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Nice thoughts Dave. I'm still struggling to find a qualitative difference between publishing dissent in a journal and doing so in a blog (arguably the latter might find a larger audience). And that's what we all want to know, isn't it? What are the permissible boundaries of a Mormon blog?

One of the talks from the General Authorities that I blogged about talked about teaching false doctrine. I tried to find it, but was unsuccessful, so this is the best I remember. The point was made that anyone can dissent from the Church's doctrine without it being a problem. The problem comes when they teach this "alternative view" to others.

So, if our blogs are just our own opinions, then it really doesn't matter too much if we dissent. But if we are teaching others to share our dissenting opinion, that is to say, if we create a stumbling block to someone of lesser faith, rather than strengthening the feeble knees, then that might be a problem.

I think it is likely a question that is between us as individuals and the Lord, at least most of the time. Certainly I think that bloggers would not be held to quite the same strict standards as say, a Seminary or Sunday School teacher, who acts in a much more official capacity.

Interesting post, Dave. I suppose things could change, but I think the bloggernacle has several things going for it.

1. We're all fairly anonymous. Even when real names are used I usually don't know the person from Adam.

2. We're mostly arm-chair philosophers. I don't think any of us take ourselves, or each other, too seriously.

3. Despite fantasies to the contrary, there is no evidence that any of us (even T&S) have broad influence and ability to shape people's perceptions.

4. Although I've seen some criticism of (mostly peripheral) doctrine or policy, I have not seen anybody advocate practices contrary to church teachings, nor have I seen anyone advocate that others adopt their views when those views are contrary to central doctrine.

5. Does the Strengthening the Church Members Committee know what a blog aggregator is? If not they have a huge amount of work to do.

I think the difference is when one switches from random griping or expression of confusion to the assumption that what one believes should make an immediate difference. Take FMH, I don't see what they do as "dissent" because I believe that the blog is founded on an attempt to understand and properly implement a confusing, confounding, and frustrating area of doctrine. At the same time, the fabulous ladies of FMH understand that they aren't in a position to enact direct change. If they continue griping then maybe someday we will get some clarification (and frankly, the sooner the better), but this doesn't mean that they expect it anytime soon nor do they expect that anyone will necessarily do it because of them. They are "angry activists" but they are not making immediate demands (at least not in an unrighteous dominion way).

(My, I am speaking on FMH's behalf a lot. I don't think they would appreciate it. Sorry. Let's just say that this reflects my perception of FMH and not the actual opinions of management (Whew! Those fabulous ladies scare me))

Back to my point, all apostacy is someone's attempt to establish unrighteous dominion. Toscano (operating from a position where I have never read anything by her but a couple of quotes) seems to be agitating for change now and she wants to a driving force behind it. She considers herself as such and has set up a system where it is her against the screwed-up world and she is the hero of her fantasy. She will be the one who creates the change. Why? Because she saw the need (as if she was the only one capable of seeing a problem here). She has appointed herself as an alterna-prophet who can lead the prophets back to the true church or, if necessary, scare off their flock so that they can find true religion. (once again, I am speaking a lot for some woman, so take all this with a grain of salt. This is just the pattern I notice amongst the true apostates.) Mormons who are faithful have made themselves blind, but the apostate will bring the light back to them from on high.

This is the key difference, I think, between acceptable dissent and unacceptable. When you set yourself up as the one the Brethren should have been consulting all along, it may cause them to wonder just who you think they have been consulting.

There are two sources I would recommend for good reading on this subject: 1) Paul Toscano's Sanctity of Dissent paper (it is a chapter in his book by the same name) and 2) Jonathan Rauch's In Defense of Prejudice: Why Incendiary Speech Must Be Protected, published in Harper's magazine May, 1995.

Sometimes I worry about this topic. My blog is certainly not dedicated to faith promoting material. I try to ask difficult questions, which challenge our minds and maybe even our faith a little bit. I try to criticize some of our ill-examined assumptions and beliefs. Am I an apostate? I don't think so, but I am definitely a dissenter (I'm sure others are not so sure about me).

One of my heroes in the Book of Mormon was definitely a dissenter, maybe even an apostate by Cannon's definition, Abinadi. (I even would like to name one of my sons that, but my wife is not too keen on the issue.) He criticized the church. He tried to make his opinions as well known as he possibly could. In fact, if we look through the scriptures most, but not all, of the prophets worth mention were dissenters. This is what prophets do. Rarely will you hear, "Thus saith the Lord, everything is perfectly fine." I agree with Dave.

A couple months ago, I gave a talk which not so subtly said the same thing. I will post it at my blog if anybody is interested.

Boundaries of dissent? What an absurd thing to search for. If one has an issue with the church, one seeks out the bishop or suitable member of the heirarchy for discussion. Heck, seek the counsel of Heavenly Father. All you have to do is ask.

This is sophistry you are engaging in. Dissent is a very small, obscure, and looking-away part of the spiritual life. Take hold of the iron rod and follow it.

Interestingly, the entire Church government is designed for dissent. What else are councils (and courts) for? For non-thinking yes-Men to rubber stamp what ever the president says? I think not.

When was the last time a high councilman dissented from the Stake President (in council)? I know of a few “firebrands”, but they are few and far between. Instead we have a structure that has the capacity for formal dissent, but instead, for whatever reasons, has become institutionally inert.

Scott...slow down ther Tex. If you look around you, you will find that there is oodles to dialectically engage.

Scott -- Why don't you hang around awhile, maybe read one of the Mormon books on the sidebar, and before you know it you'll find an interesting issue or a pressing question. Then suddenly it's not disagreement or dissent anymore, it's just pursuing an interesting question that you want to know the answer to.

"Sophistry" implies using words to mislead or confuse. I'm pretty straightforward in what I write. You may disagree with what I say, but that doesn't make me a practitioner of sophistry, although one has to be fairly clever to be accused of sophistry so I'll take it as a backhanded compliment.

J. Stapley,

I'm not on the High Council, but I do participate in bishopric meetings as the clerk, so I'm hoping my own experiences fulfill somewhat the dynamic you're talking about (albeit with fewer heads).

To characterize council structures as "designed for dissent" is to entirely misunderstand their utility. The idea of dissent implies that there is a decision already made or a stance already taken, from which someone willfulling deviates. The council structure is designed to work best BEFORE the decision is made, so that input can be gathered from divergent but overlapping sources before a final arbiter makes a decision. I have had opinions which differ strongly from those of other members of the bishopric, including the bishop, on numerous occasions, and voice them forthrightly when called up (in fact, the bishop has come to depend on me to give a different perspective). That's not dissent; that's discussion. Dissent would come if, after the arbiter (in this case, the bishop) considers all viewpoints and prayerfully makes a decision, I were to still make known my opposition to his decision and my unwillingness to abide by it.

Nathan, perhaps we are dealing with a matter of perception. In any case, in the bulk of these issues, no formal adjudication has been delivered and we are dissenting from institutional inertia.

A bishopric is a great example, but is different from the higher councils of the Church. The High Council of a stake and the Apostolic High Council can be both deliberative and legislative in nature. The sustaining vote of the High Council and of the Apostolic Council are quite disparate than the sustaining votes we cast in sacrament meeting. No?

I don't think it makes sense to blame Toscano for being a self-appointed prophet or exercising unrighteous dominion. Being a prophet means to enjoy a special relationship with God and to reveal his will authoritatively. Toscano never made such a claim. Unrighteous dominion means either to resort to coercion or to abuse authority to enrich oneself. I am not aware that Toscano engaged into either practice.

Of course, you are free to leave common language usage behind and define words at your pleasure. I am not sure, however, if that would be useful.

If we were to follow the false prophet and unrighteous dominion logic then we would have to conclude that anyone who asserts that people have a moral duty to X and not Z appoints themselves as prophet and exercises unrighteous dominion.

That would have to include people like Elie Wiesel, Mohandas Gandhi, Albert Einstein, and Martin Luther King.

It would seem to me that Christians do have an obligation to act on their insight. The parable of the talents suggests as much. We should not paint ourselves into a corner where the independent pursuit of the truth and the desire to live an authentic live qualifies automatically as apostacy.

Your right in that I am arguing from a position of ignorance. I will see if I can find her Sunstone article and get a better idea of her discourse.
That said, I am standing by my statements regarding the idea of unrighteous dominion being related to apostacy (being the factor that shifts one from dissent to danger). I'll say more once I've read Toscano's article.

The article I mentioned before "In defense of prejudice" can be found here:


Holy Sweet Website, Batman! Jeffrey thanks for link (I love Jonatha Rauch), but more so, thanks for that website.

John C., a link to Toscano's recent Sunstone article is given in Nate's T&S post that I linked to in the first paragraph of the post.

John C. said:
"When you set yourself up as the one the Brethren should have been consulting all along, it may cause them to wonder just who you think they have been consulting."

Very funny, and very, very true.

Even in the bloggernacle, where one can say anything, I think the ratio of dissenting opinions to orthodox opinions matters. I don't see how that fits in with our PCAL schema, but it certainly seems to come into play.

Some thoughts that come to mind as I read your very interesting post, Dave. First, it certainly is logical and clear. It took me back to the days of studying prepositional calculus during my undergrad experience. Kudos in the category of cogency!

As a reaction I will post some questions:

1. How is dissent similar or different from murmuring (1 Ne. 3: 5)?

2. Even though dissent (by your definition) is not apostasy is it the Lord's way of dealing with our differences with the brethren?

3. What is the Lord's way of dealing with our differences with the Brethren?

4. Although Dave you have carefully argued for reasons in favor of dissent, what are the possible dangers or concerns for those engaging in it?

5. Could dissent lead the individual dissenter in a direction where the result was his/her apostasy?

6. While it may not lead the individual dissenter to apostatize, could it lead others who read his/her opinions on a blog for instance to their apostasy?

I posit these questions as discussion items, not as accusations.

Oops. I meant propositional calculus :-)

It's been too long...I googled the term...I think I was right the first time. I think it is prepositional not propositional calculus. Anyone know for sure?

I think there are two articles which deal fairly well with the Lord's view of dissention. "Do You Preach the Orthodox Religion?" by Janice Allred and "Counter-Hierarchical Revelation" by Todd Compton. Both appeared in the same issue of Sunstone and can be viewed here:


It is a big page so you will have to look for the articles a bit. (They are both about half way down the page.)

It seems to me that the difference between dissent and disagreement is that dissent involves undermining authority. And it is authority that is important to Mormons. Certainly there are many things not everyone agrees with. But typically people don't go about trying to "convert" people to their views.

"Being a prophet means to enjoy a special relationship with God and to reveal his will authoritatively. Toscano never made such a claim."

This is true but she does feel a need to counsel the brethren. Appointing oneself as the source to which the brethren should turn when faced with doctrinal issues implies that you think their relationship with God is no longer so special. It also implies (assuming that you believe in God) that you feel like you have some information that the Brethren may have missed.

"Unrighteous dominion means either to resort to coercion or to abuse authority to enrich oneself. I am not aware that Toscano engaged into either practice."

I don't believe that she is doing this to enrich herself (financially at least; spiritually is possibly another matter). But I do believe that by "exposing" the biases of the male priesthood hierarchy she is trying to coerce the church into change. Does she believe change will happen willingly? According to her sunstone article (July 2004, p. 21):
"Much of my discouragement comes from my awareness of the allure of power. Why should men give up their power and share it
with women? The LDS Church currently has one of the highest rates of male activity of any American religious organization. If women had priesthood, would men see it as
less desirable? Would their activity rate drop if they didn’t preside?"
I am taking this to mean that she does not believe that the current hierarchy has a reason for changing the current structure, so she believes that they will not. Therefore you get the quote from the Deseret News article:
"Toscano said freedom to inquire about gender issues is lacking in the church and that she experienced intolerance when she was excommunicated from the church in 2000.
'Any woman who complains about gender equity in the church is immediately accused of being power-hungry,' she said. 'I know. I've been there . . . I was told to be quiet.'
Toscano encouraged audience members to conclude that 'it's just simply wrong,' and to fight for social change, even if they may not succeed."
Sorry for the long quote. The part that interests me is the "it's just simply wrong" at the end. The antecedant for the "it" is ambiguous. Is it the church's preference for silence on gender issues or is the church's approach to gender issues or is it the church itself? Arguing publicly for the first isn't apostate (although it is dissenting); arguing publicly for the second might be apostate, depending on the approach; arguing publicly for the third is definitely apostate. In any case, it seems that, although she has good feelings for the church, she has taken it upon herself to publicly point out the church's deficiencies and to encourage others to act on the deficiencies that she has pointed out. I would call that an attempt to coerce by shame.
Additionally, since she has proposed solutions to the problems that she has pointed out, I am assuming, as stated above, that she believes that the Brethren should counsel with her (or at least someone who agrees with her). For her to believe and strive for the Brethren to accept her as a possible alternate source of doctine (as opposed to revelation) would to me be the very definition of trying to control a greater stewardship than what has actually been given her. This would, I believe, be a fairly mainstream definition of unrighteous dominion. Which is, in my opinion, what makes her apostate.
So, you are right. By your definitions, she isn't trying to be a prophet nor is she trying to exert unrighteous dominion. I hope that I have shown why the opposite is true in my understanding of the terms.

"Certainly there are many things not everyone agrees with. But typically people don't go about trying to "convert" people to their views. "
Clark, if I had seen your comment earlier, we would have all been spared my long comment.

I like Adam's comment on the ratio of dissenting to orthodox opinions -- there is, I think, a difference between selected differences of opinion and systematic dissent, which starts to look like opposing the institution as a whole.

But an opposing point can be made about "honest disagreement." I think most disagreements are honest. But I get the impression that some apologists and some Mormons who share their perspective see no disagreement as sincere and view anyone who voices a disagreement as harboring a secret agenda to undo the Lord's church. To me, that amounts to a polished brand of conspiracy thinking, portraying anyone who disagrees as an anti-Mormon. That is exactly the approach that George Q. Cannon was at pains to disavow.

I think that blogging as a social practice is inherently conducive to heterodoxy--though not necessarily to dissent--but that the disruptive potential of that heterodoxy is also inherently self-limiting. Because blogging is fundamentally dialectical--that is, oriented toward the give-and-take of discussion--it almost always draws out differences of opinion. That's why posts that allow for little or no disagreement usually get very few comments and consequently less attention. Its relentlessly text-based product lends itself to the kind of creative and strenuous reading and re-interpretation of authoritative discourse (which is itself now so easily reproducible, as Justin B. proves daily) that Nate and I were discussing. But at the same time, blogging is a virtual social activity, and rarely leads to organized action that's necessary for real dissent. Furthermore, it's so open-ended and messily organized that no real conclusion is ever reached--which again diffuses the potential for organized dissent. And because discursive authority in the bloggernacle is so widely dispersed, there's very little opportunity for a single dissenting figure to gather a following.

Surely you have heard of the coalition forming behind IMAAD. I think I might be eligible to join myself, as I have been called both a bloke and a mate by the founder. Charismatic leadership is alive and well in the bloggernacle.

John C.,
When I read your comments on Toscano's apparent attempts to counsel the brethren, it seems to me that you are making the assumption that all that is spoken from the pulpit is revelation from God.

I don't believe that there is anyone in this group who cannot produce a handful of examples of bishops, stake presidents, elder's quorum presidents, etc. who have presented what may have seemed like revelation at the time, but what ultimately turned out to be personal opinion.

I believe that how closely one's view of church leadership's infalibility is will be directly correlated to their view on the seriousness or danger of dissenting views.

It is entirely possible that MOST of non-scriptural opinions that we hear from the pulpit at sacrament meeting AND at conference is personal opinion and not revelation from the Lord. Personal grooming standards, where to draw the line in pre-marriage relationships, even how much food storage we have in our basements can all fall into this category of personal opinion devoid of the Lord's revelation.

I think we all draw our lines at what we believe to fall in the "revelation" category and what is "personal opinion." An outspoken individual who has made such a determination will then feel that dissenting against personal opinions presented as doctrine is actually the RIGHT thing to do.

Examples of this could be telling others that Cola drinks are NOT against the word of wisdom, men with ear-rings can still administer priesthood blessings that are just as effective as those without, and every calling does not come directly from the Lord.

Where you draw the line between "revelation from the Lord" and "personal opinion dispensed from the pulpit" determines whether you consider someone sharing a particular dissenting opinion as being simply a dissenter or an apostate.


I think the Bloggernacle is becoming an increasingly influential place to publish (your "L"). In fact I suggested over at T&S that qualified authors ought to publish new Mormon studies on the Bloggernacle first rather than in places like BYU Studies, Dialogue, etc. I foresee a day in the not-too-distant future that certain places in the bloggernacle will become more important and influential than those journals. (The readership already blows those journals away – the main difference is the effort put into current content.)

Geoff, I think the Bloggerancle is a great place to publish random thoughts and have nice discussions, but I think journals will remain the place to publish systematic inquiries into historical, doctrinal, and cultural issues.

Blogs do offer quick response and news-sharing of developing stories and issues, something journals and even the mainstream media aren't really equipped for. And of course blogs are fun, which matters to some people but not others.

"Where you draw the line between "revelation from the Lord" and "personal opinion dispensed from the pulpit" determines whether you consider someone sharing a particular dissenting opinion as being simply a dissenter or an apostate."

Jungle, I couldn't disagree more. Drawing that line may determine the seriousness with which I pay attention to the counsel or whether or not I believe that person to be deluded, but it does not make the difference regarding whether or not I believe the person to be apostate. As Clark stated above, apostasy is when you are trying to rally people to your cause.

Regarding Toscano, I share a lot of her questions regarding the role of women in the Church and, referring to her article, the place of Heavenly Mother in our doctrine. I just refuse to accept her self-appointed role as the prime mover in getting these things discussed. That self-appointment and the politicking involved in maintaining that appointment are the things that lead me to believe that (not knowing the specifics of the case (and not really wanting to)) the brethren involved were probably justified in excommunicating her.

I don't believe that alternate beliefs are enough to get you kicked out of the church. I do believe that setting yourself up as an alternate to the hierarchy is the surest way to kick yourself out of the church.

Dave, I apologize for the off topic comment. But regarding Toscano's claims regarding doing searches in LDS magazines and finding little or no mention of Heavenly Mother (used as evidence of the implicit sweeping under the rug of this doctrine in her Sunstone article, cited above), I don't know as I haven't duplicated the searches. But, out of curiosity, I did a search at lds.org on the term "heavenly parents" and pulled up 169 hits, including two in the Jan 2005 Ensign. The doctrine isn't going away.

Orson Scott Card has a very interesting article on the topic of authority and apostasy that originally appeared in Sunstone, "Walking the Tightrope." and reprinted by Deseret Book in "A Storyteller in Zion."

The article should appear at the this link, but appears to be a misprint.

Geoff said: "I foresee a day in the not-too-distant future that certain places in the bloggernacle will become more important and influential than those journals." Possibly, but readership does not equal quality. BYU studies for instance is a refereed journal. Having to pass through a committee certainly sharpens the quality of what is published. What about having a refereed blog? Hmm. Interesting thought...now this would mean establishing the standards and criteria of blogging. That certainly would be a more tightly controlled community. However, would it also reduce the quantity of discussion? That quantity is what I think is one of the mitigating factors that drives a blog community.

The fact that with blogging anyone anywhere has a voice removes a certain limiting bias in the opportunity for discussion. Yet, because of the filtering that takes place via members of the community, it begins to self-organizing, i.e. what has taken place with the Mormon Archipelago. As far as I can tell no official document of the standards of the Mormon Archipelago has been published. Yet the judgment criteria clearly exist because some blogs have been included and others excluded. I think I need to spend some time rereading the comments of this post. As I think about it there are standards being thrown out among many of the comments. But we are talking about a different kind of creature than a refereed journal. It seems the standards are different as well as the operational principle. I think without argument blogs and refereed journals serve different purposes. Exactly how blogging communities will influence scholarship, I am not yet certain we know. As I have written this comment I realize that standards have already been established they just have not been formalized. I will try to write a post on my blog listing what I see as the standards of the Mormon Archipelago as stated in the comments of this post.

How does one define priestcraft?

Dave, I have written a response to your thoughts. I am interested in your reply.


Dave, just skimmed over this, but I really think I'll make it a point to frequent your blog.

Jared (#3) speaks for me.

Uh, Scott, what you been smoking? I could give you a million examples of bishops whose [judgment is questionable].

I might disagree with the prophet, but nobody is ever going to hear about it from me.

[edited 5/30/06]

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