Sunday, November 16, 2008

A New Age? or "How Mitt Romney & Proposition 8 Changed the Mormon World"?

When you set a match to your heart
Fueling with bitterness and doubt.
That's the place that once it starts
No amount of tears can put it out.

I know you're scared,
but no one's spared when you play with matches.

You've got me walking through the fire...

(Walking Through the Fire, by Mary Chapin Carpenter)

I presented a paper in November, 2008-- in Chicago, just before election day, in the Mormon Studies section at the American Academy of Religion annual conference. A heuristic exercise in looking at agency in Mormonism, the title was "Vocal Mormons Meet Mitt Romney: The Impact of a Mormon Presidential Candidate on Mormon Self-Expression." My argument was that the combination of Romney and the LDS Church's strategic rhetoric in responding to criticism and fear of Mormonism opened up a space for dissenting Mormons to debate controversial issues on the Internet and in other public forums.

In a nutshell, Romney's candidacy resulted in a multitude of news articles and blog essays about the question of individual agency in the LDS Church. As a result, Romney repeatedly insisted that he would not be sanctioned by the LDS Church for publicly supporting social issues the Church is against. Similarly, the LDS Church reaffirmed its usual assertion of Church political neutrality and extended it by stating its awareness of political diversity among church members and its intention to respect that. Soon after, California Proposition 8 became the litmus test for this implied tolerance.

I have not personally heard that anyone has been excommunicated for public resistance and criticism of Prop 8, though I have heard of a few being threatened privately with church discipline. Even so, I still believe that, without the attention drawn to Romney and the questions he generated about individual agency inside of the LDS Church, Mormons would not have assumed their church's tolerance on this very public and divisive issue and many would not have been public with their critique.

Of course I'm always interested in the insights of others into this and other aspects of the Mormon world.

P.S. Many of these ideas appear in an article I wrote for Religion in the News, at

"Gulf of Mexico Fishing Boat Blues" . . . or Coming Back from the Grave (and Returning to the Living)

I’m in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico
Working on a fishing boat, how long I don’t know
Trouble behind me, yes I’m hoping so
Finger on my back, make me say
“Whoa, whoa, whoa”

(Bruce Hornsby)

It has been a very odd year. Living on the boat I had the most disconcerting and almost frightening experience of struggling to write and feeling isolated. I loved being on the boat, loved the music at the marina, loved the life I felt I'd been meant to live, thirty years later, or even just right now. What surprised me was that I thought I welcomed that isolation and believed it would enhance my ability to write. What I found was that, even though I continued conducting numerous interviews during those weeks, I was overcome with strange fears that affected my ability to write ("The boat might sink, and I'd lose my computer and all those library books!").

When I returned to AZ to help care for my father as he was dying, I was further decentered by extended periods of sitting and rumination over the meaning of life and the process of death. When he died on the 16th of August and was buried the 19th, I had four days to finish (more like start) preparing to teach my classes, and so right after his funeral I was distracted in a healthy way by 16 hour workdays and concentrated intellectual activity.

In addition, I was privileged to have my proposal accepted by the national American Academy of Religion Mormon Studies consultation. (I'll blog about that experience later.)

Unfortunately, not only have I not grieved my father, I still haven't written any more on my dissertation. And I haven't been writing here on my blog. John and Kaime's generous promptings have directed me back in this direction, however, and my trip to Chicago has reminded me that I have something to contribute to a community of scholars.

I'm back from the grave, though it's no way to know yet what what will look like.