On Becoming a Liberal-Minded Mormon

I self-identify as a liberal-minded Mormon.[1] But I was just wondering, “How did I get this way?” I was pretty conservative as a kid, and it was not set in stone that I should grow up to become progressive in my religious views. So I thought I would think back over my life’s history and try to identify (at least some of) the influences that shaped my modern perspective on the faith.

My Father. My father was a conservative man, and when I was young I was similarly conservative-minded–largely from his influence. Politically he was a Republican; I remember that as a boy I supported Nixon (following his example). (He did like Jack Kennedy, but didn’t care so much for Bobby, for reasons I was too young to grasp.) Back in those days men in the Church used to be contrasted as either McKay Men or Lee Men (and before that, Clark Men), and my dad  was definitely a Lee Man. (To be fair though some of this came from the fact that he was related to Harold B. Lee as an extended cousin; still, he very much admired President Lee.) Also, I remember one day when he was out working in the yard, a woman came by on a bicycle politicking for the ERA. My father responded that he didn’t want to have to share bathrooms with women, and that was it, there was nothing to discuss and no more to his decision than that.[2]

My dad was certainly not a liberal, but he was very much an intellectual. He was a college professor in a farming community ward, so this aspect of his relationship with the Church tended to stand out more due to the contrast. He was a reader and our house was filled with books. Our front room shelves featured the hardbound History of the Church (which went to my sister after his death; I have my mission paperbacks), and the B.H. Roberts Comprehensive History of the Church (which I still have on the shelves in my living room, a beautiful first edition from 1930). He had and read a lot of other Church literature; I recall he was a particular fan of Sterling W. Sill.

I think of my father as having been a UoU Institute type of Mormon. He really admired T. Edgar Lyon (with whom he had had classes), and I still have some Lowell Bennion books that came from his library.

My dad was willing to stand up to leadership, which embarrassed me no end as a boy, but which in retrospect I greatly admire. One example that comes to mind, my high school physics teacher was a convert to the faith and attended church with us. During the summers he drove a moving van cross country to make ends meet. When he was able to make it to church for a Sunday service during those summers he would be rather casually dressed and show up without a tie. The bishop dressed him down over this (pun intended) and told him he had to wear a tie to church, and my dad pushed back against the bishop and insisted that no, he didn’t have to wear a tie to church. (I suspect my dad’s position came from his background growing up on an Idaho farm.) My father won that little battle of wills, and so no, that high school teacher didn’t wear a tie to services during those summers when he was long hauling furniture. That is perhaps a trifling example, but my father was very sensitive about the little guy getting (unnecessarily, in his view) pushed around by church leadership.

My Mission. I served in Colorado in the late 70s, and it was there that I gained my first interests in scholarship. Early in my mission I attended a Know Your Religion fireside where C. Wilfred Griggs read from the NT translating on the fly from the GNT, which I thought was insanely cool. (Before that I’m not sure I could have even told you that the NT had originally been written in Greek.) I soon discovered Hugh Nibley (sort of the patron saint of liberal Mormons), and I began obtaining and reading things that he talked about. By the end of my mish I was lugging a huge chest of books around on transfers.

BYU Post-Mish. My mission had primed me for what I found at BYU after the mission. I was like a kid in a candy store. I ended up majoring in classics, whose professors had similarly been influenced by Nibley and tended to be quite liberal (by BYU standards, at least), but classics was so small that no one cared what those guys thought about anything, which gave them way more freedom than prevailed in Religious Education. I also gained lots of friends with progressive views of the Church, and that social interaction certainly was an influence on me. In my married student ward, John Sorenson was the HC rep (and was there every Sunday); he called me to my very first teaching calling in the Church (EQ), advising me not to follow the manual (which was a “Personal Study Guide” for the elders to study on their own, but we should do more in our quorum meetings). Blake Ostler taught GD in that ward using socratic method, something I’ve never seen anyone else do before or since. I got a job as a teaching assistant to S. Kent Brown in Ancient Scripture (a true gentleman of a scholar). My BYU experience was idyllic. (It was also there that I first discovered Dialogue and Sunstone, simultaneously, from a big display in the BYU Bookstore. Hard to imagine now, but I swear it’s true.)

Urbana Student Ward. This all continued when I went to law school at the University of Illinois and we attended the student ward there. (All students, both single and married; they were not segregated by marital status.) Going to church in that kind of a university environment is a heady thing. My EQP was Michael Hicks, the long-time professor of music at BYU and a now lifelong friend, and just knowing that tells you what you need to know about my church experience there. It was fantastic. I also was first called to teach GD in that ward.

Adult Life. After graduation I got a job as an attorney in Chicago and we moved to the NW suburbs. I began to publish articles on Mormon subjects (mainly relating to scripture; as an amateur scholar I’m primarily a scripturist). More teaching callings followed (several GD stints and a long-term stake “institute” calling.) When I was teaching a church history class I decided I had better subscribe to the Journal of Mormon History, and one subscribes by joining the Association. I eventually screwed up my courage and attended the 2003 conference and had a blast; I’ve endeavored to attend every year since. I’ve also branched out to the JWHA conferences; since I live in the midwest, they tend to be convenient for me.

Blogging at BCC has been a great experience for me as well. It has given me a forum to think out loud about all sorts of aspects of the faith and church life. My blogmates epitomize what it means to be a faithful but intellectually curious Mormon.

So those are some of the circumstances in my life that seem to have been instrumental in turning me from my youthful, slavish conservatism into having a more liberal-minded take on the faith.

How about you? Do you consider yourself conservative, moderate or liberal (or something else)? [I mean religiously, not necessarily politically.] What in your life shaped you to having the outlook and perspective you do today?

 

 

[1] By that I mean that I consider myself an active, faithful member of the Church, but I tend to take liberal positions on matters of scripture, doctrine, history and practice.

[2] For years I accepted the Rex Lee view that the ERA was unnecessary due to the 14th Amendment. I would support the ERA today, which is an illustration of my trajectory from a more conservative to a more liberal point of view.

Comments

  1. Old Man says:

    How are we going to delineate between liberal and conservative? Is there are religious conservative-moderate-liberal rubric?

  2. Kevin Barney says:

    Pick a topic and we can probably delineate what the more conservative and more liberal views are. So take authorship of the Bible. A conservative view takes the names on the books as normative. So Moses wrote the Pentateuch, Isaiah wrote the whole of Isaiah, Paul wrote Hebrews. A liberal view will be influenced by scholarship: Documentary Hypothesis for the Pentateuch, multiple Isaiahs, Paul didn’t write Hebrews.

  3. Chadwick says:

    My MIL was the type who had no money but gave what she had to people. Her love for friends and strangers was boundless. She also led quite a life: married to a convert who was called to be Bishop in West LA immediately after their honeymoon (which they spent in Argentina visiting his mission). We think FIL contracted HIV there as he needed a blood transfusion in the late 70’s after a car accident. He died before I had the privilege to meet him (early 90’s). He passed this onto my MIL, who died in 2006, only three years after she wholeheartedly welcomed me into her family.

    She was as faithful as they come; and yet, she loved her gay brother something fierce and treated him and his husband wonderfully. She was a Mormon feminist yet she loved her Bishop, home teachers, and the Priesthood. Her Bishop loved her too, and was by MIL’s side when she passed away. When President Hinckley asked the sisters to only wear one pair of earrings, she dutifully removed her second pair, and also died her hair bright pink the next day. Her life story is quite shocking to a lot of members, but she owned it as her own and still loved God. She really had spunk, and she managed to balance faith and doubt in a way I have yet to replicate.

    She introduced me to a Mormonism I never knew of, having grown up in rural UT and attended BYU. It really wasn’t until after her passing that I began transforming into what Kevin calls a liberal-minded Mormon. Whenever people ask me about my transformation, my MIL gets all the credit.

    I hope this wasn’t too personal, and thank you for letting me share.

  4. Kevin Barney says:

    I love dying her hair bright pink the next day to compensate for removing the extra earrings! Thanks for sharing.

  5. Jim Wallmann says:

    Kevin, thank you for sharing this part of your life experience. I accept your definition of “liberal-minded Mormon” and put myself in the same category. Here are some of my influences.

    Family. Like you, I grew up around books. Both of my parents had advanced degrees from UC Berkeley back in the day (as my mother once put it) when being Phi Beta Kappa meant something. My father was not a member and he died when I was 10, so it’s not as if I could discuss with him why he was a “scientific agnostic,” but my mother was extremely proud that hers was the first “real” letter to the editor of Dialogue after it was published. See Dialogue, vol. 1, no. 2 (Summer 1966), page 5. As a teenager, all issues of Dialogue were on the bookshelf in the living room and I read it regularly. As a result, I was thoroughly inoculated and none of the revelations in church history (pun intended) have caused any distress.

    Berkeley Ward. Looking back, I now appreciate that Berkeley Ward in the 1960s, ’70s & ’80s was an exceptional place to grow up and experience as a teenager and young married. Definitely not your average ward, as the biographers of Spencer W. Kimball record: “At priesthood meeting in Berkeley Ward the rationalism of ‘some self-styled intellectuals’ shocked him. He almost burst, but dared not use his voice yet.” (See Kimball & Kimball, Spencer W. Kimball (SLC: Bookcraft, 1977), ch. 16, p. 310.) In later years, I was unable to determine from the old-timers who these “self-styled intellectuals” were, but I’m pretty sure two of them were close family friends.

    Education & Mission. I had a few duds as religion teachers at BYU, but New Testament classes with C. Wilfred Griggs were certainly highlights. For financial reasons, I postponed my mission until I had finished 4 years at BYU. We know Wilfried Decoo as a blogger with Times and Seasons, but I remember him as a member of the presidency of the Belgium Antwerp Mission. He was just as faithful and perceptive almost 40 years ago as he is now, and I learned from him how to frame and answer gospel questions.

    Later years. My wife and I moved to the D.C. area when I attend Georgetown University Law Center. No student ward for us. The suburban ward in Maryland was much different from the one in Berkeley, but it was the ward in which Lester Bush lived. While we were hardly close, there was enough interaction for me to get to know him as more than a name I’d seen in Dialogue. We returned to the San Francisco Bay Area after law school and although we were in a suburban ward, it was part of the Oakland California Stake so liberal-minded members were part of the scenery. A move to Texas 11 years represents our biggest shift in church culture. I’m sure I will never be called to teach the Gospel Doctrine class or serve in a leadership position because of my reputation. (This has its advantages.) The Miller Eccles Study Group is a welcome oasis for this member.

    Finally, the fact that my wife sees many of these issues the same way is a real blessing. Her background is very different than mine but in these things we are quite compatible. She subverts her 9-year old Primary class by giving equal attention to the women and girls in church history as the men and boys.

  6. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for sharing your experience Jim. You raise a good point: my wife does not have scholarly interests, but we’re on the same page as to liberality in the Church. I’ve often reflected how difficult life could be if we had markedly different approaches to the faith.

  7. Good topic. I had a somewhat similar experience in reading voraciously and that has made all the difference.

  8. Family is definitely big. For me, it was especially my grandparents–their attitudes just let me know it was okay to be different. I also think I had at least a basic awareness of the existence of church history issues because of them.

    The first friend I had who left the church was someone who I simply knew would not have done it because he just wanted to sin. If he did it, I knew he must have had a principled reason.

    Also, I have always known that women are equal to men, and I remember from a young age knowing intuitively that there was no way someone would choose or pretend to be gay if they might be beaten to death for it.

  9. EnglishTeacher says:

    My father, for his political conservatism, is by and large a pretty liberal-minded Mormon. I think this has rubbed off on me, and though I no longer really identify with his conservative politics (though to many liberals, I probably appear to since the GOP was the gateway to libertarian political philosophy for me) I consider myself a fairly liberal-minded Mormon as well. I find myself becoming more liberal-minded with my Mormonism as a way to stay. Letting my testimony grow and expand through questioning and periods of doubt is better than chucking entirely it when the easy answers that formed it in the beginning are complicated by some of the very real flaws in the institutional and cultural church. I am comforted by Uchdorf’s rhetoric on the topic, and hope that there will continue to be a place for someone who thinks and believes as I do in the big tent.

  10. I was greatly blessed to have a mother that worked part-time growing up. This was a shocking thing for a Mormon woman to do in the 70s and I remember feeling, if not being a explicitly told, that our family was teetering on the edge of apostasy. Since my mom constantly told us that a testimony should be our most important possession, I began to understand that culture is not the same as doctrine. Additionally, my dad, a convert to the church but a faithful tithe payer, would sometimes pay his tithing in stock. I think this was looked upon as being not quite kosher by our then bishop who was not very financially sophisticated. These experiences primed me for my privilege at BYU in having Gene England as the lead professor in an eight hour honors colloquium I took as a freshman. I’ve been a liberal Mormon ever since.

  11. Kevin Barney says:

    Thanks for the great overnight comments! Keep ’em coming…

  12. Mom of 3 says:

    Parents subscribed to both Sunstone and Dialogue when I was growing up. Father was an academic at a university along the wasatch front who served in the military, served a mission in the UK, and earned a Ph.D at an Ivy League university. Mother completed her college degree while we finished our college degrees. Growing up in an agrarian small town with this parenting style, marrying the son of an academic, and moving to the East Coast where we both attended grad school solidified my views.

  13. Anonymousbecauseoftheinfo says:

    For me it was the conflict I saw in how my parents lived and raised us. My parents followed the church culture to the extreme. This means they wouldn’t accept govt assistance or even church assistance. My mom was a stay at home mom even though they couldn’t afford it. Once they felt they were done with having kids they took the handbook instruction to not have vasectomies/tubal ligation seriously. Their choice of birth control was abstinence. I saw conflict in what they preached. They felt BSA was a “part of the priesthood”. But GSA is a communist plot. I never understood this idea. Teaching girls the same ideas and skills as boys is a communist plot? What about we are equal in the sight of God?
    However, my parents were big on having books in the home and asking questions about everything. I felt the need to read the scriptures, the handbook, everything I could get my hands on about church history to see if what I was taught was true. This further exposed the conflict between the Gospel of Jesus Christ and church culture with it’s ties to political movements and ideas in the US. When I served my mission in the Bible Belt I learned about the Religious Right up close and personal. I saw how their beliefs are not similar to ours. I feel no sense of connection to the Religious Right and no need to align myself with them politically. There is more but this is part of why I don’t align myself with the conservative/GOP/Mormon paradigm.
    (I normally comment with my real name on BCC but with the above info I’m posting as anonymous.)

  14. Mary Lythgoe Bradfford says:

    very good posts–I got my liberalism from Lowell Bennion later wrote his biography)

  15. My parents were (and still are) quite conservative, both religiously and politically. They didn’t vote for Trump (my mother voted for Cruz in the primaries, and they’re very much anti-Trump) but they get quite upset when someone mentions, for example, that perhaps MoTab shouldn’t have debased themselves to sing for Trump’s inauguration. In their eyes, they church can do no wrong. They expected all of their boys to serve missions and all their children to graduate from college, and all five of their children have done both, the youngest just recently. They view Sunstone and Dialogue as a sign of apostasy.
    I was quite conservative until about halfway through college.
    At BYU, I majored in Biology, and took courses from Duane Jeffery that influenced how conservative my religious beliefs were. I became good friends with a pair of liberal sisters who were very good people and very good Mormons. I took a bioethics course, and I realized that my thought process on complex ethical issues was much different from most of my classmates. Most of them were very much focused on justice over mercy and principles over people; I was the opposite.
    I paid for most of college by working in the Bay Area, and I met quite a few members of the gay community through my work. The vast majority did not meet the stereotypes my parents had taught me about gay people.
    I found BCC and the rest of the Bloggernacle not too long after college, in 2006 or so. Right now I’m struggling along in one of the most conservative areas of the Mormon Corridor, but I’m keeping at it.

  16. orangganjil says:

    I’ve long been a mix of conservatism and libertarianism along the lines of Thomas Jefferson. I come from a pretty conservative, Republican family so was already a bit of an outlier. However it was a reading of Nibley’s Approaching Zion that forced me to really take seriously liberal ideology. That book is still one of my favorites.

  17. I come from obnoxiously conservative republican parents. To this day you can’t have a conversation in their house because Fox News is always blaring at a ridiculous volume in the background. My parents are both converts though and I grew up an oddball in the church and very much aware of my standing (we never fit in ward social circles and I got bullied). I still checked all my boxes (mission, temple marriage, etc.), but at the same time I was always very wary and aware of religion as a social group.

    I was still relatively conservative though until I discovered Freakonomics (and from there Econ Talk, Radio Lab, etc – I may a small addition to podcasts – thank you Bloggernacle for helping with that) and also Jonathan Haidt and began using positive reinforcement techniques in animal training. I learned so much on how the human (and animal) brain actually worked, and the more I understood, the more liberal-minded I became – especially about the church. So much of what goes on in church (from the Q15 on down) is basic tribal behavior. So much of what we call spirituality is our brain at work (I lost my keys and then found them after I prayed!). I find it all fascinating, but not a true relationship with God.

    Having said all that, I’m not entirely jaded. If anything my spiritual journey has become one of sorting out the wheat from the chaff (in life, in the church, in myself). Within myself it feels like seeking the divine, who I tend to find in the least expected places.

  18. Monica Jensen Call says:

    I had an AP American History teacher who began each class with with with a moral/ethical dilemma. If we gave him “Sunday School” answers he played the Devil’s advocate. When we asked him why he did this he replied that as a teacher, especially of American History, it was his duty to prepare us to be able to think for ourselves-to review the evidence and make an informed decision rather than be like sheep and get caught up in Groupthink. That’s was the beginning of my “change”. During my first year at BYU my bishop was a sick and twisted man who ruined lives by accusing Ward members of sins they’d only committed in his mind. He was released, but the damage was done. From this I learned that Church leaders are not always good and wise and have our best interests at heart. I moved off campus and found my “tribe” for the first time in my life. Without them I would’ve left the Y and gone to the U of U or elsewhere. We chafed against stupid rules and the Pharisaical attitudes we saw among students and faculty alike. Clark Johnson’s Church History and D&C classes were a breath of fresh air. Rather than use use the “approved” texts he taught using the letters, diaries, journals, newspapers, etc. of the people. It was Church History in all of its raw, messy glory. I loved it. When the stories about Church History that most folks didn’t hear in Church, Seminary, or Institute were put online I wasn’t shocked because I already knew these facts. As a professional musician I’ve been blessed to perform in other faith’s worship services. What we have in common is much more than what separates us. Ever since I was young (age 8) I’ve had a desire to learn about other religions. It has stood me well. My best friend is a Parisian Muslim! My mom is very conservative-Authority is always right, especially if it is the Church. She recently left the Republican Party because of Donald Trump and the mean spirited members in Congress, so there may be hope. Meanwhile, I her very independent spirited daughter, am a fish out of water in one of the reddest counties in one of the reddest states states in America.

  19. The 7th East Press 11 Jan 1983 interview w/ Sterling McMurrin regarding BK Packer’s insistence that LDS historians only write something called “faithful history” pushed me over the ideological edge where I happily remain to this day.

  20. Kevin Barney says:

    P, I happened to be at BYU during the run of the 7th East Press and remember it fondly. Signature has digitized the entire run and put it online.

  21. MrShorty says:

    I’m not sure I fully understand what you mean by “liberal-minded Mormon”. Based on the example of how we might approach scripture, I suppose I fit that specific example okay. In my youth, it seemed that church members around me taught that the only proper interpretation of the creation accounts was a young-earth creationist reading, so I grew up believing that good Mormons reject evolution and other things. I continued in that line of thinking until late in my undergraduate career at BYU, when I took an evolution class from Dr. Jeffrey and Dr. Sikes. They took some time at the outset to talk about the B. H. Roberts, Joseph Fielding Smith, James E. Talmage debates and, essentially for the first time, someone taught me that there is room in Mormonism for an evolution-friendly reading of the creation accounts. Later, when Dr. Jeffrey brought out his collection of hominid skulls, my skepticism regarding evolution was crushed, and I was forced to accept that maybe the young-earth creationist cosmology I had been taught was neither the official position of the Church, and probably completely wrong. For the first time, I began to see that some aspects of scripture are better read as allegories rather than historical truth. Later, I learned that most scholars, for very good reasons, believe that the book of Job is fiction and not historical. I find that I no longer believe that all of scripture is historical truth, that some of scripture might be inspired fiction, and that scripture is often a mix of the divine and the human.

  22. Quibble: I don’t like “liberal” because of the recent political change in its meaning; but if you indulge me and replace it with “progressive,” I’m all on board with most everything above.

    ***

    I would echo the same basic journey: read, think, mentors.

    For me I would like to mention another perhaps unique factor. Suffering or adversity; when life doesn’t fit the happy Mormon script.

    When that beautiful girl dumped me, you know the one where we got engaged after 6 days of intense dating and I had a stronger testimony of her than of anything so abstract as the Book of Mormon. The golden plates lay hidden deep in the mountain side. (Or maybe they have them stashed in the safe of the First Presidency). But her golden hair I could touch and smell and even kiss and taste.The agony of young love shattered, especially when it is all ginned up with religion, that can make a temporary agnostic out of the best of us; but more especially for the geeks like me who don’t attract girls like flowers attract bees. Progressive thinking follows.

    When the unconventional missionary companion did what made sense to him instead of following rules. He taught me quite a few useful things like how to date and how to make money buying and selling blood diamonds on the black market and how to have self-confidence. One could try to learn Japanese by memorizing the lesson plan or one could watch daytime television, dictionary in hand, with the occasional naked breast shot during the commercials. A missionary pair could maybe place 3 to 5 Books of Mormon and engage in a similar number of first meetings doing conventional door-to-door tracting in a week or maybe more like 2 weeks. Or the same pair could place 20-30 Books of Mormon and collect a similar number of referrals in 2 or 3 hours working a late night karaoke bar with him doing Elvis impersonations. Who do you think had the best language skills and the biggest free English classes and the most conversions? And who got sent home early? Progressive thinking follows.

    When God issued a call to military service and I saw dozens of people die and especially when commanders with psychotic tendencies made me feel responsible for it. And I found my best friend, the one I was leaning on, with a container of 100 digoxin pills and only 4 missing so far, curled up in a quivering heap of tears because he didn’t have the guts to take any more of them. And Sunday school Mormonism doesn’t work, not even close. And God doesn’t exist in the belly of some places, unless the faith of Jonah can be found. (Jonah 2) I walked past these three tall pine trees on base every day and prayed: God I can’t see any further into heaven than the tops of these trees. So I pray to them like my primitive ancestors and beg for Your mercy.

    When I was given ward level leadership positions in a dysfunctional ward and I saw how by-the-book approaches are not just inconvenient but actually destructive and hurtful. And I tried other things that didn’t work and got rebuked for it. Low level leadership became a catch-22 situation because I didn’t t keep my face steadfast towards the hierarchy and my back resolutely towards the sheep of the fold.

    When I was young, my free-thinking had social consequences. However, I was thick-skinned and didn’t respond or even care. But when the cycle of life turned a few notches and my children got about half grown and the zealots started to emotionally and mildly physically abuse them in primary; hell hath no fury like momma bear when you mess with her cubs. Then I moved from progressive Mormon to fiery, I’m-gonna-kick-your-ass Mormon. That which did not kill them only made them stronger (and not in the intended ways) when they matured.

    When family members struggle for years and some leave the faith and find something else more Christ-centered and better for them. Mixed denomination families have a terribly hard row to hoe in the contemporary LDS church. A hopeful progressive approach is the only option and feels like a weak one at that.

    I haven’t suffered divorce, even though I deserved it a few times. (No, not because of That). But it is quite common and probably makes either inactive or progressive Mormons out of most guilty parties. As for mostly if not entirely innocent parties, maybe quite a few of them too. Parents of children gone astray or just pushed out of the fold, same result.

  23. Apologies in advance for a bit of name dropping. It kind of goes with the territory when I comment under my own name.

    I’m too far out now to claim “liberal” any more, but harking back to the day, my liberal inclinations can be attributed to my father Edward, and Edward’s could be attributed to his own studies in Mormon history, to his mother Camilla (in other words, to the Eyring side of our heritage), and to the “Swearing Elders” including Sterling McMurrin, Obert Tanner, Lowell Bennion, T. Edgar Lyon and more at the University of Utah in the 1950s (see “The Swearing Elders” by Thomas Blakely, Sunstone Issue 53 (December 1985) at page 8; available in the back issues section of the Sunstone website; recommended for this topic generally). That was Dad’s milieu.

    I would add a single anecdote. At age 17 with a college admission to one of those notorious Eastern colleges in hand, my grandfather (SWK, at that time president of the Quorum of 12) advised me not to go, but to go to BYU instead. I didn’t take his advice but went to that Eastern college. The college experience itself, and the people I met, were formative for me. The fact of rejecting his advice (which was demonstrably wrong in that case, as I later learned what out-dated and incorrect information he was relying on) wormed its way into my thinking about prophets and leaders.

  24. Kevin Barney says:

    Interesting insights into your dad, Christian; thanks.

  25. I just asked my wife if she considers me a Liberal Mormon. She said that she did and I asked why. She said “You’re willing to understand arguments to see things from other peoples point of view. You’re willing to accepts facts regardless of the political party of the person who said those facts… It’s really sad that, that seems to be all it takes to not be conservative.”

  26. An interesting side note to this discussion is that LDS progressives are also frequently syncretists, surviving in an otherwise beautiful, optimistic church deformed by reactionary hierarchies by embracing aspects of Buddhism or Taoism. Offensive or tedious meetings thus become Zen practice, a positive alternative to abandoning the faith altogether.

  27. Are you slavishly conservative if you’re conservativism left you open minded to change your views?

    Or are you slavishly liberal if you can’t see yourself giving up progressivism for more “traditional” LDS political views.

  28. Nate S. says:

    Why am I a liberal Mormon?
    A lot of it has to do with my dad, who has always been a voracious reader of Mormon literature and history. He never followed the manual, and always taught from experience. Everyone loved his Sunday school lessons and talks from the pulpit. But somehow his depression overtook him, and he realized that it was a symptom of repressed and unresolved abuse. Ultimately, and out of the blue, he was excommunicated, not sure exactly why since I always figured that was between him and God. But looking back and putting the pieces together, I would guess that it was because he was fighting the church, asking them to discipline the stake presidency member who had molested him (and around a dozen other boys) back when the guy was a bishop. I figured that if the orthodox LDS Church would go to such lengths to protect those in power and to sweep abuse under the rug, then there was something wrong with the traditional model of the church.

    Over time I saw my dad figure things out for himself and learn the hard way who Jesus really is, and how the Jesus of Mormonism relates to us all. It wasn’t something that came out of a lesson manual or a platitude-riddled conference talk. Instead, it was an intimately personal labor – calling into question everything he thought he knew and then reverse engineering doctrinal principles through his lived experiences.

    I took a lot of that to heart a few years ago when several family members took their own lives, and “the church”, by which I mean the people in my wards and stakes, didn’t really know what to do with me. I didn’t fit the mold that they were accustomed to seeing, and the typical Mormon platitudes offered no comfort to ease the emotional pain and distress I was experiencing. However, I felt deeply that there was truth in what Joseph Smith revealed and taught, just that maybe we as a people never really conveyed what he was trying to say in a way that could be practically applied to someone in my circumstances. Instead, I figured that maybe we let culture dictate the bounds of doctrine, and we take for truth what are actually just habits and arbitrary ways of life in a small corner of the world.

    Then I started listening to a lot of Buddhist podcasts and found tremendous echoes of restored gospel doctrine. This gave me a better way of approaching doctrinal fundamentals as they apply to my own particular cases of emotional pain and suffering. Ultimately I realized that the traditional Western-United-States version of Mormonism is just “a” way of looking at the capital-T Truth, and I maintain that there are lots of “alternate” liberal coordinate systems on which we can authentically project the Truth. However, It is hard to find anyone locally with whom I can discuss these kinds of things without fear of reprisal. Hence my gratitude for internet communities like BCC.

  29. MoTown –

    I’d say I’m both at the same time. The goal is to be a slave to no one, but think through each situation, doctrine, etc., for myself.

  30. Brother Sky says:

    I’d echo p. When I joined the church 30 years ago, it was impossible for me to envision a life in which the church itself became the biggest obstacle to living a fulfilled and moral life, yet here I am. The notion of Zen practice and Buddhism is really apt, at least for me. I try to withdraw into myself and focus on positivity as I hear lesson after lesson that is rote from the manual and that is designed only to reinforce the church’s party line rather than to lead us to deeper, more thoughtful spiritual practice. It’s a shame that being liberal/open-minded/whatever in the Mormon church means walking a lonely road, but that’s been my experience and the experience of many folks I know who struggle to stay. Under such circumstances, Buddhism’s idea of an ethical middle path is both appealing and useful.

  31. I don’t know if I’ve ever been a “conservative” Mormon. In my house, my parents were moderate democrats while I was growing up. My dad was a public defender, and he always butted heads with our Stake President, who was a prosecutor, so I saw from an early age what it looked like to clash with church leadership. My dad thought it was wrong that the church was involved with Prop 8, and dissented from a lot of church stances. It wasn’t until I left home that I realized that even though my dad disagreed with things, he still followed what the church said, which was really difficult for me.

    My first brush with arbitrary authority was when I turned 14 and my bishop told me I couldn’t participate as a Teacher unless I trimmed my sideburns from being about mid-ear length to above the ear. I couldn’t believe how stupid that was, but I followed my dad’s example and trimmed my sideburns even though I though my bishop was out of his depth.

    It wasn’t until my mission that I really went full liberal Mormon. My mission president was as strict as strict can be. He sent missionaries home right and left until our mission of about 300 became a mission of 96. We didn’t have APs because no one was righteous enough to baptize every week. I was struggling with depression, trying my hardest to keep the rules and find people to baptize, but the only people who were living up to the President’s standards for baptism were zone leaders who were baptizing a bunch of 8-12 year old kids without their families. My companion and I got demoted after a transfer with no baptisms, then I was sent to the middle of nowhere with a companion who was manipulative and rude. I tried to let the President know how ecclesiastically and emotionally abusive he my companion was, but the President just told me to pray harder and my burdens would be made light. Fast forward two weeks, and I was sent home because that companion had sexually assaulted me and I was disfellowshipped because the MP wasn’t trained in recognizing abuse and I had no idea what had happened to me could happen to me.

    Upon return, I was ostracized by my congregation and ignored by my leaders. I realized that church culture was really toxic, and that the way I had been looking at it could not and would not sustain me or get me through such an awful period. I had to completely reevaluate my views in order to stay, or else leave. I was inactive for a time, but I couldn’t turn my back on the feelings I had felt when praying and meditating on the scriptures. Mormonism is the only language I have for dealing with God, so I stay, but I stay on my terms.

    Now, I find a lot of comfort in the bloggernacle because I know that there are people who think just like me, which doesn’t happen much in a small southern Utah community. It has helped me to start talking about my abuse (I usually comment as “Disfellowshipped” on posts), and to be more vocal in my liberalism. I guess that’s my liberal Mormon bloggernacle testmony, itNoJC, amen :).

  32. Still not quite sure what you mean by liberal/conservative. To me a liberal religious theological person goes well beyond accepting the documentary hypothesis but tends to go full de-mythologizing and sees no particular difference between most religions. Politics is a different matter and that gets tricky. You have the issue of levels of redistribution which is the classic divide – but honestly some political conservatives are fine with higher levels of redistribution. (Think Milton Friedman and his negative tax) The classic Mormon sense of the liberal/conservative was over so-called neo-orthodoxy although I always found that a muddled category. (When both Nibley and McConkie are neo-orthodox ideals somethings off in ones categories)

    I like the appeal to Haidt who offers some interesting perspectives on the whole “divide.” But even there I think some nominally liberal groups are adopting some of Haidts more conservative characteristics. (I vaguely recall Haidt speaking about this but can’t find it at the moment) That is the issue is how authority is perceive.

  33. Kevin Christensen says:

    If the key Bible verse for the beginnings of Mormon culture, James 1:5-6, had claimed that “God giveth to all men conservatively,” then perhaps, I’d have that kind of example to follow. But it doesn’t and I don’t. Though in practice, boundaries and definitions blur, and people and cultures are always works in process. My mother is conservative in her faith and belief, ISFJ in temperament, liking tradition, and yet, on an adult mission in a Asian Ward near Washington DC, she saw the cultural issues in trying to use standard teaching materials for people who had no background in Christianity. So she went to her Bishop and asked if she could use Primary Lessons for the Asian adults she was teaching, mostly boat people. He loomed over her, and stated, “As long as I am running this branch, we will follow the program.” So my traditional conservative Mom ignored that and went off and used the Primary materials with great success,

    My own intellectual awakening happened on my mission in 1974, when a member loaned me Nibley’s 1957 Priesthood manual, An Approach to the Book of Mormon. I spent a P-day reading it in a claw foot cast iron tub in Morcambe England. That mind-expansion led to bookstores, back issues, bound periodicals, Sunstone, Dialogue, BYU Studies, and the beginnings of FARMS. And other questions led to essays like Nibley’s “Brigham Young and the Enemy” which contained many remarkable quotes on the need for mutual tolerance, and the need to “understand people as they are, and not as you are.” And to things like the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, which distinguished those who preferred to settle things by appealing to tradition and hierarchy (SJ), and those for whom appearances and office meant nothing (NT), but who rather followed competence. And I saw and appreciated my difference as INFP. And I understood more of why I always felt a bit outside in any social circle, and saw the strangeness of my family with its unusual concentration of INTs (father, three brothers, and one sister), one ISFJ (Mom) and one NF (Me). I learned about Thomas Kuhn, paradigm difference, Joseph Campbell, and Mircea Eliade, and Ninian Smart and comparative religion, and NDE research, and found my self situating my own faith in larger contexts than taught in my LDS classes.

    And among what I thought was the intellectual concentration and exciting love of inquiry at Sunstone, I found that some people could be every bit as closed off and narrow as those labeled conservative. At a 2002 Sunstone in SLC I spotted a former friend from a California Ward and LDS book group. She spotted me and asked, “What are you doing here?” For an answer, I held up a copy of my newly published Occasional Paper on Margaret Barker. She glanced at the cover and said, “Before you say anything, the Book of Mormon is a 19th century fiction and nothing you say could ever change my mind. I never read anything from FARMS. It makes me mad.” I remembered too, that years before, at a one of those book group discussions, she had also admitted that she had never read the Book of Mormon. Politically and socially and culturally, she would call herself a liberal, and indeed, in some circles is famous for that. But if that reflexive response to new information and different thought is actually liberal, what does the word mean? Last year I published an essay called “A Mormon Rashomon” at Square One, having steeled myself to be pilloried from both Liberal and Conservative voices, and found that there are some thoughts that no one wants to mention out loud. I got an almost complete silence.

    On an LDS literature email list, Veda Hale responded to a post of mine by sharing the Perry Scheme for Cognitive and Ethical Growth, something I’ve grown more impressed with over the years, and I have used it in several recent essays. Among other things, those at the first three positions “FEEL ABANDONMENT IN UNSTRUCTURED LEARNING ENVIRONMENTS” whereas at position 6, “FROM HERE ON THE PERSON WILL FEEL FRUSTRATION IN TOO-STRUCTURED OF AN ENVIRONMENT.” So even the labels of Iron Rodder and Liahona, and Conservative and Liberal, strike me as insufficient to the point of being misleading. Indeed, I heard about the famous essay on “What the Church Means to People Like Me” a few years before I read it, and when I did read it, I was rather disappointed. The difference between and Iron Rod and the Liahona is merely that the iron rod still works when it is too dark to see anything. But both represent the Word of God, not as a static, on the shelf thing, but as ongoing revelation. The problem with creeds, Joseph Smith explained, is that that they say, “Hitherto thou shalt come, and no further.” We face eternal choice between current orthodoxy (of whatever any social group dictates what is to be thought and done) and further light an knowledge, which always involves a willingness to place personal belief and personal desire on potential sacrifice towards seeing what is Real.

    I found that D&C 1 was a remarkable document, realistic in setting my expectations for LDS culture, flaws, weakness and error included, and for appreciating the virtue and inspiration to be
    found outside.

    I’ve grown to appreciate more and more, from my English degree, my personal studies of myth, literature, politics, and science the importance of the stories we tell to generalize from, the ones we take as paradigmatic, as parables, as illustrative and telling. I’ve come to see Jesus’s statement about being aware of the beam in one’s own eye as including a willingness to examine not just one’s sins and weakness, but the implications of one’s own ideology for how a person experiences life.

  34. Wondering says:

    “He sent missionaries home right and left until our mission of about 300 became a mission of 96.”

    I am sorry to hear that your mission was a difficult experience — it happens due to the imbalance of power and mix of personalities, but seriously? I have seen hundreds of missionaries serve during my lifetime and only personally know of one who returned home, so perhaps a rate of about 1 out of 1000, nowhere close to 2 out of 3. I am fully aware that a number of missionaries need to end their missions early, and for very good reasons, most often health-related, and I am aware that there are and have been abusive mission presidents, but it seems unlikely that the missionary department would allow such a thing to happen. Can you provide any corroborating evidence?

  35. Wondering,
    I don’t have any records of plane tickets or anything because why would I? All I have is a journal entry from our Christmas mission conference where the President gave those numbers as if it were a good thing. It’s true that there were missionaries who completed their missions during that time, but between not getting replacements and what he called “weeding out the unrighteous,” those are the numbers he gave. He gave those numbers and likened our mission to Gideon and his 300, but it was President and his 96. I wouldn’t call my journal entry evidence, but that’s all I have.

  36. Wondering,
    I had never supposed that it wouldn’t be true, since my MP said it. Thank you for your comment, which made me really think about it. Regardless of whether it was true or not, it did shape my worldview about my leaders, and if it’s not true, I think it’s a strange thing for him to tell his missionaries and to tout as a success.

  37. I was an unthinking conservative growing up. The big change came when I was accepted into BYU’s MBA program. I had a strong reaction against the traditional corporate values I found there and started looking into where they came from. This led me to examining systems, including our economic system. I soon figured out that conservative economic notions were a bunch of crock (and still are), particularly Reagan’s internally conflicting economic “theory.” Working for the Church disabused me of many cherished myths about Mormonism, and now as an editor in the field of Mormon studies, I simply keep accumulating knowledge, perspective, context, and nuance. Everything is more complicated than we want it to be (the wanting for things to be simple seems to me to be a conservative impulse). The better I understand the complexity of life (and all issues, both political and religious), the more I tend to find conservative views stunted by a lack of curiosity and bound by a futile attempt to thwart progress. There is a reason conservatives do not like progressives or progress. It entails change, which goes against the conservative mind-set. You’d think that a religion that believes in eternal progress would produce primarily progressives. But the Clark men won out. We are a corporate, conservative, backward-looking religion, unable to deal with the complexities of modern society in a productive way. We do produce good people, but we leave a lot of collateral damage along the way.

  38. I grew up evangelical and attended an evangelical college. My drift toward theological liberalism began, I suppose, with my inability to reconcile the words of Jesus with support for the Vietnam War (which most evangelicals supported at the time). I also saw within the Bible a sort of universalism (that is, a heaven of some sort for everyone, or almost everyone). And it didn’t take much study of science to realize that the creation account(s) in Genesis couldn’t be understood literally. As the years went on, I found my self uncomfortable with evangelicalism (for several reasons) and mainline Protestantism (which I saw, perhaps unfairly, as social liberalism with a veneer of Christianity).

    Fast-forward a number of years, and I began to “investigate” the LDS church a decade after marrying a member. I got turned on to Mormonism’s inherent optimism, its expansiveness, its inclusiveness and of its course its brand of universalism. I knew about much of its troublesome history and I didn’t expect its leaders to be infallible. Joining was an easy thing to do; for me there wasn’t even a change in lifestyle required, since I came from a tradition that also eschewed alcohol and tobacco, and I drank no coffee and almost no tea.

    While there are times I’ve wondered if the church I joined is the one that exists in real life, I find myself uneasily comfortable (whatever that means) as an active member. Since we have no creeds (or claim not to), it doesn’t bother me that I accept (for example) the Documentary Hypothesis and see the first 11 chapters of Genesis as symbolic. But it is nice to know, thanks to blogs and social media, that I am far from alone in my way of thinking.

  39. R, we probably should distinguish between small c conservative that definitely thinks change needs to pass a burden of proof. That’s the more Burkean tradition in say conservative politics. However there’s also the more revolutionary mode (for good or ill). A lot of recent American politics is that revolutionary mode that wants wild change. (Often putting them at odds with the Burkean wing) Even in theology there’s that more “shake things up” view among conservatives with a more theological twist.

  40. Despite a very conservative background, my progressive Mormon thinking started as a 9th grade seminary student, troubled by the then mainstream notion, at least where I lived, that dinosaurs co-existed with humans on a 6,000 year old earth. I couldn’t accept my teacher’s answer that they probably didn’t live here, but that their fossils must have been in the crust of materials taken from other planets to create ours. Fast forward after many years of personal study, to an acceptance of evolution, documentary hypothesis of the Bible, and an allegorical reading of much of scripture and of temple liturgy. Maybe I’m an odd case because I’ve found that a conservative, traditional approach to mission service, and church calling service, at the same time having a tolerance of people with a wide variety of views “works” best for them and myself. I’ve appreciated the BCC’s example of this range of views.

  41. My parents were academics who were only marginally active. They had a subscription to Dialogue, with which I became familiar long before the New Era crossed my radar; in fact, I periodically used Dialogue for seminary devotionals, which I can’t imagine my SLC-born-and-raised teacher appreciated (this may be why my parents finally got me the NE subscription). So I guess I was raised as a skeptic. I was at BYU during the entire run of the 7th East Press, which I purchased regularly (at the BYU Bookstore, which is kind of amazing when you think about it now) and saved, at his request, for my father. That meant they piled up in my bedroom until the school year end. This bothered at least some of my roommates, one of whom lost no time in letting me know she was “sooooo offended” by an article on Joseph Smith and polygamy, and chastised me for reading a publication that was “full of things that are so clearly not true.” I hid my stockpile under the bed because, you know, harmony in the home and all that. Plus she’d already erased my tape of “A Chorus Line” because she thought some of the lyrics were inappropriate, and I was afraid she might throw the papers away. The flip side of that living situation was that I was fortunate enough to take both an honors colloquium class and a NT class from C. Wilfred Griggs – both stellar college experiences – as well as other colloquium semesters from other professors. When the McMurrin article appeared, one of them told us that if we’d read it, we’d probably seen a lot in it that we agreed with. None of us could even look at each other, but there was a lot of murmured assent. Anyway, I don’t think I’ve ever been particularly surprised or caught off guard by discoveries that have bothered some other people.

  42. Wondering says:

    That is strange, Kol. Definitely out of the ordinary, and it sounds like a situation that few missionaries would be prepared to handle, let alone most adults.

  43. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    I am a regular BCC visitor, and read Dialogue online. Many of these comments make me wish I would have been doIng this reading with hard copies, that could be left around the house for my children to casually encounter. Sending a link, or printing out a copy for a teenager, even an inquisitive one, is not always received so well. Allowing them to encounter these materials on their own would work so much better.

  44. Loursat says:

    My parents kept a pretty interesting variety of Mormon books, high and low: recent devotional books by general authorities; subscriptions to church magazines and to Dialogue; B. H. Roberts; Jack Weyland; Hugh Nibley; Cleon Skousen; Stephen Covey; Carol Lynn Pearson; and more. As a boy I at least dabbled in all of this, even when a lot of it was beyond me.

    The first books that set me on fire were by Skousen and other authors cut from the same cloth. Their literalness was easy for me to understand, and the way they (obsessively) magnified small details as if they were revealing the pieces of a puzzle gave me a pleasure quite similar to what I felt reading Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie stories. But it was even better than reading mysteries, because it seemed so important—it was real religion, I thought.

    Dad and Mom saw my interest in these things, and they didn’t push me in any particular direction. They set a steady, gentle example of faithful church practice, intellectual curiosity, and independent action. I had much the same example from many of my youth leaders at church. Eventually I was able to appreciate the books that had eluded me when I was younger. It was natural for me to leave Skousen-type commentaries behind as I discovered other religious writing that I found so much more insightful and spiritually fertile.

  45. When I was young, I was still in sway of my conservative father. My sister led the way into liberal politics. Then Nixon did it. I knew he was a lying. The problem was Hubert Humphrey. Humphrey was in favor of the war.

    I suppose I was for the Vietnam War because I bought into the domino theory, but against it on general principles. I was horrified 25 years after the fact that I was so ignorant.

    Full conversion to liberalism happened when I started applying critical thinking to politics and religion. My big mistake was voting for Regan over Carter. I was working in the defense industry at the time…. I can be forgiven. But back then Republicans and Democrats were both centrist parties with some agreement. That changed with Atwater and the idea that the Nixon Republicans would not write in a civil rights plank in their platform. This turned the Republicans into a race based party.

    I have been basically distrustful of Church leadership since the Vietnam War when I became suspicious of all leadership and entrenched positions. Present experience has not lessened the feelings of distrust. I felt betrayed by the LDS positions on the ERA and Blacks and the priesthood. I feel betrayed by the LDS position on LGBTQ matters. The Church is not dealing for the betterment of people as our embodiment of Christian ideals would seem to push us. I feel betrayed that the Church does not honor its roots in the United Order with respect to the economic support of the poor and those struggling with equal rights and racial and sexual discrimination. I feel betrayed by the Church’s position on women, in general.

    Conservatism only points back to times of inequality and the dominance of all manner of privilege.

  46. I have a problem with identifying as a liberal or conservative Mormon. Such labels tend to divide members in to factions of us vs. them. I view myself as an open minded, curious Mormon and think every member ought to be. On the other hand, everyone has the right to declare their own identity.

  47. Red Black says:

    My current political views are generally libertarian. I grew up as a military brat and loved it. Then I spent 20 years in the military and I’m pretty sure my kids enjoyed being “brats” as well. One of them has now joined the military.

    I found the church to be an extended family wherever we moved, except in Utah, where most folks already had real extended families in place. That happened to be the case for me as well, but after 35 years outside of Utah, the difference was quite noticeable,

    I grew up proud of my Mormon heritage and the church. I spent a lot of time reading and studying scriptures and became a pretty good scriptorian. At BYU I studied engineering and took religion classes from anyone who gave an easy A. When I came across Lyndon W Cook, however, I took everything he taught about the D&C and Church history (he told me to not take his New Testament class since he would only be a day ahead of the students).

    As I progressed through my career I read much of the writings of Hugh Nibley and books from FARMS – especially books about the Book of Mormon. Approaching Zion is my favorite Hugh Nibley book, however.

    Since I started voting I had been a Republican and I’ve voted for every Republican presidential candidate from Reagan to Romney. I don’t regret those votes. The day after Trump got the nomination, I quit the Republican Party and now am unaffiliated. I don’t expect to go back.

    Despite being Republican, I never liked Orrin Hatch as a Senator. During the 2012 caucuses I tried unsuccessfully to run as a delegate for a different candidate. During the run up to the caucuses that year the First presidency issued their standard go out and vote letter. No problem. The following week the first presidency sent out another “go out” and vote letter. I was in the Bishopric at the time and saw that the first presidency really did want the letter to be read in back to back Sacrament meetings. My precinct was probably 90% active Mormons. The caucus attendance doubled from 60 two years earlier to 135 people. It was apparent to me the first presidency intent was to make sure enough people showed up to make sure Orrin Hatch would win.

    Seeing the Church weigh in so blatantly for a side I opposed in an election made me remark to my wife “Now I know how an LDS Democrat must feel.”

    While I didn’t hold the views of Bishops and Stake presidents as infallible (my Dad had been both), I did have a high regard for the first Presidency and Quorum of the Twelve (though again I had an extended family member in my lifetime serve in each body). I started reassessing the concept of “Once a prophet speaks the debate is over.”

    I should mention my wife was way ahead of me on this since she could never accept that a righteous God would command polygamy or “play games” with Abraham to sacrifice Issac. These had bothered me too but I had previously accepted such things as a matter of faith. Probably the biggest decision I’ve made in my life was to decide I would no longer follow any church leader’s decision if I did not feel good about it.

    Politically, I still wouldn’t be considered a liberal (though I’ve mellowed some), but as a Mormon, I’ve expanded quite a few of my views including thinking there is no reason women shouldn’t hold the Priesthood and be part of all councils and leadership. I no longer worry about problemic scriptures. I see no problem with sleeveless clothing. I think the earth is 4 billion years old and humans are at the end of a long evolutionary chain. How that works with God I don’t know. But I very much hope there is a God.

  48. I’m not sure that I am a liberal-minded Mormon. I was raised by conservative parents in a conservative town and still find myself bristling when liberals adopt a superior tone. Many of the most compassionate people I’ve ever known were conservative.

    That said, I come down on the liberal side of most issues. Science and history were my favorite high school subjects, and I was never satisfied with conservative-minded attempts to reconcile them with religion. (The standard explanation I received for dinosaur bones was that God reused pre-boned dirt from other planets.)

    My first exposure to liberal-minded Mormonism came when I discovered a bin of Sunstone issues at the county library during the summer before college. I spent a good chunk of a week reading through them. I was thrilled to read smart commentary on my questions and on many other questions that I hadn’t thought to ask. I remember excitedly telling my bishop about my experience, only to receive a less than enthusiastic response.

    My liberal-minded views were hardened when I was forced to explain and defend Mormonism during my mission. My trainer actually had a chat with my mission president about my explanation to one investigator that it was okay to believe that the Americas were inhabited long before the BOM (MP was fine with it by the way).

  49. it's a series of tubes says:

    I started reassessing the concept of “Once a prophet speaks the debate is over.”

    It’s amazing how much harm that 1945 Improvement Era article has done, even though it was expressly refuted by the President of the Church only a few months later: “the passage quoted does not express the true position of the Church. Even to imply that members of the Church are not to do their own thinking is grossly to misrepresent the true ideal of the Church, which is that every individual must obtain for himself a testimony of the truth of the Gospel, must, through the redemption of Jesus Christ, work out his own salvation, and is personally responsible to His Maker for his individual acts.”

  50. What is the difference between a McKay man and a Lee man?

  51. Kevin Barney says:

    bookofross, “liberal-minded” is just my shorthand for the way you put it, “open minded and curious.”

    Doug, a good explanation of the terms comes from page 185 of Phil Barlow’s Mormons and the bible:

    Clark’s concern had practical consequences. Before publishing Why the King James Version, he sought permission from Church President David O. McKay, for whom he served as counselor in the Church’s First Presidency. The two men enjoyed mutual respect and a cordial friendship but were so fundamentally different in administrative style, political philosophy, and theological attitudes that Clark privately confided that other administrators who lined up behind one or the other of them were known to inner circles as “Clark Men” or “McKay Men.”

    [[Clark Men later become Lee Men.]

  52. I grew up in a very conservative household. No TV on Sunday, not even Disney. We had a stereo/record player but the only thing I ever remember playing on it were MoTab, James Taylor, and John Denver (my love for JT and JD endures to this day). ERA? No way. Evolution? Nope. Mother’s working outside the home? That’s what Satan wants.

    And yet from a fairly young age things gnawed at me that didn’t make sense. I had an interest in politics and nature. I liked to study history, especially WWII. My parents got me a subscription to Time magazine and National Geographic. Critical thinking led me to question facts and stories that didn’t make sense. I hated the Thomas B Marsh story about the milk strippings. There had to be more to it. The Martin handcart story about leaving too late, same thing. Blacks and the priesthood and polygamy? Same. There were many other examples.

    Leaving on my mission opened my eyes to just how sheltered I had been. Companions that came from all walks of life, up to an including former gang members. The number of missionaries that hadn’t experienced some level of drinking, drugs, sexual activity, trouble with the law were greatly outnumbered by those who had. I met members of the church and people on the street who were perfectly happy living their lives with our without the gospel and many stops in between, contrary to what I had been lead to believe. It demonstrated to me that there were many different paths in life. Happiness could be found outside the church.

    After returning home I had already begun to formulate and separate in my mind the differences between doctrine and culture. When I started college I took my first Organizational Behavior course and I was able to put names to these differences. Group think. Stereotyping. Organizational culture. Hierarchy of needs. It helped me put it all into context.

    Then I found BCC and have been an avid reader for 10+ years. Here I found well written documented posts and commentary that fearlessly tackled all the thorny issues in a way that resonated so strongly with me. I knew some of the issues, but not all. BCC provided the context and explanation I had been searching for on many of the topics/stories I already questioned, and introduced me to new ones I had never heard of. Just like Paul Harvey’s The Rest of the Story radio broadcasts back in the day it has filled in the gaps and provided context that grounds me. It helps me to keep the bathwater in the tub with the baby.

    Do I agree with everything that is posted here? No. Do I respect the permas and guest blogger’s knowledge and experience in their various fields? Very much. Am I still a conservative? Politically, yes. Religiously? Not so much.

  53. Elsewhere on BCC a commenter writes

    “Anyone who disagrees [apparently with the relevant original post] is a moral troglodyte.”

    Which leaves me wondering about the generalization that liberal Mormons are more open to alternative points of view, open-minded, and non judgmental.

  54. Leo,

    There are, of course, any number of other possibilities: a) the said poster is not indeed liberal (politically? religiously?) as you assume; b) the internet does not capture sarcasm as well as the said poster may hope; c) dismissing both a) and b), there is also (is there not?) the possibility that not all ‘liberal Mormons’ can be condemned by one poster’s comments.

    Also, does not this very exchange highlight the thrust of the OP: some people view complexities and other possible interpretations and some do not?

  55. rjamesh says:

    I joined the church at age 23 exactly a week after graduation from U of Fla (1977). As a chemical engineering student, we weren’t particularly driven by politics, opting instead to try to simply survive semesters averaging 5-6 hours of sleep a night. About that time, I started to gravitate toward libertarian politics with a quite laissez-faire position on issues. I remained so for some time, until my early 50s. I began to see that those positions were often not tenable as they depended often on the belief that people would naturally do what is right given the freedom to do so. More specifically, I began to see that people with no power in this world would not benefit from a purely libertarian government because others would not see to it that their needs were met in the sense that we are commanded to do so.

    I still retain libertarian leanings but am now more of a left leaning libertarian and, when asked, often call myself a pragmatic left-leaning libertarian (I’m sure there are others – would love to meet them). I include the term pragmatic because to get to anything close to a true libertarian government in a short period of time would create incredible pain for millions of people.

    What has moved me of late? Two things come to mind. (1) By far the movie I have watched that has influenced me the most is Twelve Angry Men, the 1957 version starring Henry Fonda and other notables. That movie, in the 90 or so minutes it took me to watch it, turned me solidly against the death penalty because I realized each juror represented a certain subset of the American population. I knew what the fate of that defendant would have been if there had been no Henry Fonda on that jury. I also feel a pressing need for significant criminal justice reform and a move away from the criminalization of personal drug use. I could go on for some time on that issue but will pass for now. (2) My wife and I served a local employment service mission from 2014-2016. What an eye opener. We learned not to be judgmental regarding the reasons people are out of work or to reflexively fall back on the view that people on welfare are lazy and just need to get off their lazy backsides. We met people with layers of issues that impacted their ability to hold a job including medical issues (for example, Aspergers), horrible family backgrounds that left them scarred emotionally, etc.

    With regard to how my politics impact me at church, I am daily frustrated by many church members as I live in a fairly conservative ward in the mid-Atlantic region. That said, there are many who are like minded to me and you often have to connect with them one-on-one to discover that. The percentage is probably larger than the majority would suspect. At least in our ward, we try to be non-confrontational during lesson time while still getting our thoughts out. There are ways we do many things in church that annoy me but I hang in there because I believe it is worth it. It can be a lonely existence and I am subject to getting down (not clinically) about what I see as a misapplication of Christ’s teachings from time to time.

  56. Brian,

    Yes. The commenter must not be liberal. No true Scotsman.

  57. Leo, your suggesting of a supposed logical fallcy (inaccurate as it may be) does not negate my points-but you are welcome to ignore them.

  58. My parents (father especially) were very black/white thinkers. Conservative in every aspect. Authoritarian. Controlling. We locked horns early on. Much to their chagrin, I started buying my own music, which my dad decided to confiscate. As rational, he held up on of my early Collective Soul albums (they had long hair) and he said, “I wouldn’t want to be caught within a hundred miles of someone who looked like that.” Needless to say, I saw quite clearly that some of his religious priorities where out of alignment with my own.

    Mission. Hearing comments from fellow missionaries like, “I know what to do with the gays: put them all on an island and drop a bomb on them.”

    College at BYU. The pro-war stances before invading Iraq. Meeting the first openly gay people (fellow students) who were great friends and great people. Being an English major, of course; analyzing texts from multiple perspectives. Friends who were Democrats and nothing like what I was told to believe about them.

    I guess I was always headed this direction. Every side has its faults. Some I’m just more able to live with because it gives me hope in humanity.

  59. “We have learned by sad experience that it is the nature and disposition of almost all men, as soon as they get a little authority, as they suppose, they will immediately begin to exercise unrighteous dominion.”

    Not just conservatives. Not just liberals. Not just Mormons. Almost all men. I’ve been a registered Republican and a registered Democrat, as has my wife. Nice folks in those parties, mostly, but each has their own dogmas and biases that they insist on and boundaries they vigorously patrol. This provides support for the statement in the D&C.

    You might consider the plight of pro-life Democrats who were recently told that support for abortion was a “non-negotiable” part of the platform and that there was “no room” in the Democratic party for pro-life politicians.

    You might consider visiting conservative Episcopalian and Anglican websites and read the cri de coeur of the conservatives who see themselves being disparaged and effectively driven out or disenfranchised by liberals in their churches.

    The result is that pro-life Democrats have been leaving the party in droves. Similarly, the liberal Episcopal Church has been shrinking rapidly, and the Anglican Church and the Methodist Church are on the brink of schism.

  60. Leo, If you’re taking that comment seriously, you’re doing this wrong.

  61. Leo, is there something you’re trying to get at? It’s a bit weird to quote from another post, as it lacks any context. Are you trying to say that BCC is completely intolerant of non-liberal conforming beliefs? Please, just say so.

    Or, you could just participate and tell us how you got to whatever political belief system to which you adhere.

    For me, I don’t know if I’d be considered “liberal” or “conservative”. Here, probably a bit of both. In Utah I’m practically a flaming liberal, but in Seattle I was the deep conservative. I’ve strongly enjoyed not being registered with any political party, though was tempted to register Democrat to vote in the last Primary (Utah laws meant I could vote without joining the party, which was nice).

    I grew up with pretty solidly Republican parents who often believed liberal-ish things while maintaining they weren’t liberal. I’m a feminist because of my mother, who when asked if she’s a feminist responds that she is, “but not a feminazi”. A whole list of things contributed to who I am today; parents going to school to get their GEDs when I was a kid, sexual abuse as a teen (adding empathy for others), death of a sibling to cancer (prompting my mother to return to school), the invention of the internet (chat rooms and bbs, adding exposure to a lot of different kinds of people), going through an abusive marriage (too much to categorize), living in Seattle then Utah (adding even more exposure). There’s so much more.

    So here I am, commenting on blogs with my personal philosophies and understandings, occasionally pushing back against the whole spectrum when I feel the urge.

  62. Is there something I am trying to get at here? Yes.

    I am arguing that it is wrong to argue that liberals open minded and conservatives are not. That is black/white thinking, is it not? There are open and closed minded people in each camp, authoritarians and non-authoritarians in each camp. There are liberals who are judgmental and conservatives who are judgmental. Google “no platforming.” Read The Closing of the American Mind. Take a look at Jonathan Haidt’s books. Look at the comments in the SL Trib every time there is an article on the Church.

    Of course, you could define liberal as open minded, etc., but that automatically renders a negative judgment against those who might call themselves conservative.

    And like Frank, conservatives might call me liberal, and liberals might call me conservative. Those labels may not be very useful.

  63. Loursat says:

    Says Leo: “Of course, you could define liberal as open minded, etc., but that automatically renders a negative judgment against those who might call themselves conservative.”

    Actually, if you defined “liberal” as “broad minded,” you’d just be following one of the standard definitions of the word given in the Merriam-Webster’s dictionary on my shelf. You’re wasting a lot of energy on this, Leo. I think I really would enjoy reading a bit about you instead.

  64. Sorry Loursat, I am with Leo on this. I also spent decades in the Oakland California Stake. It is truly politically liberal. But many of the people in my ward seemed to think it excused their failure to follow the practices of the Church. Home teaching? No time. We must be attending functions supporting our LGBTQ friends. I was not home taught in over three years in that ward. We were truly supportive of the refugees but did not have any time or effort left over to emotionally support ward members who were struggling with depression or job losses. If you were not part of the inside clique, you were not important enough to consider. If your cause was not currently popular, it was ignored. And heaven help you if you expressed a conservative political opinion, even at Church. The Church members were angry and loud in letting you know they would not tolerate hearing such things. And self-righteous and self-congratulating in criticizing Church leaders and members who did not support gay marriage. They knew better and were leading the Church to a higher way!
    And as for Dialogue and Sunstone, I appreciated their willingness to discuss issues that had not been discussed elsewhere. However, I dated a regular contributor for about six months and came away with a different take on some of the pieces published there. In one my friend wrote, I saw that he was actually trying to lobby the Church to change a policy he did not like because it would require him to confess to some very serious sins instead of continuing to lie to his bishop and stake president in order to keep his temple recommend and his callings. The piece he wrote used plenty of logic to make his point, but the examples were so simple even a child could have seen through them. I simply could not believe how naive the editors were. And to top it off, the piece was so poorly written and edited, I was left shaking my head wondering why they even bothered calling themselves editors.
    So I ask, what do you mean by conservative or liberal and why use the terms in the first place? Is it a way to pat yourself on the back about how open minded you are? Are you using it to differentiate yourself from others you feel superior to? Because some of the best and truly Christian people I know call themselves conservative. I do not care if you call yourself liberal or conservative. I care if you act as a follower of Jesus Christ.

  65. Kathy, I was kind of hoping to help return the thread to a discussion about how the commenters would describe their own worldviews and how they got to be that way. Your experiences with the shortcomings of some self-described liberal Mormons are interesting. I’d also be interested in your response to Kevin’s question in the OP: “Do you consider yourself conservative, moderate or liberal (or something else)? [I mean religiously, not necessarily politically.] What in your life shaped you to having the outlook and perspective you do today?”

  66. Loursat, I described the life experiences I have had that have turned me against these labels. I lived in a stake for decades that prided itself of its liberal religious and political views. I watched others silenced for daring to express a dissenting opinion. I have been insulted in Sunday School for expressing a dissenting opinion. I watched ward members suffering unemployment or injuries without any offer of help from others while the Relief Society planned a baby shower for a gay couple in the ward (and talked about it endlessly, regularly expressing that they were setting the example for others in the Church to follow.) So the blindness and pride of the liberal members of my ward turned me forever against wanting to be religiously liberal. These ARE the experiences in my life that shaped my worldview. Perhaps I did not make that clear in the first post. Or perhaps you only recognize experiences that change one from conservative to liberal, not ones that cause one to reject the labels entirely. (In case no one has noticed, I do not see a single post here talking about changing from a liberal to a conservative worldview.)
    And then I expressed my opinion that I do not like the direction I see taken in so many discussions, whether in Church classes or on the web, of dividing people into groups, liberal or conservative, McKay or Clark, iron rod or liahona. I feel they detract from the worldview I am trying to adopt, that of a disciple of Christ. And I feel that the last thing this world needs right now, both inside and outside the Church, is any more divisions.
    I am neither liberal nor conservative because I feel that describing myself using those terms is generally a way of patting myself on the back, usually with great pride that “I am not as other men, sinners”. Or in other words, let me tell you how I evolved from the narrow minded person I was and opened my eyes to the better way. And unfortunately, I see much of that from both self-described liberals and self-described conservatives. Pride. Something I am trying to eliminate in my life.

  67. I am neither liberal nor conservative

    I doubt anyone holds entirely consistent views, and what it means to be liberal or conservative varies widely from neighborhood to neighborhood, state to state, country to country and so on.

    Anyway, I grew up in a socially conservative corner of the world and that has left a mark—I like guns, for example, and wish California’s gun laws were less restrictive of the kinds of guns I can legally own, the public policy consequences be damned! (Well, that’s overstating the case, but I am a little selfish and short-sighted on this point.) At the same time, I’ve lived for a long time in a country with socialized medicine and I am wholly converted to the view that universal health care is a good thing and that taxes are the good value price of civilization.

    And, despite it’s reputation as an echo chamber, the bloggernacle has exposed me to a variety of ideas I’d not entertained before.

  68. rameumptom says:

    Politically, I’m libertarian. Religiously, I believe in studying things out iny mind and not just take things literally, or worse, for granted.
    I believe in the Documentary Hypothesis and multiple Isaiah’s.
    I believe the living prophets are witnesses of the Resurrected Christ and hold priesthood keys. However, they also must deal with the ambiguities of life and scripture.
    I would not vote for the ERA. I’m for less government in our lives, not more. Even well intentioned laws go awry and enslave people to the coercion of government.
    As with Joseph Smith, I’m for teaching correct principles and letting them govern themselves.

  69. Kathy, thank you.

  70. rameumptom says:

    I would add that we now live in a refreshing time for gospel knowledge. While the Church sets some limits to inquiry and teaching, it has greatly broadened those limits. Facts replacing JFS’s faithful history and literalism is a very good thing. Still, I believe that all change should be done with wisdom, knowledge, and the available facts, and not just based on emotionalism (which threatens both the liberal and conservative movements)

  71. Ah Oakland. If you haven’t read Chabon’s TELEGRAPH AVENUE you’ve missed something. That such a place might ever tilt rightward defies the laws of nature.

  72. Definition of conservative:
    “holding to traditional attitudes and values and cautious about change or innovation, typically in relation to politics or religion.”

    Liberal”
    1. open to new behavior or opinions and willing to discard traditional values.
    2. concerned mainly with broadening a person’s general knowledge and experience,

    Given these two definitions, I would say I lean more to the liberal side, especially when it comes to broadening a person’s general knowledge and experience.

    Truthfully I think I was born a more liberal soul. My parents were pretty rigid and conservative. My mother said when I was young I demonstrated an independent streak in comparison to my siblings. I definitely remember the word “why?” was always in my brain. My independent streak never led to me rebel in destructive ways but I’m sure I was a challenge at times whenever I questioned what I viewed as “rules for rules sake.” While my two best friends headed off to BYU, I chose a different state university precisely because I wanted a broader experience and didn’t want to live in the Mormon “cocoon.”

    I generally try to have a broader understanding and knowledge of things. I think society needs both liberals and conservatives. Conservatives to make us aware and consider potential hazards and liberals to push us forward to new understanding and experiences.

    Growing up within the church I adhered to the conservative line, but as I matured I could see conservative’s tendencies didn’t always serve us well, seemed at odds sometimes with the commandment to “love one another” and caused unnecessary hurt to others (ex. priesthood ban). Sometimes I could see that my parents, dutiful members who attended all their meetings and paid full tithing, accepted callings etc., were less charitable than my less active or non-member friend’s parents and neighbors. There were also other issues such as evolution vs creationism. I stumbled quite accidentally on a fuller picture of church history when I read a book (after making sure it wasn’t a book just written from some anti-Mormons) from our local library about Emma Smith, “Mormon Enigma.”
    But nothing affected my orientation toward the church as much as the Prop 8 campaign.

    Kathy–thanks for pointing out that liberals can also be un-Christ-like as well. Pride is a common weakness on both sides and I think one we rarely discuss. I think good and bad can be found on both sides of the conservative/liberal spectrum. (When I was in charge of compassionate service in my more conservative ward I also had difficulty in finding help for the “down and outers” vs the new moms).

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