Approaching but never reaching…

Those who frequent the Bloggernacle are sure to have noticed various references to two recent press releases posted on the Church’s official website (here and here), “Approaching Mormon History” and “Approaching Mormon Doctrine.” I would like to post on the content of those statements at another time, but for now I am struck first by the manner in which they were released and second, by their titles.

I have heard pleased responses to the release of these statements both in personal conversations with other Latter-day Saints and in discussions on the Bloggernacle. I count myself among that group. I do appreciate it when the Church makes clear difficult issues. In some instances, we might prefer that things are left somewhat vague in order to provide us with “wiggle room.” But in both instances, I think that these statements were needed for the membership’s own benefit.

I was intrigued to see that the Church chose to release them through the official Church website. To my knowledge, they were not read in sacrament meeting like other official Church correspondence and they have not (yet) been published in the Ensign, which carries most other official Church news. I am unaware whether they have been published in the weekly Church News. What a remarkable development if they have only been released through the website. Is the audience really the press? Or does the Church know that the official website gets so much use and scrutiny by members that it feels that such a location is ideal and/or sufficient? I checked briefly and discovered that it is not available in other languages or on the web pages for other countries that may be accessed through the LDS.org portal. I am concerned that it may only be intended for the Church “literati” and those who typically follow such things, and completely inapplicable to the average member of the Church (who may not speak English or visit the Church website with any frequency). It could be some kind of test run and will be published more broadly in the future. Are we being subtly encouraged to submit comments and reactions? I appreciate the Church throwing the Internet generation and the Bloggernacle a bone here. But it raises as many questions as it answers.

Moving on to the titles, I am struck immediately by two features. First, the use of “Mormon” rather than “Latter-day Saint.” This use of a colloquialism (which the Church has previously (but mildly) disclaimed its use here. This seems to me another point in favor of reading this as being a release simply for the media and not for general Church membership. However, I think that most Church members have never stopped calling themselves Mormons anyway; at least I never have. The second thing is the use of the word “Approaching” in the title. To those of a post-modern bent, this seems to indicate that we can approach Mormon doctrine and Mormon history but never actually reach a true understanding of it. My impression has always been that the Church was hostile to post-modernism (perhaps unjustifiably). Mormons have always been proud of their free agency and past Church leaders (Joseph Smith and David O. McKay in particular) have rejoiced in their freedom to believe as they wished. Among the general membership, there seems to be a much greater emphasis on orthodoxy and setting down the “correct version” of Mormon doctrine (probably an outgrowth of Bruce R. McConkie and Joseph Fielding Smith’s tenure in the Quorum of the Twelve). Should I perceive some shift? I am not sure how I feel about the GAs ending vague signals through Internet press releases, but I may be reading too much into it in the first place.

Then again, perhaps very little thought went into choosing the titles and they were simply looking for something that sounded nice and catchy. I will admit that it is an equal if not greater possibility.

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One thought on “Approaching but never reaching…

  1. On the contrary, I think that church scholars have actually embraced post-modernist theory in many ways to prove that official, faith-based versions of church history are just as good as anyone else’s versions. “Faithful” Mormon scholars have been heavily criticized for retreating into post-modernist “we can’t really know anything about history” attitudes by people like our friend John-Charles Duffy. Bushman and I spoke about this once; he thinks that the pendulum is swinging back toward people making more assertions about the truthfulness of history, and that this ideological move will actually harm rather than help Mormon scholars since they never line up with the majority on issues of church history.

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