I now genuinely regret my use of the term ‘violence’ in my recent post. My intention was to be completely candid and point out a phenomenon of our collective experience. As I often tell my students, however, the thoughts, intentions and arguments that might genuinely be running through our heads when we compose something does not change the meaning of the end product. At the end of the day, using the term ‘violence’ – however I might have meant the term – completely distracted (and detracted) from the message and goal of the post. Enough readers found it to be mere fire-breathing partisan bombast that I can’t deny its bombastic nature, and quite possibly my own skewed vision on the topic. At the least, in this context, ‘violence’ is not the term I thought it would be. This is true regardless of how much I might want to jump up and down clarifying. Authorial intent is at best a footnote to the actual meaning of what is written. Language is public, not private.
This is a fairly universal experience, and my own recent blunders have led me to reflect not only on my own idiosyncratic and unfortunate vocabulary, but also on the words and phrases that are common LDS parlance. Our terminology sometimes has awkward or unfortunate results as our different language groups mix. We end up speaking and hearing very different messages. There are of course lots of different reasons for linguistic befuddlement when speaking Mormonese – unique terms, idiosyncratic usage, connotations, ambiguity, etc.
Here are some general categories where I think terminological run-ins are common, given the assumptions and backgrounds of the two groups interacting:
Members vs. non-members: We’ve all watched this dance in the media over the last few years. In this category, even the terms ‘member’ and ‘non-member’ are themselves prime examples, contributing to our exclusivist reputation. And then there are the more conventional examples: Mormon, ward, stake, apostle, obedience, D&C.
Missionaries vs. investigators: This is of course just a sub-category of members vs. non-members, but deserves it’s own spotlight. Like the military, missions are a breeding ground of slang. They’re also a jumble of cultures, languages, and life scenarios. But the stock missionary terms themselves are often a clash of meanings: Elder, progressing, testimony, know, revelation.
Active vs. less-active: This is another category where the very terms we use to identify the groups are loaded. Additionally, there are difficult terms like: apostate, faithful, committed, Church.
Mormon vs. Christian: We can probably include most theological terms here, but then there are the big ones: Jesus Christ, God the Father, Holy Spirit, “oneness,” Christian, grace, work, (“great”) apostasy, heaven, hell, eternal life, revelation, prophet, etc., etc., etc.
Mormon vs. Jew: Similar to other religious groups through history, we’ve taken up their terms in new ways (or as we sometimes insist, the “old ways”): Jew, gentile, Israel, Ephraim, temple, Melchizedek, Messiah, (and to which tribe do we assign Arabs? Oy vey! Not to mention the dicey nature ‘baptisms for the dead’).
Convert vs. 7th Generationer: Any of the above might play into this one, since converts come from all walks of life. But particularly relevant are all of those new terms that we generally only use amongst ourselves: all titles (President, Sister, Brother, etc.), Quorum, patriarchal blessings, exaltation, Areas, pioneer stock
Utah vs. Non-Utah Mormon or U.S. vs. “International” Member: Again, these are loaded terms themselves. As are terms like: Zion, mission field, promised land, New Jerusalem, religious freedom, Founding Fathers, Sabbath breaking/keeping, Pioneer Day.
And of course, Men vs. Women: Coming full circle, gender-loaded terms in the Church are currently a morass. This mess doesn’t actually break-down along the lines of “men vs. women” or even “feminist vs. traditionalist” but rather we have all kinds of conflict and befuddlement on a convoluted 3-dimensional spectrum (as our comment sections often reveal). Scripture, church publications, talks and blog posts are common spaces where we find tug-o-wars over these terms: man, mankind, he (boy, these ones really impact our experience of reading sacred texts and singing hymns, don’t they?), patriarchy, preside, head of household, motherhood, separate but equal, nurture, provide, stay-at-home, priesthood, privilege, and perhaps the biggest of all: God.
Other situations, categories, or particularly loaded terms that we use?
 Alright, I won’t jump up and down, but I’ll at least say this: all of us who sincerely believe in and love our Church, who think it’s more than simply an institution, and all of us whose religious experience takes place to a large degree within the framework that the Church provides, are collectively, unavoidably and deeply affected by the way in which the Church organizes our genders. This is true however easy it might be to “exit” the church (even more, it de facto means that – for those of us who do believe or even who once believed – it is never easy to simply exit; rather it is always a tremendous alteration of identity). Consequently, the impact of any systematic limitation is greatly magnified. Again, I think we are all affected by this structural reality with regard to women in the Church (and to be clear, I do not think that the difficulties I’m alluding to are caused by merely separate gender roles), and I suspect that most of us have loved ones for whom the present situation has resulted in debilitating wounds. If I were to rewrite the bottom third of the post, I would rephrase things along these lines.