A Mormon Advice Columnist?

June 16, 2009 | 48 comments
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Could there ever be a Mormon advice columnist, dispensing advice to a Mormon audience? Or is that what Bishops are for?

I came across bad advice today from Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. In her most recent column, she advises a woman dating a Mormon man that “I am no theologian, but I would guess that “no sex till marriage” is meant for those who are approaching marriage for the first time.” She suggests that the woman dump the man because he says he doesn’t want to get married anytime soon and doesn’t want to have sex. [If you are going to comment on this advice please read the column first! I've left out important details.]

Regardless of Howard’s advice, she is clearly ignorant of the LDS mindset and common cultural assumptions among Mormons. I even think that this gentleman’s reticence to marriage could be read as either mourning for his late wife, or showing hesitation toward someone who would need to join the Church before he would be willing to marry.

My point here isn’t that the advice is bad, but that Howard simply doesn’t have the background to really give advice for a very Mormon situation.

In our culture, advice comes chiefly either from friends and neighbors within the Church or from our local priesthood leaders. Clearly some advice needs to be restricted to priesthood leaders (and usually only a Mormon would really understand where the line is). Other times, advice from others is fine. I think that there are even areas where local priesthood leaders should NOT give advice (such as when the advice requires specialized knowledge).

So, given all this, would a Mormon advice columnist make sense?

Of course, the state of Mormon media might make such a column (or blog, for that matter) difficult. For all I can tell, there is some unwritten rule against public advice columnists that I can’t figure out that might keep Meridian Magazine or someone else from such a column. No doubt someone will tell me if that is true.

What do you think? Would Church members write and ask advice from a public source similar to Dear Abby?

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48 Responses to A Mormon Advice Columnist?

  1. Dan on June 16, 2009 at 8:56 pm

    What do you think? Would Church members write and ask advice from a public source similar to Dear Abby?

    Shouldn’t the question be whether it is good to even have a “Dear Abby?” What the heck does Abby know about anything beyond what the writer first writes? I know this kind of service is not geared toward my kind of demographic, but seriously, for good advice, don’t you need more than one initial statement/question? Maybe a service like Hitch, but that requires a fairly talented individual who may not want to do it after he/she finally reaches the prize.

    This debate though is tied to the other in Jer3miah about differences between Mormons and non-Mormons. Are there really that many differences? Aside from this man’s religion, I could put this man’s life in any religion or even non-religion and the result would probably be the same.

    I mean, what would a Mormon advice columnist say to someone who asks “I’m dating this non-member guy who wants to have sex before we’re married. Help.” No matter how many variations you have on this theme, the Mormon advice columnist, if going by Mormon guidelines, will always tell that person “well, you know the rules, no sex before marriage, no ifs ands or buts.” Or do you expect the Mormon advice columnist to say “well, if you were to do it once or twice, you might just be disfellowshipped, but that might be price enough to keep this cool guy; just make sure to have protected sex, or the consequences will be far more troubling with the church and with God.”

  2. Chris H. on June 16, 2009 at 9:04 pm

    I nominate Steve Evans. That would be awesome.

  3. queuno on June 16, 2009 at 9:12 pm

    I don’t think the Mormon Ask Prudence would choose to answer many questions along the lines of “well, go ahead and sin”.

    But there are so many other dramas in our lives that it might be interesting to see if the MAP toes the bishop line or gets creative.

    (Not that there’s anything wrong with the bishop line.)

  4. Kent Larsen on June 16, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    Dan, I don’t think that Mormon Life is quite as simple as all that. The answer to “I’m dating this non-member guy who wants to have sex before we’re married. Help.” is NOT “well, you know the rules, no sex before marriage, no ifs ands or buts.” It IS “here’s how you avoid having sex when you don’t want to” with all the variations and details that might entail.

    I’m quite sure most of the people who would write in to ask advice from a Mormon advice columnist already know the commandments, and wouldn’t ask for a dispensation. There questions are more likely to be in other areas where what to do isn’t quite as clear.

  5. Dear Rabbi on June 16, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    I don’t think the Mormon Ask Prudence would choose to answer many questions along the lines of “well, go ahead and sin”.

    That’s pretty much what Feminist Mormon Housewives advise every time the subject of extramarital celibacy is brought up.

    Which is likely the reason why no Mormon sob sister columnist would ever really succeed. No matter what she advised, there would be Mormons to both the left and the right who would insist that the advice was not right, not Mormon.

    Which is not to say that FMH is ever right in its collective wisdom. They might get it right. Once. Someday. Maybe.

  6. Kent Larsen on June 16, 2009 at 9:25 pm

    Dear Rabbi (5) wrote: “No matter what she advised, there would be Mormons to both the left and the right who would insist that the advice was not right, not Mormon.”

    Um, isn’t that true of EVERY advice columnist? Those on the right and on the left say that every piece of advice is wrong for one reason or another, don’t they?

  7. Kevin Barney on June 16, 2009 at 9:41 pm

    Various blogs and Meridian do this by soliciting advice from the community of commenters as a whole. So in a way it’s done now, but not by a single columnist.

  8. Dear Rabbi on June 16, 2009 at 10:02 pm

    Kent, when you say Dear Abby or Ann Landers is wrong, you’re only saying they’re wrong; there’s not usually much concern about whether their advice lines up with any formal philosophy — you simply disagree with them.

    When you say MAP is wrong, you say that she is wrong AND that she and/or her advice is not Mormon. That’s far more polarizing among Mormons (presumably MAP’s primary audience) than a simple disagreement with her wisdom.

    A Mormon advice columnist openly identifying her advice as specifically Mormon and for Mormons would be as potentially explosive as having Glenn Beck make a big deal of his church membership, dispensing his political and social opinions as specifically Mormon and for Mormons. In fact, I don’t see much difference between a Mormon political talk show host and a Mormon personal advice columnist; their subjects are different, but the outcome would be the same.

  9. Justmeherenow on June 16, 2009 at 10:03 pm

    Keepapitchinin has featured old-time quotes from advice given to readers, some anonymous, by old-time Mormon publication(s) (pre-diaspora-from-Zion).

    And contemporarily, Laura Schlessinger’s advice is usually compatible with the moral stances of faithful LDS members, isn’t it?

  10. Justmeherenow on June 16, 2009 at 10:06 pm

    #7: Kevin, Meridian doesn’t actually feature readers’ comments, though, does it?

  11. Justmeherenow on June 16, 2009 at 10:09 pm
  12. Reeder on June 16, 2009 at 10:12 pm

    Also, The New Era has pretty much been doing that with its Q&A column for decades now, hasn’t it?

  13. Lupita on June 16, 2009 at 10:38 pm

    #5 I don’t know what posts you’re referring to (am I missing all the posts about extramarital celibacy?? but I wouldn’t be taking pot shots at FMH’s collective wisdom. I’d take FMH over any advice columnist any day.

    As far as taking counsel from a Mormon advice columnist, it does seem near impossible that someone would even desire the position. First of all, the pay would be paltry :) Secondly, in a church that cherishes personal revelation, wouldn’t that always be the default answer?

  14. makakona on June 16, 2009 at 11:04 pm

    yeah, “the new era” DOES do an advice column. and i would agree that dr. laura almost always dispenses advice that the church would stamp their name onto. it’s a good point made, though. my family is not lds and our daughter attends a catholic school, so we run in a few circles that are oblivious to how the church operates and what we believe. it’s sometimes hard to get people to understand where we’re coming from and why their solutions just won’t work.

    on the topic of sex before marriage, our oldest is a honeymoon baby. when we went to the local military hospital to confirm the pregnancy, they insisted i was several weeks further along than we knew i was. they asked how we could be so sure of our dates and i said that we weren’t married when they said she was conceived. one nurse rolled her eyes and said, “you don’t have to be married to get pregnant!” to further illustrate my point, i told them that my husband wasn’t even around till the week before our wedding because he had been deployed. “ohhhhhh… he was DEPLOYED… well, we’ll just go ahead and leave the date as what we think it is and if we need to change it later, we can.” sigh.

  15. Dear Rabbi on June 16, 2009 at 11:22 pm

    13: See, that’s my point, Lupita. If Kent’s hypothetical advice columnist advocated the views most commonly expressed by FMH commenters on, say, masturbation, I would reject her advice as being un-Mormon and sinful. If she advocated my more traditional views, well, you’ve already gone on record as taking FMH over any advice columnist.

    Unless such a columnist were writing for the New Era, the questions discussed by FMH would be more common than the sweet little questions about hairstyles in those old advice columns Justmeherenow pointed us to in #11.

    There is no way an advice columnist would succeed under those circumstances.

  16. Kent Larsen on June 16, 2009 at 11:22 pm

    Reeder (12), the New Era Q&A column has been primarily (from what little I’ve read of it) about doctrinal issues, not personal issues. Advice columns are generally more about personal issues.

  17. gst on June 16, 2009 at 11:33 pm

    OK, OK, fine, I’ll do it. Send me your questions.

  18. Steve Evans on June 16, 2009 at 11:46 pm

    Nice try GST, but the fans are already clamoring for yours truly. I humbly accept. You can email me at LDSlovelorn at gmail.com.

    Seriously. That’s a real account I have.

  19. Chris H. on June 16, 2009 at 11:51 pm

    Thanks Steve. I knew you wouldn’t let your fans down.

  20. gst on June 16, 2009 at 11:52 pm

    Chris H, ask Steve how to deal with chlamydia. He knows.

  21. Steve Evans on June 16, 2009 at 11:56 pm

    It is the silent killer, gst. But a little azythromycin and you’ll be back to soliciting sailors down at the docks in no time.

  22. jsg on June 16, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    #9 I imagine Dr. Laura has a pretty solid LDS following, though her advice can sometimes rub the majority of that audience the wrong way, like marriage only after education is all finished, same-sex marriage, etc. I would listen to her more if only she would forbid callers from thanking her for taking their calls.

    gst: My wife says it might be time for another baby, but I feel like I’m up to my ears in offspring. How do I proceed?

  23. Mark B. on June 17, 2009 at 9:12 am

    jsg:

    I’m no gst, but if you’re up to your ears in offspring, try elevator shoes.

    Or, take thought and add a cubit to your stature.

  24. Lupita on June 17, 2009 at 10:09 am

    15 Again, I must be missing all the celibacy posts. However, “sinful and un-Mormon” aren’t adjectives I’d use to describe most of the experiences/advice shared there. But again, I would NEVER EVER advocated Dr. Laura as speaking for Mormondom. That hurts my eyes to even read.

  25. Lupita on June 17, 2009 at 10:11 am

    Advocate, that is…

  26. Peter on June 17, 2009 at 10:24 am

    It seems like some of this need has been filled ad hoc through many Mormon blogs. FMH does some Q&A, as to other blogs.There’s site called Ask Gramps that purports to offer LDS doctrinal clarification as well as some life advice.

    As to whether some Mormon-specific sources of advice are necessary, I think the answer is yes. The informal network of friends in LDS wards and branches isn’t available to all members, and it could be very helpful to isolated members.

  27. jjackson on June 17, 2009 at 1:07 pm

    I think there should be a columnist who gives advice on how to DEAL with mormon bishops.

  28. Vader on June 17, 2009 at 1:13 pm

    It strikes me that if the matter is consequential, the best advisor is almost always the bishop.

    If the matter is inconsequential, it doesn’t much matter who the advisor is, does it?

  29. Steve Evans on June 17, 2009 at 3:05 pm

    The details of my life are quite inconsequential. Summers in Rangoon, luge lessons — pretty standard, really.

  30. Mike on June 17, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    “the best advisor is almost always the bishop”

    You can’t be serious??? (Do I have an irony deficiency?)

    I have a cousin who has been married in the temple 3 times and divorced three times. Kids on drugs or in jail, step-children sexually abused, others skanking around, etc. He says that the next wife is going to be non-LDS. Because he is sick and tired of his wife running to the Bishop for every problem and tired of all the bad advise that is dished out as Divine Revelations from God.

    The probablity is great that my cousin has a bigger problem than 3 or 6 (or however many) Bishops. His problem seems to be that he has enormously poor taste in women. When you hear him relate some of the specific circumstances and the advise he was given, you almost always have to say to yourself, what was that Bishop thinking? I am not talking about one or two distorted examples, but years and years of obviously and systematically stupid advise.

    Bishops are not professional therapists, with rare exception. They have very little and mostly the wrong kind of experience with severe emotional and relationship related problems. Bishops are great with church related problems. I believe that any of my cousin’s three marriages could have been salvaged with professional marital therapy and hard work. But that is not what their Bishops told them.

  31. Researcher on June 17, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    “But that is not what their Bishops told them.”

    And how do you know that?

  32. Kent Larsen on June 17, 2009 at 4:17 pm

    Steve (29), tell me, when you were in Rangoon, did you go swimming in the lake? I understand there is a very nice old vila on the far side, where a fascinating lady lives, so I imagine its worth the swim.

    There’s this guy, John Yettaw, who swam the lake…

  33. Justmeherenow on June 17, 2009 at 5:25 pm

    Ah but it’s illegal to swim (the manmade) Inya Lake. (The current Newsweek tries to make Yettaw out to be a “tramp”: a guy who graduated cum laude in three majors simulataneously (criminal justice, pychology, biology), who was conducting research towards his Ph.D. and owns an 160 acre spread upon which he is constructing a 6,000-sq-ft house!

    http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2009/05/anyone-know-john-william-yettaw/#comment-291874

  34. Lon on June 17, 2009 at 5:30 pm

    Re: #31

    AMEN! I cannot tell you how many times I have counseled someone only to hear a week or two later from a third party that I had given the original person the wrong advice when I had said nothing of the sort that was being reported back. Drove me crazy.

  35. gst on June 17, 2009 at 5:38 pm

    #30: Sure, if you’re divorced three times, I’m sure the problem is LDS bishops.

  36. Scott B. on June 17, 2009 at 5:53 pm

    Not so, gst. “skanking around” is not specifically addressed in the CHI. Take your Bishop-blaming elsewhere.

  37. Ugly Mahana on June 17, 2009 at 11:21 pm

    How ’bout you start a column? See how it works out.

  38. Reeder on June 17, 2009 at 11:54 pm

    Kent (#16),

    I think you may be thinking of the “I Have a Question” feature which occasionally runs in the Ensign (though in recent years, I think it’s been a mix of personal and doctrinal issues).

    The New Era’s Questions and Answers series has pretty much always been about personal issues which Church members, often young people, might face. Just a sample from the 2009 issues (looked up at lds.org):

    “Some of my Church friends argue with nonmember friends over religion. I know contention is wrong, but how do I let my friends know how I feel about the gospel?”

    “How do I avoid falling back into old habits such as swearing?”

    “Some of my friends are dropping out of school to get jobs. I don’t really like school either, but I know education is important. What should I do?”

    “Sometimes the humor in my family crosses over into teasing that hurts. How can we get out of this habit?”

    “I’m afraid that someone might offer me alcohol or drugs. I don’t like to say no to people or make them mad at me. How can I make sure I won’t give in?”

    “When I repent, I have a hard time forgiving myself. How do I learn to forgive myself?”

  39. threetimesabishop on June 18, 2009 at 1:32 am

    Lon (#34), I couldn’t have said it any better.
    B.K.Packer said:
    “We seem to be developing an epidemic of “counselitis” which drains spiritual strength from the Church much like the common cold drains more strength out of humanity than any other disease.
    That, some may assume, is not serious. It is very serious!
    On one hand, we counsel bishops to avoid abuses in welfare help. On the other hand, some bishops dole out counsel and advice without considering that the member should solve the problem himself.
    There are many chronic cases—individuals who endlessly seek counsel but do not follow the counsel that is given.
    I have, on occasions, included in an interview this question:
    ‘You have come to me for advice. After we have carefully considered your problem, is it your intention to follow the counsel that I will give you?’”

    http://www.lds.org/ldsorg/v/index.jsp?hideNav=1&locale=0&sourceId=7ddcd0640b96b010VgnVCM1000004d82620a____&vgnextoid=2354fccf2b7db010VgnVCM1000004d82620aRCRD

  40. Lon on June 18, 2009 at 11:45 am

    I can empathize with the frustrations with those who sought advice and then ignored it. But there is another group who seek the advice and follow it to the letter that are still a problem.

    As a former bishop, I can say that there are serial-users (sometimes abusers) of a bishop’s time/energy. Brothers and sisters who feel the need to come to the bishop for every single issue facing them. And they often come with sincere and heartbreaking stories. A sister who had been left by her husband of decades and is shaken in her self-ability to make decisions. After all, she blew *that* one, right? (Wrong, but another post.) A brother who had lost a child as a result of an accident who now second-guessed every decision he makes because he’s afraid of the consequences. Those are generic examples. One of the hardest parts of the bishop’s job were lovingly and gently getting them back on their own feet. Forcing them to do their own research, prayer, thought and study and then come up with a plan. Supporting the decisions they come to and showing them the positive outcomes. And teaching them how to learn from the negative outcomes.

  41. Carol Brown on June 18, 2009 at 1:00 pm

    Although we can find some good advice from wise counselors, therapists, and church leaders, I would suggest that perhaps the best advisor is the Holy Ghost, who “will show unto you all things what [we] should do.” Ne. 32: 5

  42. Latter-day Guy on June 18, 2009 at 3:32 pm

    Ummm… don’t we already have this?

  43. Latter-day Guy on June 18, 2009 at 3:33 pm

    I see Peter (26) already beat me to the punch.

  44. Marjorie Conder on June 18, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    A number of years ago the Deseret News had a regular personal advice column writen by “Mary Marker”. Can’t remember what her real name was, but she was the grandmother of the present editor of the DN, Joseph Cannon. Also, in the 1950s (also before?-after?) Elaine Cannon (Later YW general president) wrote an advice column in the same paper for teens. So it has been done. Even in the lifetime and memory of some of us still around.

  45. Ziff on June 18, 2009 at 6:45 pm

    Regarding “Ask Gramps,” while he represents a common Mormon way of thinking, he often boils down to “Ask Joseph Fielding Smith.” For example, here he is on fossils and here on birth control. I’ m not a fan.

  46. Ziff on June 18, 2009 at 6:51 pm

    I would NEVER EVER advocated Dr. Laura as speaking for Mormondom. That hurts my eyes to even read.

    Amen, Lupita.

  47. Trenden on June 19, 2009 at 5:09 pm

    Gosh, what’s wrong with Dr. Laura? Most of her views seem to be in harmony with Judeo-Christian principles including the no sex before marriage thing. I listen to her show on occasionally during the commute and I’d say 90% of her advice is exactly what most bishops would advise.

  48. Alison Moore Smiteh on June 20, 2009 at 6:19 am

    Two other women and I wrote a Mormon “advice column” called “Circle of Sisters”on Meridian for quite some time. Beginning in 2003, we continued that tradition on Mormon Momma for some years after that. In total, there have been four of us answering the column questions. (Technically the column still exists, but we tend to cover the same stuff on the forum now.)

    We got lots of questions and I love to give advice. :)