Mere Mormonism: An Appeal

I am a Mormon by religious persuasion.  I say persuasion because I have had a few (emphasis on few) undeniable experiences that I cannot ascribe to indigestion or psychosis that has convinced me of the truth claims of the church known as the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  Those experiences were guideposts that led me on to further spiritual confirmations and experiences.  This soul journey, of course, continues.  I’ve had some intense shocks along the way, surprises of the major and minor varieties, and where I sit currently reminds me of that quaint adage that “life is what happens when you made other plans.”  Nevertheless, despite the twists and turns, and the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune”, I am openly and eagerly a defender of the aforementioned Church.  I believe strongly that the Church has enormous value, that its influence is overwhelmingly positive and a force for good in the world.  But more than this, I am convinced that this Church is a different organization intrinsically than other organizations.  It is set apart by a special authorization.  It possesses an influence, tied to an extra-dimensional bestowal of authorities, that renders it unique in a supernal, majestic way.

This desire to defend has, by its ineluctable nature, thrust me into a certain category of citizen who inhabits the online virtual universe, at least in the English speaking realm of what is termed the blogosphere.  Since I am unabashedly a defender of the Church’s religious truth claims, and since by implication that means that I am loyal to her name, her reputation, her standing, etc., this loyalty brands me and puts me into a box that is, by its very nature, diametrically opposite to another group of folks who feel no compelling loyalty, no especial sense of apologia, and who generally seem to relish any good opportunity to take the Church down a peg or two or to broadcast her weaknesses, imperfections, flaws, or contradictions.  (Many of those in this category quite possibly possess no evil motives for their actions.  They simply do this because they are not convinced that the Church, as an institution, really possesses any distinguishing characteristics that set it apart from any other inherently patriarchal entity.)  

In short, online[1] Mormonism is divided between two antipodes: the committed and faithful[2] in contradistinction to the committed and perhaps not so faithful[3] (according to the traditional understanding of what being faithful means).  Please note: my purpose here is not polemical, neither is it an attempt to achieve what may very well ultimately be impossible.  I am not disparaging the not-so-faithful crowd.  My desire is not to insult them or show them any form of animus or unkindness.[4]

For a number of months I’ve been mulling over in my mind a notion that I picked up while reading C. S. Lewis.  It has always been my heart-felt belief that online Mormonism is hopelessly mired in an endless process of reshuffling the deck of controversies.  It goes in a messy cycle: prophetic authority, authenticity of the Book of Mormon, present-day existence of true revelation to the Brethren, throw in some feminist angst, black priesthood ban, polygamy, ad nauseam, ad nauseam.  The fundamental problem is that these issues never really get resolved.  The issues perhaps become slightly more refined over time, but overall, the issues are as stark and as compelling to the believers and the not-so-believers as when the issues first saw the light of day.  And depending on where you sit on the spectrum of belief, these issues — or perhaps just one of them — can be dispositive.  In other words, the cognitive dissonance the issue causes is essentially the coup de grâce for that person’s house of faith.

It is not an exaggeration to assert that despite the rivers of digital ink that have been spilled over these controversies, there really is no satisfactory intellectual resolution on the horizon.  In short, faith — legitimate let’s-go-down-to-the-river-and-pray, hallelujah — true and living faith is required to reach resolution.  And online Mormonism really sits at an impasse.  What remains sad is that both sides become enmeshed in a kind of walled-off bunker mentality.  I’m over here; and you — well, you’re over there.  It often seems that a profound chasm lies between us.

The current state of Mormonism is extraordinarily diverse.  There is no denying it.  While generally speaking, there is a currency[5] of Mormonism that you can spend whether in Tokyo, Accra, or Atlanta, there are also cultural differences that impinge on matters.  For example, I will never forget the singing of hymns while in Japan.  Even the happy songs were sung like we were at a funeral.  (I’m not trying to criticize the Japanese; on the contrary, I admire their culture a great deal.)  My point is to emphasis the fact that while the priesthood organization and its forms are the same the world over, cultural differences can make substantial differences in how the Gospel is accepted, internalized, lived, and shared.  It can change how the Gospel is experienced.

I am not really proposing anything radical.  But I have two essential gripes that I wish to place before the online Mormonism audience.  

One: there is an extreme excess of navel-gazing in our culture.  Way too much.  We have binged, for decades, on Mormon navel-gazing.  We’re addicted to it.  We have to quit it.  Stop it cold turkey.  I beg of you.  Navel gazing will not magically grant us any additional enlightenment.  In fact, my position is to assert that this navel-gazing ispreventing us, as a people, from receiving vital inspiration to reach outward.  It is not making us wiser.  It is having quite an opposite effect.

Please allow me to explain what I mean.  We spend way too much time talking and debating about issues that only pertain to Mormons, and on matters of rather arcane theology at that.  It is my sincere, heartfelt plea that we stop talking so much about internal matters and focus more on how Mormonism’s theology, doctrine, and practices can revolutionize the outside world.

Second: it is high time that we — as brothers and sisters — stop concentrating on that which divides us and start focusing our energies upon that which unites us.  I am proposing Mere Mormonism.  

Let me explain this.

When Lewis wrote Mere Christianity, his purpose was to present a kind of Christianity in its basic, pure form so as to attract people to consider the virtues of Christianity.  It was an attempt to distill Christianity’s vital essence and then present that essence to an audience so that they could take a peek without being distracted by an excess of detail or controversy.  As he states in the Preface, “Ever since I became a Christian I have thought that the best, perhaps the only, service I could do for my unbelieving neighbours was to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all Christians at all times.”

In other words, Lewis didn’t feel that he had to talk about his Anglicanism.  He just believed that he needed to show a good example of Christian living.  

He goes on further: “The reader should be warned that I offer no help to anyone who is hesitating between two Christian ‘denominations’.  You will not learn from me whether you ought to become an Anglican, a Methodist, a Presbyterian, or a Roman Catholic.”

Lewis then gives us two reasons for his approach.  The first is that “the questions which divide Christians from one another often involve points of high Theology or even of ecclesiastical history, which ought never to be treated except by real experts.”  The second reason is “that the discussion of these disputed points has no tendency at all to bring an outsider into the Christian fold.”

In applying the Lewis approach to the divided world of online Mormonism, perhaps we can profit by phrasing Lewis in an alternative way.  Hence: “Ever since I became a [Mormon] I have thought that the best, perhaps the only, service I could do for my unbelieving [fellow Mormons] was to explain and defend the belief that has been common to nearly all [Mormons] at all times.”

“The reader should be warned that I offer no help to anyone who is hesitating between two [Mormon faith-paths].  You will not learn from me whether you ought to become a [true believer Mormon, a cultural Mormon, a New Order Mormon, or a Jack Mormon].”

Lewis desired with all his heart to open the doors to the mansion of Christianity so that people would step into the parlor hall and feel comfortable before venturing on into the side rooms where they would learn deeper (and perhaps, sharper) doctrines.  In this desire, he was very much interested in a kind of big-tent Christianity.  

The objection immediately arises that this kind of big-tent invitation glosses over non-negotiable aspects of doctrine.  Lewis addresses this reasonable complaint by offering this salient reminder: “There are questions at issue between Christians to which I do not think we have been told the answer.”  

I believe that there are issues that we Mormons are arguing about to which we have not been given answers.  There are legitimate reasons for this, not the least of which is that perhaps it is God’s will that we struggle in faith on some points of doctrine.  Lewis goes on to note that there “are some [issues] to which I may never know the answer: if I asked them, even in a better world, I might (for all I know) be answered as a far greater questioner was answered: ‘What is that to thee?  Follow thou Me.’”

“What is that to thee?  Follow thou Me.”[6] — Profound and vital wisdom is here for us, a lesson that we Mormons can learn and apply in our interactions with our fellow brothers and sisters.

I am not suggesting, of course, that Mormonism itself needs to change at all in order to be more interesting or more palatable to folks.  What I am trying to convey — imperfectly, of course — is that Mere Mormonism could offer a way forward for the online Mormon community to have legitimate conversations.  We need to talk to each other — with respect, with mutual admiration.  We can learn from each other.  I’d like to make an appeal for us on the “true believing” side of the spectrum to reach out in openness and honesty and respect to our fellow brothers and sisters who believe a bit differently than we do but who are no less worthy and valuable in the sight of our mutual Father in Heaven.


[1] For the purpose of this essay, I choose to ignore the virulently hateful folk who make it their mission to destroy the Church overtly.  In short, I will not address the rabid anti-Mormons.  

[2] For lack of better terminology, the “orthodox” or the “true believing Mormons”.

[3] Many expressions exist: new order Mormons, progressive Mormons, hipster Mormons, etc.

[4] Please accept this assertion as sincere.  While in the past I’ve had my fair share of unpleasant interactions with the less-believing Mormon crowd, I truly do not wish them any ill or harm.  On the contrary.

[5] The coin of the realm, of course, makes all the difference [the Spirit].

[6] John 21:22

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About prophetize

Erstwhile philosopher and ersatz thinker. Arabic linguist by profession. Dabble with a few other languages. I have a testimony of the gospel of Christ as restored through Joseph Smith. Strong faith in modern prophecy and prophets. Disinclined to be admiring of what passes for "progressiveness" these days.
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9 Responses to Mere Mormonism: An Appeal

  1. DQ says:

    “we Mormons are arguing about to which we have not been given answers.”

    Mormonism can never be “mere” because we believe in revelation. To be truly converted and endowed with power from on high, to receive the high priesthood is to know the mind and will of God. Mere Christianity, can truly live up to that name, because it was plainly acknowledged they didn’t have all the answers.

    Don’t get me wrong, I think the vast majority of us at most of our lives aren’t living our faith in such a way that we can receive the promised blessing of becoming one with God so that we know his mind and will. But such a thing is certainly possible, even promised, within the LDS framework. While on the other hand, it’s literally an article of faith among the rest of the Christian world that God is unknowable.

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    • prophetize says:

      Thank you for your comment.

      I think the point revolves around a misunderstanding of what Lewis meant by “mere”. He certainly didn’t mean it in the sense of minimizing, condensing, or glossing over important vital doctrines. Nor do I, for that matter, intend such when I am appropriating Lewis’ “mere” for Mere Mormonism. Revelation is marvelous, there is no doubt. But there are many areas where the Lord is simply silent, for reasons that seem sufficient according to His wisdom.

      However, if we remember Joseph Smith’s quote about the fundamentals of Mormonism (“The fundamental principles of our religion are … concerning Jesus Christ, that He died, was buried, and rose again the third day, and ascended into heaven; and all other things which pertain to our religion are only appendages to it.”), we can make a case for not endlessly debating side issues that seem to bewitch the Bloggernacle and life-long Mormons and get back to the hard work of engaging the world with truth matters. In addition, we can (perhaps?) put an end to the endless antagonism that exists between progressive Mormons and their more conservative brothers and sisters. That’s really all I’m getting at.

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  2. Tracey says:

    I’m torn….there are so many things I like about this post, but there is something that isn’t sitting right with me. Lewis wisely pointed people to the teachings of the ancient prophets and to the words of Jesus Christ recorded in scripture to invite people to hear Mere Christianity’s message. I love Lewis for this. Mere Christianity is vitally different than Mere Mormonism though – we claim there are living prophets today and we point people to them. I agree that we should try to be understanding and considerate in our conversations, but I think that many people in the ‘committed, and perhaps not so faithful’ group struggle with the claim of living prophets. I think it may be impossible to find a Mere Mormonism that both ‘sides’ can agree when one of the central truth claims is that we are lead by a living prophet.

    But, I agree wholeheartedly that we should try to understand, love and value all members. Most of us have been touched by people we love who have distanced themselves from the church to some degree. Hopefully this stretches our hearts in a way that leads to compassion.

    Finally, I think there is great value in the “committed and faithful’ strengthening each other so as not to become the ‘not so faithful’. It is so refreshing to come across well written, thoughtful posts that defend the faith such as this one. So a heartfelt thank you!

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    • prophetize says:

      I’m actually a bit torn myself. However, I think it’s healthy to move out of comfort zones occasionally. And this is definitely out of my comfort zone but I don’t think the idea of Mere Mormonism does any violence to the core tenets of our faith.

      I am definitely open to being corrected, though.

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      • Tracey says:

        I agree that the idea of Mere Mormonism doesn’t do any violence to the core tenets of our faith….I’m just wondering if we can ever come to agreement in the blogosphere about what Mere Mormonism entails. Mere Mormonism has to include living prophets from Joseph Smith on down.There are many in the blogosphere, though, who wouldn’t agree or would want to add many qualifiers that would end up making the prophet look like just another well meaning guy.

        Maybe the YouTubers have it figured out the best. Their Nativity video was an amazing message of Mere Christianity….always a good thing when people are drawn to the Savior. And, maybe, some hearts will be open to hearing about Mere Mormonism because of it.

        All the best! Thanks again!

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  3. When my child was dying, my cousin came by to visit me in the hospital. She had also had a situation in her past where comfort was being offered by her fellow Mormon congregants and non-Mormon Christians.

    She confided that it was so nice when the Mormons would visit. Because they wouldn’t bear sermons. They simply brought love (often in edible form).

    As for the contention between those who can’t accept the fawning adoration of all past things Mormons versus those who do adore the gospel as restored by Joseph Smith and curated by the prophets who have followed Joseph, God knows His own and gathers them to Him. Having been one who refused for decades to fully embrace the gospel (while still being active), I am persuaded that God will gather all who will allow themselves to be gathered.

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    • prophetize says:

      Thank you for your comment. It sounds John Lennon-ish but love really is what makes the universe function properly.

      I hesitate to suggest that I am getting “wiser”, but I find that the older I’m getting the less doctrinaire I am becoming, and the more willing to listen to folks. It’s been a slow process but I think I’m moving in the right direction. 😉

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  4. Bruce Nielson says:

    It should probably be noted, that Lewis’ “Mere Christianity” only avoided the difference between what we might call “believing” Christians at the time. Today we would call those Christians “conservative” or even “fundamentalist” in most cases. He entirely rejected “non-literal belief” as we call it today. So Lewis’ literal beliefs as described in the book would not be able to find common ground between all Christian denominations today. It would be (and in fact is) polarizing on many of the same issues that polarize “Internet Mormons” as you are calling them. So I think this approach isn’t going to work and that we are facing a much more serious issue without the obvious solutions available to Lewis at the time.

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    • prophetize says:

      Bruce, you’re pretty much correct. I agree that the issue is serious, and the situation far more intricate than the general state of Christianity in the 1940s when Lewis gave his speeches. Most analogies fail at capturing nuance. And it’s highly likely that this attempt is doomed. I simply hope to have more dialogue. And, I feel very strongly that the Mormon navel-gazing needs to go away. We need to look outward and not inward. I am sick, sick, sick of the threadbare, tired issues being debated constantly, with no resolution in sight.

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