054: Nate Oman — On Messiness, Harvard, the Bloggernacle, and Thoughtful Faith

February 22, 2007
By

Chances are, you’ve never heard of Nate Oman. Nevertheless — Nate is a Mormon worth knowing. Born to Sunstone and Dialogue – style parents, Nate was raised to expect “messiness” within both the world, and his Church. After serving an LDS mission in Korea and graduating from BYU, Nate attended Harvard Law School. During law school, Nate became one of the very first Mormon bloggers on the Internet, and is one of the founders of the juggernaut blog “timesandseasons.org” — you might even call Nate Oman the godfather of the Mormon bloggernacle (or the network of Mormon-themed blogs on the Internet).

Finally, and perhaps most importantly — Nate is one of those remarkable types of Mormons who knows all (or at least most) of the tough historical and doctrinal issues with Mormonism — and yet retains a somewhat simple faith in the divinity of the church. He is also a gentleman.

So without any further ado — This is Nate Oman’s story …. the Mormon bloggernacle’s story … and your story …. today on Mormon Stories.

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72 Responses to 054: Nate Oman — On Messiness, Harvard, the Bloggernacle, and Thoughtful Faith

  1. Mark IV
    February 22, 2007 at 11:23 am

    Thanks, John. Well done, as always.

  2. February 22, 2007 at 12:05 pm

    John: Thanks for setting this up. I enjoyed talking with you yesterday.

  3. February 22, 2007 at 12:12 pm

    “Chances are, you’ve never heard of Nate Oman.”

    I sure haven’t. Who the hell is this Oman guy, anyway?

  4. February 22, 2007 at 1:02 pm

    John, I’m glad you started doing this again. I repent of my past reticence and criticisms.

    I’ll have to start downloading these and listening to them when I get home today.

  5. Aaron Brown
    February 22, 2007 at 2:21 pm

    I’m about to give this a listen. I’ve always imagined Nate’s voice as sounding like a cross between Bobcat Goldthwait and Tiny Tim, so we’ll see if I’m right.

    Aaron B

  6. February 22, 2007 at 4:12 pm

    “Interesting”?

    I’m flattered and offended, Nate!

  7. February 22, 2007 at 5:00 pm

    “I’m flattered and offended, Nate!”

    I should have kept my mouth shut. “Interesting” is better than “pinko-Limey-soccer-hooligan” isn’t it?

  8. Razorfish
    February 22, 2007 at 7:36 pm

    John thanks for another very interesting interview. I really like your interviewing style: thoughtful questions, probing issues and done in a very articulate and well thought out manner.

    One of the benefits of your podcast (besides a garden variety blog), is experiencing the interchange and dialogue of very smart and intelligent people such as Nate and others and to see how they wrestle through issues, questions, and belief systems that all of us must tackle head-on in life.

  9. Ann
    February 22, 2007 at 9:08 pm

    I’ve never heard of Nate Oman, but I’ve heard of his wife, Heather. I hear she’s really hot.

  10. Left Field
    February 23, 2007 at 7:15 am

    Like Nate,I’ve never really been troubled by the fact that there is more to Mormon history than what is covered in church. How could there NOT be? No matter how much is covered, there’s still more that could be learned from other sources. I can’t really relate to those who complain about a cover-up of church history. I’ve never taken much time to think about why I don’t see a cover-up and to articulate the reasons.

    Perhaps part of the reason is that I don’t generally keep much track of where I first learned something. Priesthood? Dialogue? A book? Seminary? Sacrament Meeting? Ensign? BYU religion class? Internet? Journal of Mormon History? BYU Studies? For most things, I couldn’t tell you where I learned it, and to me it really doesn’t much matter. Generally, my reaction when I learn anything new is “Cool, that’s interesting!” not “Why the hell didn’t the church tell me about this?”

    I can only think of two occasions when I learned something when I was surprised and a little troubled that I hadn’t known before. One was the fact that some of Joseph’s plural marriages were polyandrous, and the other was that there is some documentary evidence suggesting backpedaling by some BofM witnesses on the nature of their experiences. I don’t know where I first read these things, but I think it was probably sometime around the early ’90s. I thought of myself as quite well read, having several linear feet of good Mormon history books on my shelf. Why hadn’t I read this before? I thought it was a slam-dunk that the witnesses had never denied their testimony.

    After learning a little more about these subjects, I didn’t really find the facts themselves to be particularly troubling; what bothered me a little was the fact that it hadn’t come up before. But it never occurred to me to blame the church for my lack of knowledge. If I blamed anyone but myself, I would have blamed historians and church critics for not mentioning those things in materials I read (or if they did mention it, it wasn’t featured prominently enough for me to give it much notice).

    Like Nate, I guess I expect church history to be messy and interesting and fun. But I don’t necessarily expect to get all that stuff at church. Church is for worship and devotion. If I want to learn history, I’ll grab a book and read.

  11. Trevor
    February 23, 2007 at 10:30 am

    Left,

    I find it odd that you would place the responsibility for a more thorough accounting of Church history at least partly on critics of the LDS Church. Are you being facetious perhaps? And, from what I have read in the FARMS Review, LDS apologists do their best to dissuade people from reading books by critics and historians whose thinking they object to. Who really encourages people to discover their history in all of its messy glory? You? Nate Oman? Certainly not the LDS Church or many of its self-appointed defenders.

    I find it a little smug for us to sit here and say, “gee, this never really bugged me too much.” This seems to carry the implicit assumption that all those who are on the right track ought to feel the same way, while we can comfortably marginalize those for whom this is not the case.

    I will say it as I have in other fora: regardless of how we feel about how the Church has educated its membership in the past (we could be angry or happy with it), I should think it would behoove the Church, for the sake of its own health and progress, to do a better job at education in Mormonism. This ‘better job’ will of a necessity go beyond the bounds set by current practices or the sentiments expressed by Elders Packer and Oaks.

    Why must it? Because new technologies present new challenges that can be faced with greater integrity and courage than they would be in prospective plans to bury unfavorable websites in a deluge of Correlation-style pablum. If they are not, the Church will be unable to properly minister the Gospel in accordance with its responsibilities. Lost souls are lost souls.

  12. Paula
    February 23, 2007 at 11:10 am

    Was I the only person who can’t get these off iTunes? I can’t get any of the last three to download from iTunes, but the Bushman interviews will download from iTunes for me.

  13. Matt Thurston
    February 23, 2007 at 1:26 pm

    Left Field,

    I echo Trevor’s comments. Can you/we blame the Church for anything? Or is it above or beyond blame? Maybe “blame” is too strong a word.

    I don’t think it is a simple as saying, “Church is for worship and devotion. If I want to learn history, I’ll grab a book and read.” The Church has always been very invested in both researching and promulgating its history. Don’t you disagree?

    Also, you say, “Generally, my reaction when I learn anything new is ‘Cool, that’s interesting!’ not ‘Why the hell didn’t the church tell me about this?'” That’s fine, but can you see why someone might think, “Why the hell didn’t the church tell me about this?” especially when he/she were told a different version of the same history over and over again?

    Don’t mean to put you on the spot, just curious.

  14. Matt Thurston
    February 23, 2007 at 1:36 pm

    I meant to say “Don’t you agree?” in the previous comment.

    While I’m at it, I’m also curious if there is anything you could learn about church history that would change your opinion about its divinity? Or would any historical fact, no matter how unpleasant, not be particularly troubling?

    My question is sincere because it gets at the heart of what a “testimony” is based on. Is it based on some set of premises (i.e. the gospel) totally independent of the men through which God revealed those facts? If so, I can see why you wouldn’t be bothered by Joseph’s polyandry or the Witnesses testimonies of the BOM. Such a person could say, “God told me this is true, who cares whom He chose to say it through.”

    Or is it based at least in part on the credibility of the men proclaiming said premises? If credibility is irrelevant, then we can discount any uncomfortable human frailty or fact. Joseph could be a murderer or a pedophile and it wouldn’t matter — as they say, God works in mysterious ways, and Joseph, not the Church, would be held accountable for his personal mistakes.

  15. Doc
    February 23, 2007 at 2:41 pm

    Certainly I think it is okay to wonder “why the hell no one ever told me about this.” I think everyone runs into their own bugbears and challenges in life. Sure, I understand it.

    I think the heart of Testimony is maintaining a hope that there is in fact a more reasonable answer than what first runs into our heads in moments of shock and anger, that in striving to understand and by forgiving the purveyor of these percieved sleights, my soul is enlarged and I draw nearer to God. It can be very liberating.

  16. Left Field
    February 23, 2007 at 4:05 pm

    Was I being facetious? I don’t know; maybe a little perhaps. But mostly not. As I said, I’m still trying to figure out how to understand and articulate exactly why I see things as I do. Since Nate seems to have a similar view, I was kind of hoping he might expound a little more on his perspective.

    Yeah, maybe “blame” is too strong a word. I’ve never expected to get a complete and balanced view of church history from the Sunday School curriculum alone. Or just from the Tanners. Or Bushman, Arrington, Brodie, or the Ensign alone. Every source has its strengths and limitations. If you listen to some critics, you come away thinking Joseph never married anyone over 14. That’s no more accurate history than what’s in the official curriculum. I expect to get my complete view from reading everything. I’ve never been dissuaded from reading everything I could. When I went to BYU (Yikes! Has it been 25 years?) the current Dialogue and Sunstone were prominently displayed in the library reading room. Various critical works were in the stacks. Brodie was sold in the campus bookstore. Nobody told me I wasn’t supposed to read any of it. I understood that it wasn’t official, but the fact that it was all there seemed like tacit encouragement to look into it if I was interested. More recently, home teachers and church leaders have seen my extensive collection of books and Dialogues. Nobody ever raised an eyebrow or forbade me from reading. Just a couple months ago, a member of the stake presidency commented favorably when he saw me at church reading Rough Stone Rolling. I’ve seen Dialogue quoted in church classes and firesides. (ok, rarely)

    To me, reading all that stuff is part of what I learn from being in the church. As I said, I don’t compartmentalize things I learned in Seminary from things I learned from Sunstone. It’s all part of the whole church experience. (D&C 88:78-79, 118 and all that.)

    These days, you can’t turn around without someone talking about polyandry. In the early 90’s, not so much. At the time, it didn’t surprise me much that it hadn’t been mentioned in church, but it was puzzling that I could have missed it in all those years subscribing to Dialogue and Sunstone or reading the anti-Mormon tracts people used to hand me off-campus at BYU. When I said I would have “blamed” the historians and critics, I wasn’t trying to take any responsibility off the church; I was just surprised that it hadn’t been mentioned even by sources most likely to promulgate that information.

    I agree 100% with Trevor’s third paragraph. For many reasons, I think the church would benefit from being more open and frank about its history. However, I don’t see a big conspiracy of falsehood when they try to put their best foot forward. Harvard University famously sports the motto VERITAS, but when I go to harvard.edu, I find a very superficial and sympathetic version of their institutional history. They’re trying to attract good students and faculty and promote their institution, after all. No doubt those who are interested can go to Harvard and dig into the more controversial history. Just like I did at BYU, and continue to do now.

    I’m still not sure I’ve gotten a grip yet on why I don’t see much of the big Historical Coverup. Perhaps it is partly because I see the “correlated” history as a starting point, not the whole story. I’ve apparently been oblivious whatever signals were supposed to dissuade me from digging deeper.

  17. Jake
    February 23, 2007 at 4:56 pm

    a blog about a podcast about blogging…

  18. February 23, 2007 at 4:57 pm

    Sorry, I can’t give the church or the nacle a break on this. A charge not answered is assumed to be true. In the case of an absurd charge, the answer might be “We won’t dignify this absurd charge with a response.” but, that is different than ignoring a charge. Besides, addressing and rebutting charges might squeeze out a lot of the silly fluff talks from Conference. T&S, BCC, etc are just as bad as anything at lds.org.

    In the case of some of the embarrassing parts of Mormon history, just as a good lawyer will disarm a prosecutor by divulging embarrassing facts about a client in an opening statement, our members and investigators should be getting the complete truth in context at church. If BKP and other apostles find some things too embarrassing to raise and defend, the honest thing would be to stop testify to faith that they themselves don’t have.

    I’ve always been bothered by the intellectual dishonesty and lack of candor in the church, GAs claiming special knowledge they didn’t have, etc. When I was young most anti-Mormon stuff was so lame that Nibley, BRM, etc could get away with it. Today, I say bring on the sunshine!

  19. Matt Thurston
    February 23, 2007 at 6:17 pm

    Compliments to both John and Nate. I enjoyed the interview and would love to see more ‘naccle people interviewed in this space.

  20. John Dehlin
    February 23, 2007 at 6:20 pm

    Thanks, Matt.

    Nominations? :)

  21. Trevor
    February 23, 2007 at 6:46 pm

    I can buy that there are some folks out there like you, Left. You represent your own view, and I accept that. What troubles me is the degree to which an example like youself might be taken as an apologia for Mormon education as a whole. It is a very small group that ever finds its way to a BYU education. It is an even smaller group that subscribes to, or ever even buys an edition, of Sunstone and Dialogue.

    In other words, we represent a relatively small, self-selecting group. I say ‘we’ because I meet all of those criteria myself. The great majority of Church members will never attend BYU, never read Sunstone, Dialogue, or Rough Stone Rolling. They stick to the material the Church gives them. When some of these folks find that all is not as it seems (and I do not intend to be alarmist when I write this), it is devastating to them. Lives are broken over these things.

    Does the Church have a responsibility here? I think so. In fact, the only public, semi-official statements regarding Sunstone and Dialogue I recall were very negative. They were made some time ago, but nothing has been done to change the impression that folks should steer clear of such meetings and material. Heck, we’re not even supposed to meet in private study groups are we? Has that changed?

    Does the Church pick up the slack and provide a reasonable alternative? In my opinion, no. FARMS, taken as a whole for the sake of convenience, often offers apologia aimed at enemies or perceived enemies. I tend to think that they are not helping most members who confront real challenges. A big reason for that is that most members never read their stuff. Something needs to be done under the explicit auspices of the LDS Church.

    I would not call the Church’s failure in this area a conspiracy. It is a serious shortcoming with serious consequences for a significant and growing minority of the membership.

    I am pleased that you and Nate Oman are happy where you are and do not feel negatively about your learning experience in the LDS Church, or at least do not seem to have suffered by it. I imagine that your experience will be reassuring to some. On behalf of the majority of members who are not related to GAs, do not belong to the Mormon social or genetic elite, will never attend BYU or a Sunstone Symposium, etc., I am a lot less sanguine about where we are.

    As a relatively privileged person, I understand it is difficult to imagine life without privilege.

  22. Nate Oman
    February 23, 2007 at 7:21 pm

    I don’t think that I suggested that the Church couldn’t be more open about its history. I think that it could. Rather, my point is that when we are hammering out intellectual responses to difficult issues, we don’t necessarily want the Church qua Church to be doing this. It is better done in less official settings. This, I think, was one of the real problems with Camelot: The Church wanted to move much more cautiously on issues of historical interpretation than did Arrington and his associates. Now in part this was simply a matter of a deep conservatism on the part of some leaders such as ETB, Mark Petersen, and BKP. In large part, however, I think that it was simply that there were a lot of people who thought, “Hey! Is this something where we want an official church position, or are we better off having the Church stay out of it?” I actually think that on most scholarlly and intellectual issues we don’t want an official church response. Rather, what we want is room to flesh out various responses where the stakes of being wrong are a bit lower. That does mean, however, that we want to have a vibrant, unofficial conversation. For myself, that is what I would like to see, and my own sense is that we are seeing MORE rather than LESS of this sort of thing, and that the Church is very cautiously supportive. In a sense, the Church is in a catch-22 position. If they refrain from engaging the specifics of difficult intellectual issues, then they are accused of whitewashing problems. On the other hand, if they move forcefully into the fray and start adopting specific positions, then they are seen as trying to dominate and manipulate the discussion. Worse, they may exacerbate the difficulties for some by movoing to adopt interpretations that prove later to be mistaken.

    Finally, I don’t mean to dismiss those who have feelings of shock, betrayal, etc. when they learn of difficult questions from church history. Difficult questions are difficult, and clearly some people have very strong reactions. I can certainly understand feelings of doubt and anxiety, as those are experiences that I have had. On the other hand my own experience has been somewhat different than those who have monumental feelings of shock and betrayal. This doesn’t mean that my reaction is legitimate and theirs is illegitimate. Rather, it means that our reactions may be more contingent on personal temperment and idiosyncratic personal histories than we assume. To the extent that we want to reduce the level of pain that many experience when they learn about difficult Mormon topics, perhaps an early exposure to kangaroo fur would help ;->.

  23. February 23, 2007 at 8:28 pm

    “do not belong to the Mormon social or genetic elite, will never attend BYU or a Sunstone Symposium, etc., I am a lot less sanguine about where we are.”

    I am one of the Mormon proliteriate that you speak of. I am a proud 4th generation Aggie (no one in my family has ever gone to YBU), come from a middle class family and no one in my family has held a position at Church higher than ward newsletter distributor since my Great^3 Grandfather was an Apostle, despite all of us being active (I suppose we’re the defective whithering branch of the family tree).

    I’ve got to say, when I found out about the bloggernacle I was pretty interested. I tried reading and following it for a while, but ultimately, I found it to be less than rewarding despite my deep interest in Mormon Studies. MS is the only Mormon blog I read now.

    My criticisms of the Bloggernacle (not Nate Oman specifically, he seems like a nice guy), and reasons for non-participation are as follows:

    1. It’s too heierarchal and too exclusive. You can even see it in this thread. Lots of inside jokes, lots of cliqueish dialouge. I’m sure it’s not intended. It has too many percieved celebrities who have too much concentrated power.

    2. It’s not as pluralistic as I had hoped. Pluralism is why I love coming here to MS. Lots of smart people in the bloggernacle, not much pluralism and even the occasional heavy handed ad hominem attack on those with unpopular views (kind of like BYU).

    3. The bloggernacle’s topics are sometimes engaging, but often strain at gnats so to speak and are boring. And it has a lot of rehashed material. I only read for a few weeks and already saw topic recycling.

    Anyway, nothing personal against you bloggernacle folks. You all seem like very nice people. Just thought you might be interested in an outsiders perspective on your community. I know that a lot of people really enjoy the bloggernacle and so perhaps it’s current state optimizes its aggregate utility and needs no changing.

  24. February 24, 2007 at 7:29 am

    Nate #22, You seem sincere, but as Tom #23 points out, most of the Nacle is like one hand clapping, presumably because you’re blind loyalists or you fear speaking your mind for fear of ending up like the September Six. You’re also a much more prudish and unforgiving bunch than the typical street Mormons most of us hang with, which is why it’s so easy to poke fun at the elitist aspect.

  25. why me
    February 24, 2007 at 7:48 am

    It is we human beings who make history and this is no different when it comes to church history. LDS history was and is being made by individuals who lived (live), breathed (breathe), ate (eat), loved (love), cried (cry) and laughed (laugh). Plus, a host of other human actions and endeavors can be included. How can a history, that is acted out by humans be perfect? It is quite unbelievable that we would not realize that human history, regardless of the source, is not made by perfect people.

    My gosh, everywhere I turn I see people expecting perfect history. Maybe the church needs to put out a two thousand page book about church history with keeping the critic audience in mind and then finally, we can concentrate on something more worthwhile: love.

    One thing I do know: we have that ‘darn’ book the Book of Mormon. And no one has refuted it and no one has even come close to refute it. And the witnesses, regardless how their words were interpreted, never denied their testimony, especially David Whitmer. How to explain it?

    We have that darn book to mull over…and look at. And it speaks to us….softly, harshly, and it is full of enigma.

    And so what is church history: events acted out by men and women who once lived and who live now. And I can bet my boots church history will continue to be imperfect because of it.

  26. Trevor
    February 24, 2007 at 8:02 am

    I agree with Nate when he says that we do not want the Church coming to the point of producing official pronouncements on intellectual issues. The only part of the Church’s ‘Camelot’ I would lament having passed is an openness with documents, and the perception of greater institutional openness and trust. I think the Church is still far too protective of its documents (and I am not suggesting putting physically delicate materials ‘on the stacks’).

    But, I digress. There are things that can be done for the membership that do not involve the “Official Intellectual’s Shocking History of the LDS Church for General Consumption” or the appointment of a ‘Council for Settling the Conundrums.’ Really, there are more modest things that can be done. I think much could be done simply in upgrading the Sunday curriculum. It wouldn’t entail turning SS into shockfest.

    It would be a matter of helping people learn to *think* through nuances in their personal spiritual journey. Imagine Sunday classes run by trained teachers whose primary purpose wasn’t to manufacture the warm fuzzies in connection with the same thing you heard last week in the same simplistic form.

    To Tom-

    I have no apostolic ancestors, and I don’t consider myself to be one of the glitterati (ahem) of the ‘Bloggernacle.’ I do not belong to a clique here, and I have never been invited to write for one of its popular blogs. Still, I am here, and when I write a comment, people respond. The variety I see in the Mormon blogosphere is one that is expressed by liberal Mormons, conservative Mormons, ex-Mormons, apologists, and anti-Mormons. People have a tendency to simply put up their own blogs if they don’t see what they would like to see. I don’t think the full range of the world of LDS-themed blogs is represented by the few that seem to get a lot of attention.

    I have to admit, though, like you I pretty much stick with MS these day.

  27. February 24, 2007 at 9:02 am

    Trevor,

    The bloggernacle is a mere and narrow subset of the larger, more expansive, more pluralistic Mormon blogosphere which includes Mormons of every stripe, which I find more interesting, especially when the discussions are engaging and offer views and opinions I don’t agree with.

  28. Left Field
    February 24, 2007 at 10:03 am

    I think the biggest single improvement we could see in the church would be to lose the de facto infallibility and veneration we like to ascribe to general authorities, living and dead. That attitude just sets up a lot of unrealistic expectations that are bound to be eventually dashed. All of the issues we have discussed are magnified by several orders of magnitude when we expect perfection from past and present leaders.

    General authorities don’t generally do much to actively promote infallibility or veneration, but they don’t really do anything to discourage it. Mostly, I think the reason they don’t is because they believe they have an important message and that people are more likely to pay attention if they hold the messenger in high esteem. I think church members are capable of a much more nuanced view of their leaders, and that in the long run, GA credibility is undermined more by the expectation of infallibility than it would by the recognition of fallibility.

  29. Ann
    February 24, 2007 at 10:26 am

    Left, I agree that a better understanding of the role of the leaders would do a lot to mitigate these problems. The demi-deification of Joseph Smith is one example of this. I think you said once that when you were growing up, the short phrase “the prophet” ALWAYS referred to Joseph Smith – that the elevation of the current president and apostles “The Prophet” status is a fairly late change in the Mormon paradigm. Is this entire paradigm something we should back away from. I think there’s a difference between “a prophet” and “the prophet.”

    While I agree with Nate that the church doesn’t need to be coming up with an official position on a number of issues, the official two-dimensional rose-colored glasses view of Mormon history does no one any favors. Maybe a good time to tackle the DATA of some of the problematic issues is during seminary, and then to deal with them again in gospel doctrine class during the church history year. When talking about the first vision, present the different versions and ask the students to hammer out the differences. Instead of vaguely referring to the Urim and Thummim (nobody knows what the hell the Urim and Thummim are), talk about Joseph’s early “seeing” experiences. Work together to understand how that gift, originally used in a childish context, was redirected. Thus, people will not find out about the head in the hat for the first time on South Park, and then, remembering all those Church Approved pictures of Joseph reading from the plates, come to the conclusion that somebody lied to them.

    DMI Dave mentioned somewhere (the curriculum post a few months ago over on BCC?) that next year in priesthood/RS we should just bag our manuals and use Rough Stone Rolling. I think it would be a better idea to bag the manual and use Rough Stone Rolling in conjunction with the Doctrine and Covenants in 2009, when we’ll be doing D&C and Church History anyway.

  30. Cut s dean
    February 24, 2007 at 12:30 pm

    The idea of inocultion, stab as a child and avoid the disease as an adult, is a placebo. I was inoculated, in an open family of faith, but from what? From not understanding context? From historical myopia? From disbelief that the spirit shouts and the facts whisper? From inability to understand just-now (Derrida and his wake) intellectual arguments?

    I thank my father for the open inoculation and disclosure.

    And I thank him for accepting and loving me though I still caught the disease, to his sorrow.

    Many of us have been there, knew that early, and not to appear rude, but we may find it hard to accept the verbatim explanation that context, spirit, community, goodness, messiness or intellectual theory – these explain it. No disrespect to any one, but for me, at least, these arguments are as much a cliche as the attacks the Church has been under since inception.

    We talk of milk before the meat, but the inoculation is just sugar, in my experience. But that is just my spiritual experience, I think considerable, and my thoughts, certainly neither infallible. But that is all God gave me, so I must go from there.

    I don´t know John or Nate, but from what I have read and heard, I have a great deal of respect for them. Maybe they understand a little of what I am trying to say, but believe they would try to, and hope they take no offense at the bluntness.

    Thank you, John and Nate, for this.

  31. February 24, 2007 at 12:35 pm

    John,

    Thanks for this podcast. I thoroughly enjoyed it. Nate is one of my favorite ‘naclers. As a former law student who once thought about going into academia, I was able to relate to much of what Nate was talking about. The “messiness” of Mormon history did not bother me for years. It was only upon delving in deeper, seeing how messsy it really was, looking at how the church has systematically tried to cover up the messes and keep people ignorant of them, along with my growing doubts about the inspiration of current crop of leaders that I became disaffected and no longer able to accept that God would really work in such messy ways.

  32. Kimball Hunt
    February 25, 2007 at 3:20 pm

    Bro. Dehlin, despite my being disaffected from ‘the Gospel’ I must say I’ve really enjoyed your choices of guests of late.

    Sincere faith is inspiring, wherever it’s found. And the fact that your recent string of guests, including bro. Oman holds onto a creative and reassuring, constructive faith in the LDS Church, while they also make sense out of their faith and draw tentatively useful conclusions from out of their faith as it’s also informed by their stellar intellects, makes them whatever degree of ‘name’ people (luminaries/ rockstars) they are and defines what it means to be, contemporarily..yes! truly influential, LDS “apologists.”

    A great site! Thanks. :^)

  33. February 26, 2007 at 7:16 am

    Thank you, John and Nate. I enjoyed it.

  34. TOm
    February 26, 2007 at 9:19 am

    I should thank you too John. I enjoyed listening to Nate’s story.

    Some of the themes discussed reminded me of Craig Bloomberg’s discussion about Bart Erhman. As evident from the posts on this thread it is not so simple as to say that those who expect messiness will be untroubled and those who do not expect messiness will leave the church. Or as I sometimes overly simplify, former LDS are generally former fundamentalists who present the church in a fundamentalist way that seems almost foreign to me. I readily acknowledge that such is not some universal truth that applies in all situations and I think Nate / Bloomberg would acknowledge this as well.
    In any case (even though it seems that few of the former LDS here consider themselves Christina), I think this is an interesting article about two paths taken by Evangelical Christian Biblical scholars. If you do not enjoy the article I link, then I will give you back all the money you paid me for it.
    http://www.denverseminary.edu/dj/articles2006/0200/0206.php
    Charity, TOm

  35. February 26, 2007 at 2:44 pm

    “(even though it seems that few of the former LDS here consider themselves Christina)”

    Or Britney, Lindsay, or Kelly, for that matter. :-)

  36. February 26, 2007 at 4:23 pm

    That Equality guy is a real crack-up.

  37. February 26, 2007 at 4:26 pm

    And I hear he’s very handsome, too.

  38. TOm
    February 26, 2007 at 7:50 pm

    Hey! At least when I make a fool of myself I still speak the truth. I bet less than 1 in 100 former LDS think they are Christina. So remember that!

    Charity, TOm

  39. Charlene Luke
    February 27, 2007 at 7:01 am

    Like Nate Oman, I am in legal academia. For many years, I was content to live with the messiness of LDS history. Content isn’t really the right word. I took pleasure in knowing the messiness–of being the kind of person who could live with the paradox. My LDS friends have always tended to be from the fringes, and I have seen some leave the church. But I was determined to hang on no matter what because of the goodness I saw in the religion. I felt somewhat superior–I was not engaging in the either/or thinking of those who were leaving.

    And then last summer I just could not do it anymore. I hit a tipping point–unexpected to me at the time, but now that I look back it is mostly surprising that it didn’t happen earlier. The trigger was having to place my daughter into nursery. I felt–viscerally, unexpectedly, shockingly–that I could not raise her in the church. And I stopped attending. I read church history–most of it re-reading, and for the first time I was studying the history with the confirmation bias operating not in the direction of “I want this to be true” but rather “let it not be true.” The messiness looked a whole lot different–to say the least.

    Now I live with a new paradox–I continue to love the church and its history (which is why I visit mormonstories and why we sporadically attend the Community of Christ now), but I know it is beyond me to deal with the day-to-day of the LDS church right now and for the foreseeable future. I haven’t fully figured out what is behind my strong emotions yet, though I recognize that a lot of it has to do with gender roles (I know I owe you an essay John for your mormonism/women podcast). I greatly respect those who continue struggling for what is good in the LDS church and those who strive to make it better for those on the fringes. But I often wonder whether people like John Dehlin and Nate Oman would try as hard as they do to stay engaged in the day-to-day religion if they were women.

  40. Anne Hutchinson
    February 27, 2007 at 11:54 pm

    Charlene # 39,

    “But I often wonder whether people like John Dehlin and Nate Oman would try as hard as they do to stay engaged in the day-to-day religion if they were women.”

    Hmm, having some similar thoughts here.

    John / Nate,

    I enjoyed listening to the podcast. I have browsed T & S from time to time and really enjoy the “12 questions” series. Any chance of that series continuing ?

  41. Nate Oman
    February 28, 2007 at 10:26 pm

    “I often wonder whether people like John Dehlin and Nate Oman would try as hard as they do to stay engaged in the day-to-day religion if they were women.”

    I don’t know. While I think that the appeal to gender is a tad reductionist, I do think pir actual reactions to “intellectual issues” are always tied up with much more than our intellect. I am not sure how I can imagine myself as a woman without imagining myself as being a person so radically different from who I am that thinking of that person as “myself” becomes problematic. I do, however, think that things like personal history and personal temperment are immensely important in terms of how we react to things. Ironically, there is a sense in which Charlene’s question points toward exactly the same issue that the suspicion held by some Mormons that those with intellectual problems are guilty of sin points toward, namely the importance of non-intellectual factors on our spiritual reactions. For my money, this is why things like ritual, practice, tradition, community, and culture are everybit as important as intellectual explanations are in coping with “intellectual issues.”

    I hope that in Charlene’s case, the paradox swings back in the direction of the restoration…

  42. Jake
    March 1, 2007 at 3:34 am

    “I often wonder whether people like John Dehlin and Nate Oman would try as hard as they do to stay engaged in the day-to-day religion if they were women.”

    In my experience, male members of the church are much more likely to be inactive than are female members of the church, and men are much less likely to join the church than are women.

  43. Charlene Luke
    March 1, 2007 at 6:41 am

    “In my experience, male members of the church are much more likely to be inactive than are female members of the church, and men are much less likely to join the church than are women.”

    I agree–this has been my experience also. My point is not about being a woman generally in the church. It is about being a woman who is at the fringes of the culture–whether through life experience or historical research or both. I probably shouldn’t have personalized by raising John and Nate in particular. My intuition (and again, this is something I’m still working through) is that once someone is at the margins of the culture–the incentives for staying on the side of activity fall away more quickly for women than for men. In other words, I think it’s more difficult to be a cultural mormon woman than a cultural mormon man (I know–Nate probably wouldn’t consider himself a NOM).

    The incentives I’m talking about are a mix of doctrinal, quasi-doctrinal, and cultural. For example, the quasi-doctrinal picture of the LDS afterlife for women has never sounded attractive to me. I have always skipped that menu item at the LDS buffet line–reasoning that a just, compassionate God would not create a heaven that looked more like hell to me. Culturally, I don’t fit in, though I do value the opportunities I’ve had to deal with people from all walks of life within the church–to learn charity in the laboratory of church membership.

    While I know many would argue I should hang on for the truthfulness and for the opportunity to serve (and I would have said that to myself not too long ago), the messiness has stopped looking like truthfulness to me and more like something I can choose to accept or not, live with or not. And I have continued to accept the messiness in part and I have looked toward other opportunities for service–by attending the Community of Christ (RLDS), one of the restoration branches.

  44. Jason
    March 1, 2007 at 9:08 am

    I just listened to this podcast, and I enjoyed. Thanks to both of you.

    Nate, I think you may be glossing over some issues when you talk about your expectations of “messiness”. I can handle a good deal of messiness too. I am not shocked or offended to find examples of failed banks, power struggles, witnesses who leave, slack word of wisdom observance, and general unsaintly behavior among the saints and their leaders. I am not particularly troubled that JS was drawn to magic and a treasure seeker.

    But I am one of those whose faith has almost disappeared. I cling to hope, but that is all that is left. My concerns are not unusual but they cannot be described as shock at finding messiness. Let me summarize a couple of issues that I just can’t quite get over:

    1. (a) God leads a group of Jews out of Jerusalem and takes them to a new promised land. This land happens to be in Central America. They come there and quickly become very Christian in their doctrine and teachings. A bit of a stretch there, but ok.
    (b) These Jews are quickly assimilated in a preexisting Mayan civilization. They keep records, but say nothing of these other people. Because they are assimilated, they leave no dna markers or other recognizable evidence of their society. (Starting to sound a bit far fetched–why records of the animals they find in the new land, but no word of the people they find in abundance and with whom they merge?)
    (c) They keep records on metal plates, including prophecies of the promised land, the discovery of America, the revolutionary war etc. even though they never leave central America, thousands of miles away. (What???)
    (d) Their last prophet travels all the way to upstate New York to bury their records so that they can form the basis of the restoration of the gospel which God knows will be necessary. (Wow!)

    2. JS is called by God to restore the gospel and given said plates. He translates them into English. But he never really looks at the plates while he translating. God somehow reveals the translation through the medium of a stone. (Ok, but why the big deal about keeping records on plates, hauling them off to a hill in New York for heaven’s sake, and keeping them protected, when they aren’t even used? This is a very odd way for God to restore ancient scripture)

    3. God also decides to reveal some ancient lost scripture written by Abraham. He could just reveal it Joseph, as he did with some lost writings of Moses. But this time he chooses another odd way of giving that revelation. He sends Michael Chandler to Nauvoo and inspires JS to buy his Egyptian papyri. Said papryi are common Egyptian burial documents, and have nothing at all to do with Abraham. But God has his prophet examine them and render a “translation”. The translation is not a translation at all, but a new revelation that has nothing to do with the papyri. The papyri are irrelevant, but somehow serve as a catalyst, although it is not at all clear what a catalyst is or why it is needed at all.

    4. God also reveals to JS that the celestial order of marriage requires the taking of more than one wife, and it matters not if some of said wives are already married. We are left to speculate as to why, or what marriage means in that context. All we know is that God requires it and JS and subsequent prophets teach that is essential for exaltation. All of a sudden God changes his mind due to political considerations, and monogamy is once again the order of the day. Except that even the prophets who announced the new revelation from God terminated polygamy felt free to ignore it for a few years thereafter.

    I am only scratching the surface here. When I step back and examine the faith of my youth in this light, it strains credulity. I know God’s ways are not my ways, but this is a very strange God indeed, and he has a very strange way of giving revelation to his children. When I ask myself whether this is credible, I have to say no. This is not just messiness. It is craziness. And I say that, not as an apostate, but as a full tithe paying, raised 6 active children, there every Sunday sitting on the stand but very tormented Priesthood holder.

    And yet, I could still buy it if God saw fit to answer just one of my hundreds of prayers. That is the clincher for me. Moroni’s promise doesn’t always work.

  45. Jake
    March 1, 2007 at 7:25 pm

    “…once someone is at the margins of the culture–the incentives for staying on the side of activity fall away more quickly for women than for men.”

    That makes sense, Charlene. I see now.

  46. March 2, 2007 at 5:25 am

    Jason,
    Interesting, I’m a radical in the Nacle and also troubled, but in different ways:

    WofW?, it’s HJG making it a barrier to entry that bothers me, not early saints ignoring it. I’m also bothered by the BS party line the WofW as a commandment went back to BY, when it was HJG that made that change. Why do our leaders fail to speak the truth on this? In the absence of a new revelation, the WofW was meant as a good practice, never as a must. Moreover, our present four don’ts doesn’t even mirror the WofW, which clearly allows beer, etc.

    Priesthood ban?, BY was a bigot; the sin was later church leaders taking so long to reverse him. The ban was a classic case of orthodoxy always leading to apostasy because mistakes are inevitable and orthodoxy prevents reform from the mistakes.

    Polyandry?, as a reproductive tool, attempting to keeping a womb busy when the 1st hubby isn’t performing or around to perform makes sense. If consensual, I have no problem with it. Life is short and I just don’t have issues with a wife taking a second hubby when 1st hubby is on a 3 year mission (and likely seeking marriage to a 2nd wife convert). Polygamy?, there was no revelation to reverse it. The manifesto is political document even under a casual read. The mistake there was not complying with local laws from the get go w/o abandoning the principal. Today there should be no reason for a polyg Muslim to have to divorce wives to become LDS, for example. I get ticked that LDS leaders today make ridiculous claims we’re the only Mormons and the fundy Mormons have misappropriated the term Mormon. It’s like think members are children and non-members are stupid.

    The gist of JS’s “revelations”, be it the BofM, BofA, D&C, etc, was that the atonement of Jesus was independent from time and available to all and preached from the get-go. Say what you will about the guy; he was a religious genius who saw the holes in Christianity and filled them in. Personally I don’t give a rat’s ass about him playing with the papyrus, etc. Moreover, I think the BofA and the BofMoses shouldn’t have ever been canonized. They’re apocrypha like the KFD.

    But I’m most amused but your mixing FARMS folklore with church position. Central American setting? Mayan assimilation? When did that baseless speculation become dogma? While I lean towards BofM historicity in some unknown setting, I don’t care if the whole thing is allegory because I like the gist of the book. I also have no issue with JS wrongly interpreting the book as explaining the origin of the American Indians. He said it wasn’t his book; his getting any interpreting wrong is consistent with that. OH, btw, read the book. Lehi’s family technically weren’t Jews. Who knows what their traditions were? They were initially ignorant about the bible of their day for crying out loud!

    Interesting that you sit on the stand more bothered than me, while I’m happy teaching primary and often thinking much of LDS dogma is a crock of merde and many GAs are full of it. Just don’t get me started on their soft gay bashing that turns my stomach or how ridiculous Gs are.

  47. Jason
    March 2, 2007 at 8:48 am

    On reflection, I think that my comments may have been off topic and out of place. I realize that this particular podcast and thread is not intended as a discussion of substantive issues related to the truth claims of the church. I apologize for the threadjack. I just needed to vent.

    I still cling to hope, largely because bright well informed people like Nate seem to have resolved these issues. But I just don’t really see how. Some seem to ignore them, and focus on the good in the church. That is laudable, and it is what I try to do, with mixed success. Some have had such powerful spiritual experiences that they trump all else, rendering everything else just intellectual curiousities. Unfortunately, I am not one of those. As I said above, I am ok with messiness resulting from human action, but I seize up when the messiness is attributed to God, and when it seems completely inconsistent with my concept of God. I know, I know, maybe it is my concept of God that is flawed. Fair enough, but there are limits.

    Steve: I was incorporating FARMS conclusions, only because I do think that they are the only way to accommodate much of the external evidence that exists. Without accepting some version of a limited geography theory coupled with early assimilation into a preexisting culture, the external evidence is damning to the Book of Mormon. As you can tell, I have trouble reconciling the LGT with the text and with other facts, but I still think it is the last best hope.

  48. Jake
    March 2, 2007 at 9:23 am

    Steve EM,

    I agree with your comments about polyandry. I never fully understood why people who were previously aware that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy are more disturbed to find out about polyandry. Marrying women without the knowledge and consent of their previous husbands is understandably troublesome, but combining polyandry with polygyny in an open way solves the problem of practicing polygamy in a society with nearly equal numbers of men and women.

  49. March 2, 2007 at 11:58 am

    Jason: You are right. I did gloss over lots of issues. I don’t think that given the forum I was supposed to provide point by point detailed thoughts on particulars.

    I also think that you are right that the biggest stumbling blocks to faith are rather obvious claims rather than esoteric knowledge. Frankly, the most challenging spiritual experiences that I have had have come not from reading Church history but rather from reading the Book of Mormon itself. FWIW, I tend to believe that all Mormon scripture is much more “infected” with the human (especially Joseph Smith) than most orthodox Mormons believe. This doesn’t mean that I deny the reality of revelation, or even that I susbscribe to some version of inspired fiction. It does mean, however, that there is a sense in which I don’t think that we can ever take sacred texts at face value, even when they literally say “thus saith the Lord.” Hermeneutically I deal with this issue using two not entirely consistent tools. First, I try to focus in even more literally on the text, trying to figure out what it is actually saying rather than viewing it as a window through which I see some underlying reality. Second, I try to read texts in the totality of other sacred texts and figure out what I believe, all things considered, the best interpretation of the whole is. I think that both of these methods provide us with ways of wringing out some of the human to get at the divine, but neither of them comes anywhere near to providing us with some sort of pristinely divine text. Such a text is, I suspect, impossible. Hence when reading the scriptures I tend to see them as exercises in both divine revleation and what I think of as prophetic imagination, a distinction that breaks down with ease. The resulting uncertainty, however, doesn’t bother me all that much. I don’t suppose that I need to know God’s will perfectly. I am entirely satisfied with knowing it somewhat better than I did before, and hopefully knowning enough of it to play my part in his purposes.

  50. Matt Thurston
    March 2, 2007 at 2:31 pm

    Wow, Nate. Very well said in #49.

    Do you see a way that your more open-minded reading of scripture (or prophetic revelation) could be gradually introduced into mainstream Mormonism? (By “mainstream” I mean the way “average” Mormons understand/translate what it means to be Mormon, which seems to be a combination of both doctrinal and cultural variables.) I think mainstream Mormonism is pretty rooted to “most correct book” or “fullness of the gospel” either/or thinking that takes our texts and revelation precisely at “face value”.

    How can your deeper and more expansive or less rigid understanding of scripture/revelation be introduced into Mormonism without introducing the chaos of relativism?

  51. Hellmut
    March 2, 2007 at 3:30 pm

    Hi Nate,

    Thanks for putting yourself out there. I am about to finally listen to your interview. Let me respond to your written statements.

    I agree with you that the LDS Church should not be at the forefront of the historical research. It’s a lot better to leave that to particular scholars.

    Unfortunately, I don’t see much evidence of such self-restraint.

    The problem is rather a pattern of suppression and intimidation. It’s not just Michael Quinn and Grant Palmer but Lavina Anderson uncovered over one hundred cases of ecclesiastical interference with scholarship. Her publication remains unchallenged to this day.

    Ironically, the LDS hierarchy did its best to confirm Anderson’s hypothesis by responding to her article with excommunication.

    In light of the published research on Mormon studies and ecclesiastical interference, one cannot rationally deny that LDS leaders went to great lenghts to suppress independent historiography.

    Fortunately, there have been some encouraging signs lately, especially when Tom Murphy’s stake president stepped back from excommunicating the anthropologist. On the other hand, we have also had to witness the disfellowshipping of Grant Palmer for his book and the excommunication of Simon Southerton on trumped up charges.

    It would be wonderful if the LDS Church were to withdraw from the research business. As it is, we are continuing to reenact Galileo Galilei in the 21st century and that’s much more embarrassing than anything that historians may learn about our origin myth.

  52. Clay
    March 2, 2007 at 5:39 pm

    Jason #47: “As I said above, I am ok with messiness resulting from human action, but I seize up when the messiness is attributed to God”

    For what its worth, my own faith is in a place where I accept the human messiness, and when messiness is attributed to God… well, that is just another example of human messiness. After all, it IS humans that are presenting the idea that God is responsible for the imperfection. If a human could still deliver something inspirational in spite of issues like polyandry or the BofA and so forth, then why should we expect more from a modern GA? Isn’t the same paradox ever-present? The ability to simultaneuous be a vehicle for incredible good and because that potential exists it means that mistakes in judgement (including the very mistake of proclaiming that God doesn’t allow them to make mistakes in judgement) have the potential for incredible harm.

    Also, I agree with Nate on the human infection of scripture, and of course its not just Mormon scripture. Many stories in the Old Testament seem remarkably more like fables that have become fantasticized and embellished over generations of oral transferrence than an equivalent of a news report of actual events. We often talk about scriptural stories as if they are newspaper stories. But some things just seem so completely bizarre, yet you can see the power and effectiveness in that ol’ ancient Jewish tradition to inspire faith with the elements of stories that are most appealing. Drama, underdogs, impossible victories, walking in fire unburned, talking animals. Yet, even though they seem like fables to me, I still enjoy trying to find the wisdom that was originally intended to convey.

  53. k l h
    March 2, 2007 at 5:55 pm

    People rarely follow my tangents…but:

    I’d predict more, not less, of an approaching falling out between a certain stripe of Mormon Liberals and the Orthodox – with those on the extremes being made to feel uncomfortable.
    When the Church has gone through its poraxisms(?sp) of self-purification/shedding of refiner’s dross, what determines who’s shed and who’s not…but faith? Which simply can’t be something intellectual.

    So, if I were a faithful Bloggernacle-er, I’d stay ahead of the curve and attend to my Internet pees and kews before participation in free-form Intenet forums become taboo. How? Well, when I was thinking about that, I noticed certain things I thought when I observed brother Mitt’s responding to interviewers’ questions about his beliefs, where he’d offered disclaimers about strange things all religions believe…

    And I thought, Sure that communicates well to people like me who doubt. But to make the case for one’s being somebody who informs his decisions from out of his faith, one needs to
    communicate this to believers. How? Well, how about saying: “I don’t like labels! – don’t even like the term ‘Mormon’, in fact! I may happen to find myself born into a certain faith tradition that formally calls itself “Latter-day Saint” but I don’t truly believe myself to actually be a latter-day saint – however my faith tradition leads him to aspire to be; and therefore I spend one day a week performing communal functions with this faith community and serving others. And, yes, I make certain decisions as informed by faith, but in such a way as I try to be informed by high ethical and moral ideals. And this is how I’ve sorted these questions out as applied to policy questions and whatnot.”

    So if I try and transpose this from politicking to blogging…say I was somebody discussing historical questions concerning my tradition’s foundational scriptures, how would I communicate the language of faith to believers while I also remain respectful of facts/ questions as may be raised by even doubters? Well, by staying within certain bounds, I guess…that circumscribed by faith – and make what that is understandable and communicable.

    May all the faithful folk on-line who display such
    wonderful performances receive much applause (it being what I come here for…my way of “attending church”!) And may my worldly applause be taken in some kind of positive way, despite it’s not being what’s most essentially appropriate…which is, rather, communal affirmation from your fellow faitful of “So be it!/So may it be!” :^)

  54. Nate Oman
    March 2, 2007 at 7:07 pm

    Matt Thurston: Why should I want my particular beliefs to become the Mormon mainstream? (Incidentally, I don’t regard myself as outside of the Mormon mainstream on all that many things.) I am not upset by the fact that I worship in pews with folks who have a different approach to scriptural or historical interpretation than I do. I don’t feel alienated from those in my ward who think about things differently, and as for intellectual discussions of Mormonism, I find that my problem is not finding them but rather extricating myself from them so they don’t take up too much of my time!

    In terms of persuading people, to the extent that it is something I want to do I think we do best by emphasizing continuity of beliefs, a commitment to the unique divinity of the Restoration, and recognition of human frailty couched in scriptural terms, e.g. acknowledgment of the errors of men in the Book of Mormon, fallible prophets in the scriptures, etc.

  55. Nate Oman
    March 2, 2007 at 7:21 pm

    Hellmut: We’ve been around the barn a number of times on this, and I doubt there is much point in doing so again. FWIW, I think that the most important bit of scholarship to come out recently on Mormonism is not _An Insiders View_, but Bushman’s RSR. I think that if you are interested in understanding the sorts of intellectual and political issues involved in the study of Mormonism, you do best to look at the reception of RSR. Rough patches to be sure. Rampant hostility to intellectual inquiry? Hogwash.

  56. Hellmut
    March 2, 2007 at 11:01 pm

    Nate, there is a double blind peer reviewed paper that documents over one hundred cases of intimidation.

    I don’t know why the relative quality of RSR would be relevant to the question. Bushman reviews the historical research and creates his narrative about the Mormon origin myth. He does not discuss Lavina Anderson’s paper.

    Of course, LDS leaders will not punish Bushman. He is the guy who does damage control after the horse is out of the barn. Nothing he says is more unwelcome than what others have not said before him. RSR is old news with a positive spin.

    It serves its function because it validates the identity of believers such as yourself. That benefits LDS leaders. It’s not spectacular that Bushman is not yet excommunicated.

    Lets assume for the matter of argument that Bushman enjoys the freedom to say whatever without interference of LDS leaders, even if that were true it would still be irrelevant for it does not undo the censoring that Anderson reports in her paper and that we continue to witness since.

    The fact is that LDS officers are using their power to punish scholars and discredit them in the eyes of believers. That is sufficient to establish “hostility to intellectual inquiry,” and when it happens a hundred times then it’s also “rampant.”

  57. Trevor
    March 2, 2007 at 11:32 pm

    I want to get back to the gender issue raised by Charlene.

    I understand Nate’s response within the framework of the overall discussion of ‘messiness’ in intellectual matters, but I think that the appeal to gender actually broadens the terms of the initial discussion. It would be easy to assume that feminism is either wholly emotional and irrational or rational but unrealistic, but the response of some Mormon feminist women to the LDS Church is a complex mixture of intellect, emotion, and spirit. Feminism may demand that we look at the same picture through much different eyes, and the results can be quite affecting.

    Whether we want to accept it or not, some Mormon women have had very powerful experiences of their Mother in Heaven, yet they have been asked or compelled to be silent about them. Some Mormon women have, in looking at the history of the early Church, seen some possibilities for a different, more enriching (to them) faith and practice.

    I am not a woman, but I recall taking the time to focus on the role of Eve in the temple drama a couple of times. Although I am a man, and this may mean I’ll never get it completely right, I have to say that I found the whole experience a lot less uplifting. Indeed, I found it kind of depressing. I was most struck by the silence of Eve after a certain point. Her voice all but disappears completely.

    There is a whole lot going on in the heart, souls, and minds of Mormon women on the margins. I think it is fair to say that when they look at the Church today with some sadness, there is something to be sad about. Correlation *has* diminished the power of women in the Church. It is not at all self evident that only men should have the priesthood. It is not at all clear that in the temple they were not given some kind of priesthood that they nevertheless are not acknowledged to possess.

    What makes some of these women on the margins sad is that they do have faith and spiritual yearnings, and they see possibilities in Mormon tradition for so much more than they experience in the Church today. It becomes difficult for some to hang on when they feel impeded by the current state of the Church.

    They feel something much greater in their souls, but they are not given the opportunity to exercise it publicly and legitimately. At every step the organization of their external Church experience, which does affect the inner soul, is engineered by people who will never completely understand them, and who are no more inherently capable of excercising faith, intellect, or leadership than they are. Women holding visible and equal power in the organization might actually bring something beneficial to it. Seeing that possibility and suffering in the absence of its realization has to be painful to those whose spirits are so inclined.

  58. Blake
    March 3, 2007 at 1:51 am

    Hellmut: If what you were saying were true, I would have been intimidated about my views of the Book of Mormon on which I openly published. That hasn’t happened. I suspect that what you call intimidation regarding scholarship has much more to do with sheer judgmentalness and slant (which I believe underlies a lot of Lavina’s case studies) than with scholarship. What we get are a lof of angry people who are venting and blaming the Church for matters on which they refuse to take personal accountability. At least that is how I see it (and I knew personally of a few of the incidents reported and my view was verrryyy different that reported and I deemed the reports vastly one-sided and slanted).

    If a person explores an issue without attacking, they will be fine. If their stated goal is to destroy faith or inhibit its work in the world, how else would you expect it to respond? I don’t like excomminication except where a person is so blind that only a loving slap in the face will get their attention.

    On the other hand, Hellmut, your comments always seem to be challenging and in good faith. I appreciate them.

  59. Blake
    March 3, 2007 at 2:01 am

    BTW Nate: Good job! Will there be a follow up?

  60. Jake
    March 3, 2007 at 7:33 am

    “…there is a double blind peer reviewed paper that documents over one hundred cases of intimidation.”

    Could you please provide a reference? I’m curious to see how a series of case documentations can be “double blinded.”

  61. Trevor
    March 4, 2007 at 12:22 am

    “What we get are a lof of angry people who are venting and blaming the Church for matters on which they refuse to take personal accountability. At least that is how I see it (and I knew personally of a few of the incidents reported and my view was verrryyy different that reported and I deemed the reports vastly one-sided and slanted).”

    I don’t know any of these cases personally, but I think this comment comes close to suggesting that everyone who has had a problem with the LDS Church is just another angry person who is venting. In other words, they can’t possibly have a legitimate issue with the LDS Church. I prefer J. Bonner Ritchie’s view–organizations do cause harm, but to a certain degree this is inevitable. What we should strive to do is learn to protect ourselves from this abuse, and do what we can to protect others from it. Demonizing the LDS Church or its victims will not achieve either goal.

  62. Blake
    March 4, 2007 at 1:31 pm

    Trevor: As it turns out you have hit on one of the primary reasons why I see the reports as one sided and slanted. The refusal to take accountability and to blame others is also prominent. That doesn’t imply that there cannot be unrighteous dominion; just that it is incumbent on one who calls foul to take accountability for their accountiablity in the situation and to do so expressly. It is unjust to call another to accountability without accepting one’s own.

  63. Hellmut
    March 4, 2007 at 11:48 pm

    Blake, I am happy for you that you did not get into trouble but that does not disprove other events. Your reference to your own experience expresses faulty logic. It’s like saying:

    Todd was hit by a car.
    Sue was not hit by a car.
    Therefore cars don’t hit people.

    Your experience does not cancel anyone else’s. Anderson has documented over one hundred cases by 1993. One would be sufficient to prove my point.

    If you are confident that Anderson’s work is biased then it should be easy for you to prove her wrong. Your judgement of her is pretty strong. Why don’t you put your opinion to the test and publish a rejoinder?

    That’s what rational people do. They subject their opinions to logic and evidence.

    As it is, Anderson’s work remains unchallenged in the peer reviewed literature for almost fourteen years. That’s no small feat. If you want to challenge that, go ahead and collect the data that proves her wrong.

    Until then, it is not reasonable to assert bias in the absence of evidence. It’s also bad form, especially since you seem to say that you have not read Anderson’s paper.

    Here is the citation:

    The LDS Intellectual Community and Church Leadership:
    A Contemporary Chronology
    Lavina Fielding Anderson*
    Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought, Vol.26, No.1, (Spring 1993)

    With respect to taking responsibility for one’s own actions, notice that Dallin Oaks disagrees with you, Blake, he thinks that one is supposed to be an advocate.

    Be that as it may, in the case of Anderson that is a mute point because she published the article before she herself was disciplined. As I said before, LDS leaders couldn’t have validated Anderson’s work better than by excommunicating her for documenting ecclesiastical abuse.

    Nietzsche was right about one thing. Power makes stupid.

    Trevor, you are, of course, correct that every organization abuses people. However, if one studies institutions comparatively, which happens to be my research area, then the perspective reveals that the design of the LDS Church enables abuse to an extraordinary degree.

    Notice, not even the Catholic Church excommunicates scholars any longer.

    Catholicism makes for a good baseline, for authority plays a similar role Mormon and Catholic theology. In the Catholic Church, the accused can rely on canon law, has the right to representation and any decision can be appealed. During the appeal, the accused remains involved party to the process and retains legal council.

    In other words, the Catholic Church has the rule of law. Catholic leaders have created institutions that constrains their ability to abuse power. In the LDS Church, leaders are just as human as in the Catholic Church but there is little to no capacity to deal with the abuse of power.

    During the pedophilia scandals that continue to threaten the financial assets of multiple dioceses, not one activist was ecclesiastically disciplined. Even if somebody like Cardinal Law or Mahony would have wanted to exercise power in that way, they could not have because they were institutionally constrained.

    In the LDS Church that’s not the case. Hence it cannot surprise anybody that we have excommunicated mothers who would not shut up when their children were abused by their bishop.

    Lets take a look at how the institutional differences play out in scholarship. When Hans Küng concluded from his analysis of the gospels that the contradictions undermine the central tenets of the Catholic faith including the immaculate conception, the divinity of Christ, and the atonement, the Vatican withdrew his approbation.

    That means that Küng’s courses did not qualify for the training of priests any longer. Küng was not defrogged or excommunicated. From an orthodox Catholic point of view, the authorities did nothing to threaten Küng’s salvation.

    By contrast, we require historians to deny their research, which would be lying, to preserve their membership. Since neither liars nor non-members can obtain salvation, our leaders have created a population to which the atonement no longer applies.

    That’s a greater sacrilege than anything that any historian can possibly commit.

    Why do Mormon leaders do that? Trevor has the answer: because they can; and when one can then many people will. It’s the easy way out and humans like easy.

    Because they make it harder for leaders to abuse their power, Catholicism and many other organizations are superior institutions to the LDS Church .

    Lets remember that the problem of abusive power has been well studied. I assume that everyone is familiar with the Federalist Papers of 1789, for example. While we have not been able to find a perfect solution, there is a lot that we can do about it.

    And yet here we are in 2006 and the LDS Church has almost zero capacity to deal with matters of ecclesiastical abuse. We do not even have the capacity to shield the mother of a raped child against institutional retribution.

    In the sense of institutional capacity, the LDS Church is an extreme case. It’s an outlier unless we want to compare ourselves to authoritarian and totalitarian institutions. In that case, we perform better because we benefit from the public goods that the United States government generates.

    Therefore, it is incorrect to claim that the shortcomings of our institution are typical. There are a lot of institutions that are better designed to deal with human imperfection than the LDS Church.

  64. March 5, 2007 at 12:29 am

    The reports on that site of which I have some first hand knowledge seem fair and on the money. As far as being one sided, that’s the nature of any account. There is a Nazi wing of Mormonism. It was more prevalent when I was young. Fortunetly it has died out in many areas, but with no thanks to GAs as far as I can tell. It seems alive and well in the heart of Mormondom.

  65. Hellmut
    March 5, 2007 at 7:07 am

    Jake, thanks for your question. For the reference, see post 63.

    Double blind peer review refers to a technique, which constitutes the gold standard in research publishing. It means that authors and referrees (who evaluate the research) are supposed to remain anonymous during the review process. The review process determines whether a submission is of sufficient quality to deserve publication.

  66. Blake
    March 5, 2007 at 8:44 am

    Like I said Hellmut, I have personal knowledge of a few of these cases and I don’t view them at all like Lavina presents them. With all due respect, I was much closer to the players than you at this distance. I really don’t believe that you are in a position to judge. So why won’t I comment in a published source? Getting into privileged or confidential information is precisely one of the areas that is abusive so I won’t do it. However, all of those on the councils also had the same restraint. In fact, this is an area I’m an expert in, having been the chair of the Law for Clergy Committee of the Utah State Bar Association. No one who has such confidential information can comment. That makes whipping on the councils a very easy target. Do you have a proposal for evening out the playing field. So ironically the issue is mute, but not moot.

    I of course didn’t assert that abuse couldn’t occur, just that we must be careful to take accountability when it does occur.

    The Dialogue process is not a peer review. The article was not for example peer-reviewed by persons having expertise in organizations. It as not reviewed by someone with the organization that could check the accuracy of the assertions. Only one side of the process could be commented on at all.

    Further, Lavina is a very good personal friend of mine. I like her a great deal. In fact, she edited both of my books! I just disagree with her take on these incidents.

    However, I am open to suggestions about how to leel the playing field when it comes to commenting on discipline where those involved in the decision are effectively muzzled by priest-penitent privilege issues. I am also interested in any suggestions about procedural safeguards and how the Church could better safeguard members from abuse of authority and power.

    Finally, your assertion that the Catholic church no longer disciplines scholars after it sanctioned Kung still has me scratching my head. He wasn’t excommunicated, but he was neutralized. Are you suggesting that the LDS Church ought to adopt a similar procedure? How does an institution deal with those who insist on taking actions to thwart its purposes or state false doctrines against which members must be warned?

  67. TOm
    March 5, 2007 at 12:18 pm

    Hellmut,
    I have absolutely no personal knowledge on any of these scholars excommunication, so I will offer a few thoughts based on my limited understanding of how the church conducts itself (and unconstrained by a need to protect confidential info).

    First, it is certainly true that there will only be one-side to these discussions reported. Those who are excommunicated are free to speak from their point of view, but nobody with first hand knowledge can speak from the point of view of the church.

    Second, at some point in time a scholar or non-scholar who has embraced as truth views that are antithetical the church should not be a member of the church. It is not organizational abuse for the church to remove from membership those who undermine the authority of the church. I would suggest that this is precisely why Blake’s work on the BOM while quite contrary to many of the views from authorities, does not place in jeopardy his membership. Elder Maxwell commented on Nibley that while he on occasion offered some different ideas (and even sharp criticism), nobody could question his commitment to the gospel. I would guess that this is the difference between scholar who is disciplined and scholar who is not.
    All organizations do this. When ones views develop into a position that is antithetical to the organization to which they belong, the organization should and usually does sever ties. Would anyone call Anthony Flew an atheist? Will he be given the pulpit to offer his views on infidels.org? I doubt it. Must be that those atheist wish to squash honest informed scholarship.

    Now, concerning Catholicism I think your comparison is not solid. First, one is a Catholic based upon orthodoxy anyway. If you fail to believe Catholic dogmas, you are not Catholic. The severing of membership within the CoJCoLDS is much more formal.
    Second, Catholicism protects itself with various stamps of official doctrine. Hans Kung does not receive an imprimatur on his books and the faithful Catholic may know that he is not expressing official doctrine.
    Finally, I am not a fan of judging organizations based upon scandals and I am sure the CoJCoLDS has many a scandal present, but are you really suggesting that as an organization the Catholic Church has done a better job preventing sexual abuse by their clergy than the CoJCoLDS? This is largely intended to be rhetorical, but if you want to answer yes or no that would be fine. I would not be particularly interested in you parading every sexual scandal you can find before everyone, but it is a generally free board so do as you must.

    Charity, TOm

  68. Jake
    March 6, 2007 at 8:35 am

    Blake,

    Where can I find your publications on the Book of Mormon?

  69. Blake
    March 6, 2007 at 2:58 pm

    Jake: You can find my article on the Expansion Theory of the Book of Mormon in Dialogue Summer 1987 (am I that old?). You can find my article on the Form Critical Analysis of the vision of Lehi in Blake T. Ostler, “The Throne-Theophany and Prophetic Commission in 1 Nephi:
    A Form-Critical Analysis,” BYU Studies (Fall 1986): 67-87. You can find my assessment of the Covenant Renewal Form in Rediscovering The Book of Mormon 1991. You can find my articles on DNA and the Book of Mormon in the Dec. 2004 and May 2005 issues of Sunstone.

  70. Jake
    March 12, 2007 at 1:42 pm

    Thanks, Blake. As they say, getting older is better than the alternative.

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  72. wade
    August 28, 2007 at 12:55 pm

    Nate thank you for your letter in the September Ensign titled “Integrity in Reporting”. I agree with you, Kudos.

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