The term unorthodox Mormon encompasses a wide variety of people within the Mormon Spectrum.
Other terms with which people may identify are: open, big-tent, liberal, progressive, non-literal, non-traditional, New Order Mormon (NOM) and heterodox.
There is a wide range of beliefs regarding Mormon theology, culture and the formal LDS church in this group. Many feel an attachment to their Mormon identity, heritage, and culture and have warm feelings for aspects of Mormonism and Mormon people. Awareness and knowledge of church history, as well as omissions from correlated church material, are common. Perspectives on social issues vary greatly. An Unorthodox member is typically unwilling to accept correlated Mormonism without investigation. They may self-identify as being fully faithful in *practice* while recognizing that beliefs may be privately held.
People that identify in this area of the spectrum may feel free to pick and choose what works for them and discard the things that don’t. Often a more nuanced approach in viewing theology is taken. The unorthodox member may embrace, accept, or recognize fallibility in prophets and leaders, and view some past historical things as mistakes. Their views of early prophets, the restoration and church truth claims vary widely. The Book of Mormon and the Book of Abraham may be viewed as inspired, but not necessarily as literal historical records. Disagreement with current or past prophets and leaders on various subjects is not uncommon. Actively working for change within the church, in various areas, may be important.
A variety of callings in the church are held by people that identify as unorthodox. Members may or may not hold current temple recommends and hold different viewpoints regarding the temple experience. They may or may not pay tithing or adhere to the Word of Wisdom. Attendance and participation in the church vary widely. Choices regarding church participation are motivated by a variety of factors.
There is a wide range of emotions and feelings within this group regarding Mormonism and the church, depending on personal circumstances and experiences. They may feel isolated, as they recognize they no longer share some of the same perspectives and beliefs as those around them at church. They may feel limited in their ability to interact, make comments, teach lessons, and share their perspectives. Desire for privacy and the fear of damaging marriages, relationships, employment, social circles, and community may be a real concern. “Leadership roulette” may become a significant factor in whether or not these individuals are embraced, accepted, and supported within the church community or simply disciplined.
The church often sends mixed messages to those who identify in this area of the spectrum. On the one hand, there are leaders who proclaim inclusion to members of all levels of faith and testimony. On the other hand, there are others that frame doubts or differing perspectives in negative ways. This has the potential for added pressure on relationships and families. It can place great strain on married couples if they find they don’t share the same views, perspectives, and beliefs anymore. Navigating marriages and raising children in situations where partners view things differently can be very challenging.
Mormon Spectrum hopes to provide resources and information to help unorthodox Mormons as they navigate these challenges and help them find additional ways to feel supported.
An apologist is someone that defends their faith, whatever religion that might be.
A Mormon Apologist is a member that is aware of the uncorrelated church material - the discrepancies between the official church narratives and the historical records - and speaks, writes and engages in defending the church.
Another purpose of apologetics is to provide a faithful perspective to the difficult issues and topics so that people can maintain their testimony.
Being an apologist is one of the many “hats” a member may wear and typically not something they solely identify as or do full-time. As a result, it becomes more of an approach that’s taken, by some, once they begin to explore the issues outside of the official church correlated material. This method, of using and relying on “faithful scholarship”, is another option for a member as they study. There is a broad range of opinions among those engaged in Mormon apologetics and at times they disagree with each other’s conclusions.
Some Mormon Apologists form volunteer organizations and hold conferences, symposiums, publish jointly and write books. The more well known apologetic organizations are: Foundation for Ancient Research and Mormon Studies (FARMS) which dissolved in 2010, Maxwell Institute, FairMormon and Brigham Young Religious Studies.
The church does have considerable influence over the types of scholarship published by organizations affiliated with church departments and schools, but distances itself from any official endorsement. Many members engage in apologetics on an ongoing basis using various private avenues: social media, articles, op-ed pieces, publications and their various church callings.
Some of the more well known past apologists have been: Hugh Nibley, B.H. Roberts, James E.Talmage and W. Cleon Skousen. An advanced degree, a specific church calling or particular education level is not needed, or required, to engage in apologetics. Much of what happens within Mormon Apologetics today happens online which provides the opportunity for broad participation.
Mormon Apologists begin with faith and belief when approaching a subject. As a result, the issues that result from discrepancies are approached from that starting foundation. The assumption is made that since the church is true, there must be logical, valid and reasonable explanations for any inconsistencies, confusion or past mistakes that arise. Trusting the church and believing God has yet to reveal everything, often come into the apologetic defense. Apologists may view the available information, current science and understanding as limited, and subject to error, when interpreting, analyzing and discussing past historical events, truth claims and narratives.
The reliance on a spiritual confirmation is a critical component for a Mormon Apologist. Ultimately, this is the method that determines truth and viewed as the overarching way to sort through whatever information, topic or issue is being studied and discussed.