"I Respectfully Dissent"

When a Justice of the United States Supreme Court disagrees with an opinion rendered by the majority of the Court, he or she often will file a dissenting opinion. These opinions traditionally include the words "I respectfully dissent." Even when the Justice passionately, vigorously, strenuously disagrees with the majority, it is customary to include the words "I respectfully dissent." (For an exception, see here). More than just a nod to decorum or a tip of the hat to tradition, this act is emblematic of the strength and vitality of the American republic. It demonstrates that even on issues of tremendous import involving, quite literally, life-and-death issues, we can treat one another with dignity and respect. The peaceful exercise of ultimate power is our nation's greatest triumph, in my opinion, and it is reflected in the simple phrase used by Supreme Court Justices in their dissenting opinions.

In religious discussions on the Internet (including here at Equality Time) and "in real life" the ideal exemplified by our nation's highest jurists is seldom achieved. I think participants on both sides of a given relgious debate contribute to the problem. On the one hand, religious devotees are often thin-skinned, unable to dfferentiate between criticism of an idea and personal animus. On the other hand, some who criticize religious dogma sometimes do engage in ad hominem attacks. On balance, I think that, at least on my blog, the discussion board I help moderate, and the blogs on which I comment (all dealing with Mormonism), the biggest impediment to a dialogue that could result in mutual understanding (if not ultimate agreement) comes from a mistaken belief among devout religionists that those who criticize specific religious ideas or practices lack respect for people of faith. For me, nothing could be further from the truth and I must say to those who hold such views, I respectfully dissent.

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The Message of "The Mormons"

In reading the comments around the DAMU and the Bloggernacle over the last week on the PBS dcoumentary The Mormons, one thing became clear: mainstream believing members of the LDS Church reacted very negatively to the program.  As noted in my earlier reviews, many who expressed their displeasure cited an alleged lack of balance and perceived inaccuracies (generally without supporting their assertions).  Many also lamented the amount of time spent on the Mountain Meadows Massacre.  I think, though, that what really made devout Mormons squeamish, what really set them off, was the subtext that ran throughout the documentary.  They might have been able to stomach the Mountain Meadows segment if not for the way it was used by the producers to accentuate what I think is the main message of the documentary: that for whatever monumental changes Mormonism has undergone from its inception to today, one constant has remained a bedrock principle of the religion, and it is this fact that justifies, at least to a degree, the trepidation many feel about having a Mormon in the White House.

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Guide for the Inquisitive Mormon

When I first began scouring the Internet, looking beyond the official LDS Church web site, FAIR, and FARMS (now the Maxwell Institute for Silver Hammer Research or some such thing) for information about Mormonism, I found many sites with gold mines of information. But I found it difficult to locate specific information on topics of interest to me. It was only through a lot of trial-and-error and random reading, searching, and clicking that I was able to find the information most useful and relevant to me. I kept wishing that there were one or a few sites with a wealth of easily accessible information on the issues most germane to someone in the early stages of questioning the foundational claims and assumptions of Mormonism. A couple years and many hours of on-line searching later, I have identified what I think are the best sites offering an unvarnished look at Mormonism. Some of these I have included in the left sidebar here at Equality Time.

I imagine this blog entry can serve as something of a guide to Mormon investigators just beginning to dip their toes into the waters of “uncorrelated” Mormon history, doctrine, policy, and culture. So, here are my suggestions for someone just starting down the road of discovering the truths that Boyd Packer finds “not useful” but which you might find enlightening indeed.

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Dutcher's Departure

LDS Filmmaker Richard Dutcher’s (God’s Army; Brigham City; States of Grace) recent announcement of his departure from the LDS Church has made waves in the Bloggernacle and the DAMU over the last week. Yesterday, Dutcher posted a comment explaining his decision to leave the church at the liberal faithful LDS blog By Common Consent. I appreciate Dutcher’s comment and can relate to his sensitivity about the prospect of being judged unrighteously by the members of the community he is leaving behind. The experience of many who have become disaffected with Mormonism leads me to believe that Dutcher’s fears are justified. Indeed, Dutcher was mercilessly attacked in print by orthodox LDS film director Kieth Merrill (who later apologized). I post Dutcher’s comment here in the hope that it will help folks understand that good people, talented people, intelligent people, honest and sincere people are leaving Mormonism not because they desire to sin, not because they are filled with pride or arrogance, not because they have been deceived by Satan or been wiled away by the enticements of the finely dressed denizens of the Great and Spacious Building but rather because they are being driven away by church leaders who, in paroxysms of orthodoxy, have created a church culture antithetical to art and science. Many true-believing members have expressed their sorrow at Dutcher’s departure. I join with them in expressing my sorrow. I have a feeling that they are sorry for Dutcher. I am sorry for the church whose loss this really is. Dutcher's comment appears after the jump.

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The Disaffected Seminary Experience

Perception is an interesting thing. It's amazing how you look at everything in the world a certain way, and it all makes sense. Unfortunately, the world doesn't make sense, and that's why I look at all of the aspects in my life in a different light.  For example,  attending seminary from a disaffected Mormon  perspective  is   not only captivating, it's amusing

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Should I Stay or Should I Go?

Should I stay or should I go now?
Should I stay or should I go now?
If I go there will be trouble
An’ if I stay it will be double
So come on and let me know

Ah, The Clash. So neatly summarizing the dilemma facing the newly disaffected Mormon.  The question of whether to stay connected to a church in whose teachings one no longer believes, or to leave and venture forth into the "lone and dreary wilderness" that so many former Mormons experience.

In thinking about this question off and on for the last 18 months or so, I have developed an analytical framework that is helping me get closer to a decision, a framework I hope may be helpful to the (legions of) readers of Equality Time.  In short, I can think of two main reasons to be an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. 

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Badgers? We don't need no steenking badgers!

In chapter 4 of "The Wind in the Willows", by Kenneth Grahame, Mole tries to go visit Badger without knowing the way.  He gets lost, and then Rat sets out to find him.  Rat finds Mole, but then it starts to snow, so they can't find their way home.  They happen upon Badger's door, and after rousing him, are admitted into Badger's house.  Badger welcomes them in, warms them by his fire, and then feeds them.

"He [Badger] sat in his arm-chair at the head of the table, and nodded gravely at intervals as the animals told their story; and he did not seem surprised or shocked at anything, and he never said, 'I told you so,' or, 'Just what I always said,' or remarked that they ought to have done so-and-so, or ought not to have done something else.  The Mole began to feel very friendly towards him."

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And the Thunder Rolls

When some members of the LDS church first discover the gap between church claims and reality, they feel betrayed. Upon learning that the LDS church is not all it claims to be, they feel no alternative but to leave it behind. If the church lies about its history and its foundational claims to exclusive divine authority, there is no reason to remain connected, they reason. A spiritual divorce inevitably ensues. Others who are exposed to the “dark side” of the LDS church, however, do not leave but choose to remain connected. Why do some stay and others leave?

At the new group blog for Mormons who are disaffected with some aspects of LDS doctrine, history, or policy but nevertheless remain connected to the church, John Dehlin has posted his reasons for maintaining activity in the church even though he holds views that many Mormons would consider to be unorthodox. He cites a number of “social, emotional, and spiritual needs” that are satisfied through his participation in the LDS church. By focusing on the personal needs that may be satisfied through church participation, I think John has identified one of the keys to understanding why some heterodox Mormons choose to stay while others see no alternative but to leave.

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Peace Is Overrated

A few months ago, a friend and fellow member of my ward discovered that I have been using the pseudonym Equality, posting on the New Order Mormon discussion board, and writing this blog that is often critical of the LDS Church.  In leaving an anonymous comment to one of my posts, this friend said he hoped I would find peace on my journey. I have thought a lot about that since then. And then this week, I attended a rehearsal for the ward primary program. One of the children said, “I can be prepared with the gospel of peace as I live my life. I will be free from upsetting thoughts brought by uncertainty.” And I thought about it again. As I reflect on the last year and a half or so since I began to re-examine my core religious beliefs, I can’t say that peace is a feeling I have often experienced. Of course, at some level, it was dissatisfaction with the status quo that led me to explore more deeply the fabric of my testimony and the foundations of my faith in the first place. I suppose if I had been perfectly content with my spiritual life as an active, “true-believing” Latter-day Saint, I never would have ventured forth into the Bloggernacle, to apologetic sites like FARMS and FAIR and, ultimately, to the NOM site and the rest of the DAMU.

Originally, my lack of peace came from a nagging feeling that truth was being obscured or suppressed. I had a feeling that my orthodox Mormon beliefs did not square completely with objective reality. At first, I dealt with the cognitive disconnect between faith and my understanding of science and history by seeking to shore up my beliefs. The church was true, it could bear scrutiny, I figured.  Surely, I would find good explanations for the things causing me discomfort—the whole truth must be out there and would vindicate my belief in the foundational truth claims of Mormonism. Once I obtained the answers I needed, I would have that certainty and once again be at peace. But it didn’t quite work out that way.

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New Order Mormon Song of the Week: Let the River Run

This week's New Order Mormon song comes from one of my favorite 80s bands: the Alarm.  The song is called Let the River Run, and ironically comes from my least favorite album by them, Raw.  But the lyircs speak to me.  I especially like the line about "there's no truth like the truth you dare to let yourself see." 

    The future's deserted waiting there for you and me
No past is going to stop us blowing down this road apiece
Why we've come too far, too far to turn back now
We can't just throw it all away when something good goes wrong, oh no
Nothing has been written which says which way we have to go
I'm not looking for commitment written in stone
No everlasting promise no no

Let the river
Let the river run
Let the water
Let the water fall
Flow down off the mountain
Into the sea
Let the river run, run its course

We've stood this ground too long there's miles to make up
Oh it's way past the time we found out if we're truly good enough
There's no truth like the truth you dare to let yourself see
Better face it now there is nothing to fear
Everything to gain right in here

Let the river
Let the river run
Let the water
Let the water fall
Flow down off the mountain
Into the sea
Let the river run
Let the river run
Run its course

Let the river
Let the river run
Let the water
Let the water fall
Flow down off the mountain
Into the sea
Let the river run

Let the river run
Let the water fall

The View from the Foyer

Just a quick administrative note.  For those who frequent Mormon discussion boards, the new Foyer discussion board has a new home.  It is no longer being hosted on Aimoo.  I have updated my sidebar or you can follow this link. The old View from the Foyer is still up and running for those who want to archive old posts.  The owners of the two sites are discussing the future of both boards.  For now, there is one community of Foyerites with two discussion boards.

Update on the update.  The Foyer now has a new name: Further Light and Knowledge.  Same great people.  Same great board.

A Tale of Two Josephs: How Smith Shows Campbell That There’s No Power in Myth

Note from Equality: The following post was written by my good friend Lunar Quaker and originally posted on his blog "Quaker Eclipse."  LQ has decided to guest-blog occasionally at Equality Time and asked that I archive this post here.

Joseph Smith was a master myth maker. In a period of about 15 years until his death, he succeeded in convincing thousands of people (and millions since) that a small group of Israelites sailed in a custom-built barge to America, forged a civilization that lasted for over a thousand years, and became the principal ancestors of every Native American in the western hemisphere. He also convinced them that this great civilization left behind a historical summary of their thousand-year history buried in his own backyard. The record was engraved on sheets of gold, in an unknown language called reformed Egyptian. An angel named Moroni told him where the golden record was buried, and through the use of magical seer stones he translated the reformed Egyptian characters to English. The resulting book became the most correct book of any book on the earth. The authentic Christian religion had been lost during the Dark Ages, and Joseph Smith was the man that was chosen by God to restore it to earth.

Not bad for a simple farm boy living in upstate New York. And we’re just scratching the surface.

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Like MacArthur to Corregidor

Like MacArthur to Corregidor, I have returned to the blogging world.  I have enjoyed my hiatus, having taken the time to review my previous entries and reflect on what I want to accomplish with this blog going forward.

My intentions with Equality Time are (1) to express my thoughts and feelings on my changing relationship with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, to which I have devoted my time, talents, and resources for the better part of two decades.  Re-examining the religion in which I once fervently believed has proven to be one of the great challenges of my life, and blogging about it serves not only as catharsis but also as a means of organizing my thoughts.  This, I think, has a beneficial effect on my mental health; (2) to provide an opportunity for others who are undergoing a similar personal transformation vis-a-vis the church to read and discuss some of the issues involved; and (3) to serve as a gateway to a host of information on the church and religion for those who may be exploring these issues.

It is decidedly not my intention to denigrate, mock, or ridicule anyone's beliefs.  It is not my intention to hurt anyone's feelings or to attack or tear down anyone's faith.  In looking back over my first four months of blogging, I realized that I did not always hit my stated target of engaging in reasonable and respectful discourse.  I hope, going forward, to write in a manner that, while critical of the church and certain aspects of orgnaized religion, will be reasonable, respectful, thought-provoking, and constructive.  For this reason, I hope to leave out of my posts  sarcasm, personal insults, or a mocking tone.  With respect to comments, I hope to be able to maintain a "hands off" approach and that people will engage in dialogue in which we can agree to "disagree without being disagreeable."  Let's leave the nonsense and personal attacks to other venues.  Thanks.

FARMS, Geographical Mitosis, and Cumorah's Cave

Note from Equality: The following post was written by my good friend Lunar Quaker and originally posted on his blog "Quaker Eclipse."  LQ has decided to guest-blog occasionally at Equality Time and asked that I archive this post here.

While the cave accounts may stir questions about the Hill Cumorah, perhaps the more important issue is what the firsthand witnesses may have learned from their encounters with the cave and, in turn, how their experiences were used to teach others. It is apparent from the existing records that many of the early church leaders viewed the cave experience as a legitimate event, whether an actual physical experience or a visionary one. By looking at the accounts and the context in which they were shared, one can see that regardless of the metaphysical nature of Cumorah's cave, it has served to teach important gospel principles—principles such as God's miraculous dealings with man, his dominion over all things, consecration, and continuing revelation.

Thus wrote Cameron Packer in an article published the FARMS Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, which can be found here. The article discusses the accounts of the early followers of Joseph Smith of a visit to a cave in the Hill Cumorah. In my opinion, the statement quoted above is one of the most ironic statements that I have ever read coming from FARMS. My reasons for this are given below.

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Why History Matters

Before I converted to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1989, I took an undergraduate class on Mormon history (I majored in History and minored in Religious Studies). The class was not taught by a Mormon but the professor was fascinated by early Mormonism, both for what we could learn about the religion and what we could learn about the early American republic through the study of this nascent American sect. I read a number of books on early Mormon history by both LDS and non-LDS scholars. It’s fair to say that I knew a fair amount about Joseph Smith and Brigham Young prior to my baptism, certainly more than the typical convert. I had also read a decent amount of what could legitimately be called “anti-Mormon” material. These works generally were written from an evangelical Christian point of view and were, for the most part, strident in tone, unimpressive, and unpersuasive. It was easy for me to dismiss them as agenda-driven screeds. After I joined the church, I continued to learn more of the history and the doctrines taught by past prophets and apostles. I read most of the 26-volume Journal of Discourses. I read everything I could find by Orson and Parley Pratt, etc.  I knew that Joseph Smith, not Brigham Young, had instituted polygamy. I knew that Brigham Young had taught some sort of strange doctrine in which he posited that Adam was God, the Father of Jesus and of us all. I knew that Brigham Young had been accused of being complicit either in the carrying out or the cover-up of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. And though I had questions about some things and was deeply troubled by others, I still remained fervent in my testimony and diligent in my service in the church. I was a true believer. So, the question naturally arises: why did the problems in church history not matter to me then but in recent months these same issues have been so troubling to me as to cause me to re-evaluate my belief and activity in the church? What changed?

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