On June 11, 2011, members of the Mormon Stories community held their 2nd regional conference in Salt Lake City.  In this panel presentation entitled “Navigating an Open Approach to Mormonism”, professors Margaret Toscano and Joanna Brooks, along with Carol Lynn Pearson, Jared Anderson and John Dehlin discuss inclusivity, openness, and an expended approach to Mormon identity, while also fielding practical questions from the audience.


  1. Glen Fullmer July 6, 2011 at 12:23 am - Reply

    Very enjoyable panel discussion. There was a lot of talk about the church changing, and perhaps Jared and Margaret are right in that it will have to change.  However, it took about 100 years to change the practice of polygamy in the LDS church, and even longer to rid itself of the teaching that the Negro was inferior (if at least officially).  I think it a bit naive to think that the Church’s teaching on Mother-In-Heaven as a God to be worshiped, or homosexuals being accepted fully is a bit naive even with the Internet.  I am not convinced that the Brethren will replace the current teachings with those views anytime soon just to keep the Church together.  Of course, as one of the first users of the Internet in the early 90s with less 2000 web based pages, I thought that the technology had limited future, so what do I know! ;-)

  2. DuzTruthMatter July 6, 2011 at 4:59 pm - Reply

    From my point of view, there seems to be a general theme to these forums, discussions, interviews, etc.  That seems to be that a lot of time is spent on justification of why one should identify with his/her “mormonism”.  The bottom line always seems NOT to be that the doctrine, teachings, scriptures, etc. of the mormon church are divinely inspired or a literal blueprint of how to live our lives, but rather to be that, “These are my people; This is my tribe; I am from pioneer stock; This is my social network”.  The pride of being from pioneer stock makes me wonder why one should be proud of decending from people were duped into following a not-so-benevolent dictator through the wilderness to a God-forsaken part of the continent.  If these are the reasons for a person to be a part of an organization, what is the point of sending out missionaries.  Shouldn’t potential converts be left alone to live the lives of their tribe or social network?  Why is “mormonism” a better way for them? 

    I fully support this panel and all of John’s interviewees in their right to their beliefs and am very impressed by the way they are able to express them.  What I don’t understand now or from the first Mormon Stories interview I ever listened to is, why would you care to be so attached to an organization which you want to change so badly?   And if the organization changes to meet your needs and desires, would it still be the same organization you were “fortunate” enough to be born into or enamoured enough to join in the first place?

    • Hermes July 7, 2011 at 11:31 pm - Reply

      I was born into this social experiment called the United States of America.  I was told a lot of myths about the great things Americans have done and continue to do to spread goodness all over the world.  Upon closer inspection, some of those myths have some truth (objective historical reality); many are just false (covering unpleasant and/or misunderstood pieces of reality ancient and modern).  But like it or lump it, I was born into an American society, and I made my psyche on an American forge.  For me, it is essential that I learn to find the parts of the American myth that I believe, the American parts of myself that I respect and cherish.  The more I have to change my outlook as an American — the less comfortable I am with official versions of national truth — the more important my personal identity as an American becomes.  I am not one of those people who can just pull up stakes and move to another country.  (Hello, Switzerland!)  I am not rich, or connected, or anything, and even supposing I were, I do not think running away would really solve any of my underlying issues with the falseness I find in the United States of America.

      I was also born into Mormonism (and the Brighamite LDS church).  Generically speaking, I have all the same issues with Mormonism that I have with American patriotism: the concrete experiences are different, but the exact same dynamic tension between truth and falsehood applies.  I cannot just walk away.  To do so would be to leave giant, gaping wounds in my psyche.  These wounds can only be healed when I acknowledge them as real and confront (as objectively as possible) the factors that brought them about.  I have to look myself daily in the eye and ask, “What does it mean to me to be American, Mormon?  How is my Americanness, Mormonness different from everybody else’s?  Why does it matter?  What do I stand for, as a human being?”  I agree with Margaret Toscano: renouncing my Mormonism would be like amputating limbs (even if I am determined to remain more or less permanently inactive in the LDS church).  

      • DuzTruthMatter July 11, 2011 at 4:44 pm - Reply

        Assuming you actually did move to Switzerland due to your issues with the USA, would you feel that renouncing your Americanness would be like amputating a limb?  Or would those issues be enough for you to say, “I no longer identify with being American.”?  Otherwise, why would you move in the first place?  Also, would you expect your children, grandchildren, etc. to identify as Americans, even though they would be Swiss, just because that is your tribe?  Should a Swiss person who moves to the USA then renounce his Swissness, because the USA is better?

        From your statements, it appears to me that you think being American and Mormon is the ultimate state of existence on this planet.  And just because you disagree with either one, there is no way you could renounce them.  Doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to me, but if you’re happy with it, more power to you.

        • Jared Anderson July 12, 2011 at 2:07 pm - Reply

          Duz, I don’t see where Hermes implied that being American or Mormon is the ideal… it is simply his reality. I agree that we need to make peace with our heritage, even if we move beyond it. 

          I think language is a very good parallel to religion. English is my mother tongue. It is not the “one true language” (though some would disagree). It does have a larger vocabulary than any other language and works quite well. It is currently the international language. But that does not mean I can demean other languages. I have no desire never to speak English again. 

          Sometimes I find the idea of becoming an expatriate very appealing. :) Your question about descendants is a good one…. their reality would be different than mine, of course, and they would act accordingly. I would hope they would remain aware of their American heritage, as I am aware of my Danish/English/French etc heritage. But their environment would influence their identity and they would need to make peace and live with being Swiss (assuming they integrated into society). 

  3. Anonymous Mormon July 7, 2011 at 12:54 am - Reply

    Most of the reasons “non-coralated” Mormons attempt to “encourage change” in the institution is from the “socialization” aspect. If they can succeed than they are not required to address the “socialization” aspects of their “self definition”. Having been “defined” as a “person” through our socialization, requires us to reconcile the differences, paradoxes, ironies, that we discover as we mature; otherwise we feel like part of us is missing. 

    True freedom from the social imperatives, we have assumed about who we are, requires that we replace social approval (mortal man in a fallen state) with Divine approval (knowing God directly though revelation). However we resist this paradigm shift, for all the reasons written of  by Soren Kierkegaard. A more contemporary writer, philosopher, who is LDS is C. Terry Warner, has also addressed these issues.

    I was privileged to take my first philosophy course from Terry when a freshman at BYU and was so struck with his clarity of thinking that I continued to take courses from him, just to learn more, about how I thought. The real break through for me was his course entitled “Self Deception”; which caused such internal spiritual upheaval in not only myself but in a class of about thirty students less than half ceased attendance by the end. Several years later I happened to meet a woman who’d been in the class and hadn’t finished the course and when I asked her why she’d quit, she responded, “Br. Warner was causing me to question what and who I was, and I couldn’t face that about myself; I still can’t.”  

    During the subsequent decades my development spiritually has been exponential. By that I mean that I now don’t regard the socialization aspects of life to be much to worry about. I have found that most Mormons are hiding from God, in church. Just the idea that some one, any one else talks with God, receives revelation from God, any one other than themselves, is seen as a “blessing”. This concept of “vicarious” works goes beyond the work for the dead in the temples and comes close to being Catholic, in that great spiritual veneration is imbued upon any one who even has heard that some members stake president’s brother-in-law’s regional representative said that one of the brothern had a spiritual “manifestation” or some other experience of note. But to have direct spiritual experiences, this is shunned! 

    Why, is the question I pose to myself? Why shun the very Person who the scriptures indicate is the One who can give the Peace sought? Why hide from Deity? Are we still in the “spiritual Garden of Eden” busy trying to get that fig leaf to do a better job of covering our “exposed parts”? Why do we “shelter” in the shade of the “collective” thinking that we are a “righteous people” by being in a particular group? The collective mortals are still mortals; still in a fallen state; no amount of “boot strapping” together will make no real change in our hearts. 

    • Socialization July 7, 2011 at 4:29 pm - Reply

      Thank you for your post. These thoughts clarify the root of the problem and/or solution. I’m wondering, though, if this “socialization” isn’t inevitable. Don’t humans flock to people of similar thoughts eventually, anyway?

    • Jared Anderson July 12, 2011 at 2:29 pm - Reply

      @a425ab5edb631f03105c96559bddb69b:disqus , I also love the work of Terry Warner…. what an amazing experience it would have been to take classes from him! 

      I think I would require more explanation of what you mean by confronting our “socialization aspects of [our] self definition”. 

      LDS socialization is powerful to a near-cult level (albeit a benevolent cult). I don’t think that is a bad thing, in and of itself. 

      But why I personally want to “encourage change” is NOT to avoid addressing the socialization, but on the contrary to address the *harmful* and ethically problematic aspects of that socialization. I think that Church culture (backed sometimes by doctrine, sometimes not), does great damage to women. I think we are conditioned with an extremely unhealthy view of sexuality, despite having a very high view of it. Homosexual Mormons have been killing themselves over this “socialization” (Read “No More Goodbyes” if you have not). Church culture tears apart families at times…… there is so much good in the Church, but there is a dark underside, and one that I do not think is supported by doctrine. 

      THIS is why I seek change in the Church. It is also the reasons I seek change in America….

    • Jared Anderson July 12, 2011 at 2:30 pm - Reply

      I would also add that many uncorrelated *have* confronted their socialization, have forged beautiful, powerful, and resilient identities, and that these post-conformist identities at times are looked down on and challenged by the community. 

  4. JCH July 7, 2011 at 9:44 am - Reply

    I think that what is missing from the panel’s comments is how the institutional church goes about gathering the  gatherers.  Why is there such a high concentration of loving, kind, giving, service oriented, good individuals in the church?  No other church, with numbers like the LDS, rivals the LDS with regard to saturation of these traits, in my opinion.  Could it be that God really did lead someone with these traits or one that had a mighty change of heart to the church or that the church really does produce generational Mormons with these traits?  The people of the church have not lost sight of Zion.  We really do strive to be, or at least look forward to being a Zion society.  Many churches envy the LDS Priesthood oriented organizational structure.    What’s not to like?  

    Oh, that authority thing.  

    Even with all that good in the people of the church, and with what the Priesthood oriented leadership does and has accomplished, it’s still not good enough for some that men tell other men and women what to do even in church.  Why?  Because dangit, I am a feminist or a homosexual or an intellectual or an “Uncorrelated Mormon.” Besides, how could somebody else have revelation from God for me and understand my situation in life?  The church just takes that unity thing too far!  So I am going to be a pick and choose person as to my activity or anything else with regard to what I do when it comes to the “Institutional” church.  

    That is what I heard from the panel and others that commented.  This rhetoric just does not jive with my understanding of what a LDS is.  Isn’t the goal as a LDS  to be willing to give all of your time, talents everything the Lord has blessed you with, everything that Lord will bless you with to the building up of the kingdom of God on earth which is the LDS church in Momondom?  Somehow pickin’ and choosin’ just doesn’t seem to float in that scenario.  I believe there is a reason why people have those traits in the church and that is because they are trying to work on giving their all to the cause.  Anything less would be well……un-God-like.

    • Jared Anderson July 12, 2011 at 1:56 pm - Reply

      @48e2639b0941c7d6fadd06702ef57dcb:disqus , I agree with you that the Church does very well nurturing the positive traits you describe. This is one reason that I stay. But why can’t this be a both/and situation? Why can’t we seek to live the very best Mormonism can be, rather than what it is now? Does culture play no role in the structures of the Church? Is *everything* exactly as God wants it to be? So does God have something against beards, or find only skirts and dresses pleasing on women, or is he offended by clapping in the Chapel? 

      In my opinion, all these and many other factors are cultural. It is very important that I teach my children (and I have) that Truth is bigger than Mormonism and the Church is not exactly as God wants it to be. This provides them with a framework to challenge ethical infractions such as the subtle but pervasive patriarchy that really does damage so many women in the Church? I understand that authority is necessary in an institution, and the extraordinary organization of the Church has many real benefits. The issue that I have is how that authority is used, and especially that so many do not have a voice. I think your caricature of those who have issues with the Church is facile, misleading, and offensive. 

  5. Jared Anderson July 12, 2011 at 1:59 pm - Reply

    Glenn Ostlund asked an excellent question on the Mormon Stories facebook page: 

    ‎Jared – I just finished listening to the talk you gave at the panel in SLC at the conference a few weeks ago. Nicely done — you echo so many of my own feelings on scripture, faith, belief, etc. I wanted to ask you what you mean by “valid” when you say that everyone’s personal perceived truth is valid. I used to feel very strongly that way as well. But recently, within the last few yeasr I guess, I have really questioned that approach, because what do you do when one person’s percieved truth validates a behavior that causes harm to other people? Is it still valid? When does it become NOT OK? Where do you draw those lines? Because I can say, “yes, this is only valid ‘for me'” — but it will still affect the way I view and act towards others, right? Maybe there is a metaphorical “vaild” and a literal “valid” and we can agree that metaphorically everyone’s percieved truth is perfectly valid (but just not really). How do you deal with that?For those with facebook, here is a link to the conversation: 


    If anyone doesn’t have facebook I could turn this into a PDF and post it elsewhere. 

    • Carson N July 20, 2011 at 4:21 pm - Reply

      Very disappointing that conversations like this get locked away in Facebook.

      • Jared Anderson August 1, 2011 at 3:45 pm - Reply

        Agreed, facebook is a very flawed medium. :( Did you need me to post it as a PDF? 

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