When I was asked several months ago to prepare an abstract of a speech I had been invited to deliver, I wrote that editing Dialogue had mellowed my liberal Mormon bias and made me more tolerant of the bias of others regarding topics about Mormonism. “I find myself equally at peace,” I wrote in the abstract –with the liberal Mormon who believes you can reconcile human knowledge and Mormon doctrine, the Mormon apologist who defends the faith by citing only the positive evidence, the anti-Mormon who regards Mormonism as a dangerous perversion of authentic Christianity, and the secular humanist who approaches Mormon studies with the objective eye of a naturalist. I admire and respect them all.”
Between writing the abstract and delivering the speech itself, I thought a good deal about my declaration of neutrality and decided I would have to renege on it to some degree. The truth is that I do not admire and respect the apologist, the anti-Mormon, or the secular humanist as much as I admire and respect the liberal Mormon. Nonetheless, it remains true that editing Dialogue has required me to a considerable degree to suspend my liberal bias. I try hard to look at each submission in terms of the quality of its research and writing and of the contribution it makes to the expanding debate over the doctrines and practices of people who identify themselves as Mormon regardless of its obvious point of view.
I grant that the majority of articles published in Dialogue have a liberal Mormon slant. This is because the large majority of submissions have that slant.
I don’t think that the founders of Dialogue thought of themselves or of the journal as liberal. When the journal was founded in 1966, the term liberal Mormon was not current. Perhaps it hadn’t even been coined yet. But the enormous popularity of an essay published in their second issue, Richard Poll’s sermon, “What the Church Means to People Like Me,” (Vol. 2, No. 4, 107-117) showed where the journal was headed. That is the sermon, of course, which coined the terms Liahona Saints and Iron Rod Saints, who, as Poll emphatically insisted, are “involved Church members who are deeply committed to the Gospel but also prone toward misgivings about the legitimacy, adequacy, or serviceability of the commitment of the other” (107-108). I for one regard those terms as near, if not precise, synonyms for the terms liberal Mormon and conservative Mormon.
In my judgment, by their very willingness to consider all sides of Mormon issues, the early editors of Dialogue determined its liberal character. Mormon writers who were willing to consider all sides submitted manuscripts. Mormon writers who insisted upon considering only the view endorsed by the Church–seemingly a trait of the conservative Mormon–didn’t submit manuscripts, perhaps not wishing to be seen in the company of alternate views upon Mormon issues.
Regardless of that, Dialogue remains open to the conservative side on Mormon issues. I welcome, the editorial staff welcomes, well written, well researched submissions of a conservative character, particularly if they advance beyond what has previously been written.
As for my own liberal bias, I will observe that in actuality I am not in a position to impose it on the journal even if I felt like doing so. I am very much a part of a cooperative effort. My purpose is to be guided by collective rather than personal values. For one thing, I am hired by Dialogue’s board of directors. Once a year, they exclude me from a half hour session of a board meeting to discuss my performance. They have the legal right to fire me if they find it necessary. For another thing, I also depend enormously on my subordinate editors and on the expert reviewers who voluntarily referee submissions. Finally, all of us, the board of directors, the editorial team, our expert reviewers, and I myself try hard to judge what our readers value. Dialogue has a constituency. I judge that many of Dialogue’s subscribers share a liberal bias–but not all of them. By no means do all our editorial decisions reflect a liberal bias.
Furthermore, there is some truth to what I said in the abstract I spoke of earlier about my having undergone a “spiritual growth, a change into a more inclusive frame of mind.” It is a fact that editing Dialogue has educated me. It has expanded my intellect and my moral personality.
People often speak of Mormon theology as if it is a finished body of thought. It isn’t, not at all. Its radical reinterpretation of traditional Christian concepts is an ongoing process with no end in sight. A surprising variety of scholars, researchers, and thinkers, many of them with no training or professional specialty, contribute to the growing corpus of Mormon theology–further evidence that human beings instinctively try to provide a basis in logic and reasoning for their core beliefs. I for one am fascinated by this phenomenon. I feel privileged to look in on the philosophical buttressing of the premises and implications of Joseph Smith’s revelatory declarations. Furthermore, as editor of Dialogue, I take it as my professional duty to facilitate this process among the Latter-day Saints.