Zelophehad’s Daughters

Do Honest Questions Aid and Comfort Anti-Mormons?

Posted by Eve

I
When my dreams showed signs
of becoming
politically correct
no unruly images
escaping beyond borders
when walking in the street I found my
themes cut out for me
knew what I would not report
for fear of enemies’ usage
then I began to wonder

II
Everything we write
will be used against us
or against those we love.
These are the terms,
take them or leave them.
Poetry never stood a chance
of standing outside history.
One line typed twenty years ago
can be blazed on a wall in spraypaint
to glorify art as detachment
or torture of those we
did not love but also
did not want to kill

We move but our words stand
become responsible
for more than we intended

and this is verbal privilege

–Adrienne Rich, “North American Time,” from _Your Native Land, Your Life_

Rich’s poem calls me to consider the ethics of speaking into any fierce public divide and the ways the polemics of appropriation can deform what I hope to say. The “political correctness” she describes in the first section shrivels her voice as she notes what she shrinks from reporting “for fear of our enemies’ usage.” I’m very reluctant to use the term “enemy,” especially categorically. I certainly don’t consider someone my enemy simply because he has left or disagrees with the LDS Church. But as I see some of the uses to which those who actively oppose the Church might put our words here, I’m tempted to recoil from those hard and merciful interrogations to which the thoughtful life calls me and to censor myself until I only dimly echo the aphorisms of unthinking consent. On the Internet, how easily our words can fall into the hands of those would concatenate them into inexorable chains whose conclusions we would abhor. It’s not difficult to think of examples, historical and contemporary, of words written and repeated in willful innocence of the ways they have been brandished in bloody triumph over others’ broken bodies and souls, some of which Rich goes on to name in her poem. So, to paraphrase a question once put to Christ, who is my enemy, and what, besides the love enjoined in the Sermon on the Mount, do I owe her? What do I owe the enemy of my enemy who might find himself assailed by my words in my enemy’s mouth? In addition to the obligations to integrity and to mercy that attend all communication, I wonder how to take ethical account of the sometimes bitter public divide between Mormons and anti-Mormons into which our words here now inevitably fall.

My faith and covenants make possible all my inquiry, which I hope to conduct in a spirit of devotion. Although I cannot control the uses to which my words may be put by others, and although I remain committed to welcoming every honest expression of faith or doubt and every sincere question, I hope to foster a dialogue that honors its constitutive faith, even, and perhaps especially, in its most acute, most heartfelt interrogations.

15 Responses to “Do Honest Questions Aid and Comfort Anti-Mormons?”

  1. 1.

    As you noted, the “war” paradigm is not well suited to this situation.

    Believing Mormons and Former Mormons are not at war, they simply believe different things. Former Mormons don’t get any benefit from reading about someone’s struggles; they are simply recognizing some of the same things they went through and often empathizing with spiritual struggles.

    Just because they ended up outside of the church does not make them dangerous. People can struggle with the same things and come out at different places.

    There is nothing wrong with believing different things.

  2. 2.

    I think that one should try to speak truth and it will be used for what it will, but the speaker has little to no control over that and therefore, isn’t responsible for it. I can’t help but think I’m on the “wrong end” of this scenario to post, but I’d like to hope I can be more objective than that… (for the record, I’m not Anti-Mormon, I’m just not active right now and possibly never again.)

    I think honest questions aid members (and non-members) in their quest to decide what’s right for them and what’s not. Ultimately, there will always be those who criticize The Church. I think your honest questions (whether or not they lead you away from the LDS church) are going to do more good than harm. In my opinion, that’s worth it.

  3. 3.

    My answer to your question is “probably.” But that’s their problem, not ours.

    They might have asked honest questions, too, and arrived at different answers, but that, too, is their problem.

    I agree with Ned. And they have a God, too, whether they know it or not.

    The thing that enrages me is the way people act when I ask an honest question in church. I think that response makes many questioners into former or anti-Mormons.

  4. 4.

    Well, I think there are multiple answers to this conundrum. First, those who are antagonistic to the Church will bend the words of all believers to their ends. Look at how the Journal of Discourses is treated.

    I think, however, that your post is geared more toward your own dialogic activities. The question then becomes not how much we self censor, but how exclusive you want your conversations to be. Dave and Justin are fascinating examples of this. Dave is an outspoken critic of certain aspects of Mormonism yet he is unflinchingly protective of the comments on his posts. Justin, master of Mormon history has been known to close his archives to limit discussion/access. Now, I am not championing such policies, but these are very credible voices in our community.

    I respect Ned allot, but I disagree with his perspective. I don’t support ex-mo love fests in the forums that I help manage. Just because you manage the discussion doesn’t mean that you have to sensor yourself.

  5. 5.

    Believing Mormons and Former Mormons are not at war, they simply believe different things.

    Has anyone ever told them that? No, it’s not all of them who shout and rail but I’d certainly say that that “vocal minority” standing outside the Hill Cumorah Pageant with their banners, signs and slogans (one was even dressed in a red devil costume) wasn’t trying to have a respectful discussion of anyone’s beliefs.

  6. 6.

    Nflanders, in at least one sense, I agree. I don’t see myself, personally, as at war with anyone, and I hope it’s not too presumptuous to guess that my fellow bloggers here at ZDs don’t, either. But I do think that war can be a helpful way to understand aspects of the blogging situation. For example, the United States is currently at war with Iraq. If I, a citizen of the United States, have a friend who’s an Iraqi citizen, whatever our personal feelings for each other and whatever our personal misgivings about that war, it will inevitably impinge, and little as we might like to, we will have to take account of that war in our friendship. Similarly, whatever our personal feelings, ideas, and agendas, just by blogging about Mormon issues, we place ourselves in a contested social space. To quote Joseph Smith, there’s a “war of words and tumult of opinions” out there (JS-H 1:10). As I’m guessing most of us have, I’ve seen Mormons, former Mormons, and anti-Mormons all denounce each other in the most vicious terms, both online and offline. I should make it clear that I absolutely don’t support that or any other war of mutual denunciation. I think it’s wrong to attack anyone for her ideas, questions, faith, doubts, religious conviction, or lack thereof. I’ve watched a number of close friends leave the church over the years, and I completely agree with you that people who leave the church aren’t necessarily any more dangerous than people who stay (and sometimes they’re considerably less so). I’m committed to welcoming all points of view that are stated respectfully–a commitment that I see as an expression of my faith.

    My concern is more with a personal ethical situation that goes something like this. I raise Question A (maybe some old chestnut like, why don’t women have the priesthood?). Some people who raise Question A come to Conclusion B (say, it’s time to leave the Church). I’m trying to raise Question A without any necessary connection to Conclusion B. As I see it, I’m just asking an honest question that’s important to me. But if I’m knowingly or unknowingly providing a steady stream of fodder for advocates of Conclusion B, at what point to I become responsible for feeding grist into that particular mill? At what point is my proclaimed innocence of the uses to which others may put my words willful and irresponsible? As Kishkilili recently put it on the “My Journey into Apostasy thread, “I would be absolutely horrified to think I’d eroded anyone’s relationship with Christ.” Me too.

    Annegb raises the flip side of this dilemma, which is the implied connection between Question A and Conclusion B in the LDS community. Again, as I see it, I’m just raising an honest question that’s important to me, but the fact that others who have raised Question A have come to Conclusion B and left the church scares some LDS–and, paradoxically enough, as Anne also notes, actually drives people out of the Church. I’ve seen too many Mormons tell other Mormons that they can’t ask X, believe Y, or explore Z and remain a faithful Mormon. I find that appalling. If this is Christ’s true church, why on earth are we trying to chase people away from it? The real irony is that those who see themselves as the most ardent LDS and the most ardent former LDS come to agree that Question A leads inevitably to Conclusion B. I hope ZDs is a place where we can interrogate the presumed necessary connections between Question A and Conclusion B.

    Jessica Benet, from my view, you are absolutely _not_ on the “wrong end” of this scenario to post. I so appreciate your respectful and honest observations. Please stay. We very much need to hear from people like you.

    J. Stapley, thanks for words of wisdom from someone who has considerably more experience at this tricky balancing act than I do. I think you put it very well.

  7. 7.

    Eve, I don’t much care what someone who is antagonistic might do, but I care greatly that I might create an abstacle for someone I know or care about.

    But mostly, I have found that I need to be honest with myself. Sometimes, under the pretense of honest seeking, I have been carefully and lovingly grinding a favorite axe. And it is so easy, when confronted, to say: “Hey, don’t blame me! I was just asking!”

  8. 8.

    I think it probably benefits the church when people discuss difficult issues openly. If ex-Mormons are the only ones willing to engage with, say, racism in the church or sexism in the church, then people with these concerns have a lot fewer resources in dealing with these problems.

    I wish people would be completely open about their problems and doubts with Mormonism, not because I want to help or harm the church, but because I think as humans we are happier dealing with our issues than pretending they don’t exist.

    I think the emphasis on not sharing our true feeligs for fear of damaging others’ testimonies is particularly not healthy. Truth doesn’t thrive in secrecy, it thrives only in openness.

  9. 9.

    It’s a difficult question. It reminds me of the debate over whether inflammatory talk radio shows bear any responsibility when some of their listeners decide to act on, say, the extreme dislike of government being advocated over the airwaves. I don’t have an easy answer.

    But in this situation, I just keep coming back to the fact that I truly believe it’s worse to not have a space for honest questions and discussion of difficult issues. I could be completely wrong about this, but my guess is that people aren’t really that likely to leave the Church simply because they encounter hard questions– what often pushes them out is the unwillingness of anyone else to really talk about those questions. At least in my own life, I can’t imagine that I could have possibly remained in the Church this long without having spaces where I could bring up my struggles and feel heard.

    The real irony is that those who see themselves as the most ardent LDS and the most ardent former LDS come to agree that Question A leads inevitably to Conclusion B. I hope ZDs is a place where we can interrogate the presumed necessary connections between Question A and Conclusion B.

    Very well put. I’ve also been struck by the irony of being told by both zealous Mormons and zealous ex-Mormons that I can’t, for example, claim to be both a feminist and a Mormon; I see black-and-white thinking about what it means to be a member of the Church on both sides. And along the lines of what Ned said, I don’t want to leave all conversation about tough things to the anti’s, because it leaves people in the immensely difficult position of feeling that they have to either deny the reality of their struggles, or deny their faith.

  10. 10.

    Thanks, Mark, for reminding me of something I too often forget, which is that honesty, like charity, begins at home. Someday I hope to learn to resist the joys of self-righteous indignation. In the meantime, I try to rotate my axes right along with my food storage.

    I also appreciate Ned’s commitment to telling the hard truths, both personally and institutionally. I agree that pretending gets us nowhere.

    And Lynnette, good point about not letting the anti-Mormons have all the tough issues and the resulting quandry that leaves people in. I’d never thought of it quite like that.

  11. 11.

    Thanks for being so kind about my comments. If I’ve come across as a wounded and overly-defensive person, I apologize. This just tends to be a sensitive topic for me. I suppose it’s a sensitive topic for a lot of people. I really appreciate you (and the other blog writers here) and your viewpoints on God and the LDS religion specifically. You’ve got (another) faithful reader! ;)

  12. 12.

    Jessica, FWIW, you haven’t come across that way to me.

  13. 13.

    Honest introspection aids and comforts Anti-Mormons?

    What does that say about Anti-Mormons?

    I think Ned Flanders has the most insightful comment here: “If ex-Mormons are the only ones willing to engage with, say, racism in the church or sexism in the church, then people with these concerns have a lot fewer resources in dealing with these problems.”

    In other words, people are going to have issues that they feel like they need to discuss. If the ex-Mormons are the only people who are willing to discuss church/doctrinal issues openly and honestly, then that’s where people with questions will go.

    On a somewhat unrelated note, you guys have a really cool blog here — I love your motto!!!

  14. 14.

    c.l. hanson, You make an excellent point. That’s one of the best reasons I’ve ever heard for dealing with the hard issues as Mormons. Thanks for the kind words and for stopping by.

  15. 15.

    I know I’m very late to the thread, but this really resonated with me. C.L. Hanson – you nailed it. There really aren’t many places to discuss difficult issues, other than FARMS, and unless you adore contention and fighting, it’s not the best place to go for answers. I went to my bishop for answers and he didn’t have any for me. Didn’t even make an attempt to help, just told me to let him know if there was anything he could do. He has a lot on his plate, so I’m not holding that against him – I guess my point is that there is no official church policy in place for helping members with doubts. You can’t talk about it in RS or SS. All that seems to be left is personal study and prayer. And that’s hard, when you’re already feeling full of doubt.

    I don’t know what the answer is, but I feel the hole. It gets tiring to just keep going and going, brushing all your questions to the side and trying to have faith. And there isn’t much support for people like me, other than at places like NOM, where disbelief is pretty much a foregone conclusion, instead of something you are strugggling with.

    And I think you have to be careful expressing doubt on the bloggernaccle, or you’ll get labeled a troll. IMHO I think the bloggernaccle is often very cautious in choosing what issues to post about, for fear of drawing the “wrong” kind of poster. I’d love to see a really substantial Book of Abraham post where I could hear how people resolve the related problems. If the only people willing to explain the tough issues are the antis, well – can you see how that is a problem?

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