Personal Perception vs. Reality

Sigh. Okay. I’m going to try something here, and I hope it doesn’t all blow up on me. As some of you might be aware, back while I was on vacation, the Ordain Women founder was excommunicated. I didn’t write a post about it then because I had no desire whatsoever to police the comments that would likely result from such a post. I still have no real desire to do it–and so I’m just hoping they stay relatively friendly and tranquil this time around. We’ll see if that happens.

That said, this isn’t a post about her. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I don’t know her or her situation, and I try to avoid expressing potentially inflammatory statements about situations where I’m uninformed. (Doesn’t always work, but a guy’s gotta try . . .) That doesn’t mean I don’t have opinions on the topic, but it does mean if you want to pry them out of me, you’d have to ask me in person or in private. (Spoiler: my opinions tend to straddle the fence on this one. So if you’ve got strong ones on either side of the divide, half of me agrees with you and half of me disagrees. Maybe I’ve got a career in politics ahead of me.)

So if I’m not going to wade in with both guns blazing into the war of opinions, what exactly is this post about? Why am I speaking out now?

Well, all this talk and the various blog posts around the subject have helped me organize some thoughts that are tangential to the topic. Let’s see where it takes me. It might very well just lead back to what I’m trying to avoid, but such is life.

It seems to me that as a species, humans are very quick to make blanket statements about “the way things are” based entirely on their little slice of reality. In the topic at hand, you’ll have women who have experienced discrimination or inequality in church, and so they’ll state that the church as a whole is misogynistic and discriminatory. At the same time, you’ll have other women who haven’t experienced this, and so they’re shocked and appalled if anyone else brings those charges against the church. But this goes beyond church politics and policies. Whether it’s discussions about politics, sports teams, racism, sexism, religion–you name it. It’s just too easy to base an entire argument on personal experiences, giving credence to your own and discounting others’.

This isn’t anywhere close to a new or unique idea. I realize that. But for the past few weeks Facebook’s fed me a steady diet of blog posts about this whole Ordain Women brouhaha–on both sides of it–and I’m tired of some of the rhetoric that’s flying around, especially when that rhetoric seems to be used consciously as a tool to promote one side and put down the other. Case in point: there was an op/ed Monday in the New York Times about how the “Mormon Moment” is over. I don’t have a beef with most of the article (although I do question the need for or existence of a singular “Mormon Moment.” Judging from the search patterns for “Mormon” on Google, I see a big bump around Romney’s election run, and then a steady series of blips and dots that don’t add up to much of anything.


In contrast, check out the trends for “Mormon Moment.”

If anything, it appears that “Mormon Moment” is a moment a few writers like to keep dredging back for one more moment. Enough already.)

But I digress. What really got my goat–and which continues to irritate me throughout this entire debate–is summed up in this final statement in the op/ed:

The true legacy of the Mormon Moment might just be that the church was given the chance that many religious institutions desperately need to stay relevant in the 21st century: the opportunity to open itself to criticism and inquiry. The church has chosen not to. And it has killed its own moment by doing so.

I bristle whenever people–particularly Mormons themselves–try to reduce the religion to an institution that needs to “stay relevant.” The great thing about Mormonism is that either it’s true or it’s absolutely insane. The claims it makes are pretty far out there. It doesn’t try to dance around the issue: just waltz on over to to see a summary of the core beliefs of the faith. While some can certainly critique the church for presenting an oversimplified depiction of some of its tangled history (something it’s trying to fix these days), treating it like the Red Cross or some other social institution isn’t an option in my book–not if you’re a member, at least. (Non-believers and non-members can treat the church any way they choose. That’s the beauty of not buying into the system.)

So if you want to say you think the religion is flat out false, I can respect that. (Do it too loudly, and I begin to wonder why you’re hollering so much, however. Though if the church’s positions are actively making life difficult for you, I can certainly understand getting upset about it. A topic for a different blog post.) And if you believe it’s true, that’s a-okay with me, too. But taking the middle road–the one where you say the church is true but it should be updating itself for the modern day or needs to “get with the times” . . . then you’ve lost me.

It reminds me of a quote by CS Lewis in Mere Christianity:

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept his claim to be God. That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic — on the level with the man who says he is a poached egg — or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for a fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God, but let us not come with any patronising nonsense about his being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to. … Now it seems to me obvious that He was neither a lunatic nor a fiend: and consequently, however strange or terrifying or unlikely it may seem, I have to accept the view that He was and is God.

I’m not a member because the church does nice things, though it does plenty of them. I’m not a member because 15 million other people are members. How fast the church grows or shrinks doesn’t matter to me, from a testimony perspective. I’m a member because I believe it’s true, warts and all. (Truth is like that. It has things that don’t line up with what I’ve experienced or what I’m predisposed to believe. It does things that don’t always make sense.)

I can certainly understand being upset or frustrated with some of the ways the church is run. I believe the church continues to grow and change as it has always grown and changed, “line upon line, precept upon precept.” That change comes as we become ready for it. Sometimes, it mirrors social changes–or comes long after those changes. Sometimes, it doesn’t mirror those changes at all. But through it all, it remains true in my book. The religion, not the people. I believe God works through people in order to help those people grow.

Deep breath.

I’m going to step away from this now. All I really wanted to say can be summed up in a few bullet points:

  • Always remember that your personal experiences are not invalidated the moment someone else has a personal experience that contrasts with yours.
  • Try to be understanding of other people’s perspectives. When they say they haven’t seen something you’ve seen, it isn’t always an attack. You can both be right. The more important question is what do those different experiences add up to? What can we do differently to help people be happier?
  • The “Mormon Moment” might be “ended” for you personally, if you believed it ever existed. But it might be in full swing for someone else. Off here in my neck of the woods in Maine, all of this debate has passed the church by for the most part. No one really talks or cares about it in church–it’s people in Utah or elsewhere who have really gotten into it that I know about.
  • The gospel might be right, and it might be wrong, but please don’t try to treat it like just one other societal construct if you’re speaking from within the bounds of its membership. I don’t think you have a leg to stand on.

There’s much much more I could say about this topic. A masochistic part of me really wants to write up a big old post about the excommunications. But the sane part of me is hitting the brakes on that post hard.

So that’s it for now.

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