Aug 26, 2009

Some Thoughts From Mormon Stories

I've had a couple of quiet days at home to take time to listen to some of the Mormon Stories podcasts that I hadn't yet had a chance to listen to. It's been challenging, uncomfortable, enlightening, and riveting -- all at the same time. As I finished listening to one of the podcasts this afternoon, I found myself lamenting over the fact that John Dehlin and some of those he interviewed on Mormon Stories have been dismissed as "Anti-Mormon" by some. A while back when I recommended a certain podcast to a church leader that I thought he would find helpful and insightful, he dismissed Dehlin as an employer of anti-Mormon tactics and had only negative things to say about him, even though I'm quite sure he was completely unfamiliar with him. So, as much as I still respect and admire this leader, I couldn't help but think how missing this unbelievably unique and insightful opportunity to learn more about Mormonism and Mormons from all across the spectrum was a huge loss on his part.

I've had a lot to process and digest over the past few days, but I'll try to summarize just some of my thoughts based on the various podcasts that I listened to. I can't recommend them enough to those of you who are struggling with the same issues that I am, or who are simply searching for an increase in understanding.

The first ones I listened to were a series with Paul Toscano (#'s 077-083), one of the September Six who were excommunicated in September of 1993. Toscano is very bold in his personal beliefs and observations. Although he can come across as arrogant, I think that "in-your-face," as he himself put it, is more accurate. He has some very interesting views about the Godhead, Christ, where the Church has gone wrong, where it has gone right, and what he'd like to see change. Although some of his opinions would sound heretical to most Mormons, I came away from the podcast with a deep appreciation for his view on Jesus Christ. Even though I may not share his view completely on exactly who or how Christ is, I found what he said about him downright inspiring and motivational. Yes, I'll say it again. I found an excommunicated "apostate" to be inspiring and motivational. I haven't yet listened to the series featuring his wife, Margaret Toscano, who was also excommunicated later on, but I'm looking forward to it.

The next series I listened to was with Grant Palmer, (#'s 030-033), author of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, and disfellowshipped in 2004 for publishing the book. I found this series to be the most riveting, probably because of Palmer's personality and background story. I could relate to him on many personal levels and my impression was one of a broken man who had to suffer the consequences of finding himself unable to reconcile the evidences he uncovered with the story that he had been led to believe for most of his life. Although he reached some pretty dismal personal conclusions as to the truth of many of Mormonism's claims, ranging from Book of Mormon literal historicity to the multiple accounts of the First Vision, I found his perspective to nevertheless be inspiring in its own way. And even though I'm not sure that I share his opinions and views in all these areas, in a way I could say that I felt relieved by his approach. Here is someone who has lost much of his faith, who does not believe the Church to be literally true on all the levels that it claims, and yet continues to love and see value in the Church -- enough so that he values his membership and still attends sacrament meeting as a disfellowshipped member. I was inspired by the story of his church court hearing and the aftermath -- namely the deeply personal and overwhelming sense of divine peace and comfort he felt the night after an exhausting and traumatic day. I came away feeling comforted by the notion that God continues to reach out to and comfort those who are cut off by the Church organization. Although I haven't read Palmer's book, I think that Bushman's neutralized style is my preference, but I was thoroughly impressed by Palmer's integrity and sincerity. Even if he's totally wrong in his assessments, it takes guts to be honest with oneself and others about one's beliefs -- however unpopular they are -- and especially when the consequences can be monumental. Not only did it affect his church life, but it affected his family life. And I respect that. I couldn't be more disappointed by apologetics and those in the Church who have resorted to ad-hominem attacks on him. I thought that his views on what the Church needs to do to retain credibility, integrity, and prevent an exodus of those who are troubled by what they read in today's world of easily-accessed information were spot-on. And, as was the case after listening to Paul Toscano, I felt a renewed desire to focus solely on Christ -- even though I'm still not quite sure how I'm to do that.

As a contrast, I then listened to the series with FAIR apologetic John Lynch (#'s 007-009). I admit that I was a bit skeptical, as I haven't always been impressed by their (or FARMS') attempts to defend things that are, in my mind, undefendable. But overall, I felt that Lynch was fairly sympathetic to those of us who find it difficult to reconcile faith with history -- even though I don't think that many apologetics really "get" the need of some people for neutral objectivity as opposed to defending everything on the premise that it's true no matter what. But that being said, I think that there is a legitimate place and need for apologetics in the minefield of information about Mormonism that's available online today.

Next, I listened to a two-part interview (#'s 002-003) with Gregory Prince, author of David O. McKay And The Rise Of Modern Mormonism. The second part of this interview, which covered the priesthood ban, was particularly fascinating. David O. McKay was very progressive in many ways -- especially in his desire to see the priesthood ban lifted and the personal efforts he made to have it lifted in his time. However, this progressivism did not extend to his personal views on race and civil rights. His views about blacks was typical for the time and place in which he lived, and he neglected to rise above this mindset when he occasionally had the oppotunity to do so. Sad, but certainly not shocking. Nevertheless, McKay was a friend of scholarship, intellectualism, unorthodox views, and even intervened when certain people were threatened with excommunication for these unorthodox views that he didn't necessarily agree with. He was a champion of free agency -- in thought included.

Lastly, I listened to a Seattle recording (#066) of a speech given by a woman about the history of the involvement of the LDS Church in the ERA movement. I really knew very little about this part of our history, but I was struck by the parallels between it and our involvement in Prop 8, most notably the proportion of Mormons who decided to follow blindly the Church's appell to vote it down, as well as the reasons given for doing so. For instance, some argued that passing the ERA would allow homosexuals to marry, or that stay-at-home mothers would be forced out of the home. The words "scare tactics" came to mind, as was often the case when I read the arguments by some Church members during the Prop 8 campaign. (One noteworthy piece of information was the disappointing fact that George Romney -- a man who is often praised for his progressive stance in the Black Civil Rights movement despite being pressured by certain Church leaders to change that stance -- was quoted as dismissing the ERA as an attempt by "moral perverts" to destroy the family.)

I have many of the podcasts to listen to yet. Just thought I'd share my latest impressions and I look forward to hearing yours.


Anonymous said...

If you'll accept the prayers of an apostate (born that way), may God be with you in your processing. Thanks for sharing.


Kaylanamars said...

Wow, FD, how interesting that you and I were listening to Mormon Stories today! I listened to the series on polygamy with Todd Compton, insight into the mind of an anti-Mormon, and am halfway through the series on Buckley Jeppson and his journey being a homosexual and Mormon. They're fascinating and can't wait to get through the rest of them.

It's so liberating to realize I'm not alone in the questions I have and to actually hear, not just read, about various thoughts and ideas on the Church, its policies, history, etc.

So I can't wait to hear more of your thoughts on Mormon Stories!

Mormon Heretic said...

FireTag, you make me laugh--you can't be an apostate--just your church is! ;)

I love Mormon Stories! I've listened to every episode!

Kate said...

Thanks for sharing. I love John Dehlin, and I am in the process of listening to these podcasts as well.

The Faithful Dissident said...

LOL, if there's one thing that I've learned from all this Mormon history study, it's that there are far more "apostates" than I ever realized and I probably fit that definition as well. :D

Last night I listened to the interview with John Kovalenko, a gay member of the Church attending BYU. I admit, I was afraid that he was simply going to tow the party line, but it was really great. It deserves a post of its own, actually.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Kaylana, that series with Compton was amazing. Loved it and I wish that it could be played in RS when we're talking about how devoted Joseph was to his only wife, Emma. Recently in another discussion, a friend of mine was upset by someone else who accused JS of having multiple wives. A life-long member, she argued that he only ever had Emma and accused this guy of anti-Mormonism, spreading lies about the prophets, etc. So this guy really pastes her for her ignorance, she got offended and cried, and I was struck by how sad a situation it was, particularly when neither of them were totally at fault. First of all, I thought that the guy was rude and obnoxious in the way that he lambasted her, but his historical assertions were correct. So I had to write a private e-mail to my friend to tell her (and hopefully she believed it coming from me) that this guy was actually correct and that although it wasn't really her fault that she didn't know this stuff, that those who are accused of being anti-Mormons simply for telling the correct history are deeply offended and upset by that. After I told her this, she stated that she was still very skeptical of anything that claimed that JS had more than one wife, so I referred her to Bushman's RSR if she ever wanted to know more from a faithful, reliable source. She said she didn't feel the need to go there right now, but she made a note about it. So, I thought that experience was a good example of the chasm that exists between members in the Church.

MH, I thought of you while listening to Palmer because one of his suggestions as to how the Church could move forward was to drop the KJV. A good suggestion, I think.

Hye Sung said...

The Church should organize a group of Bible scholars and create a totally new translation. We would be able to feel comfortable with this instead of using other new translations (because... well the Church made it) and well, we'd be able to understand it deeper.

Just an idea. It's probably been proposed and all. Whatever. Haha

Anonymous said...


I think I'm working on being an apostate in both senses of the word, since I believe in the historicity of the BofM; that women and men can both be called to the priesthood; that family format doesn't matter to God except as it influences our lives here on earth; that monogamous gays should be offered sacramental marriage whatever the larger society does; that the Kingdom of God doesn't center in the faith community; that our understanding of the relationship between the two sides of "the veil" is seriously mistaken; that there is no greater threat to either of our denominations today than for leadership to expect other people to pay the price for the denominations' theological purity; and that we could be up to our ears in angry Mayans within a generation if the Gadiantons don't get us first.

Other than that, I'm remarkably orthodox. :D

Anyway, the offer of prayers still goes for anyone trying to process their relationship with their faith.


Sunflowercalm said...

I am a huge fan of Mormon Stories. I'm currently listening to the stages of faith podcasts. John did a recent podcast with a few weeks ago that you might like to check out. I believe it's episode #8. He talks about his experiences in producing Mormon Stories and where he's at with "church" now.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Hye Sung, I've often wondered why we don't do that, since Joseph Smith already got a start on a new translation.

Sunflowercalm, thanks for that tip! I'm going to check it out right away.

Fire Tag, let's see how you and I match up:

"I believe in the historicity of the BofM;"

The jury is still out on that one for me, but either way, it doesn't really matter to me in terms of inspiration. I tend to believe it's probably only a partial literal history. But that's what I would say about any of the scriptures.

"...that women and men can both be called to the priesthood;"

I would agree that that's probably the way that God ultimately (or even originally) intended it. I wouldn't have said that a few years ago, but there are some historical facts that have changed my view on the matter. I sometimes think it's another case of the priesthood ban -- just one that we're a little more stubborn on. :) I did a post about prophetesses a loooong time ago, but never felt that I really got an answer. I've been meaning to revive it, actually.

"...that family format doesn't matter to God except as it influences our lives here on earth;"

I would say that I still believe in the concept of eternal families, but I don't believe that we have all the details and neither do I believe that the only type of family unit that will be eternal is the "traditional" kind. Things get pretty complicated when you get into divorce, adoption, step-children, same-sex relationships and marriages, interfaith marriages, etc. My best answer is "who knows?"

"...that monogamous gays should be offered sacramental marriage whatever the larger society does;"

I have a sincere desire to see that happen. I think that at the very least, we need to allow those in a monogomous gay relationship to maintain their membership and right to participate in church meetings, callings, etc. In the podcast with John Kovalenko, he talks about this.

"that the Kingdom of God doesn't center in the faith community;"

I agree with you there. The "Kingdom of God" is anywhere we take it and can maintain it, IMO.

"...that our understanding of the relationship between the two sides of "the veil" is seriously mistaken;"

I guess I haven't given much thought to that one. Can you elaborate?

"...that there is no greater threat to either of our denominations today than for leadership to expect other people to pay the price for the denominations' theological purity;"

Two thumbs up!

"...and that we could be up to our ears in angry Mayans within a generation if the Gadiantons don't get us first."

I think you're going to have to elaborate on that one as well. :D

Anonymous said...


Let me deal with the BofM first and then jump to the Gadiantons and Mayans. Then I'll jump back to eternal families and the veil.

Last night I completed a personal project that I've been getting internal nudges about for maybe three years. I completed rereading the Book of Mormon from cover to cover, something I hadn't done since I was 13, and that was a LONG time ago. I wasn't looking at particular scriptures to teach a Sunday school lesson or demonstrate something in a sermon for once. I had an opportunity to not get lost in the trees but actually view the forest. Which meant seeing the writers as human beings, with all their limits and imperfections.

Last night, for example, I saw Moroni not as this stern angel appearing to Joseph in the 19th century, but as a young man clinging to one of his father's sermons and two of his letters and trying to engrave them in permanent form, as someone trying to copy the records of the Jaredites, and stopping every so often to defiantly give himself a pep talk by saying his people's story was NOT over but would find its meaning in our day.

My experience throughout the reading was to have my faith in the revelatory nature of the book confirmed. I repeatedly found evidences of internal consistency and answers to challenges from things in my own scientific background before I even understood why people considered something a challenge. And I had never heard of much of the PRO-BofM evidence since the CofChrist hasn't produced independent Book of Mormon materials since the early 1970's.

That was my testimony in reading; others will have to decide for themselves.

Do I believe it is a literal history? Probably a highly limited one, in the same sense that the OT is a highly limited history of the Mideast. But if I may use a current buzzward, I believe it contains "actionable intelligence" about the experience of real prophets who are in turn delivering "actionable intelligence" to us about our present and futures as "Gentiles".

That gets me to the Gadiantons and Mayans. The BofM explicitly notes that the leadership of the gospel WILL go back to the seed of the Lamanites. If the Gentiles accept the gospel (NOTE it does NOT say if the Lamanites accept the gospel)the seed of the Lamanites may be converted by the Gentiles' preaching and the righteous Gentiles get grafted into the larger work.

There is a plan B, however, and it is a lot less pleasant for the Gentiles. You'll have to decide for yourself whther the present quality of Christian ;iving and the 1.7% membership in any part of the Restoration movement by North Americans 180 years after the BofM came forth constitutes Gentile acceptance of the gospel. Or are we getting close to the activation of Plan B?

As to your other questions about what I mean about the relationship between the two sides of the veil, and how I see eternal families, those are the ideas I'm trying to explain in some of my own blog posts like "Duality and Divinity" and "You've Read This Post Before", that I know you've read.

I'm suggesting that the spiritual and the physical are simply different viewpoints for describing the same, single "inseparably connected" reality. The families we forge or deny on earth ARE the families we seal in heaven. There are just so many copies of earth (and us) that our spirits experience all forms of family with many partners, siblings, and children. It's what our spirit does as a collective response to all of those physical opportunities that determines whether we are right for which kingdom. Pre-existence, mortal life, and the afterlife are linked together far more complexly than a mere linear srquence can describe.

Yup, Definitely an apostate. Maybe God will let me plead insanity.


Mormon Heretic said...

FireTag, I'd say your unorthodox rather than apostate (like me, though I think you're more unorthodox than me...)

FD, I would have told your friend to check to see Joseph's wives--you can't get any more orthodox than that!

I think I liked the Grant Palmer interview more than his book. It's good, but gives a much different impression of the church than he portrayed in the interview, IMO.