Where am I in belief?

ashley-batz-1298-unsplash

Today’s guest post comes from Christian Kimball, a longtime friend of By Common Consent.

There has been an unusual flurry of talk lately about “Middle Way Mormons.” The Salt Lake Tribune (Peggy Fletcher Stack); By Common Consent (Sam Brunson); Wheat and Tares (a series); and even Times and Seasons ran a piece.  I commented, I provided background, I was quoted, but I have resisted doing my own “how it is” counter-essay.  Until now.

I’m a “Middle Way Mormon” by everybody’s definition.  It’s not my label—I prefer “Christian who practices with Mormons.”  But it’s better than the alternatives on offer. This is not a to-be-wished-for designation—a high ranking Church leader sympathized with me about “living on a knife edge.”  It’s just a label for a modern reality.

Somewhere in the middle of all the commentary, George Andrew Spriggs observed that “successful Middle Way Mormons . . . undercut the traditional boundaries and truth claims about the church.”  This observation challenged me to describe the church I belong to.  I have tried this before, and the reaction has been “no—doesn’t exist, you’re wrong, that isn’t a thing—just no.” Because of this history, exposing myself this way is scary.

This is long.  This is personal.  This is my opinion.  For today.   (It may change.)  This is also my life, the real stuff.  Reportage, not polemic.  You should not be like me.  You have been warned.

* * *

As a Christian who practices with members and at the meetings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, sometimes my choices come down to tradition and a hymnal. At the same time, I am officially a member of the Church.  I haven’t resigned.  I value my baptism.  I take the sacrament with intent.

So what is this Church I belong to?  As I see it.  As I live it.

I view Joseph Smith as one of the religious geniuses of the 19th century, a man who had a theophany, from whom and through whom several books of scripture came to be, who experimented and collected and assembled a religious vision. And a prophet, in the sense of receiving the word of God and a charge to speak it.

Not necessarily a good man.  Not right all the time.  Not necessarily true to his own insights.  Not always consistent.

I view founding a church, restoring priesthood, organizing ordinances and sacraments, and developing temple practices, as 19th century syncretic work by well-meaning men choosing from among existing Christian traditions.

I view the Book of Mormon as a 19th century creation.  I read it as scripture.  I find the subtitle “Another Testament of Jesus Christ” the most correct and useful description.  The Church uses the Book of Mormon as a ‘proof of history.’  I don’t find value in that approach.  The Church does not (very much) rely on the Book of Mormon for administration or theology.  But I do read the Book of Mormon for theology and Christology and more.  What I read impresses me as certain versions of New Testament Christian, Pauline, and even Trinitarian traditions, with flourishes.

For better or worse, I don’t find much value or spend much time with the Doctrine & Covenants or the Pearl of Great Price.  I try to remain conversant, but in the limited sense of staying relevant in the community and not as a religious or devotional practice.

My understanding of prophets is that their job is to speak the words God gives them (not to speak “for God”).  In that vein I consider Joseph Smith and other Church leaders as prophets.  My operating assumption is that when a person is called to be a prophet, a tiny percentage of his or her words will turn out to be God’s words, they won’t necessarily know which are which themselves, and they may not understand the meaning or relevance of the words they are directed to say.

As a practical consequence, I apply a 50/50 skepticism even to statements labeled “the word of the Lord,” which looks like a cafeteria approach to General Conference talks and to the Doctrine & Covenants.  For example, I view D&C 1:30 as an exaggeration, D&C 22 as the natural human expression of a restorationist mindset, and D&C 132 as a mistake—a confusing version of a Joseph Smith insight driven by a mixture of Bible study, wishful thinking, and domestic conflict.

Because I understand prophets (historically) to be mostly misunderstood outsiders with a revolutionary message, I think the Church’s practice of combining the prophet and president roles is problematic.  I look for other prophets in addition to Church leaders.

I do not have a sense of divine destiny about the Church.  The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the survivor of a series of existential crises.  A succession crisis.  A crisis over polygamy.  A crisis over financial viability.  A crisis over the participation of men and women of relatively recent African descent.  We tell the survival story after the fact, but I don’t view survival as predetermined.  I can imagine the Church failing any one of the past crises. I can imagine the Church failing the next one.

I see the Church in crisis now.  Its dealing with challenges to an identity myth built on a heavily manipulated white-washed history — alongside a theology built around eternal gender essentialism which makes it difficult to incorporate principles of feminism and to include non-binary persons in the Plan.  I do not know whether the Church will survive. More accurately, I don’t know what the survivor will look like and how I will relate to it.

The Church offers a rich selection of Sacraments (ordinances) and a variety of rituals, which belong in a Christian practice and which I appreciate and celebrate.  Not as unique or indispensable, but as valuable and inspiring.

On the other hand, embedded in Church practice are secret loyalty oath covenants, and an interview and disciplinary system serving up bishops as judges, that make idols of the institutional Church and its human leaders.  I reject and avoid these parts of Church practice.

I view the institutional and administrative practices as built on good intentions (“guided by the spirit”).  Most leaders are sincere and trying to do right.  I have seen some frauds and some thieves, and too much abuse—ecclesiastical, emotional, sexual—but the most common sin of Church leaders is sucking up (managing up or making the boss happy or working for the next promotion).

I observe that good intentions are not the same as decision by principle, or decision by consensus or vote, or decision by systematic observation and experiment.  Good intentions do not guarantee results.  I do not see evidence of unusual foresight in Church decision making.  I do not see a better than ordinary record of good decisions.  I do see some very bad decisions.

Finally, the Church has almost nothing to do with my lived and living experience with God (the real thing, not doctrine or description, philosophy or religion) or my personal devotional life including my prayers.  I consider them separate worlds.

*Photo by Ashley Batz on Unsplash

Comments

  1. What is your experience in other traditional Christian churches and how does it inform your views on what was until recently called the Mormon religion?

  2. Kristine A says:

    Hey, fellow traveler, I’m in a similar place! I’ve built a foundation that allows my beliefs to move and be flexible. I don’t have to have a knowledge or fixed opinion on an issue that is unchanging, so if I”m having a bad week or month on a topic everything doesn’t come crumbling down. I value covenant keeping and the sacrament, they inform and enrich my discipleship. My recent stake conference was basically one looong sermon about 2 hour church means you’re on your own for gospel and spiritual learning now. Me: I’m already there, thanks!

  3. Deseret Defender says:

    A common theme I have noticed among “middle way mormons” is that they suffer cognitive dissonance by trying to reconcile their preferred worldly philosophy with the gospel truths revealed to us through prophets. We all have such moments because we have all been influenced by the world to one degree or another.

    Ultimately, we must choose one of two paths: pride or humility. The path of pride — refusing to adopt God’s will as our own — leads to confusion, apostasy, and damnation. The path of humility — embracing our nothingness, God’s greatness, and His love for us — leads to peace, progress, and salvation.

    I pray that you will find the peace you are looking for, though I fear the path you are on will not lead you to it.

  4. Wesley, interesting question–other churches?

    I don’t think there’s any story regarding relative truth claims or doctrinal exposition. But I have spent enough time in and around the Catholic church to have the experience of looking in from the outside. At one point years ago that did cause me to turn on myself, observing that much of what I thought about my own tradition was because I was supposed to or had been taught to think so. The OP is the product of turning off that “supposed to” and asking myself what do I really think, what do I really believe, after 40-50-60 years of experience.

  5. Deseret Defender: Thank you for your well wishes. I would note that I could have verbalized essentially the same positions and understandings for 20 years now, so they feel quite stable. (I might have thought the same much earlier, but I can date the ability or freedom to talk about it to the mid-1990s.) I do experience a dissonance between what I believe and what the Church says about itself. I don’t feel a need to resolve it, and I don’t have any expectation of either of us moving, so that dissonance is likely to continue.

  6. Deseret Defender says:

    “I don’t have any expectation of either of us moving, so that dissonance is likely to continue.”

    With all do respect, this is the problem. Christ demands that we deny ourselves if we are to be His disciples. Fence-sitting isn’t a viable option, as it indicates we aren’t willing to fully accept His grace.

  7. YES to all of this. I’m feeling freed to explore my beliefs and to guide my own gospel learning and relationship with Jesus Christ independent of many of the structures and teachings that I find problematic within the Church. I see other Christians in the world doing this as well and I find it empowering.

  8. DD, Chris isn’t describing any kind of fence-sitting; he describing a deep engagement with both church and religion.

    It turns out we don’t have to choose between two mutually-exclusive paths; rather, we have to navigate through a world of good and better (and sometimes best) decisions, where often several of our potential choices may potentially be equally good (or equally bad, or equally somewhere in the middle).

    You write of the path of pride—of rejecting God’s will. The problem is, that’s a secondary step. Before we can accept or reject God’s will, we have to learn His will. And I’m sure it will come as no surprise that the church, while it claims to be God’s restored church, does not claim to be perfect, or to perfectly translate His will into language and action. I would even wager that the pride you decry includes the pride of refusing to be open to the Spirit when it tells you that you that something you heard at church isn’t True.

    All that to say, Chris is describing a fraught position, but we’re all in a fraught position, in a life where we have to make moral choices, but where the best answer isn’t always clear. Even if we attend church every Sunday. And say our prayers. And read our scriptures.

  9. Anonforthis says:

    “Because I understand prophets (historically) to be mostly misunderstood outsiders with a revolutionary message, I think the Church’s practice of combining the prophet and president roles is problematic.”

    That’s one of my main takeaways from studying the OT this year. The vast majority of those prophets were outsiders, and it was not uncommon for them to tell the leaders of the church (the priests at the temple) to repent.

  10. Deseret Defender says:

    Sam, there is no doubt that life is fraught with difficult moral choices between good and bad, good and better, bad and worse, etc. That does not preclude that there are only two mutually-exclusive paths: one that is strait and narrow, the other is broad with a wide gate. Nor does it excuse the elevation of personal preference over the truths taught by the Savior and His divinely appointed prophets.

    Not everything said at church is true, and we should certainly be open to spiritual confirmation of what we learn in church; but if you reject teachings taught consistently by prophets both modern and ancient because those teachings conflict with secular ideologies or academic trends, then you are elevating your will over God’s will. Any spirit encouraging such dissonance is not of God.

  11. Well said, Sam. I think a mark of a mature testimony in the power of the holy ghost is confidence that the holy ghost will lead a person of good faith and humility to all truth without the need of us goading or shaming or condemning those who don’t reach all the same conclusions we do. Our perception of eternal things in a fallen world will always be clouded, eternity is a long time, and God is merciful. There is enough condemnation without us who call ourselves Jesus’ disciples piling on.

    As for me, personally, I accept the church’s truth claims, but the message of the restoration is not primarily a message of correct doctrine that one must believe in order to be acceptable before God; it’s primarily a message of repentance and conversion through the atonement of Christ. I think we, as human beings, focus too much on doctrine, orthodoxy and heresy, because it’s a lot less painful than repentance. If we will repent and exercise faith in Christ, the spirit will lead us to all truth, eventually. But if we believe all the right things and don’t repent, that belief does us no good.

    Chris, you’re a good man. The church is better for your presence in it.

  12. DD, people are at different places. Nothing says everyone has to be at your place, thank goodness. Someone other than you does the judging. Wrestling with God is great thing. Happens all the time in the scriptures. Sounds like you should try it. Christ is bigger than just your views or even a prophet’s views. We have plenty of evidence of that. These are singular journeys–each making their own. Let’s trust others are doing the best they can and stop stomping on them.

  13. Deseret Defender–please start resisting the urge to comment frequently to call others to repentance, or you’ll find yourself in the mod queue. In general, think about how you would speak to other commenters if they were sitting next to you in Sunday School. Presume good faith; consider the possibility that you might be the one who has something to learn. Thanks.

  14. ColoradoCB says:

    I’ve never commented before but I have to thank Christian for his honesty, vulnerability and courage to state a position so many of us probably hold but for reasons of work, family or social circles don’t seem to ever get the inertia required to make this stand. Thank you. Truly. The more I have observed the online LDS community in the past decade, the more I feel that this “middle-way” identity is not a subset anymore. We are the future of the church if it is to survive the next crisis as you state. It’s hard to find charity for the binary thinking voiced by DD but that voice won’t have anyone left to talk to in the building if they can’t at some point in their lives recognize the beautiful, large cacophony of God’s creations all striving to approach him and that that reality is where God resides, not in the monotony of their dogma.

  15. JKC at 12:25: Thank you! Of course I like the “good man,” but it’s the “presence in it” that matters most. My positive reaction to that phrase causes a realization, that when I show myself as my OP does, the implicit question is not “do you agree with me?” I know and assume most people do not. Rather, the implicit question is “will you accept me in the pew next to you, knowing what I’m thinking?” In essence, “am I OK?” That you would welcome my presence is all I could ask.

    I believe this can be generalized. I believe that most people with heterodox ideas do not expect agreement, but would really like to be accepted.

  16. I too am a middle-way-mormon and I related very much to this post. I really appreciate the OP being so open. I am not nearly as articulate but feel the same way about many issues.

    DD writes, “if you reject teachings taught consistently by prophets both modern and ancient because those teachings conflict with secular ideologies or academic trends…”

    This to me is the giant misunderstanding of orthodox members who judge me. It’s not the right comparison. I’d rewrite it as, “the teachings taught consistently by prophets both modern and ancient vs me spending the last 10 years inch-by-inch, prayer-by-prayer dragging myself by my finger-nails to where I see God’s hand. Struggling with uncertainty has taught me way more about humility than being orthodox ever did.

  17. This was me for a long stretch. Still is, during my flashbacks on those rare occasions when I visit S.L.C. and attend the ward of my youth. And indeed, if there had been more people like Christian Kimball around me visibly at certain critical moments, it could easily have been me now.

  18. That’s beautiful, Chris.

  19. Brother Sky says:

    Christian: I found myself deeply moved by your courage and by your explanation of your own belief within the larger Mormon context. Thanks for this gift. I will say that I’m generally right there with you and it is, for me, a lonely and alienating place. I’ve been an outsider most of my life, so I can handle it, but what I am discovering is just how pervasive an unhealthy (IMHO) clinging to orthodoxy and literal truth is in this church. I’ve always known it, but now that I’m closer to the outer edge of the tent, it’s become really noticeable. I’d second ReTx’s comment above about DD’s comments and about how humbling this particular path is. It’s remarkable how much misunderstanding and judgement one faces when one is honest about the perilous navigations of one’s faith. DD, I thank you for your comment and concern. Please also try to practice just a bit more empathy for folks who are trying to stay close to god even though they may be doing it in a way that you don’t understand. Also, it’s pretty easy to argue that prophets haven’t been terribly consistent on a number of issues.

  20. Chris, as someone who knows you off-the-internet, I loved reading this. I’d feel my life in the Church to be much poorer without you and your family in it, even though we’re not in the same ward anymore.

    Even though it’s interesting to me know some details of what you and others believe about the Church, and even though there’s always a satisfying “click” when we meet people who believe as we do, I think JKC and you are absolutely right that believing the right things isn’t what will save us.

  21. Hi,

    Interesting post. I am assuming you have children. How has your “middle way” Mormonism affected your child rearing? Boys ordained? Kids on missions? Temple marriages? Are you open with them about your views?
    How do they react?

  22. refreshing, thank you. I am trying so hard to stay in the faith of my ancestor’s with similar feelings.

  23. Thank you, Chris. Exactly what I asked you for elsewhere. Best early Christmas gift ever — not just the OP but also the response to JKC. If our EQ meetings and SS classes here were not such echo chambers so that thoughts such as yours could be expressed more freely, I think a number of my departed friends might still be participating. Yes, we don’t just “accept” you, we need you and your voice, whether I agree entirely or merely mostly or not. Thanks much.

  24. I find that focusing on praxis, particularly in group settings, is especially helpful for smoothing out differences in belief. Serve in callings, help people move (seriously), just show up, etc. It usually makes me feel more fulfilled, and it’s what really matters anyway.

    Good post! Love having thoughtful people like you around.

  25. widelyspacedvisitor says:

    DD- I think your desire in commenting includes a desire for all to see more clearly, perhaps to see as you do, and that is a laudable desire.

    For thought- In drawing/painting, (could be considered a more laborious form of communication), the objective of creating more definition for all -or to help see things as they really are- can only be achieved with contour and implied lines through value drawing.

    Using shades of light and dark and varying values of color is the secret to realism.

    Hard and fast lines are not naturally occurring, and when they are drawn without adding values, only adding solid colors- you are rendering cartoons, and caricatures of what is real.

    Both cartoon and high definition realism art communicate, one more shorthand symbolism and the other considerate/deliberate placement of detail. Which is more like the creator of this world?

    I thank you both for painting today and helping me understand as you do.

  26. logicisokay says:

    Modern prophets have a profound way of ignoring and contradicting what ancient and prior modern prophets have said about doctrine and practices. It is intellectually sound to be in a place of confusion when confronted with a Mormon leadership who express widely varying opinions on the same issue. Even something as simple as the naming of the Mormon faith is something that swings back and forth depending on what leader is in the spotlight. I apologize if it sounds flippant, but certainly it’s reasonable to call into question the spiritual practice of the year, promoted by the current version of leadership.

  27. Thank you for these insights, Chris.

    And, JKC, amen to this — I could say this as well:

    “As for me, personally, I accept the church’s truth claims, but the message of the restoration is not primarily a message of correct doctrine that one must believe in order to be acceptable before God; it’s primarily a message of repentance and conversion through the atonement of Christ. I think we, as human beings, focus too much on doctrine, orthodoxy and heresy, because it’s a lot less painful than repentance. If we will repent and exercise faith in Christ, the spirit will lead us to all truth, eventually. But if we believe all the right things and don’t repent, that belief does us no good.”

    I would only add the caveat that, based on the teachings of Church leaders in the last quarter (or so) of the twentieth century through today, we must now say there is no doctrine, only teachings of current Church leaders. (Sadly.) And especially from recent teachings, it seems that they no longer view themselves as even accountable to consistency with scripture, which used to be a very minimal magisterium-type guiding principle: that current Church leaders’ teachings should never (will never) contradict or conflict with fundamental doctrines found in the Scriptures.

  28. john f.
    I agree with you that it doesn’t seem the church holds itself accountable to scripture. I remember the first time I read the New Testament, realizing that my evangelical friends had a lot of points that fit more in line with a literal reading of the bible.

    It seems they stopped following a large portion of the Doctrine and Covenants, as well, some of it I am grateful for. It makes it frustrating when they point to scripture for why something is immovable, especially if it’s Old Testament scripture, when they don’t even fall in line with the Doctrine and Covenants.

    Or when they disregarded the Book of Mormon teachings and contradicted them in the Doctrine and Covenants a blink later. Maybe our only doctrine is to follow the current leader, and that’s why there are so many Mormon break offs.

  29. Mormom, this trend has trickled down now to all Church manuals. Individual verses of scripture are cherry-picked, decontextualized, and then presented as proof-texts often completely divorced from original meaning and use, for the purpose of supporting a particular teaching of a current or recent Church leader. Rather than reading the scriptures for what they inherently mean or could have meant at the time they were written or compiled or how they were traditionally received and interpreted — as “conservatives” insist the Constitution must be read — the scriptures now seem to be viewed as valuable or interesting only to the extent they can provide a prooftext for a particular current teaching. It is sad.

    Even though this is now how the manuals are using scripture in this newest version of the manuals that we will now be using starting in 2019 (and following the trend building in the recent iterations of the manuals), individuals do not have to change their scripture study to reflect this. Each of us can still study the scriptures for their meaning in their context, etc. Something as simple as using the Oxford Annotated Study Bible as part of your approach to scripture study can provide a foundation or an anchor for contextualized scripture study and an indication of the general direction of scholarship on individual scriptural passages in their contexts.

  30. Truckers Atlas says:

    A moving post, Christian. Thank you for so openly sharing what I’m sure are some very hard-earned beliefs.

  31. Thank you for this, Chris. If there are virtual pews in this interweb cloud, I feel like I’ve already sat with you for a few moments, and I’ve been blessed for it. What you do here matters to me. I can only expect that your actual ward is also blessed for your presence.

  32. Thank you for this courageous post. It’s amazing because it’s authentic, and because it’s you. I appreciate the insight into your spiritual journey.

  33. Great post Christian. Thank you for being so honest and open. You have inspired me to do more soul searching so that I might one day be able to more clearly know where I stand in regards to the church.

  34. Really interesting, I think you’ve done a good job articulating your beliefs, I can see a consistency running throughout. In the end I’m guessing most of us have our particular nuances, I really appreciate it when someone engages thoroughly enough with their religion to have their own genuine conclusions and beliefs.

    You mentioned where you are has more or less stabilized over time, I’m interested how this effects you on a practical level – similar to the questions BBELL asked. Aside from the questions already asked, how do you feel your beliefs effect you on a communal level? Do you feel like an outsider in the Church, or do you feel as integrated as anyone else? How do you think it effects your participation (or non-participation) in your local ward, for example? Does it make any difference in how you interact with people of other faith traditions in your community?

  35. Chris, I like your idea of the Church as a survivor of several prior existential crises, with an open question about whether it will or can survive upcoming crises. But to have lasted this long, it has shown remarkable resilience.

    About boundaries, the real focus of your post: While there are different views of what the Middle Way is or what Middle Way Mormons are (some even holding that everyone is a Middle Way Mormon), I think what Middle Wayers are trying to claim is the right or ability to not have to affirm all of the standard Mormon truth claims but, at the same time, remain within their LDS congregation or community. It’s finding some way to be comfortably in without facing constant pressure to be “all in” or else become all out.

    Most orthodox Mormons and many general and local leaders reject the “half in” idea. There is no middle ground, in their eyes. You’re either all in or you’re out, and they unconsciously strive to make you one or the other. Most Post-Mos, on the other hand, reject the idea that the Middle Way can ever be a stable or comfortable place to be. The talk is all about “transition,” as if moving to the middle is inevitably followed by moving completely out. Obviously it isn’t. The bottom line is that few at either end of the spectrum can accept the idea that being a 70% Mormon or a 50% Mormon is permissible or even conceivable. That shouldn’t be such a difficult concept, given that most institutions in society have varying levels of membership and commitment.

  36. The middle way is usually preferable to either extreme. But must the Middle Way of Mormonism undermine the power of the Book of Mormon? The Middle Way sees the book as an inspirational fiction originating in the 19th century because the Book of Mormon contains so much material that could not have been known to the ancient people described in it. But on this point the Middle Way needs some updating. Royal Skousen’s scholarship has demonstrated that the language, grammar, syntax and themes of the Book of Mormon text originate, not in the 19th century, but in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Middle Way need not see Joseph as some genius that mastered the King James language. It is pretty obvious that no 19th century author could create a text that is nearly purely a product of Early English.

    And must the Middle Way jettison the Doctrine and Covenants where in sections 19, 29, 76, 88 and 93 we find such profound theology and such powerful witnesses of Christ? Must the Middle Way also dismiss the marvelous revelation on the pre-existence found in the Book of Abraham?

    Certainly, Christian emphasis on the pure Christianity of love and forgiveness is the essence of the Middle Way. I also agree that the Middle Way is a turning away from the authoritarian ways of the Mormon church with its abuses dating back to polygamy. As Christian has suggested, the best of the Middle Way is a seeking to follow God’s will as revealed directly by the spirit to one’s own heart and to reject all that is less than Christ-like even in his church.

  37. To the several “you can sit with us” responses, thank you. There are strong threads of love and kindness and friendship and understanding in the air. Some of them years in the making. Maybe more important, I know there are dozens (because I could name them), maybe hundreds, maybe more (how far does BCC reach, anyway??) who are reacting comments here saying “if they only knew—that could be me.”

  38. To brycedixon04 and Dave B. (as types more than as individuals), and every writer of the articles identified at the beginning of the OP, I keep reacting with three thoughts:

    1. It sounds like your Middle Way is different than my way. I think that’s how it works.

    2. Having been at this so-called “middle way” for more than 20 years and more than a third of my life, it’s just what I do. When I describe the Church as in the OP it doesn’t feel like filling a need or coming to the end of a frought search. it feels like simply reporting on my reality. This is what I know/feel/have learned/observe.

    3. Sociologically, my version of “Middle Way” has two versions:
    —Functional: If you think you are or want to be, you’re in.
    —Descriptive: “Middle Way” seems to be characterized by two things. (a) some sort of “call” (desire, pressure, interest) to be constructively engaged with a particular church, combined with (b) some form of alienation, i.e., a self-recognition that whatever “all in” means, it’s not me.

  39. Why have a relationship with the church at all then? Why not just join a fun, light, bright, Christ centered Christian congregation? People who wish to re-make the church, to me, are like people too lazy to get up, find the remote, and change the channel. They just make due with what is on. The church is an anachronistic dinosaur. Let it die.

  40. To the “how is it working?” questions (Steve LHJ, bbell, others), thank you for asking. What comes to mind feels like an autobiography rather than a comment buried at the back of a blog post, but here are some already too long thoughts:

    My children are adults with their own children. On an individual level, they should tell their own stories on their own time (I’m hoping it will come while I am alive). As a group, I would make a couple of generalizations:
    >I find them all kind, thoughtful, happy, well adjusted, spiritually alive, grounded. I think they’re great. I see fewer neuroses than in my generation.
    >They turn out to be more church-going people than I expected. My expectations are related to their generation, where “nones” have become a story, and their family, where varied paths are honored, and where there was less pressure to a certain path than I experienced growing up.
    >I think the several couples are well matched in many ways, including personality, intelligence, achievement, and religiousity. Others who know them all have observed that the women in particular are outliers relative to the community of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Of course I think they are all extraordinary individuals, but I think the outlier observation says more about opportunities and expectations for women generally in the Church.

    For myself:
    >As noted in these pages in earlier comments and posts, I returned my temple recommend to my local bishop 23 years ago and have not participated in a “worthiness” interview since. In an institution that often seems built on worthiness interviews, there are natural consequences of eschewing that part of the pratice. Remarkably, I have been invited to participate in a number of ways, under some leaders and not others.
    >Anger is my predominant emotional reaction to the institutional church. I have been 80% successful at shutting my mouth or absenting myself when the anger runs hot. I would put at least 10 of the last 20 years in that category. The other 20% has proven to me that acting or speaking out of anger does nobody any good. When I’m not so angry, people tell me I do a pretty good job of being the “crazy uncle” on the back row, the guy with off-the-wall ideas said in a culturally acceptable way.
    >I couldn’t possibly present the Church to others, missionary-like, on Church-standard models or descriptions. But it turns out that in the right setting I’m perfectly comfortable talking about my version (see the OP) of the Church with non-member friends. (I find that only members who are well-steeped in the tradition who understand how frought this conversation can be.) The reaction I get tends to be “on your telling, Mormons and the Mormon Church are not as weird as I thought.”

  41. saltcity8800: I know that’s a rhetorical question but it gives me an opening for a one-liner:
    “Middle Way is only recognized, not proselytized.”

    More important, I choose to distinguish “re-make” or “change from within” or “leaven” (phrases and words I hear). I think there are people who stay involved with such purpose in mind. I don’t know whether it’s a subset or an overlapping set, but it is not the same set as Middle Way as I use the term. Having a purpose of fixing or changing has its own dynamics and life cycle. I think we’d do well to make it a separate conversation.

  42. Breaching Whale says:

    Thank you Chris. Out of all the Middle Way posts, yours resonated with me the most: humble, personal, vulnerable, insightful, courageous. It is a lonely road – it is helpful to know there are others on it. In a small way, it makes it less lonely.

  43. Thanks Christian. This is great.

  44. If you regard the Book of Mormon to be a 19th-century work with no historical basis, then by implication you are regarding Joseph Smith to be an extremely delusional person at best or an absolute fraud at worst. I would think that a delusion or fraud on the scale of the Book of Mormon would completely overshadow anything good he did. Imagine if we found out that Mark Hoffman set up a bunch of charitable establishments that feed thousands of homeless and needy. Could we just overlook all the forgeries that he clearly fabricated? Or even worse, could we ever regard the forgeries inspired and still worthy in informing us about history? That’s where the Middle Path seems like madness to me. How can you acknowledge that Joseph Smith was a fraud on the level of concocting the Book of Mormon and duping tens of thousands of people that he was actually translating an ancient text while alive, and still see him as this of source of inspiration and general good? And no it isn’t an issue of no one’s perfect or that he was a man with flaws and critics are expecting him to be perfect. Again would you be willing to release Mark Hoffman from prison and give him money to resume his career as a historian of the Mormon church on the grounds of him not being perfect and making mistakes? I think once people acknowledge that the Book of Mormon was a 19-century fabrication, it should logically follow that you would want nothing to do with a conman as crafty and mendacious as Joseph Smith.

  45. A follow-up. Perhaps you could say that Joseph wasn’t a fraud but meant well and thought that he was actually translating but really wasn’t. That would be to say that Joseph Smith was insane on the level of Christopher Nemelka, the guy who claimed to be a reincarnation of Hyrum Smith and to have translated the sealed portion of the Book of Mormon. Again, why would you want to have any business following or admiring anyone that delusional and crazy.

  46. logicisokay says:

    @Wilson, what you suggest is exactly the binary thinking that the OP rejects. It isn’t required that Joseph is either a delusional fraud that is akin to Hoffman or he is a prophetic divinely called man. It is entirely possible to consider what good he provided and call into question other claims that he made. Middle way Moronism certainly can reject the claim that “everything hangs on the historicity if the book of Mormon” or that the book is the keystone, and when pulled everything comes apart. Some may find that binary analysis compulsory, but not middle way Moronism as I see it and as read the OP.

  47. Hi Bro. Kimball,

    This is the only exact match of my own views that I have ever read.

    Thank you so much for writing this. Reading between the lines, I’ll say that my personal Christology is a little different from yours, but the rest is an absolute match.

    Although, I’m sure there are more people out there who hold these views, but it’s so difficult to even broach the subject, and even when you do, it’s so much more common to be assigned a point of view by the person talking to you than to meet someone patient and knowledgeable and willing to listen with interest and without fear.

    You mentioned in your reply to Deseret Defender that you feel you have freedom to talk about your position. I feel a measure of the same, but it takes a careful reading of the situation and more and more often I just don’t bother to put forth the effort anymore. I tend to silently steam about things instead; like you, my predominant reaction to church events is anger, when it isn’t glum despair.

    In fact, I see Deseret Defender’s first response to your post as a perfect illustration of Andrew S.’s point that you referred to in the OP. I don’t blame others for reacting this way. To them, the view you described is somehow more shocking and troubling and threatening than just saying “the church isn’t true” and leaving entirely.

    Usually I feel the polite thing to do is put up a ‘shield’ of silence, at least around the really thorny anger-making issues, until time place manner and person issues have been resolved. However, then the problem is that whatever acceptance you get from those sitting by you in the pew is acceptance of the ‘shield’, and not acceptance of you as you really are.

    So to get to the point — do you think there is a way to gain real, genuine, ongoing acceptance at church after fully dropping the ‘shield’?

    I tend to think there isn’t, but FYI I’m about half your age, and female, and I think my personal church experiences and yours will no doubt diverge for both those reasons. I’m curious about your thoughts in general and I always appreciate reading your comments in other posts because without fail you always notice something important that everyone else has missed.

    Thanks again.

  48. Deseret Defender,
    Was BY the head of the “straight and narrow path” when he excommunicated Orson Pratt for not believing the Adam God Theory? How about GA Smith when he said that interracial marriage was a sin? And JFS Jr (and his son in law, BRMcConkue) who promised that the blacks would not receive the Priesthood in this life? (Notice that I have only listed prophetic teachings that have since been disavowed). Why do TBMs think that the Prophets are infallible? What do the teach today that will be disavowed in 50 years.

  49. saltcity- From my chair, women like Chieko Okazaki proselytized Middle Way all the time. Though the exact phrase wasn’t even in vogue, if you read her advice to women, you read a Middle Way stance. It’s true we have less leaders like Hugh B. Brown and Chieko, but we did have them. We can grow them. I sense Uchtdorf has a great deal of Middle Wayness. And when I can, without using the term, I do try to present Middle Way awareness. There are far more Middle Wayers than one might think.

  50. Apparently and unfortunately today my local meetings will be less devotional and more procedural, with a discussion of the new two hour setup.

    For family and social reasons, I find this site to be a safe place. There’s nothing like having children with mental health and substance abuse issues to help you focus on the here and now. I have had to give up working for the next promotion, as Chris says.

    In my home we are praying and discussing ALL methods of healing, while I continue to get emails asking for volunteers to shovel snow at the church building while I know all too well it’s going to be the same ten people who show up from our large Utah ward. If I didn’t have bad knees I might venture over to assist.

    Some days all I can do is take comfort in the fact that the Word of Wisdom may not actually prohibit the drinking of beer (is this a victory for el diablo?) while I hope that my dearly departed mother can bless my home from her spot in Spirit Paradise.

  51. Wilson-
    I have had the same question. I think that black and white thinkers are often the first to leave, and maybe they do have more integrity than those of us who choose to stay. Who choose to think that Joseph could have still started a religious movement with good intentions, and still not have been perfectly good. Some of the historical accounts of his behavior are honestly appalling to me, and there is no way I could follow a current prophet if he did those same things.

    The key here, is that Joseph Smith lived and died roughly 200 years ago. A lot has happened since then. I see the church of my ancestors, some of whom were founding members, change and evolve a lot during my lifetime and I still hope to live another 50 or 60 years to watch it change more. I am a curious person, Mormonism is my tribe. It’s in my dna.

    I can appreciate that some don’t have the privilege of feeling at home in our congregations because of some of the current policies, and my heart breaks for them. I also hold out hope that things will change for the better and not worse.

  52. Joseph Stanford says:

    Lao Tsu (or whoever authored the Tao te Ching) described the middle way:
    The bright path seems dim;
    Going forward seems like retreat;

  53. Thank you so much for this post. As a middle wayer myself, but without the ability or courage of Christian, I deeply appreciate this description of the church. It gives me hope that I can somehow keep my sanity, hold onto my Mormon heritage, and appreciate the positive aspects of church teachings while rejecting those that I don’t believe could possibly be true.

    On a related note I believe there are more middle wayers than most orthodox members want to acknowledge.

  54. @logicisokay and @Mormon, I am not a “black-and-white” or “binary” thinker. I am perfectly capable of seeing nuance. However the issue is not the thinker, but the question itself. There is no middle ground on the question of the historicity of the Book of Mormon. It is simply not a question that lends itself to nuance. There are two categories of thought on it: 1) it contains words of ancients in the Americas and is evidence of Joseph Smith’s prophethood and 2) it is a fabtication and is evidence that Joseph Smith was a delusional, a fraud, or both. All other positions are subcategories. Do you believe that part if it is a product of JS’s imagination but another part actual words of ancients? That position is subgrouping of category 1. The OP sounds like he it she belongs to category 2 and is saying that does not contain the words of ancients in the Americas. It logically follows that JS was a massive fraud. Did JS do good things and say deep wisdom? Of course. But all this is overshadowed by the fraudulence of the Book of Mormon. And that was my point by bringing up Mark Hoffman. You’re trying to make the point that if we are to accept that the Book of Mormon contains no words of ancients in the Americas that we can just disregard this a common human frailty and weakness and appreciate Joseph Smith for all of these other supposed qualities. No we can’t. It would be like regarding Hoffman to be a trustworthy source of wisdom on history. Is it possible that Hoffman gave us amazing historical insights? Yes. But knowing that he was a master forger who duped even the leaders of the church, we would have strong reason to hold anything he said on Mormon history highly suspect. We simply can’t dismiss his forgeries as common human frailty. And such it is with Joseph Smith. If you think that the Book of Mormon is strictly a 19th-century text, then that is Hoffman level stuff that should cause us to distrust virtually everything else that Joseph Smith had to say on history.

  55. Wilson, I’m personally in camp 1. But what would you say of someone who believes Joseph Smith was receiving inspiration from God to create the Book of Mormon, that what it teaches about morality, Christ, and the gospel of Jesus Christ are all true, perhaps even the most important truth we need in our time, but that simultaneously Joseph Smith thought the stories/framework and inspired visions that came to his mind were historical, but they were actually archetypical and allegorical. Therefore it is both inspired and true, but not historical.

    To be clear that is not my belief, I’m just curious if you find that to be a middle ground. Or if in your mind that is still fraud.

  56. @Steve LHJ, what you are proposing seems contradictory. On the one hand you propose that someone could see the Book of Mormon as not containing the words of any ancients in the Americas but still see its teachings about Jesus as true (and not just that but vitally true to the extent that you need to know for God to save you). I would follow up with what do you mean by true? Because the Book of Mormon is taught to be a Second Testament of Jesus Christ in the sense that ancients in the Americas actually saw Jesus and wrote a record about it on golden plates. So to hold a position that you talk of would be to stretch the meaning of true in the sense of “what the Book of Mormon teaches about Jesus is true” to an unrecognizable extent.

    Overall I would still categorize this position under category 1 since it would appear that it proposes belief that Joseph Smith had special access to the supernatural (actually communicated with God and angels in ways that other humans could not) and because I think that if we pressed this person enough on the historicity question I think that we would at some point find this person conceding that it was possible that the Book of Mormon contained words of ancient Americans, but would qualify this maybe by adding that it was impossible to fully disprove this (thus placing the burden of proof on category 2 and appealing to the historicity of the gaps idea).

    This isn’t the first time that I have heard someone proposing a third category for how to view Book of Mormon historicity. However, my experience has been in the past that those claiming to be in category 3 end up conceding when pressed enough that they are in either category 1 (it is possibly historically true and I will maintain that position until category 2 can prove everything about it false) or category 2 (yes, I know Joseph Smith was some sort of delusional, but I like some elements of Mormonism in the present time and it is my tribe so I stay and try not to say anything that would ruffle the average believer’s feathers).

  57. Wilson, that sounds like a no true Scotsman fallacy. I’m category 1, but I think it’s possible for a person to stake out a position like Steve LHJ describes.

  58. JKC, even if you just look at the positions by themselves and take away the human element (and the possibility that if we scratch just a little bit harder that the person will reveal himself to be either past of category one or two), a third position just doesn’t make sense given what has historically been said about the Book of Mormon. The idea that the Book of Mormon is true but only metaphorically and not at all historically completely defies what Joseph Smith and every other Mormon leader has said about the book.

  59. Yes, that position would obviously be different from the traditional way the church has treated the book, obviously.

  60. Wilson, so what? It’s pretty clear that Joseph Smith didn’t fully understand and comprehend the things that he brought to light. It’s not a significant stretch to argue that, even if he believed that the Book of Mormon was historically accurate, it wasn’t, and yet it has spiritual value.

    I mean, we’ve gone that direction in baby steps. He seemed to believe that the Lehites were the ancestors of all Native Americans, and that it described the peoples of both North and South America (and even if he didn’t, subsequent church leaders did). I don’t know anybody who believes that today—even the church has disavowed that idea with its change to the introduction to the Book of Mormon.

    In fact, I don’t think you can, in good faith, argue that the Book of Mormon is an objective and entirely accurate history of a people (and, in fact, I would propose that even the Book of Mormon doesn’t claim as much). While I believe there is a historical basis to the Book of Mormon, saying it is “true” or the “most correct book” doesn’t tell us a lot, because “most correct” and “true” clearly include something outside of historically unbiased, completely accurate. And I don’t think we can rely on traditional Mormon use of the BoM to determine where that line falls.

  61. Following on Sam’s comment, I would point out that from a reader’s perspective, the Book of Mormon’s historicity ought to be a side issue. When Mormon tells us that we should ask God whether the book is true, he is not saying that we should find out whether the book is historically accurate. The fundamental question is whether the Book of Mormon brings us to Jesus Christ. Thinking that this question depends on the book’s historicity is a logical mistake.

    My own experience with the Book of Mormon is that the book speaks for itself as a witness of Christ. It doesn’t need to be validated by historical scholarship. I don’t think it’s pointless to talk about the book’s historicity, of course. There are lots of interesting ways into the book using that line of ideas. But I do think it’s foolish to make historicity, rather than the Spirit, the measure of the book’s truth.

  62. Well, I personally think (to be clear, I recognize I’m giving my own opinion on the matter because at the end of the day no one really knows for sure and this is all fun-and-games rather than any sort of scientific method), that God is greater than option 1 or 2. That Joseph Smith and the way his brain works is more complicated than 1 or 2. That God could give Joseph Smith an experience so much greater than his brain could comprehend that his brain could created a story he could understand in order to be able to explain what happened to him. I don’t see that as making him delusional. If we do call him delusional it was by God himself and how the human brain works. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about when it comes to brains, google the Revisionist History Podcast on Brian Williams. Super interesting stuff.)

    Or… my other favorite pet theory is related to a very, very superficial understanding of quantum physics. That the BofM came from the faith of all those millions of people who have studied it and embrace it in the last 200ish years.

    Either way, you can feel free to see this as a black/white situation, but you can’t force me to do so. Memory itself is so faulty. That J.S. said he remembers something a certain way, does not mean that is what actually happened that way (I’m talking to you, multiple versions of the First Vision). And I don’t see the point in telling someone they have to limit God somehow, just because you do.

  63. Sam, it is extremely clear that Joseph Smith promoted the Book of Mormon to be his translation of an ancient text containing the words of ancient Americans about Jesus Christ. You seem to be misinterpreting category 1 to be those who believe the Book of Mormon to be almost entirely historically accurate. Category 1 simply comprises those who believe that the BOM contains at least some content that only could have come by ancients in the Americas. The LDS leaders have only migrated in their stance on the Book of Mormon as far the people it describes being the principal inhabitants of the ancient Americas to being just among the principal inhabitants of the Americas. As for the LDS leaders going more toward category 2, hardly. They are still very much invested in a historical Book of Mormon that ancient Americans wrote and dictated and that Joseph Smith translated.

    “While I believe there is a historical basis to the Book of Mormon”

    And you clearly fit in category 1 that I described. So I don’t see how you are necessarily disagreeing with what I wrote. I have always maintained that there are variations and subcategories in how people believe the BOM to be historical. Similarly there are disagreements among those in category 2 about its provenance with some arguing Rigdon and Spalding to be its actual authors more so that Joseph Smith. Still we can identify 2 distinct categories on the question of the BOM containing the words of ancient Americans and I really don’t see how a 3rd or 4th category could coherently exist on that question.

  64. Loursat,

    “the Book of Mormon’s historicity ought to be a side issue”

    I don’t think it could ever be. To ask such of anyone who has ever thought about the Book of Mormon and was aware of its story would be like asking anyone who had the briefest interaction with politics not to have an opinion about Donald Trump. In fact, the fact that you write that it is a witness of Christ shows that you are invested partially in its historicity. You will defend its message that ancients in the Americas actually witnessed Jesus and believed in him before his coming even if you might not really care whether a person named Ammon chopped off a bunch of arms. You fit squarely in category 1. And just because its historicity doesn’t need to be validated by outside scholars for you to regard it to be historical doesn’t mean that historicity is not an important question. Do you believe the Book of Mormon to be true? Then wouldn’t part of what you mean by it being true refer to a belief that it contain the actual words, experiences, and ideas of ancients in the Americas?

    ReTx,

    A couple of points. 1) The Book of Mormon is not a memory issue like the First Vision accounts. It is a translation issue. Did Joseph Smith actually channel, translate, convey the words of ancient Americans about Jesus or not? Did he just make it all up? And if he did (or others 19th-century figures made it up and he took credit for it), then how is the Book of Mormon still true? That is what some people seem to want to argue (that it is completely made-up but still true and continues to stand as evidence of Joseph Smith communicating with God) but cannot do so coherently. 2) I can’t force you to identify yourself as part of either category 1 or 2 (although I suspect in different contexts that you would say something about the Book of Mormon that would more clearly identify you as belonging to one of the two categories, probably category 1, I suspect), but it cuts both ways. Can you persuade me that a coherent category 3 exists?

  65. “Did Joseph Smith actually channel, translate, convey the words of ancient Americans about Jesus or not? Did he just make it all up?”

    I reject the dichotomy. I’d say, Joseph Smith channeled the mysteries of God to the best of his very, very limited abilities. He used stories to do this. Stories can reflect a universal understanding of God (a divine truth) and (I say as a story-teller) exist on their own merits. The more interesting question is did the plates actually exist?

    Seriously, I don’t relate to either #1 or #2, although I enjoy (and occasionally engage in) the arguments of both. My standard answer when asked if the BofM is historical is that I tend to think it is not, although I’m open to additional information to change my mind.

    ” Can you persuade me that a coherent category 3 exists?”

    Insisting on coherence means insisting on limiting an explanation to those things the human brain can comprehend. Since my whole point is that God and His ways are greater than the human intellect, I don’t know that you will ever find anything I say convincing.

  66. Wilson,
    The Community of Christ (the reorganized church of jesus christ of latter day saints) has held the belief that the Book of Mormon is inspired, but not a literal translation for generations.

    They also keep adding revelation to The Doctrine and Covenants. So, they clearly still think God is talking to them, even though they don’t think of it as a “translation”. I used to wonder what the point was.

    However, they keep finding archaeological evidence around the globe that is older than The Book of Mormon or on the same timeline as The Book of Mormon. The Native Americans’ dna has been thoroughly studied. The scrolls that the Pearl of Great Price were “translated” from have been found and shown to be different from what Joseph said they were. Even the church stopped calling it a translation, and instead “inspired writing”. I hold on to skepticism, that tomorrow there could be something that proves The Book of Mormon is historical. Unless it took place in another dimension, or another planet, as time goes by- it’s looking less likely.

    I still feel good when I read it, I love a lot of its’ contents. The mercy of King Benjamin, the condemnation of polygamy by Jacob, the coming of Christ, the repentance of Alma the younger. I believe a lot of the Old Testament is allegorical, it doesn’t mean there isn’t much to learn.

    It matters to some if it’s historical, and it was a big item of concern for me. I am okay staying in this middle place for a while. I am anticipating forever.

  67. Ryan Mullen says:

    “You will defend its message that ancients in the Americas actually witnessed Jesus and believed in him before his coming”

    No, I will not.

    “Do you believe the Book of Mormon to be true?”

    Yes (though I would quibble that this is a vague, poorly defined question. A narrative book is not a fact that can be true or false). I believe the Book of Mormon teaches fundamental truths about the mission and gospel of Jesus Christ that are inaccessible from the Bible alone.

    “Then wouldn’t part of what you mean by it being true refer to a belief that it contain the actual words, experiences, and ideas of ancients in the Americas?”

    No.

  68. logicisokay says:

    @Wilson if you look hard enough, I am fairly convinced that you will discover that the body of scholarly evidence clearly provides that the historicity if the Book of Mormon is unlikely. Good news for you, you are justified in calling the whole thing a sham… There are prophets who have stated this very direction. I.e. the BoM is historically true or the whole church is false. So, given your strong view of the need to be in camp 1 as you describe it, and the extremely pervasive reality of non-historicity, you are free to go about your business unencumbered by the church.

    However, if you’ve had a spiritual experience related to Mormon practices, and you don’t choose the ‘believe 100% or believe 0%” mentality (see article of faith 11) you may necessarily find yourself in need of a logically and spiritually consistent middle way. Regardless, peace and blessings to you on your journey! Testimony lives in the heart of the self, no other man can measure or judge it.

  69. To the historicity conversation, carry on. Despite authoring the OP, my opinion and belief are not relevant. (Precisely so.)
    But for the record, if I were to engage I would hope to sound congruent with Loursat and logicisok.

  70. I was unaware that the Community of Christ had rejected the BOM as a 19th-century text without historical elements. They regard it as scripture and a second testament of Jesus Christ and by implication a historical text, even though they are attempting to become an essentially liberal Protestant Church that emphasizes the Bible (solar scriptura) and deemphasize the roles of Joseph Smith and the BOM.

    Ryan Mullen, how is the Book of Mormon true and not at all historical if it teaches thongs about Jesus that aren’t contained in the Bible? If it teaches such things, then by implication the BOM does contain words of ancients in the Americas who saw Jesus amd relayed these words.

    Suppose we find a dead man in the street with a bullet through his heart. Someone killed him and suspects are either innocent or guilty of committing a crime. It is a binary question without a third option. The guilty party could have killed the man in a variety of ways. Perhaps the guilty party was an accomplice. Perhaps they forced the victim to point a gun on themselves and pull the trigger. But however it happened someone is either guilty or not guilty. You Middle Pathers are trying to argue that a defendant killed the man but is not guilty or that the defendant didn’t kill the man but is still guilty. It doesn’t make any sense.

  71. A point that many of you are failing to get is that even if the BOM was 95% made-up 19th-century text and 5% actual words of ancient Americans, it would still be a category 1 position for it would be acknowledging that the BOM contains the words of ancient Americans. I don’t know why someone would believe that it was mostly fake except for 5%, for if you are willing to concede that some of it contains words of ancient Americans, why mot more of it? But I guess cognitive dissonance causes people to hold some crazy and contradictory beliefs.

  72. “And by the power of the Holy Ghost, ye may know the truth of all things.” Moroni 10:5

    Let us consider two subsets in the greater set of “all things.”
    1. The set of things that actually are true.
    2. The set of things that are not true.

    The verse states how you may come to know that things in both sets are true. Or rather, that you may “know” things are “true” which are not true, (in set #2 above). Things like my childhood Navaho friend Larry was 100% descended from the people in the Book of Mormon. Gosh, it was such a thrill to go running with an actual bona fide Lamanite, almost like he stepped right out of the pages of scripture. It made my chest burn, especially sprinting up steep hills.

    Things like what Elder McKonkie taught in stake conference when I was young: “The Negro will never receive the Priesthood.” “I give it unto you as a sign. Know this church is in deeeep apostasy, if you EVER see a Negro blessing the sacrament.” Did not our bosoms burn at hearing those words? Ironically, I am blessed to live in a ward, now over many decades, where that is nearly a weekly event. And it constantly stirs the memory of Elder McKonkie’s remarks. I am reminded unforgettably every week, the prophets can be completely wrong. Offering a humble apology (for which I am grateful) doesn’t erase the memories of youth. If they want to be able to have “do overs” when they make mistakes, then they should stop teaching black and white thinking. But I digress.

    Notice it says “may” not ‘will”. No guarantees this will work consistently.

    This implies a redefinition of the word “know” to mean more like a strongly-held opinion rather than a objective, verifiable, guaranteed and impossible-to-disagree-with fact. Or the Holy Ghost helps you become more certain in your opinions regardless of whether they are factual or not. And more likely to take action and persist in an action, rather than dithering impotently in confusion.

    i submit that there are some advantages to being certain more than correct when seeing through a glass darkly. I feel better already.

  73. Wilson, the dead man analogy doesn’t really prove your point. If someone killed him in self defense, they would be responsible for the killing, but not guilty of murder.

    I understand that you don’t like the third option, that the BofM was not based on actual historical events, but contains spiritual truths (and in truth I don’t like it either, it doesn’t work for me), but that doesn’t make it incoherent.

    I also don’t think your being entirely fair in your description of the Community of Christ. I don’t think they’d describe themselves that way.

  74. JKC, the point is that someone is either guilty or not guilty of a particular charge. If killing in self-defense can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt, then not guilty. It is still a binary question even if there are complex circumstances behind how the man was shot. The charge of first degree murder has a very specific definition and set of criteria that have to be met and defendants are either guilty or not guilty of specific charges. There is no in-between.

    You could also try to argue that the bullet hit the man’s heart in the most extraordinary of ways by someone innocuously firing in the air and the bullet happening to land in the man’s heart. That is what the Middle Pathers seem to be arguing with the Book of Mormon. It was made-up but God led Joseph Smith to make it up. Come on. Let’s be real. If you are willing to grant that the whole thing was fiction, then what is the more likely explanation? Joseph was sincere without any intent to defraud in spite of making the whole thing up or he was trying to deceive people and eventually developed a strong sense of self-delusion that he was receiving revelations?

    I can see how someone who believes the Book of Mormon was fiction may still derive inspiration from some of the stories. I can also see how someone who believes the BOM to be fiction might still remain active in the LDS Church. But I take issue with the idea that the BOM is fiction yet true and evidence of Joseph Smith’s prophethood. It is an intellectually dishonest argument and I strongly doubt that anyone making such an argument will be able to hold such dissonant reasoning for very long before entering category 2. The argument exists solely because of a cognitive dissonance caused by pressures to remain Mormon.

  75. If it is not in some measure historical then JS was either lying when he said it was or he was wrong. Now, I can understand why the first option calls into question his prophethood, but I don’t think the second necessarily does, unless you adopt some kind of infallibility belief, which we don’t.

    Look, the argument may not be sustainable in the long term, and I’m not persuaded by it either, but I think you’re wrong to call anyone who believes it dishonest.

  76. Joseph Smith could have gotten some things wrong at yet still have been sincere. Of course.
    That appears to be the main argument of most believers and LDS leaders. There are things that Joseph Smith could have gotten wrong about the translation or about a prophecy, but the idea is that these were small and did not overshadow all of the things that he got right (furthermore, the oft-made argument that doubters and ex-Mormons were expecting Joseph Smith to be perfect and took offense at him getting something wrong is a strawman in the extreme, the doubter/ex-Mormon argument is that the Book of Mormon being a fake is of such magnitude that it cannot be dismissed as a mere mistake made with good intentions, but is strong evidence of years and years of deliberate fraud).

    Again, that is still category 1 view of historicity: the BOM contains the words of ancient Americans even if not necessarily all of them are. However, the whole idea of Mormonism is that Joseph Smith was a prophet who received revelations from God and that the Book of Mormon was evidence, or at least strong enough evidence, of this, the BOM simply being too complex for him to have made up. And once someone says that the BOM is entirely fictional with it not being possible for it to contain the words of ancient Americans, it is incoherent for that person to continue to maintain that Joseph Smith was still a prophet and that the Book of Mormon is still true. It takes extreme acts of mental gymnastics that will undoubtedly unravel upon deeper questioning and scrutiny. To say that may not necessarily be intellectually dishonest (which is different from being dishonest) but if it isn’t that, then it is a reflection of unawareness and cluelessness that would undoubtedly be eroded upon deeper thought about the question.

  77. Wilson seems to think he is undoubtedly prophetic about what will undoubtedly happen upon deeper scrutiny or deeper thought. I’m not ready to accept Wilson as such a prophet, even though I suspect my current thought about the meanings of “prophet” (and of “true” for that matter) might well be broader, or more various than, or different from his. At the moment I’m more curious about any reason for Wilson’s apparent level of passion and investment in the argument, apparently triggered by Chris brief comment on how he views the Book of Mormon, but without regard to his comment “You should not be like me. You have been warned.”.

  78. Wilson, I consider myself more orthodox than middle way, but’s if I had to limit my faith in the Bible to its complete historicity, that would be a problem. Personally I don’t feel the need to be painted into that corner with the Book of Mormon either.

  79. Bro. B, that is true that there is much more to faith than Book of Mormon historicity. Historicity may not even factor in very highly to many LDS followers’ faith and I’m not saying that it needs to. Yet to be a believing LDS person, at some point one must have to grapple with the question of the prophethood of Joseph Smith and the historicity of the Book of Mormon and formulate an opinion about those. The issues are regularly raised in the chapel and in the manuals. The prophethood of Joseph Smith is particularly important to LDS belief. Without this concept of him being a prophet and revealing more important information about Jesus Christ and the true gospel, then you don’t really have Mormonism. And the BOM historicity is a key piece of JS being a prophet. Once you concede that the BOM isn’t historical, then you really question the prophethood of JS and the truthfulness of the LDS church. By its nature the historicity question is binary. Either the BOM contains words, ideas, and expressions of ancient Americans or it doesn’t. There is no in-between. And if it doesn’t at all then JS is a complete fraud (the construction of the Book of Mormon couldn’t be dismissed as a simple mistake or frailty but a massive con) and a key cornerstone of Mormonism is taken away.

    JR, once you finish getting your jollies over how great you imagine yourself to be you are welcome to join the discussion.

  80. Wilson, you missed again. I don’t imagine myself to be great at all. I am curious, but not interested in joining your discussion. Thank you.

  81. Wilson, I see what you are saying that to be perfectly balanced between (1) and (2) is unlikely and so people will be more likely to be “more” of one or the other, which is probably true. I think myself I am probably closer to your (2) than your (1). But I don’t know, I believe that I can feel the Spirit of God in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and I can hope that Joseph Smith really did channel God in one form or another, even if I don’t believe he did so through channeling the words of historical ancient Americans (and even if he did think he did so in that way).

    In something of the same way, I hope that God can channel through me, at least from time to time, to do God’s work in the world. I hope God can channel through me through all my imperfections and weaknesses, perhaps when I have no idea what God is actually doing, perhaps even in times when I am not aligned with God’s will. I do believe that God is capable of doing that.

  82. …and I got distracted enough that I didn’t even put in the comment what I really wanted to say, which was: Christian, thank you for this post. It resonated deeply with me.

  83. Look, Wilson, I feel like I’m repeating myself a little bit, but the “Book of Mormon is 100% fiction, but Joseph Smith was still a true prophet” doesn’t work for me either. Where we differ is that I’m not willing to push somebody out of the church who finds that it works for them, nor am I willing to purport to prophesy that they won’t make it in the church.

  84. Cahn, thanks for your remarks. I understand where you’re at. The issue is that the mind craves coherence and consistency in a narrative, and I just don’t see believing in a 19th-century BOM workable with believing in a prophetic Joseph Smith or a true LDS Church. It doesn’t mean that you can’t be an active LDS person or have good feelings about the church. But there are really only two possible and coherent positions on the historicity of the BOM.

    JKC, I speak academically and respond in part to the idea that there are all sorts of acceptable ways to view BOM historicity. Bear in mind that the LDS Church pushes out those who vocally promote the idea of a fake BOM but try to remain active. Just look at Bill Reel and John Dehlin. At some point thw LDS leaders also demand that members profess historicity of the BOM. It has always been a litmus test for faithfulness and has always been a key issue no matter how much Middle Pathers and their sympathists try to deny that.

  85. Wilson, as I’ve said before, I don’t have anything to say on the historicity point. (I do know the words and the arguments, but that’s decades old stuff for me.) It is simply not relevant to my current life and choices. Nada. Nothing. Zero.

    On the other hand, having declared myself a (very minor) expert on “Middle Way Mormons” I would like to drop in the comment that what people are calling Middle Way is broader, more varied, and probably more radical than you give credit. You seem to have a particular model and maybe even particular people in mind, and I’m sure that’s legitimate as an example or case study. However, it doesn’t describe me or a number of my friends, and I react with (very mild) offense, like I’m being told to accept one frequency as the description of a rainbow.

  86. The most interesting thing to me about Wilson’s thousands of words here is that it is so hard to tell whether Wilson is for or against the Church and the Book of Mormon. It might as well be either one. Like the extreme apologists and the extreme critics, Wilson makes arguments that are strident, blinkered, and doctrinaire. Wilson ignores the flesh-and-blood experience that gives life to spirituality. Hence the inability to conceive that anything in the middle might be possible.

  87. If salvation is contingent upon one putting into actual practice the things the Lord commanded by his own mouth in the Book of Mormon – and the Book of Mormon says this is so (1 Nephi 13:40-41) – then the historicity of the Book of Mormon is critical to salvation for the simple reason that if one disbelieves that the events described in the book occurred then one will not perform the deeds the Lord says are necessary for salvation (3 Nephi 11-14 [see also 3 Nephi 15:1-10]).

  88. Jared, that seems like a leap in logic. It is possible to believe what the Book of Mormon says about the necessity of repentance, faith and baptism independent of your belief or non-belief, or agnosticism concerning historicity of the Book of Mormon.

  89. Loursat, you sum up very well what I take issue with, which is the idea that you the Middle Pathers have the more enlightened view on the Book of Mormon between two extremes, these being 1) the BOM is 100% historically accurate and each member has to acknowledge that and 2) the BOM is entirely false. There is no middle ground on the question of whether the Book of Mormon contains the words of ancient Americans. It either does or it doesn’t much like someone is either guilty or not-guilty of a particular criminal charge. You call people who point out what are inherently binary questions black-and-white unenlightened thinkers. Tell me, I beg you. What is the third option? It can’t be that it contains some words of ancient Americans with the other part being 19th-century (it would still be acknowledging that it contains the words of ancients). It can’t be, “let’s not worry about the historicity and just look at its literary/spiritual value.” The book’s spiritual value is intertwined with its historicity and the historicity of the BOM has always been one of Mormonism’s key points and it continues to be. You call me a black-and-white thinker. I call you an incoherent nonsensical thinker who can’t acknowledge realities and come up with a coherent middle way to view the Book of Mormon. I never called into question your spirituality. Clearly spirituality can exist without the Book of Mormon. But if you are going to call Mormonism true, you can’t do that while acknowledging the BOM to be a 19th-century fake.

  90. JKC, what the Book of Mormon says about repentance, faith, baptism, etc. isn’t that much different from what is said in the KJV, except that it adds emphasis on not baptizing small children and baptizing by immersion. But Mormonism is more about proper authority to perform ordinances than it is the ordinances themselves. And once you claim that the Book of Mormon is a fake, by implication you call Joseph Smith and his claims to divine authority fake. You keep wanting to make the claim that Mormonism doesn’t have to do with the Book of Mormon and the question of its historicity. Yes it does. It always has and that question is inextricably linked to Mormonism’s truthfulness and validity.

  91. JKC, could you clarify the relationship between what you said and what I said? From where I’m sitting, you seem to be asserting it is self-consistent to simultaneously both believe and disbelieve an assertion.

  92. My curiosity is now exhausted, even if not satisfied. People are often more interesting to me than their arguments. Even when I think I understand their arguments or think I have sifted through their rhetoric, shifting pronoun usage, or whatever, I sometimes just don’t understand the people. This can make me wonder how much I’ve simply misunderstood.
    — JR, the not great

  93. logicisokay says:

    Fictitious works can contain powerful spiritual truth. For me this list includes The Great Divorce, Lewis, The Alchemist, Coeho, The Shack, Young, and many many others. There are even modern/current “channeled” messages that are rather intriguing spiritually, which I won’t comment specifically about. In the last book of the Harry Potter series Dumbledore says something very interesting about that just because things are taking place in one’s head does not equivocate to such things not being real, which honestly struck my spiritual tuner. I don’t consider that any of the authors I mentioned above are prophets, but they had the capacity to use fiction to create spiritual truth. Jesus used fiction similarly as well.

    Truth is a philosophical topic that has been debated since the dawn of humanity. We are unlikely to solve it here. I think there are agendas in play that are not being discussed or disclosed. I read the OP as having little other agenda than saying, here’s a path that mostly works for me that allows me to stay engaged in Mormonism. Thank you Christian for your willingness to openly and honestly share your insights. I believe it can be of true service and light to others looking for some logical, consistent path that doesn’t require “throwing the baby out with the bathwater” as others might demand. I know I have been touched and feel kinship as a result of your brave words. I’m frankly more willing to remain engaged (at least somewhat) knowing that there are at least a few others who take a similar approach.

    Call it what you will, middle way, cafeteria, practicing according to the dictates of one’s own conscience, all Mormons engage in Mormonism in this way to some extent. Testimony lives privately in the heart of the one.

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