, challenging the status quo on empathy is high on my list.

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  39. Troth Everyman on August 21, 2012 at 7:19 PM

    Part of the problem is that believing members don’t realize they are actually pushing the disaffected farther away from belief when they try to convince the disaffected to return.

    When testifying, persuading, or confronting with boldness, believers are simply doing what they have been taught is “right”. A perspective I can applaud, even if I don’t agree with the method.

    Ironically though, the confrontation actually forces the disaffected person to defend their choice to leave… Therefore, the TBM actually entrenches the disaffected further in their choice. Understandably, the disaffected person is umoved or even antagonized by the TBM’s efforts, why? they were put on the defensive from the outset.

    Let me echo what others have said. Empathy goes a long way. Empathy does not mean that you have to agree with the other person. Empathy does not mean you condemn or condone the other person’s choices. It means you are simply endeavoring to understand the other person’s view (without the hidden agenda to convince them to believe one way or another).

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  40. Troth Everyman on August 21, 2012 at 7:39 PM

    Also, I very much appreciated the re-frame of outward indicators of righteousness as having little bearing on spiritual or moral foundations.

    I know very active TBM businessmen in church leadership with very little moral fiber. I know many disaffected individuals who drink or smoke, but who are deeply spiritual and moral people. I also know active LDS leaders who are deeply moral and spiritual. I also know disaffected members who have a lack spiritual fiber. To me, spirituality and morality is (depressingly) uncorrelated to active (or a lack of) church participation in general.

    Which makes the contention made by some TBMs that “all disaffected members are suffering from some lack of spiritual or moral foundation” a very tenuous argument indeed.

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  41. hawkgrrrl on August 21, 2012 at 11:51 PM

    Actually, the title of this post is stuck in my craw just a little bit: “Why it’s so hard to help the disaffected.” If any of you saw the movie “Easy A,” one of the characters (played by Amanda Bynes) is a ‘Jesus freak’ at the school, leading a school club that comprises of judgmental evangelical teens who sing religious songs and do group prayers for the welfare of their fellow students who are “homos, sluts, and words that rhyme with witch.” At one point, her character says “God tells us to love everyone, even the sinners, but it’s so hard because they keep doing it!” The girl she hates the most who is actually a nice person who hasn’t done any of the things the Jesus group believes she has done comforts her when she is crying, and Amanda’s character asks: “Why are you being so nice to me?” Then she smiles really big and says, “Oh my gosh – I got through to you!”

    Just like in this silly movie, too often TBMs are treating the disaffected like a project (one they are often judging very harshly without understanding) and if they discover that the disaffected person is in fact a decent human being, the credit is all theirs for getting through to them. The title says just that: For a TBM, a disaffected person is a lot of work to help. That just sounds like a losing proposition all around, a solution in search of a problem.

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  42. Glenn Thigpen on August 22, 2012 at 5:37 AM

    hawkgrrl said: “Just like in this silly movie, too often TBMs are treating the disaffected like a project (one they are often judging very harshly without understanding) and if they discover that the disaffected person is in fact a decent human being, the credit is all theirs for getting through to them. The title says just that: For a TBM, a disaffected person is a lot of work to help. That just sounds like a losing proposition all around, a solution in search of a problem.”

    This reminds me of a “parable” I heard once about a Boy Scout trying to help an old lady standing at a cross walk across a busy street. The old lady denied his offer to help her, but the Boy Scout grabbed her hand and willy-nilly, dragged the protesting, reluctant lady across the street.

    Once there, the Boy Scout cheerfully noted that “see, we made it! Nothing to be wworried about.”

    The old lady replied, “But I didn’t want to cross the street. I was waiting for my bus.”

    Glenn

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  43. Stephen R. Marsh on August 22, 2012 at 7:06 AM

    In another thread about the First Vision, Stephen M decided that I just “didn’t get it,” with regard to the theory that Joseph was telling different pieces of his story to different audiences. I do, and did, get it–but I just didn’t buy it.

    Now that capsulizes something well.

    Zara insisted not that she got it, but that any theory other than hers was implausible and irrational.

    When the basis for a contrary position was pointed out, she concluded that I thought she did not get it.

    Instead, it was her insistence that the rest of us were deluded fools and that there was no reason to ever consider an alternative plausible that created the rift.

    Which often happens. It creates a divide.

    Though there is still a gap between “your narrative is plausible and I don’t buy it” and those who believe the narrative. But it is a different gap than the “your narrative is nonsensical and I don’t buy it” story.

    As to:

    Why are members [only] willing to engage in meaningful dialogue with the Disaffected.”

    Somewhere there needs to be a discussion about the vast gulf that exists between various spiritual perceptions and realities. (Ok, we have had that discussion in the past on this blog).

    For some, the spiritual is the reality, it is the meaningful discussion. For others the bee stings are.

    I've a friend who keeps talking about his bee stings. When he prays, he feels drawn to return to the LDS church. The spirit talks to him. His bee stings are more controlling right now.

    So he calls me up and talks about how he is drawn, but how he can't bring himself to come back. How he can deal with the bee stings of being Roman Catholic right now, so there he stays while he deals with his issues.

    Reminds me, in a way, of Fawn Broadie calling her home teachers for blessings while professing atheism and enjoying a secular lifestyle. And they would drive over to minister to her, even though she had left the church.

    Which provides, in a way, a model for interaction, of giving people what they are willing to accept, while not pushing them for more.

    It is just a hard balance, given that we are human, all of us with weaknesses, and given the different ways we see reality.

    Especially because the nuances and differences are sometimes vast. The "I'm a young atheist, and I know better than you old idiots" is a different approach than "I'm an old, reasoned atheist" than "I believe that gods are mere Bonewits constructs" than "God has led me somewhere else than the LDS Church" than "I left the Church, but have returned and am talking about why at Sunstone" than "If the Church would only listen to me and let me reform it I would return."

    And countless other narratives.

    Not as if most people are not busy, but more that they are, perhaps, heavyhanded at times with their caring.

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  44. ji on August 22, 2012 at 9:22 AM

    4. Do you agree with Bushman that antagonists can be considered “inside of the Mormon cultural boundaries”?

    No. Because if they are, then I’m not — I have no connection to Utah whatsoever, but I believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Eternal God*, and I made a decision to be baptized into the church he re-established. But then, I’m not sure I want to be inside of the Mormon cultural boundaries. I want to be part of the Lord’s Church, but I don’t want to adopt the Utah cultural lifestyle — I have nothing against it, mind you, it’s just not my culture.

    This points out part of the problem being discussed here. Those who have roots in Utah but don’t believe the Church’s truth claims still want to be called Mormon. What is Mormon? Is it a connection to Utah? or is it a decision of faith?

    *From the Book of Mormon title page.

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  45. Andrew S on August 22, 2012 at 9:39 AM

    re 44

    ji,

    I think that you’re not understanding what Bushman is saying, and you have a false dichotomy. The “Mormon cultural boundaries” aren’t a fancy way of saying “Utah state boundaries.”

    if you have a familiarity with Mormon language, Mormon rhetoric, Mormon topics, Mormon worldviews, Mormon philosophy, Mormon practices, that makes you part of the Mormon cultural boundaries.

    I don’t live in Utah (and have only ever been in Utah for 4 days), I don’t believe in the church’s truth claims. I wouldn’t say Mormonism is my religion, and I wouldn’t say that I’m an *antagonist*. But I fully think I am inside Mormon cultural boundaries.

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  46. ji on August 22, 2012 at 10:02 AM

    Andrew (no. 45) — Here, then, is the key. When one describes you as a Mormon and me as a Mormon, this word “Mormon” has different meanings.

    There are many members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints around the world who have no “familiarity with Mormon language, Mormon rhetoric, Mormon topics, Mormon worldviews, Mormon philosophy, Mormon practices.” They joined the Church because of their testimony of Jesus Christ and the restoration of his priesthood. They’re Mormons, but they’re Mormons because of their faith and decision, not because of their background or cultural immersion. Or maybe not — maybe the time has come to drop the term “Mormon” and rely on Latter-day Saint instead. Yes, they’re Latter-day Saints.

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  47. Andrew S on August 22, 2012 at 10:53 AM

    re 46,

    ji,

    I agree that the word “Mormon” has different meanings for different people. But I would say further that there are as many meanings to the word “Mormon” as there are Mormons!

    That’s why I have no problem with saying, I am a *cultural* Mormon. I have no problem with having a prefix in front. But I just want to get straight that the prefix “cultural” does not mean Utah culture, or whatever else.

    That being said, I think I would disagree with your second paragraph.

    To join the church because of their testimony of Jesus Christ and restoration of their priesthood requires a familiarity with Mormon language, rhetoric, topics, worldviews, philosophy, and practices!

    What does it mean to have a testimony of Jesus Christ. It means something different in the Mormon world than it does in the evangelical, Catholic, or [insert other denomination world], and so to be Mormon is to have a familiarity and appreciation for the Mormon meaning over the others.

    What does “priesthood” mean. It means something entirely different to Mormons than it does to catholics or protestants? What does “restoration” mean? Again, this means something different to each group.

    People must LEARN the meanings before they can engage with Mormonism. That’s why the church has correlation. That’s why the church has scriptures. That’s why the church has church and general conference and all sorts of things — these are socializing institutions.

    You can’t even define faith without a language to define it in, and I will ASSURE you that Mormons have a particular language to define faith.

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  48. Bonnie on August 22, 2012 at 11:00 AM

    Andrew: I disagree that the purpose of correlation and church and general conference is solely socialization (though I will admit that socialization is one of the purposes because it serves to keep people engaged in the larger purposes). The purpose of the church is to provide a repository of doctrine and covenants and the authority to administer in both. It’s the DNA of the gospel – the root in Zenos’ allegory – that gives a growing, reproducible form to the gospel. Hence discussion in conference is almost always focused on behaviors that improve one’s connection to God (and increase faith), not cultural behaviors.

    I’m really curious, and have been for some time, why Mormonism would appeal to someone who doesn’t believe in the core doctrines. Why do you WANT to culturally identify as Mormon?

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  49. it's a series of tubes on August 22, 2012 at 11:19 AM

    Interesting. I think Dehlin was referring to my brother in his last quoted paragraph re charitable 10%.

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  50. Andrew S on August 22, 2012 at 11:31 AM

    re 48,

    Bonnie,

    Maybe we have a disconnect between what we see ‘socialization’ as, but when you say the purpose of the church is to provide a repository of doctrine and covenants, I think THAT is “socialization”. What is doctrine? What should people KNOW? What should people DO? These are all questions of socialization.

    The authority to administer in both is the “institution” part of the equation.

    “Socializing institutions” isn’t to mean “places to be social.” It’s a whole lot more than that — it’s about establishing norms, standards, mores, morals, and so on. Would you say the church does this?

    So, you say: “discussion in conference is almost always focused on behaviors that improve one’s connection to God (and increase faith)”. And you know, I certainly agree that the primary purpose of these behaviors is to improve one’s connection to God and increase faith…but these aren’t the only purpose — whether that is intentional or unintentional. Sometimes, these behaviors don’t really improve one’s connection to God or improve faith, and sometimes, they might do that, but they might do another thing.

    For example, one other thing they might do is create a community and bind that community together. They might distinguish a person or community from other communities. I think that this is where we get into culture.

    I recognize my Mormonism because I can talk to any non-Mormon and know that there are just some things they will not get about me — some of my behaviors, some of the things I say or think or believe. And this is true even if I do not believe in the church’s truth claims — even my disaffection or unorthodoxy or disbelief is categorically different than a non-Mormon’s lifelong non-engagement with the church.

    So, you say in your final paragraph:

    I’m really curious, and have been for some time, why Mormonism would appeal to someone who doesn’t believe in the core doctrines. Why do you WANT to culturally identify as Mormon?

    The first thing I would say about culture is that, like a lot of things in life, it is not about appeal. In other words, my culture is what it is regardless of whether I like it or not.

    That being said, culture can (and often does) appeal to folks. I want to culturally identify as Mormon because it is my heritage and it is my history. I have lived Mormonism. No, scratch that — I still live Mormonism…albeit on the internet, in a very weird quasi-way. To not identify as Mormonism would be to erase or invalidate myself.

    And you know — I understand that some folks will disagree…if they don’t believe or no longer believe, they may want to distance themselves away…they may not find their history worth maintaining or continuing to think about…but different strokes for different folks.

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  51. Bonnie on August 22, 2012 at 11:41 AM

    But think of it (the socialization issue) from the perspective of God. He has covenants that will connect his children to their purpose while they are away, and truths about what they are experiencing that will give meaning to their sometimes lonely existence. He does not want those doctrines and covenants to be lost, though he can certainly send someone now and again to restore them. In that view (which is the orthodox view) this repository isn’t some self-perpetuating social club that everyone needs reoriented to; it’s a vital piece of eternal information. Calling it socialization diminishes it’s importance to the human race because it makes “norms, standards, mores, morals, and so on” more important than truth.

    Now I can understand why someone who may or may not believe in God or ascribe those motives and behaviors to him would have trouble with that, but that’s what the church looks like to an orthodox member.

    Regarding your cultural Mormonism, I would think that would be very hard and very peace-robbing to have a high degree of dissonance between your personal identity and the problems you have experienced with it.

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  52. Andrew S. on August 22, 2012 at 2:34 PM

    re 51,

    Bonnie,

    Most socializing institutions are not “self-perpetuating social clubs,” so I don’t see the issue there. And I mean, perhaps its an incompatibility of perspectives and socialization does diminish its importance…but I would say that’s an issue the church needs to figure out and resolve.

    Let me put it in another way. So, the repository is about truth. Eternal information. But it seems to me that there’s so much in the church and around the church that is not eternal. Are white shirts eternal? Is the Word of Wisdom eternal (careful with that answer)? Is any given state of affairs in the church eternal when a revelation could come this year or the next and instruct us to “forget everything [someone] has said because [they] spoke with limited understanding”? Is King James English eternal? Are the set of hymns we have eternal? Is the 3 hour block eternal?

    I mean, maybe it diminishes the importance, but it seems really self-evident to me that the church is VERY culturally situated. It’s culturally situated counter to the dominant culture of the United States, and situated counter to most if not all of the world’s secular cultures, and that only exposes how culturally situated it is.

    I mean, I just think that even orthodox members have to take a look at so many aspects of the church and ask what temporal things are latching on along with the eternal core…that should be a conversation that believer and non-believer should be able to have together, but we can’t really agree.

    Life is hard and peace-robbing a lot of times. There are lots of things that many people experience where there is dissonance between personal identity and problems experienced with it.

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  53. Zara on August 22, 2012 at 10:20 PM

    “Now that capsulizes something well.

    Zara insisted not that she got it, but that any theory other than hers was implausible and irrational.

    When the basis for a contrary position was pointed out, she concluded that I thought she did not get it.

    Instead, it was her insistence that the rest of us were deluded fools and that there was no reason to ever consider an alternative plausible that created the rift.

    Which often happens. It creates a divide.

    Though there is still a gap between “your narrative is plausible and I don’t buy it” and those who believe the narrative. But it is a different gap than the “your narrative is nonsensical and I don’t buy it” story.”

    Klassy. Please point out to me where in the conversation that I said that I believed the rest of the participants to be “deluded fools.” I believe you have read something in my comments that was not present. Yes, I expressed incredulity and disagreement. That is allowed in an internet discussion. I even acknowledged here that we were probably all bringing our own biases to the table.

    From the other thread, from Stephen Marsh, an exact quote:

    “I agree with you on this one and think Zara just does not get it.”

    Yep. When people pointed out a contrary position, I just went ahead and decided that you thought I didn’t get it. Totally my own projection there. Clearly.

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  54. Taryn Fox on August 23, 2012 at 1:07 AM

    Some people “relax their standards” once disaffected because they were already using pornography and other things to escape the stress of being a Mormon.

    Some people seem to because they were keeping a lot of hurt inside, while living a life of spiritual abuse and cognitive dissonance, and they don’t know how to deal with the pain that they are now facing.

    And some people seem to be morally lazy and lax for the same reasons that Jesus did.

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  55. Glenn Thigpen on August 23, 2012 at 5:57 AM

    Taryn Fox wrote: “And some people seem to be morally lazy and lax for the same reasons that Jesus did.”

    Taryn, could you clarify that statement a bit? It seems to be saying that Jsus was morally lax and lazy.

    Thanks,
    Glenn

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  56. Stephen Marsh on August 23, 2012 at 6:35 AM

    Zara, from the incredulity it was apparent that you did not get that the narrative was rational.

    Of course you are free to express yourself at Wheat & Tares, within limits (and you were well within the limits), you just should not get so huffy about being called on it.

    Perhaps I read more into your “expressed incredulity” — what were you implying at being incredulous that anyone could consider the narrative reasonable?

    Either you did not get the reasons that the narrative could be reasonable or you did, and were incredulous that anyone could believe a reasonable narrative.

    There is a difference between saying:

    That narrative is obviously true [or not true]

    and saying

    That narrative is reasonable and there is no need to be incredulous that others might find it reasonable.

    You were insisting that only one interpretation made sense and were incredulous that anyone could see it differently.

    Now you are saying you got that it was reasonable to see it differently, that you understood that people who deal with narratives all the time see nothing inconsistent with this one and that as a narrative it is fine, and that anyone who thought you did not understand that is wrong.

    My take on this is that your actions illustrate one of the problems with dealing with the disaffected. Just as some take the position that the Church is obviously true and it colors the interactions, many of the disaffected take the opposite approach and it also colors their interactions.

    That creates a stridency.

    Often combined with a touch of self-righteousness. e.g. things such as “Totally my own projection there. Clearly.”

    You were clearly not facing the post, twisting things, and then using that to come to a final statement built on the twist.

    And will probably object to being called on that as well.

    “Klassy” — indeed.

    This sort of thing is why I generally stay away from this sort of apologetic discourse. But I felt it appropriate in this instance. Probably did not do much good, but maybe you will get it this time.

    And feel free to explain how your incredulity that anyone could accept the differences in the narrative as consistent with reality did not imply that the thoughts of others were worthy of incredulity and what that directly implied or communicated.

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  57. Zara on August 23, 2012 at 12:43 PM

    Stephen,

    We’re probably not likely to reach the same conclusion re: the First Vision, and my whole point in my first post in the thread was to say that I believe that biases from both sides infect that discussion. Would you agree with that? Do you think it’s possible to discuss theories about someone who claims to be the prophet of the restoration without context? That’s where my incredulity came from. I don’t have a problem with the idea that people sometimes remember details differently, or that someone might tell a story differently depending on the audience. Taken on their own, those ideas are fine, and they do happen. Do I believe that in this particular instance, when the detail is the number of deities and what they asked him to do? No. And I think it’s okay not to believe it’s plausible, and no, that doesn’t mean I think you’re deluded for believing it is. It just means I reject it. I’m not sure why I have to believe something is plausible (and really, plausible’s not the word I’d have chosen–it’s plausible, I guess, just not likely). No one ever really acknowledged that seeing God and Jesus face-to-face is different from being a crime witness or meeting a couple of famous people. Especially if it’s (now) a big part of people’s testimony foundations. I just believe that aspect needs to be addressed, if it’s going to be a likely explanation. That’s all.

    I do have to remember that I can’t take the same tone I used to now that I don’t believe anymore. It’s something I called my atheist friend on–I felt he was being “bitter”–when I was still a believer. I realize that the reason I thought he was bitter was because he was talking to me like a fellow atheist, and it made me think that he thought I was dumb for believing in the “mythology,” as he put it, of religion. Now that I’m on the other side of the fence, I understand that wasn’t his intent, but I do remember that it did feel like he was dismissing all belief, and by extent, all believers. That is not my intent here, either.

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  58. Zara on August 23, 2012 at 12:47 PM

    Shoot, I wish these boxes were bigger so I could proofread more easily. I meant to add, that I also think context about JS’s life needs to be included, because this is not the only inconsistency he’s been accused of. If this was the only blip on the radar, it would make more sense to immediately give him the benefit of the doubt. Anyway,

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  59. Luman Walters on August 23, 2012 at 3:22 PM

    As a disbeliever I would say, you have to recreate a brand new relationship. It will never be the same. You need to approach it as though you now have a new person. I will never, ever lend my name, time, energy or anything with which the lord has blessed me to the church. I do not trust those men. Those aroudn me have to respect that especially if they want me to respect their beliefs. They have to realize that leaving the church leaves a void in our lives and some of us may even join another faith. Don’t belittle it because we need it just as much as believers need their faith. It’s where we are.

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  60. Luman Walters on August 23, 2012 at 3:26 PM

    A great example is this……Let’s say you are an unbeliever………………..
    Recognize that you don’t like the way Stephen Marsh is handling this little interaction with Zara because it’s a pretty good example of a poor way to interact with disbelievers. At the same time, don’t say anytyhing. Just recognize that it’s where he is. Embrace it. Let it be.

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  61. Stephen Marsh on August 23, 2012 at 6:48 PM

    ” Would you agree with that?”

    Yes. ;)

    Very much.

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  62. Stephen Marsh on August 23, 2012 at 6:54 PM

    Got to thinking today about Ray Acuna, last time I saw him was before his wedding (I got the date wrong and showed up to an empty building, sigh). He had been a Nazarene divinity student. Lost faith in God, became an unbeliever.

    I met him in a philosophy of India class. By the end he had returned to Christ. He said he was amazed that he got there from the impact of a mormon and a papist ….

    But it was interesting to see his transformation.

    Last I saw him he was a Nazarene still. But the essence of I and the Catholic girl did was just listen to him in kindness. No preaching, no pushing. He had to find his own way, all we could do was be his friends.

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  63. You Don’t Know How It Feels on August 29, 2012 at 11:28 AM

    [...] – August 29, 2012Posted in: Columns, MatthewOver at Wheat and Tares last week, Mormon Heretic posted a transcript of a 2007 Mormon Stories interview with Richard Bushman. It sparked a few interesting [...]

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  64. Bob on August 29, 2012 at 12:27 PM

    #63: I read your link. I thought it well written and worth the read__Thanks.

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