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Dave, there should also be a Far Left category--complete revisionists and relativists.

You see, liberal Mormons, even with all those "winks", still think there's something special about the Church, that the hand of God is directly present, if not in the simplistic ways often presented by "conservatives." The uber-liberal would say that there's nothing in Mormonism that is "more true" than any other religion; they may stick around for social reasons, or in the hope that the church itself will see the error of its ways and liberalize.

I feel that I straddle the line between conservative and liberal; I am comforted that there's something more to the right but want to have a buffer at the left to make me feel more safe in the middle!

The criteria seem to be doctrinal, as opposed to social. Have you read Lowell Bennion's "The Place of a Liberal in Religion"? He defines liberal by 4 characteristics.

1) A liberal thinks and reasons.
2) A liberal has strong humanistic interest.
3) A liberal emphasizes the ethical and moral aspects of religion.
4) A liberal feels closer kinship to the prophetic than the priestly.

I had my BoM class read this last summer, (it's still available beginning on p.3 here) and then asked them if King Benjamin was a liberal. Some of the responses were quite amusing.


I agree that the majority of Mormons are in the Conservative group, with a caveat. I think that the great majority of members are only dimly aware of the distinctions you are making. For example, I think most members have no idea about the debate over BoM historicity. They don't worry about how other members live their lives except for perhaps on a superficial, gossipy level.

While these distinctions have meaning in the bloggernacle, and amoung the magazine and FARMS crowds, most don't even think in these terms.

I mean no offense, but it strikes me that categories only serve to create and reinforce divisions among the people. Can the people of Christ be divided so? I wonder, should we be more concerned with doing away with such borders? I realize the difficulty of such undertaking, but still, I think it's something to shoot for.

JLS, one can certainly make that argument, and it holds true, I think, in some circumstances—acting "as one" in a service project as a quorum or ward, or meeting as a body at conferences. But there may also be a positive effect from better understanding one's own perspective or religious "personality," as well as the comforting realilzation that there are others in the faith who share your own particular view of things.

Ronan, sounds like a great book. I do question some of the self-laudatory descriptions, however, such a defining a liberal as one who thinks and reasons (implying conservatives or very-conservatives don't).

Bennion actually handles the thinking part very carefully, but I didn't want to copy-paste whole paragraphs. It's a very generous definition.

Thanks for the link. Oddly enough, I have written a new post discouraging the use of labels in order to facilitate an effective dialogue. (Come Together, Right Now… Electronically)

You can judge for yourself if I am being hypocritical. My view though is that we need to first understand differing mindsets and approaches. It is through the defining of differing categories or labels that we may be able to articulate that sort of understanding necessary to understand differing worldviews within one's own faith. After which point, we can then progress into an effective and open dialogue by purposefully NOT referencing labels so as to facilitate a meaningful and undivisive dialogue.

Dave, if you can remember waaaaay back, our first contact was from a blog entry I wrote about conservative vs. liberal mormons. I'm not linking back because I don't want to use the vocabulary I used there, but here is the gist of my point then in different words:

I think the conservative/liberal continuum of Mormon belief corresponds to a continuum of doctrine/culture, or a continuum of essential/inessential, in regards to the body of what is considered "Mormon belief" (how exactly that body can be defined is a massive issue, and another topic entirely).

An extremely conservative Mormon treats all teachings which could be considered "Mormon belief" as doctrinal and essential -- these people would never be caught dead using face cards, set an alarm clock to make sure that their fasts are never a minute under 24 hours, and quite possibly suspect that pi is actually 3 because it says so in the Bible. While a tendency toward overt legalism is obvious in this end of the spectrum, that's not the essence of Mormon conservatism, which is: Nothing is culture or interpretation, EVERYTHING is doctrine.

At the other end, the extreme liberal Mormon doesn't hold anything to be essential. The Book of Mormon is scripture only inasmuch as "scripture" means "a book with some nice thoughts in it and some thee's and thou's." Priesthood authority is entirely a cultural construct, a paradigm for relating and ordering the church and one's own beliefs, with no empirical efficacy or power beyond the occasional placebo effect. The atonement of Jesus Christ is a nice cultural touchstone, and an excellent though optional metaphor for personal self-renewal and ethical growth. The only sense in which any part of the gospel is "true" is in the sense that it gives a narrative myth to people who need it, while expressing generally worthwhile ethical values, but at no point should any working definition of "true" intersect with "factual."

These are the exaggerated extremes, and very few people occupy them. And where exactly the dividing line lies between a "conservative Mormon" and a "liberal Mormon" is a moving and subjective target.

I think that those on the conservative end are accomodated more easily than those on the liberal end simply because we may thus end up with a lot more inessential bathwater, but fewer accidentally discarded babies.

i can't believe no one has mentioned robert kirby's five kinds of mormons article. here's the text for everyone.

With 30 years in the LDS Church, 30 states, and four countries, I think I’m something of an expert on Mormons. Enough of an expert in fact to know I’m going to catch hell for this.

Here it is: In the entire world there are only five kinds of Mormons. Basically.

The first kind of Mormon is the Liberal Mormon. This includes all Mormons who attend church only when they feel like it. Liberal Mormons vote anywhere to the left of the Republican Party, are not rabidly pro-life and don’t think every word that falls from the lips of a general authority represents the actual personal opinion of Jesus Christ.

Liberal Mormons are going to hell. Just ask any of the other four kinds of Mormons. On the other hand, Liberal Mormons think the intolerance and naive stupidity of other Mormons is more of a threat to mankind than Russian missiles, wheat weevils, or R-rated movies.

After Liberal Mormons come Genuine Mormons. Nearly every Mormon think thinks this is the kind of Mormon he represents. In reality, Genuine Mormons are about as rare as, oh, say angels or golden plates.

Genuine Mormons are unimpressed with themselves and their opinions. They are affable, easy-going, and keenly interested in the well-being of others. They live various lifestyles and, when compared to the more outlandish lifestyles of other Mormons, tend to be dang near invisible. A friend of mine says this is because they’ve all been translated. He’s wrong.

My studies have proven there are only 11 Genuine Mormons on the face of the earth. Two of them live in Utah, three in the remainder of the United States, two in South Africa, one in Japan, Canada, Samoa, and Spain. There are no Genuine Mormons in California or Idaho. One doubles as a Liberal Mormon. Of the remaining 10, four are the Three Nephites and John the Beloved.

The third kind of Mormon is the Conservative Mormon. These kinds of Mormons are the suit and flowered dress crowd you see at church. They tend to be a little overweight and Republican. They attend church 95 percent of the time but many, if pressed hard enough, sleep through General Conference. They pay tithing on their net income and have 4.5 children. The home of C.M.’s are decorated with Relief Society-produced knick-knacks. Conservative Mormons humor Liberal Mormons because, after all, they are God’s children too. Seventy-five percent of the LDS Church is C.M., and 99 percent of all Conservative Mormons were born into the Church.

Fourth are Orthodox Mormons. Orthodox Mormons would not miss church for the death of a relative. Left to their own devices, O.M.’s would eventually make the bringing of dry cereal in Tupperware bowls to sacrament meeting a gospel ordinance. Orthodox Mormons have 7.8 children—not because they enjoy them but because somewhere it says they should, and because even abstinence is an intolerable form of birth control.

Orthodox Mormons are scared of Russians, MTV and accidentally partaking of the sacrament with their left hands. They believe Liberal Mormons are children of the devil. Orthodox Mormons pay tithing based on their gross income and believe that Diet Coke is part of the Word of Wisdom.

Finally, there are Nazi Mormons. Ten percent of the LDS Church is Nazi Mormon. Of that 10 percent, 90 percent live in Utah, most within shouting distance of BYU. Nazi Mormons are prone to wild claims in testimony meeting about things that cannot be proven. Nazi Mormons claim Diet Coke is the same thing as heroin, and heaven is a multi-level marketing system. Nazi Mormons always want to have private talks with you about either gold futures, alien landing strips, or soap.

Nazi Mormons believe French kissing is cause for excommunication. They commonly strike the advice of general authorities and improve on it: if no single dating until 16 is good, no single dating until the draft age is even better. Nazi Mormons pay tithing based on their gross income, including the stuff they get from the bishop’s storehouse.

There you go. Remember, it is possible to fluctuate between levels. In truth, one could find himself swayed from the C.M. level to the O.M. level by a particularly powerful fireside speaker. This only applies to one level jumps. A Liberal Mormon, for example, could never drop four levels to Nazi Mormon.

Personally I think labels of this sort confuse issues more than help. I think by and large people just don't have strong opinions on the matters and thus don't fit into any of the categories. For those with strong opinions you can apply the labels, but those are the minority. People might answer like one of the labels, but unless you keep in mind how wedded they are to their opinions, I think you end up with misleading views of the membership.

Mike, I am appalled! Kirby thinks I am a conservative Mormon. I guess I need to lose ten pounds and start voting Democratic. His essay shows how important it is to get these categories straightened out properly.

How about differentiating the three types of Mormons by which kind of authority they emphasize?

A liberal Mormon would emphasize the authority of individual conscience. A conservative Mormon would emphasize the authority of the institutional church. A fundamentalist Mormon would emphasize the authority of the foundational texts.

In each case, a Mormon would also acknowledge the authority of the individual conscience (personal testimony or reason), the church, and the texts -- but the rubber hits the road for each group when one authority may be enabled to trump the others.

Liberals might conclude that there are situations when conscience trumps a General Authority or scripture. Conservatives might conclude that the church and the General Authorities can trump the explicit statements in scripture -- as the LDS Church has done in renouncing polygamy. (The Church and its legitimate prophetic role is more important to a conservative than the founding texts, although this doesn't usually become clear until a conservative encounters a fundamentalist.) Fundamentalists might conclude that even the General Authorities can misread scripture.

Possible problems with the definitions:

"A liberal thinks and reasons. A liberal has strong humanistic interest."

Well, if those are the two hallmarks of liberals, I'm afraid the definition is so broad that it includes both the theologically liberal & conservative mormons discussed above. If it is meant to excluse theologically conservative Mormons, tis nothing more than poisoning the well.

I like Philocrites suggestion. The crucial difference is how the individual Saint creates her hierarchy of authority. Which level(s) creates binding precedents and which are only persuasive? What to do if their is a circuit split between the difference authority sources.

To add to that, it could be added that liberal mormons are probably more likely to emphasize the individual as being capable of creating such a hierarchy; while conservative & fundamentalist Mormons would probably be more likely to conclude that there is but 1 hierarchy & those not following 'the' hierarchy of authority are not fully mormon.

I must admit that Philocrates' taxonomy is the most appealing to me... but in the end, I don't much care for any of them: I'm too complex to define.

: )

I suspect that it is difficult to define these sorts of concepts unless you have a clear idea of what you are going to be doing with them. The suspicion, of course, is always that the real purpose of creating the concepts is to beat up one group, generally with some variation on the Faithless whiner v. Dogmatic idiot dichotomy. Not that this isn't a fun discussion from time to time.

You all forgot the militant Mormon, the one that believes they will rise up and offer the military protection to the church.

I was reading a book summarizing the Mormon religion, written by a non-member.

He pointed out that there are really two kinds of Mormons within the church:

One group consists of those who attend the temple fairly regularly, attend church just about every week, and hold down most of the "serious callings" in the ward and stake. He called these the "elite" of the church structure.

The other group is not necessarily temple-worthy, is only semi-active, and usually aren't entrusted with being Young Women President.

He said the church is run by the first group. But it is largely populated by the second.

It's not a very fine-tuned categorization in my opinion. But it did make me think about church differently.

Richard Poll, apparently the originator of the Liahona/Iron Rod lables gave an interesting test regarding which camp you are in. He said something like when you hear something new and you wonder if it is true and you really care who said it you are an Iron Rodder. If you mostly care about the content and how you feel about it then you are the Liahona type. Always seemed like a good test to me.

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