I’ve enjoyed the Middle Way posts the last week.
Kristine with a very nice post outlining some key issues related to Middle Way.
Happy Hubby with his faith crisis and reconstruction journey.
Andrew S weighing in with salient observations. I resonated with his observation of two attributes that long term Middle Wayers have: 1. strong personal authority 2. a feeling of being pulled or attracted to stay with Mormonism, even feeling that is coming from outside you.
Cody Hatch with the community aspect of it and some of his personal thoughts.
Sam Brunson from BCC with his personal thoughts, and how he sees the lines blurred between Middle Way and Traditional Mo’s.
This topic is very important to me. I’ve been navigating what some would call the Middle Way for 10+ years now. I have a lot of thoughts about it. I’m going to create my own definition of Middle Way and speak to that. I don’t do that to disrespect anyone else’s definition or to ignore a different type of Middle Wayer. But since I have personal knowledge about this type of middle Way, I’ll focus on that. I’m speaking to a group of people that:
- have unorthodox beliefs or lack of belief in traditional Mormon beliefs in many ways, enough to be uncomfortable in being open about these beliefs in a traditional LDS ward. For example, lack of belief in BOM historicity. Lack of belief that polygamy was ordained of God. Lack of belief in the 1838 First Vison Account. Lack of belief in the literal resurrection of Jesus Christ. Lack of belief in the literal angelic visits in the restoration. Belief in evolution, including ape to man. No one’s the same on this. But let’s just say that to fit my definition, you have enough in common with this list that it’s uncomfortable for you and others if you were to be direct about these in an LDS Sunday School class. If you have no issue with any of these, you’re not in my club. I still love you, you’re just not in my Churchistrue Middle Way Club.
- believe in the good the Church has in the community and the individual. Attend regularly or wish you could mentally get to a place where you could. Enjoys membership in the Church. Proud to be a Mormon. Membership is important to you. Wants their kids to stay Mormon. Wants the Church to survive and continue to be a positive force in the world. You’re more Dan Peterson than Mike Norton. You’re more Dan Wotherspoon than John Dehlin. Maybe you’re proud of your pioneer ancestry. Maybe you went on a mission and thought it was great for you. Again, you don’t need all of these, but you get the idea.
- likely has issues with the Church on some issues, like LGBT+ issues, female equality, racism, over emphasis on worthiness, etc. But you have hope that the church will generally improve on these issues as a whole. And this doesn’t outweigh the general good feelings you have for the church.
People that don’t resonate with the previous list but do resonate with this next list are a different kind of Middle Way that I won’t speak to in this post.
- believe somewhat traditionally in the truth claims but have huge issues with social issues like LGBT+, female equality, etc. ie social issues are way bigger issues to you than truth claim issues
- attend because you have a spouse or child that’s causing you to stay engaged, but you’d rather not, and you’re biding your time until hopefully they will leave with you
- are frustrated with LDS because it’s going liberal or mainstream and you wish it to be more orthodox, ie you wish the prophet would talk more about talking face to face with Jesus Christ and people like Rock Waterman or Denver Snuffer appeal to you
- believe somewhat traditionally but don’t love the culture, view other members as self righteous, and don’t feel like you fit in because you don’t keep the same standards
These are all other Middle Way paths, but each have its own unique challenges, which I am not focused on or feel I am an expert on, personally. I may have defined the “My Middle Way” narrow enough that I lost a lot of readers. But my hunch is that the category as I define it is pretty large.
Now let’s look at some areas with challenges or unique issues to navigate.
It’s somewhat important to me that my kids stay Mormon or remain positively engaged with the Mormon Church, especially through young adult age. I believe it’s important to do the first half of life right (Richard Rohr), and the Mormon Church produces about as good as first half of life experience as is possible. I want to help my kids reach adult age avoiding the pitfalls of alcohol and drug dependency and teenage pregnancy, focus on education, believe in their potential for greatness, learn the discipline that Mormonism through worthiness standards and missions ingrains, and have the tenderness, respect, and reverence for life which comes through spirituality and a God life. Once they hit adulthood and second half of life, I’d like them to stay to pass that on to their children, but as some of my children are getting to that stage, I find myself less concerned about them staying Mormon. They have those principles from first half of life, and they can choose what life is best for them.
So the challenge is to help them live a normal Mormon life and get them through that stage but not lying to them or training them to be overly naive and to cultivate their own sense of personal authority. Not that easy.
I like to ask them about Church or talk about Church and frame it like “some Mormons think this, some Mormons think a different way.” “Some people think that scripture story should be taken literally, some think it should be metaphorical.” “It’s OK to sustain the prophet while not agreeing 100% with what he says, but don’t just discount it immediately. Take some time to understand where the church is coming from on this.”
I bring in non-LDS voices to Family Home Evening or our one on one talks, like Jordan Peterson, Brennan Manning, Bono, Thich Naht Hahn, Brene Brown. But also emphasizing my love and belief in teachings of Jesus Christ, the Book of Mormon, or Elder Uchtdorf’s recent talk. I try to look to the positive side about the prophet, general authorities, their bishop, and other youth teachers.
Moral Authority – Commandments
With lack of belief in literal scripture or foundational claims, comes a reliance on personal authority in things like obeying the commandments. I believe in the fruits of the lived experience of Mormonism, which includes living the commandments. But if someone comes to personal belief that a certain commandment is not relevant to them, I think that’s fine.
Moral Authority – maintaining authentic perspective
It’s difficult to maintain the “Churchistrue Middle Way” perspective because you feel like a lone voice in the wilderness. You’re constantly hit with messages of the importance of right belief and orthodoxy that might make you feel inferior or inadequate. It’s easy to get offended by a conference talk or in a Gospel Doctrine class. You need a strong belief in your own moral authority and learn to hear those messages and understand where they come from, without taking offense.
Likewise, you get berated by messages from the other side, Exmormons and critics of the church that are telling you it’s stupid to try to stay. That you’re personally causing LGBT+ suicide by staying in the church. That the church is evil and just wants your money and you’re allowing it to exist by not standing up against it. Online, these messages are overwhelming. It seems the natural trajectory is to stop in the Middle Way category for a short time, but then after being bombarded by these critical messages, you eventually transition out. You don’t have to. You can kick back against those messages just like you kick back against the judgmental TBM voices.
Doing certain things is probably not as important as some LDS leaders are trying to convince you. But maybe. And the Mormon Church is probably not as bad or doing as much damage as some Exmormons are trying to convince you. But maybe.
It’s your life. It’s your personal authority. It’s important to empathize and understand, but it’s your decision how you act and what you think is a moral way to respond to those issues. Follow your own conscience. In LDS terms, that’s the Holy Ghost. It’s given to you for a reason. Sort out the noise and follow it.
Temple Recommend and Leadership Roulette
I’m going to get a little preachy here and maybe it’s a little of my justifying my position. I believe personally that to have a positive Mormon experience, you need to stay off the ward project list, you need to feel good about yourself interfacing with your friends at church. You’re not a second class citizen, and there’s no reason to put yourself in that situation. Most people enjoy doing some kind of calling, whether it be teaching or with the youth. Without a recommend, many bishops will not consider you for callings you’d like to have, you get talked about in Ward Council meeting, and when someone shows up on your doorstep with cookies, you always wonder why.
I think there are nuanced ways to come to understanding that you are worthy for a temple recommend and to answer the questions. I don’t think you should delegate that authority to a local leader. We have 30,000 wards. Each of those 30,000 bishops is going to interpret the temple recommend questions differently. It’s not fair to put your fate into that kind of randomness. Answer the questions yourself between you and God. I believe that God and nearly all of those 30,000 bishops want you in the temple if you’re attending church and engaging positively. I highly, highly disagree with the approach that some people say is the only authentic or honest way to answer a temple recommend question: “Bishop, I believe this and this and that, you tell me if it’s a yes or no.” It’s between you and God. Figure it out, then go in and answer yes or no.
I recently read a personal anecdote of someone in this category that went to the bishop with the expectation that they would be denied a temple recommend. The bishop helped the member understand they were worthy despite the extreme unorthodoxy and basically forced the member to accept the recommend and to go to the stake president interview and keep their mouth shut, answering yes, yes only. The person ended the story by saying “that bishop probably saved my marriage”. I thought NO NO NO NO. You save your own marriage. Don’t throw it out on the table for someone else to save for you.
Leadership roulette is a thing. Out of those 30,000 bishops, some are going to be harsh. Don’t expose yourself to be damaged by that. Minimize that risk.
Others will say you need to be authentic. And to get comfortable without a recommend. I disagree. That’s my personal preference, and when I look at others in the “Churchistrue Middle Way” pattern, I think life is easiest if they go that route.
Authenticity is important. It can sometimes feel inauthentic to sit in a class and disagree and feel like you have to hold your tongue. Serving in a calling or giving a talk or lesson where you have to dance around subjects is hard. Myself writing anonymously online is another example of the difficulty of feeling inauthentic. It’s a difficult thing. I think we should work towards being authentic, but be very careful not to go too far too fast.
We need to learn the difference between being authentic and self-disclosing in a way that’s not healthy. You wouldn’t announce on Facebook personal issues that would cause you awkwardness or damage your social life or career. Others need to earn your trust before you open up to them, including bishops.
Fiona Givens said something very important about “street cred”. When we show up, attend, serve, do our home ministering, we earn “street cred” that allows us to be a little edgy with our comments or teachings.
Also remember there is time and place for everything. Sunday School might not be the right time to give a list of Joseph Smith’s wives that were likely consummated sexually.
Affecting the church for positive change
Most people in this Middle Way probably have an idea that they can help change the Church for the good. I do. That’s an important goal for me. I completely disagree with those that say the Church never changes and there is nothing we can do as members to affect change. I believe in trickle up revelation. I believe we as a Body of Christ can affect what the prophet seeks and receives revelation on. I think we as individuals can have influence on our local wards, or online to others.
The trick is not to demand change. Or that the only reason you’re attending is because you think that’s how to affect change. If that’s the only reason you are attending, you definitely will burn out. Have faith in the long term and do your best, and focus on what you enjoy about the Church.
There’s a lot to this. I’ve written hundreds of pages on this topic over the years. In summary, I love the Mormon Church. I’m not an orthodox believer, and it causes some unique challenges for me, as I engage in Mormonism. But there are ways to navigate this and avoid the “burn out” that some do. I’ve been doing this for more than ten years, and I plan to do it the rest of my life.