Guest Post: Are We Just Preaching to the Choir?

by Taylor Berlin

Taylor Berlin is a senior at BYU studying Theatre and enjoys running, knitting, reading, and all things nerdy.

(Admin note: Taylor left this comment on the recent “Call to Reaction to Boyd K. Packer” post. She raised some great questions, and we’d love to get some feedback from Exponent readers.)

Bertolt Brecht was a 19th century, German playwright who fiercely believed in the cause of Socialism (I promise I have a point to go along with this). He even pioneered a new type of theatre in order to best promote his beliefs and educate people. Despite his efforts to convert others to the cause of Socialism, the majority of the people who viewed his plays were also Socialists or people who had Socialist sympathies.

I have found so much comfort in reading and commenting on sites like The Exponent that promote frank discussions of taboo topics in order to increase awareness and hopefully change of the landscape of a church I am sure many of us deeply care for.

But when I read comments made by certain people (on this site and others), I get depressed and wonder, what’s the point? Besides making us with feminists tendencies feel a little better about ourselves, I mean? Validation is wonderful, but even online people denigrate the sincere expression of emotions and ideas. Despite the best efforts and intentions, differing views are still mocked and thrown aside.

I wonder, are we–like Brecht–just preaching to the choir? Will we ever be able to help people at least understand our views, even if they disagree? (I say “our” views, but I don’t want to suggest we all think the same–just that we seem to all want our perspectives to be treated seriously and respected.)

I try to understand the perspective of others. I can see how some might feel threatened, confused, or even angry at the dialogue that is currently taking place in the Bloggernacle. But I can’t see how we can ever make significant headway with others if they don’t already harbor sympathies towards our argument.

Commentators like Jules give me a little hope, however. To me, her tone is respectful even though it appears she disagrees with many of us. Thank you, Jules. I appreciate it. I wish more people were more like Jules. I don’t care if people have wildly differing opinions, I just wish more people had the mindset of, “well I think you’re crazy, but I can see why, based on your experiences you might feel that way–and that’s okay.”

So I’m wondering what you think about this–if it’s alright if I pose the question. Are we making headway? Can we made headway? Can we have productive conversations without both sides feeling attacked?

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28 Responses

  1. The bloggernacle helped shape me into who I am today. I found it during Prop 8. I’m embarrassed to admit it, but even though I was enlightened enough to be pro gay marriage I was still in the stone age on many issues that are now core to my beliefs. For example, I hadn’t even considered that women should have/would even want the priesthood. I had never been exposed to that viewpoint. I wouldn’t have known it was out there unless I had stumbled on it through fMh and Times and Seasons.

    So whenever I see people try to defend the church’s indefensible positions (blacks and the priesthood, institutional sexism) I tend to be more patient because I remember vividly being just like them. But the seeds were planted, I was ready, and I am converted. I was not a member of “the choir” you speak of, and in fact argued against much of what I now espouse. And if it happened to me, I’m sure there are others out there now.

  2. Jen D says:

    I want to say that I read many “mormon feminist” blogs on a daily basis and agree with some of what is said. I disagree with a lot too. I have never commented before. I love to read things that I disagree with because I want to be able to say I’ve heard both sides and still believe what I believe. Many of you say that you feel uncomfortable voicing opinions in church, to be honest I am quite fearful in voicing a dissenting opinion on these blogs. It’s never fun to be alone in your opinion. Call me a coward. I am not a writer, face to face discussions are much easier for me. Mostly I just wanted to let the people on this blog know that I think these posts are thoughtful and insightful and maybe there are a lot more people like me lurking and listening. I would just hope that all of you have a blog or two that you read that pose a differing opinion and you give them the same consideration that I am giving you. I firmly believe that the answer lies somewhere in the middle.

    • spunky says:

      Jen D,

      I love your comment. I agree with you 100%… there are points that I don’t always agree with, but like you, I fear commenting on them (I had a really bad experience a few years ago at fMh so …uh, once bitten, twice shy, I guess). That being said, I also made comments on Seagullah challenging them to be inclusive of childless women in Relief Society and church, which were deleted. (fertility “rules” there?)

      When our gentle, yet contradictory thoughts are attacked or worse- in the case of the Segullah blog- outright deleted (seriously? Just because I don’t have children so I ask them to be mindful of that in Relief Society activity lesson plans?), then we are forced into a corner where we will at least not be deleted as a result of our mortal ideas and experiences. So- while you address “preaching to the choir”, the overall issue is still at hand everywhere, not just on the feminist side.

      • “So- while you address “preaching to the choir”, the overall issue is still at hand everywhere, not just on the feminist side.”

        Completely agree. Both sides can (and are) guilty of smacking down even polite dissenters.

  3. Ashley says:

    I like to read stuff from like-minded people, and I must admit that’s the primary reason I read feminist blogs. But like-minded definitely doesn’t mean same-minded, and I learn more the more I read, both about the issues and about myself. Learning more makes me more sure of myself, which in turn makes me better at talking with others and sharing what I believe with them. So maybe what goes on here isn’t preaching, to the choir or otherwise. Maybe it’s just a place to pool thoughts, to gain insight, and to feel a sense of community. That’s my take.

  4. sar says:

    Minor quibble: Brecht was a 20th-century playwright.

  5. Portia says:

    > Bertolt Brecht: 19th century playwright; Socialist; only seen by like-minded audiences.

    I’m glad to see BYU is maintaining it’s high scholastic standards. I’m also glad I’ve been socialist enough to have heard of ‘Mack the Knife.’

    • “I’m glad to see BYU is maintaining it’s high scholastic standards.”
      Sarcasm? That’s okay, I wrote the comment very quickly . . . (19th c., should read 20th c.)

      I should clarify, I didn’t mean to suggest that socialists were the ONLY ones attending Brecht’s play, just a good number from what I understand. I also probably should have used Marxist instead of Socialist up there when describing Brecht.

    • spunky says:

      Oh, dear Portia. Your type of comment is exactly the kind that creates an “us vs. them” attitude. Constructive comments are welcome, so I suggest you consider if your comment was constructive, because to me, it reads like a sneer of sarcasm.

      In that mind, are you familiar with Brigham Young’s teachings on sarcasim? He taught that negative and sarcastic people “have little sense, and know not the difference between a happy smile of satisfaction to cheer the countenance of a friend, or a contemptuous sneer that brings the curses of man upon man” (Teachings of Presidents of the Church: Brigham Young [1997], 89).

    • Christopher Taylor says:

      Portia,

      Have you ever read Die Dreigroschenoper? In case you don’t know, that’s the German name of the Three-penny Opera, from which the song Mack the Knife comes? I have. I read it in the original German. I also listened to all the songs in the original German. I’m here to help you understand that one song is not enough information on which to base an entire critique of Brecht’s work. The song is a part of a play as a whole, which is a part of a whole movement of theater known as Epic Theater which is part of a movement known as Marxism. You cannot understand Brecht without understanding that. So congratulations for watching American Idol, where btw they sang Mack the Knife as part of their AMERICAN classics series. It’s fine to point out the typos, but if it doesn’t matter to the message (and trust me, it doesn’t) please don’t focus on them. The message is what counts, and Taylor has brought up a very good message that applies not only to feminists, but mainstream Mormons, Catholics, Jews, Skinheads, and anyone else working for change. Your opinion is just as important as anyone’s here, but only insofar as you express an actual opinion. So in summary, follow Wheaton’s Law as if it were a commandment and this will be a wonderful place of learning and growth (as in eternal learning and growth) for everyone, yourself included.

  6. alex w. says:

    For the most part, we probably are preaching to the choir.
    However, I found the Exponent and other feminist blogs early on in my feminist awakening, and they helped me figure things out and opened my eyes to things I hadn’t thought about before, so I do think that there is a lot of learning that can and does happen through blogs like this.

  7. Miri says:

    I feel that way too, Taylor. As if something like 70% of what we do here is just “us” making ourselves and each other feel better, 25% is antagonistic people mocking our feelings and dismissing our experiences (or making snide remarks about typos 🙂 ), and maybe 5% is an actual constructive two-way conversation. (I’m sure my estimate of the proportion is stingier than what the actual proportion is, but that’s how it often feels to me.) As depressing as it is, though… Well, that 5% is going to make a difference eventually.

    I had another thought when I read your original comment, but I wanted to comment on this post instead of the other thread, and in the time it took me to get here I forgot what it was. That’s my brain for you.

    As far as the bridge vs. haven dilemma Caroline was talking about on the other thread, to me the problem is that we need both. I desperately needed a haven when I first discovered the bloggernacle, because I had no one in my personal life to discuss these things with, I’m not in college anymore so I don’t have that group of peers, and I was only just coming into feminism after a life of full-on patriarchal Molly Mormon-ness. But then again, I wouldn’t need the haven so badly if there were more dialogue between feminist and non-, between people of different levels of orthodoxy in the church, and so on. I really don’t know what the solution is, so for me the non-solution—every time I’ve gotten depressed asking myself whether any of it was ever going to make a difference—has been to just decide that it doesn’t matter if it makes a difference; I have to keep doing it. I’m not capable of just ignoring the issues, and I’m not capable of shutting up about them, either (believe me, I often wish I were). So whether it does any good or not, I have to keep going.

    • “I’m not capable of just ignoring the issues, and I’m not capable of shutting up about them, either (believe me, I often wish I were). So whether it does any good or not, I have to keep going.”

      Amen. I can relate.

      On another note, I also think it’s helpful to have the discussion even if the only outcome is that you develop a thicker skin. (Hopefully not at the cost of losing compassion for others, though. It’s very, very easy to become cynical.)

      I’m visiting and commenting on sites like The Exponent and writing a blog in an effort to develop a better sense of self–an identity that does not require the validation of others. I feel like the more I discover my true beliefs and state them openly, I become less afraid of what people might think of them and, by extension, me. One day, I hope that I’ll be able to be so comfortable with myself and my beliefs that any negative comments roll of me and I’ll be able to honestly say, “that’s their opinion, and I don’t care what they say.”

      Maybe that’s one answer to my own question. Self-progression?

      • Miri says:

        I think that’s definitely true, Taylor. I’ve only been around here for a matter of months and I’ve already developed a lot in that way. I feel less frantic to prove myself, because I’ve now spent a little time figuring out what my beliefs are, and I’ve gotten a little more familiar with the thins that cause other people to react to me in such strong ways. I don’t freak out quite so much when an arrogant jerk goes all patriarchal on me and starts mansplaining, because I have learned (in the bloggernacle!) what mansplaining is. Recognizing it (as the automated response of men who’ve grown up in patriarchal societies) and being able to name it (so that I know what’s happening instead of feeling like I’m losing my mind because I can’t figure out why his response makes absolutely no sense and yet people are totally agreeing with him) has just helped me calm down a little. I still need the haven, but less for comfort and more for fleshing out my thoughts on any given subject and benefiting from the experience and knowledge of the women who’ve been around longer than I have.

  8. Danielle says:

    I think discussions on this blog have most importantly helped me feel validated and supported. They have also helped me form opinions and put words to my thoughts. As a result I’m much more comfortable sharing my opinions with my friends and family. Weather a few feminist discussions here and there really make a difference, I can’t say.

  9. Jules says:

    Wow Taylor, thank you. I read this blog often, mostly for the R.S. lesson tips because I am a R.S. teacher and enjoy the insights. I have never posted though until a couple days ago in response to that article (and after a long debate in my head about whether to psot or not). I just want to say thank you, your post made me smile after a particularly rough day…

    I do agree, it is so easy to get overly defensive when others views differ from your own, especially over something you are so passionate about. I have found myself in the same situation a number of times as well. Thank you for your comments, I think everyone could benefit from a little more tolerance for others differing opinions.

  10. CatherineWO says:

    I agree that there is a lot of preaching to the choir (or choirs) all over the bloggernacle, but here and there, especially here on Exponent, there are discussions that truly get to the heart of issues and comments that keep me awake at night deep in thought. I came to this blog and others at a time when I felt so beat up by the patriarchy that I wondered if there was a place for me in Mormonism. I found intelligent analysis, gentle humor, and a great deal of compassion. This is a choir I have been very happy to join.

  11. Howard says:

    As Miri points out most of it is to make yourselves feel better. Feminism is limited by both patriarchy and more importantly by the inability of a large number of women to agree. I think feminist blogs serve an important second tier purpose of consciousness raising but to actually change the church in a meaningful non-cosmetic way feminist discussion must move out of the blogs and into the wards.

  12. Elle says:

    I have never left a comment here before, but am a regular reader “lurking” in the shadows. I do not agree with a lot of ideas that are posted, but I love to read them! I love that there are viewpoints other than my own stated in such articulate, thoughtful and logical ways. I have learned a lot from each of them which has broadened my ideas and also brought out viewpoints I never would have thought of. So, thank you! As a Relief Society teacher it helps me to prepare even more to meet the intellectual and philosophical needs of those I teach, since we all don’t have the same ideas. It has also helped me to feel bold enough to introduce some feminist discussion within my lessons.

  13. To answer the question:

    Can we have productive conversations without both sides feeling attacked?

    I sure hope so! Whether or not I choose to share my own personal beliefs online is a constant whenever I make a post.

  14. Jake says:

    I think its important to remember that even if we are preaching to the choir, the choir aren’t always singing together. In the sixteenth century the protestant Erasmus wrote a series of Dialogues in which he had a catholic and protestant discussing theology. The point of them was not to persuade catholics, but to help protestants understand the reasoning behind their beliefs. I think in many ways the bloggernacle functions like this. It may be like minded people but it certainly helps me to be more logical in my reasoning when I raise the issues with friends and family outside of the bloggernacle.

    At the same time I think that everything we read should in some way challenge us. I love Franz Kafka’s statement about the fact that books should be like an ax to the frozen sea within our soul. So I think that like Books, blogs should also challenge us occasionally, so when we preach to the choir we should sometimes throw some axes at them to wake them up from their stupor, at least thats what I try and do every now and then at Wheat and Tares.

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