June 29, 2009

"Born-Again Mormon" Review, Part 4: “The block on which the story was built”

Continuing review of Shawn McCraney's I Was a Born-Again Mormon. See part 1, 2, 3, 5, 6, 7, 8, and 9

Latter-day Saints do not typically view Martin Luther as simply an “apostate” of Western Catholicism, but rather as a reformer who had some important insights for the faith of Christians.1 Does McCraney likewise offer any insights from which current members may benefit? In part 3 I described an overview of McCraney's account of personal apostasy. In the rest of the review I'd like to focus on some things Latter-day Saints might take away from McCraney's account. This approach was inspired by an account of a conversation with Joseph Smith.

Early Latter-day Saint Jesse W. Crosby recalled a conversation between Smith and a woman who had been offended by gossip spread about her by another member. Joseph reportedly “offered her his method of dealing with such cases for himself. When an enemy had told a scandalous story about him, which had often been done, before he rendered judgment he paused and let his mind run back to the time and place and setting of the story to see if he had not by some unguarded word or act laid the block on which the story was built. If he found that he had done so, he said that in his heart he then forgave his enemy, and felt thankful that he had received warning of a weakness that he had not known he possessed.” The prophet advised the woman to do likewise, and she admitted she believed there was some cause for the story. “Then the prophet told her that in her heart she could forgive that brother who had risked his own good name and her friendship to give her this clearer view of herself.”2

In that spirit, consider McCraney’s account. He believes that by following the guidelines of the Church he would have only appeared to be a good person on the outside, but “I also would never have been satisfied in my relationship to God had I simply plowed along in the soil of accepted LDS ways. Mormonism works for many people, but its operations are really no different than a well oiled corporation or a military operation. I was searching for an all out, life-changing relationship with God that could not be denied. Here Mormonism fails” (p. 70).

Without ignoring McCraney’s agency and personal responsibility, one can conclude that-- in some way-- Mormonism did fail him. The olive tree of the Church is beautiful, but upon close inspection one might see the scars where precious branches were broken off to be burned or grafted elsewhere.3 Despite its shortcomings, I Was a Born-Again Mormon offers Latter-day Saints the opportunity to better understand the feelings of one who left the Church, possible contributing factors to apostasy, and the reactions one might receive in doubting or leaving the Church.

In the last section of the review I discussed McCraney's view of himself as a Martin Luther of sorts for the LDS Church.

Hyrum L. and Helen Mae Andrus, comp., They Knew the Prophet, Bookcraft (1976), 144.

See the fifth chapter of the book of Jacob in the Book of Mormon.


Kent (MC) said...

I agree that the Church (or members of it) failed Shawn McCraney. I often reflect on how the discussion of Christ's grace and forgiveness of sins became such a difficult concept for those of past generations to accept. I am grateful that for the past couple of decades (at least since "Believing Christ" came out) that the atonement has retaken its foundational place in our discourse.

Bookslinger said...

I agree. I call the phenomenon "checklist Mormonism". We're so focused and so busy on outwardly performing and checking off the outwardly observable activities, that the internal relationship to Heavenly Father, through/via the Holy Ghost, and how it should affect us, and our inner workings with that relationship get short shrift.

IMO, this is more a "born-in-the-church" problem than a convert problem, and the solutions lie with parents and primary/youth leaders.

BHodges said...

I think it tends to be more common among "BIC" members as well. Just a guess-observation, though.

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