Can there be a faithful liberal Mormonism? I have recently rediscovered my faith in Christ and come to terms with my Mormonism. My quest from here is to discover my path within Mormonism.
I am not talking about political liberalism. While political liberalism is my primary specialty, this is not “Can a Mormon be a Democrat?” Instead, I am thinking of liberalism in a religious sense. I will commence here my attempt to define a type of Mormon religious liberalism.
I recently belonged to a forum which often referred to True Blue Mormons (TBM). A TBM is somebody who fully accepts the LDS narrative about church history and the scriptures. I do not know what this fully means, but on this particular forum, the TBM, even if well educated in their respective field, is an ignorant fool. They do not realize how corrupt the Church is. They do not realize that Joseph Smith was a fraud. They clearly had not seen the light like those on this forum.
I no longer belong to this forum.
I am not a typical True Blue Mormon.
In many ways, I consider myself to be a liberal TBM…or am I a True Blue Mormon Liberal. I think I like True Blue Mormon Liberal (TBML). Now this will drive those who hate labels absolutely nuts, but I think categories can be useful. I think that is part of the social scientist in me.
Let me share what makes me a TBML:
I am religious person. I am not always a good example of a religious person, but faith and spirituality are important to my life. I also appreciate that others value faith and spirituality…even if they experience faith in ways differently than I do. Now, one thing that makes me a religious liberal is that I do not think that only one religious experience is the one correct religious experience. However, this religious liberalism still allows me to appreciate and respect those with more traditional or orthodox approaches to our religion. I would hope that they would offer me the same respect, but I do not view such mutual respect as a pre-requisite for my respect for them.
I, also, have a respect for the secular. All things of beauty and virtue should be appreciated. For me, Kant and Beethoven are secular spiritual.
I love and value the scriptures. My views of the scriptures are rather unorthodox, but they are my own and I do not expect anyone else to view the scriptures as I do. Can a Mormon view the scriptures in a way different from Sunday School manuals and CES texts? Well, I am a Mormon…and I do.
One thing that classifies me as a religious liberal is my focus on peace and social justice. The well-being of actual human beings matters more to me than the afterlife. I believe that there is an afterlife, but I think that the here and now is of equal significance
I think that my view of Joseph Smith sets me apart from both the traditionalists and the DAMU (disaffected Mormon underground). I think that Joseph Smith was a prophet…a prophet of God. He was the driving force behind the bringing forth of the Book of Mormon (I will address the Book of Mormon more below). He founded one of the great religious movements of the 19th Century, one which extended into the 20th and 21st.
I recognize that church history is not as rosey as it seemed in seminary. However, American history is not what it seemed like in high school, either. With further study, I have discovered greater detail and nuance. Yet, much like my study of Jefferson and Lincoln, I appreciate knowing better the human side of Joseph Smith. It may not be the Joseph Smith that I sometimes hear about in church or a visitor centers. But I also recognize that Abraham Lincoln might not be as awesome as I portrayed him in my American Heritage lectures (though he was awesome). We all speak up those we love and those who are our heroes.
One thing that classifies me as a religious liberal is my focus on peace and social justice. The well-being of actual human beings matters more to me than the afterlife. I believe that there is an afterlife, but I think that the here and now is of equal significance.
I love the Book of Mormon. The writings of Jacob and the speech of King Benjamin are amongst the greatest (and most important to me) of all ancient accounts of moral life and moral society. I learned an appreciation and love of the gospel of Jesus while studying the Book of Mormon. I recognize that others may come to Christ by other means, but the Book of Mormon is central to my Mormon identity and faith.
The TBML tradition is a long one. It includes the likes of Lowell Bennion and Eugene England. It includes others, I am sure, but I think that Bennion and England are particularly illustrative of the tradition that I am thinking of…and the movement that I envision. Richard Bushman and BCC are also examples.
The forum that I had belonged to claimed to be open to a wide range of beliefs within Mormonism. However, it was anything but open. It was a den of bitterness and wrath. Such sentiments are ones which did not help me in my quest to deal with faith. It also made it difficult for me to deal with my depression. I say this with sadness because many great people, including some good friends, belong to this forum.
While I hope for a broad acceptance of many approaches to Mormonism within the Church, such an approach must also tolerate, if not love and accept, those with more traditional (or maybe institutional) views and beliefs. Such people were the target of scorn and disgust on that forum.
This seemed to be different from the paths paved by Eugene England and Lowell Bennion. Both men were minority voices. Both found themselves at the wrong side of CES. Both men vocally opposed the priesthood ban. Yet, both still loved Mormonism and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
They didn’t start a website about staying LDS. Instead, they actually stayed. Not to prove a political point, but because they loved the Church. They even thought it was true and not because they thought the Church or the brethren were perfect. Bennion and England had their own unique reasons for why they thought the Church was true. They also had a sense of loyalty to the culture and Church which played an integral part in shaping who they were.
Now, Bennion and England, like Nibley, were willing to challenge Mormon culture. But, they did so out of love. Afterall, it is the gospel of repentance.
We have some great examples of True Blue Mormon Liberals in recent Mormon history. The question that remains is this: “Did Mormon Liberalism die with Bennion and England?” Oh, it sure feels like it sometimes. Yet, I think that BCC, the bloggernacle, Dialogue, and Richard Bushman are signs that it may still have a pulse.
The future of Mormon liberalism is a long uphill one. One of our next steps must be to shed the poisonous elements which claim to be part of Mormon liberalism, but which, in fact, have no interest in promoting faith and are in many ways very harmful to the movement.
When William F. Buckley was looking to revive conservatism, one of the most important things he did was to distance the movement from the John Birch Society. This turned out to be one of the most important steps in American politics.
I think Mormon liberalism needs to do the same. We need to distance ourselves from not only the DAMU, but also from others who seek to tear down Mormonism from within.