Think about the following statements:
1) I have serious doubts about Book of Mormon historicity.
2) We need to return to the Constitution, and resist the ungodly socialist plot threatening America.
3) I have extensively researched the topic, and have concluded that the Lost Ten Tribes are on the moon.
4) I think women should have the priesthood.
5) The Book of Mormon supports progressive views (and thereby Democratic candidates) in its strong advocacy of social justice.
6) It’s a good thing we don’t leave things up to the men, because they would never get anything done.
7) I can’t believe that Sister Y wore that to church; doesn’t she know that that fashion went out ten years ago? The women in this ward clearly have no idea how to dress.
My question: which of these, if shared in church, will get you labeled as “one of those dangerous members”? Or if on a blog, will get your blog labeled as “fringe” or “less faithful”? And why?
In my experience: (1) and (4) are the ones most likely to get you in trouble. (3) will probably get an eye-roll, but more a label of “crazy” than “apostate.” Depending on the ward, I would say (2) is likely to get you some enthusiastic agreement, but likely some annoyance as well, though the latter might be more muted. If you’re in a place where conservative politics reign, (5) might cause people to go so far as to challenge your testimony, but again, that would depend on your ward.
What I find striking, however, is that when it comes to (6) and (7)–maybe some people will cringe, maybe some will laugh. But it’s extremely unlikely that your faithfulness will be called into question. Because sexist generalizations, or making fun of people’s fashion choices, are not culturally transgressive in the way that expressing doubt or disagreement is. If you’re on a blog, they won’t be used as a litmus test to see whether you get to be classified as “faithful” or not.
It’s often argued that Mormonism is more about orthopraxy than orthodoxy, and I think there is merit to that. But I also think it’s telling that there are certain forms of behavior clearly condemned by our scriptures—the Book of Mormon has a lot to say about (7), for example—that have little or nothing to do with boundary maintenance when it comes to what it means to be a faithful Mormon.
I’m not arguing for stricter boundary maintenance; that’s a more complicated issue than I want to tackle here. I’m simply suggesting that those who are drawing circles of orthodoxy and setting up particular criteria for faithfulness are, like the rest of us, picking and choosing when it comes to which issues get prioritized.