This last week has been full of online drama for me personally, and I’m writing this post to apologize for some immature behavior and attempt to reset and restart in a different direction.
I created this blog and started posting actively on Mormonism here and under a pseudonym Facebook account Randall Bowen about three years ago. My goal was to present my “sacramental-metaphorical paradigm” of Mormonism.
I responded to church critics on this topic frequently and moved into a role over time where I have become a Mormon “Neo-Apologist”. Everyone might not agree on a definition for that, but my definition is one who defends Mormonism from the perspective of the metaphorical paradigm, where historical or scriptural issues like BOM historicity, polygamy, Book of Abraham issues, etc, are essentially conceded, and what is defended is the lived experience of Mormonism as a valid way to worship God, serve and be served in the LDS Body of Christ, work to become your best self, and find meaning in this life.
My goal in this is to defend the Church while not being a jerk about it. I would like to be chill and friendly with everyone. Here is my position, if you don’t like it, that’s fine. This is your position, I don’t like it or I don’t think it’s fair, and this is why, but in the end, we should be able to enjoy a Diet Coke together.
In the beginning I was mostly successful at this, but over time, I have been becoming more and more snarky and letting the arguments that should stay intellectual become emotional and personal.
The last week has been a low point in this for me, and I would like to acknowledge this and reset. This is not going to be a tenth as beautiful and pure as the Streeter hoax apology, but I’ll do what I can.
Jonathan Streeter made a mistake last week with the hoax apology. Jonathan and I started out friendly a few years ago and then that slowly deteriorated over time where I think recently we have viewed each other as rivals, lashing out at each other when the opportunity arose.
Honestly, I had sympathy for him after the hoax came out. I don’t think he’s a racist. I think it’s somewhat common for those in the privileged position to make a relatively innocuous mistake that gets labeled as racist, and then in the social media age, that can snowball quickly.
I lashed out at him over a few things related to this mistake. But I admit a motivator in my lashing out was a desire to pile on someone I saw as one of my enemies in my silly online battles. That kind of opportunistic criticism where one doesn’t care so much about the issue as piling on the accused (outrage culture) is one of my pet peeves and criticism of what I see some Church critics do. I shouldn’t do the same thing.
I apologize to Jonathan and will do my best to empathize with his takes and be less personal and emotional in my responses.
I’ve been critical of Sam Young with my perception that his motives are first to harm the church second to protect LDS children, and that is how he has structured his campaign. As part of my criticism towards Streeter last week I wrote the following:
I thought Jonathan’s early reporting and commentary where he heaped on high praise to the church for this (something I think he’s done exactly once in his life or at least since he’s started his anti-Mormon ministry) on this was totally dishonest and showed his willingness to stoop to ethical lows to fight the church. I have also heard he’s been involved before in this sort of thing, creating fake bishop pedophile stories to post on Sam Young’s protectldschildren website.
Backstory: Sam Young collects stories on his website of people that have had bad experiences with LDS bishops. He now has over 500 stories. A few months ago, Jonathan Streeter got involved with him, putting a few of the stories to voice and converted to video format. Jonathan promoted these quite actively for a while. At the time, I had a general suspicion of Streeter’s involvement. I posted in a forum asking Sam how much he vets these stories, a discussion ensued, and out of that someone sent me a private message telling me some info they received that Streeter had faked at least one of the stories. When the hoax came out last week, it clicked with me that this is the same MO, and I made that accusation in a facebook post.
I admit now that my personal issues with Sam and Jonathan, and my emotions of being a little too strident in my defense of Mormonism, probably got in the way of rational thought, leading me to think that it was a good idea for me to make that accusation. I officially withdraw that accusation, apologize for making it, and I have edited my facebook post to remove that accusation. My bad.
I wouldn’t sign the Protect LDS Children petition. And I don’t support the campaign. But there are some changes I’d like to see in the Mormon Church that intersect with the goals of the campaign. Early on, Sam and I had a discussion where I advised him on how to soften the language of the petition to be more appealing to faithful LDS. He agreed with me, thanked me, and told me he’d change the language per my suggestions. Then the next day, he told me the Exmormon community was angry with him for making those changes and that it decreased the power of the petition, so he reverted. This might be part of why I let personal emotions get involved in this. I probably got butt hurt over that.
One very serious negative fallout of my accusation could be that someone’s true story of abuse on that website could be ignored or assumed a fake. That would be a serious mistake. I wouldn’t want that, and I apologize. I have no desire to defend the Church or minimize consequences or bad press when it comes to abuse. See my recent post on McKenna Denson.
I apologize to Sam for letting emotions and bravado get in the way and attempt to use the Streeter hoax to cast suspicion on his campaign.
Mike Norton is known as NewNameNoah, the guy who records temple videos secretly and publishes them online. More on the term anti-Mormon later, but if you were to use that word, he might be the #1 well known “anti-Mormon” in the world.
I got involved in a little scrape with Mike over the aforementioned facebook post. Mike started using aggressive language with me, insulting me, posting on his wall, and posting on my wall. He demanded I delete the post with the Streeter-ProtectLDSChildren accusation, and if not he would “ruin me”. He asked his friends on facebook to report my account to fb to attempt to get my account banned. And is asking his friends that know my real identity to share it with him, so he can “out” me. I initially stood my ground, telling him I wouldn’t be bullied. But I’m deciding now that though I disagree with the bully tactics, I think there is a valid point that I overreached on repeating that unsubstantiated rumor. So, I am deleting that claim and apologizing for it.
I apologize to Sam on behalf of Mike for involving ProtectLDSChildren in my Streeter criticism.
Jesse Stay, apparently following the request of Mike Norton, posted on my wall inviting all my friends to report me to get my facebook account banned. We went back and forth for quite a while, and I broke. I dropped an f bomb and said other uncharitable things to Jesse. I took it personally because though Jesse is an Exmormon and vocal critic of the Church, I have taken a personal interest in some of his vulnerable posts on facebook, reached out as a friend, and felt we were friends with positive feelings for each other.
I apologize to Jesse for getting personal with him in this dumb little fight.
Use of the term “Anti-Mormon”
In his landmark Fairmormon presentation, Grant Hardy called on LDS Apologists to stop or reduce using the term “anti-Mormon”. I have been pretty good at taking this counsel, but in a post last week on fb, I used the term “anti-Mormon” in a pejorative way several times to make a point. I apologize. I’m going to do better at refraining from use of this term.
Update on my anonymity
I’ve been pretty open about my anonymity for quite some time, but there are still some that are surprised to find out I use a pseudonym. I have been challenged to come open immediately, or that my online efforts will be in vain, just showing why it’s not safe for Mormons to hold unorthodox views. I appreciate that criticism and agree it is valid. I had a conversation with my wife and adult children to decide if now was the right time, and we decided it’s not right yet. So I will continue this way a little longer. If anyone feels they need to “out” me or attempt to get my facebook account banned, I hope they reconsider. That is a personal action to harm me that I don’t think should be part of the discussion.
I’ve had random other scrapes with Exmormons. Jeremy Runnels blocked me on facebook after I questioned his motives publicly, ie is he just “asking questions” or does he have ill intent towards the Church. I’ve had a few bad interactions with John Dehlin, where I’ve been snarky and he’s blocked me. I have had itchy ears at times and reacted quickly to church criticism with others.
I openly accept the title “Mormon Neo-Apologist”. I do believe the Church is a net positive in the world. I will continue to defend it. I will continue to promote a nuanced perspective to those who are experiencing faith crisis. In this sense, I will continue to operate in the same space as the fiercest LDS critics. We will continue to view things very differently. But I recommit to go about it the right way. I’ll try to keep things intellectual and not personal or emotional, to view those with differing opinions with empathy, to be as generous as possible in my interaction with others, to not make assumptions about motives, to try to see the best in others.
I hope the Exmormons among my friends and those I interact with will accept this apology and we can move forward with more healthy interaction.