5 Questions After 5 Years – From A Longtime ‘Nacle Wannabe

August 20, 2009
By

A cross-post from Nine Moons — written by John Dehlin by request of Rusty Clifton — in celebration of Nine Moons’ 5-year anniversary.

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Most of you won’t know me. I used to blog/podcast back in the day, but was never really part of the official Bloggernacle community (as defined by those invested in the term). I was (and am) a ‘Nacle Wannabe. :)

A big thanks to Rusty for the invitation to write. He’s always been really cool to me. Same w/ Ronan, JNS, SV, ECS, Kaimi, KH, BIV, DKL, Kiskilili, Hamer, Danithew, Ann, Aaron Brown — and a few other mainstream ‘nacle friends I’m forgetting right now. I’ll never forget the kindness of those who reached out to me in my tougher times — even during the times when I was being an a@$, which were legion.

One or two of you may know that I’m starting a PhD program this Fall in Clinical/Counseling Psychology. Upon reflection, my interest in psychology sprung out of my somewhat embarrassing, quasi-entrance into the bloggernacle back in 2004/2005. What a disaster. :)

When I started Mormon Stories, I felt this sincere, deep-seeded, almost overwhelming concern for those I considered to be marginalized within Mormonism. I spent a few years, at an almost frenetic pace, trying to create web sites and podcasts to reach out to those struggling. Gays.FeministsIntellectualsDoubtersThe mentally ill. Even the disaffected. Godaddy probably considered me a premier client.

After a few years of reaching out to anyone and everyone I could — it began to feel like I was holding an umbrella during a tsunami. So much pain out there, it seemed. So little support. I was also struggling through my own crisis of faith at the time — and this clearly distorted my perception. Thankfully, I found the sunlight again — and could not be more happy with my activity in the church. I feel incredibly blessed.

But even though I’ve largely hung up my cyber-sneakers, I continue to be contacted by ~3 people a week — suffering in some significant way within the church.

• A gay BYU student in the closet….scared to come out for fear of being kicked out of school.
• An acting bishop who has lost his faith only 2 years into his 5 year term. Unsure how to proceed.
• A missionary, in the field, who doesn’t know how to continue his mission now that he’s discovered the discrepancy between his church education, and the actual historical record.
• A wife who is beside herself at her husband’s recent disaffection from the church…mourning the loss of her eternal family.
• A divorced dad who has lost access (for the most part) to his own children over church-related faith issues.
• A white collar professional secretly addicted to porn.

An average of 3 a week for almost 5 years now. Over 1,000 people personally counseled (in one way or another). And counting.

I used to blame the church for all this pain — but not any more. In my experience — most of this pain is born more out of the human condition than it is anyone’s fault (per se). Life is just tough. There is significant joy and pain both inside and outside of Mormonism. Each of us must pick our pain package…so to speak. And it’s pretty much always a mixed bag — church or no church. I’ve found that I’m much, much happier within the church — but that’s just me. I know others that claim to be much happier since leaving…and I applaud anyone for finding increased joy amidst the pain of this life.

Still — my heart has not stopped feeling for the struggling within Mormonism. I continually puzzle at how hard it is for some folks to constructively work through their pain (myself included). I don’t minimize the complexity of the issues. I just wish that healing was somehow easier within this particular body of Christ…which I happen to love immensely.

As I think about the role the Bloggernacle has played in all of this — I am convinced that overall, it has been a tremendously positive force for good within Mormonism. In reality, my small efforts are a drop in the bucket compared to what you all have been able to do collectively. There are so many thoughtful, yet faithful members of the ‘Nacle (Kevin Barney, Margaret Young, DMI Dave, Angela Clayton, Brian Johnston, FMHLisa, etc.) that provide healthy examples of how to know all of the tough stuff — and yet believe. Just providing a place for the discussion of tough issues can be a godsend to so many who are suffering in silence. Sometime knowing you are not alone is 80% of the battle. So kudos to all of you for opening up the conversation, providing places to share, and most of all — for providing a crucial “community of support within a community of support”. Even if unintentional.

As I close, here are 5 questions I leave for all of us…myself included:
1) What can we, within the Mormon internet writ large, do to better support those in pain? I know we are doing a lot. But can we do more?
2) How can we extend the reach of the Mormon Internet — to make more and more people feel welcome and not excluded (without diluting the wonderful community you/we have built)?
3) What can we do to better augment the written word with the human touch, and with the physical eyes of understanding that only face-to-face interactions allow? Could an annual bloggernacle conference, or even more audio/visual resources (such as podcasts, videocasts, interviews, etc.) supplement the incredible text-based communities that are clearly flourishing?
4) How might we aggregate the “best of the Bloggernacle” into a centralized resource that provides more directed support to those in need?
5) Most importantly, how do we support positive growth in the institutional church in ways that do not simultaneously weaken this incredible force for good in the world?

These are my 5 questions for the Bloggernacle, and for myself, as I reflect upon the past 5 years, and look ahead to graduate school. I hope to develop some solutions to these problems with some of you in the years ahead. Even if only as an outsider. Regardless, thanks to all of you for blessing my life in innumerable ways.

John Dehlin

27 Responses to 5 Questions After 5 Years – From A Longtime ‘Nacle Wannabe

  1. August 20, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    1 — That’s not what we’re all here for. Maybe we need to learn a little bit about how to support people in pain. Which means sometimes giving a teddy bear and a blanky, and, sometimes, a kick in the butt, and having the wisdom to know when to do which. This is an art, not a science, so it takes some practice, but having some capacity for both, and an understanding that both are needed, is a place to start.

    2 — In the beginning was the Internet First Ward (Kevin Barney and Greg Prince can tell you about it), and it was able to serve essentially all who wanted it. From then until now, the internet Mormon community has outgrown the ability for any one internet forum to serve the needs of everybody who wants to, just as the Church has outgrown the ability for one ward or stake or region to hold everybody in it. So there will be new forums coming and going all the time to meet temporary or longer-term needs as time goes by. “We” are only a small fraction of the internet Mormon community.

    3 — Some local snackers are a good idea, and I encourage more of them. But few of us have the capability of significant travel to meet internet people, and so whatever in-person contact we’re going to have is going to be at a rather local level, with larger-reaching conferences taking place through existing gatherings like Sunstone.

    4 — To really reach the whole internet Mormon community, this will need to be done by the institutional Church (and I understand that that will have issues for non-LDS Mormons, but nothing is perfect). That might happen — MormonTimes.com has not only reported events at Sunstone, they’ve also had a bloggernacle column since they went online. But we have to understand that many Mormons don’t want to see challenging things that you and I like, and just want to learn how to do their genealogy, scrap-booking, food-storage, scouting, etc. They are just as validly Mormon as those who feel marginalized are.

    5 — I think it comes in processing our own pain and finding respectful ways to bring our legitimate concern to the leaders of the Church in ways that will not trigger defensiveness on their part. Protests and demonstrations will fail without exception, and expecting change to happen at the pace we might want will also fail. But, when the leaders see that the purpose of the exercise isn’t to take control away from the prophet and God or to tear down the Church, I think there will be opportunities for conversations that can be constructive. As Covey would put it, we need to seek first to understand, and, then, to be understood. The position of leaders of the Church is very difficult, and failing to take that into account will lead to counterproductive conversations. The Church isn’t going to stop being the Church, but it has and will change significantly over time.

  2. John M.
    August 20, 2009 at 3:27 pm

    Thank you John Dehlin. Listening to Mormon Stories right now as I write this.

  3. John M.
    August 20, 2009 at 3:36 pm

    Is it just me, or is the Bloggernacle considered somewhat taboo in your wards/stakes? I don’t know anyone else in my ward who even knows what the Bloggernacle is. And when I bring it up, people look at me like I have been surfing something terrible like porn sites. How can this stigma be overcome?

  4. August 20, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    I think #2 is handled by the blogging format almost automatically. It’s very easy to find a community within blogspace (your blogroll) where you can be once linked into the larger community and yet have a discussion space that’s intimate enough that your voice isn’t drowned out in the crowd.

    This is one of the reasons I prefer blogging over forums (see my friend, the Internet ) : in blogspace you have a range of interlinked/overlapping communities — each with different tones — whereas in a forum the tone typically gets set by a few dominant voices.

    For #3, there were a lot of ‘nacclers at the Sunstone Symposium…

  5. Ray
    August 20, 2009 at 4:54 pm

    Comment #3 – fwiw:

    In my former ward, from which I moved only two months ago, there is a LARGE blogging community – and a few of them actively read in “the Bloggernacle”. I regularly mentioned my blogging and quoted things “blogging friends” said in the talks I gave in that stake – and I never took flack of any kind from anyone.

    I have mentioned that I blog regularly in my new ward, and nobody has said a word to me about it. I even have someone who follows my personal blog quite regularly who probably is in my new ward – but I have no idea who it is.

    Since those who lurk FAR outnumber those who comment (exponentially), I think we have little idea how many people read what we say in the Bloggernacle.

    I will have to try to answer your questions later, John. I am out of time this evening. Just know that I admire you tremendously for your willingness to share your pain publicly and help others deal with theirs constructively. We certainly need more of that in the world.

  6. GBSmith
    August 20, 2009 at 7:33 pm

    As regards #1 people are helped by the testimonies born, though I expect some would be loathe to admit that what they’re writing qualifies as testimony. Reading that some have found a way for themselves to explain the dissonances that are there and just soldier on has sort of kept me going for now though I do wish there was some better options than to not think about it, it doesn’t matter, just shelve it, etc.. I do get aggravated by those on both ends of the spectrum who have it all figured out and express disdain for those who don’t.

    I don’t expect though that those that regularly comment are trying to help those in “pain”. It seems more a chance to have a discussion they’d likely never have or anonymously express feelings that could never be spoken aloud at home or in church.

    Extending the reach, I think, if best done by treating people with respect when they comment. MM seems to do a pretty good job trying trying to keep things civil, thanks to Ray, the wise, the beneficent, the merciful (what a guy), and others. It really only takes someone turning a discussion into blood sport to make an occasional like me go back to just lurking.

    Lastly, how to we support positive growth in the institutional church without weakening it as a force for good in the world? That one’s easy. Do our home/visiting teaching or at least love our neighbors.

  7. Charles
    August 21, 2009 at 4:06 am

    what happened to the Ballard entry?

  8. August 21, 2009 at 4:57 am

    7 — Author took it down.

  9. August 21, 2009 at 7:38 am

    My ward has 2 Naccle regulars besides me. One is a regular commenter (and was recently released from being District President), the other a regular blogger at one of the naccle sites (and recently moved from the Bishopric to the High Council.)
    It’s not taboo in our ward :)

  10. pjbrownie
    August 21, 2009 at 9:31 am

    Often the pain is self-infliceted, or it is a product of being deceived.

    That being, said, it is still pain, and we all need to do a better job at reaching out to these afflicted no matter the locus of the pain.

  11. August 21, 2009 at 11:08 am

    “2) How can we extend the reach of the Mormon Internet — to make more and more people feel welcome and not excluded (without diluting the wonderful community you/we have built)?”

    This is where I sometimes feel torn. For the most part, I keep my blogging a complete secret from fellow members that know me personally. On occasion, I’ve felt like telling certain people about it (who are personally struggling with certain issues, or know someone who is) because I think it could benefit them and others. To the handful of people (and I mean no more than a handful), I’ve had mixed experiences:

    One seemed intrigued, another found solace, another seemed to ignore me afterwards, and yet another did NOT get the response I hoped for and sort of sent me “back into the closet.”

    In the last case mentioned, I had felt really strongly prompted to share John’s telecast “Why People Leave the LDS Church” with my branch pres and stake pres, whom I had both good contact with before and whom I felt were both open and humble men I could talk to. I did not tell them about my blogging and do not intend on doing so. But I thought they needed to see John’s presentation for a couple of reasons:

    a) As leaders, they would find it helpful to understand how certain members “see” things, myself included, which they were already somewhat aware of since I had previously discussed a bit about my crisis of faith and historical issues.

    b) My branch president’s daughter went inactive a while ago and from what they’ve told me, a friend of hers who read things online about the Church and later had her membership removed — as well as her husband and kids — were having an influence on her. No doubt this young couple went through what most of us here have gone through and no doubt the branch pres’ daughter was having her “eyes opened” to shocking things she had never heard of. So, without my having to explicitly say to my branch pres, “this is probably how your daughter sees things now,” I had hoped that a lightbulb would go off and that he would be thankful for this “insight” and know how to help her. Instead, he declined to comment on anything that I shared and let the stake pres answer for the both of them. I still admire my stake pres and I don’t hold any malice towards him, but I was deeply disappointed that he accused John of employing anti-Mormon tactics, whether consciously or unconsciously, stated his opinion that people don’t leave the Church over historical issues but rather an unwillingness to live the Gospel, and disputed my claim that John was a respected person that many Mormons had benefitted from. Sorry John, he didn’t have any kind words to say about you. :) I found it interesting that to outline his “reasons” for this, he directed me to John’s Wikipedia entry, which I of course had already read and never had an issue with. I have to admit, I was sorely disappointed at the fact that he had such harsh words for someone whom I credit with helping me stay in the Church, not to mention the fact that it was quite a judgment upon somoene whose work he was entirely unfamiliar with. I was a bit perturbed, but I let it go. I realized that starting a debate with them would just cause me trouble.

    So now I feel torn as I feel that I need to reach out to others who are where I am/was, but I’m also afraid of letting the cat too far out of the bag and creating serious trouble for myself. In a way, a part of me wants to keep the Bloggernacle as a closely-guarded secret, so that it’s more “private” and gives us all more freedom to openly discuss without fear of backlash. But at the same time, I’ve seen people leave the Church who may have stayed had they found the online support that I have.

  12. hawkgrrrl
    August 21, 2009 at 11:29 am

    I’ve been totally open about blogging, but I think that there are probably mixed feelings from people about it. A friend once said that someone might have a strange perception of me because of my blogging, and I just said, “I stand by what I have written.” I think it’s possible to misunderstand what someone has blogged, but that’s possible in the comments we make at church, too. It’s always possible to be misunderstood. In fact, it’s probably only about 5% likelihood anyone will be perfectly understood at any given time.

    But, so what? The Lord looketh on the heart. I think people who don’t participate at all in the b’nacle might be skeptical of it. Those who are exceptionally orthodox might be downright suspicious of it. I think people who do participate might be a little more unorthodox anyway, but (unless you hang back at church and never open your mouth or make friends) the truth will out. And certainly, our personal interactions with people are more meaningful to our ward personas than are whatever they think we might be saying on line (about what, to whom). The stigma of the bloggernacle is probably equivalent in some circles to the stigma of Jesus in talking to the lepers (yes, I just called us all lepers) or in hanging out with publicans and sinners. We’re a very small minority of the membership. But we have to be who we are. The only harm, IMO, is in not being true to who you are.

  13. August 21, 2009 at 11:32 am

    “But we have to be who we are. The only harm, IMO, is in not being true to who you are.”

    The true me wants out, but I’m not so sure it’s safe to do so. :)

  14. GBSmith
    August 21, 2009 at 12:34 pm

    RE: #13

    Let the church say amen. SS, priesthood, and RS classes are not forums for free discussion. You do so at your peril. Online forums and discussions like MM allow as I said above someone to anonymously say what they couldn’t say elsewhere. It’s unlikely that most of us could even find another person to talk to unless we lived and worked in an academic setting that we’d feel safe to bring these things up. My interest is not to help other’s that are in “pain”. I have my own beams to deal with. My sense if the author wants to save the world for want of a better term but I’m not sure that the bloggernacle’s collective job. The institutional church maybe but it’s little like a reporter I talked to once about an investigative piece her was doing. He drew a clear line between what he was doing and what the law was supposed to do and it wasn’t to do their job for them.

    Aggregating the “best of the bloggernacle” to me suggests correlating, for want of a better term, it into something that someone, singular or plural, decides is good and useful. That to me is a really bad idea and if I’m off base as it’s being a potential consequence, feel free to correct me. These things should live or die on their own merits. The author’s decision to take down the Ballard post is an example of what can happen. I only read of few of the comments and didn’t see how it was playing out. My sense is that if it would have stayed up some of the voices of reason would have weighed in and it would have come to a quiet and acceptable conclusion but now we’ll never know and that what you get when someone becomes the decider. I agree that not every rabid pro or anti mormon whose comments are a combination of vitriol, bile and a disappearingly small amount of reason need to be given chance to be read and I think MM does a good job of discernment in that regard.

    Lastly, my sense if that the author is on a mission and I wish him well. But the reality is that most of us aren’t and are just grateful to have someone in an online sense to have someone to talk too.

  15. Andrew Ainsworth
    August 21, 2009 at 1:35 pm

    Beautiful, John. At the risk of sounding cliche, I’ve long appreciated your tireless work in leaving the 99 to embrace the one. Ironically, you’ve taken your share of flak from “the faithful” who have only seen you as leaving the 99. But you’re certainly not the first to be misunderstood for leaving the 99 to embrace the one; in fact, you’re in some pretty good company brother. :)

  16. Jen
    August 21, 2009 at 1:51 pm

    FaithfulDissident-

    I just read an interesting story about anonymous blogging:

    http://www.cnn.com/2009/TECH/08/21/outing.anonymous.bloggers/index.html

  17. August 21, 2009 at 2:09 pm

    GBSmith, I never intended on discussing any of this openly in SS or RS. I never have. The only times I ever discussed anything remotely personal was during personal conversation behind closed doors or via e-mail.

    “My interest is not to help other’s that are in “pain”. I have my own beams to deal with.”

    I see others in pain, I like to at least try to help if I can. Maybe I’m just weird that way.

  18. August 21, 2009 at 2:12 pm

    Jen, thanks for the link. That was interesting.

  19. sxark
    August 21, 2009 at 3:03 pm

    To All:

    I feel so “small” after reading the preamble and all your responses, since I have only been involved like this on the internet for a couple of months or so.
    My motivation for coming online to Mormon – like sites is simply that we all are living in a “new” age where LDS missionaries meet prospective members and give “inspired” testomonies that touch the hearts of these prospects.
    And the first thing these prospects probably do, after the missionaries leave, is go on the internet to find out more info on this LDS church.
    So sites, like ‘Mormon Matters’ may have a much higher impact than one might think.
    I have done more scriptual reading in the last 2 months than in probably the last 5 years, just so I can verify what someone said about this Prophet or that Apostle and what they said etc.
    I know that I may come across somewhat ‘less than humble’ at times. But I’m working on that. – maybe.

  20. GBSmith
    August 21, 2009 at 3:15 pm

    RE:#16

    By not wanting to help other’s pain I meant here on MM. And until I’ve fixed myself trying to fix others is not something I’m qualified for. In the world I’ve been accused of being vicious and abusive but never heartless or lacking empathy.

  21. Mike S
    August 21, 2009 at 3:24 pm

    #12: The truth will out…

    I don’t think I’ve said a word in any discussions at church for months or years. I sit in the back and listen. And that’s the extent of it. It’s not “safe” to deviate from the correlated lesson, and in fact we are specifically asked not to “speculate” but just stick to what SL hands us.

  22. August 21, 2009 at 3:26 pm

    I don’t think it’s necessary to have to “fix” a person in order to help them through their pain. Sometimes a non-judgmental listening ear can work wonders.

  23. pinkpatent
    August 21, 2009 at 3:28 pm

    Just letting people know that they are not alone can be a godsend.

  24. August 21, 2009 at 3:31 pm

    I do the same, Mike. I’ve probably only commented a handful of times the past 6-7 years (or more).

    As far as deviating from the lesson manual, I think that a lot of members are only comfortable with a certain kind of deviation. Whereas our comments could cause problems, a friend of mine in Idaho witnessed his SS teacher bring in a clip of Glenn Beck to add to the lesson — without any objection. :)

  25. sxark
    August 21, 2009 at 4:21 pm

    John Dehlin:

    This appears to be the most important blog on MM. But the title, at 1st glance, does not appear interesting.
    Suggest you change it – to develop more interest.

  26. sxark
    August 21, 2009 at 7:43 pm

    one recommendation: “The 5 most important questions”

  27. September 1, 2009 at 12:18 am

    I greatly admire John for the work he’s done. It took me through my crisis and helped me to have a source I could go to as I tried to find what I felt was a valid un-biased viewpoint. By going right to the source for controversial material, I felt his interviews held validity.

    Now… I’m trying to make the way softer for those who are following behind. I’m part of the panel of folks over at http://mormonexpression.com/ who are moving forward in the LDS podcasting area. I’m proud to be part of that work and have great hopes for it moving forward.

    I think there will always be the internet and strong search engines to find out truth. What there does not exist is a real life friend for people to go to. Until we find a method for people to reach out and touch in real life, the only way we will find is through on-line resources.

    Even then, this is a personal decision. The choice that I make, that you make, that John has made, or those who resign membership is their choice. I think our role is to be accepting of whatever choice the person makes that is right for them. We need to take off the judgmental viewpoint that we’ve been taught to assume about people and accept spiritual choices as a personal issue and to love them.

    My opinion only.

    Encourage all to check out our podcasts: http://mormonexpression.com/

    Thanks,
    George

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