The main distinguishing feature of Stage 4, Individuative-Reflective faith, is the capacity and need for critical reflection. The critical reflection is directed both at the self and at a faith tradition. Religious symbols are no longer taken to be ontological realities, but are transformed into conceptual meanings. It is a stage of demythologizing. Finally it is a stage of tension between one’s subjective feelings and the pursuit of objectivity.
What usually brings on Stage 4? I quote from Fowler:
Factors contributing to the breakdown of Stage 3 and to readiness for transition may include: serious clashes or contradictions between valued authority sources; marked changes, by officially sanctioned leaders, or policies or practices previously deemed sacred and unbreachable (for example, in the Catholic church changing the mass from Latin to the vernacular, or no longer requiring abstinence from meat on Friday); the encounter with experiences or perspectives that lead to critical reflection on how one’s beliefs and values have formed and changed, and on how “relative” they are to one’s particular group or background. Frequently the experience of “leaving home”–emotionally or physically, or both–precipitates the kind of examination of self, background, and lifeguiding values that gives rise to stage transition at this point.
To paint with a very broad brush, I have at one time or another heard every aspect of the Fowler quote above, except for the leaving home part, as describing “apostacy.” That’s like telling someone going through puberty that what they are going through makes them evil, filthy, and dirty.
In my experience the only universal program/idea for helping out with Stage 4 is the mission. And there, it’s not so much helping those in Stage 4, it’s preventing it or delaying it. I am not accusing anyone of collusion to inhibit development. It’s just a fact that people in that age bracket are leaving home and are likely to transition to Stage 4. Pedagogy in the MTC and what missionaries teach on a mission is nothing but Stage 3 friendly stuff. Mission rules and the missionary life are Stage 3 on steroids.
I did want to point out some specific aspects of Mormon leadership structures, theology, and pedagogy that make the church a difficult place for Stage 4 folks. I have found every one of the following to be universal in the church or near universal. By near universal I mean it’s the case more than 90-95% of the time in the U.S.
- Untrained clergy Let’s face it, almost no one in the church knows how to deal with the messiness of our texts and history. For the most part it is ignored and labelled anti-Mormon.
- Lay clergy Our lay clergy has a limited amount of time to deal with things, and dealing with Brother and Sister Smith’s marital problems trumps your concerns about polyandry
- Everyone is clergy Since everyone is clergy, everyone is expected to do something. If you don’t feel like participating because you are sorting a few things out you become dead weight which leads to marginalization.
- Prophetic Infallibility Yes, I know that in theory the prophet is not infallible, but in practice he is. Serious critical public reflection on church leadership is still the quickest way to land yourself in a church court. This simply does not mix well with someone who has a need to engage in critical reflection on their faith tradition
- Fundamentalist/Literalist scripture interpretation People in Stage 4 tend to know about the messiness of texts, and even a minimal acquaintance with Biblical Studies or Mormon History is likely to make you question how scripture is to be interpreted. The conflict comes because the dominant mode of scripture interpretation in CES, at BYU, among the leadership, and among the members is fundamentalist/literalist. I do make an exception for the first 11 chapters of Genesis, there does seem to be some movement towards allegorical/metaphorical interpretation for those chapters. I also make another exception for books which have traditionally been seen to be non-historical such as Psalms, Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, and Job.
- Absolute/Universal claims about doctrine This does not encourage or allow critical reflection. While the claim may be true, it’s not helpful for Stage 4 folks:) There just isn’t much room for trying out new ideas or interpretations, at least not in any public way.
- “Read your scriptures. Say your prayers. Go to church. Have Family Home Evening. Pay your tithing.” So often in lessons any foray into complicated matters is headed off by a well meaning teacher or participant saying if you just focus on the basics it all works out. Again this is not helpful to Stage 4 persons
- The last shall be first and the first shall be last Most of the things that make for a strong pedagogy for Stage 2 and 3, which I laid in out in my last post, become weaknesses in dealing with Stage 4 persons.
- Where’s the beef? By beef I mean things like detailed exegesis, non-whitewashed history, dealing with tough issues etc. There just isn’t much on offer by faithful Mormons for faithful Mormons that provides satisfying answers for Stage 4 members of the church. If you look real hard you can find some, but the ratio of dross to silver is pretty high.
In my opinion Stage 4 is very difficult for any faith tradition to handle. First, persons in Stage 3 just make better members of any church (with the exception perhaps of Unitarians). Second, arriving at Stage 4 is not a universal phenomenon so there is just not as much experience in dealing with Stage 4. Finally, pedagogical techniques that work well with Stage 3 fail miserably with Stage 4. As I said in my previous post, hiding the messiness of scripture is just fine and probably desirable for those in Stage 3. Stage 4 people want all the messiness they can get, they want it in one fell swoop so they can critically analyze all at once. Teaching Stage 3 persons like that would not be productive.
But does our church provide the worse experience possible for Stage 4 members if everyone has this same problem? Unfortunately, I think it does. In most churches a trained clergy will have at least some knowledge of the messiness of scripture. Prophetic infallibility doesn’t exist. Biblical inerrancy does exist, but you can find a different interpretation on offer in other denominations or groups, which they can usually take advantage of because of toned down absolute/universal claims. All churches have some absolutist universal/claims, but Presbyterians don’t think Methodists are going to hell. Same for Conservative and Reformed Jews. Also, there is beef on offer, and it is held in much higher esteem than it is on our church.
Finally, I don’t think it has to be this way. I am not looking to indict anyone. I don’t think anyone is malicious here. I just would like a better experience for Stage 4 Mormons.