Monday, July 13, 2009

Church Doctrine is Like the Bloggernacle

Bloggernacle aficionados have been trying to define our little corner of the internet for years now. Everyone has a vague idea of what the term encompasses, and some stand ready to provide a concise definition, but it somehow resists pinning down. In this way, the bloggernacle is quite like Mormon doctrine* itself.

In a serious attempt to provide a working definition of the Bloggernacle, DMIDave wrote:

A Working Definition of "the Bloggernacle"

Blog•ger•nac•le \'blä-gur-na-kul\ noun [shortened from Bloggernacle Choir] (2004) 1:The set of all personal weblogs that host discussions of Mormon-related topics from a relatively faithful perspective.
In this definition Dave excluded, among others, blogs by institutions which seek to further their institutional mission or agenda, and blogs that do not have a "relatively faithful perspective." This definition, while helpful, leaves plenty of room for argument among Mormon bloggers.

In the past year, we have seen the arrival of many Mormon "Mommy bloggers" on the internet. Some of these blogs are limited to chatty accounts of daily activities and pictures of sunny, smiling children. They are considered outside the pale of the Bloggernacle because they deal with personal subjects which do not apply to all participants. But some of the Mommy blogs include discussion of Mormon topics. And some of the Mommy bloggers have close connections (spouses) to important Bloggernacle personalities. Therefore some people include them as part of their personal Bloggernacle definition, and some do not.

Mormon doctrines which are similar to the Mommy blogs might be teachings such as:
Male Priesthood holders should wear white shirts to Church, and especially when passing the sacrament.
To some this instruction may seem to be simply a practice which is not mandatory or applicable to all situations. But to others, this is a part of their "Bloggernacle." Both Jeffrey R. Holland and Dallin H. Oaks have equated this to the wearing of white clothing during sacred rites such as baptism or temple ordinances. Since apostolic authorities have taught this practice within the formal purlieu of General Conference, it is included within many members' body of doctrine.

Other blogs which are often excluded from the Bloggernacle are professional blogs. But there is a great deal of overlap from these blogs, too, making their inclusion in our genre debatable. When Dave's post was written, he specifically excluded blogs such as Sunstone blog from his personal conception of the Bloggernacle because of its corporate connection. But this calls into question blogs such as Segullah, which is also affiliated with a professional journal, yet is firmly ensconsed within the hearts of many of the Mormon bloggers. Closely related are "commercial" blogs--those which allow advertising on their sites. Should these types of blogs be included in a set of personal weblogs? I think the controversy here lies in how the blogging is implemented. Closely related in terms of Mormon doctrine are issues such as:
How shall tithing, fast offerings, home teaching, temple attendance be executed?
This can greatly differ from ward to ward, individual to individual.

There are blogs whose authors do not participate elsewhere in the Bloggernacle. Thus, they are overlooked though their blogs may fit the definition above stated. Conversely, there are blogs which may be included only because their author is a well-known commenter on the big blogs. I will compare this to doctrines which have been taught in the past and have now fallen out of favor, such as:
The planet Kolob is a planet close to the actual location of the residence of God.
or the prohibition against birth control. Or things which are now taught that never were in the past such as not having multiple piercings. These types of things find varying degrees of favor among active Mormons.

There are many doctrinal issues which are nebulous in the LDS Church. They range from the inconsequential, like whether members should use the cross as a religious symbol, to the deeply theological. Does it disturb you that there is great disagreement among members on such issues as the following:
  • The possibility of movement between kingdoms in the hereafter
  • Whether polygamy is practiced in the celestial kingdom
  • Whether sin can be completely forgiven, as it it had never happened, or if it leaves a mark
  • God is living in or out of time
  • How to reconcile teachings of past prophets and present prophets
  • The nature of the Fall
  • The nature of the Atonement
  • Whether ethnic groups such as Polynesians or Native Americans have Lamanite blood

Observing the degree of disagreement and the intense emotional reactions which occurred during our recent Niblet thread makes me wonder what it might take to set off a similar reaction in the Church concerning doctrine. Exactly how unified are our current set of Church authorities on the above issues? Is it to our benefit or detriment that these doctrines are left undefined and nebulous?

*For the purposes of this post I define "doctrine" as a body of teachings, principles or policies taught or advocated by a religion. Think: the many topics which merit inclusion in Bruce R. McConkie's "Mormon Doctrine."


Clean Cut said...

"Is it to our benefit or detriment that these doctrines are left undefined and nebulous?"

This is an excellent question! I've gone back and forth in my mind on the pros and cons of each. I look forward to other responses. (I'm still working through the haze...)

John Gustav-Wrathall said...


I've been wondering myself recently about the relationship of the "Mormon Queerosphere" to the mainstream "Bloggernacle." The Mormon (or "Moho") Queerosphere consists of a network of gay Mormon bloggers -- which includes bloggers who remain active Church members and are committed to remaining so; bloggers who are excommunicated/completely alienated from the Church, but are still interested in the doings of the Church (especially when the Church intervenes in gay rights issues such as Prop 8); and (smallest category, including me) those who are excommunicated/outside the pale because we remain committed to same-sex partners, but who also are what might be called, for lack of a better term, "faithful."

There are gay men and lesbians (MikeInWeHo springs readily to mind) who participate mostly in the Bloggernacle and who don't really participate in the Mormon Queerosphere. There are a few Moho bloggers (like me) who participate marginally in the Bloggernacle, and a few Bloggernaclenes (like you), who dip your toes into the Mormon Queerosphere.

There are segments of the Mormon Queerosphere (though not all of it) that meet your definition of the Bloggernacle. I don't know if most Bloggernacle participants know about my blog, or if they do, if they consider it part of the Bloggernacle. But if I were to self-identify, I would definitely consider myself to have a "personal weblog that hosts discussions of Mormon-related topics from a relatively faithful perspective."

I would probably participate in the Heteronacle more, except that every time I do, it arouses certain hostile reactions from certain Bloggernacle denizens. (I think you know who the usual culprits are.) Not that they're not entitled to express themselves, but it gets tiring for me to constantly have to answer the same questions and make the same explanations (and be put in a position where I feel like I have to justify my existence as a human being). So it gets tiring... I'm willing to do it, but only in small doses.

(As an aside... My guest post at Mormon Matters led me to write How the Scriptures Relate to the Issue of Homosexuality, which continues to be one of my most read posts. I think it averages 3-6 page views per day. It has also attracted more hate mail than any other post I've written. I'm proud of the post, and probably never would have written it if it hadn't been for your invitation to me to participate in the Hetero Bloggernacle.)

But apart from the fact that the Heteronacle tends to be less gay friendly... Gay Mormons are generally wrestling with theological and spiritual issues on which hinge literally our survival and sanity. Many Moho bloggers struggle with depression; deal with friends and family who have committed suicide; are dealing with extreme marital distress; and are coming to terms with the dismay caused by the Church they love taking arms against them in the political arena. We're writing for our lives... That more than anything else probably explains why I tend to stay mostly rooted in the Moho Queerosphere.

I frequent a few blogs that are the exception (like yours) because, well, you've become a friend, and I like it here...

I apologize for the long rambling comment, but I have been thinking about this lately. I wish the Hetero Bloggernacle and the Mormon Queerosphere were more connected. I am interested in dealing with theological/spiritual/church historical issues that might be of interest to non-gay Mormons; I wish the Hetero Bloggernacle were more gay friendly. (MikeInWeHo always has his work cut out for him.) Are we all part of the Bloggernacle? Or maybe is it appropriate to talk about "Bloggernacles," or "Stakes" within the tent of the Bloggernacle.

Bored in Vernal said...

I love that comment, John--

I'm more inclusive than most, and I love all of the blogs which grapple with Mormonism. So I guess it's not surprising that I also find the oddball Mormon doctrines fascinating and worthy of consideration--even it it's only in a figurative or symbolic way. I know it's crazy to give credence to men in Quaker dress on the moon, but it's cool to wonder why that was said and what was behind it, and the meaning it had to the individual who considered it part of Mormon doctrine.

Just like so many bloggers are missing out on a spiritual experience by refusing to acknowledge the Moho Queerosphere, so too are we missing out by flat-out rejecting our peculiar Mormon roots.


The wise person questions... "everything"

If one is "afraid" to look outside of the box... one may never find the actual Truth.