Sunday, May 15, 2011

Neither a NOM nor a Stake President: Breaking into the Bloggernacle II

It's probably not a good idea to address things I don't fully understand. But then, what else are blogs for?

I have been fascinated, mostly from the sidelines, by some recent debates going on in the Bloggernacle about a term, New Order Mormons, or NOM.  This apparently refers to cultural Mormons who don't believe in the literal aspects of certain tenets of the church, most dealing with the Prophet Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. There were a couple of these posts recently in Times & Seasonshere and here. Also, Joanna Brooks discusses in her blog about Jon Huntsman's odd statement about being LDS. (I prefer to think he was deftly promoting the Constitutional standard as in "no religious test.") And it all reminds me of a life choice I made a long time ago.

In my freshman dorm, John Hall (now a girls dorm in an apparent attempt to rehabilitate its former reputation), I ended up by fate or inspiration of the managers at Helaman Halls in a wing with a lot of Honors Program guys. I wasn't in the Honors Program (although I did marry into it!) And while never having the grades or the motivation to be a true intellectual, I still have some pretty good basic smarts. I was able to hold my own with those guys, some remaining my very good friends over a lifetime and most of the others, I would like to connect with given the time like we used to have for those late-night "bull" sessions my dad warned me about. Maybe that's what the internet is for.

Anyway, this connects up a few years later to an incident in the bowels of the Harold B. Lee Library.  My roommate at the time, and one of those guys I met in my freshman dorm, had been on a mission to South Korea. He showed me how the Asian section in the basement of the library was a great place to study because it was so quiet. It was little used, and those who did use it were a lot of Asian students who were generally very respectful towards others.

My roomie (let's call him "James") and I were sitting down there studying one day when there appeared at our table, a mutual friend, also from that dorm, but he had been an older guy we looked up to (and I still do!) because he was a return-missionary and a unique individual. We had kind of followed his exploits over the years and while we were on our missions, he liberalized a little from the rather oddly dogmatic return-missionary and branch mission leader we knew before. He participated in some "Hugh B. Brown"-type student government insurrections and had friends who were writing in one of those off-campus papers that spring up in cycles every now and then in Provo.

Anyway, this older friend saw us, and knowing of our pseudo-intellectual (actually, smart-aleck) leanings, he excitedly told us about his great, new idea. He said that he and a group of friends were compiling a list of 95 things wrong with the church that they were then going to nail to the front door of the Church Office Building in Salt Lake City just like Martin Luther did on the Cathedral door! He wanted to know if James and I wanted to get in on it and bring our ideas. James and I looked at each other in stunned silence and then said that we weren't really interested. Our friend then said something to the effect of: "What? You both are worried about spoiling your chance at being Stake President some day?" That was the first time that thought had ever entered my head. And James seemed as shocked as I was.

I never knew if they got up to their 95 theses. I never saw anything about it in the news where I think it would have been noted and Google doesn't have anything. I saw that friend of our several years later. Still a good guy, but our paths had gone different ways. Even today, I think he's still a good guy and I like him a lot. I can't speak for him, but here's what happened to me.

Life is complex so it's hard to summarize. but while still in college, I made the conscious decision that I was not an intellectual and unlikely ever to be one. I also made no plans to become a Stake President and so far that goal is going just fine. As I've explained elsewhere on this blog, I just don't think I quite have the smarts or the gumption to be a true intellectual. Maybe it's just lack of self-confidence. Some guys and gals do it quite well. I happen to have known a few Mormon Intellectuals in earlier periods of my life like Blake Ostler, who was once our Gospel Doctrine Teacher, and Terryl Givens, who was heading for Brazil when I was and ended up as my wife's Honor Program mentor for her graduation. 

The most important thing is simply this. I chose to be faithful. I don't think there's a controversy or criticism of the church I haven't heard. Some of them I don't even have a good answer for even if Givens or Ostler might. Yet there is something about apologetics that bothers me almost as much as nailing theses on the door. Faithful I am and faithful I will stay because it is an exercise of my free will. (I even know most of the arguments someone from an Anti- or NOM viewpoint might give to that kind of position). But I can't deny what has been revealed to me by the Spirit in consequence of my feeble efforts to follow the Lord. No factual evidence has convinced me otherwise even if I don't have complete factual evidence to defend my faith. But then it wouldn't be faith, would it?


  1. It doesn't take long hanging around the Bloggernacle to have your eyes opened to undercurrents you never suspected were part of church life, does it?

    I sometimes comment in the kinds of threads you describe, but I decided early in my blogging life that I wasn't any more interested in fighting -- either to put down heresy (it doesn't stay down) or even to defend the truth in an apologetic sense (some apologetic habits are almost as offensive to me as the DAMU [DisAffected Mormon Underground, pronounced "d*** you"] tactics). Instead, I would post stories and cultural bits and other parts of the Mormon past that say, simply, "Living the gospel has made us an awesome people." I make it a safe place for people who enjoy that to say so by filtering the increasing tide of mocking and vulgar comments from the DAMU.

    Like you, I chose and choose to be faithful. There is very seldom any real need to fight with opponents, and a very real need (it's real -- I see it being filled in comments on my blog very often) for simply showing that faith with illustrations either from my life or far more often from the lives of past Latter-day Saints.

    I'm lovin' your blog. For a blog that is ostensibly political, you post some of the least contentious political commentary I've ever seen. I'm very glad to have discovered it even if I don't comment on every post.

  2. Thank you Ardis, I'm very flattered to even be noticed, as you have one of the best blogs out there!

    Besides our good, cultural-historian, mutual friend on Facebook, I have a few other acquaintances I think you know, including the guy with the 95 theses. (He really is a good guy). We'll talk some time.

  3. Excellent Post.

    I've found it very interesting how people assume someone's faith, belief or knowledge of the gospel can sometimes be challenged from the most unexpected quarters.

    Growing up I was a conservative Republican, but as I've "grown up" I've discovered that side of the political spectrum doesn't really suit who I've become. Some "friends" in the church have decided that I am no longer fit company, and have even gone so far as to call me an Anti-Christ simply because I voted for President Obama, and have changed my party affiliation.

    While my political beliefs have changed over the years my faith and testimony in the restored gospel of Jesus Christ has not. It has deepened and matured to be sure, but my change in politics has changed my testimony; in fact, it has been just the opposite, it is my testimony that has shaped my political leanings. Not condemning anyone's political choices, simply stating my own.

  4. (Anon./M)"I chose and choose to be faithful". So very true...Thank you for that post. While I don't succumb to "dark nights of the soul" and am pretty much self-contained and buoyant (most of the time), it does feel a bit lonely, when all your family and friends, even the most intelligent, start sounding like Glenn Beck. Long ago, I decided that I was going to put all the doubts (the inescapable facts about evolution, all the Book of Mormon questions, troubling items from Church history and doctrines, etc...) into a "box" and wait for the Lord to explain the contradictions. Why? Because, balanced against the powerful flashes of insights from the Spirit, nothing seemed important enough to give up. Over the years, the "box" has grown pretty full, and I have to mind what I say, or morph from "pleasantly quirky" to "dangerously troublesome" in the eyes of my bishopric and fellow ward members. Knowing that kindred spirits are out there helps. I keep reminding myself of the saying by Will Durant, often quoted by Hugh B. Brown: "No one deserves to believe unless he has served an apprenticeship in doubt."

  5. Great post and comments. No one was more surprised than I was when I was made RS Pres. And since then, I have become much more aware of the spectrum of faithful Mormons in the world. Individual interpretations reign supreme, and that's good. Everyone tends to think that they are the different one, that they don't fit the mold--but there actually isn't a mold, other than having had spiritual experiences that convince one to persevere in the faith. My first counselor, a Democrat like me, announced to one and all when I was called that I was a Dem. I work to keep politics out of my calling, but like Phil, I grew into my politics and feel that they fit my belief system much better than the other side. I believe in compassion. Sorry to have wandered so far in this short comment. Good piece.

  6. Thanks,everybody! @Phil - I'm still kinda hoping Gov. Christie of New Jersey would still get in and then you could be an Anti-Christie! (Sorry, that was really bad).

    And Elaine! There you are, Ardis's and my "good, cultural-historian, mutual friend" when I was trying to be all euphemistical on ya.

    @Anonymous, hang in there! patience and charity work. In fact, they have a much better chance of changing things for the better than outright contention. They're just not easy.

  7. "Yet there is something about apologetics that bothers me almost as much as nailing theses on the door."

    I have long felt this way, but never been able to put it quite so succinctly. I am unabashed about my faith, and confident that those who sincerely seek the truth will find it. Like you, I made a conscious decision to choose faith over doubt and I have never looked back. Maybe it's because, like you, I am always watching for miracles (I have had myriad experiences like your "iPod" story) and am quick to recognize God's hand in my life.

    Or it may be because I enjoy using the unanswerable questions to irk my fellow Mormons.

  8. I enjoyed reading this, thank you. Keep blogging!

  9. Thanks, Daniel & Jon! (Seattle Jon- I grew up in Kirkland, on Finn Hill)


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