Jul 2, 2009

What Is "Anti-Mormon?"

To be honest, I always thought of "Anti-Mormons" being those who really do hate Mormons (like Westboro Baptist Church, who hates pretty much everything and everyone) and those who hand out ridiculous pamphlets or operate websites that are concerned with "exposing the Mormon Church," all of which range from partial truths and twisting of facts, to wild speculation and downright bullcrap.

During the election, I saw many label John McCain's mother an "Anti-Mormon" for her comments about Mormons causing the Salt Lake City Olympic scandal. Were her comments unfair? Yeah, I think so. Were they Anti-Mormon? Perhaps.

There was also Mike Huckabee, who was suspected of being an Anti-Mormon after asking whether Mormons believed that Jesus and Satan were brothers. Slimy campaign tactic? Absolutely. A valid question if asked sincerely? I think so.

Recently I watched the movie September Dawn. Not until after I watched it and read about it online did I realize that it, too, had received the label "Anti-Mormon." In many ways I agree with that assessment, as it contained some gross interpretations, misrepresentations, and wild speculation about Mormons and the actual history surrounding the Mountain Meadows Massacre. The end result was a scathing portrayal of Mormons that was presented as historical fact to uninformed viewers who would assume that we really know all the facts behind what actually happened. It did, however, contain a lot of selected truths. Was it Anti-Mormon? I would say so. But I think it would be inaccurate to say that it was 2 hours of pure lies.

I've also seen a few bloggers -- friends of mine -- be accused of being Anti-Mormons -- either consciously or unconsciously -- for their unorthodox views or questions. Am I an Anti-Mormon, too?

I've come to believe that Mormons use the term "Anti-Mormon" way too liberally. It seems to me that it's sometimes so overused that it's lost it's real meaning. In some cases, I think it's used to dismiss sincere and legitimate concerns that members and non-members have about Mormonism. Recently, when I communicated some concerns of mine regarding Church history with someone I know (and admire), I, too, was told in a tactful manner that I had been "affected by Anti-Mormon views." I was a bit taken aback by this, as most of the concerns I expressed were directly tied to Rough Stone Rolling, which I'm told is sold at Deseret book stores. Has Deseret started to stock Anti-Mormon literature?

So what is your criteria for assessing what is or what isn't "Anti-Mormon?"

The following are "Anti-Mormon," YES or NO and WHY:
  • John McCain's mother
  • Mike Huckabee
  • Gay marriage proponents
  • Any book that "exposes" the warts of Mormonism's past and present
  • Blogs and other media that ask provocative questions or debate Mormonism's history, doctrine, or policy
  • Mormon Stories podcasts (for those of you who have listened to them)
  • Those who question authority in the Church
  • Those who have objections to certain policies or practices in Mormonism
  • Disenchanted ex-Mormons

35 comments:

derekstaff said...

I think that often the use of the term "anti-Mormon" reflects more upon the user than it does upon the person or statement being described. All too often, people within the Church exhibit a persecution complex in labeling anything other than effusive praise as "anti-Mormon." Remember that PBS documentary a few years back? I know quite a few people who considered it anti-Mormon. For these sorts of people, there is no room for critical analysis of the Church: you either embrace it unconditionally, or you are anti-Mormon.

For me, the only thing which would qualify as anti-Mormon are deliberate and malicious mischaracterization of Church doctrine or history in an attempt to discredit or ridicule the Church. Of your list, I don't think any could really qualify as anti-Mormon (some of the most extreme proponents of homosexual marriage might qualify, but given the way the Church has seen fit to enter the political fray to enforce our religious beliefs on others, I tend to give them a pass on their resentment and anger).

derekstaff said...

I didn't look through your list carefully enough. Some books about the "warts" could be considered anti-Mormon in my mind. Ed Decker's work comes to mind. But many, many books which others consider anti-Mormon I would simply consider rational examination of the faith from differing perspectives.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Yeah, I remember the PBS documentary. I remember being kind of bothered by it at the time, feeling it too negative. Now, though, I think it was pretty fair.

"For me, the only thing which would qualify as anti-Mormon are deliberate and malicious mischaracterization of Church doctrine or history in an attempt to discredit or ridicule the Church."

I agree.

Did you ever see September Dawn, Derek?

I'm not familiar with Ed Decker. Does he engage in deliberate mischaracterizations?

derekstaff said...

Nope, never seen September Dawn. Never even heard of it before this post.

Ed Decker is the writer of The God Makers.

Clean Cut said...

It's important to differentiate between "critics" and "anti-Mormons". There are degrees of respect and even hate among each of these.

Ed Decker certainly falls into the "anti-Mormon" category, since he purposely mischaracterizes the Church. Because of him, a lot of good and honest Christians have been misled concerning what exactly Mormons believe. Precisely because of this, I wrote this post: To Our Evangelical Friends: Don't Be Suckered With "The God Makers"

We do have some good and honest critics. Craig Blomberg comes to mind. I think he does a good work. I appreciate good and honest critics. I just can't stand the mind-numbing stupidity of the counter-cultists.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Ah, The God Makers. Now I getchya. :) Never seen it, but it's infamous.

"It's important to differentiate between "critics" and "anti-Mormons". There are degrees of respect and even hate among each of these."

Good point, Clean Cut. I did actually call someone an Anti-Mormon in another thread on another blog a while ago. He called himself a "critic" even though it was evident to me that he loathed the LDS Church and virtually everything it stood for. I honestly can't remember him saying anything positive about the Church except that some of the members were nice. He was certainly up on his history, but I saw evidence of him twisting facts or putting his own spin on them to fit his agenda.

Do you think it's possible to be a critic and an active, faithful Mormon? Wouldn't it be hard to evade excommunication?

Clean Cut said...

"Do you think it's possible to be a critic and an active, faithful Mormon?"

Yes, but it also depends on the level of criticism. Aren't most of us "critics" from time to time? Heaven knows that there are surly things to be critical of. Sometimes I'm critical of various things about Mormons in general, or about some aspect of the Church, but while doing so I also try to be very careful to put things into perspective/context and see the big picture.

I think it's important to be honest and not ignore things that should or could be criticized, but I also think it's important to be charitable in doing so. If love is the greatest of all, then one shouldn't put undue emphasis on the warts of someone's face and ignore the fact that the rest of the face is actually quite beautiful. (Hat tip to President Hinckley: "Pessimists do not contribute, unbelievers do not create, doubters do not achieve")

As an active, faithful Latter-day Saint who sometimes finds myself prone to criticize something, I also try to remember that people could just as easily hold a different view than me and could very easily find something to criticize about me. A little discretion and even reservation, is probably prudent, since criticism is a two-way street.

Therefore, I'm much more careful about what I say in public than what I say to myself or even just to my wife. At least I know myself and my wife and my family know me, my heart, and my commitment and my faith. But in public, it's another story. Not everyone can handle the amount of questioning I like to do, so I need to be more careful.

And, of course, while we all have a right to be critical from time to time and we have a right to our own opinions, it's quite another thing to publicly attack the Church or its leaders. The latter is what would get you into trouble, and for a member of the Church to do so would understandably lead to Church discipline.

The Faithful Dissident said...

"And, of course, while we all have a right to be critical from time to time and we have a right to our own opinions, it's quite another thing to publicly attack the Church or its leaders."

Most of us in the Bloggernacle certainly engage in criticism from time to time. I know I've done my fair share. :) One thing I've always wondered about is whether blogging is engaging in "public criticizing or attacking," and yet many of us need an outlet to maintain our sanity in the Church sometimes. So when is that line crossed?

Clean Cut said...

Well, there's a difference between "criticizing" and "attacking". I think the individual himself/herself knows when they've crossed that line between criticism and attacking (whether in public or private).

Since blogs are "public", I try to be cautious, as well as candid, in dealing with sensitive issues. I'm coming from a faithful perspective, and I feel strongly about that. But even good critics who do not share in our faith, like Blomberg, are wise to be respectful and cautious in dealing with sensitive issues, while still being candid.

Mormon Heretic said...

The line between "critic" and "anti-mormon" is gray. I feel like I'm a faithful critic, but I've been told by some more orthodox members that my blog borders on anti-mormon.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Yeah, I was thinking of you, MH, and how you were told a while back that you were borderline. :) We may as well all show our true colours now. :)

MoHoHawaii said...

I don't see why you have gay marriage proponents in your list of anti-Mormon candidates. The struggle for marriage equality and civil rights for LGBT people more generally is not about religion. No one in that movement has ever suggested that churches be required to officiate any marriage they did not want to.

Disagreement with or criticism of the Church’s political actions is legitimate political debate. If you enter the political sphere, you should expect to be debated and you should expect to be exposed if you engage in sleazy campaign tactics. Full stop.

I guess I have to concede that if two people of the same sex commit their lives to each other, make a loving stable home, raise great kids and contribute to their communities, the virtue of their lives is really just implicit criticism of the LDS Church and its foundational truth claims. It's all about the Church, all the time, no matter what else these couples might be up to.

Clean Cut said...

Ah, but the only reason why the Church would wade into what you would call a "political" issue would be if it was actually perceived it as a "moral" issue.

We can learn from the past here. Sonia Johnson became an outspoken critic of the Church in regards to their position on the Equal Rights Amendment. She "held that her statements and activities were political only, that they were not an attack on the Church or its leaders. But Church leaders viewed the statements differently...[her] bishop, Jeffrey H. Willis, instituted Church court proceedings based, not on her outspoken championing of the ERA, but on her attacks against the Church." (from "Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 182).

Because she sought publicity and turned the Church court into a media event, the bishop went public with the actual reasons for her excommunication. "The bishop and, later, Church spokesman Don LeFerve explained the Church's stand: "It's all right to be pro-ERA; it's just not all right to be anti-Church."

The Bishop listed her position and statements that he felt justified the view that she "stepped over the line" and also pointed out that he knew of no other ERA supporter whose Church membership had been called into question.

(By the way, if you haven't read the book, I HIGHLY recommend it: Lengthen Your Stride: The Presidency of Spencer W. Kimball).

CoriAnton said...

Maybe people are using it like the Anti-Nephi-Lehites... Maybe we're really not supposed to be associating with any groups that aren't Mormon, period. ;-)

I think you have it though, that we use the term way to loosely. I think there has to be room for criticism of the church, without getting to the point of actually attacking it. I'm critical of several aspects of either mormon culture, leadership, or other things, but what it comes down to, I think, has to do with intent. Are our criticisms intended to build or bring down the kingdom?

The Faithful Dissident said...

"I don't see why you have gay marriage proponents in your list of anti-Mormon candidates. The struggle for marriage equality and civil rights for LGBT people more generally is not about religion. No one in that movement has ever suggested that churches be required to officiate any marriage they did not want to."

MoHo, I agree with you on the vast majority of gay marriage proponents. Most fit your description and I would NOT consider them anti-Mormon. I do think, however, that SOME deserve that term, just as SOME Mormons deserve the title "homophobe" or "bigot."

MoHoHawaii said...

I'll take your word for it, FD, but I have not personally met any proponents of gay marriage who care about LDS doctrine in the slightest. They don't care about the Jesus/Lucifer canard that the Evangelicals love to bring up or the Chandler manuscript's incoherence with the Book of Abraham. Gay marriage supporters have no idea what the King Follet Discourse is and wouldn't care one way or the other if they did know. I just don't see how people with absolutely no argument with LDS doctrine can be lumped in with anti-Mormons who challenge LDS beliefs.

The Church has chosen for whatever reason to muddy itself in the political process. You can't roll in the mud and then complain that you got dirty. Are Mormons as naive as that? As a blogger I read once said, you can't open up a supermarket in your chapel and then complain of desecration when people come to shop there.

This may be a case of agreeing to disagree. I just don't see how gay marriage proponents are in any way anti-Mormon, unless you believe the claim that the Church should be able to turn its chapels in precinct houses and still expect the special respect that we reserve for purely religious organizations.

thefirestillburning said...

MoHoHawaii:

There is a long American debate about the relationship of religion and politics. I think we must not confuse the issue of moral vs political with the issue of conservative vs progressive. If it's right for Martin Luther King to enter the political arena in order to convince us of a moral position, it is hard to argue that it is wrong to extend the same right to the "right".

Yes, entering the political arena requires courage precisely because the arena contains beasts who use real teeth. Or maybe nails and a cross.

FireTag

The Faithful Dissident said...

MoHo, I was referring to those who would engage in activities such as vandalism of LDS buildings and property of members, or wield undeserved insults their way. There were many reports of this during Prop 8. I equate those people with Anti-Mormons and I equate them with homophobic Mormons who DO deserve the title "bigot." But I think the majority of people, if they care to understand the issues and empathize with others, can see each side from a rational point of view. I certainly don't think that those who oppose the Church's involvement in Prop 8 and protest against it in a civil manner are Anti-Mormons by any mean. I reserve that term for the extremists, just as I reserve the term "bigot" for extremist Mormons.

Aerin said...

Thank you for this post FD. I too have been called anti-mormon, and it troubles me. I think that line is hard to draw, and the definition changes depending on who you talk to.

MoHoHawaii said...

I think there are really only two categories of anti-Mormons: sectarians and ex-Mos. The first group are conservative Christians who object to LDS doctrine and want to 'save' us from error. The second group are former insiders whose sense of betrayal motivates their zeal to expose what they perceive to be a hoax.

Besides these two groups, NOBODY CARES about Mormons. Despite the bunker mentality inside the Church, 99.95% of the world's population has little interest one way or the other about things Mormon.

Using the anti-Mormon label as a cudgel against blogs written by active Mormons who may not be 100% orthodox on all subjects is just bizarre. To me, it's just more evidence of a shame-based culture.

The Faithful Dissident said...

I completely agree, MoHo.

hawkgrrrl said...

Great post, FD! I agree with most of those who've already commented. It's really only anti (IMO) when someone is deliberately twisting the facts or only portraying the church in the worst light possible (such as Ed Decker) even when twisting the facts or sensationalizing the negative is done for what some might consider "good intentions" (e.g. to "save our souls" which really just means to stop the bleeding of their flock).

Portraying unflattering facts that are true but doing so in a charitable way is certainly an appropriate way to criticize, especially for insiders. Even doing so neutrally from an outsider does not meet my threshold for "anti-Mormonism." But, when someone has a dog in the fight (perceives they have been hurt by the church either personally or institutionally), it's awfully hard to be neutral.

For example, was Christ neutral in his criticism of Judaism? Was he an insider critic or an outsider because he set up a rival religion? (Some of that depends on how much of the portrayal of Jesus is original and how much was inserted by compilers of the NT to justify the break with Judaism).

derekstaff said...

FD
MoHo, I agree with you on the vast majority of gay marriage proponents. Most fit your description and I would NOT consider them anti-Mormon. I do think, however, that SOME deserve that term...

There are some minute portion of the homosexual proponents whom I would consider anti-Mormon. However, there is a much larger group of them who are mad as hell at the Church for playing a key role in the violation of their liberty. While they may say some very angry, hurtful things, or even engage in some vandalism, I still do not consider them anti-Mormon in the strict sense of the term. They wouldn't care about the LDS faith one way or another if it weren't for the recent politicking.

Fire
There is a long American debate about the relationship of religion and politics. I think we must not confuse the issue of moral vs political with the issue of conservative vs progressive. If it's right for Martin Luther King to enter the political arena in order to convince us of a moral position, it is hard to argue that it is wrong to extend the same right to the "right".

We should distinguish between "moral" positions and "religious" positions. The latter is a subset of the former, but there is plenty of secular moral positions. (I'm currently engaged in writing a series of posts on the separation of Church and State, and will get to that distinction in another couple posts. Suffice it now to say that I believe that distinction is crucial in good government).

MoHo
I think there are really only two categories of anti-Mormons: sectarians and ex-Mos.

I would generally agree, as long as we recognize that not all ex-Mos as anti-Mo.

On further reflection, I do believe that the use of ridicule is also a sign of an anti-Mormon. Rational criticism doesn't use mockery. That said, we also have to recognize that room for gentle kidding and teasing without accusations of anti-Mormonism.

MoHoHawaii said...

There are some minute portion of the homosexual proponents whom I would consider anti-Mormon.

There is a minute portion of Star Trek fans who are hostile to the Church. What does that say about Trekkies as a whole? Next to nothing.

To be clear, I didn't mean to suggest by my previous comment that all or even most ex-Mos are anti-Mos.

derekstaff said...

There is a minute portion of Star Trek fans who are hostile to the Church. What does that say about Trekkies as a whole? Next to nothing.

Yep.

thefirestillburning said...

Derek:

I certainly concur that there are secular moral positions. The proper relationship between religious and political is a thriving debate in the CofChrist, although the issues of society we make of political importance in the church tend to be the outcome, it seems, of internal church politics.

I'll be looking forward to your posts on the subject.

FireTag

derekstaff said...

FireTag

although the issues of society we make of political importance in the church tend to be the outcome, it seems, of internal church politics.


I'm curious exactly what you mean. Can you give an example?

Regarding my series, the first couple essays are up, starting with "Separation of Church and State I: A Founding Principle."

thefirestillburning said...

Positions taken by and teachings of the CofChrist will be strongly correlated with those taken by the American religious and political left, both in terms of the issues being emphasized, and the remedies selected for the issues. So much so that if you follow the political websites directly, and understand the interagency and NGO players, you could anticipate the church's subsequent positions even if you knew nothing about the church's theology.

(This does not imply that the positions taken are insincere -- because the positions are sincere -- merely that the positions taken are more influenced by who takes them outside the church than the content of the positions, which there are few resources to study.)

The great exception is when the American religious left comes into conflict with more conservative beliefs in the third world, as with gay rights. When the costs in membership growth or money start to loom, we are a lot less willing to claim what we think is prophetic.

FireTag

Bishop Rick said...

FD, Blogging is definitely considered a public forum. I blog anonymously for that very reason. If my identity were discovered, I would be disciplined for comments I have made. Even harmless comments like, "I no longer believe the BoM to be factual" or "I think JS was a con artist" could get me disciplined if not Exed.

It really is a shame that I have to hide. I am otherwise a strong member of the LDS church, but my unbelief is considered a Sin, and I cannot for the life of me understand why.

The Faithful Dissident said...

I'm not sure I agree, Bishop Rick. I certainly don't think that your disbelief in the BofM being factual is grounds for any discipline. If that's your belief, I would think that the worst that could happen to you would be to possibly be denied a temple recommend. And yet there are many active Mormons who don't believe the BofM is factual, but rather an inspired document that is not to be taken literally.

As for saying that JS was a "con artist," well, I guess it depends on what you mean. Some could agree he lied (i.e. about polygamy) and sometimes abused his power, and yet still accept him as an inspired prophet. I guess I have no problem pointing out the flaws of these historical figures as long as it's balanced and rational. I can definitely see why some people would say JS was a con artist. And yet any fair person would have to agree that he was an incredible person in terms of what he accomplished in his lifetime. I've openly called Brigham Young and others "racists" around the Bloggernacle and I wouldn't ever deny that I did. I'm happy to point out what I deem to be racist. With Brigham Young, there are loads of things I can't stand about the guy. I can't imagine I would have liked him in life. And yet, like JS, I can admit he accomplished some amazing things in his life and was probably inspired in many aspects.

Bishop Rick said...

FD, Being denied a temple recommend is being disciplined. Think about not being able to attend a loved one's marriage for example.

The Misanthropic Mormon said...

anti-mormons are bullheaded and blind in their disdain for mormonism. they are not the same as those who are skeptical or inquisitive, even if the answers to those questions are unorthodox or even diametrically opposed to common mormon belief.

Soxy Pirate said...

BR,

You do not have to believe in the Book of Mormon or believe that Joseph Smith wasn't a con artist for a temple rec.

That said, being denied a recommend is most certainly not a form of disipline, unless you consider other such "denials" based on lack of credentials to be discipline, such as being denied a drivers license because you didn't pass the driving test, or being denied admission into college because you didn't graduate high school.

Or unless you mean "discipline" in the most general, loose sense, where one required to adhere to a specfic code.

Such "discipline" is not necessarily consistent with "punishment."

Aaron said...

I can definitely relate to your experience sharing concerns about church history and getting a negative response from a fellow church member. I recently finished reading Rough Stone Rolling and started a forum like discussion with my wife’s parents and siblings.

My goal was to express my concern about the issues and hopefully gain some insight and perspective on those issues from the people I love and trust the most. But the reaction my wife and I got was very negative. Right away I think they thought we were attacking their faith and they went on the defensive. Without investigating the topics of discussion they questioned the legitimacy and credibility of the author Richard Bushman.

Others went off like a fast and testimony meeting, trying to convince us that none of the questionable parts of church history were important, and that prayer and fasting (not using your brain) is the only way to find truth.

Most of my in laws agreed to read the book after I posted excerpts on our discussion forum. Ultimately though the discussion ended in a disaster, with my wife feeling very upset at the lack of understanding from her own family. I think she felt disposable the minute she began to question. We shut the forum down and the church is taboo now for family discussions but things are normal other than that fact.

I think our biggest problem is what do we do now? I have tons of reasons why I doubt the authenticity of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon but I love the goodness in the church, other than the weird doctrines and history and some of the dogma. I want to raise my kids with that goodness in their lives but there is no middle ground in the church…

K.D. said...
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