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.