More on Civility

September 10, 2004 | 32 comments
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Let me encourage you all to read Jim Faulconer’s fine post on keeping it civil. It has the merits of its own excellence, the authority lent by Brother Faulconer’s character, and, having been circulated among us cobloggers* for comments before posting, the quasi-imprimatur of Times and Seasons.

I would like to add some thoughts entirely my own. First, let me bring the ‘eternal note of sadness in.’ Unless human nature changed and I didn’t get the memo, we will never entirely succeed at civility. We will never entirely beat back the devil’s controversy beachhead on our blog because he also has a beachhead in each of us. ‘The battleline,’ as Tolkien says, ‘of good and evil runs through every human heart.’ If we did succeed entirely at civility we would probably do it by conceding too much elsewhere. We could be civil by agreeing to not discuss anything other than what God has revealed, and reducing what he has revealed to the barest minimum. This I reject. My religion is part of everything and everything, even the things that divide us, is part of my religion, even politics, even nationality, even (maybe) football. So it is with you. Alternatively, we could try to discuss things as dispassionate hypotheticals. Would Mormonism were not a meat-and-marrow religion, God a Man, the Word made flesh! but it is, and too much dispassion and too much arguing at a great remove from the question is itself unfaithful. There are also other reasons. Yet we owe it to the Father and the Son to try, and we owe it to the Saints.

Part of the problem we have, as bloggers and commenters, is that we forget what we have in common. The shifting sides we take on controversial issues become the sides we think we belong to. We see our opponents as people who are wrong about p()rn regulation and not as people who are right about God, Christ, the prophets, faith, hope, charity, the Saints, and the sacraments. This goes to an unpleasant but real need for all of us, commenters and bloggers alike, to be continually re-establishing our bona fides. We have to _remind_ people that we are fellow soldiers on the battlements of the kingdom.

Gordon Smith sent me a link to a cougarboard.com discussion yesterday that linked to my BYU-ND post. One fellow actually quoted a line of mine on a jumbotron ad being very Mormon: earnest, touching, and too excessive for “exquisite good taste�. After I got over the warm glow of being quoted, I first thought, Yikes,, do I really write things like “exquisite good taste�? My prose is second-rate Wagner.
More germane to this discussion, my second thought was that my quoted comment was going to irritate people unfamiliar with me. It criticize things Mormon and therefore implicitly the Church, and it do so from a perspective of lofty
superiority, as if to say:

I have zee beeg vocabularie
and I am of taste zee arbiter, wee!

When I originally wrote the post I thought I could get away with offhand criticism because I felt I’d proven myself as pretty orthodox with my frequent defenses of pro-life and anti-SSM stances, mainstream approaches to the prophet’s and scriptural authority, and so forth. Also, of course, I _know_ that I’m a good member. I know I pray, go to church, do assignments, and really believe. But readers don’t know any of that because (1) they don’t see me in my daily life and (2) because the internet is a changeable medium where the audience ebbs and flows. People who read my BYU-ND post don’t necessarily know any more about me and my blogging history than people who read the quote on the BYU sports site. All they know is that I’m criticizing. I conclude that we have to make it clear over and sickeningly over that we’re with the Church and the Saints, that we believe, and we can’t do it pro forma. Like any relationship, as bloggers and commenters our relationship with the other participants and with the readers needs to be affirmed as much or more than it is stretched. In our case the relationship is founded on our mutual faith. Let us affirm it.

Let us also, when we’re divided up into sides on a controversial topic, be sure to police our own sides of the debate. It is there, having already affirmed our mutual relationaship by taking the same side of a question, that we are most likely to be listened to when we counsel a little more courtesy, a little less fire.

*logging cobs is harder than it looks. You got to have more finesse than with timber. The hardest part, though, is when you’re floating the things down the river and you’re trying to keep your balance and you’re poling ‘em down.

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32 Responses to More on Civility

  1. Kristine on September 10, 2004 at 12:02 pm

    ” I felt I’d proven myself as pretty orthodox with my frequent defenses of pro-life and anti-SSM stances, mainstream approaches to the prophet’s and scriptural authority, and so forth.”

    But Adam, even here you are drawing lines–if you “prove yourself” by being pro-life and anti-SSM, if your approaches to the prophets’ and scriptures’ authority are “mainstream,” you are drawing a line and putting me outside of it. I don’t want to be outside, and I won’t let you draw that line. I am also a Saint because I take the sacrament every week and am known by the same name as you are. The whole river is God’s, not just the narrow “main stream.”

  2. Mark B on September 10, 2004 at 12:27 pm

    I’m profoundly grateful for the footnote on cobloggers. If only I had realized that the asterisk was there as a footnote marker and not simply a warning that “here’s a word you might not be able to pronounce”.

    I am disappointed, since I got the definition completely wrong. I thought that the cobloggers were the guys at the family reunion who kept track of whether that was the 4th or 5th ear of corn your 6-year-old second cousin once removed had eaten.

  3. Adam Greenwood on September 10, 2004 at 5:33 pm

    I don’t understand what you’re getting at, Kristine. What was wrong with my assuming that my opposition to SSM and abortion would be a bona fide with most of the Saints?

  4. Jordan Fowles on September 10, 2004 at 5:36 pm

    I think that, overall, people do really well on this. That is of course, as long as people are willing to read the posts and comments with the grain of salt that we can’t see the expression on the person’s face or hear the tone of voice in which he/she is speaking…. :)

    But contention is generally bad, while enlightening and sometimes rigorous discussion is good! :)

  5. Kaimi on September 10, 2004 at 5:36 pm

    So if you’re trying to drum up support among the cobloggers, are you coblogrolling?

  6. Kristine on September 10, 2004 at 8:03 pm

    Adam, what’s wrong is that you’re suggesting that one’s political positions are a legitimate measure of one’s commitment to the gospel and the church, and that certain political positions establish one as a bona fide Saint. Meaning, presumably, on your “with us or agin’ us” model, that those who hold differing views are not to be regarded as fellow Saints. Joseph Smith famously said that even theological misunderstandings are to be tolerated among Saints–if he refused to establish credal understandings of the gospel, don’t you think we should pause before suggesting a *political* creed as a means for establishing oneself as a fellow soldier on the battlements?

  7. Nathan Tolman on September 10, 2004 at 8:31 pm

    I think Adam’s use of “mainstream,” implying non-mainstream, is different from orthodox and heterodox. Non-mainstream does not necessarily imply heterodoxy. At least that is how I took it.

  8. Kristine on September 10, 2004 at 8:39 pm

    Nathan, that may be, but he implied (at least) that having “mainstream” views legitimates one to one’s fellow-saints. I think that, even if this is so, it is not right; a gospel that lays claim to truth wherever it is found will necessarily have to look outside of the mainstream. Joseph Smith suggested that one can discover truth by “proving contraries”–surely this is not possible if we only consider the ideas of people who “establish [their] bona fides” by espousing ideas we agree with.

  9. Nathan Tolman on September 10, 2004 at 9:36 pm

    Exactly. That is why we have you nere. ; )

  10. Nate Oman on September 10, 2004 at 9:46 pm

    Kristine: If you step back from Adam’s statement and view it as an emperical rather than a normative claim, then I don’t think it seems so wild. I suspect that it is empirically accurate to states that most Latter-day Saints would take opposition to abortion and SSM as an indicator (imperfect to be sure) of orthodoxy and loyalty to the Church. Likewise, as an empirical matter, I suspect that most LDS would take support for SSM and broader abortion rights as a ground for doubting the orthodoxy of a member and that member’s loyalty to the Church. You may object to this state of affairs, but I suspect that it is an accurate depiction of the attitudes of a fairly broad swath of Latter-day Saints.

  11. Kristine on September 10, 2004 at 9:59 pm

    Nate, I don’t disagree that this is how things are. But I am not resigned–I think we might yet manage to make a church where we’re not trying to cut the Elders (or the sisters) down to the size of the iron bed.

  12. Dan Richards on September 10, 2004 at 10:11 pm

    I think that, when trying to post a comment at the old site, I frequently encountered coblogjams.

  13. Nathan Tolman on September 11, 2004 at 12:24 am

    Kristine,

    I think what Adam wants is some more charity on the blog and people giving others the benefit of the doubt.

  14. Jack on September 11, 2004 at 2:45 am

    Kristine: Adam IMO was saying that his leanings suggest to most LDS that he is “orthodox”. We are still left with the freedom to determine whether or not “orthodoxy”, as determined by the main stream, is always a good thing.

  15. Kristine on September 11, 2004 at 2:57 pm

    Yes, but Adam also suggested that, for charity to prevail here, it is necessary for all of us to continually assert our orthodoxy. If the contents of *his* orthodoxy are required of me before my thoughts can be read generously and charitably by my fellow-Saints, well, then, I guess I will have to go elsewhere.

    I think orthodoxy means believing what is true and right, not believing what the majority believes. If that is so, then I am happy to continually assert that I am searching for what is true so that I can believe it.

  16. Ashleigh on September 12, 2004 at 4:50 pm

    While I see Nate’s point and agree with it, for the most part, I did read the “proven myself orthodox” thing much the same way that Kristine did. And once again I felt dismissed and marginalized, it’s my baggage I suppose, and not Adam’s fault necessarily. But when the larger cultural belief often says that anyone with liberal view *must* be unrighteous or heretical, it becomes difficult not to read some of that into Adam’s statement.

    Intended or no, to me it felt implied. (again, my baggage and not Adam’s fault)

    Which makes me wonder, how much responsibility do we have for careful handling of other people’s baggage? Is empathy for other’s perception necessary to a civil discourse?

  17. Larry Bates on September 12, 2004 at 11:04 pm

    As a new visitor to this site I am not sure exactly what blogs are all about but I am interested in the discussion I saw here.
    One of the things that interested me the most was the discussion on “mainstream” members and what they should believe etc.
    As far as I know, the Saviour provided only one criteria for membership as stated in 3Ne11:32-38. Nephi qualified it when he said there should be “no deception” and “no hypocrisy”. And then the Saviour made an interesting statement; “Verily, verily, I say unto you, that this is my doctrine, and whoso buildeth upon this buildeth upon my rock…And whoso declareth more or less than this, and establish it for my doctrine, the same cometh of evil, and is not built upon my rock;”.
    I take that to mean that our relationship with the Saviour is what establishes our membership and everything after that is open for discussion, particularly in the world of ideas where so much can be gained from civil and frank exchange. We ought to be the happiest people in the world because of the blessings we enjoy in the sharing of ideas in the search for truth.
    My grandfather used to quote a famous Italian filmmaker who once said: “I have a tremendous treasure – my ignorance” and he challenged me to always be willing to learn. So my great joy is feeling free to express my opinion on different topics and finding others who disagree with me so that a free flow of ideas can ensue. I take no offense and try to give none, but I staunchly defend my position until convinced otherwise, knowing that further light and knowledge will always be in the future because we know nothing as we ought, even now.
    Brother Faulconer is inspired and I am grateful to have learned of him today. Thank you!.

  18. Jack on September 13, 2004 at 1:19 am

    Larry: 3 Nephi 11 has always been a little tricky for me. The Savior is very clear as to what His doctrine is, and then is very clear that anything else should not be established as His doctrine. And yet, in that same chapter He calls twelve disciples and gives them power to baptize, thus making it incumbent upon the people to accept them as legal administrators of the Church. When the Savior chastens those who survived the destruction preceding His visit to the Nephites, He tells them that they were spared because they had not rejected the prophets like unto their brethren who were destroyed. I find it interesting that He didn’t say anything about the abuse of doctrine as the cause for the destruction. (though it is most certainly implied as it is the words of the prophets are the real offense) Also another point of interest; when the Savior appears to the people, the first words that He utters after saying His name is “whom the prophets testified shall come into the world”. We can’t seem to dissociate belief in the prophets from the fundimental tenets of the Church even though it is not mentioned explicitly as a foundational doctrine in ch.11. D&C 10:67 says: “Behold this is my doctine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.”. And then verse 68 says that anything more or less then this is not of the Lord. This revelation was recieved two years before the church was formally organized and therefore may have different implications when speaking of the “church”. But even so, we are faced with having to accept Joseph Smith as a prophet if we believe D&C section 10, as it was through his instrumentality that the revelation was given. At any rate, this is a long-winded way of suggesting that there seems to be a few checks and balances in place that help us recognize and receive those few doctrines in the proper manner. There are other checks such as the signs that follow those who believe or the attributes of the Spirit as expressed by Paul etc.

  19. Matt Evans on September 14, 2004 at 2:55 pm

    Given that the church formally and unequivocally opposes gay marriage, determining whether someone is loyal to the church regarding gay marriage appears to be an empirical question.

    This doesn’t mean that members must be loyal to the church in every way to have a voice, but it does matter to many members where a person’s loyalties lie. This is true for all organizations. A senator with a 100% Sierra Club voting record, for example, generally wields greater influence at the Sierra Club than does a senator with an 85% score. Most senators have good reasons for not always voting with the Sierra Club — maybe environmental regulations are hurting his state’s economy, maybe he wants to increase domestic oil production to reduce our dependency on the middle east, or maybe he wants a better voting score from the Chamber of Commerce. However, no matter how noble his objectives are, if his objectives do not align with those of the Sierra Club, he manifests that the Sierra Club’s priorities are not his priorities. And the degree to which a senator’s priorities align with the Sierra Club’s matter to many of its members. Senators who want to influence Sierra Club members must recognize that their occasionally siding against the Sierra Club will likely reduce their influence within it.

  20. Kristine on September 14, 2004 at 3:17 pm

    Given that the church formally supports an exemption to its anti-abortion position in cases where the mother’s health is in danger, whether or not a person’s political preferences on this issue are in keeping with the church’s appears to be an empirical question.

    This doesn’t mean that members must be loyal to the church in every way to have a voice, but it does matter to many members where a person’s loyalties lie. This is true for all organizations. A senator with a 100% Sierra Club voting record, for example, generally wields greater influence at the Sierra Club than does a senator with an 85% score. Most senators have good reasons for not always voting with the Sierra Club – maybe environmental regulations are hurting his state’s economy, maybe he wants to increase domestic oil production to reduce our dependency on the middle east, or maybe he wants a better voting score from the Chamber of Commerce. However, no matter how noble his objectives are, if his objectives do not align with those of the Sierra Club, he manifests that the Sierra Club’s priorities are not his priorities. And the degree to which a senator’s priorities align with the Sierra Club’s matter to many of its members. Senators who want to influence Sierra Club members must recognize that their occasionally siding against the Sierra Club will likely reduce their influence within it.

  21. CB on September 14, 2004 at 3:47 pm

    Matt,

    I’m not sure it is that simple. I’m not a lawyer, but the attorney general of Utah is, as well as a mormon and a republican. He thinks “..there is some confusion about the church’s position.” You can read about it here. http://deseretnews.com/dn/view/0,1249,595086610,00.html

    I don’t think AG Shurtleff’s standing in the church is diminished by the position he has taken.

  22. Kristine on September 14, 2004 at 3:54 pm

    CB: That’s an interesting piece. However, Matt’s comment was (I believe, though he wasn’t explicit) directed at me, and my contention that I belong in the church, too. Since I do favor legalizing gay marriage, I can’t hide behind ambivalence about particular proposals, so his jab at me still works.

  23. Adam Greenwood on September 14, 2004 at 4:10 pm

    That would be an exemption where the mother’s “life” is in danger, Kristine.

  24. Adam Greenwood on September 14, 2004 at 4:13 pm

    I don’t know why I can’t say anything without creating cries of oppression in certain quarters, given that I known for having the soul a little baa-lamb, but let me try to explain myself. I argue that (A) we can say controversial things without exciting contention if our readers percieve us to be fellow saints. (B) To do so we need to frequently say things that fit _their_ definition of what a saint says. In my case, those statements can be opposition to SSM, or to wanton legalized abortion. In your case it could be statements on “taking the sacrament” each week. Either way, we need to frequently reassert our common ground as we explore our differences.

  25. Kristine on September 14, 2004 at 4:24 pm

    Um, no, Adam, it would be “life or health.” Look it up.

  26. Mark B on September 14, 2004 at 4:46 pm

    The Church’s official statements on abortion are nuanced, including exceptions not only for the life and physical health of the mother, but also for mental health in some circumstances and also for severe fetal deformity. (I don’t have the General Handbook close at hand, and cannot cite specific language.) In every case, however, the process of making the decision is I think the more important issue: father and mother counsel between themselves, with their priesthood leaders and with the Lord.

    I don’t know how this would fit with any proposed solution of the legal mess that abortion law has become in the U.S., but I don’t think that the Church’s position necessarily requires that one take any particular position, whether on the reactionary restrictionist end or the wantonly liberal end of the spectrum. I do know that if my wife or my daughter were in a position where she faced this issue, I would want her to be able to make the decision in accordance with the process set forth in the Church’s statement–counsel with husband, priesthood leaders and God–without interference from the state. But that’s because I trust that those women would make the decision based on true principles and in accord with the process recommended by the Church. (Which, by the way, I think is inspired, because it does not provide an easy answer–the Church doesn’t tell us what to do–rather, it tells us to seek the answer for ourselves, through revelation.)

    The sad history of the past 30 years gives no reason to trust that the majority of people in our nation are guided by true principles in this type of decision. (Note that I didn’t say that I was sure that people were following false principles, only that there’s no reason to believe that they’re following true ones. I would be pleased to be shown evidence that they were.)

    That being said, however, I think that Roe v. Wade was a terrible decision, from a legal and constitutional point of view, based on a flimsy, penumbral house of cards (I don’t know what on earth a “penumbral house of cards” is–maybe we should find a Spiritualist to dredge up Justice Douglas, and we could ask him). We would be much better off, and our political system would be in much better shape, if the difficult issues regarding abortion were dealt with in the fluid rough-and-tumble of state legislatures, instead of in the lofty language of “rights” and in the hopes, so often vain, that some judge will rule the right way.

  27. Matt Evans on September 14, 2004 at 5:07 pm

    Kristine,

    In case there was confusion about my position, I believe abortion should not be proscribed when the woman’s health is in “serious jeopardy,” to borrow the words from the church’s policy. But, in line with the gist of your comment, I’m sure there are areas where my beliefs do not conform to official church positions.

  28. Adam Greenwood on September 14, 2004 at 8:00 pm

    “Serious jeopardy,” then. Thank you, Matt, for the correction.

  29. Ashleigh on September 14, 2004 at 8:33 pm

    Adam, I agree with your points A and B in comment 24, I do see now that is what you intended to say to begin with. But either my perception, or your wording, or both made it difficult to take that meaning from your origional post.

  30. Adam Greenwood on September 14, 2004 at 9:06 pm

    Then, Ashleigh, with the courtliness that typifies us baa-lambs, I give you All Apologies.

  31. Larry on September 14, 2004 at 9:46 pm

    Jack,

    Your thoughts were well stated. Let me try to explain why I used that scripture at the same time I try to watch Canada beat Finland in the hockey championships.
    My perception of Church members is that we tend to compartmentalize the gospel. We then pick and choose which doctrines we like and which ones we don’t.
    In actual fact, there is only one doctrine, if you will, which has been passed thru a prism so that it breaks down into smaller bites that we can learn line upon line.
    So we talk about faith, repentance, baptism, and the Holy Ghost as milk in the Gospel and then think that there are meatier topics beyond them.
    My understanding of the Book of Mormon leads me to conclude something different. I may be way off base but this is one of those areas where I have to be shown in order to change.
    If we go to Lehi’s dream of the Tree of Life I believe some things become clear.
    The Tree of Life, to me, represents the atonement, which means that when Lehi partook of the fruit he had developed a relationship with the Saviour. Having that relationship caused Lehi to respond in a certain way which then guided his attitudes and behaviours from that point on.
    I won’t go further on those details except to mention that once he had that knowledge which he received he wanted others to receive it, starting with his family. When any of us follow his example we receive the same blessing. Alma5; 32; 33 and many other scriptures bear this out in my mind.
    So the key is to come to the Saviour as He pointed out in 3Ne.11. It is as easy to do this as it was for the children of Israel to look om Moses staff when they were under attack.
    This then is the Gospel. Once we have that experience we then have the certain knowledge, which we define as “hope” that the blessings promised by the Lord in 3Ne.11; Section 88:33,34,21; as well as Section 10 will be ours. That is where I think the early apostate Church ended up falling astray in doctrine because they took the doctrine without the authority and the ordinances.
    Believe it or not, I have not come across a doctrine that does not tie into the atonement. It is not only the milk – it is the meat of the Gospel. Perhaps that is why Brother Maxwell suggested that the reason the brethern speak on the first principles at General Conference is because that is all there really is.
    There is an eery truth to that that I think we often fail to consider.
    Anyway, the point to which I am driving is the original point I made that 3Ne.11 establishes the doctrine and everything else is open to discussion.
    By the way, with that “hope” comes the charity we ought to be exhibiting as Bro. Faulconer suggested.
    Aha, Canada just won. All is well in Zion!

  32. Jack on September 15, 2004 at 12:57 am

    Larry: I’ve had similar thoughts as I’ve grown a little older. (not to be confused with mature) Faith has everything to do with how I perceive God. And inasmuch as that perception is constantly developing or unfolding, I often find myself re-evaluating the meaning of faith. I don’t think it is necessary to understand the “mechanics” of faith in order to be faithful, but I do believe that as our knowledge of God increases through the exercise of faith, our sense of how to approach Him becomes more refined – and that IMO greatly influences the further developement of our faith. I like how Joseph Smith added the thunderous little word “not” in his translation of Hebrews 6:1. We don’t *leave* the principles of the doctrine of Christ in order to move on to perfection. I think that perfection could mean that we possess those principles in their fullness. And this, for me thus far, has been a life long process.

    I’ve enjoyed your comments, Larry. ‘Hope you stick around.

WELCOME

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