William James

William James
We must get by on what truth we have today, and be willing to call it error tomorrow.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Is There A Middle Way Of Mormonism?

The question was put:

"I'm referring to Stay LDS/Mormon.


StayLDS.com is dedicated to helping people who are struggling in some way to remain involved in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. We are committed to being a supportive, positive environment in which people with any difficulty can commune openly and honestly in a spirit of love and support.

An overview of our approach to reconciling with the church after a crisis of faith can be found here.

Within our online support forum, no topic is off limits, as long as it is approached and discussed in a civil, non-threatening, understanding way. It is fine to express disappointment, frustration, despair, grief and any other manifestation of internal struggle; it is not acceptable to dwell on bitterness, anger and strident accusations. It is fine to voice institutional concerns; it is not acceptable to disparage or criticize individual leaders â?? or to condemn â??The Churchâ? itself.

We have also compiled a library of support resources to help people who are struggling to stay LDS, including:

* A multimedia presentation entitled â??Why People Leave the Churchâ? â?? to help family, friends and church leaders understand the point of view of someone struggling with the church
* A podcast feed (iTunes required) â?? including several audio interviews and presentations about staying in the church
* We are currently working on a StayLDS Wiki site â?? which will serve as a compilation of advice, perspectives and strategies for remaining in the church after a major crisis of faith.

This is not a place for polemics, debate or heated argument; it also is not a place for classic â??apologeticsâ?. While we would love to help anyone, this site is focused primarily on those who have moved past their initial feelings of bitterness and anger â?? or, at least, desire to do so and remain actively engaged with and/or within the LDS Church.
(Emphasis added)

A more detailed explanation is given at How to Stay in the LDS Church After a Major Challenge to Your Faith .


Once you move past the "true/false" paradigm, you can dramatically lower your expectations of the church. If you expect perfection from the LDS church, or if you dismiss all other churches as abominations -- you will likely be disappointed on both fronts. If the church leadership falls short at times in your estimation -- try to realize that they are all trying their best to fulfill their callings while balancing work, family, and personal stuff -- and stumbling a great deal along the way. As Paul said, "we see through a glass, darkly."


At another board John Dehlin wrote:


If you start w/ the fact that 60-70% of all LDS church members are completely inactive (or don't even consider themselves LDS) -- then add the fact that a big chunk of active LDS (70%?) do not have a temple recommend/pay tithing, etc......

I think it's not hard to make a claim that most LDS church members are engaging the church on their own terms.

For example, I think that 70% of active members do not believe in polygamy any more...in spite of the fact that it's still in D&C 132.

It's also my personal experience that most LDS folk do not have a hard and fast, literal, orthodox view of "the one true church" idea. If you speak with them one on one, they will almost always acknowledge that there are likely many pathways to heaven. Most will conclude, when lovingly nudged, that this is the best path they can find...and that if they are wrong....they will have not lost anything significant, and will have likely benefitted, by living a good Mormon life.

Anyway -- I think that far too often we listen to the words of the most vocally dogmatic within a ward and extrapolate those words out to the entire congregation -- when in reality, it is THEY (the dogmatic orthodox) who are in the minority.

Just my opinion and experience. Totally anecdotal.

What is your impression of John's anecdotal assessment? True or false? (Or, "middle way"?)

My feeling is that ultimately there is no "middle way", and numerous General Authority statements support this. Of course some people do create their own personal "middle way" (such as the Liahona).

From one apologetic viewpoint, Daniel C. Peterson:


I regard challenges to the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon as misguided. I think they're mistaken. I really do believe it's kind of an either/or, that either the Book of Mormon is historical, or if it's not, all the founding narratives of the church become ... problematized, to use the intellectual word for it. If there were no Nephites, who was Moroni? Where did the plates come from? ... Is God using deception? Is Joseph Smith using deception? Then what happens to all the claims of the church? It seems to me very hard to maintain a consistent middle ground there, and so I'm troubled by those sorts of arguments.

On the other hand I know people who are active, faithful members of the church who don't believe in the historical authenticity of the Book of Mormon. ... I'm not in a hurry to throw them out. I would like to convince them otherwise, but as long as they're doing their home teaching and doing the things they should be doing and raising their children well, I see no reason to take action against them, unless they begin to teach and advocate that in church meetings. ...
(Emphasis added)

PBS Interview.

So where do you stand? Are you one or the other, or a mixture of both?

And just for personal clarification, again from Stay LDS:


Nonetheless, we have corresponded with literally hundreds of disaffected Mormons over the past several years, and it always amazes us that an astoundingly large percentage of those who have left the church have not (in the long run) found the peace, solace and spirituality that they thought they find would upon leaving. Some have, we will admit. But a heavy percentage to this day write us to say, "I wish I could go back. I thought I wouldn't miss it, but I do. I desperately miss the church. I just don't know how to return, or how to make it all work."

That is not the case with me. And I would ask, is there really "an astoundingly large percentage of those who have left the church have not (in the long run) found the peace, solace and spirituality that they thought they find would upon leaving"?

If that really were the case, the Church would be reaping an enormous harvest of returnees. I don't see this happening."

To which I responded:

In some ways, I guess I wish I could believe in Santa Clause again. But that will never be possible, ever since the day I went into my mom's closet and saw all the presents that were about to be wrapped and distributed to the kids the next day as gifts from Santa. Now that I know the truth, I would never want to believe again what I now know is false. But what I still long for at times is the comfort which came from believing in that magical thing called Santa Clause.

Admittedly, this is an imperfect analogy. There is no "room full of presents," so to speak, that I have access to which proves the church false. In fact, despite all of my criticisms and vigorous disagreements with church doctrine, I still believe in the authenticity and wisdom of many of its purported revelations. For example, I believe God really did instill in Joseph Smith's mind the importance of taking care of our bodies and refraining from using harmful substances. I also believe Joseph Smith really was a prophet of God, albeit a flawed one, who, like all human beings, was influenced in his personal opinions, desires, background, and concerns which mingled with his perceived revelations to produce the Book of Mormon and other LDS scripture.

I believe there is "middle ground" in Mormonism, but it is the struggle of a lifetime to tread upon. A person with liberal religious views who identifies with much of the Mormon doctrine and way of life will almost inevitably be faced with an all-too frequent dilemma: whether to shut up and face the internal disharmony between your own intellect and what you are told, or instead to stand up boldly for what you believe in, knowing that you will likely be disciplined or even cast out for it. The problem is magnified tenfold if you have children and a more-believing spouse who wishes to raise them actively in the church.

I doubt that I will ever hold the view that nothing good can come from being active in the LDS faith. In my own life, it has brought me both immeasurable blessings and tremendous heartaches and disappointments. I suppose the biggest single thing, apart from social pressure, which keeps me in the church is hope- hope that one day, a critical mass of critical thinking will combine to bring about the humility needed for church leaders to correct what I perceive to be grave errors in church doctrine, policy, and culture. Until that happens, which I realize will likely not be in my lifetime or even in the lifetime of my children, it seems I will continue running the marathon, and will in many ways devote my life to bringing about in others the enlightenment I feel I have received. Sometimes I wonder whether my endurance and patience in this regard is a waste of my energy and my life. But as one poet once said, "When liberty lay wanting, no lives were lost in vain."

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