I've had a couple of quiet days at home to take time to listen to some of the Mormon Stories podcasts that I hadn't yet had a chance to listen to. It's been challenging, uncomfortable, enlightening, and riveting -- all at the same time. As I finished listening to one of the podcasts this afternoon, I found myself lamenting over the fact that John Dehlin and some of those he interviewed on Mormon Stories have been dismissed as "Anti-Mormon" by some. A while back when I recommended a certain podcast to a church leader that I thought he would find helpful and insightful, he dismissed Dehlin as an employer of anti-Mormon tactics and had only negative things to say about him, even though I'm quite sure he was completely unfamiliar with him. So, as much as I still respect and admire this leader, I couldn't help but think how missing this unbelievably unique and insightful opportunity to learn more about Mormonism and Mormons from all across the spectrum was a huge loss on his part.
I've had a lot to process and digest over the past few days, but I'll try to summarize just some of my thoughts based on the various podcasts that I listened to. I can't recommend them enough to those of you who are struggling with the same issues that I am, or who are simply searching for an increase in understanding.
The first ones I listened to were a series with Paul Toscano (#'s 077-083), one of the September Six who were excommunicated in September of 1993. Toscano is very bold in his personal beliefs and observations. Although he can come across as arrogant, I think that "in-your-face," as he himself put it, is more accurate. He has some very interesting views about the Godhead, Christ, where the Church has gone wrong, where it has gone right, and what he'd like to see change. Although some of his opinions would sound heretical to most Mormons, I came away from the podcast with a deep appreciation for his view on Jesus Christ. Even though I may not share his view completely on exactly who or how Christ is, I found what he said about him downright inspiring and motivational. Yes, I'll say it again. I found an excommunicated "apostate" to be inspiring and motivational. I haven't yet listened to the series featuring his wife, Margaret Toscano, who was also excommunicated later on, but I'm looking forward to it.
The next series I listened to was with Grant Palmer, (#'s 030-033), author of An Insider's View of Mormon Origins, and disfellowshipped in 2004 for publishing the book. I found this series to be the most riveting, probably because of Palmer's personality and background story. I could relate to him on many personal levels and my impression was one of a broken man who had to suffer the consequences of finding himself unable to reconcile the evidences he uncovered with the story that he had been led to believe for most of his life. Although he reached some pretty dismal personal conclusions as to the truth of many of Mormonism's claims, ranging from Book of Mormon literal historicity to the multiple accounts of the First Vision, I found his perspective to nevertheless be inspiring in its own way. And even though I'm not sure that I share his opinions and views in all these areas, in a way I could say that I felt relieved by his approach. Here is someone who has lost much of his faith, who does not believe the Church to be literally true on all the levels that it claims, and yet continues to love and see value in the Church -- enough so that he values his membership and still attends sacrament meeting as a disfellowshipped member. I was inspired by the story of his church court hearing and the aftermath -- namely the deeply personal and overwhelming sense of divine peace and comfort he felt the night after an exhausting and traumatic day. I came away feeling comforted by the notion that God continues to reach out to and comfort those who are cut off by the Church organization. Although I haven't read Palmer's book, I think that Bushman's neutralized style is my preference, but I was thoroughly impressed by Palmer's integrity and sincerity. Even if he's totally wrong in his assessments, it takes guts to be honest with oneself and others about one's beliefs -- however unpopular they are -- and especially when the consequences can be monumental. Not only did it affect his church life, but it affected his family life. And I respect that. I couldn't be more disappointed by apologetics and those in the Church who have resorted to ad-hominem attacks on him. I thought that his views on what the Church needs to do to retain credibility, integrity, and prevent an exodus of those who are troubled by what they read in today's world of easily-accessed information were spot-on. And, as was the case after listening to Paul Toscano, I felt a renewed desire to focus solely on Christ -- even though I'm still not quite sure how I'm to do that.
As a contrast, I then listened to the series with FAIR apologetic John Lynch (#'s 007-009). I admit that I was a bit skeptical, as I haven't always been impressed by their (or FARMS') attempts to defend things that are, in my mind, undefendable. But overall, I felt that Lynch was fairly sympathetic to those of us who find it difficult to reconcile faith with history -- even though I don't think that many apologetics really "get" the need of some people for neutral objectivity as opposed to defending everything on the premise that it's true no matter what. But that being said, I think that there is a legitimate place and need for apologetics in the minefield of information about Mormonism that's available online today.
Next, I listened to a two-part interview (#'s 002-003) with Gregory Prince, author of David O. McKay And The Rise Of Modern Mormonism. The second part of this interview, which covered the priesthood ban, was particularly fascinating. David O. McKay was very progressive in many ways -- especially in his desire to see the priesthood ban lifted and the personal efforts he made to have it lifted in his time. However, this progressivism did not extend to his personal views on race and civil rights. His views about blacks was typical for the time and place in which he lived, and he neglected to rise above this mindset when he occasionally had the oppotunity to do so. Sad, but certainly not shocking. Nevertheless, McKay was a friend of scholarship, intellectualism, unorthodox views, and even intervened when certain people were threatened with excommunication for these unorthodox views that he didn't necessarily agree with. He was a champion of free agency -- in thought included.
Lastly, I listened to a Seattle recording (#066) of a speech given by a woman about the history of the involvement of the LDS Church in the ERA movement. I really knew very little about this part of our history, but I was struck by the parallels between it and our involvement in Prop 8, most notably the proportion of Mormons who decided to follow blindly the Church's appell to vote it down, as well as the reasons given for doing so. For instance, some argued that passing the ERA would allow homosexuals to marry, or that stay-at-home mothers would be forced out of the home. The words "scare tactics" came to mind, as was often the case when I read the arguments by some Church members during the Prop 8 campaign. (One noteworthy piece of information was the disappointing fact that George Romney -- a man who is often praised for his progressive stance in the Black Civil Rights movement despite being pressured by certain Church leaders to change that stance -- was quoted as dismissing the ERA as an attempt by "moral perverts" to destroy the family.)
I have many of the podcasts to listen to yet. Just thought I'd share my latest impressions and I look forward to hearing yours.