Alienated in Zion

August 17, 2009 | 23 comments
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“I say unto you, be one; and if you are not one ye are not mine (D&C 38:27).” And then comes the uncomfortable experience of sitting in Sunday School (or in the midst of some other group of Mormons) with the persistent, anxious thought, “I really don’t fit in here…” Humans are conformist creatures; it’s part of what makes the world intelligible (there are no non-conformists). Mormons, with our strong belief in Zion and our communitarian bent, feel an added conformist pull. I think this makes the very natural, human experience of alienation both more perplexing and poignant for us. When we fail to cope with or properly digest our feelings of alienation, they can be quite damaging, both to us personally and to us as a people. I believe very strongly in our peoplehood; I believe very strongly in Zion. I think most of us do. Consequently, I think it very important that we think deeply about this commandment to be one in our day of exponential diversity.

Alienation can be destructive for many reasons. One of its most insidious effects is the way it has of retroactively polluting our memories or past experiences. Once one feels alienated, it’s easy to see oneself as having always been different, always on the outside. Once cherished memories are no longer fondly remembered but are seen as further evidence of oppression or injustice. Not only are we distanced from present friends, but the genuine friendships we had in the past are perverted under our present gaze. Alienation can also be crippling to our ability to go about our social affairs naturally. We become tuned in to every little thing that can potentially serve as evidence supporting our feelings of alienation, and we become blind, or simply pay less attention to things that can serve as evidence to the contrary, blind to the things that make social life enjoyable. We live in a self-conscious, disrupted manner, and it almost always takes time to get back to a natural flow in our life. And a particularly unfortunate effect is alienation’s tendency to blind us to the difficulties and alienation of others. In the Church, we often see ourself or our particular group as somehow unique in the burden it carries, in its lack of an official ministry or acceptance within the Church.

I think that an oft overlooked but almost universal and ironic fact about alienation is that when feeling alienated, we’re not alone. Boy was I not prepared for Utah-County-style conservativism when I returned a few months ago (I was dumbfounded when not even the car dealer trying to sell me the 2009 VW Jetta TDI knew that it had won green car of the year!). I didn’t grow up here and hadn’t been all that politically conscious during my undergraduate years in Utah County, and I don’t think many of my friends at the time who were into politics were very conservative. So I was a bit unprepared for the onslaught. Consequently it was easy to begin to feel alienated on account of my political views; and since many of those I felt alienated from didn’t distinguish much between the views of the Church and their local brand of conservative politics, it was easy to begin to feel a bit alienated from the Saints (claiming a distinction between “the people” and “the gospel” only goes so far, especially since so much of our gospel concerns us as a people).

I see a lot of things that make us in the Church feel alienated: politics, social status, economic status, intellectual preferences or tendencies, race, gender, family type, sexuality, doctrinal belief, approach to our history, length of time in the Church, perception of orthodoxy, our current calling, ward relations, living “in Zion” vs. “the mission field.” I very strongly believe that almost all of our experiences of alienation are social, or have a social foundation, even when we don’t think they do (e.g., when we feel alienated on account of our doctrinal positions or our perception of orthodoxy or intellectual preferences). Even seemingly non-social forms of alienation flourish or dissipate in the wake of positive or negative friendships.

Several experiences have helped me along in overcoming my own feelings of alienation (or self-pity). A recent PPI turned into something of a political interrogation, making me extremely uncomfortable and raising all of my alienated hackles. Then Dave, my interviewer, sighed with relief and said, “Yeah, I feel the same way!” I began to realize how many “flaming liberals” (or what I think of as moderates) there were amongst my neighbors. I realized that my personal experience was very analogous to the experiences being reported on over and over by my students in their reflection papers. One of the most common phrases students wrote is “While [almost] everyone around here believes/thinks/feels X, I really disagree and believe Y.” I laughed to see that if the students were reporting honestly, than either I had every Y Believer on campus in my class, or else these students had a serious misperception of what “everyone” around them believed.

This doesn’t mean that my students’ (and my) perceptions were completely off-base. A locale’s particular milieu isn’t simply created by a statistical compilation of opinions—the intensity of a culture is not the product of a pro-con ratio. We’re much better at picking up on the unstated norms of an area – what is generally, publicly accepted and what is considered idiosyncratic or anathema – than we are at picking up on who holds what specific beliefs (though as we’ve all experienced, we can get the norms of an area wrong too). But even in a genuinely hostile environment (e.g., being a mother with a full-time job and sitting through a lesson on the importance of staying home), one’s feelings of alienation can drastically change when one recognizes how many others are supportive of or sympathetic to your views and behavior.

Next, I realized that individuals in line with the majority culture (e.g., BYU students who believe the honor code, as worded, stands in no need of reform) often feel a related and very real sense of alienation. Sometimes this is because we see ourselves as supported locally but under siege regionally. Sometimes it’s because we can’t get over nagging doubts that we’re wrong. Sometimes it’s because we support the principles of the majority culture and yet are disturbed by particular policies that seem to stem from (or are touted as stemming from) those principles. I’m convinced that very few people, especially today, stand firmly on a position without ever feeling doubt, even when that position is in line with the predominate culture. Some people do seem to be good at burying their head in the sand, and maybe some really do never ever doubt; but I’m not very worried about feeling alienated from them. Recognizing that those from whom I feel alienated, feel alienated themselves (often with regard to the same issue) has made a significant difference for me.

But even so, how do we reconcile self-segregation and pluralism with our ideal of Zionic oneness? While recognizing the experience of alienation as a universal phenomenon, and recognizing that there are always others in a similar situation to us can greatly reduce the strain we feel from alienation, how do we theologically proclaim Zion while recognizing how differently we often think and feel from one another? I think that a resurgence in our doctrinal and existential notion of Mormon peoplehood, together with the understanding that peoplehood does not mean homogeneity, is a very promising solution; at the least, I think it would be extremely healthy for us all. For much of our history we had a very strong, genetic notion of Mormons, our doctrine of the “believing blood.” Some aspects of this history are extremely distasteful; but there is also something deeply profound here, something that I think is at the heart of Zion. Maureen Whipple, in her poignant fiction The Giant Joshua has the starving and angry “apostate” Orson Pratt, Jr. say, “You people don’t care if a man rolls in a manure pile as long as he’s one of you!” (385) While meant as an insult – because for Pratt this attitude entails an opposite attitude toward gentiles and apostates – I see it as a potentially glorious slogan. This is especially true if we were to consider apostates like Jr. as Mormons in the same way loving parents still understand their apostate children as their flesh and blood, love them deeply, and yearn for their return to temple covenants, and at the least seek to have a wonderful family relationship with them. (In arguing for a resurgence in a strong notion of ourselves as a people, I’m emphatically not arguing for us to do so by alienating the “Gentiles,” or to attain a strong sense of peoplehood by merely drawing strict boundaries of distinction.) If we had a greater sense of and confidence in our diversity, than an individual Mormon could maintain as orthodox or zealous an opinion as anyone might want concerning what Mormons ought to think and believe, while still recognizing and being absolutely committed to all of the heterodox Mormons as Mormons, as members of one’s own people. We can remember that though we speak and act according the divinest orthodoxy and have not genuine charity toward our dissenters, we are nothing. We might not like the smell of manure they bring with them, but the smell can be easily, even joyfully overlooked in the face of their presence among us.

Richard Bushman seems to me to be advocating something similar. Discussing a panel review of Rough Stone Rolling at the Mormon History Association (May 31, 2006), a rather grueling experience (none of the panelists were typical believing Mormons, some not even a-typical non-believing Mormons), Bushman says,

Listening to these [at times hostile] scholars for about an hour, I decided to view them all as part of a wider Mormon culture. . . . all of them are attached to Mormonism in some compelling way. . . . While Mormons may think of Sunday School and home teaching as Mormon culture, the work [of the scholars on the panel] is also part of the Mormon whole. The intensity of their interest helps us to recognize the flaws in our conventional divisions into faithful and unfaithful, believing and unbelieving, active and inactive. We all attach ourselves to Mormonism in some peculiar fashion; we all have our irksome points where we don’t feel comfortable and particular sites where we obtain a purchase on our religion. We should recognize that we are all part of big-tent Mormonism and acknowledge each other as brothers and sisters. (On the Road with Joseph Smith, 120-121)

Jan Shipps (perhaps the most famous and widely respected non-Mormon scholar of Mormonism) recently gave what I think is related counsel to the Church’s Public Relations team in Salt Lake City. Last summer as our Church struggled with how to distinguish itself from fundamentalists/polygamists in the media, they invited Shipps in to discuss the issue with them (see the Church’s attempts here, and an articulate fundamentalist response here). She suggested that we shouldn’t distinguish ourselves by claiming that the polygamists aren’t Mormon. The Church’s difficulty is in how to get non-nuanced and ill-informed media publications to distinguish us from fundamentalists—they suggested that the media not refer to them as “fundamentalist Mormons.” Shipps’ point was that the non-nuanced and ill-informed journalists are never going to be able to distinguish as Mormon vs. not Mormon two groups when both of them believe Joseph Smith was a prophet, believe the Book of Mormon to be scripture, genealogically trace themselves to Joseph’s founding Church, and continue to follow leaders claiming to have authority descending to them in a direct line from Joseph. Nor should they.

This notion of big-tent Mormonism isn’t simply advocated by scholars like Bushman and Shipps. In one of his final General Conference talks, Elder Wirthlin discussed the alienation felt by many of our Mormon brothers and sisters on “the fringe”:

They feel as though they don’t belong. Perhaps because they are different, they find themselves slipping away from the flock. They may look, act, think, and speak differently than those around them and that sometimes causes them to assume they don’t fit in. They conclude that they are not needed.

Tied to this misconception is the erroneous belief that all members of the Church should look, talk, and be alike. The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world. Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony. All of Heavenly Father’s children are different in some degree, yet each has his own beautiful sound that adds depth and richness to the whole.

This variety of creation itself is a testament of how the Lord values all His children. He does not esteem one flesh above another, but He “inviteth them all to come unto him and partake of his goodness; and he denieth none that come unto him, black and white, bond and free, male and female; . . . all are alike unto God.” . . .

Brothers and sisters, if only we had more compassion for those who are different from us, it would lighten many of the problems and sorrows in the world today. It would certainly make our families and the Church a more hallowed and heavenly place. (emphasis added)

Many people have pointed out that we’re incredibly accepting of some diversity in our ranks, usually on account of time and familiarity – diversity like the black sister in your ward who can really belt out a gospel spiritual in sacrament, or everybody’s favorite Polynesian family who puts on a quasi-authentic luau for the ward. But other forms of diversity we sometimes accept with dramatically less luster – diversity (to name a few milder examples) like the openly homosexual individual in the ward, the “intellectual” in Sunday School who consistently (sometimes tactlessly, condescendingly, cynically) points out difficulties in our history or scriptural interpretation, the recent convert who still practices a form of Buddhism or Islam or the like, or the genuine Molly Mormon in the ward. My main point in bringing all of this up, in calling for us all to adopt a more “big-tent” Mormonism, calling for us to be more dedicated to one another as a people, more accepting of heterogeneity in our midst, being willing not simply to suffer but also to embrace those rolling in the manure pile because they’re one of us, is not simply to make people much different from us feel more welcome – though this is certainly part of it. Rather, by adopting both a more inclusive and also a more loyal notion of our peoplehood, my main point is that we won’t feel as alienated in Zion – regardless of our personal idiosyncrasies.

Leonard Arrington gives us an anecdote from Brigham Young’s administration wherein, following a serious and pointed disagreement, “Brigham remarked caustically to [Bishop Edwin Woolley], ‘Well, I suppose now you are going to go off and apostatize.’ ‘No, I won’t,’ retorted Edwin. ‘If this were your church I might, but it’s just as much mine as it is yours.’” (American Moses, 200). I think that if we all had this attitude, then in practice, we would love each other more and be much more accepting of one another’s differences, while actually being more committed to Zion. I don’t think this means we would have a watered down or less passionate vision about what Mormonism ought to entail. We wouldn’t need to be less opinionated (Brigham and Bishop Woolley certainly weren’t!). Rather, we would recognize that central to Mormonism is Zion, our peoplehood, our being unified, and that unity does not mean homogenous thought, feeling, and action, but a commitment to ourselves, to improving and serving one another as a people of God – not a commitment to exclusion. Also central to the gospel is the atonement, a divine reconciliation, a bridging of gaps, a bringing together as one; and each of us are to stand as saviors on Mt. Zion.

As Mormons we recognize that through the gospel, notwithstanding all our differences, “[we] are no more strangers and foreigners, but fellowcitizens with the saints, and of the household of God.” (Ephesians 2:19) And in this way, “you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath he reconciled in the body of his flesh through death, to present you holy and unblameable and unreproveable in his sight.” (I Colosians 1:21-22)

23 Responses to Alienated in Zion

  1. J. Madson on August 17, 2009 at 1:19 pm

    enjoyed the post. “If this were your church I might, but it’s just as much mine as it is yours.” I wonder how this attitude should affect the way we approach gospel discussions, classes, etc in church. I remember Neil A Maxwell or maybe Truman Madsen stating that Nibley could criticize and say things that other critics could not because his commitment and discipleship to the faith were so well known.

    I have found that an open verbal and active commitment to Zion, the kingdom, or your local church community is almost a necessary prerequisite to offer any alternative views. I think once we accept our common mormonism or peoplehood as you state it and do so without reservation we can move forward to the great work of listening and learning from one another in communion and discipleship in our new found big tent.

  2. Marc Bohn on August 17, 2009 at 1:23 pm

    A lot to think about. Thanks James. Oddly, I think we there are times when we cling to our alienation (for whatever reason) as a way of telling ourselves we aren’t like “them.” We miss the mark in this, though, because we deny ourselves the chance to “be as one” despite whatever differences we may have.

    “If this were your church I might [apostatize], but it’s just as much mine as it is yours.”

    Amen.

  3. Rick on August 17, 2009 at 2:50 pm

    As someone who has felt (and occasionally still feels) enough alienation to entertain the idea that it wasn’t “as much [his] church as [others],” I want to thank you for this post. It’s nice to see things from a different, more inclusive perspective.

    Now the question is, what do we do about it? How, exactly, can we start being more inclusive?

  4. Dane on August 17, 2009 at 3:01 pm

    For me it comes back to community building (but then again, for me everything comes back to community building). It starts by making friends and seeing them often, then by making more friends and gathering them all together. It’s about the ideal of invitation, and the practical reality of organizing things that are fun for them to do.

    As for maintaining a distinctive “peopleness” without forming defensive barriers between “us” and “them”, I think it helps to “us-ness” as a possession rather than an attribute. It other words, the confrontational Mormon worldview is to view Mormonism and non-Mormonism as two distinct attributes that a person might have. However, if we view Mormonism as a possession, then non-Mormonism is no longer an attribute, it is just the absence of a possession. This means that, while being Mormon says something about a person, being non-Mormon says nothing about a person.

  5. Mike Parker on August 17, 2009 at 3:45 pm

    As someone who often feels alienated from the cultural and political beliefs of other Mormons here in Utah’s Dixie, thank you. This was a very moving post.

  6. clark on August 17, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    And then comes the uncomfortable experience of sitting in Sunday School (or in the midst of some other group of Mormons) with the persistent, anxious thought, “I really don’t fit in here…”

    Fortunately almost everyone feels that so everyone is still united. (bg) Seriously though I think everyone assumes everyone else has things going well when it just isn’t the case.

  7. James Olsen on August 17, 2009 at 6:02 pm

    J. Madsen (#1): I appreciate the way you put it. The goal is certainly for us to listen and learn from one another in communion and discipleship. I agree that this often requires a visible level of commitment, investment, conversion, or whatever one wants to call it, not just in order to convince others of your bonafides, but also to BE bonafide, to truly participate and be a part of Mormonism, and to overcome alienation. There’s a way of reading what we’re saying here as, “Get their trust, then you can subvert them,” which is obviously off base.

    Marc (#2): Yes, I absolutely agree, we miss the opportunity to be one when we hold on to our alienation; and this isn’t just failure to obey a commandment, it’s a tremendous loss for us personally and for the community overall. But a desire to hold on to and nurse our alienation is perhaps as universal as alienation itself.

    Rick & Mike (#3 & 5): Thank you for your kind words. Rick, one of the immediate actions that I’m arguing we can take, is to work to overcome our personal alienation; be a bit more like Bishop Woolley in our attitude. This also means that we’ll speak up in the Mormon dialogue as when we feel we should, bu that we’ll do so with the love and commitment J. Madsen mentions. But it’s a great question to ask; hopefully all of us, in all of the various worlds we run in, have experience being respectful and inclusive that will help us, and also experience in what sorts of respect and inclusiveness is actually a fleeing from Mormonism or nursing one’s alienation.

    Dane (#4): I think you’ve got a great way of putting it, so long as its understood correctly. There’s a way of positing Mormonism as a possession vs. attribute that’s a distinction without a difference – if we see the lack of this possession in a criminal or culpable light.

  8. corktree on August 17, 2009 at 7:11 pm

    This post has great timing for me. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot lately as I’ve struggled to find my place in “zion” ever since moving from New Hampshire 3 years ago. It’s always nice to hear your inner voice reflected by others and to be reminded that you’re not quite as isolated as you might feel. Thanks for giving me a new direction to take my thoughts.

  9. E on August 17, 2009 at 8:39 pm

    Great post. Ironically, I think almost everyone feels alienated at least part of the time. Even I do, and I’m a lifelong Utah Mormon who pretty much looks, thinks, and acts like a stereotypical Utah Mormon!

  10. Sterling Fluharty on August 17, 2009 at 8:48 pm

    Thanks for the moving post. Do inactive Mormons find themselves more or less alienated when they stop attending church? Do they connect with their community or do they generally remain stuck in their alienation? If we focused more on peoplehood, could it help draw these individuals back into activity? If we became really serious about our peoplehood, could that become one of the things that made Mormons positively peculiar in our incredibly individualized urban America?

  11. Owen on August 17, 2009 at 10:53 pm

    Too long. Sound bites only, please!

  12. christopher j on August 17, 2009 at 11:57 pm

    Just got back from seeing District 9 with the other Jack Mormon I know. Talk about getting “alienated.”

    The human tendency to point out differences and say “Haha, we are superior! My intellect/family/religious-observance/nation/body-type/work ethic/Alma mater/neighborhood/… is waaay better than yours!” is definitely a problem. Is it biologically advantageous to feel superior? Maybe. Is it spiritually advantageous to say, “I have X strengths; you have Y weaknesses. How will you allow me to bless your life?” That’s a goal worth having.

    Thanks for the reminder to review my placement of loyalty.

    Understand what I’m saying

  13. L-d Sus on August 18, 2009 at 12:19 am

    Thank you for an excellent post.

    The final paragraph in the quote for Elder Wirthlin has helped me battle my personal feelings of alienation. I offer friendship and acceptance to those who apparently “stick-out” even more than I do. It has also been helpful to offer friendship and acceptance to those to are apparently more conformed than I am.

  14. warno on August 18, 2009 at 10:00 am

    Great points about the big tent that the stakes of Zion should be. I agree strongly with the proposition that a big part of making this happen is by living the gospel and doing the little things that make a ward run smoothly. If you’re willing to do your hometeaching, go on splits with the elders, and participate in building clean-up, you’re part of my tribe regardless of any doubts or unorthodox beliefs.

    Of course, James, if you want Zion you need to come back to Alexandria!

  15. WillF on August 18, 2009 at 3:09 pm

    Apparently the Church wants bloggers to feel less alienated: http://newsroom.lds.org/blog/

  16. Orwell on August 18, 2009 at 8:57 pm

    Nice.

  17. James Olsen on August 18, 2009 at 9:17 pm

    Sterling (#10) – good questions, though you seem belie your own answers to them with the subsequent questions; if you’re inactive yourself, this would be enlightening. I’m quite convinced (obviously) that the communitarian nature of Mormonism is something that we ought to be promoting, and that does make us peculiar in society overall; but it’s something we share with many other faiths (Islam, Judaism, Native American religions, etc), though we certainly have our own spin on it.

    Owen (#11) – couldn’t disagree with you more. Be thankful I threw you the bone of a few bolded sentences and a slogan.

    Christopher (#12) – despite your provocative imperative, I’m afraid I can’t quite place you well enough with what you’ve given me to follow through. But a few points: reading your charitably (not interpreting it as condescending or patronizing) I can sign on to your “worthy” goal. It’s interesting that proclaiming yourself a Jack Mormon and still reading and commenting on the post you seem to be an illustration of what Bushman’s talking about above. After reviewing your loyalties, I hope we’ll still have you among us.

    Warno (#14) – I hope I did my hometeaching and joined you at building cleanup the month you were looking! And if not, I hope my post influences you enough to keep me as part of your tribe.

  18. Aaron on August 19, 2009 at 7:24 am

    I suppose there are as many reasons for alienation as there are alienated members. One remedy I would recommend, based on my conversations with a few of them, would be simply to remember to feed the flock we have instead of putting all our effort into acquiring new members of the flock.

  19. Porter on August 19, 2009 at 11:34 am

    I grew up in Salt lake City and then moved away (intentionally) for about 8 years, in part because I was fed up with everything about Utah and the culture here. Like many I came back after realizing that its really not such a bad place, but I found that when I lived outside of Utah I became instinctively more orthodox. Even though i am now an adult, moving back caused me to again distance myself from church orthodoxy and mainstream members. I want to be alienated, I don’t want to fit in with these crazy people! This troubles me.

  20. James Olsen on August 20, 2009 at 11:29 am

    Aaron (#18): I take it you think we should practice and not just preach the 3-fold mission of the church, and also follow the repeated counsel of our leaders on this issue? I agree.

    Porter (#19): I’m sympathetic to your comments. I realized a short while back that the things that get under my skin about Wasatch Front Mormon culture are the same things that get under my skin in society in general – things that happen to be prevalent in the inner-mountain west where I grew up. Likewise, the things I like about Mormons in the diaspora are often cultural elements that flourish outside of the inner-mountain west. There are certain things that do (and when they don’t, should) remain the same with Mormons no matter where they are, but we certainly have to acknowledge that we’re human and deeply influenced by local culture. This recognition makes it easier for me to love and fellowship with the saints no matter where we are. Likewise, and I think more importantly, it allows me to naturally maintain various distinctions with my neighbors, without focusing or dwelling on them, without being self-conscious about it. Consequently, I feel less alienated and no desire to BE alienated. Which I think is a much healthier way to be.

    By the way, if anyone’s still reading this, Ardis just posted some stories of Brigham Young that I think illustrate well the non-alienat(ed)/(ing) peoplehood I’m urging:
    http://www.keepapitchinin.org/2009/08/19/random-reasons-why-i-like-brigham-young-two/

  21. Kaimi Wenger on August 22, 2009 at 10:10 am

    Outstanding thoughts, James. I especially like the idea of reclaiming the manure line. :)

  22. DavidH on August 22, 2009 at 11:51 am

    Amen, James. I think we are, and should glory in, being a Church of misfits. (And a country and world of misfits.)

  23. WBadger on August 25, 2009 at 8:17 pm

    I enjoyed your blog, James. And I think your efforts here have it largely right in terms of extending the stakes of your big-tent inclusiveness, viz. practicing a democratic, “centrifugal” attitude of inclusion rather than awaiting (or attempting) centripetal reforms.

    Reform Judaism might be a helpful model, both in its broad-based approach to engaging the question of just who is (or qualifies as) a Jew, and also in terms of its open and tolerant engagement with “gentile” populations. Reform conceptions of Jewishness are fluid enough to encompass all of the more orthodox forms, and to embrace those whose genetic or historic connection to Judaism is tenuous or non-existent.

    Of course, the question who is a Jew is still contested within and without the various movements of Judaism to this moment, but one way to cut the Gordian knot (is it a tribe? is it a religion? both?) is to refer to a concept of peoplehood rather than a genetic or (prescriptive) orthodoxy. To be a Jew on this model is to be in a certain relationship with the Jewish people.

    If one views Jewishness as a series of concentric circles with Reform Jews in the outermost and the most orthodox groups occupying the centermost ring, one would, in moving inward, pass from circles of greater to lesser inclusiveness. At the center, one would encounter the belief that although certain constituents of the outer rings might be Jewish by birth, those more tenuously associated–even those living as Jews trans-generationally–have no part in the Jewish people.

    I don’t think this is uncommon when a group asserts a claim to orthodoxy or to central authority. And any movement toward power-sharing is unlikely to come from the “center” outward. In other words. more inclusive groups may be generous in including more exclusive groups in their constructed peoplehoods; exclusive groups correctly feel that by extending membership privileges more broadly they dilute their criteria for peoplehood and their very claim to exclusivity (and perhaps its corollary of authority).

    In a Mormon context, it is easy to find correspondence between calls for broader inclusiveness and a continual scriptural injunction to love one another and to work for the establishment of Zion. What is not easy is for a socially privileged group–in the event, a highly centralized religious authority–to dilute its own power (skeptically conceived) or to dilute its message (more charitably understood).

    I agree with Ms. Shipps that we should be generous in acquiescing even to socially subordinated groups’ self-identifying as Mormons. The fear, I suppose, is that outsiders might conflate members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints with other Restoration Movement churches and groups; an eventuality that might at best be uncomfortable at times, and (at a charitably conceived) worst might complicate efforts at proselytization.

    Of course, as Ms. Shipps points out, such distinctions may be painted with too fine a brush for the general public, anyway. And in strenuous efforts to bar certain historically related groups from the ‘Mormon’ designation, we are acting as do many who would stand in the way of Mormons who clamor for broader acceptance of their claim to the ‘Christian’ label.

    Once in Nauvoo I stopped in at a local bookshop to purchase some writings of Joseph Smith III. The clerk was welcoming and happy to oblige my requests for information as to how the other groups in what I might have called the Mormon Movement, but which she more properly referred to as the Restoration Movement, got along in the town, and how they viewed the construction of a new LDS temple. The views varied, as represented by the clerk, but what struck me was that many of the groups seemed to self-identify with the broader Mormon movement and with other Mormon-oriented groups in ways that seemed to put (popular) LDS religious outreach to shame.

    In terms of outreach, if we see ourselves as occupying an inclusive position in a broad, outer ring of Mormon peoplehood, a ring with permeable margins, we will unilaterally include within our conception of Mormonness those in inner circles who would certainly exclude us or some of our associates. But just as orthodox Judaism’s rejection of Reform conversions has little effect on an individual Reform convert’s entry into that (Reform) circle of Jewish peoplehood, however, and just as certain Evangelical efforts to exclude Mormons (or Jehovah’s Witnesses or…) from Christianity is powerless to affect an individual Mormon’s self-conception as a member of the body of Christ, so too official exclusion at any level is essentially powerless to reject the membership of an individual in the community of a more inclusive circle…PROVIDED there exists a welcoming community with which the individual can form a meaningful connection.

    In other words, self-identity alone isn’t enough; there cannot be Mormons without Mormondom. But if there is an inclusive community that values and generates connections to other facets of the Mormon experience and to officially or self-exiled members, the broader peoplehood that results won’t be measurably affected by dicta emanating from more inward and exclusive circles.

    I think efforts like this blog post can only help. And I, for one, am glad to self-associate with a broader understanding of what it means to be Mormon as opposed to (or alongside) the clerical distinction of being an active member in good standing
    of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or the Community of Christ or whatever group or movement.