Junior Ganymede
We endeavor to give satisfaction

Todd Compton and New Order Mormon Standards of Truth

February 23rd, 2010 by Bruce Nielson

I had a long conversation with J. Max recently about just why I generally like NOMs and even agree with a lot of what they say and do and feel they (potentially anyhow, if not in practice yet) could do the LDS Church a real service.

But there is one thing about that culture that has bothered me a lot, and it creates a huge divide that I don’t believe is bridgeable until addressed by them.

NOMs widely accept that it’s okay to hide (or worse, lie about) what they believe from Believing Members while actively undermining the faith of others through criticism. I have numerous documented cases of this now and it seems to be a very wide spread problem within that community.

Now, honestly, I can understand someone studying a Faith (including the LDS Church) and coming to the conclusion it’s not true and believing something else is true instead. If such a person then went on to try to “help others find the truth” it seems legitimate to me. I just can’t complain. I abhor deception, of course, but so long as the person is properly representing themself and are staying factual, I have no complaints whatosever. (I would hold up Owens and Mosser as great examples of this.)

I can also understand believing you don’t know anything for certain and acting that part. By definition this does not include the ability to claim you know for certain some theology isn’t true. Having concerns with an explanation (for that is what a theology is) isn’t the same as knowing it to be wrong. Only an alternate explain (i.e. alternative theology) can truly disprove a faulty explanation entirely.

And, as I insisted to J. Max, I’m completely sympathetic to hiding your beliefs because you want peace with your believing family members. This seems prudent and wise to me if that is your personal choice.

But I just can’t deal with hiding your beliefs while also actively criticizing other people’s beliefs. It doesn’t matter even if you are right, it’s still an immoral thing to do.

I came across the following recently that illustrates the problem:

Following the FAIR Conference, Greg Smith corresponded directly with both Todd and Laura Compton after hearing that Todd felt his views relative to Joseph and polygamy were misrepresented. In the ensuing correspondence Greg clarified his understanding and expressed a willingness to add clarifications that fairly represented Todd’s views on the matter…. Despite repeated and pointed requests for correction and clarification… Todd cordially declined to definitively state whether he believed Joseph’s revelations on polygamy reflected God’s will or not. He would only say that the word “mistake” was not one that he would have used. He declined to provide any better description or wording.

I personally went through years of intense and unnecessary pain due in part to Compton specifically refering to himself as a “believing Mormon,” so I’m probably not the one to fairly judge him and what he’s done.

But I feel I can judge an answer like the above as wrong and maybe even immoral.

Updated: In fairness to Laura, she feels Greg just didn’t give Todd a chance to put things into his own words, so I may have jumped the gun. However, see comments below for full nuanced understanding of this thorny issue that isn’t really resolved as of yet.

Update June 04 2011: As suggested in the thread below, I did email Todd and talk to him. He was unwilling to answer any questions about his beliefs about the LDS Church’s truth claims. He initially said that the reason why was because they are complicated and he didn’t have time. I then asked him to simply tell me if he honestly believed that the people in the Book of Mormon were real people or if they were not real people. This is, obviously, not a time consuming questions. He refused to answer the question.

Comments (91)
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February 23rd, 2010 17:01:12

Seth R.
February 25, 2010


I’m not dogpiling in here. I don’t particularly need you to comment on your beliefs here, nor do I think it’s relevant to the topic. And I’m going to stay out of this whole liberal vs. conservative poo-flinging contest that’s been going on in some corners of the bloggernacle (at least on this thread).

But I wonder why you chose the words “FAIR polemicist” as if it were some sort of derogatory term. I’m confused what you meant by it.

Do you mean to imply that anyone who is affiliated with FAIR is automatically of a certain theological stance and stripe? Are people from FAIR considered to be automatically conservative? Biased? Illegitimate? Polemical?

This seems to be what you were implying, whatever your real thoughts on the subject.

Would you consider Kevin Barney (who has written quite a bit of material for FAIR) to be a “FAIR polemicist?”

Is working for FAIR or contributing to FAIR, in your mind, just a little bit “ghetto?” Or not worthy of serious and unbiased academics?

I’m not trying to mind-read here. I’m just giving you an opportunity to clarify. Because the way you used the term sounded like quite the slur to me.

Bruce Nielson
February 25, 2010

If memory serves, he refers to himself a both a practicing and believing Mormon.

Adam G.
February 25, 2010

Its dishonest to pose as a solid, orthodox Mormon while engaging in public discussion with the Mormon community if you are not, in fact, a solid, orthodox Mormon.

Its dishonest to write something designed to persuade Mormons against some item of Mormon orthodoxy (e.g., that polygamy was inspired), without being upfront that you are trying to persuade. The “just stating the facts” pose is dishonest if you are hoping to persuade.

Human nature and self-deception being what they are, if you are writing on a topic of concern to Mormons, where you happen to believe different from most Mormons, and you tell yourself that you aren’t trying to persuade, you’re probably kidding yourself.

That any of the foregoing applies to Todd Compton is not at all clear to me. The evasiveness of his answer does sound a warning bell, but this is all pretty second-hand info.

Also, as Johnna points out, asking for faith statements at the beginning of books might be a bit much. I think we can take Bruce Neilson’s concerns seriously without going to far in the other direction.

Bruce Nielson
February 25, 2010

I feel I’ve said this already, but to be clear, I started this thread to illustrate a more general problem about public criticism of other’s beliefs and the need to be public with your own beliefs if you do this. It sure seemed like Todd was dodging a honest and valid question, but hopefully it was all just a misundestanding like Laura is saying.

If Laura is correct, he is going to talk to me directly and he also plans, in the near future, to make his beliefs public on whether or not polygamy was inspired of God. I look forward to that.

I appreciate those that have taken my concerns seriously rather than just dismissing them through polemics and misrepresentation of what I actually said.

February 25, 2010

Kaimi: Is “FAIR polemicist” different from “FAIR volunteer and sometimes-wiki editor”?

February 25, 2010

As I’ve said earlier, I believe that the request to Todd to ” make his beliefs public on whether or not polygamy was inspired of God” is a higher standard than that imposed on, among others, Richard Bushman. Please, point out to me any statement in RSR that shows Richard’s belief one way or the other on the divinity of polygamy. The farthest he goes is that Joseph Smith thought polygamy was inspired.

This is a well known aspect of RSR. Jan Shipps said:

“He never follows things to their final conclusions to say this did or didn’t happen,” said Jan Shipps, a non-Mormon scholar of Mormonism at Indiana University-Purdue University in Indianapolis who admires Professor Bushman’s work. “He simply tells the story the way that Joseph Smith and his family and followers tell the story.” (See http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/28/us/28religion.html?_r=1 ).

In a T&S interview about RSR, Bushman is similarly guarded about polygamy. He never says that polygamy came from God. He does say that Joseph believed that polygamy came from God. (see http://timesandseasons.org/index.php/2005/12/12q-on-rsr/)

This is not meant as a criticism of Bushman or of RSR. I like Bushman’s work a lot, and I like RSR a lot.

But it seems like you’re holding Todd to an unrealistic standard. Either that, or you’re giving Bushman a free pass for the question. (And you may have reasons for doing that, such as the fact that Bushman’s treatment tends to be more favorable than Compton’s.)

February 25, 2010

Seth and Blair, stop being so polemical. 🙂

Seriously, though, I don’t believe that all FAIR folk are engaged in polemics. However, it happens in a number of cases. Greg’s article and its note seeking to discredit Todd based on Todd’s belief is a form of polemics.

I don’t mean this in the vernacular sense, where polemics is often used as a synonym for “mean or rude discussion.” I mean it more formally. Greg’s commentary was specifically directed at New Mormon History polygamy writers, and the point of the article was, “those folks are _wrong_.” Greg is specifically writing in opposition to Todd (and Smith and Van Wagoner). This means that he is engaged in polemics.

I don’t intend any implication that Greg’s discussion was excessively aggressive or the like, or that FAIR in general is excessively aggressive. (Except for that shifty-eyed fellow Kevin Barney.)

Bruce Nielson
February 25, 2010

Sorry, if it seemed like I was trying to hold Todd to a different standard. I had throught Laura had said that Todd had only avoided Greg’s question because he wanted to put it into his own words, but apparently I read her wrong because I can’t find anywhere she said that. I think I misunderstood the following: “in my need and desire to have a more in-depth discussion, the conversation with him within the group ended. He was able to connect with Todd outside of the group, but I cannot speak to those conversations, as I was not part of them”

I had thought that meant we’d be seeing a response in Todd’s own words.

So I am apparently mistaken that Todd was going to clarify publicly. That’s too bad, but I wasn’t trying to force it I had honestly thought she had said it.

That’s bad when you can’t remember things from even yesterday. 😉

But there was still a clear offer to talk to me personally and that’s still quite good if he really intends it.

(And thank you, Kaimi, for nicely pointing out my mistake, I do appreciate it.)

Adam G.
February 25, 2010

If we’ve reached the point where we’re just repeating what we’ve said earlier, I’m going to have to doubt that much open-minded discussion is or was happening in this thread. Maybe its time to move on to other things.

Bruce Nielson
February 25, 2010

Kaimi, two of you, from the beginning, have taken a stance only about ‘what is said in the book’ as if I said such a thing. But in fact I never did.

Bushman has said quite a bit off the record about polygamy, including responding to the question about whether or not it’s a mistake (as was asked of Todd who didn’t respond.) Bushman also writes quite a bit (don’t have the quote handy) about his views of polygamy and what he learned from it, apparently spiritually. To say nothing of going public about believing the gold plates existed, that they are a real translation of real history of people that actually existed, etc. All of which he has been quite public about. Bushman is in no way hiding his views and beliefs when asked, so your reference back to RSR seem besides the point to me.

Bushman is a near perfect example of what I’m talking about. He wrote a controversial book (which I loved) but has been open about his beliefs and does not hide them when asked. The fact that his beliefs happen to be rather “believing” is not even the important point here. I don’t think Fawn Brodie is guilty of anything because she was open about her beliefs and didn’t hide them either. She has every right to explain her point of view so long as she isn’t hiding your own beliefs on the subject. Both seem to understand the moral need to respond honestly to questions about where they are coming from and what their beliefs are.

Since my point from the outset is that it’s not okay to publicly criticize other people’s beliefs while hiding your own (whether or not Todd is an example of this) I fail to understand why you keep referring back to RSR and what Bushman said there as a counter example when it’s clearly irrelevant to the point I have articulated.

Kaimi, do you really not see the issue I’m articulating here? Do you really believe it doesn’t deserve to be both discussed and in some way addressed?

February 25, 2010

Greg’s commentary was specifically directed at New Mormon History polygamy writers, and the point of the article was, “those folks are _wrong_.” Greg is specifically writing in opposition to Todd (and Smith and Van Wagoner). This means that he is engaged in polemics.

I got a different message from Greg’s presentation. The message I got was “here are some problematic interpretations from historians on the subject of polygamy. Be careful with sources and with those who use them.” I also thought it was good of Greg to allow Todd to update, clarify, any points, etc.

Except for that shifty-eyed fellow Kevin Barney.

Don’t feel bad, I’m wary of that fellow too…

February 25, 2010

AG said: “Human nature and self-deception being what they are, if you are writing on a topic of concern to Mormons, where you happen to believe different from most Mormons, and you tell yourself that you aren’t trying to persuade, you’re probably kidding yourself.”

But to the extent there might be any persuasion in what you write, wouldn’t it be in the text? Tracking down the author’s unstated thoughts seems problematic to me.

Maybe it was all that 1980s-style text criticism I did, that makes me believe it ultimately misleading to interpret a text based on the author’s life. How does this cover cases of sincere mainstream-believing Mormons who meet your criteria but write cruddy, damaging texts? Like that horrible pro-afterlife-polygamy book that had billboards in Utah a few years back? Pamphlets on the food storage apocalypse? the mixed blessings of relationship advice by Helen Andelin. Sure, I’ll say “no wonder” when I find out some book or blog was written by that kind of person, but I think we’re in for a world of misdirection if we think to decide whether or not to accept a text based on the author’s life, particularly their personal faith life, outside of how that worldview is extant in the book/blog itself. There are no texts outside the scriptures, that I would embrace without reservation anyhow. Wouldn’t that be a more effective way to guard the soul?

And who gets to decide whether my private, now public, beliefs pass muster? Also, a writer isn’t the same person from book to book either, even with a couple years between. I’m more interested in Compton’s methodology and criteria, which he is pretty up-front about, than some possible private belief which has not textual evidence, but which apparently I’m supposed to be suspicious of.

I didn’t find Todd’s declaration of belief or practice–but the seven tiny-margins introduction does include the sentence: “Any flaws in the book are, of course, my own. In a project this extensive, some errors are inevitable–I welcome information leading to corrections.”

I think polygamy is complicated, and maybe for that I don’t find Bruce Nielson’s “honest and valid” question to be fair. Polygamy has enough negative side effects for me to truly hate it. Partly because of the way Todd Compton speaks about it, I’m not able to dismiss it as wholly uninspired, or to draw the rug out from under the saints who practiced it. If it can be a muck to talk about whether the way we structure our wards is inspired, if there are some (clearly outweighed) negative consequences from marriages, particularly other people’s marriages, mine being great, then how much more difficult to demand some kind of blanket endorsement of polygamy, which is what I think you’re asking for. Because I’m gathering that “inspired, but…” would be an example of weasly NOMness to you.

In the wrong hands, this suspicion is going to have me giving up my volunteer slot webmastering at Segullah, for fear any of my own beliefs are “off” and being transmitted in the HTML. Perhaps I should stop speaking to my children about my testimony. Srsly guys, can’t I just relax, enjoy the banquet, trust the Holy Spirit and my ability to perceive?

February 25, 2010

ack! comment too long! so embarrassing.

February 25, 2010


why is this about guilt–you exonerate Fawn Brodie of guilt. Why isn’t about which books to trust and how far to trust them? NMKMH was a book with problems. I’m more interested in being clear on how that book is wrong or misleading, than I am in judging Fawn Brodie.

How much more so for that author, let’s say we have one who really is a NOM, who by choice of practice and stated faith, is your brother in the gospel.

J. Max Wilson
February 25, 2010

I have been watching this discussion with interest since Bruce posted it, especially since he mentioned his conversation with me. Bruce and I clearly don’t agree on everything, but we do agree on a number of things.

I think that Johnna and Kaimi have mis-characterized Bruce’s point. I don’t think that Bruce is saying that brother Compton is deceptive just “because he refuses to characterize polygamy as a mistake.”

I’ve read Rough Stone Rolling but I haven’t read brother Compton’s book, so I can’t evaluate well the comparisons. I don’t have my copy with me, but I felt that Brother Bushman made it clear that while he personally believed in the church, the fairest treatment he could give to the Prophet Joseph was to present the various viewpoints concerning his claims, both believing and doubting, and then see how well they corresponded with what Joseph’s actions and words demonstrate about how he viewed himself.

Brother Bushman transparently declared himself a believer and then articulated a methodology for how he would attempt to approach the subject fairly despite his believing bias.

Motivation matters and being transparent with bias is a demonstration of integrity. That is why when someone at Slate writes an article criticizing an Apple Computers product, they often say for full disclosure that Slate is owned by Microsoft.

It is dishonest to claim the title of “believing” in order to gain the trust of the believers so that your criticisms are more palatable, when the reality is that you don’t believe by any definition that those believers would normally accept.

If you are honest, you would explain what you mean by “believing” and be willing to identify what it is about the church you do believe.

Brother Bushman gives the impression that he is operating under a definition of belief that harmonizes with that of most believers. If there is any doubt about this, I would look for declarations of his beliefs. If I were unable to find them, I would wonder why. And if he refused to offer any clarifications when asked, I would take that to mean his definition of belief must fall outside the norm.

Getting bogged down in the specific of whether brother Bushman believes that Plural Marriage was a mistake is myopic. Even if he does believe it was a mistake, he openly believes in a host of other assertions of the church.

Is that equally true of brother Compton?

To repeat something I wrote to Bruce: true hypocrisy is not to fall short of ideals that you truly believe but nevertheless fail to live up to perfectly. True hypocrisy is to give the appearance of belief, to go through the motions when you do not believe, in order to deceive (Ancient Greek ????????? hupokrisis: answer, stage acting, pretense). For me the whole Orthodoxy vs Orthopraxy distinction is a clever justification for the kind of hypocrisy Jesus condemned. Were the pharisees condemned because of their overweening religious zeal? No. He condemned them because they hypocritically gave the appearance of religious zeal while secretly conspiring to murder Him directly contrary to the very law to which they pretended fealty? Who are the real modern Pharisees then? Advocating “Orthopraxy” to conceal Heterodoxy with the intent to slowly change the church from the inside out is hypocritical.

Bruce Nielson
February 25, 2010

“…then how much more difficult to demand some kind of blanket endorsement of polygamy, which is what I think you’re asking for.”

“I think that Johnna and Kaimi have mis-characterized Bruce’s point”


I feel you have been attacking a strawman.

I would appreciate it if you addressed the actual issue I raised, which I specified as being whether or not a person can morally criticize other people’s beliefs while not exposing their beliefs to equal criticism and whether or not privacy is still morally allowed once you’ve gone public.

If this moral dilema hasn’t occured to you before, then I’m glad I raised it even if you disagree with me on it. Can we at least agree it’s worth discussing?

It’s clear I’m not the only one that sees this as a moral issue. I would prefer that you stop attacking the strawman and find out just why it is that several people find this so concerning.

In any case, I don’t feel I asked for a “blanket endorsement” of anything.

February 25, 2010

For me the whole Orthodoxy vs Orthopraxy distinction is a clever justification for the kind of hypocrisy Jesus condemned. Were the pharisees condemned because of their overweening religious zeal.

I find the praxy/doxy distinction not only useful, but true too. 😉

John Dehlin
February 25, 2010

“I asked John Dehlin that same question once and he answered me truthfully (he doesn’t believe in any of the unique truth claims of the LDS Church, but believes strongly in the practice and value of the Church)”

Bruce — This is not true. I never, ever said this.

I will admit now that I am minimally invested in the church’s truth claims. I find them to be relatively un-knowable at the end of the day. And at times I have serious doubts.

But I never, ever have told you, nor anyone else, nor do I feel in my heart that I actively disbelieve the truth claims. I basically put them on the shelf…and focus what I do know…which is that love is a good thing, and that we should do more of it.

Just for the record.


Bruce Nielson
February 25, 2010

I am sorry if I mischaracterized you, John, but I was explaining what I thought you told me when I asked. You really set me at ease when I did, but now I just don’t know any more. I find this very concerning. It was an honest question and I thought an honest answer. I feel very bad.

I think the answer you just gave above fairly good however, and an equivalent answer from others would go along way.

Maybe the word “disbelieve” is the wrong word (though ‘belief’ is what I asked) and maybe that’s why you’re taking exception now. Words are a struggle. What I am really asking is not whether you know them to be false (that’s not what belief means) but really if you choose to believe in the religious sense — i.e. have faith in them which, to me, means something very much like “be invested in them.”

In any case, my apologies, but this was an honest recounting of what I thought you told me. I’m hoping this is just concern over a word and I’ll be glad to reword if that is the case. I really did think of how you handled it (or what I thought I heard anyhow) as a great example of how to be forthright in how one represents oneself.

Updated: I changed what I originally said to match how John wants it said. I’m leaving the original text in John’s post. Public mistakes should have public fixes.

February 25, 2010

Bruce, I can agree to the idea it is immoral to hide your beliefs for the purpose of undermining the beliefs of others. However, I have a hard time believing this can be accomplished as a practical matter. It seems the undermining would reveal the point of view. I don’t believe this is the widespread problem you report it to be. Certainly I have a problem with you making Todd Compton your test case. He’s a real person who attends church in my area. I don’t think he would be influenced to stop attending by all the negativity you are heaping on his name, but surely you can see why this is all making my stomach turn. I suppose he and Laura have more experience with his “celebrity” status than I do.

He’s a practicing member of the church. I don’t think it’s appropriate for you to cross examine him on that. I think it’s far more Pharisaical, and immoral, of you to be publicly condemning him (save he qualifies himself on your public terms) than for him to be quietly practicing, and have dared to written a well-researched book.

Adam goes on further to say that whether or not we intend, any communications will have the effect of persuading other people to our own worldview. Therefore, people who are quiet about their lack or difference of faith will be unintentionally doing harm should they communicate at all. I find this to be an unnecessary burden to impose on the body of saints. Take for example, a member who thinks that evolution was a process that not only is happening now, but happened in the past and can explain much about the biology of various creatures, perhaps even including humans. Such people are probably the minority of the practicing members of the church, but a substantial minority. Should such saints recuse themselves from speaking and writing on the gospel? On their mormon lives? I’m sure Gary would have it so, but that’s not the standard the church asks of its members. Furthermore, I hate to see members chased out of the church for seeing any validity in science. Yes, I’m picking the least controversial difference in belief that occurs to me.

I would have no interest in your question, except that lately I found out one of my favorite mormon posts was actually written by someone whose beliefs and practices are substantially different than mine. I was, frankly, very upset. I was unnerved. I worry that I expose myself to being led astray. But after reading you say these things about Todd, who is a known quantity to me, I’m also noticing that there was nothing in the appealing post that contains any of the scam views I disagree with. So, the lesson I’m taking is I need to consider if the text is valid to what I know about the gospel–I can’t depend on the unknowable character of the writer.

The vulnerability of mormons to scams by other members is well-known enough to be a cliche. If someone’s peddling a bad investment in money or doctrine, isn’t the most effective defense to know the business model? If you don’t like Todd’s book, say so, but don’t take it into his backyard and turn it into some kind of evil scheming.

If you can write the polygamy history that accounts for all we know about it and makes me feel all comfy and happy about polygamy, go for it. In the meantime, don’t blame Todd Compton for the difficult things in our history.

J. Max Wilson
February 25, 2010

Such people are probably the minority of the practicing members of the church, but a substantial minority. Should such saints recuse themselves from speaking and writing on the gospel? On their mormon lives?

Of course not. But if their belief in Evolution leads them to reject a belief in God altogether, then if they intend to write about Mormonism they should make that fact clear (especially if they are going to be writing about why they think Mormons should believe in Evolution).

Bruce Nielson
February 25, 2010


I really really appreciate that you gave your honest opinion on the topic.

“Should such saints recuse themselves from speaking and writing on the gospel?”

I think you’re not quite understanding what I am saying yet. I think J. Max’s response to you hit the target.

And also, as someone that does believe in evolution, I do feel I have a duty to explain myself when asked questions.

Also, since I specifically corrected myself about Todd and offered to let the record be set straight, I think you owe it to me to not pound me on this until we know more. If I erred in Todd’s case, I’m going to publicly apologize and will do so gladly.

But for just a moment, I think you need to ask yourself this, what if Todd Compton does no longer believe any of the unique truth claims of the LDS Church and that did inform his view on polygamy and he did, at least in part, write his book to try to persuade Mormons that polygamy was just an experiment made up by Joseph Smith that failed? (I might be remembering wrong, but I think he actually says that polygamy was just Joseph’s experiment or something to that effect.) I know this is a purely hypothetical scenario, and a worst case one to boot, but as of yet, we don’t know what the truth is, so this can’t be ruled out yet.

Is it okay, under that hypothetical circumstance, for him to say *in his book* that he’s a practicing and “believing” Mormon? Are we at all concerned for the naive believer that then thinks this is really a “believing Mormons” (as I understood that word at the time) best understanding of polygamy?

I do not think this is as difficult as you are making it out to be. Such a person (which may or may not be Todd) would have numerous options available to them. They could not write the book, they could admit they don’t believe in it, they should say something like John (“I am minimally invested in the church’s truth claims”), or heck, they could just not represent their “belief status” at all in the book! (Though that would still leave a problem when people later want to ask them about what they really believe, as would be natural.)

The issue here is misrepresentation and evasion. I do not know if Todd fits that bill or not, I merely thought he did because of the quote. I am human. If the quote was bad, my source was bad and I am glad to be wrong.

February 25, 2010

Some people seem to think that, with enough practice, they can learn to judge their neighbor properly.

February 25, 2010

I don’t think judgment has come up until now. Bruce has made it pretty clear that he doesn’t have a problem with people expression beliefs different from his own — as long as they’re honest about it.

I haven’t seen him tell anyone they’re going to Hell.

Bruce Nielson
February 25, 2010

For the record, I’m a universalist. I believe all are saved.

I do not believe God penalizes people that do not believe in the LDS Church (even rejecting all of it) if they did so doing their best to follow God’s will.

I was just telling Adam G. today that I realized this might make me different from some Mormons and I felt I had a duty to be upfront about this and also to explain myself when asked even over something seemingly innocent like this. I am trying my best to follow my own standards on this because I made a choice to be public rather than private on my personal beliefs. I don’t get to hide behind “privacy” any more unless I wish to stop being public first (and then I’d still be responsible for anything I previously wrote to explain myself if asked.)

This was never a heterodox vs. traditional issue, I’m afraid. Not that those aren’t legitmate labels in many cases, but they are beside the point to my actual concern.

February 25, 2010

Bruce said: (I might be remembering wrong, but I think he actually says that polygamy was just Joseph’s experiment or something to that effect.)

You’re remembering wrong.

Bruce, You had a string of if-statements about a hypothetical Todd Compton (Todd Compton Prime?) Sodd Bompton?), statements for me to evaluate relative to a conclusion about what it would be okay for him to do.

I’m not sure what you mean by “unique truth claims.” Do you mean tenets that we LDS believe and no one else does? (which would be a difficult set to establish, imo). Do you mean beliefs that the LDS church is uniquely salvific? (Does everyone use salvific the way Alonzo Gaskill does? That’s how I use it. I think.)

Though I’m not sure you really are a Universalist, or if you’re pulling my leg. I was very Universalist a couple years ago. I’m tend to drift around on some of these theological approaches, so I just cling to my orthopraxis and not worry.

Bruce Nielson
February 26, 2010

All religions have unique truth claims and shared truth claims that overlap with other religions. The unique ones are the ones that make that religion a separate religion. To not have faith in the unique truth claims of a religion is to not really believe in that religion as people would normally think of the word in it’s religious context.

I suppose there are also liberal religions that are formed around practices and rejection of other’s beliefs instead of on believing their own beliefs. But even then, there are still “core beliefs” (even if unspoken) that you can’t generally violate and stay in good standing.

I don’t really agree with you that unqiue truth claims of the LDS Church are difficult to establish. Coming up with a complete list might be, but that’s why I asked to list *any* at all.

Even just something like historicity of the Book of Mormon captures it pretty well for Mormons all by itself. A person that doesn’t “believe” (in the “invested” sense) in the historicity of the Book of Mormon, for example, is not a bad person. But I don’t expect them to refer to themselves as “a believing Mormon” either without a lot more explanation of how they are using the word “believing” differently from normal usage.

I see the burden as on them to not mislead people. This is about self labeling in a non-deceptive way.

“I just cling to my orthopraxis and not worry.”

I don’t really have a problem with this if it works for you. It doesn’t work for me personally because my brain just isn’t wired to not ask questions and seek answers or at least attempt at answers.

I always worry, though about “orthopraxy” mixed with definitive stances on what’s not true. I don’t see how that adds up to orthopraxy. Maybe I’m missing something. (I’m not talking about you here, I’m just talking in general.)

Johnna, I don’t mind you tell me I’m wrong. Really I don’t. I’m wrong about a great many things. And I really appreciate how you have changed your tone in the last few posts and aimed right at what I’ve said now. (I like it when people attack what I actually said, even if they disagree with me strongly.)

I hope we can both agree to disagree over this amicably.

I think I might owe you an explanation on one issue you raised that I will do in a future post. If you ever want to talk to me directly (you know, in case you want to be even more pointed) let me know. 😉

February 26, 2010

So, I found my copy of ISL, and found the footnote. I’m not sure if it’s a background statement by Todd Compton, or one by Bushman that Compton is agreeing with. That’s the page 629 footnote “I am a practicing Mormon who considers himself believing but who [blah, blah, blah]… I do accept non-absolutist incursions of the supernatural into human experience.”

You want the whole thing, read your book. Or google the phrase. I am not interested in discussing the relative merits of Todd Compton’s private faith.

At this point, I think he’s provided more than enough information about where he’s coming from. If he’s a believer and his book isn’t orthodox enough for you, then his book and any worldview that leaked into it isn’t orthodox enough for you. Even if he somehow, against the odds, actually privately agrees with you on all understanding of doctrine, you’d still need to evaluate his book.

I see the benefit to you, and any benefit to the sum of all other readers, afforded by the opportunity to cross examine Todd Compton and make him answer (or he’s immoral!) until you are satisfied as to his degree of acceptable faith to be quite small. You’d still need to evaluate the book. You can still dismiss the book, even for spurious reasons. I see the intrusion and detriment to Todd, on the other hand, to be great, as he is most invested of any of us in his personal life and life of faith, and has the most to lose or gain, as he continues to choose to identify himself as mormon and attend his ward, and have a mormon family.

Compton states in the Intro, under “Supernatural” that he’s not doing that usual history-critical thing where you dismiss all supernatural as nonfactual and ignore it. He explains how he’s going to present the supernatural material because it is certainly relevant and real to the people in the history. It reads pretty much like the Bushman strategy to me.

Todd Compton also says why he wrote the book, right in the intro. He was going to do an Eliza Snow book, but as he came across her references to Joseph’s other wives, he thought some work on the wives would be a useful contribution to the field of Mormon Studies. Which it is.

February 26, 2010

fwiw, I’m noting that we just cross-posted, and that’s why the above comment has almost nothing to do with Bruce’s comment that comes before.

Todd Compton
February 26, 2010

Bruce: First, of all, as I remember what happened, Greg had a footnote supporting his contention that I called polygamy a “mistake” – since that is not language I would use to express my position, I looked up his sources and felt that they did not support his statement about me. Then he kind of demanded that I bear my testimony on the subject, in his terms, and in his forum. However, my view of faith is complex, so I didn’t want to give him a quick, in my view oversimplified response. I will probably end up writing a book on the subject, to be called An Approach to Mormon Faith. Sorry – the Missouri book, the Hamblin book, and the book on the Beatles will probably come out first.

However, in thinking of a response to Greg, I realized that I’d already said a lot of it in my response to Anderson, Faulring and Bachman, on my web page. I’d recommend that you go there. I’d say, really generally, that I have faith (in my view), but it’s definitely a liberal faith. I’ve been really influenced by people like Lowell Bennion, Leonard Arrington, Eugene England. I believe, for every aspect of religion, ethics, compassion, love, justice is at the heart of things. For example, ritual can be good, but only if guided by authentic love. In addition, there are enormous complexities in the historical and textual record. In addition, all Mormon leaders are three-dimensional human beings, not perfect; in Arrington’s language, they are not marionettes with God pulling the strings. All these things contribute to my liberal faith. The question is, can a conservative (I mean that in a descriptive, not negative, way) like yourself accept a liberal (as I describe myself, for lack of a better word, or a three hour explanation of my complexities) as having authentic faith? A broader question is, should a conservative church accept liberals as full, valued members?

I’ve usually been pretty clear that my faith was liberal, not conservative. And I’m aware that many conservatives do not consider “liberal” faith to be authentic faith at all.

By the way, I don’t consider myself an outstanding church member. You might call me “less active” at this point. I hope to become more active in the future. (Once again, it would help if I were to give you a three hour explanation for context.)

As to your response to In Sacred Loneliness, I do sympathize that the information in the book caused you pain. But I believe, as I wrote in my response to Anderson, Faulring and Bachman, that truth always deepens our faith, in the end. In other words, if we are to have a full, mature, faith, I believe we need to deal with “problems” in church history, examine them fully and honestly. Doing so only makes our faith richer and more stable. For this reason, I applaud people like Gregory Smith and Brian Hales who are working on books dealing with Joseph Smith’s polygamy, from a conservative viewpoint.

By the way, all of this negative focus on me, not on my book, is getting close to the ad hominem fallacy. Even if I were some quintessence of evil, if my footnotes add up, the historical problem still remains. Ad hominem is never an impressive argument.

Bruce, feel free to contact me at toddmagos [at] yahoo [dot] com if you want to talk to me further.

Oh, and thanks Laura, Kaimi and Johnna for your eloquent words of support!

Adam G.
February 26, 2010

Todd C.,

thanks for being somewhat honest about your “liberal faith” and inactivity.

Your are being somewhat less honest, unfortunately, about the whole cry of “Ad hominem.” That’s blatantly false. Bruce Neilson isn’t saying that the facts in your book are somehow untrue because you are a bad guy. He’s saying that its wrong for you to position yourself as a believing Mormon to people who you very well know think that your definition of “believing” is full of crap. Full stop. Whether you have done this or not, I do not know, but that’s what the argument is.

And also I do not appreciate this New Order Mormon pack mentality, where if someone questions a “Mormonism” that doesn’t believe in the Book of Mormon, the First Vision, etc., as more than metaphors, all of sudden people who never read the blog are getting indignant in the comments.

February 26, 2010

1. I read the blog, as you and your stats know. Though I consider visiting here to be a character failing like visiting that main street plaza blog. I don’t believe in what you’re doing; I’m gawking.
2. I’m not a NOM, fwiw, but I am very personally invested in letting members continue to attend church and raise their children LDS. To the extent being private about their faith facilitates that, I’m for that.

February 26, 2010

Pack mentality?

Todd and Laura Compton are not regular JRG readers, that’s true. But Adam, the OP names them both by name and makes statements about what they personally believe. I’d think that they would be permitted to enter the conversation without accusations of pack mentality. Do you really disagree with that idea?

(And the same for John Dehlin, who is also commenting in direct response to Bruce’s repeated statements about John’s personal belief).

Where exactly is this pack?

February 26, 2010

Seriously. Let’s review who has commented here:

Adam, Bruce, gst, Vader — all presumably non-pack.
TotalNathan – semi-regular JRG commenter, and on Bruce’s side anyway.
Tom Haws – not a regular JRG reader, and against Bruce. Hey, there’s your first pack member!
Johnna – JRG reader (and commenter! see, e.g., http://www.jrganymede.com/2010/02/12/ye-cannot-behold-with-your-natural-eyes/ )
Seth and BHodges – both nacle regulars and frequent participants in FAIR discussions. Neither of them is “getting indignant in the comments,” except perhaps at me. They’re both here solely for the threadjack of clarifying what I meant about FAIR.
J Max – presumably not a pack member
John Dehlin, Laura Compton, Todd Compton – all mentioned by name by Bruce, all replying to his assertions made about their beliefs
DMI Dave – I don’t know if he reads JRG regularly (I think he may read it semi-regularly). But possibly your second pack member.

That’s it. All 81 comments come from that list.

Yep, watch out for those NOM types, quite the pack they are.

February 26, 2010

I don’t read this crappy blog. I just blog here.

Adam G.
February 26, 2010

Johnna, sorry if it sounded like I was talking about you. No offense meant. I appreciate your comments, including your comments on this thread.

February 26, 2010

For me, it’s not that complex.

Do you believe the Book of Mormon is an actual record, however imperfectly written, transmitted and understood, of an actual historical people? Do you believe that the First Vision was a conversation with beings existing outside of Joseph Smith’s mind?

Since there seems to be some semantic difficulty here, let me explain that by “believe” I mean that you are sufficiently convinced of it that you are willing to act on that belief in ways that you would not if you did not believe it. That is what I mean when I say I believe it.

And “I don’t know” is an acceptable answer as long as it’s honest.

On the original question (as I understand it): When an author on a controversial Mormon topic makes the claim in his writings, however briefly, that he is a Mormon, he is making an appeal to authority. He is, at a minimum, strongly suggesting to Mormon and non-Mormon readers alike that what he writes is reflective of the Mormon community, of which I am a member. That means I have some skin in it.

There are ways to qualify the statement of affiliation that remove the appeal to authority, of course. One can state “… but I’m not presently active” or “… but my views here should not be taken as representative of mainstream Mormon beliefs.” I’ve used the latter phrase myself when something I’ve written was speculative.

Not that I write much heavy stuff. I did write a fairly heavy bit on “The Diversity of Perfections” some months back that a couple of the regulars here made happy noises about, but which otherwise attracted no attention except from someone who called me a crazy Mormon crackpot. I did not consider that a particularly fruitful discussion, and I’ve stuck to the role of “court jester’ since. Which is not to say that my occasional statements of faith are not completely serious.

My temperament is such that I prefer to live and let live. Don’t think the First Vision was anything but a metaphor or the Book of Mormon anything but inspired fiction? Fine. You go off and believe that, and let me believe in them in a rather more orthodox fashion, and I hope I never have the burden of conducting a worthiness interview with you. But don’t attach the fine words “liberal” and “conservative” to our respective beliefs, because that’s not accurate. “Orthodox” and “heterodox” are the accurate labels.

I am not terribly acquainted with the “Mormon liberals” one of you listed. I have heard Eugene England state that he does not believe there will be polygamy in the world to come, but that was many years ago, he didn’t make any particular statement on whether he thought in this life polygamy was commanded of God to Joseph Smith, and I have no idea what he believes now. I have also read him speculate that the Atonement was a metaphor staged for our benefit, to impress us with God’s love, rather than any actual settling of accounts. I have not read him write that faith in Jesus Christ is not essential and I don’t know what his present views are. I am actually kind of inclined to agree with him on polygamy in the world to come; at least, I’m willing to consider it a realistic possibility; but I’m not willing to believe the practice was not God’s will and I disagree with England’s essay on the basic nature of the Atonement. However, I have never heard or read anything by England that suggests he is “liberal” as you just defined it. My point in all this is that I would be careful about claiming too much affinity with England or the other “liberals” you named if I were any of you.

I don’t want to psychoanalyze Bruce at a distance, but I think I understand which of his nerves is being hit here. An awful lot of faith-destroying rumors are published by folks who declare their lifelong Mormonism as a credential. Palmer and his DNA criticisms of the historicity of the Book of Mormon come to mind as a recent example. Bruce (and I) would like to strip them of that credential. Bruce has gone a step further here, in suggesting that some literature by folks who insist that they are still faithful Mormons is also faith-destroying, and they should be called out for their heterodoxy. Whether that’s right or fair is of course the question before the forum. I think Christ’s warning about sheep in wolve’s clothing makes it clear that it can be right and fair, but just where the line is drawn is of some interest, enough to keep me from keeping this whole discussion at arm’s length. (Otherwise I would be inclined to not touch it with a ten-foot pole.) I do not care particularly which side of the line Todd Compton is on; he is not in my ward, I am not his spiritual leader. I have not read his book and do not plan to; if I ever find time to read a polygamy book, which is doubtful, I will probably go with More Wives than One, which I am told by friends I trust, who are more Gospel-scholarly than I, is the better book. I might have preferred that the discussion of where the aforementioned line is drawn be based on hypotheticals rather than concrete examples, but then the discussion might never have gotten off the ground.

Would I be comfortable with a Bishopric member who believed the Book of Mormon was inspired fiction, or that the First Vision was a devout hallucination, or that the Priesthood is a metaphor and there isn’t really a Book of Life in Heaven that records our saving ordinances? Frankly, no. I don’t know if any of you have these beliefs, and I would in any case be delighted to be relieved of any such concerns; but when Bruce reports that Kaimi encouraged a man who allegedly has such beliefs to accept a Bishopric call, and Todd Compton responds to questions about his beliefs with talk about how “complex” his faith is and how he’s thinking of writing a book on how we approach faith, I have concerns. I believe those concerns are legitimate.

Bruce Nielson
February 26, 2010

“By the way, I don’t consider myself an outstanding church member. You might call me “less active” at this point. I hope to become more active in the future. (Once again, it would help if I were to give you a three hour explanation for context.)”

Todd, you just almost completely disarmed me. I would love to hear your three hour explanation too. I’m going to contact you within the next couple of weeks.

Kaimi, I know people (and you probably in particular) are going to think I’m crazy, but I think this was an incredibly worthwhile and fruitful discussion far more so than just about any I had ever been in elsewhere on the “bloggernacle.” It has helped me a lot and both intensified (in some ways) as well as modified (in other ways) my point of view, which is the nature of a fruitful discussion.

For what it is worth, Todd’s answer was straight up enough that I now basically believe him that the quote about him that I was complaining about lacked context. This, I suppose, does not fully address all my concerns, particularly the claim of ‘believing’ in the book that also lacked enough context for a young believer to understand properly. (This is a two way street, you have to give context in both circumstances, not one.)

But when you address 80+% of my concerns like this in such a straightforward manner, you deserve full benefit in my opinion (especially since you are offering me a full explanation offline).

I do disagree with Todd that I was “ad hominem” attacking but I think Adam successfully explained that point so I won’t belabor it. I am going to do a future post (not about ISL or Todd) where I’m going to discuss my separate concerns with characterizing people’s legitimate concerns as ad hominem attacks.

I’m going to close the comments now that I feel this thread really has played itself out fully in miraculously productive ways.

Bruce Nielson
February 26, 2010


You commented while I was writing my last. Your analysis, as always, is superb.

I did want to add one thing. Eugene England is a great example of what I think of as a “heretrdox believer.” He basically believed everything and all of it, he just fit it together differently than in traditional ways. I think a key point with England (at least back when he wrote his article on polygamy) was that he affirms it came from God. But heterodoxical beliefs aside (ones I don’t necessarily disagree with) I don’t think there is any doubt that England had the right to hold himself up as a believer without in any way throwing people off.

[…] God the way you’d suspend disbelief for a play that you know is fiction, while Bruce Nielson spars with the NOMs over the dividing line between privacy and integrity. But as Bodhi describes, explaining yourself […]

[…] three weren’t the only sources. I could mention DougG, Joe Geisner, Matt Thurston, Todd Compton (from his book and website), Kaimi Wegner, TT and several others who, while shy about their […]

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