Lunch with Lou Midgley, and Musings from the FAIR conference

John Dehlin Mormon Stories

I spent 11 hours at the FAIR conference on Friday, and I believe that I spent about 5 of them with Lou Midgley.

The time with Dr. Midgley, and with the folks at FAIR (including Daniel Peterson), reinforced an important lesson that I keep re-learning regarding the Mormon Internet–we are sometimes not ourselves when we engage in Internet conversations, and more importantly, those we converse with are often not exactly who we think they are.

Now before you start thinking that I’m gonna get all slobbery about Dr. Midgley, let me remind you of something a good friend (Gregory Prince) told me in his studies of Mormon History: “There are no black hats, and there are no white hats.” The purpose of this post isn’t to say that Dr. Midgley’s hat is white. But for those of you who have never met him–let me assure you that his hat is not black either. A few reflections…

  • If you think that Dr. Midgley is a “blind apologist”, not willing to hold those within the church to the same level of scrutiny that he holds his anti-LDS foes, you do not know Lou Midgley.
  • If you think that Dr. Midgley has not stood up for what he feels is right within the church as he has without (sometimes at a personal cost), you do not know Lou Midgley.
  • If you think that Dr. Midgley is not sincere, and is not driven by a firm conviction as to the thruthfulness of the church, a deep love for it, and a desire for goodness on this earth, you do not know Dr. Midgley.
  • Finally, if you think Dr. Midgley beleves that he is without sin, and is not willing to acknowedge his error when he makes it, you don’t know him either.

Now I’ll grant you that I have similar feelings about Grant Palmer, Michael Quinn, and many other people that have suffered collateral damage (sometimes self-inflicted) in the war of words between apologists and the disaffected. I really, really detest when people’s faith or character are called into question, and I still retain a strong loathing for mean spiritedness and ad-hominim (sp?) attacks. But I also now better understand that sometimes, what is meant in jest, is sometimes taken as mean-spiritedness. And what starts out as a desire to defend what is most precious (on either side), far too easily spills over into defensiveness and anger. I’ll always fight against heat…but I also see that I have been the cause of some heat myself.

Truth be told, the stuff I have written is not only applicable to Dr. Midgley, but also to Dan Peterson and pretty much all the rest of the FAIR volunteers. These are sincere, good-natured folk with good intentions–who are honestly trying to do what they believe is right. In fact, I would claim this about many of us in the LDS “borderlands”, and in many instances, those in the DAMU as well.

Something else that crystalized for me was the realization that each one of us has a very clear bias, and strong opinions about HOW we might be able to make a difference in this world. Perhaps these biases and differences in approach are what divide us most.

I used to say that Mormon Stories was all about “open, honest and respectful.” I still desire these things, but those words are so charged, and so subjective–and do not fully encapsulate what I really hope to accomplish on the Mormon Internet (if I am able to accomplish anything at all). What I now am interested in doing, is building bridges. Between apologists and anti’s. Between conservatives and liberals. Between the estranged and their families. Between the believing and the disbelieving. Between all of us.

At FAIR, I watched Dan Vogel and Brent Metcalf sit in presentations where their work was openly discussed (and sometimes criticized), and then witnessed them both clap for, and go up to their “opponents” at the end and shake their hands, and discuss their differences. This was so beautiful to me. We need much, much more if it.

Anti’s force the church to be open, honest, and accurate. Anti’s help inspire change within the church.

Apologists force the anti’s to be credible, accurate, and thoughtful. They keep anti’s on top of their game, so to speak.

In the end, I believe that they are all both fighting for very similar things, and almost united in a common cause. In fact, I believe that they share MUCH more in common with each other, than with the average “asleep” member.

If we can focus on that which we have in common (love for truth, desire to make the world a better place, a passion for more joy and less pain in each of our lives), and less on what divides (historical BOM vs. non-historical BOM, “one true church” vs. really good church, etc.)–I believe that we can create something beautiful out of what we have started.

That is my new hope and mission. More bridges. Thanks to you all (across the ENTIRE spectrum) for helping me see this more clearly. I look forward to doing it with you (or folding up shop).