Candid Comments from the Editor of Dialogue

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.


  1. Nate Oman says:

    Levi: Thanks for this. Very interesting stuff. I am not entirely comfortable with your typology. In particular, you define “liberal Mormon” as one “who believes you can reconcile human knowledge and Mormon doctrine.”

    I’ve two problems with this definition. First, it seems slightly too thin. I think that most self-identified liberal Mormons are concerned with more than simply reconciliation. They also view certain conservative aspects of the Church with distaste and hope (and on occasion try to work) for their eradication. This, however, is not simply about the reconcliation of human knowledge and doctrine. It is also about politics, broadly defined.

    My second problem is that implicit claim that those who do not self-identify as liberal Mormons are not committed to the reconliation of human knowledge with Mormon doctrine. Much “apologetic” work is not really about cherry picking positive evidence, as you suggest, but rather is precisely about this project of reconciliation.

    Ultimately, what I want to resist is the identification of critical thought, scholarship, honest research, etc. with a particular set of political proclivities.

  2. Levi,

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I was under the impression that the claim was that Dialogue was rathe rmore liberal during the 90s, and that this was linked to the tenure of certain editors.

    1. Do you think Dialogue was publishing more liberal things in the 90s?

    2. Was that tied to who the editor was?

    3. If yes and yes, it sounds like the editor does have sway to “go liberal” with the journal, at least for a few years. Do you have the symmetric ability to lean conservative or orthodox or what-have-you? If not, why the difference?

    “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”

    This quote says a lot about how you view the world :)

  3. This is a nice statement; I completely agree that Dialogue contains statements from a broad range of Mormon perspectives. I also agree with Nate’s concerns about the definition offered here of “liberal Mormons.” In some sense, every kind of Mormon is interested in reconciling human knowledge and Mormon doctrine. The question is one of prioritization: when there are conflicts, which side should be privileged and by how much?

    Apologetics, broadly speaking, involves working on this reconciliation project from any perspective other than that of simply rejecting faith in favor of human knowledge. In that broader sense, Nate and I are apologists, every bit as much as Louis Midgley or Daniel Peterson. Mormon usage, of course, tends to define apologists as those who are willing to firmly subordinate human knowledge to Mormon faith and doctrine–and with that common usage, Levi’s characterization of apologists may be apt.

    I suppose a “liberal” Mormon might be seen as someone who’s willing to give Mormon faith and human evidence and reason approximately even weight–and then agonize about it a lot?

  4. I know I’m uncomfortable with the term “liberal Mormonism,” mostly because it is polarizing without being particularly descriptive. As has been mentioned elsewhere, there is a ton of “liberal” scholarship FARMS, but the stereotype would defy the characterization.

    I have appreciated my involvement with Dialogue over the last months and appreciate your leadership, Levi. Mostly, I feel like an intruder, because I don’t feel like I fit into the boxes that have historically defined the community.

    In that spirit, I really appreciate folks like Kevin Barny and Blake Ostler that have blazed the path for the out of the boxers.

  5. Nate (#1): Care to offer a better definition of liberal and conservative Mormons? My sense of how the terms are used is that it largely involves how willing one is to challenge or accept declarations from Church leaders as reflecting the will of God. That is, the liberal is more apt to dismiss a statement of church leaders as uninspired if they do not agree with human knowledge while the conservative is more apt to consider the statement inspired and try to reconcile human knowledge to that statement.

    Also, I think liberal vs. conservative are often used synonomously with intellectual and anti-intellectual. In fact, this seems to be the connotation of the definitions Levi has offered. If so, by definition this doesn’t leave much intellectual ground for the conservative Mormon to explore….

  6. J.

    It took me a few reads to figure out your neologism there.

    Um, may I suggest that there might be underwear-related reasons why the phrase “out of the box” should not be attached to the suffix -er . . .

  7. Amen Kaimi. I pray that we may all remain safely inside the boxers on this thread.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    I was going to make a joke out of that, too, but couldn’t come up with an adequate punchline. Thanks, Kaimi, for stepping up.

  9. Mark Butler says:

    The irony here is that liberals seem rather more committed to the infallibility of human knowledge than the conservatives are to the infallibility of divine inspiration.

  10. I agree with Nate’s observation that my definition is too thin. That is the problem, of course, with defining a very complex concept succinctly as I have tried to do. The comments of Jonathan and Robert suggest that defintions can be needlessly restrictive. I would be interested in hearing other terms advanced as titles for the four categories of bias that I define in my blog. Maybe there should be more than four categories. (I don’t see how we can avoid categories altogether.)

    Frank, I won’t venture on whether the journal was more liberal during the 90s. The early 90s were an emotionally difficult time for many reasons, and it is hard to arrive at anything close to an objective interpretation of what happened. I agree that an editor’s bias counts for a great deal in the content of a journal. But the point of my blog was that my liberal bias is conditioned by many other influences. I am personally committed to seeking more submissions from the apologist point of view.

  11. I didn’t know you were the editor of Dialogue. I just read your book. It’s a wonderful book. That guy is so me.

    I didn’t want it to end.

  12. Nate Oman says:

    “Nate (#1): Care to offer a better definition of liberal and conservative Mormons?”

    Liberal Mormons believe that those who disagree with them are stupid anti-intellectuals.

    Conservative Mormons believe that those who disagree with them are evil apostates. ;->

  13. Melissa says:

    Hmm. Stupid or evil. Are those my only two choices?

  14. Nate Oman says:

    “Stupid or evil. Are those my only two choices?”

    I am affraid so… ;->

  15. Well, Melissa, those choices aren’t mutually exclusive. The bloggernacle is full of stupid evil people!
    (wait for it….)
    just visit T&S!

  16. sorry folks, that’s the closest I could come to a Jay Leno-style drumroll.

  17. Daniel Peterson says:

    It’s always fun to read what my brother Levi has to say. But I want to make sure that I’m included on any list of those who believe that “you can reconcile human knowledge and Mormon doctrine.”

    Does that make me a “liberal Mormon”? If so, I can hardly wait to tell some of my friends! They’ll be so pleased.

  18. Adam Greenwood says:

    “My sense of how the terms are used is that it largely involves how willing one is to challenge or accept declarations from Church leaders as reflecting the will of God. That is, the liberal is more apt to dismiss a statement of church leaders as uninspired if they do not agree with human knowledge while the conservative is more apt to consider the statement inspired and try to reconcile human knowledge to that statement.”

    Your first sentence is right. The second sentence is probably also right, but incomplete. It may fit some of the debates over historical questions or of Book of Mormon historicity, but it doesn’t account for debates that are essentially value questions, which is where a lot of the politics Nate O. mentions come in. Unless, of course, you’re including personal values as part of an individual’s human knowledge, such that the liberal Mormon could say ‘the church leaders saying that X is wicked conflicts with my human knowledge that it isn’t, so the church leaders must be uninspired,’ where the conservative would say ‘the church leaders saying that X is wicked conflicts with my human knowledge that it isn’t, so will attempt to reconcile or even discard my human knowledge.’

  19. Robert: That is, the liberal is more apt to dismiss a statement of church leaders as uninspired if they do not agree with human knowledge while the conservative is more apt to consider the statement inspired and try to reconcile human knowledge to that statement.

    So what about Mormons who looks at two conflicting theological views from modern apostles and choose between A and B? Maybe we should call those who choose the view from Apostle A “liberatives” and those who choose the conflicting view from Apostle B “conserverals”.

    I guess that might apply to apologists from Dan Peterson to Blake Ostler too since they also largely “believe you can reconcile human knowledge and Mormon doctrine”. Maybe the real question is who is a conserveral and who is a liberative…

  20. Melissa says:


    You have no idea how much I needed that laugh. I owe you a pie.


  21. Lamonte says:

    “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.”

    Levi – thanks for the entire essay but especially for the statement above. For me it is the best part of my religion. I often wonder, as I sit with my friends each week in church, if they are confortable with defining our theology as a “radical reinterpretation of traditional Christian concepts.” To be sure, the vast majority of the Christian world would define us as such and I’m perfectly comfortable accepting that definition.

  22. Melissa,

    I agree, Steve deserves a pie. May I suggest that you deliver it to him Three-Stooges style — five steps back, via overhand throw?

    And make it a cream pie. :P

  23. Adam Greenwood says:

    That’s what it takes to get a pie?

    So, uh, a liberal Mormon and a conservative Mormon walk into a bar, and, uh,

    The liberal Mormon says, let’s have a vote on whether we should have a drink. Unfortunately the vote splits 1-1. so the conservative Mormon yells, hey, anyone here Mormon? We need a tiebreaker. But no one responds.

    So the liberal Mormon doesn’t drink, and he starts to worry a bit that maybe he shouldn’t have suggested the vote. Was it really fair to his conservative brother?
    Meanwhile the conservative Mormon downs a beer.

    What? says the liberal.

    Hey, who’s going to rat me out? says the conservative. I’m the only Mormon here.

  24. Adam, while that joke is not pie-worthy, you may get a flaming bag of poo on your doorstep as a consolation prize.

  25. Levi (#10): I think categories can be useful, I just think your definitions could be improved, mainly b/c I think there are varying degrees of intellectual rigor inherent in the definitions you suggest. More useful would be definitions which put each category on the same intellectual footing.

    For example, I think JNS (#3) gives such a definition for apologist. And I think your definition of secular humanist fits this criterion. I think your anti-Mormon definition might work too, though I’d suggest non-Mormon rather than anti-Mormon. And, given the JNS redefinition for apologist, I think your definition for liberal works (though since you don’t label the apologist as conservative—for good reasons I think— liberal probably isn’t a very good label; anti-fideistic is probably more accurate, but quite a mouthful…).

  26. Robert, maybe we need to add a fifth category for the non-Mormon who is friendly. To my thinking, an anti-Mormon wants to see Mormonism go under.

  27. Thomas Wolfe’s “fiction-absolute” concept from his recent NEH lecture, “The Human Beast”: “Even before I left graduate school I had come to the conclusion that virtually all people live by what I think of as a ‘fiction-absolute.’ Each individual adopts a set of values which, if truly absolute in the world–so ordained by some almighty force–would make not that individual but his group . . . the best of all possible groups, the best of all inner circles.”

  28. Adam (#18): Good point, though in general I vote for more narrow and accurate category labels rather than broad and hence inaccurate labels. For example, I think “fiscal-conservative” and “social-conservative” are very handy terms in political discussions b/c so many people do not adhere to both social and fiscal conservatism, as many conservative Mormons do not adhere to both political and historical/theological conservatism.

    I do think that there is an anti-intellectual connotation of the term conservative Mormon as it is commonly used, which is where I think Levi got his definition for liberal above. I just don’t find this definition particularly helpful or insightful for an intellectual journal on Mormon thought to use since an intellectual (i.e. appealing to human intellect) approach is already presupposed.

  29. What about the terms faithful vs. skeptical instead of conservative/apologist and liberal? “Faithful” underscores the tension between faith and intellect, and “skeptical” describes the liberal’s proclivity to doubt church leader inspiration (or perhaps the term critical b/c of the double “critical thinking” and “critical of leaders” connotations?). Just brainstorming….

  30. What about the terms faithful vs. skeptical instead of conservative/apologist and liberal?

    Hehe… So what kind of theologically liberal-minded Mormon wants to be equated with “unfaithful”? I think labeling one side of an intra-religious divide as “faithful” is about as useful as labeling the same side “retentive”… (In other words, I think loaded terms ought to be scrupulously avoided.)

  31. Robert #29; I think there are some problems here–the “skeptical/liberal/whatever” perspective is a faithful person; this isn’t a person who rejects faith in favor of intellect. Rather, it’s a person who struggles between the two. But the labels you propose put the struggler in the camp of the faithless! At least some “liberal Mormons” would object, I think.

  32. Oops. Well, I guess I mean, “ditto, Geoff!”

  33. Oops, I think I just blanked on the “unfaithful/faithless” pejorative connotation. What about orthodox, does it have too many sect/schism overtones?

  34. jothegrill says:

    Perhaps this is too personal, but what about people like me? I’ve been very devoted to the church my whole life, but recently have learned things that greatly trouble me, but I still feel that the church is true, the leaders are inspired, etc. I’m very conservative in my actions (a.k.a. no caffiene, bad movies, gardening on Sunday and other silly little rules I make for myself), but perhaps not in my thinking anymore. So where do I fit?

  35. jothegrill, I think you’re a “BCC Mormon.”

  36. or, jothegrill, perhaps you’re a “regular human being.”

  37. Steve, are you saying “BCC Mormon” = “regular human being”? If so, then I must say you’re obviously right!!!

  38. I have to say excluding the term intellectual for conservatives is silly, even in the strictest sense. Certainly they could be very intellectual in their quest to understand the gospel. They may just go to “safe” or inspired sources to try and gain this understanding. A blanket statement about the intelligence of such a person is very unhelpful. As Nate pointed out, we are all trying to reconcile the gospel to at least our own understanding, if not man’s and societies.
    Joe- I also have to say that anyone who claims they have never had doubts either has a magic on/off switch on their brain, or is very afraid of doubt and therefore try to deny it. Yes, you are certainly a human to have doubts. The gap between behavior and belief and their interplay would lead to at least double or triple your current number of categories.

  39. Davis Bell says:

    Are Daniel and Levi Peterson really brothers?

  40. Davis: I asked myself that same question. I’m glad you posted it! ;-)

  41. jothegrill (by the way, that handle continues to puzzle me),

    It sounds like you’re splitting your doxy from your praxis. You’ve got heterodoxy, but orthopraxis. That’s not all that unusual of a combination, in my observance — I’ve known of numerous others who are more or less the same. That course can lead to interesting questions, though, about exactly how our beliefs link to our actions.

  42. Davis,

    Thanks, I was also thinking the same question.

  43. Levi Peterson says:

    Daniel Peterson writes: “It’s always fun to read what my brother Levi has to say. But I want to make sure that I’m included on any list of those who believe that ‘you can reconcile human knowledge and Mormon doctrine.’”

    Daniel and I are brothers in the Gospel. I am happy to own him as such. I wouldn’t mind a genetic link too, but as far as I know, we aren’t closely related. Peterson is as common a name in Sweden as Smith is in England.

    As far as I am concerned, if Daniel believes you can reconcile human knowledge and Mormon doctrine, that makes him a liberal.

    I would be interested in why the word liberal has become so villainized. It is a bad, bad word in Utah. Specifically, why?

  44. Levi,

    That’s a fine definition relying on classic liberalism, but not really a particularly interesting category divider.

    One could just as well define liberal as, “people who love children”. It’s a coherent definition, but more of a land grab than a useful category.

  45. In my view liberal means open to change and conservative mean distrust of change or new ideas. It is fascinating to me to look how new religions are established by new radical concepts by extremely liberal, radical individuals, then once established, change becomes more difficult, people want to stay in a comfort type of zone, but life and progression are not like that, so we will run into crises of faith, new issues to reconcile, as part of life.

  46. The irony here is that liberals seem rather more committed to the infallibility of human knowledge than the conservatives are to the infallibility of divine inspiration.

    Rather the general view of liberals is that they are committed to fashionable human knowledge and conservatives are committed to rumors and cultural dogma.

    Which makes Joseph Smith’s sermons on how he and the other brethren were flawed, human beings trying to find light and knowledge the same as the rest of the membership all the more poignant.

  47. I have to say that this probably isn’t the tagline that Dialogue wants to use in an effort to gain additional conservative readers and contributors:

    “By no means do all our editorial decisions reflect a liberal bias.”

    (emphasis added)


    Anyway, I’m not sure how inspired I am by the piece as a self-defense; it reads to me as: “Yes, I very nearly respect ‘conservative’ Mormons, who I define as people who look to the standard works for justification, but in the end, I pretty much think they’re all a bit off their rockers. Nonetheless, if someone manages to really impress me despite my admitted bias (of course, hardly anyone ever tries,) I might think about publishing what they say in my magazine. Or not.”

    I am in any case troubled by the notion that you think so many people publishing in the field of Mormon studies (i.e. all apologists, anti-Mormons, and secular humanists) are by definition rejecting either human knowledge or Mormon doctrine as worthy of integration with the other. Because anti-Mormons are obviously rejecting Mormon doctrine, and secular humanists are as well, but I don’t really see that many people who are accepting Mormon Doctrine while whole-heartedly rejecting human knowledge. Which is how you’re defining apologetics, I guess, but it leaves me even less likely to see you as open-minded, or Dialogue as a welcoming publication, than the quote above.

  48. jothegrill says:

    Thank you for responing to my question. I feel better. I guess I feel more of a part of things. And my nickname (for those who are curious) is my nephew’s fault. He was praying (when he was 3 or 4) at a family gathering and he gave thanks for “the grill” that his uncle married.

  49. Kimball L. Hunt says:

    Adam’s “conservative” Mormon — someone particularly adept at appearances and ward politics? — drinks since NOONE WILL KNOW, his being the ONLY MORMON THERE.” Laughs.

    That’s deep! As: What’s institutionally encoded within Mormonism is to make confidential stints of heteropraxy not that big of a deal while open discussion of heterodoxy is.

    But then again why should Mormonism be different than any other regimented institution! The only solace for mavericks, their perhaps bein “before their time”?

    — An occasional commenter at Times & Seasons both evil & stupid.

  50. Mark Butler says:

    Liberalism has become demonized because it has become not a synonym for progressive advance of the best and the highest within us, as true heirs of the tradition of our forebears, but rather for the nihilism and antinomianism – the theory that all ways of life are created equal.

    American conservatism (generally speaking) is liberal by any historic standard, but more a hybrid of classical liberalism and Burkean conservatism. The picture of American conservatives as hidebound defenders of the tyranny of the status quo is ridiculous. That is European conservatism of three centuries ago, not anything that ever had a significant constituency over here.

  51. Kimball L. Hunt says:

    It’s not that people want Liberal voices not to exist, they put greater trust in Conservatives for CERTAIN TASKS. In hard times and faced with intractable problems, we look for innovators whose promises seem worth our gamble. But the rest of the time we look for the most adept maintenance persons.

    And for a similar reason, it’s politician with Conservative bonefides who are best positioned to implement innovations in otherwise sacred cow areas to the Right. And vice versa.

  52. Levi Peterson says:

    Recently in my high priests group meeting, a brother, discussing Genesis and its account of the Creation, spoke of the so-called science of organic evolution as a pernicious falsehood.

    Would I be justified in applying the label of conservative Mormon to the speaker in my high priests group and the label of liberal Mormon to someone who believes Genesis need not be interpreted literally and that the science of organic evoltuion can be reconciled with Christianity?

  53. That is a good question, Levi. I tend think of the anti-evolution guy as a literalist and the others as not being literalist.

  54. Brother Peterson, I don’t think acceptance/non-acceptance of organic evolution is an element of liberal/conservative. I have extended family who I see as conservative, iron rod types, but who not only accept but embrace evolution as the mechanism for creation. If I had to apply to a label to your High Priests brother, I would probably use “biblical literalist.”

    Maybe your views of liberal and conservative are formed by your generation. Some of the views that may be ascribed to “conservative” Mormons seem to die out with the generation that holds them. For example, it’s been years since I’ve heard anyone call Roman Catholicism the Great and Abominable Church.

    Perhaps the early designations, liahona and iron rod, are more indicative of the differences than the liberal/conservative labels. “Liberal” and “conservative” have so much political baggage associated with them that it’s difficult NOT to think of them as pejorative terms when assigned to the “other.”

    I think it’s also important to recognize that like so many other labels, they live on a continuum. Hence many people who look first to the law and the prophets for their guidance will also look for and follow the inspiration of the Holy Ghost, while those who look first to the Holy Ghost for direction will also turn to the law and the prophets to spark that direction.

    And, as Romans 12 so clearly states, we need each other.

  55. Kimball L. Hunt says:

    Nate’s “stupid” and “evil” are more fun — and, ultimately, more revealing! lol — but in actual practice folks are temperate enough in speech so that we generally say everything to our personal right’s mere folk doctrine and to our personal left’s psuedo-intellectual —

    So, yeah, Levi:

    To YOU the guy’s a marquee example of conservative. But to some not-so-bible-literalist who yet proudly wears the conservative label — & by definition seeing a lot of YOUR beliefs psuedo-intellectual! lol — the dude’s just fringy or still tends to adhere to unenlightened folk doctrine. — P/s, also, the supposedly objective Mormo-orientologists on YOUR personal left are psuedo-intellectual while you’re to them still holding on to unenlightened, folk doctrines too! Not that I needed to point that out to you though huh!

  56. Ann,
    Wonderful point, we do need eachother. To say categories are unavoidable denies the fact that differences are never that cut and dry. There is always a spectrum. Labelling also in the end marginalizes one’s point of view by allowing others to discard it as they feel they can slap the label on it that dismisses it in their mind from serious consideration. Hence, the stupid and evil categorizations. Funny, but only becase a lot of truth lies underneath.

  57. Kimball L. Hunt says:

    Brigham’s times put things in stark contrast. Independent intellectuals were by very definition were considered apostate — uh at least eventually — and these (thereafter) NON-Mormon’s journals and associations and whathaveyou ended up being many of Utah’s secular institutions today. And then on the other side of this divide ya’ve got the Church’s institutions such as Brigham Young University. And, completely reasonably, within these institutions are built-in essential, definitional mission statements which counteract institutional drift towards this secular stance. And yet every once in a while a new crop of independently spirited folks shows up within the Church’s own institutions. To whom, I guess, conservatives quote Joshua 24:15!

  58. Daniel Peterson says:

    L. Peterson: “Would I be justified in applying the label of conservative Mormon to the speaker in my high priests group and the label of liberal Mormon to someone who believes Genesis need not be interpreted literally and that the science of organic evoltuion can be reconciled with Christianity?”

    D. Peterson: If you’re willing to consider ME a liberal, that might work. Sort of. And you’ve already signaled your willingness to classify me as such. But that seems, I think, a somewhat liberal definition of “liberal.”

    Nice articles in the Deseret News, incidentally.

  59. Perhaps an anecdote (ah… anecdote, the conquest of scientific thought) would be illuminating. When I was young, I was a cultural Mormon agnostic, and I went out of my way to emphasize my political leftness in Wasatch Front society. I did not believe in God but felt that a strong community, in the right hands, could be a good thing, and I felt no strong urge to eliminate Mormonism (Levi is correct that anti-Mormons would most like Mormonism gone). After a conversion experience, I was a long-haired barefooted college freshman with a burning and vital belief in God, Christ, and the basics of the Mormon message. I was open to church leaders having inspiration that would override my own sensibilities, but I was a thoroughgoing social gospel liberal in my political and activist belief, smuggling homeless people into my college dormitory and stealing food for them from the cafeteria. It boggled my mind to think that Christians could refuse to take a societal stand in favor of protecting the poor.

    Then I served a mission, and I returned quite rigid, orthodox, and emphatically apologetic in my scriptural and periscriptural focus. My Mormon college friends found me tough to live with because I was so focused on righteousness, orthodoxy, and orthopraxis (should we say diakonopraxis?). Still, even while I wore short hair and white shirts and ties, I was amazed that people could vote with the conservative right on social/economic issues. A few years later, I was less rigid and demanding of my own faith or of others’ faith. And my politics have remained the same, a belief, basically, that the conservative political vehicle has been used to “grind the poor.”

    And even now, a devout Mormon and fan of all the ultra-liberals whose essays are in the book my wife edited this year for Beacon Press, my religious faith leads me to reject pornography as a blight on our society (though I haven’t sorted out where the First Amendment stops/starts), and to want to emphasize the beauty and potency of family commitments.

    Would it have been right to call me a liberal Mormon when I could quote at length from Bruce R. McConkie and Joseph Fielding Smith, and did so faithfully? When I eagerly promulgated Nibley’s theory of Book of Abraham origins or counseled other students as a bishopric counselor on how to maintain their faith and commitment to the Gospel? I was a Massachusetts Democrat then and was quite emphatic about our societal (not just personal) responsibility to the poor. I was then convinced that however you ultimately decide about homoerotic feelings/interactions/relationships, you’re still a Christian, and your primary obligation is love and service.

    Would it be right to call me a conservative Mormon now because I pay tithing and follow LDS Qashrut? how about because I am sympathetic to anti-pornography movements? What about because I affirm Book of Mormon historicity and Joseph Smith’s prophetic calling?

    Or am I a liberal Mormon because I am politically left? Am I a liberal Mormon because I don’t wear ties to church? Or because I read Dialogue, buy books from Signature, and read widely in secular humanism and the contemporary academy, as well as the scriptures?

    Perhaps we should let people categorize themselves within our faith community, rather than categorizing on their behalf. We should ask Daniel Peterson to define his public Mormon persona in terms he prefers. Ditto his “brother” Levi.

  60. Levi Peterson says:

    smb: Thanks for your detailed account. I can see your point about the mixture of liberal and conservative traits in all of us.

    As for Daniel, I suppose he will prove a mixture too. I for one do regard it as a liberal trait to believe that evolution and Christianity can be reconciled.

    As for defining my Mormon persona, it will soon be before anyone who wishes to read my autobiography, which is only just now available from the Univerisity of Utah Press.


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