Flowers Under the Big Tent

As Jewish families finish their season of High Holy Days and Sukkot, it's tempting to envision a warm, tribal, largely secular Mormon identity modeled on the ethnic Judaism that continues brings history, community, and meaning to otherwise secular families. The advantages of such a "secular Mormonism" would be many, to my mind: for one, it would offer a resting place for families and individuals that, for whatever reason, no longer find themselves able to practice actively but feel no hostility toward the Church and no desire to renounce their affiliation. A legible secular Mormonism would allow these families to carry their LDS identity with them, albeit in a different form, and this in turn would weave Mormonism more deeply into the larger culture, beyond our own tightly-knit faith communities.

The Flowers spot barely gestures toward an ethnic Mormonism, to be sure. And as appealing as I find the idea of a warm, tribal LDS identity, there are good reasons why Mormonism may never be able to accommodate such a drastic dilution. Foremost, we are a proselyting religion, and much of our vitality comes from the converts who—not to put too find a point on it—abandon their family tribal identities in order to embrace a new faith community. Encouraging personal identification with and loyalty to one's ancestral faith could cost the Church as many new members as it preserves from the departing. Furthermore, the reciprocity and trust that characterizes the LDS ward—in my view, the richest reward of Mormon experience—largely depends on mutual signals of personal commitment from member to member.

Relaxing Mormon identity to accommodate non-practicing members might weaken those signals and in turn erode community trust.

So I'm not holding my breath for a "biggest tent" Mormonism, and I'm glad that I don't have to make the decisions about how far to stretch those stakes. But I love that we are capacious enough in 2011 to contain Brandon Flowers, past and present. We'll sing and we'll shout: that fire is burning.

10/23/2011 4:00:00 AM
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  • Rosalynde Welch
    About Rosalynde Welch
    Rosalynde Welch is an independent scholar who makes her home in St. Louis, Missouri, with her husband and four children.