First of all, I listened to the recording, and thought the panelists all did a good job. Although I think Kaimi greatly overstated the fraction of the church elephant that the bloggernacle represents, I thought he came up with an interesting analogy. I loved Kristine's more personal approach; she read some powerful blog posts and interesting comments. And for all that Russell said he would be boring, he wasn't. I thought his analysis was well done and well presented. I particularly liked that he recognized the limitations of blogging, but recognized its strengths (conversation and interaction).
And then there was Lisa.
Anyone who has ever listened to her will know that she is funny, fun, and real. She's really a delight to listen to, personable and honest. (I will say that she needs to stop apologizing for who she is or what she think she is not.. She doesn't need a Ph.D. to communicate and to communicate well. :) )
Her honesty is something I appreciated in this panel. When the topic of the panel came up at DMI Dave's blog, I agreed with something said C Jones said about conservatives being somewhat excluded from the bloggernacle. I have seen this dynamic multiple times, and have repeatedly experienced it first hand in the year+ I have been blogging. I have close friends who have also felt this exclusion, to the point of essentially retreating and more or less giving up on commenting, particularly on the "big blogs." Just because some very, very small conservative blogs exist doesn't mean that the bloggernacle is fundamentally a welcoming place for conservatives. It's often not.
And yet, Lisa is possibly the first person I have heard who has so publicly and clearly admitted and recognized this. I read comments and emails from people who say that they care about community (and I believe they do) but few seem to really acknowledge the fact that there is a serious rift in this community or express a desire to do something about it. (I do remember reading a couple of good posts on BCC, one that was fairly recent, that tried to address the potential lack of community. I also have appreciated watching Deborah and Kathryn Lynard Soper recently try to build a bridge of understanding and camaraderie. I'd love to see more of this!)
I'm not saying the rift exists 100% of the time, and I do know that there are those who care deeply about this divide, but it seems there is often a sense of denial and/or defensiveness when the subject is broached. And the rift exists enough to make conservatives sometimes feel unwelcome, hesitant, even driven out. Unless this changes (getting to the question the panel set out to address), I don't see how we could think of the bloggernacle as really representative of Mormonism if it tends to exclude some of the very voices that are more typical of mainstream Mormonism.
So, back to Lisa. I actually couldn't decide whether to cheer or to cry when she quipped that (paraphrasing): "We berate conservatives/orthodox [her words] folks because we don't want to hear what we hear at church" and "we nudge some people like that out, because after all, if they want to talk churchy stuff, they can go somewhere else and do it in their own space." (For now, I'll try to ignore the fact that those in attendance laughed when she joked about berating conservative folks. Imagine if the tables were turned at church. Is berating or nudging someone out ever funny?)
Now, before you go all wonky on me (loved that word; I'm stealing it from Lisa), please don't misunderstand. I totally recognize and appreciate the fact that some people need a place where they can go to sort through their mind vomit (another one of Lisa's clever terms) and to come to grips with dissonance they might feel between the church and some of their personal perspectives. I understand that some people have had bad experiences with people in their family or in their church circle totally dismissing their questions and concerns, and/or unkindly "calling them to repentance." This should not be. Wherever we are, we need to feel loved and listened to, in spite of our questions or concerns or weaknesses. I feel saddened that people like Lisa feel excluded at church and have turned to the bloggernacle for a feeling of acceptance and support. And I am glad that some people have found reasons to stay, thanks to the bloggernacle. I tend to agree that a lot of these discussions really can't happen in a 30-minute Sunday-school lesson.
I do think, though, that we need to somehow learn to talk more freely with fellow church members in our real lives about our struggles. But, alas, I'm getting ahead of myself.
My blogging experience has given me a greater appreciation for the fact that we are all at different places in our journey of faith, and if we turn to God, however and wherever we can, He can bless us and help us move forward. I feel that I have learned better how to listen (even if people don't believe that's true), and I have gained more understanding of different points of view. This is extremely important to me, and it's a big reason why I blog.
But, to be honest, I think that "liberals" don't often take the time to really understand "conservatives'" point of view. Perhaps because conservative points of view have added to people's pain and struggle, I feel sometimes these perspectives are too easily and quickly dismissed. The "I get that at church" mindset often seems to create a barrier to listening and seeking to understand.
So if I may, I want to say this: Just because you hear similar thoughts at church doesn't mean that you really understand those like me who blog, and it doesn't mean our motives are the same as those who may have caused you pain (if their motives were truly malignant). We wouldn't be blogging if we weren't interested in discussion beyond what happens at church as well, so perhaps it's NOT all like what you get at church. :)
And please, please, don't assume that by sharing church-like thoughts, someone's intentions are to self-righteously call someone to repentance, to call someone else an apostate, or to try to shut down discussion. (These are all arguments I have seen repeatedly and usually unfairly used to shut down (nudge out) commenters like me.) Most of the time, people like me are also trying to work through our own thoughts, to understand others' points of view, and sometimes, yes, to represent the oft-underrepresented and -unspoken mainstream point of view. After all, people ARE turning to the bloggernacle more and more for understanding of Mormonism. If we don't allow for mainstream points of view, what kind of disservice might we be doing to the Church and to those who want to understand it?
I've talked about the problem of exclusion of conservatives, and addressed concerns about the public face of the bloggernacle. I have another bloggernacle concern that relates to all of this.
I think that as long as there are divisions -- "ites" if you will -- like liberal and conservative, orthodox and new order (don't know if those are actual opposites, but you get where I'm going), feminist and not-so-feminist, mainstream and closer-to-the-edge, we (either on- or off-line) won't truly be able to be a community. Of course, as Elder Holland recently explained, the blessings of church membership come with a price, and we cannot simply remove the price tag at will, even for the sake of community. But so often, we have rifts between those of us who are striving to pay the price, those for whom church membership is a precious element of life. In fact, I feel that sometimes more effort is made to reach out to those not of or formerly of our faith, rather than to those who might be different from us within the faith.
If all we do is find our corner of the internet to simply be comfortable without sometime, somehow learning to come together in spite of our differences, I think we are missing the full meaning and purpose of our membership. It's not just about personal peace. It's about being one in a community, united in Christ.
I think J. Daniel Crawford said it well in the post I linked to above:
If we were one in Christ, I believe that we would be encouraged to treat everyone as a whole person, not simply as an amalgam of desirable and undesirable characteristics [might I add points of view?].... If we have [the love of Christ] I don’t believe our goal would be to create and reinforce the divisions among us. Instead, we would be bound in one great whole.
I hope that especially those who have power and influence in the bloggernacle will give some consideration to these wise words. Actually, though, I think it is something we all need to consider. I think too often, we allow ourselves to stay stuck in mindsets and modes of interaction that reinforce and facilitate the divisions and contentions that the Lord has asked us to leave behind. I think that only through a love and a unity that binds us together in spite of insecurities, struggles, frustrations, and even misunderstandings will we hope to come close to representing what the gospel and the church are about. Because ultimately, the gospel and church are about the Savior and His saving grace and about coming unto Him, and doing it together -- not about polygamy, or the Word of Wisdom, or politics, or most of the other comment-driving, conversation-producing, controversial topics we may discuss. I think we need to do better about helping people see that side of our faith that so far, the press has largely missed.
Actually, sometimes I think we miss it, too.