Liveblogging the FAIR Conference, part 2

08.02.2013 | Blair Hodges

I’m here at the 2013 FAIR Conference in Provo, Utah. I’ll be posting some of my notes throughout the day with minimal to no editorial comment. The speakers don’t represent FAIR or the Maxwell Institute, and these notes are incomplete. Be sure to consult the full transcripts/videos when they become available from FAIR. Live-streaming is available for a small fee here. Yesterday’s notes can be read here–BHodges

Yesterday, FAIR announced a re-branding. They have a new logo, with a newly designed website on the way.

Lynne Wilson, “Was Joseph Smith a Product of the Second Great Awakening?”

JS said Mormons differed from other sects especially with regard to the gift of the Holy Ghost. Were JS’s ideas developed in reaction to his culture? Were his biblical interpretations the same? How were his interpretations of the Bible with regard to the Holy Ghost different from his contemporaries? Pneumatology. The three most popular sermon themes of JS’s time were revelation, depravity, and the Trinity. The first and third points involved theology of the Holy Spirit. JS differed on a few main points: Trinity, closed canon, gifts of spirit, election.

1. Trinity. Majority of American Christians believed in the trinity, defended beliefs against deists and Unitarians. Alexander Campbell, Ann Lee, etc., had various takes on it, but JS had different views than all of them. For instance, taught that Holy Ghost is waiting to become embodied as Jesus did.

2. Closed vs. Open canon. Bible as centerpiece, inspired, literally from spirit, source of authority (Protestant). The only infallible rule of faith. Biblical words separated truth from fiction. JS claimed new scripture, equal in authority to the Bible. It was labeled as “blasphemy” by some. Situated in a long line of frauds, fanaticism. JS did not fit in, simply put.

3. Gifts of the Spirit vs. Fruits. The Second Great Awakening had much controversy on this point. Some eschewed them, others had diverse manifestations like rolling, barking, tongues, etc. Peter Cartwright on “the jerks.” Many visionaries. Charles Finney, O. Bronson, Lorenzo Dow, etc. Some similar to JS in claims of early visions. (Recommends Leigh Eric Schmidt’s book,†Hearing Things.) Rather than gifts of the spirit (healing, tongues, etc.) some preachers emphasized fruits of the Spirit. Some taught that gifts of the Spirit were no longer needed, etc. JS emphasized gift of the Holy Ghost as being enjoyed as much now as in the apostles’ day. D&C 46, a revelation on gifts of the Spirit, like Moroni 10, which paralleled 1 Corinthians 12. D&C list is longer than either of those other examples. Refers to Peter Cartwright’s discussion with Joseph Smith, JS emphasizing gits of the Spirit.

4. Election vs. Sealing by Holy Spirit of Promise. Westminster confession refers to predestination; election occurs through God’s will, an effectual call by God’s free and special grace, based not on any man’s actions. Chas. Finney said the Spirit influenced humans, it was voluntary, people would be influenced by the Spirit but would choose themselves. JS was set apart by claiming it wasn’t once saved, always saved, or the falling away from grace irretrievably. He situated election within human volition with the importance of ordinances and the sealing of the “holy spirit of promise” D&C 76:53. JS proposed various types of seals. A temporary seal that could be removed if a person breaks their part of the involved covenant. A sure seal was possible, calling and election could be made sure. Eph. 1:13.

JS claimed the Mormons believed the Bible more than other sects, but that his doctrines were revealed independently. Similarity and source are not the same thing. JS’s theology of the Spirit increased in numbers, names, and details as compared to other Christian groups.

Numbers: Bible word count: 790,868. D&C/BoM: [apx.] 374,000. But the Mormon scriptures reference the Holy Spirit much more frequently by comparison. [She has a chart showing calculated word rations, showing ref. to Spirit in Mormon scriptures are higher. Not sure how she identified such references.]

Names, titles: “Spirit of the Lord,” or “Spirit of the Lord Omnipotent,” (25 in the OT, 5 in the NT, 40 in the BoM). The BoM claims to begin in OT era, and this suggests it was. “Power of the Holy Ghost” (OT=1, BoM=25).

[Goes on to compare more phraseology in the scriptures which refer to “the Spirit,” etc. The essential thrust of the paper seems to be that JS was not a product of the Second Great Awakening because he emphasized different things about the role and gifts of the Holy Ghost.]

Rosalynde Welch, “Disenchanted Mormonism: Practicing a rooted religion”

Part one: “The Enchanted Forest.” Shakespeare’s As You Like It†takes place in an enchanted forest. Every experience there is more vivid, it is a spiritually rich place. Every tree and stone radiates spiritual significance. Even winter winds act as counselors persuading us as to what we are. Truer identities and relationships are available. I was named after a character in that play, Rosalynde,†but did not inherit that rich spiritual significance, shared with spirits. I’m not saying these spiritual beings and ways are not real, only that they are not given to me in my own experience. The veil is thick for this Rosalynde.

My title is a bit of wordplay, I’m not a disenchanted Mormon, I am Mormon to the bone. Nor am I disenchanted with Mormonism. But I’m interested in thinking about disenchanted Mormonism, living as an engaged LDS even if you lack a strong spiritual sense of engagement like me. I’m borrowing term from Max Weber, who traced the process of secularization, but I’m purposing it from its sociological sense into a more personal state. Identify and describe this condition is my purpose, using my own experience as reference point. It is a minority report.

Flashes of spiritual knowledge, conviction that prayers are heard and answered, moments of confirmation, these are rare experiences for me. It isn’t that I don’t “feel” the Spirit. Sometimes I feel the emotion, chills, joy, but these don’t self-interpret for me as manifestations of the Spirit. I’m more inclined to feel lucky than blessed. My immediate perceptions give ma a beautiful good world, but not a connection to an otherworldly godly realm. This-worldly, rooted to living present, is my connection. The community, ritual, rooted connection to family and church history, etc. I am religious but not spiritual. I am classic Mormon, returned missionary, temple marriage, active, raising kids in the church, etc. Maybe I failed to train my spiritual perception properly. I try to listen to other people’s spiritual experiences. In general, I don’t dwell on these questions, though. I concentrate on understanding how to live meaningfully now in this disenchanted forest.

Part two: “Spiritual but not Religious.” Spiritual experience has been the heart of religion. William James points to the mystical experiences, making us aware of a spiritual sphere beyond us. Dogma, etc. are secondary. Primary, sustaining feature is the numinous. Charismatic experiences so much more common and central to early LDS. The heart of modern LDS spirituality is in personal encounter, personal knowledge intuited in study, or in testimony meetings, answered prayers, etc. Institutional religion and spiritual experiences have been connected, but are also separable. Is institution required? Reformation moved encounter with God out of confessional into private closet. Many unaffiliated consider themselves to be spiritual seekers. A recent study indicates many people, “unaffiliateds,” feel spiritual without religion (Pew, and in Campbell’s†American Grace). Institutions insufficient and unnecessary. The Restoration began at a way-station along this path. JS felt he could access God himself through prayer. JS was for a time spiritual but not religious. Out of communal into individual spirituality. My question is: what sense can we make of the other side, the religious but not spiritual? Like me, limited access to personal spirituality. Are the communal elements and pageantry and ritual enough?

This question is acute for LDS. Restoration affirms connection to spiritual world, dialogic revelation. Conviction that our relationships transcend death, etc. How does LDS without deep connection to these things fit in? My question isn’t why would a person chose to stay. To preserve family, status, practical benefits of community, sentimental affection, identification with culture, hope in or respect for teachings, etc. I stay for all of these reasons, but I don’t dwell on reason-seeking. Skeptical of my ability to access my true motivations. I just know I belong to Restoration, it claims me as a child. Membership in community is not lifestyle choice or an assumed identity, it is a given, as Wendell Barry noted.

Part Three: “The New Paradigm of Doubt.” One way to interpret my position would be a sustained life of doubt. Doubt is the remainder of a fractured certainty, experienced as emotional, epistemological, existential crisis. Gives way to Dover Beach, the scene of perplexity that remains when faith recedes as a tide. This is a painful place. But probably never a better time than now to be a doubting Mormon! A lifting of the taboo of doubting has begun. Elder Holland said be candid with questions. Stopped short of accepting doubt as part of discipleship, but opened the door to it. A redemptive model of doubt is perhaps best framed in LDS by Terryl Givens. Faith as redemptive choice to believe in face of uncertainty. Doubt is midwife of authentic faith. One receives various pulls, and one chooses to embrace. Faith, the choice to believe, is positively laden with moral significance. First: doubt reaches crisis point, next doubter finds self in state of radical freedom, finally, chooses belief. Empowering concepts, thanks to Givens for neutralizing shade surrounding doubt. The logic seems to require that ultimate doubt can only be understood as sin, but it is still elegant, not that he was waiting for my endorsement [laughter]. It doesn’t fit my experience. I’m not prone to crisis. Not feeling torn, I simply have felt I was given a different type of world. Language of faith crisis doesn’t fit for me personally. Perhaps others are like me, but they begin to interpret their experience in terms of the faith crisis narrative. The crisis formulation, which casts it as moments rather than a state to live in, calls people to cast their lot either for or against now, rather than living with ambiguity. Also, the mostly-free choosing self seems less crucial than awareness of our own limitation, obligation, dependence, incompleteness. Two paradoxical constructions of Personhood in LDS scripture: Sufficiency as autonomous co-intelligence. The other, our eternal involvement with and obligations to other, the insufficiency of the choosing self. The latter draws me more than the former. I reach LDS on a level beyond conscious choice.

Part four: “Puzzle, Attend, Observe.” I propose an alternative sequence than the faith crisis. My experience has not been conventional religious doubt, an agonizing knife edge demanding resolution through decision. My state is one of puzzlement. Gentler, sustainable state of mind. Entails patience, stillness, humility. We find ourselves puzzled by God’s will, personal occasions of faith which aren’t measured by our capacity to choose but in our insufficiency to comprehend or decide. Faith begins when we begin to say I don’t understand. Not a choice to believe, but the fortunate failure of the mortal mind. When we meet these moments we attend. Attend in all senses: accompany, care for, serve, pay attention, notice. Not a sense of heightened freedom, but heightened attention. The stones in the disenchanted forest may be stones only, but they richly repay our focused attention. From the state of quiet attention to what is given, one is prepared to Observe. To see it, hold in sustained view. Adopt it, observe it, observant. What value lies in this without undergirding spiritual meaning? Some are inherently rewarding. Some rules, without infused spiritual meaning, feel arbitrary. Why do Fast Sundays? No conviction of spiritual rewards, religion collection of folkways to hunt through for just the good ones. To the contrary, I think one gift of religion to the unenchanted is in asking for observance to such rules. These moments dissolve the conscious separate self, and you join a larger body. Obedience monetarily frees us from demands of the self. And I know I am sharing the experience, connected to my tribe.

Part 5: “The Road to Emmaus.” We moderns find in the NT two narratives for dealing with doubt. First is Thomas who seeks empirical basis. The other is frantic father of ailing child, acknowledging his failure, but asks for help. A third captures mine more fully. Disciples on the road. It isn’t the re-enchantment at the end that catches me, the heart burning within us. I try to maintain a mind and heart open to this re-enchantment, hope it will be given to me, but for now I live on the road to Emmaus, and it is a good place to walk. They are confronted with two things, Jesus’s divinity versus his death, and they walk and observe the here and now. Attend to one another, to ordinary man walking along with them. Converse, commune, reason together. Absence of spiritual world here root them to relationships in the given moment. Abide with us.

Q: What is your approach to confirming claims of leaders, or decisions in your life? A similar process of prayer, meditation, seeking, pondering. A way seems to open itself to me. Not seeming to me like the spirit telling me, though perhaps it is, that isn’t what I perceive now though.

Q: Don’t we tend to have spiritual experiences, then forget over time, hence the charge to remember him? Yes, I think there is great value in recalling past experiences, interpreting from new perspective, when the spiritual well has run dry. My concern is that our attention may be directed too long to the past or the future and we miss the present.

Q: Could a member in mode of patient puzzlement be a missionary and testify of gospel, and is this just cultural Mormonism? A: I don’t feel myself free to accept or deny various aspects of Mormonism. Of course, I’m not perfectly observant as all of us, but I do try to live up to the faith as fully as I can, and not to fulfill family relationships, etc. The value goes much deeper than that, it is a mode of relating to the world that allows me to tame the self and ego. My sister just entered MTC on Wednesday. Yes, it is difficult for me to testify in the typical way. Something about my way of being in the church that makes witnessing more difficult; I’m glad other people have spiritual gifts to fulfill that role in the Church.

Q: Given your slight spiritual connection, what ties you to church values and norms? It is simply given to me, a basic part of my identity. It’s not a question of choosing, I don’t experience it that way. Feels stronger to me than a choice.

Q: What are your expectations for prayer? A: Struggled with it a bit. I love family prayers, central ritual of my family, I love the feeling of togetherness, different from spiritual communion with God. I do still pray, I love the Bible dictionary entry on it, speaks of it as an exercise in submitting will to God. Meditation, calming thoughts and whirling anxieties, so I do find prayer to be valuable religious practice, but difficult to sustain.

Q: What are your convictions about divinity of God, Jesus, truthfulness of the BoM, etc.? Sometimes when I go to temple rec. interview I wonder how I will answer. I don’t frame these things in terms of belief, but affirmation. I can affirm that I accept the prophets and scriptures as holy. They witness these things, and I affirm that. And I fulfill my covenants. Faithful relationship to covenants rather than belief. To me, belief is not the central part of faith; I try to pay attention to the world, etc.

Don Bradley, “The Original Context of the First Vision Narrative: 1820s or 1830s?”

The First Vision (FV) doesn’t lend itself very naturally to humor, I noticed while preparing this paper. It’s a model we use for personal revelation, in addition to being a founding narrative of the LDS Church. Yet, there are new explicit accounts of the events that weren’t recorded until a dozen years later. Critics point out the time lapse, claiming that JS crafted it in the 1830s. I tend to pick on Dan Vogel here, because he makes a good foil. I hope he isn’t insulted; his is a good foil. If skeptical interpreters are correct, JS story was made to meet needs JS had as a church leader. The narrative should match the 1820s context, or the case of critics is stronger. Test this today. Work on this has been done with regard to religious revivals going on in upstate New York. JS placed the FV in that context. Scholars have debated whether his narrative fits the revival context. In the late 1960s Wesley Walter argued there was no such revival, with battles on that to the present. That area of contest is a burned-over problem. Contemporaneous evidence supports JS claims. The debate has begun at the wrong place, I suggest. His early crucible was the family hearth. If JS created his FV for ecclesiastical purposes, it reflected concerns of the Church. If in the 1820s it should reflect his family culture and youthful experiences.

1. Does JS’s report fit the religious context of his community in 1820s? Were there revivals as he described? 1916-1817 revival months before he turned 12, age he reported becoming deeply concerned with his soul. Some say there was no 1820 revival since no local revivals reported in press. Technically true that mtg. not reported, but did have a report on a camp mtg. attendee.

2. JS’s accounts of economic context are important. Doomed to maintaining scanty living by daily labor. Shaped by three disasters. A swindle of his father. Second, 1816 eruption of volcano prolonging winter. Crops failed. Year without a summer. Had a good size farmland, starting over. 1819-1825, 60 acres of timber were cleared and developed into fields, meadows, garden, orchard. Don Enders researched this. It was a huge property with dense timber, stumps to be uprooted. Third disaster was Panic of 1819. Farm foreclosure notices show how it hit people like the Smiths. Farm life was incredibly insecure at this point. Would he feel doomed to scanty maintenance, etc.? Accurately recounts his circumstances.

3. JS’s prophetic development; compare to contexts of his early development as prophet and seer. O. Cowdery was given gift of working with rod of nature. JS acquired seer stone and gift to use it. When and how? Historians (with one exception) begin with him already having the seer role. When and how he acquired gift are thought unanswerable or not considered. When became seer? William Purple dates it to 1823. JS saw a stone in vision in another person’s seer stone; perhaps as early as 1821. Seer stone vision occurred around the time of FV. A light that grew brighter and brighter to match noonday sun. How did he become seer? Given apparent naivete with which he entered the grove, it seems that was his first vision. Through the FV he became a seer. Light enabled him to see God, like Moses, could not bear the presence without transfiguration. Being touched by the light here, received gift of seeing. A later account of the FV from the brother of one of JS’s wives includes an interesting detail not common to other accounts. God touched his eyes. In Book of Abraham a similar thing occurs. Jesus touched eyes in the NT. Enoch touches his own eyes.

4. Compare to the family context. It seems unlikely that the later JS would invent details that closely follow the family circumstances. An account in which JS goes out to a stump where he had struck his ax in a clearing made by his father. Another account, JS placed vision early in Spring. How does the timing correlate with time for labors? Farm work was seasonal, and felling trees undertaken from late fall to early spring when plating would begin. The work we would expect to find JS engaged in at the season would be felling trees, i.e., the ax. Also matches family’s religious activities. JS said: About the age of 12, mind impressed with welfare of immortal soul. William Smith reports that Mother Smith was pious and interested in welfare of children. Encouraged the kids to seek their soul’s salvation by every means possible. Which church was Christ’s, was JS’s question. Sounds like a seeker, holding aloof from other churches. Father and mother were seekers. So was his maternal uncle. Lucy Mack reports retiring to grove to pray on behalf of Joseph Sr., much like JS later did. Practice of praying in grove became family custom, etc. after FV, perhaps the same that had become hallowed by FV. JS said first attempt to pray out loud. In family prayers, parents were the voice.

5.†Compare to his personal activities as a teenager in general. Check his account against accounts of others. JS said he read passage in the Bible that instructed prayer and then didn’t join other churches. Lucy is another witness of these elements, reporting JS said he could learn more by reading the Bible than in going to meeting.†The FV report fits the 1820s context hand-in-glove. The idea that JS crafted it later does not account for these elements adequately. the FV was not a product of his prophetic role, but the producer of that role.

Q: JS arrested for using seer stone to find buried treasure? There is some controversy over whether the 1826 hearing accounts are all correct, but there was an 1826 hearing, there are records of it, yes.

Q: Commonly thought JS didn’t tell family of FV early on, does your account of the Smith family using the sacred grove for prayer contradict that? JS doesn’t immediately tell mother according to the accounts. Lucy talks about grove where they customarily offer their prayers, but this is in 1829, so it would have been almost a decade later. Did JS tell family in that interim? It is possible.

Q: Money-digging and seer stone usage extended beyond FV? I need to delve more into that area, but there’s no question that he became seer, acquired seer stone before began the activities of searching treasure, etc.

Q: Other accounts of JS using stone for other activities? Yes, etc.

Mark Wright, “Heartland as Hinterland:†The Mesoamerican Core and North American Periphery of Book of†Mormon Geography”

The Church has no official position on BoM geography, but several theories exist on where the events in the BoM took place. There is a bitter divide between some models, specifically the “Heartland” model and Mesoamerican model. A possible bridge between this divide is the proposal that the BoM describes events that occurred in Mesoamerica, but that northward migration also occurred, that BoM peoples migrated north, a “Hinterland hypothesis.”

Lamanite encroachment is depicted in the text, the Nephites moving further north. Hagoth took a northward course away from the BoM lands, for instance. This is not a proposal back to “hemisphere model,” where BoM lands named span the continent. But Nephite and Lamanite settlements could have spread northward and elsewhere in histories that are not contained within the Book of Mormon. The record claims to be an abbreviation with set bounds.

In JS’s day, evidence from anywhere on the continent would be appropriated in defense of the BoM. An article in the church paper cited Josiah Priest’s†American Antiquities†and also Stephens and Catherwood,†Incidents of Travel in Central America, Chiapas, and Yucatan.

Can JS’s statements be reconciled with Hinterland hypothesis? Zelph? The Zelph account is a conglomoration of a number of sources. JS never mentioned it specifically, but in a letter to Emma he wrote about Zion’s Camp traversing the “plains of the Nephites,” etc. Heartlanders say this proves these were the BoM lands, Mesoamerican theorists say JS was merely speculating or wrong. But the name and the location is not mentioned in the BoM, it is beyond the text scope, suggesting it is still possible for JS’s claims to be revelatory, but beyond the BoM text and lands.

Alter at Adam-Ondi-Ahman. JS identified a Nephitish alter at Tower Hill, not Nephite alter. Could have been built like the Nephites alter, or by later Nephite people. Other examples, Cumorah, etc.

Evidence for Mesoamerican/North American interaction? Mesoamerican cultural influence is detectable northward. Genetic, linguistic, botanical, ideological, cultural evidence suggests interaction. The Hinterland hypothesis can account for JS’s statements about North American Nephite things, while also allowing for the BoM setting itself to be confined to Mesoamerica.

[His specific examples are in the paper, check them out when the transcript becomes available.]

Q: What about Canada? I think the prophecies and promises from the BoM could extend there, the entire continent. We have Nephite peoples that go north in 50BC, that is plenty of time after that to spread around.

Maxine Hanks, “Working With the Church: Another Narrative”

I’m surprised to be at FAIR. I’ve migrated from Mormon to ex-Mormon to Mormon, from Sunstone to FAIR, although I like to attend both. My return to the Church in 2012 wasn’t sudden, it took two decades. I began working with the church on projects just three years after my excommunication. I hadn’t planned on it, but higher wisdom prevailed. These projects proved to be gifts of grace and healing. Ministry is learning to work with your local leaders, and leaders in general, which I learned while away. Initially, our trust had eroded. Since then, things have changed. My views on women and authority are the same today, but my view of leaders has reversed. Empathy respect appreciation and willingness to work with them. Willingness to work with leaders is what really changed. Negative, positive, dominant narrative and new narrative.

The Negative narrative began in 1993 when there was a purge, if you will. Elder Packer noted threats to the church with intellectuals, feminists, etc. A larger narrative emerged from these events, a negative atmosphere of fear and distrust. Seeing others as enemies. Dissenters and leaders had different narratives, relations to those events. The enemies story tried to write itself onto me, but it wasn’t my story. I was victim nor enemy. I was an editor of a book about women’s authority.

I was moving to a positive narrative. A path of freedom to be myself. I decided to explore my own shadow, not the fears of the leaders. “Why am I angry because of mine enemy?” Between 1999 and 2003, key events helped change my life. And key events that created a shift for the church. Our two narratives overlapped. In 1999 I became involved with an interfaith group. Pres. Hinckley’s son-in-law was part of the interfaith outreach group. I sat next to a man there who I thought did not look LDS. It turned out to be one of the LDS representatives. The people involved extended so much love to me. That same year, Pres. Hinckley announced plans to rebuild Nauvoo temple, an act of healing for the Mormon psyche, to help heal our sense of martyrdom, alienation, etc. I had just finished two years of research on the Nauvoo temple at the time. It was for a project of remaking stone replicas, which were ultimately used as designs for the new temple.

Many Mormon feminists were upset about a statement Pres. Hinckley made in Boston Globe that Mormon women had no complaints. I got hundreds of emails asking for help to respond. No one would go on the record for an editorial response, except one person. They needed two names, so I added mine. At the interfaith roundtable that next week I expected to be released. Instead, Alan Barnes, the son-in-law, reached out to me with more care than ever. Took me seriously and was open to my advice. He was a shepherd going out for the one. Two months later he died. I knew again that Christlike love is the path back.

In May 2001 the Dalai lama vistied Utah and suggested people not proselytize to other faiths, but live deeply in their own. That year, M. Russell Ballard gave a talk on the doctrine of inclusion. Also the Joseph Smith Papers Project was initiated. In 2002, SLC and the Church hosted the Winter Olympics which helped the church improve in relations with the wider world. I co-chaired the interfaith committee. That same year, the Nauvoo Temple was dedicated on June 27. I made a pilgrimage to Nauvoo to tour the temple before the dedication. It was a personal thrill to see that structure and its symbols come to life after I’d spent years researching it. The LDS Council on Mormon Studies formed to prepare for Claremont’s Mormon studies chair. Conferences and lectures have gone on ever since. In 2003, Claudia Bushman sponsored women’s scholar’s seminar at BYU and invited me to speak to the students. That summer my father also died. Intense time period. My relation to Mormonism was healing, more affection and understanding. The positive narrative that emerged was I had misjudged leaders. They were human beings deserving of compassion and respect as much as I deserved. I learned I could work with them. I could be myself and they would respect and accept me as I am. That was the biggest shift. We could accomplish more together than apart.

There were many narratives going on, aside from the negative one of 1993. The psalm of Nephi came to mind. “I know in whom I have trusted, my God hath been my support…he hath heard my cry by day, and given me understanding,” etc. Meantime, the negative narrative had grown larger in the meantime. Often we are battling discourse when we think we are battling a person. Dissenters dreaded church agendas, Church dreaded dissent. Dread hovered. Misreading each other through fear overtook the reality of all the other stories. My own excommunication in the September Six was wrapped up in it. How was it flawed and inaccurate?

1. Every story is unique; no story fits all, but that was the image we were given. 2. We never really knew what Pres. Packer or other church leaders felt, saw, or suffered, we didn’t know their stories or have those conversations. 3. Dominant narrative was overreaction to Elder Packer’s talk. What did he really say? He said dangers, not enemy or threat. He was right, feminists, gays, intellectuals have challenged the church. That’s not all bad, but it’s not all good, either. Much good has come, but polarization has also occurred. I didn’t agree with everything Elder Packer said in 1993, but I agreed with some of it. Especially the admonition to seek spiritual guidance and to work together. 4. Negative narrative worse than reality. Many scholars did work and were not questioned. A few were questioned but defended selves well. Only half dozen were disciplined, and half dozen had to find jobs away from BYU. We were a handful, but just a handful. Uncompromising, held ground, except for Avraham Gileadi. 5. Openly challenging the church with possible lawsuits, etc.

The real enemy was the narrative, the narrative of fear. It obscures real individual lives, writes itself onto real bodies. Replaces freedom and vision with paranoia and fear. For twenty years the story has been told, new people have been inducted. Intellectuals and scholars today are still impacted by it. My own path didn’t fit the dominant narrative, giving me an escape.

Three ideas about changing the dominant, negative narrative. First, recognize it is flawed. Paul said ours is a gospel of faith, not fear. Second, locate your own story, your own unique path, in addition to the dominant narratives. Notice pain, struggle, paradox, your own inner map. The truth of why you’re here. Three, heal the un-healable. Some conflicts or rifts seem to large to bridge. The disaffection between JS and WW Phelps. I identify with both of them. I have not been perfect, as others have not been. Finally, how to get to a new narrative, beyond dominant? Living out a positive narrative let me transcend the dominant. A new relationship with the church and its leaders, a return to full fellowship. The psalm of Nephi, vv. 31-35, Oh Lord, redeem my soul, shut the gates of hell before me, because that my heart is broken and my spirit contrite…etc. The true union of souls is better than compromise. It is in the realm of higher wisdom, divine grace, light and love. It is a truth larger than the individual. A new break-through between two people, beyond limited human vision, mediated by God, found only through trust in God and mediating power of Christ.

What does new narrative look like? Working with church leaders look like? Not a list of suggestions for changes. My journey was about changing myself and finding a different approach. Changing yourself is what I’ll focus on here, working with people you disagree with. How can we authentically and successfully work with leaders, not feeling repressed or repressing others? A few ideas:

First, speak to each other as equals. Don’t silence truth in your heart, speak your truth with compassion and sensitivity, goodwill, positive vision for outcome. Pray and be open to higher wisdom to enter in. Stand back and allow Spirit to show you what you don’t know. Focus on the positive reality amid frustration. Don’t feed into the negative aspects. Whatever we focus on grows. Identify a common vision. Be open to new information. You don’t know the whole story. As St. Frances said, seek to understand more than to be understood. Be open to your own potential. It’s easy to critique, inactive, criticize, versus being engaged. Be open to coincidences that have meaning. Use language of compassion, respect, not inequality, rejection, etc. Language shapes everything we do.

Sum: Not suggesting others must adopt my story, my path, etc. But your story is personal and complex, positive and negative, different from others, but crucial for you to live out and express in larger contexts. Excavate ourselves. Ultimately for me, the LDS Church is worth belonging to and defending. But like us, it is a work in progress. We seek a fulness, but it is something that is still becoming, not fully realized. In the meantime, I strive for faith and love in the face of fear and hatred. Why? I do it to honor my parents, who I took care of through their decline and death. For all they gave and suffered for me, and all the stress I caused them. Ours is not a gospel of fear, but of faith and a sound mind.

Q: Tell us about the Sept. 6? A: Talk to me after, maybe, it’s a story I just don’t really care to tell any more.

Q: Will others come back? A: My return may have put an unfair pressure on them, and I can’t speak for them. Each has a unique path, we don’t know what God has in store, anything is possible, etc.

Q: Opinion about pants Sunday and ordain women? A: short version, I think it’s a critical mass moment in Mormon consciousness. In addition to these movements, things are happening in the church, a great example of synchronicity.

Q: Life-long member, father of autistic daughter where should I turn? Not accommodated well, etc.? A: Go to your RS president in the ward and stake and talk to her. Also, stake president, if bishop hasn’t helped yet.

Q: Any discussions recently w/ church leaders on feminism, etc.? I have, they’ve been positive.

[missed a few other questions]

Panel Discussion: “The Loss and Rekindling of Faith,” Don Bradley, Janet L. Eyring, Bill Reel, Maxine Hanks

Janet Eyring: I’m a cousin of Henry Eyring, niece of Spencer Kimball. Graduated in ’76 from BYU, Spanish major, mission to Toronto, Canada. Taught ESL for 5 years in Utah, then back to my home state of California, did master’s and doctoral degree at UCLA, then trained ESL teachers at Cal-State Fullerton. My crisis of faith began as a child, not resolved until I was 46.

Don Bradley: Writer, editor, working on master’s in history at Utah State. Did my first research at LDS archives at age of 17, for some reason the only 17-year-old there. Gradually gathered elements that were different from original perspective. To oversimplify, caused rupture in my faith. Spent about 5 years in the church not believing, then left officially, name removed for five years, then through combination of things returned 3 years ago. Maxine led the music at my rebaptism, even though she wasn’t a member again yet. I participated in her baptism as well.

Maxine Hanks: I was inactive for ten years after I turned thirty, for twenty years I was excommunicated, then rejoined. I spent as much time out as in, then. Don and I began intensive discussions about JS to wrestle with concerns and doubts, I can attest that our returns are sincere, we wrestled for years and came back. Don confirmed me a member.

Bill Reel: I’m 34, joined when I was 17, only member in family. I had my crisis while a bishop. After that crisis, coming through it, started a podcast on the journeys. People here have shared with me that you have family members who have left the church, and I think problem is prevalent. Each has responsibility to strengthen the feeble knees. I’ll go to Don Bradley: How would you describe your faith before the crisis?

Don: My loss of faith was very gradual, but before that I had a strong testimony. Spiritual experiences, strong. Over time I came to not trust my own experiences, reinterpret them as just being internal to me, illusory.

Bill: Each of our journeys are different, not a single path. When I joined church at 17 I encountered Fawn Brodie’s No Man Knows beforehand, but emerged into the church with a black and white version of things, and that was what crashed. Maxine, talk about what caused your crisis initially.

Maxine: I was devoted, believing, served mission. First crack was as a missionary encountering sexist attitudes toward sisters. Disillusioned despite enjoyable mission. I was troubled because the ward I grew up in let me have leadership positions, etc. but in field there was a brick wall of inequity. At home I delved into historical problems, went through the crisis ten years before the 90s. 81-83, all the common problems, BoM historicity, polygamy, etc. Lost faith in institution. In 1983 had surgeries for endometriosis, lost my faith in God altogether.

Janet: Mine wasn’t connected to behavioral things, like wanting to drink, but rather was intellectual. I was a seeker from an early age, raised in Berkley First Ward in Cali. Hugh Nibley, Richard Anderson, Spencer Palmer were there setting the bar for academic discussion. My mother is inquisitive. Critical thinking went hand in hand with spiritual matters. I was doubter and contrarion from early age—analysis paralysis. How can my normal uncle be a prophet? etc. Moved to BYU, expected to testify in church. But I said I wasn’t sure, and was pulled away from the podium. Mission to Toronto in hopes of securing real testimony. Put whole self into it. Met many anti-Mormons that gave me info about it, I felt I received an answer to prayer that JS was a fraud, asked to go home 3 months early. Persuaded me to stay, I’m grateful. My 20 journey outside the church began.

Don: What caused mine was my history research, new findings that differed from the way I thought things should be. Losing faith in revelation, self-conviction. Intellectual analysis was the way to know.

Bill: Any insight into what made you susceptible to a faith crisis? There are some who become aware of issues but don’t have a crisis.

Janet: Maybe I was more analytic, less emotional, glory of God was intelligence, seek for truth, Church holds truth. To me, no wonder that well-educated Mormon could lose faith if key points were overturned. Didn’t matter how nice Mormons were, or faith of family members, wouldn’t keep me in. Disturbed by discoveries like multiple FV stories, glass-looking, masonry and the temple. I read Mike Ash’s book Shaken Faith Syndrome before I got on the panel, I think it does a good job describing the cognitive dissonance I felt.

Bill: Start off as naive to the issues, then struggle? But to counter that, I had read No Man Knows My History, listened to various anti-Mormons, I was aware of it all. Wasn’t until years later that my foundation built on bad assumptions fell apart, but if I had someone to talk to I might have been OK. But I was the answer guy by then, rather than having someone to go to. I was afraid to talk, maybe I would be criticized, maybe my doubts would spread, maybe leaders would disapprove. Strugglers need someone to talk to.

Maxine: It’s interesting that the same info leads to different reactions with people. Stories don’t follow even lines for everyone.

Don: Elder Oaks has talked about strengths possibly being our downfall. To a man with a hammer every problem looks like a nail. Having a good analytical hammer, I tried to apply it to everything. Often people who have intellectual doubts, they have taken the church so seriously that they’re willing to dig deeper, encounter more difficult info than others do.

Bill: What initiated the turn-around to begin moving back to the Church. And who helped?

Don: Probably a variety of things, but the first step was recognizing the good that it had done for me and the lives of others around me. My friend, Brian Hales, was working for him, so generous, recognized the peace the gospel gave him. Started to take seriously the idea that analysis was not the only way of knowing. Digging deeper to church history I got through difficult layers and got down to where gold was.

Maxine: I spoke of this in my paper earlier, but it was recognizing larger forces in my life, God working, and my sense of destiny. My life has a pattern and purpose, look for it and seek to fulfill it. Understand current circumstances in my life in light of larger purposes/destiny. Always checking to see if I was on my path. Always felt guided. Return was prompted by God, I’d say, and my own sense of destiny, recognizing signs that it was time.

Janet: After I decided church wasn’t true, I left cold turkey; few associations. A target of born-again missionaries in Utah county looking for people like me. Continued spiritual search; associaitons with Jews, Hindus, Muslims, etc. Actively spoke against the Church when I got the chance, believed Mormons were deluded simple-minded and self-righteous. But who helped? It isn’t that I felt guilty for breaking commandments, but living and experiencing things, natural effects of my poor choices, missed opportunity for service, to have children, etc. Four key people, a friend involved in Sunstone that I felt I could work with. Invited me to meet other Mormon friends. Maybe retrieve, rethink, repair what had been broken. A brother-in-law who came to So Cal suggesting I go to church dance, seemed better than a 3-hour meeting. Met older singles like myself who were divorced, widowed, etc. And had a home teacher that wouldn’t give up. Church always finds you. I began to see an opening that I could become active, tearfully repented of what I reanalyzed to have been immature relationship to gospel; all answers didn’t need a clear answer. I felt like the prodigal returning, felt light again. At age 48 I married a Mormon, a happy life, loving people in the church of all walks of life, etc.

Bill: I wasn’t often on message boards, but as a bishop at my peak, I thought I had been deceived, I start asking Q’s on message boards, etc. Right away a few people assumed I was a critic trying to string them along. One person PM’d me and said I know where you’re coming from. A few more important Q’s. What had to change in your framework to allow for return of faith?

Don: Being open to other ways of knowing, as I mentioned. Another, not trying to put God in my box as what I expected. Content now to let God be God and I’ll be Don. Opening up to new questions. Questions focus our attention, the questions I had weren’t moving me, so I looked for new questions. Always questioning JS, what’s in it for him, that would damage any relationship. And Im much happier now than I was. Worked on becoming a more grateful person.

Bill: What assumptions did you make that can lead to loss of faith?

Maxine: I think it’s different for different people. To hard to predict what would be a trigger; we’re all so complex. We relate to info in different ways.

Bill: Advice for family or friends of people who struggle with faith?

Janet: Important to legitimize the doubting Thomas’s among us, they have a place in our wards. D&C says some have spiritual gift to know, others have gift to believe. I’m uncomfortable with shadow of a doubt testimonies. Wish we had more people saying I believe. That inspires me. I found the NIV Bible helpful, and Richard Bushman’s Rough Stone Rolling, which revealed JS as honest. Camilla Kimball, (wife of SWK) said I should embrace the good, and shelve the unclear issues.

Don: Mormonism creates a strong sense of identity, so sometimes people feel they need to break out of that identity, so they may say obscene things about GAs, or talk about their coffee, etc., and it’s important not to condemn or go back to the stereotypical thing that doubters are sinning. If no one really loses their faith over intellectual issues, then why do we have apologetics? Intellectual discussions and defenses wouldn’t be needed. So we should recognize that intellectual issues to matter.

Maxine: I wouldn’t impose my paradigm onto someone else, and it goes both ways. Whether you’re angry ex trying to shock or destabilize, or you’re a believer putting guilt or invalidation or disowning someone who left; we can’t oppress people with out journey or paradigm. I’m one who thinks that there’s a map written in our soul from before we came here, and you know when you’re on your own path, sometimes it takes you to places you didn’t think you’d go, or that others don’t understand, but you need to be true to your map. Love each other.

Bill: My suggestion is flexibility. Don’t cause trouble by identifying unnecessary lines in the sand about something like the age of the earth, etc. Last Q: How would you describe your faith after returning? For me, today things are more beautiful than my faith was before the crisis.

Don: My faith is much more flexible than before. Less certain that the right answer has to be a certain way. Before I lost my faith I would have said it was unshakable; that would have been said in ignorance about what the challenges to faith really were. Now I know real challenges. Terryl Givens spoke of a faith that absorbs doubt, I like that, I don’t feel that I’ve had to give up my awareness of negative things about the Church. These things are just placed along with the great things.

Janet: It’s a richer experience for me having come back. I often cry during sacrament meetings, and the scriptures are coming alive, you see your flawed self there in new ways.

AUDIENCE QUESTIONS

Q: I feel I am on the edge deciding. Do you regret the time of distance? Stay or go, hoping I would return?

Janet: If we claim to be true, go, if you must, and search and find. In my case it led back. It is risky, there can be pain and problems, but you have to search.

Don: The idea of anyone leaving is painful to me. There were lessons I had to learn this way, but rather than take that huge step, it’s much more difficult to come back than it is to stay and work. Maybe other people’s experiences can help you work through things where you’re at.

Q: How has your experience changed the way you would teach young children?  

Maxine: It has changed the way I teach young women’s on Sunday. In all my classes I look for the deeper info we miss, the other stories. In talking about PH I spoke of Moses and Aaron but also mostly Miriam, who worked alongside them. I pull out the power of women that is usually buried.

Bill: I think the key is to take things slow. Look for context. Dig deeper.

Daniel C. Peterson, “Toward a More Effective Apologetics”

I actually did write out some notes, I don’t like them at all, I’d like to talk about something else. Kirby inspired me, dang, or in the spirit of Kirby, damn! But this one is so serious, I’m bored just looking at it. A few announcements to advertise. Some of you may have heard of the Science and Mormonism conference, co-sponsoring with FAIR and LDS Agents. You can register at the Interpreter website, we would appreciate it. It’s free, but registration helps us decide how much space we need. November 9, a Saturday, “Science and Mormonism: Cosmos, Earth and Man.” One more Interpreter thing; trying to get people to subscribe to read it in hard copy. We need a minimum number to make it worth our while, so if you want, we do it at cost, I think it is 35 dollars a year or something.

Toward a more effective apologetics. That doesn’t mean I think apologetics thus far has been a failure. Even good things can improve. Efficiency refers to the degree to which expenditures of time, money, or effort is used to achieve the goal in mind. Different from Effective. Efficiency is measurable, quantifiable. r=P/C. If it’s traditionally required three hours to do something, new measures that reduce that to two hours make the process more efficient. Effective is more vague, not so easy to quantify. Are widgets worth producing in the first place? Efficiency is doing things right, effectiveness is doing the right things. there are usually hierarchy of objectives, subordinate objectives below ultimate objectives. Miners mine to make money, iron produces steel, which produces pistons, which is produced for engines, produced for cars, to transport people, with many motives, etc. What is the purpose of apologetics, is it worth doing? I want to do it to defend truth. Untruths bother me. But a more human face, I also wanted to help faltering members, and help onlookers see plausibility to take gospel seriously. There’s a book I will be responding to, Myron Bradley Penner, The End of Apologetics. He is very much against apologetics, an Anglican priest. Its modern forms undercut the gospel which it wishes to protect. A serious threat to Xtian faith. I reject Penner’s judgment because I reject his postmodernism. He’s not into objectivity, he wants approximations. I respond: airplanes do fly, a man did land on the moon, it’s nice that approximations are close. How do postmodernists fly on airplanes?

It seems to me apologetics help further the mission of the church, a small part. The three-fold mission: perfect saints, proclaim gospel, redeem dead. Perfecting the saints includes helping saints retain testimonies. Apologetics of a kind can help them. Proclaim the gospel? It can help there too. People are attracted to gospel but have questions. Redeem the dead? Not sure there, thought of a few jokes on that but not appropriate. Other goals can substitute themselves for the ultimate goal of bringing people into the church. Worthy goals: The desire to win, can become dangerous. Slide into unworthy: ego gratification, revenge, satisfy righteous anger. Temptations on apolgetic path and ineffective.
Have we been inefficient? Yes, humans are idiots. But apologetics are needed. C. S. Lewis said good philosophy must exist because bad philosophy needs to be answered. I don’t believe faith comes from rational arguments, but it can be destroyed or salvaged by them. Austin Farrer’s quote, argument does not create conviction but the lack of it can make faith falter. Rational argument maintains a climate in which belief can flourish.

Penner tells a story, coming from a Protestant background. (He’s taking on a Christian apologist, William Lane Craig, an effective debater apologist, and others.) Penner tells of academic debate forums, a debate with an atheist planting seeds of doubt in hearts of many. An expert in Xtian apologetics was coming to debate. Penner liked that the debater would justify our faith. After the debate a score was given, and the Xtian won according to the poll. But the audience was mostly already believers.

Now, I think the changes are going to be made on the margins. A small percentage wavering on either side. Gary Lawrence found that 5% of Americans are willing to investigate the Church. Apologetics will appeal to some, not everyone, but some. One of my father’s friends picked up a book by Nibley, it led him to think, is this actually possible that this could be true? Not decisive, but helped him decide.

Penner tells another story, horror story. A self-described atheist Catholic met Penner, who was fascinated in Penner’s faith. Experienced loss of faith as a profound loss. Tried spending time at monasteries looking for faith. Two new friends arrived, having just completed a course on apologetics. They joked that the teacher was hired gun, to shoot down atheists, etc. The atheist friend was faced with apologetic guns, but objected to the treatment. His beliefs were treated as abstract issues rather than personal issues. What they were doing was offensive. But the apologists continued. Said they would clear garments of his blood, etc. Apologetics as battering ram only makes people barricade their doors. Penner concludes that Xtians should eschew apologetics. Argued into it against your will is wrong.

I agree with that, even if that surprises people. Romans 12, a relevant passage. Paul speaking of responsibilities of Xtians, present bodies as living sacrifice, which is your reasonable service. Transformed by renewing of your mind, etc. Read ch 12, I can’t tell it all for lack of time. One of most cynical lines in scripture is v. 20, therefore if thine enemy hunger, feed him, thirst, give drink, for in so doing you heap coals of fire on his head. I love that, appeals to my vengeful side. But he says to be kind, loving, etc.

Penner says Human beings not adequate ourselves to discover all relevant things, shift from epistemological approach to a hermeneutical approach. Hermeneutics talks about interpreting texts, making sense, doesn’t try to establish existence from God at square one. Reason depends on logically prior Truth to situate. To me, that’s what Mormons do when they talk about revelation, that is our foundation. Once a testimony is in place you can reason about it, reflect on it. Interpreter name reflects that approach.

I wrote too many notes here, I’ll skip. Penner is saying Xtianity is not matter of pure reason. I like this passage, it says apologists assume that humans are things that think, it’s natural to assume the best I can do is to reason militantly with unbeliever, it’s true after all, and I am right. Stick to facts, evidence, etc. rather than focusing on how I engage with a person. Assuming enemies are stupid, etc. Focus on winning arguments instead of souls. It is easy to forget that in the furor of an Internet fight. My faith, Penner says, helps me understand myself, a sense of wholeness to my life. Farrar: Religion is more like response to a friend than obedience to an expert.

I was talking to a friend about Hebrews 11: desiring a better country, “God is not ashamed to be called our God…” It hit me, God might be ashamed to be called our God? Matthew 7: not all who say Lord, Lord, will enter. Many will say haven’t we done wonderful works, etc.? God would say I don’t want to be associated with the rancor, etc. Penner noticed a deep spiritual hunger in his atheist friend, who experienced loss of faith as profound loss. That is the person we are looking for, the person who wants to have faith. We need to not lose sight of objective, do it efficiently finding the people who really do want to know. Truth and peace are virtuous cousins who rarely meet, but when they do it’s with another friend: patience. There’s an assumption of bad faith on the part of critics, doubters, evil liars, too proud to change, no alternatives, etc. This can’t precede honest, respectful dialogue. It’s a matter of trust.

Can’t bludgeon people into the church. On my mission I was asked to come meet with some Jehovah’s Witnesses to debate. In all honesty, I mopped the floor, but as it went on I felt bad about it. Accomplished nothing, man never joined the church, etc. This was the wrong way. I spent a long time learning this lesson, I should have learned it then. There’s a cartoon online where a man won’t go down to dinner because “someone is wrong on the Internet.” Lou Midgley says it’s like the doors of the tavern, you get sucked back in. I went to the Hill Cumorah Pageant and seeing an anti-Mormon harangue two young kids. I’d vowed not to talk to them, but I stepped in anyway. I sat down with steam coming out of my ears. I don’t even recall the pageant. the BoM warns against contention and it is wise to do that. You lose the spirit, and we have a hard time, mostly guys, learning that lesson.

But we still need to go online to defend the faith. Platform for the new apologetics: “The Word Table” website. We need an army of people to preach the gospel, it doesn’t mean apologetics in the conventional sense. Not everyone is an expert on all issues. A lot of it is just about presenting the gospel as an option that makes sense in your life. Answering a few questions, building up the positives in your life, is the way.

Suppose you heard a shocking report about someone, it matters whether you’ve had personal experience with the person. If you’ve had poor experience, the new news doesn’t really challenge what you already thought. If you know them as good, it is odd. Doesn’t seem consistent. You are more likely to find out more, give benefit of the doubt. This is similar to thoughts on the BoM. If you already have a deep relationship with the text, new reports will be weaker. Apologists need to build up the positives ahead of time, talk about why gospel means a great deal to us, find those inclined to accept our witness.

The World Table is a place where members of the Church can become army of apologists, to share testimony, share videos, combine resources, links of articles you like, etc. It isn’t about brilliance or being an expert. Everyone has a unique background, you can connect with someone that no one else can. Worth of souls is great in God’s sight. World Table an exciting place to do this. People have to disclose who they are, removes the masks people can wear to say anything they want. All must identify. Then you have to agree to the terms of discussion. You must disclose where you stand. Agnostic, atheist, Buddhist, Christian, etc. Also politically etc. so people know where you’re coming from. Then agree to “the way of openness.” Listen, answer tough questions, give credit, speak only for yourself, keep private private, etc. Let’s say I want to comment on the recent comments from the Pope on homosexual priests? I can rate people. Was he honest, knowledgeable, fair, likable, etc. Other people can evaluate my comment. Comments can be critiqued in return. You can block people with low ratings from your conversations. This is a place where if people continue to be, to use the technical term, jackasses, they won’t be well thought-of. People tend to want high ratings. Maybe it will elevate their approach. Peggy Fletcher-Stack talked about the comments to her articles, she doesn’t read because they are toxic.

This is in the process of beta testing. You can go to the beta testing now at www.theworldtable.org. We’re looking for normal users and computer geeks to see how the website works. This can revolutionize communication on the web. People out there really want good communication. Not really a replacement of the old apologetics all together. there is a bunch of stuff out there already, and it will continue, but that isn’t all there is. Not just intellectual issues. Need whole-souled LDS to go out and share their experiences. I bear my testimony that the Lord wants you to do this, we should use every tool we have. Thanks for supporting FAIR, a wonderful organization, you can help in so many ways including donating or participating with your own voice, in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Q: Who was the critic, cradlerobberjosephsmith, you quoted? It’s a conglomeration of a bunch of things, a mythical person.

Q: How will you verify real names? There are ways to verify; through Facebook, etc. There are ways of falsifying, I suppose.

Q: How do we separate Muslim belief from social objectives [?] There are a variety of Muslims, not a monolithic people. As varied as a faith can be. There are even jack Muslims if you will, etc.

Q: Is it possible to get low ratings on the site by people just disagreeing with you? A: In theory you could, but you can start to detect who is rating and why, etc. like the BoM on Amazon.com.

Q: Who originating, running, the site? Originated under Foundations for Interreligious diplomacy, a small organization that is trying to make chapters for various faiths, etc. Idea is to model civil disagreement and discussion. where people become friends, etc. Not ecumenical in the sense of trying to merge traditions, but to learn to speak frankly openly fairly and respectfully about their similarities and differences.