Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Apostasy Roast

Lately the word “Apostasy” has been all over the news, and the talking heads say it with disdain; as if “Apostasy” was a bad thing.

Not surprisingly the LDS-church apostasy all over the recent news is not the big story about apostasy from the LDS church. The big story is just too big for the news to cover.

noun: apostasy; plural noun: apostasies
1. the abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief.

Based on the dictionary definition apostasy should be something easy to do. Just stop going to church, then think about other –more interesting- things, and then (and this step should be optional) realize that that old dusty belief structure was hauled off with the trash. This abandonment route is the road Marco Rubio took "out" of the LDS church. A road is a good metaphor here; one starts walking out of town, and eventually you pass the city limits even if you do not notice the sign. It is so easy and comfortable to just give up on an awkward belief system that many people don’t recognize they have left till they arrive someplace else.

In some churches, like the LDS church, the most popular form of apostasy is to have never been a member at all. The vast majority of LDS church members exist outside of the United States. One can compare census data for countries that include religious affiliation on their census with what the church provides as membership numbers. Latin American countries typically have around a quarter the number of self identifying Mormons as are counted by the church offices. This means that as many as 75% of the Mormons in Latin America have committed Apostasy simply by actively identifying themselves as not being Mormon.

Most Mormon apostates find apostasy somewhat contrived and bureaucratic. Lately a few dozen former Mormons made a show of their apostasy by marching around temple square with letters of resignation, which they then respectfully mailed, and which the LDS church could have refused. Recently these apostates have been receiving official acknowledgment of their apostasy. I have not heard of anyone actually being refused their apostasy, but the mechanism is there should the LDS church decide to stop letting members officially leave.

The LDS church is concerned about apostasy. Starting in 2012 they have been addressing the issue head on. The effort appears to be spearheaded by a General Authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints by the name of Marlin Keith Jensen. He called for "a strategy to get church history onto the Web,". Specifically Marlin wanted an official response to what Mormon scholar Terry Givens described as a "discrepancy between a church history that has been selectively rendered through the Church Education System and Sunday school manuals, and a less-flattering version universally accessible on the Internet”.

"Maybe since Kirtland, we never have had a period of, I'll call it apostasy, like we're having right now." -- Marlin Keith Jensen (General Authority of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints) 3 January 2012

The LDS church has a two-tiered (at least) system for Mormons. There are “members” and “temple recommend holders” (which I sometimes call real Mormons). Each temple recommend is a serial-numbered bar-coded identification card whose unique number is in a database which can be simultaneously retrieved from the computerized verification stations at the entrance to every LDS temple. During a pre-consecration tour of a temple I was personally shown the desk where the holiest of computers would be installed, and given a brief description of what they would be used for.

The LDS church has very accurate and specific statistical and demographic data concerning real Mormons, but it instead only releases the loose membership numbers for public consumption. Based on some surveys and numbers of temple marriages it may be that only 45% of self-identifying Mormons in the most devoutly Mormon areas are real Mormons, and only 2% of self-identifying Mormons in areas outside of the USA are real Mormons. Since, in some areas outside of the USA only 25% of LDS church identified Mormons self-identify as Mormons, this would mean that in some areas 99.5% of the LDS church identified Mormons could be apostates.

My calculations are based on available numbers. My definition of apostasy is a somewhat rigid interpretation of the dictionary definition. It is likely that manipulation of the definition coupled with re-interpretation of the available numbers would yield slightly different results. Any apologist worth their salt could point out the weakness in my information. The only rock-solid interpretations that might be possible rely on the LDS church releasing temple recommend data. So even the most true believing LDS apologist will not counter with a position that is significantly stronger.

One of the problems most apologists have with understanding apostasy is that they see it as a bad thing. Apostasy leads to discipline; the worst form of which is excommunication. It surprises me each time I think about it; excommunication is seen as a horrible discipline by a church that both vigorously cooks the books in order to make it appear to have a large number of members, and makes it difficult to actually leave. One can not tithe, not go to church, and even state that they are not a Mormon, but they still won’t be officially recognized as abandoning the LDS church.

What is official apostasy? There are two instances that are making the news.

The most popular new apostate is a woman by the name of Kate Kelly who is a leader in the “Ordain Women” group. To people who are not familiar with the LDS church the notion of ordaining women as priests might sound a bit modern. Males (most do) receive their priesthood when they are 12 years old. Picture a 7th grade classroom; do you see a room full of priests? Now, still picturing the room of 7th graders, imagine why the little girls should not be priests. Don’t try too hard to reason out why having 7th grade girl priests is more damaging than the idea of having 7th grade priests of any type as thinking too hard about it can get icky.[The priesthood in the LDS church has several divisions, Baptism at age 8, Aaronic, or preparatory priesthood at age 12, and Melchizedek priesthood at age 18]

The other newly famous apostate is a blogger by the name of John Dehlin. John has been addressing the actual apostasy issue on his “Mormon Stories” blog. I think John is an apologist. I bet John thinks of himself as an apologist. He has presented reasons why Mormons should remain Mormon despite the LDS church history. He has also provided modern moral synthesis for LGBT issues, and is generally concerned with people staying members of the LDS church.

They have already revoked John’s temple recommend, so he is not a real Mormon anymore. Next week it is likely that he and Kelly will be excommunicated. For the sake of their families, and their personal pride, I hope they do get excommunicated. It sounds so much more exciting than “I mailed a letter”.

However, I do hope they take their excommunication in a more positive way than Lavina Fielding Anderson. She was excommunicated in September of 1993 with a group of Mormon intellectuals who have been dubbed “The September Six”. Lavina wrote about ecclesiastical abuse at a time before such a term would sound lake soft-pedaling sexual abuse by priests [Lavina Fielding Anderson, “The LDS Intellectual Community and Church Leadership: A Contemporary Chronology,” Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought (Spring 1993): 7-64.]. The concept of ecclesiastical abuse, as Lavina envisioned it, is rather convoluted. The way Lavina handled her excommunication is rather convoluted as well. Lavina never stopped going to her LDS church. She still insists she believes. She does not have an active temple recommend, and she may not be able to get into the good heaven all the 7th-grade boys will get into, but she has been an active participant in the LDS church for the 20 years since they kicked her out.

I hope Kate and John can revamp their testimony after the Mormons kick them out. It will be much more inspirational, at least to their kids, to have a testimony about coming to understand the world as a rationalist and a skeptic; a testimony that begins: “I believed as hard as I could, but it was still wrong, so the Church kicked me out. Only then did I give myself the opportunity to stop believing, and I discovered Love, and Beauty, and the person I always wanted to be.”.

Even if they do not excommunicate you I want to personally welcome you, Kate and John, to the Dark Roast Side.  Bring Lavina if she is not too busy.

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