There are many on the internet publishing information about our faith, often not very flattering. Some of that information is faith-shaking. But where does it cross the line into being “anti-Mormon”? Some would say that anyone who says anything that is not uplifting or faith promoting is anti-Mormon, but that seems like a pretty low bar. I’m hard pressed to think of anyone who meets that standard. I’ve certainly heard talks at General Conference that didn’t meet that standard. What is uplifting to one person is downright depressing to another!
So, who are these anti-Mormons? Here are some possible divisions:
- Outsider critics. Growing up in Pennsylvania, anti-Mormon literature was ubiquitous. I used to take delight in writing rebuttals in the margins of these treatises so the target audience would have the benefit of my teen Mormon wisdom. It seemed quite clear to me that these materials were designed to protect the flocks (as well as the payroll) of local ministers. These materials were a mix of unsavory truths, speculation, and sensationalist conclusions. A quick search today revealed a $65 anti-Mormon, er “witness” kit that someone with a lot of time on their hands and $65 to burn can use to argue with and likely confuse their Mormons neighbors. Fun at block parties, I’m sure.
- Insider critics. I never considered the idea that insider criticism could be labelled “anti-Mormon” until the Bloggernacle really took off. Growing up in a ward run mostly by college professors, I considered cultural debate to be a fundamental aspect of the culture; after all, both Jesus and Joseph Smith got their start by being critical of existing religions and their cultures. I do think insider critics can cross the line if they present as fact what is speculation. But are insider critics a threat to the organization or just to those who love the very things they dislike? One person’s bathwater is another person’s baby.
Perhaps it’s easier to identify anti-Mormons based on their intentions:
- Seeking to destroy the church vs. seeking change to improve the church. Usually when I’ve heard the term “anti-Mormon” it has been to describe those who wish the church ill, who would like to see it destroyed, who think it is a force for evil or that it is deceptive and harmful. But some (both insiders and ex-Mormons) do in fact have valid criticisms of our culture, our history and how it is portrayed, and even some of the byproducts of our doctrines. Where is the line crossed between lobbying for change that one believes will make the church more successful and seeking to destroy the church? Is all ark-steadying going too far? That presupposes that leaders only take direction from God, not from members, even when changes sought are cultural rather than doctrinal. I suppose it’s like dieting. Do you still love the body and want it to be healthy or are you at war with the body, starving what you hate?
- Persuading people to leave vs. supporting belief. Is it ever appropriate to encourage someone to leave the church? Some would advise that if it’s a toxic influence in your life because of your own individual circumstances, you should move on. Some orthodox members would say that people who don’t like it should leave it. Where is the line? For me, it’s at the point where critics feel belief in the church is a character weakness? Yet, there are those who restrict how belief looks and sounds to the point that they limit how many people can belong. Personally, I found Paul Toscano’s argument compelling, that more people have left the church because of its leaders than because of anything he (as a detractor) said. It’s one reason that the Book of Mormon cautions us about the weaknesses of leaders being a stumblingblock. The only people who have no impact on others are the ones who say and do nothing, and our words and actions can have unintended consequences.
- Telling ugly truths vs. making specious conclusions. There are sites that would like to expose the white-washed version of history as a conspiratorial cover-up. In so doing, these sites frequently make the same errors of the white-washers. They make unfounded conclusions based on scant evidence. They just do it in the opposite direction. They are anti-apologists, but are they anti-Mormons? Are they anti-Mormon if what they say is true but not the party line? Are they anti-Mormon if they don’t know that their speculations are not necessarily accurate? If so, can’t that same criticism be leveled at believers who have unexamined assumptions that are based on wrong information?
Or perhaps we should ascertain who is an anti-Mormon by what they hope to gain from sharing their views:
- Anger over personal wrongs. There are those who have been personally wronged (often by poor local handling of a sensitive matter), and others who inaccurately perceive they were wronged (including some with mental health concerns). Is it being anti-Mormon to share those grievances in a public forum when private handling has failed these individuals? Do they want to put others on their guard? Do they want to call attention to abuses? To me, this falls into the “collateral damage” category. A large organization like the church will fail some individuals some of the time. If their wrongs are not effectively redressed in a discreet manner, their version will come out somewhere, and it may not be pretty.
- The so-called three “enemies” of the church: homosexuals, feminists, and intellectuals. The downside of labelling these groups anti-Mormon is that there is a history of them not being treated very well in the church so they have some legitimate grievances. Additionally, belonging to these three groups is more of an innate characteristic rather than a choice, and all three groups operate with some disadvantage or stigma within church culture. The internet provides a soft power alternative for those who have little social power in the church. Is it better to be an advocate for others (e.g. a man who is a feminist, a heterosexual who supports the GLBT community) to ensure one is not merely acting in self-interest? Who advocates for the outcasts of our culture?
My own view is that intentions are what makes someone anti-Mormon.
Luke 9:50: “for he that is not against us is for us.”
An anti-Mormon believes that being Mormon is foolish or bad, that everyone would be better off without it. Because of this belief, they seek to bring it down. They would encourage all members to leave and discourage non-members from converting. Those who seek to improve it through change, even if they are critical in the process, even if they have personally left it, are not anti-Mormon in my opinion – even if an outcome is that some people do take their information as justification to leave the church. Frankly, many also leave due to orthodox opinions shared at church, and nobody is taking those folks to task over it as far as I can see. How do you see it?
- Do intentions matter or are outcomes more important?
- Is it anti-Mormon if someone shakes people’s faith when they were just trying to improve matters or share information that is accurate?
- Is it anti-Mormon if someone wants changes that are positive for the disenfranchized but negative for others?
*It’s deja vu all over again. This post was originally posted at BCC. It has been slightly edited for our Wheat & Tares audience. 🙂