Saturday, May 19, 2012

Interviewed by a Writer for the Washington Post

I had an interesting experience this week.  I was interviewed by a writer for the Washington Post who is doing an article about "questioning Mormons".  I was referred to her due to my involvement online with members who are struggling with some kind of faith crisis - and as someone who simply is inquisitive and "questioning" by nature. 

I enjoyed the conversation greatly, but I hope she doesn't misquote me in the article - if she quotes me at all.  I'm a "questioning Mormon" only because I question by nature.  In other words, I'm not a doubter or struggling in any way; I just question and want to understand everything better.  I try to be open to "further light and knowledge" regarding everything.  I try to understand how I personally feel about and see things - rather than accepting what others tell me automatically, without question.  The following is a simple summary of my memory of the conversation - not meant to be exhaustive and complete (since we talked for nearly 45 minutes), but meant only to provide the general outline of our conversation:

I think her focus is going to be on Mormons who struggle to be able to express their concerns in the LDS Church - how their questioning affects their membership and why. She mentioned the number of members who wouldn't give their names if they were going to be quoted and how she was struck by that. She also talked about attending church with an acquaintance and observing the general lack of dissenting voices. (I think she doesn't realize a large part of that is because the LDS Church is so participatory in nature that most members don't want to cause contention or problems when they might be the one teaching the class later that day or down the road a few years.  I think we all know that payback can be a . . . difficulty - and none of us want to encourage hard feelings and vocal, obvious disunity.) 

I was crystal clear with her about my situation and why I don't struggle even though I question pretty much everything. (having to accept the fact early in life that I see things differently than everyone else around me and my social capital from not being a threat in any way) I told her I am a fully active, serving, believing, faithful, dedicated member - who just happens to see some things differently than others.  (i.e., I don't question because I'm Mormon; I am Mormon and I question naturally.)  She asked about my background, so I gave her a thumbnail sketch. 
We talked a lot about placing Mormonism into historical perspective. (She mentioned how diverse and tolerant Judaism is, for example, and I pointed out that it wasn't nearly as diverse and tolerant back in the biblical days when it was being oppressed by various empires - and that Mormonism still is close enough to its times of intense persecution that it's unrealistic to expect it to be completely out of the woods in that regard.) I mentioned Pres. Uchtdorf and Elder Wirthlin and how there are top leaders who appear to be trying to move the Church toward a more accepting and less fundamentalist orientation, and I stressed the difference between that and what individual members encounter when they have local leadership that has an extreme protect-the-flock mentality and sees danger everywhere. (I used myself and an online friend as a prime example of the wide differences in local experiences.) I explained my settler vs. explorer analogy - that settlers establish barriers to ward of potential danger, while explorers are drawn to potential danger - that there is an inherent, unavoidable tension between them in most cases - and that neither approach is "bad" or "wrong". They just "are" - and I am trying to be the best "I am" possible for me - to live according to the dictates of my own conscience while allowing others to do the same.

I also taught her a new word - "orthoprax" (living one's life in a traditional manner) - and talked about how the mainstream actions of members generally can overcome non-aggressive heterodoxy (believing differently than the dominant group but not pushing for converts, so to speak).

We talked for a long time, but I'm not sure how much of what we discussed will make it into the article - or how much will be truly an accurate retelling of what I meant. We'll see.


Christy said...

I agree with you regarding our lack of (vocal)dissenting opinion. My experience, being part of a ward made up mostly of first generation members, is that we recognize that we don't know or understand it all. We are all learning, and even though at times a teacher will say something that I feel is incorrect or at least don't agree with, I don't feel it is necessary to argue, or even point it out, unless I think it is completely misguided. We are not there to debate. We are there to be enriched by the spirit and learn on an individual, personal level as the spirit speaks to us.

Clean Cut said...

You're a PERFECT person to talk to for that article, RAY. I hope you get included. Either way, good work and carry on.

Stephen said...

I surely wish you the best with the interview and how it is edited.

Richard Alger said...

Papa D said...

I was a bit disappointed in the article - and especially how she quoted me. I like the quote she used, but it was out-of-context and made me sound like I am struggling in some way.

I'm generally OK with the overall article, but I thought it was more negative than it had to be.