Sunday, December 16, 2007

Defining our Mormonism on Blogs

I may be the only blog in the Bloggernacle to react with consternation at Elder Ballard's recent injunction to blog!

Elder Ballard has asked BYUH students to "join the conversation by participating on the Internet, particularly the New Media, to share the gospel and to explain in simple and clear terms the message of the Restoration." His message makes me nervous. For some of you, whose blog messages share the gospel and speak in glowing terms of the message of the Restoration, this Apostle's approbation will be welcome. But I'm a bit concerned about his caveats. Elder Ballard says that "we cannot stand on the sidelines while others, including our critics, attempt to define what the Church teaches...We are living in a world saturated with all kinds of voices. Perhaps now, more than ever, we have a major responsibility as Latter-day Saints to define ourselves, instead of letting others define us."

These words bother me because they presuppose a blanket "definition of Mormons." As we have seen in our different conversations here on the Bloggernacle, there are so many ideologies and strains of thought common among faithful Latter-day Saints. And there are a myriad of others invested in the Church who have much to add to our conversation. Although my blog often deals in the ambiguities found within Mormonism, I have felt more authentic sharing these things here on my blog than I have ever felt within the Wards and Stakes of the Church. Here I am defining myself, here I learn what I really think and feel rather than what I am told to think and feel.

If my major responsibility is to define myself, instead of letting others define me, I feel I am doing a good job here on "Hieing to Kolob." I chose the name of my blog because it represents my striving to reach the throne of God, but always finding myself falling a bit short. Sometimes my thoughts seem to be on some other planet than the typical Mormon. I feel that I share commonalities, but never really fit in with conservative Mormons, liberal Mormons, fundamental Mormons, new order Mormons, or any other subset. But here I have found community. Mormons don't always fit into a neat categorization! I've had my share of those who call me to repentance, but also those who are accepting of my strivings.

Recently I was asked to censor some aspects of my blogging by a Church leader (Perhaps this experience is informing my unease). I very much appreciated the way it was done. The way the leader approached me was respectful and classy. I agreed to change some things because my blog had the potential to negatively affect other members of the Church. Had the consequences been limited to myself, I may have had a much harder time with the decision. I have come to value the things I have learned while blogging. I feel a great resistance against religious censorship on our blogs. The value of discovering the beauty of diversity and wrestling with worldviews here seems much greater than any negative result that could occur. Faith can only increase with examination and grappling with truth. It may seem to lead us away for a time, but in the end doubt is a valuable part of our human experience.

I understand the Church's need to be more visible on the internet. It is true that in the past webspace has been dominated by antiMormon perspectives. It is good to see the proliferation of more positive presentations of the Mormon experience. I hope that this is what Elder Ballard is trying to promote. It seems to me, however, that we are not so much being asked to define ourselves on our blogs, but to present a unified, sanitized version of Mormons.


Anonymous said...

I'm saddened to learn that you are now censoring yourself, at the behest of some male authority who wants you to present a "positive" face of Mormonism. It is difficult for women to battle the internal censor when there is little or no support from the external censors. It is difficult to speak the truth, particularly when the censors cloak our silencing in the name of some greater good. "Had the consequences been limited to myself, I may have had a much harder time with the decision." But of course, the consequences are limited to yourself since any harm to anyone else is imaginary. And thus we are all ensnared.

onelowerlight said...

That's a very interesting article; thanks for the link. And I can see where you're coming from. I enjoy reading your blog (even when I disagree with the controversial stuff), and I think you're right in that presenting a unified, sanitized version of the church isn't going to help us out much. I don't think that a bunch of bright eyed, I-know-the-church-is-true bloggers who never get under the surface to the deeper feelings and struggles behind their testimonies aren't going to have much of an impact on the conversation. If all these blogs look the same and say the same thing from the same perspective, people are going to skip over them to find something different (at least, new readers will--existing readers of already established blogs would probably be more prone to listen). The strength of blogging lies in the personality and individuality behind the bloggers, not in simply disseminating information.

I think, though, that Holland wasn't trying to get us to all present a sanitized version of the church, so much as he was trying to rouse us members from our typical apathy and get us to participate in the new dialectic that's developed because of the new media. His main goal, as I take it, was to persuade members to not approach this in an apathetic way. Elsewhere, General Authorities have repeatedly said that the strongest testimony of the gospel that you can give is who you authentically are--what kind of a person you are and how you live your religion. And since we're all different, we're all going to have slightly different perspectives and different insights on different issues. So I think that what he's really trying to do isn't to tell us what message to send, but to tell us who are faithful, active members of the church to get involved in the conversation and not let us be defined by anyone other than our authentic selves. That's what I took from it, at least.

onelowerlight said...

I think that the key thing is to find some way to differentiate between your personal perspective and the perspective that most everyone else who is a faithful member of the church would share with you. It sounds like your priesthood leader had some legitimate concerns, but at the same time you don't want that to keep you from finding an outlet for your concerns. Ultimately, I don't think that that's his goal either. It's kind of like when people speculate about the gospel, but do it by prefacing "this isn't official doctrine, it's doctrine according to me." If you can let your readers know where you're coming from in your ideas and that they represent you and not necessarily other LDS, I personally don't have any problem with you saying what you want on this blog, and I don't think that any reasonable person would.

Rich said...

I think his statement that bothered me the most was this:

"Our position is solid; the Church is true."

First of all, that's just plain wrong (and what on earth does it even mean?). The Gospel of Jesus Christ is true. The Church is an imperfect, changing, adapting institution that hopefully seeks to implement Gospel truths as it creates lesson manuals and programs and committees, but it is hardly "true" in the exclusive, perfect sense implied in that statement. I'm also uncomfortable with the overuse of the word "know" when it comes to testimony bearing. I'm ok with "I feel", or "I believe", or even "I testify", but "I know" is not only exclusive and perhaps arrogant, but usually also incredibly naive; and aren't we here to live by faith anyway?

The other statement that made me simultaneously laugh out loud and blurt out a bit of profanity (Bullsh*t!) was this tidbit of hypocritical, wishful thinking, bald-faced lie:
"The Church, of course, is politically neutral. We do not get involved in politics."
If only that were true! Instead we have the Church giving Dick Lying Warmongering Torture-promoting Cheney an honorary degree in public service! We have the church airing divisive demagogue Sean Hannity for 3 hours every afternoon on Church owned KSL, and further invited him to MC at BYU's stadium of fire/freedom festival/jingoist lovefest. We have Sherri Dew praying at the RNC, Cannon as the editor of Deseret News, etc. etc. etc. It may be PC to claim political neutrality, but everything the church does demonstrates it is in bed with and beholden to the GOP. We claim we only get involved when there are moral issues at stake, but somehow "morality" only extends to homosexuality? Murder to get gain, torture -- these things apparently don't merit the "morality" label, and apparently therefore have far less eternal consequences?

Hmmm, on 2nd thought I guess that statement bothered me at least as much as the first ;o) Sigh.

Mark IV said...


Nah, I don't think you need to self-censor. I DO think all of us need to be careful with what we say, just because it is so easy to miscommunicate, even when we are face to face. Your voice is as much a part of Mormonism as anybody's, and it is very welcome.

BTW, if your leader asked you to remove what I think he asked you to remove, I'm happy you did. ;-)

Bored in Vernal said...

Anon, I can't say much about the situation, but I want to assure you that I am not being silenced ideologically. One of the reasons I submitted so peacefully is that the leader did NOT use his "priesthood card" or try to force me to do anything. (I don't respond very well to those tactics!) This situation has more to do with the potential for causing physical harm, deportation, or loss of employment to innocent people who are trying to live their religion in a foreign country. I have to respect that.

Bored in Vernal said...

As for politics:
I am glad the Church has taken the public position that they are politically neutral. It causes me no end of frustration that at the higher eschelon this neutrality is quite frequently violated. Rich, the examples you provided outraged me also! But as long as the public policy is in place, there is a standard by which we can measure our success or failure. (You do realize, don't you, that when Christ comes, all bets are off?) Until that time, I very much enjoy reading the political opinions across the spectrum of Latter-day Saints. It's reassuring that they can maintain their membership at whatever level they wish while varying in political beliefs.

C. L. Hanson said...

I think if they managed to get the Bloggernacle to self-censor down to the point of presenting a unified face of smiling all the time, it would be more than just boring: it would be weird and creepy. You're more likely to attract people by demonstrating your humanity; that you're a real person with thoughts and struggles, and that you care enough about the gospel -- it matters enough in your life -- that you're thinking hard about it.

stephen said...

I'm saddened to learn that you are now censoring yourself, at the behest of some male authority who wants you to present a "positive" face of Mormonism.

Ah, the courageous anonymous bravely shows her anti-male colors. How refreshing to seem feminist hatred in its naked, undisguised form. (But then, I'm a man, so it's unsurprising I'd be into feminist nakedness. You know us men -- all the same.)

rich added:
"Our position is solid; the Church is true."

First of all, that's just plain wrong (and what on earth does it even mean?).

It means that the Church, as the only vehicle for the gospel, points men and women to Christ. rich's point is very, very badly taken. He seems not to understand what it means for something to be "true", equating it perhaps with "perfect" or some such nonsense.

If I say that my rifle aims "true", am I saying that it's the most powerful rifle ever created? That it will bring down an elephant at 500 yards? That it has perfect balance and no appreciable kick?


If I say that my rifle aims "true", I am saying that it shoots straight, when taking into account gravity, wind, and how much powder my slug uses.

rich seems to want to believe that, if the Church were "true", it would never have any flaws. But this is clearly a false expectation, since the Church is made up of human beings. Even the gospel itself, taught as it is by human prophets, human missionaries, and human members, is imperfect. But it's true, if you are humble enough to submit yourself to it.

The Church is indeed true, just as true as the gospel. If there ever comes a point at which the Church is not true, you can rest absolutely assured that the gospel will no longer exist on the earth, or at least not with the Church.

rich, again:
The other statement that made me simultaneously laugh out loud and blurt out a bit of profanity (Bullsh*t!)

Speaking of hypocritical, rich, you have nailed it. You call yourself a Latter-day Saint, and thus claim to have taken upon yourself the name of Jesus Christ, yet openly use such unChristlike expressions as "bullshit," even bragging about such usage. That is the very definition of hypocrisy -- putting on a false face. We all have our imperfections, and if using filthy, foul, polluting language is one of yours, then I am very sorry for you and your family. But parading and celebrating your flaws is exactly the opposite of trying to overcome them. I think that, before you go accusing any apostle of hypocrisy, you first look long and hard in the mirror and strive to overcome the hypocrisy you see there. When the beam is fully out of your own eye, you might see clearly enough to be pulling the mote out of an apostle's. Just a suggestion.

Anonymous said...

It is about time! Finally you will be censoring yourself... Glad to see you are slowly coming back to the fold. Welcome. Your loving brother in Vernal.

Anonymous said...

"Ah, the courageous anonymous bravely shows her anti-male colors. How refreshing to seem feminist hatred in its naked, undisguised form. (But then, I'm a man, so it's unsurprising I'd be into feminist nakedness. You know us men -- all the same.)"

It was a male who talked to her, so what's your point? Why is stating a fact the equivalent of hatred? I'm anonymous for a reason that seems appropriate to me. But thanks, Stephen, for showing how Christ-like you are.

stephen said...

anonymous bravely stated:

"It was a male who talked to her, so what's your point?"

Sure you are, anonymous. Sure you are.

"Why is stating a fact the equivalent of hatred?"

Stating a fact is not the equivalent of hatred. Hatred is the equivalent of hatred.

"I'm anonymous for a reason that seems appropriate to me."

Thanks for clearing that up.

"But thanks, Stephen, for showing how Christ-like you are."

U betcha!

Since you remain anonymous, my comments were, by definition, made to an anonymous person. Thus, not personal.

And Christ never had much problem with calling hypocrites on their hypocrisy.

Anonymous said...

Stephen, feminism is not hatred. Get over yourself.

Bored in Vernal said...

Stephen, your rifle analogy was quite helpful.

Everyone, I hope that we can be kind to each other here on my blog. Please realize that we all have different points of view. To me a hypocrite is someone who is trying to appear to be something they are not, with overtones of intolerance for others' differences. Most of the people who come here are sincerely trying to find their way through Mormonism despite a lot of pain.

While I welcome views from all across the spectrum, we can do this without calling into question others' motives or righteousness.

Rich said...

Stephen, know what the difference is between someone who says "Damn" and someone who says "Dang"?

One goes to Hell, the other goes to Heck.

Dung, manure, feces, excrement, droppings, guano, -- whatever rosy label you chose to apply, it still smells like sh*t.

I'm willing to bet most of the kids that stand at the mic on F&T Sundays and parrot "I know the church is true!" haven't got a clue about your rifle analogy. Nice try though.

And if the (LDS) church were the only vehicle for teaching gospel truths then you might as well throw away your bible, since it's been around inspiring people for quite a long time, long before the Restoration.

But hey, you did a good job of putting me in my place. It's comforting to know that there are real men like you, whose rifles aim true, who truly bless their families because their untainted lips have never uttering such horrid profanities as BS, who vote only for men in God's Own Party (GOP), and whose discipleship is thus never in question. You get a gold star, applied directly to your forehead!

Dr. B said...

Having dealt with Elder Ballard for many years I don't disagree that he wants us all to put forward a positive slant on Mormonism. He is a very missionary-minded individual and his advice to refrain from negative behavior is actually in keeping with gospel principles. I think if he really wanted to censor that he would have just emailed me directly since he knows BiV personally as he was my mission president and still has contact with us.

I am sick of the anonymous brother in Vernal who has constantly attacked my wife over the years even telling her to get out of Vernal when we lived there and how she should be fired from a job that she did well. Anonymous is a reverse missionary who doesn't have the strength of character to make himself known. I appreciate him since he helped me decide to leave there and come work for Muslims who are better employers than those in Vernal. I don't agree with BiV in her liberal ways but at least I can accept the diversity found in the Blogernacle helps me to consider alternate viewpoints that cause me to strengthen not weaken my faith. I respect anonymous's opinions also since as an ultraconservative I also don't like people to attack the authorities. In this case Elder Ballard can take care of himself. The leaders were protecting members in a place where freedom is limited. I also agree that BiV takes on issues that are sensitive but like the old Seventh East Press, Sunstone, and Dialogue we see things we might otherwise have missed.

Bored in Vernal said...

Play nice, boys and girls.

Actually, I think the phrase, "I know the Church is true" deserves a close inspection. I really like the rifle analogy; however, Rich is correct when he says that this is not what most members have in mind when they repeat the phrase (mindlessly?). I'd like to write a post exploring this idea further. Join me later and I hope we can look at it thoughtfully.

Other thoughts: What is profanity? Does using a word like "shit" really constitute sin? Or is it more a way of revealing your level of class and/or inability to articulate powerful emotions clearly? :)

Rich said...

I'm really not a profane person (heck, I can't even bring myself to spell the whole word out!). And nobody was around to hear me say it. I certainly wasn't bragging about it! But such words do, I must admit, indicate a level of disgust/anger/emotion that more polite terms fail to do. I'm not making excuses however, profanity isn't something I happily indulge in (plenty of guilt here without Stephen's help).

I also don't make a habit of (what may be perceived here as) "speaking ill of the Lord's anointed". I sustain him as an apostle (believe it or not). But that doesn't mean that I cannot have an opinion about when members (him included) mindlessly toss about cliches like "the church is true" without realizing all the potential implications (positive and negative). We should be living the gospel thoughtfully, and be willing to examine our church culture and it's sometimes flawed ways. If nobody speaks up, nothing ever changes. As to politics, the Church needs more than ever to practice what it preaches, otherwise it very much deserves to be called out for hypocrisy.

Rich said...

I should give an example that illustrates my concern about the declaration that "the church is true" (with it's implicit "therefore your church is NOT true"):

I grew up in So. Cal, and moved to Utah about 18 years ago where I've raised my daughters. I live in Utah County, and keep in mind that in some neighborhoods we're talking 98% LDS.

One of my daughters came home from Jr. High one day very upset. One of her teachers had invited a Baptist minister to come tell the class about his beliefs. He was soon set upon by the class (by the LDS kids), with ridicule and scorn and mocking, to the degree that he left the classroom in tears! My daughter was filled with disgust and dismay at his treatment. How did this happen? Why here, in the midst of Zion? Our kids -- these kids, are the barometer of this culture. Just how do you think they come up with the idea that we are true and everyone else is false, everyone else is lost, everyone else is wrong, doesn't have the Holy Ghost, doesn't understand the spirit, isn't saved, etc. etc? From the time they are old enough to talk, we march them up (peer pressure, being enamored with the microphone, whatever the reason) to the pulpit and, like robots, teach them the first of two Mormon Mantras:
"And I want to bear my testimony" (notice that every sentence begins with the word "And"), "...And I know this chuwch is twue, and I love my family and fwiends, and I know that Gordon B. Hinckley is the twue pwophet, in the name of J.., Amen!"

Do the kids actually KNOW this? I highly doubt it. But they are cute, mom and dad are proud of their little Jr., little Jr. is given positive reinforcement by seeing 300 adults smiling back at him as his voice echoes amplified through the chapel, and so it goes ever onward thusly.

My best friends growing up are non-denominational Protestant. They are some of the most Christ-like people I know -- in many respects put me and my walk with Christ to shame. My Priesthood doesn't amount to a hill of beans if I don't become like the Christ -- that's what life and the gospel is really all about. This Church is nothing if it doesn't help us become like the Christ, to change our very natures. We can talk all we want about authority and exclusivity, but in the end it's far more than what we believe or what we do, it's what we become. If what we've become are smug, holier-than-thou, prideful snot-nosed elitists, then our message to the world falls on deaf ears. "Preach My Gospel", the manual for current missionaries, thankfully embraces this idea, so that we no longer approach others with "We're right and you're wrong!", but rather with "we have some truths that we believe would enlarge and enrich the truths you already embrace" kind of spirit. That's really what I'm getting at here.

I also had a non-member friend/colleague follow me up here to Utah for employment. But he could not remain long in Utah County, in part because his kids were shunned by the LDS in their cul-de-sac in Provo, parents telling their kids that since his kids were not LDS, they couldn't play with them.

Oh, the other LDS mantra you ask? "Please bless this food that it may nourish and strengthen our bodies, and do us the good we need". I suspect God is pretty sick of hearing that one as well by now...

Bookslinger said...

Rich: Fortunately, the kiddie parade in F&T meeting has had the brakes put on it by church leaders, at least here in the midwest.

The counsel I remember hearing first hand is that children are welcome to come to the microphone if they can do so unaided and uncoached. I've only seen the mom-whispering-in-the-ear thing once or twice in the last 5 years.

I don't know what goes on in primary on F&T Sunday.

You wrote: "If what we've become are smug, holier-than-thou, prideful snot-nosed elitists, then our message to the world falls on deaf ears. "

True. And does it surprise you to see the Nephite Disease in Provo? I think I saw it 23 years ago when I entered the MTC. I've seen it here locally to a small degree. I can get pretty smug sometimes, er, often too.

But I don't think it's entirely or mostly traceable to the "mantras" many of us repeat at F&T meeting or in talks. Children pick up the attitudes from their parents that they see most often. And even more imporant, children, especially teenagers, can just be plain cruel.

What are you and your daughter doing to help improve the situation in your ward, stake, school, neighborhood?

Rich said...

What are you and your daughter doing to help improve the situation in your ward, stake, school, neighborhood?

Interesting you should ask; it actually came up last Sunday in our HP lesson (probably why it's fresh on my mind; this particular incident happened several years ago). It was thankfully well received by our quorum, and others shared similar sentiments. One small step at a time. This particular daughter just got called into the YW presidency in her Ward (she's now married) and I suspect/hope she'll be sharing that experience as she teaches the YW there.

Anonymous said...

What the hell is Kobol
Here is a letter from a Mormon trying to warn you what he/she knows. Note the reluctance of the writer to disclose his identity. Living in a Mormon enclave, perhaps he knows something about the Mormon church that you don't?

I read with interest David Hill’s Feb. 2 column about Mormonism. As a person who left the Mormon faith, I can get to the core of the problem of which voters should be aware.

In the Mormon temples, a vow is made to put the Mormon Church first. Before 1990, there was even a death symbol involved about keeping the vow (which has since been removed). In no uncertain terms, the temple vow promises to use all talents to further the Mormon (Latter-day Saints) Church.

Would a Momon politician keep his vow to the church always to put it first or would he be loyal to the people who vote for him? Which oath of trust would he break?

It is naive to think the agenda of the Mormon Church will be acceptable to all. Would he use his power to help religion get extra breaks and influence?

Mormons also agree to keep silent about the “sacred” vows they make in the temple. This creates a problem for the voter. When push comes to shove, would a Mormon who attends the Mormon temple put his church first? If he doesn’t, he has broken a vow. Either way, one cannot trust where the allegiance will lie.

Please keep my name confidential. I take a risk living in a Mormon community speaking out about the temple proceedings.

Thank you.

Idaho Falls, Idaho