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Paul Toscano and you


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Sometimes, I just don't get apostates.

Tonight, I watched a video of Paul Toscano addressing the Sunstone Symposium (in SLC) in 2003. Essentially, Toscano is addressing his excommunication as part of the September Six in 1993 and some other doctrinal issues. The video can be found somewhere on the Sunstone site for free, although I forget where I originally got it. I'll be happy to email the file on request. I watched it with two of my more conservative member friends, who were visibly uncomfortable. Presumably, this is because of Toscano's obviously unorthodox views. I think the video is pretty funny, including a joke about how Toscano sees his future that ranks in my top ten funny moments. After the video's over, one buddy (let's call him AP) says:

"Man, if your life has gotten so bad because of all of this stuff, isn't it time to change something?"

I don't typically buy into this kind of reasoning. I especially hate it when people respond to a complaint about someone/something with "you just need to have more charity". Obviously, that's a solution to anything, but it doesn't really address the issue of what one who doesn't meet the charity standard of Sister Molly or Brother Peter should actually do. But I think AP had a point here, especially considering Toscano's poorly framed argument.

Toscano repeatedly expresses regret that his excommunication did not make more of a difference in the LDS community. It is his belief that the Church has turned into a machine that grinds out dissent and is less about spirituality than running up the numbers. Fair enough. A man's entitled to an opinion. But here's what I really don't understand. If Toscano is so worried about his "legacy" in the LDS community, why can't he frame an argument decently? What he throws out there in this presentation makes him absolutely unable to get in the cognitive door of your average Latter-Day Saint. Consider the following arguments that he makes in the twenty minute presentation:

1) Jesus Christ, while an exemplary human being, may not have actually been the Son of God.

2) The Book of Mormon is not really history, but an epic with some revealing truths.

3) Joseph Smith meant well, but likely wasn't inspired of God. Toscano, in his words, no longer considers Joseph a hero to him.

4) Sins that he considers to be "gnats" include: premarital sex, pornography, assorted fornication, homosexuality, the Word of Wisdom, etc.

The list goes on. One is left to wonder whether Toscano ever believed any of it. My point is not to dismiss the above claims out of hand: lots of really bright, really religious people agree with Toscano. More agree with him than don't on 2 and 3, and possibly 1 and 4. However, given the above claims, I can't accept Toscano as someone that has really tried to live the gospel and was stopped from doing so by a restrictive Church hierarchy.

Toscano's main beef with the Church (that was emphasized here) was its hierarchical nature and its inability to tolerate dissent, as well as a condemnation of the judging, homophobia, etc. that came with the Church in modern times. He locates the worst of this as beginning with Harold B. Lee and the correlation effort. His criticism extends to local leadership and GAs that actively sought to crush dissenters, with special attention given to Boyd K. Packer.

Look, I can dig all that. I'm no Packer fan, at least when he starts speculating. I don't think drinking coffee is a mortal sin, I don't like the judging, I don't think the Church handles intellectual issues that well, et cetera, et cetera. I could even buy that individual members that feel this way can make a positive difference if they're able to separate the gospel from the institutional Church and make changes at the local level, although I'm not optimistic that this would ever happen on even the smallest scale.

But I can't listen to people like Toscano. Because, in denying the basic principles of the faith, his arguments about organizational structure are nothing more than deck chairs on the Titanic. I simply cannot assume that the institutional Church is Toscano's problem when it seems clear that he had (or, at any rate, has) no testimony of the basics. If you can't tell me that Jesus is the Christ, if you can't tell me that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God, if you can't tell me that the Book of Mormon is inspired scripture, then you can't tell me that it was Boyd K. Packer that made you a non-Mormon.

Which leads me to wonder: who is Toscano talking to? Who does he want to persuade?

The answer there is complex. Part of it is probably the standard explanation that a lot of members would give you: he's in bed with the antis, he hates the Church because of "what they did", and so he's going to say anything bad he can think of that he can justify by hook or by crook. But I don't think that explains all of it. After all, this is the same Paul Toscano that wrote "Music and the Broken Word", an LDS parody hymnbook (featuring humdingers such as "'Ere you left this morning, did you think to shave?"). This wasn't targeted at nonmembers. They wouldn't get the jokes. Toscano is trying to talk to members and persuade them of the error of their ways.

The problem is pretty clear, however. Even if he's really sincere, even if he really thinks all of these bad things about the Church, he's already talked himself out of the head of any Latter-Day Saint that's active enough and faithful enough for his words to make a difference.

In the end, I have to largely concur with AP. This is a situation where, in my view, Toscano has got a lot of bitterness, a few legitimate beefs, and a lack of spiritual insight that have combined to produce a man that opposes the LDS Church on principle.

To summarize: if Toscano is/wants to be/will become a wolf disguised as a sheep, he's going to have to find a lot of wool.

P.S. I do understand that most members won't have even heard of Toscano, much less this talk at the Sunstone Symposium. My point is simply addressed at the rhetoric that he's using: it's just plain less effective.


15 Responses to “Paul Toscano and you”

  1. Anonymous Ben S. 

    "To summarize: if Toscano is/wants to be/will become a wolf disguised as a sheep, he's going to have to find a lot of wool."

    LOL!

    Toscano's conversion story was actually featured in the 3-part book series of conversion stories, "No More Strangers." He's in V. II.

    He's got quite a support network. His wife is Margaret Merril Toscano, who's sister is Janice Merril Allred, known for advocating praying to MiH. (That even got a mention in General Conference).

    Those three together make up more than 25% of the presenters at the (Pseduo)Mormon Women's Forum conference this weekend.

    How well do they represent the views of most LDS women? My guess is, not very accurately at all.

  2. Blogger RoastedTomatoes 

    Ben, as far as I know, Janice Merril Allred never advocated praying to Mother in Heaven. I've read all of her publications and listened to many of her Sunstone presentations. I've never once run into an instance where Allred advocated praying to God the Mother. Can you produce documentation for this claim? If not, you might consider not repeating it.

    I've always found the Toscanos too angry and weird to really take seriously, just as D-Train did. But Janice Merril Allred is quite a different story. She seems to me to be a sincere believer with some real spiritual insight.

  3. Anonymous Ben S. 

    RT: Thanks for the correction. I have confused her with someone else. That's what I get for going off memory.

    Though admittedly I haven't followed her writings as closely as you, what I have read I didn't much care for.

  4. Blogger D-Train 

    Gentlemen, thanks for some interesting information. Ben, what was the gist of Toscano's conversion story? And is this conversion to the Church or away from it? I'm not familiar with the series.

    I'm not the biggest proponent of Mormon studies (for reasons that I've mentioned numerous times), but one real area of need is the inclusion of more average members in things like the Women's Forum mentioned by Ben. I think people around the "intellectual" side of Mormondom do a lot to ask about the existential crisis of Mormon women, the insidious effects of a male-only priesthood, and other debates within the Church, but we don't do so well at asking women. Not that this is the end of the question, but it sure seems to be part of it. I think there's a lot to be added to a Mormon dialogue on gender (or organization, or whatever) that only includes FARMS-type apologists, bitter critics, and the Sunstone/Dialogue crowd.

    Bottom line: I'd love to see the subject of Mormon Studies assume a more central role in the research. Is there any work out there that's doing that more effectively?

  5. Blogger RoastedTomatoes 

    D-Train: It's a real dilemma; by carrying out a discussion in intellectual language, we exclude a lot of relevant voices -- people who don't feel capable of participating in such a conversation. On the other hand, if we impose a rule that no conversation may ever be conducted in an intellectual framework, then those people who desire such conversation get marginalized. I'm not sure I see any solution that really fully includes everyone.

  6. Anonymous Ben S. 

    It was Toscano's conversion to the Church. It was published in 1990 by Bookcraft. He talks about meeting with the missionaries and being baptized on May 16, 1963. He bears testimony. "Even if the price of conversion is painful, it is worth it. Not all the pain and tribulation in the world can be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in faithful members of the Church..."

    Ironic.

    Nate Oman has an interesting letter responding to some women's-issues highjacking.
    http://www.aliveonline.com/ldspapers/Feminism.htm

    I think one problem is that average member doesn't see the reason or need to get involved.

  7. Blogger D-Train 

    RT and Ben,

    Thanks for the info. I agree with you, RT. You can't have an all-inclusive debate. What I'm really thinking of, though, is looking more empirically and less philosophically at gender issues, et cetera. I think the problem isn't that we discuss things at too high a level, but that some of the questions that we're trying to answer (such as "are women disillusioned/oppressed in the Church?") can be more effectively answered by doing more fieldwork and less speculating. Theory must drive research, but I think we need more data to interpret.

    Ben, your comment about Toscano's conversion convinces me more than ever that this is a guy that's just really confused and bitter. I hope he can find that feeling that he once had again.

  8. Anonymous Anonymous 

    Can I ask a serious question here and perhaps we could discuss this in more detail? Why is it that when apostates speak, there is someone out there, no matter who, of our church that has to say something in response to their useless and 'Apostate' bantering about nothing?

    This actually becomes boring after awhile to keep hearing the same arguments against why they say and do what they do. We are actually arguing with them when we respond to their hostility to commandments and priviledges that they chose, and nobody else, only them, to not follow. Lets be plain about this, they think they are making a statement by their leaving the church or being excommunicated when in fact the only thing they do is continue their lives without the influence of the Holy Ghost, and that is the tragedy and shame of the thing. So, why do we answer their arguments and statements when they have no value? Just a question!!

  9. Blogger RoastedTomatoes 

    D-Train, there's a problem with your (otherwise wonderful) point about the need for empirics in discussions of Mormon themes. The problem is that we're not allowed to have a representative sample of Latter-day Saints to interview.

    On the other hand, there are some generalizations that we can make, by examining institutional rules, without even doing any interviews. For example, I can provide pretty reliable estimates of the number of women on Priesthood Executive Councils around the church: 0. The number of women with the power to authorize a ward check: 0. The number of women with the responsibility to conduct worthiness interviews: 0. The number of women authorized to plan Sacrament Meeting speakers: 0.

    In the (forcible) absense of individual-level data, there are some conclusions that can be drawn from such institutional evidence...

  10. Blogger annegb 

    I usually avoid these types of discussions mostly because I don't understand a lot of the issues involved or the words the way they are put together.

    But I agree with your conclusions, as far as I understand them. I've never heard of this guy, although I read the book "No More Strangers."

    I'm sort of rebellious myself, but I'm sick of being attacked from within.

  11. Blogger D-Train 

    Anonymous,

    I think your comment actually exemplifies what I had to say: Toscano is not credible because he believes very few of the basic tenets of the faith. Therefore, when he says that BKP ran him out of the Church, I just don't put much stock in it.

    That said, I don't want to just dismiss everything someone has to say because of their status as an excommunicant. If it's true that the excommunication was just, it's also true that the Holy Ghost probably wasn't abiding in Toscano long before he actually got the X. This would then make someone's worthiness the crucial factor in the evaluation of their arguments, which certainly isn't directly linked to status in the Church or some other easily measurable phenomenon. Ultimately, I'm unwilling to dismiss someone's arguments due to my opinion of their personal righteousness.

    RT,

    Yeah, don't it suck to deal with methodological issues? I agree that we can't necessarily get a broad, large-n sample that is representative of the Church (and, even more challenging, in statistical terms that are valid measures of what we want to know). And I also agree that there are some theoretical conclusions that we can draw from the factors that you outline.

    Given those things, however, I'm more optimistic about the possibility of linking theory and data here for a couple of reasons. First, this seems like it's begging for an ethnographic approach. Pick a ward that isn't obviously unrepresentative, move there, and hum Maggie Mead (I know, not funny). This is a huge cost, but if a Mormon Studies person is taking a new job at a new university and moving anyway, this seems like a great side project that suddenly doesn't have nearly so many costs.

    Additionally, as valuable as the theory is, it doesn't do a good job of the descriptive side of it. I think that we just need more good description of how women actually feel in a patriarchal order such as the Church. We can generate theoretical explanations and take similar data from other sources and get some things, but ultimately, there needs to be at least a bit more description.

  12. Blogger Mike 

    I think a lot of people assume that Allred advocated/advocates praying to Heavenly Mother- and that leads a lot of people who defend her to say that any church criticism of her is unfounded. I do think she has some interesting ideas, but they certainly conflict with stated Church doctrine. Her willingness to not only speculate or discuss a direction for doctrinal development- but to pretty much say the Church is doctrinally wrong makes it pretty clearly within the heirarchy's normal established pattern to be legit in saying "there are certain doctrines you have to believe to have full membership privelages within this organization."

    That is all.

  13. Blogger Bradley 

    Ben pointed out the inclusion of Toscano's testimony in "No More Strangers, Vol. 2". I had to look it up. It was a well written and wonderful story. I really appreciated it. It made reading all this more recent stuff he has said really creepy. Here are the last few paragraphs of the lengthy entry in No More Strangers (sorry I can't blockquote this):

    Even if the process of conversion is painful, it is all well worth it. Not all the pain and tribulation in the world can be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in the faithful members of the Church when they meet Christ before the bar of judgment.

    I know that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. I know that he is the Son of the living God and that he took upon himself a tabernacle of clay and dwelt among men. I know he was tempted and suffered, but that he did not yield to the temptation. I know that he was crucified by wicked men. I know that he visited the spirit world, and opened the gates of the prison.

    I know by a power greater than sight that this same Jesus who was crucified was raised again from the dead. And I know that he lives. I know that he appeared to Mary Magdalene, to Peter and James and John and the other apostles and to many of the saints living in those days.

    I know that he appeared to people of the Book of Mormon times, and that he taught them the principles of the gospel. I know that in the year 1820 he appeared to Joseph Smith the Prophet and that he has appeared at various times throughout this dispensation of the gospel. I know all this by the power of the Holy Ghost. I yearn with all my heart for the day when my loved ones and I may be permitted to look upon the face of him who is all our joy and our salvation. For in that day we shall no longer be "strangers and pilgrims on the earth" but joint-heirs with Jesus Christ our Master.

  14. Anonymous BCSI-CS0A012A19=2 

    Toscano's article in the June 1973 New Era, My Transfer to Understanding, Confessions of a Would-be Zone Leader, was a real help to me on my mission. That has always made me inclined to cut him some slack.

  15. Anonymous Don 

    I knew both of the Toscanos.....I knew Margaret when she was thinking about marrying Paul.....I knew Paul when he was a "ball of fire" active LDS back from his mission in Italy....I have had talks with them over the years.....from back in 1969 at BYU when Paul was trying to show me how stupid it was for intellectuals like me to have doubts about the Mormon church to now, when he simply can not countenance the possibility that he is the one in the wrong......I knew and appreciated a mutual friend Dan Rector

    they have some definite points....the best one Paul makes, in my opinion, is how the Mormon church needs to talk the talk of grace a little better....

    but it is clear to me (especially in Paul's case) that the attitude went haywire.....and pride is something he simply can not admit to.....the fault has to be in the "spiritual abuse" of his superiors...

    to some degree I have left the Mormon church too....but when I see how messed up my life is.....and how messed up the perspective of these people got who have left the church....

    it is sobering to me and makes me think even moreso that it is not just Jesus that is true, but possibly even that Mormonism is true....but that we as people are not.

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