Saturday, August 14, 2004

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Family Reunion 

by Kristine
So, for those of you who've been holding your breath...

I talked (a little) about BCC at the Sunstone symposium yesterday, in an exceedingly weird session titled "Internet Mormons vs. Chapel Mormons." It was mostly (I think) meant to explore Dr. Shades's contention that the Church is in imminent danger of schism because people are being exposed to uncomfortable facts about Mormon history and doctrine on the Internet, and are thus forced to discard simplistic "Chapel Mormon" beliefs about the infallibility of prophets, the relentless glory of church history, etc. So Dr. Shades laid out his theory in extreme and argumentative terms, was rebutted in similarly extreme and argumentative (though much more cogent) fashion by Michael Ash (of FAIR), and then it was my turn.

I had mistakenly believed that the session was to be more of a discussion, and less a serial presentation of short papers, so I didn't have a prepared statement, and included lots of ums and uhs in my rambling 5 minute remarks. I was a little flummoxed by the tone of the discussion preceeding me, and ended up in the strange (for me) role of Molly Mormon peacemaker, trying to lighten the mood in the room. In short, I think I seemed dumb, but really nice :)

I changed my mind about a couple of things over the course of the discussion. I still think that the Internet will not (at least not very soon) have a big impact on how the average Mormon in the pews (acknowledging, of course, that no such person exists!) perceives the workings of the institution. However, I do think it makes it somewhat more likely that people will encounter unpleasant facts about church history, difficult doctrinal issues, etc. in an unfriendly context--it's hard to get a sense of just what people's agenda is on the net. (Dr. Shades, for instance, seems somewhat less antagonistic to believers on his site than he appeared to be in person.) I think the Church needs to respond to this somehow, either by officially discouraging people from learning more about Mormonism online, or by creating more opportunities for people to grapple with the difficulties of Church history, doctrine, etc. in a friendly and believing context. (Obviously, I favor the second solution, and look forward to the Sunstone-enriched Sunday School manuals(:)) Correlation has had the (I think) unintended effect of pitching our Sunday School and Relief Society lessons to the lowest common denominator, and making it impossible to confront difficulties of any kind during the three-hour Sunday meetings.

The second thing will seem to contradict my hope that we could tolerate more controversy in Sunday School (it's always good to contradict oneself immediately!). While I usually think of myself as someone who enjoys a bit of contention, I was really uncomfortable with the level of animosity in the exchange between Dr. Shades and Michael Ash--it may have been just the nature of the forum, or the particular personalities of those two, but I'm less likely than I was before to think that it's a good idea for Mormon apologists to go toe-to-toe with antis. I'm not sure that many readers will follow the intricacies of their arguments, and the vitriol really does seem antithetical to the spirit of the gospel. (I think I might feel differently about academic exchanges in refereed journals, but at the level of "so-called intellectuals" with no degrees in ancient languages or philosophy of religion, it was just plain ugly.)

The best part of the day was meeting D. Fletcher and John Hatch. D. was much as I'd imagined him; John was not at all the small, wiry rock-climbing type I had pictured! Since I've already confessed to betraying my commitment to resisting gender-essentialist stereotypes, I'll also say that (as stereotypical females are supposed to) I *really* liked having embodied conversations with them, instead of just seeing cold words on the screen.
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