Sunday, August 8, 2010

Big Time: The Difficulty of Increasing Favor While Also Wanting to Only Look Good

I'm on my way I'm making it,  
I've got to make it show yeah, 
So much larger than life 
I'm gonna watch it growing.
. . . . 

 My parties have all the big names 
And I greet them with the widest smile
Tell them how my life is one big adventure 

And always they're amazed 
When I show them 'round my house to my bed
I had it made like a mountain range 

With a snow white pillow for my big fat head
And my heaven will be a big heaven,
And I will walk through the front door . . .

"Big Time"
Peter Gabriel, 1986 

Several of us have been discussing the article "Mormons need to work to increase favor," which reports on what appears to have been a frank discussion about the Mormon image in America, how Mormons are seen by the general public, with the goal of identifying and rectifying the causes of people's low opinions of the LDS Church and its members.

Gary Lawrence's study apparently supports what I have long argued: Mormons often charge critics who ask hard questions with "misunderstanding" Mormonism or the LDS Church when, in fact, they understand very well.

As they say, taking responsibility for one's communication is the first step to cleaning up lack of integrity or authenticity. But it is often not pretty, for it involves having to face the reality of how we have been dishonest as well as how our ways of "being" land over there where others are. (Believe me: I know, because I routinely have to do it!) It's not just about facing what we wish others would see when they are in our presence. There's nothing wrong  with wanting to look or be good, but cleaning up after ourselves requires recognizing what's really so about it.

I realize that this is just an article and not the entire talk given by Lawrence at the FAIR conference this week. Therefore, I admit that my concerns may actually have been addressed when he spoke to his audience. However, based on just this article, the consensus among my conversation partners seems to be that Lawrence's solutions for making changes in how Mormons relate to people still miss the mark.

For instance, his suggestion that church members break up the three relational steps for getting friends to join the church into a six step model are likely to still occur to others as transparent friend-making with conversion as the goal. In other words, because nothing fundamental is changing in the person doing the friend-seeking (i.e. their motive for friend-seeking), it is likely that "favor toward Mormons" won't increase just because church members become more stealthy about pursuing converts.

Put another way, though Lawrence instructs readers not to make friends with an agenda, the tactic he promotes appears to perpetuates the baptism agenda. True friendship requires not trying to get anywhere with a potential friend but just delighting in their company.

Moreover, I'm not sure that Lawrence is on the right track with his suggestions for how to answer what have been hard questions for Mormons. For instance, Lawrence cites the active membership of Glenn Beck and Harry Reid as evidence that Mormonism is "a big-tent religion." The article doesn't clarify the context, but I assume Lawrence is referring to a perceived lack of diversity in Mormonism (or, presumably, blind obedience in the political sphere). Though I get where he's trying to go with that, there is no obvious acknowledgment of  how polarizing both of those figures have been in the larger American (and American Mormon) community/ies.

Similarly, complicated questions cannot be answered in a soundbite. Other seemingly flippant remarks he suggests as responses to questions about polygamy ("If I wanted to be excommunicated from the church, I would practice polygamy; the other sins take longer.") and Christian identity ("Of course we believe the Bible; our members wrote it.) ignore the complexity these questions ask about religious identity and are likely to land for non-members as inherently offensive. In fact, I see very little difference between those responses and the question about the relationship between Jesus and Lucifer, against which Mormons always cry foul when it arises.That, too, is a complicated relationship--and that's the problem. When we try act like Protestants, our doctrines simply reveal the truth we try to obscure with the charge that we're "misunderstood."   

Finally, as an academic, I must also dispute the claim that Mormonism can only be "fairly" represented by the experience of "believing" Mormons (whatever that means). When looking into/studying any religion, it is necessary to listen to as many voices as possible. The full experience of Mormonism doesn't just reside in just those who have temple recommends or who believe the church to be "true." (And what it means to "believe" something is very complex).

However, according to Lawrence, "less prepared" members appear to be less appropriate representatives, though they actually have more non-Mormon friends than do active Mormons. (This in itself is a huge ah-ha moment that could transform any  church member's point of view in deep ways.) Though "less prepared" is clearly a euphemism for "less active," it remains unclear by what criteria these church members' stories are insufficient or, as is implied, don't qualify as true or legitimate Mormon experience.

Like all people, Mormons want to be treated fairly in the marketplace of ideas. However, at the same time they also want only to look good. That isn't a criticism of Mormons. It's the human condition. But it is important to distinguish the meaning of the term "fair." Some of the definitions of "fair" include "not excessive or extreme"; "free from bias or deception"; and "evenhanded." However, it can mean "very pleasing to the eye" while simultaneously designating something as "average: lacking exceptional quality or ability."

Identifying the ways in which some things fail to work, or the times when our actions have caused others harm, doesn't necessarily constitute "distortion" of the truth, nor is it "unfair." The last time I looked, those acknowledgments were inherent to the practice of repentance.

Religion is messy, and the (fair) truth is never at the ends but always somewhere in between the poles.


Vickie said...

Any time your goal is only friends to convert, then friendship more than likely will never be achieved. I have a lot of good non member friends. If they ever get more curious about my religion, fine, I will share. I think example does more than preaching & teaching.

Sarah and Laura said...

Doe, This is a brilliant and generous-hearted response to this article. Thanks for taking time to analyze it and respond so eloquently on your blog. I have nothing to add other than, "here! here!"

crystl37 said...

What I find nearly without fail is that devout and extremely active mormons don't necessarily know all that much about their religion. I will go so far as to say that unless a person strays from 'lessons' and sanctioned literature to look outside the proverbial mormon box there is little chance that they could prevail in a barrage of 'hard questions'.

I recently had a conversation with my mother and three sisters that was wonderful, and quite frankly unbelievable! I explained to them the esoteric knowledge I have gained throughout my life, and discussed with them the place the mormon church has in the universe, and presented to them all my hypotheses regarding the church.

Now that the stigma against the occult, esoteric or magical is all but gone in society, and LDS is one of the major religions of the world, members of the church need to really realize 'who they are and what they stand for'. As a religion, they hold the knowledge of the masons, rooted in theosophical teachings of the 1800's.

Awakening mormons will find that the true meaning of the church, I don't believe, does not come from headquarters in SLC, in fact, Ezra Taft Benson is directly related by blood to the Russel family, one of the 13 families of the illuminati.

The leadership of the church is no different than the leadership of the country, and the world. Perpetrators of a great deception and operating with nefarious greed and entitlement. It is a corporation nested in corporations, a for profit organization. Open your mind, remember these things, and seek-all the answers are out there if you wish to find them.

Join with the millions of awakening and enlightened beings in embarking on a new age of life on our blue-green planet, a 'telestial kingdom'.

Universal laws, the Law of One and the multitude of channeled information being received and the teachings of the church are strikingly similar, it becomes very apparent to a student of esoteric and universal knowledge where the teachings are hijacked by the leaders of the religion.

I encourage awakening neo-pagan mormons to become 'prepared' and share with the member in their lives, you may be suprised at the reaction!