From its inception, Times and Seasons has been a forum for relatively diverse political, theological, and applied approaches to Mormonism. There are limits on the group’s diversity, of course. All of the group members are and have been, in some way or other, faithful members. However, we vary in our ideas of what Mormonism means. Some of us self-identify as more traditional, others as more progressive. Some of us adhere to belief structures that are more “Iron Rod” in nature; others to belief structures that are more “Liahona.” Politically speaking, some of us are Democrats and others Republicans and others disgusted by both major parties.
It has always been thus.
The first four members of Times and Seasons were Nate, Adam, Matt and myself (who one might label, very incompletely, as being an analytic libertarian-centrist, a social conservative, an analytic libertarian-conservative, and a left-leaning centrist). The blog was born out of a series of lengthy conversations on the LDS-Law listserv, mostly about abortion and same-sex marriage. (Some things never change). There was much disagreement on the list, and many heated exchanges between various list participants. But after repeated and lengthy listserv exchanges (which I still have saved on file somewhere), I noticed a trend. Three particular members of the list were less inclined to jump to knee-jerk responses and invective, and were more inclined to make reasonable, intelligent, thought-provoking responses. Not to say that I agreed with these folks — I thought they were all wrong on substance, on a regular basis. (They seemed to think the same about me). But it was clear that they each put a high value on the norms of civil dialogue. Because of that approach, we could discuss issues intelligently and at length, despite substantive disagreements, without the conversation degenerating into garbage.
Eventually, the four of us began e-mailing each other on a private list; soon thereafter, the idea of a group blog came up. The rest, as they say, is history.
Throughout its development, I’ve loved the fact that Times and Seasons was an ideologically diverse group. That diversity, in my eyes, was one of the primary reasons we founded the blog. Our permament roster, I hope, reflects this continued ideological diversity. Our guest list does so as well. Where else can one find a guest list that ranges from Susan Staker to Joseph Stanford, with stops in between for Dan Peterson, Fred Gedicks, Jeff Lindsay, Damon Linker, Richard Bushman, and Greg Prince, along with dozens of others?
This environment is an oddity; most group environments tend to attract like-minded folks. It’s generally not hard for most us to have conversations with people who think just like we do. Conservatives typically have easy access to other conservatives; liberals to other liberals; theologically orthodox Mormons to other orthodox Mormons; more heterodox Mormons to other more heterodox Mormons. Birds of a feather flock together; that’s the norm.
At its best, Times and Seasons offers more than that status quo. It offers a chance to have friendly, intelligent discussions across ideological divides. One can talk abortion with Matt or with me, knowing that we hold different views; one can talk same-sex marriage with Russell or with Adam, literary theory with Nate or with Rosalynde, and so forth. At its best, this kind of environment is a place to hone and refine one’s own ideas, to send them into discussions with others who may disagree, and to come away with broader appreciation for and respect for opposing views, even if one still disagrees on substance. At its best, Times and Seasons offers dialogue — real dialogue among faithful members of differing approaches and ideas.
There are potential downsides to such a configuration. The views of others can be frustrating. It may take self-control not to respond harshly to opposing views; it may require empathy and intellectual focus to see the ideas of others for what they really are, not for caricatured straw folks. It can be frustrating to see one’s own views attacked and criticized, particularly when they relate to issues one views as important. It can be a struggle to prevent the back-and-forth from becoming a grim war of comments.
And frankly, an inter-ideological environment makes a few specific demands of its participants. The crucial one is this: It is vital that each of the group members and conversation participants prize dialogue. A commitment to maintaining the atmosphere of dialogue must trump partisanship.
Thus, it is deceptive to say that an inter-ideological blog environment is welcoming to all. It is not. There is a group that is systematically going to be excluded from and marginalized from such blog conversations. That group is comprised of those people who are not willing to place the norms of civil dialogue above their substantive beliefs during blog conversations. If a conversation participant feels that his or her views on X — abortion or same-sex marriage or feminism or apologetics or whatever — override the norms of civil dialogue, then s/he is not going to fit well in the inter-ideological blogging environment. Not because his or her ideas on [abortion, SSM, etc] themselves are in any way wrong, but because s/he is not willing to put civil dialogue at the forefront. Those who don’t fit in well are the crusaders: Those who think that a holy writ from the Pope (“go free the Holy Land”) justifies pillaging and plundering their way across Europe and sacking and burning Constantinople. (Or in the blog context, one who believes that a substantive difference of opinion justifies personal attack and invective.)
Has Times and Seasons always succeeded in maintaining a healthy forum for inter-ideological blogging? No. It’s hard not to let one’s own ideological preferences take charge at times. Sometimes I do better at controlling this tendency and sometimes worse; the same applies, I think, to many around here. Sometimes the tenor turns negative; other times it improves. Maintaining a healthy inter-ideological forum is not easy.
I still think that maintenance of a forum for inter-ideological blogging is vital. It’s the reason I’m here; it’s the reason I started with the group to begin with; it’s the reason I put time and energy into the blog; it’s one of the fundamental reasons that I make comments and posts. Times and Seasons has no official mission statement, and this post is nothing more than my own thoughts; still, I conceive of the mission of Times and Seasons as fostering a forum for intelligent inter-ideological debates. It’s why I’m here, and the day I think that the blog can no longer function as an inter-ideological forum is the day I’ll leave.
I’ll close my post by opening the floor. What do our readers think? Is inter-ideological dialogue a worthwhile goal? How can we do this better? What are we doing right, and what should we be improving on?