Mormonism is a community with two faces: progressive and conservative. This is true of nearly all faith traditions, which can be alternately open or defensive, traditional or innovative, accepting or judgmental. In the case of the LDS Church, it continues, a century after having shaken off the stigma of polygamy, three decades after embracing blacks as equals, and in the face of international growth, to wrestle with freeing itself from its past insularity. In doing so, it will find its place within the larger religious world and its accommodation to the challenges of modernism.
This all represents a challenge for individual members, especially for artists, scholars, and independent thinkers. The poet Robert Haas has made a distinction between religion, which is “communal worship centered on shared ideas of the sacred,” and spirituality, which “has to do with the individual soul’s struggle with its own meaning.” In this anthology, sixteen Latter-day Saints explain how they balance the demands of religion and spirituality in the modern Church. It brings to mind the example of LDS educator Lowell Bennion who offered the image of carrying water on both shoulders to explain the binary nature of balancing faith with reason, institutional commitment with individual integrity, obedience with love.
It is encouraging to discover so many Latter-day saints who, the editor writes, “neither stay with their faith blindly nor leave it rebelliously, but rather choose to struggle with challenges and strive for a more mature discipleship.” The contributors to this anthology are Lavina Fielding Anderson, Mary Bradford, William Bradshaw, Claudia L. Bushman, Fred Christensen, Lael Littke, Armand Mauss, Chase Peterson, Grethe Peterson, J. Frederick “Toby” Pingree, Gregory Prince, Robert A. Rees, Tom Rogers, William D. Russell, Cherry Bushman Silver, and Morris Thurston.
Robert A. Rees is a poet, literary critic, and scholar of Mormon studies who has taught at UCLA and UC Santa Cruz. Rees presently teaches Mormon Studies at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley. He is the author of many books and articles, including Fifteen American Authors before 1900, “Proving Contraries”: A Collection of Writings in Honor of Eugene England, and The Reader’s Book of Mormon. He is the producer of two public television documentaries: The Golden Angel over the City and Spires to the Sun: Rodia’s Towers in Watts.