The term “big tent Mormonism” has appeared frequently in online LDS discourse over the past 5 years, usually in the context of some good-natured navel-gazing on the part of liberal Mormons in regards to whether–or, to what extent–there is a place for them within the Church. It is a term that implies there is room for a wide variety of belief, practice, and diversity of viewpoint within the bonds of LDS membership. As far as I can tell, it was first coined by Greg Prince at the 2011 Washington D. C. Mormon Stories conference, though discussions on the diversity of thought found in Mormonism, especially in regards to its liberal members and members struggling with doubt, certainly pre-date Prince.
A 2013 General Conference talk by Dieter F. Uchtdorf infused the LDS community with hope that “big tent Mormonism” was something the leadership wished to encourage. In the talk, President Uchtdorf said:
None of us is quite as Christlike as we know we should be. But we earnestly desire to overcome our faults and the tendency to sin. With our heart and soul we yearn to become better with the help of the Atonement of Jesus Christ. If these are your desires, then regardless of your circumstances, your personal history, or the strength of your testimony, there is room for you in this Church. Come, join with us!
Events of recent years have yielded a few small, hopeful signs that President Uchtdorf’s talk was not an outlier. The Church took some small steps that progressive Mormons applauded. Among them it:
- Allowed women to serve missions at age 19 instead of age 21 (October 2012)
- Allowed women to offer opening and closing prayers in the general sessions of General Conference (April 2013)
- Denounced racist statements made by one BYU religion professor to a reporter (though some of his teachings on race were still taught in the official manuals for his class)
- Ousted the apologetics faction from the Maxwell Institute, allowing the MI director to install a coterie of scholars less focused on defense of the Church and more ready to engage with mainstream scholarship on Mormonism. With much of the work produced by the former faction being viewed by other LDS scholars as inconsequential and unnecessarily polemical, many saw the ouster as a victory for a healthier Mormon intellectualism. 
For the longest time, while the church had not offered any direct endorsements of LDS feminism or “struggling with doubt” groups like the Mormon Stories community, it had allowed groups and Web sites like W.A.V.E., All Enlisted, Ordain Women, StayLDS, and the liberal side of the Bloggernacle to operate unmolested. The church had not engaged in any high-profile excommunications of Mormon feminists, homosexuals, or intellectuals since the mid-90s. “September Six” member Maxine Hanks was even readmitted to church membership in 2012. Many believed the church had put its heavy-handed days behind it, that it was now allowing space for doubt and dissent on a wide range of issues.
The status of “Big Tent Mormonism” has since taken a turn for the worse. A series of disciplinary actions, decisions, and policies have hit hard at progressive ideals and values. And while some will disagree with me, I contend that these actions decisively signal the demise of “Big Tent Mormonism.”
These actions include:
- The September 2013 excommunication of Denver C. Snuffer, a Utah lawyer who can best be described as both fundamentalist (not the polygamy-advocating kind) and progressive.
- The June 2014 excommunication of Kate Kelly, founder of Ordain Women. I argued in the Salt Lake Tribune at the time–and still maintain–that Kelly’s excommunication sent a clear message that Mormon feminists are not wanted by the church. Some tried to counter to me that it was Kelly’s activism that got her in trouble, not her feminism. It would seem proponents of such views have a profound misunderstanding of what feminism is. Kelly’s excommunication was followed by a wave of disciplinary actions against other member of Ordain Women, including members who had never joined in the Temple Square protests but had only added their profile to the Ordain Women site.
- The February 2015 excommunication of Mormon Stories founder John Dehlin
- President Thomas S. Monson’s insistence on calling only white males to the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. A full 1/3 of the church’s top leaders have died and been replaced under his Presidency, and all five spots went to Utah-born white males ages 57 – 64.
- Most recently, the new policy barring the children of cohabiting gay couples from joining the church, denying such children the “blessings” of baptism, the gift of the Holy Ghost, and (for the boys) Aaronic priesthood ordination, and setting a high bar on their attempts to enter into membership as adults.
Previously, one might have been able to view the LDS church as more progressive on homosexuality than many of its Christian peers (yes, I know that isn’t saying much). It did allow for the ordination of chaste, openly homosexual men, and theoretically such men could serve as high as bishop (though I am not sure any openly gay men have ever been ordained as such).  A few years ago, liberal Mormons heralded Mitch Mayne as “the first openly gay Mormon to serve in a bishopric” (though the Church Handbook specifies that Mitch’s calling—executive secretary—is not formally part of the bishopric, many Mormons perceive it as such). However, this policy now places Mormons among those with some of the harshest and most anti-homosexual of church policies.
Years ago, in a talk at the SLC Sunstone Symposium (2010), on a panel that included the now-excommunicated John Dehlin, I compared liberal Mormons to the velociraptors in the original Jurassic Park, creatures that were described as throwing themselves against the electrical fence of their pens to test for weaknesses (it was meant as an endearing comparison, I assure you!). I said that liberal Mormons had no way of knowing just how far was going to be too far for LDS leadership, that they would just have to throw themselves against the fence of orthodox Mormonism (whatever that is) and hope they did not get zapped.
As it turns out, quite a few Mormons have since been zapped. Church leaders have set parameters on just how big their tent is, and the answer is, “Not very big.” There may still be a wide diversity of beliefs, but members are only welcome to retain their membership so long as they do not speak out too loudly against the actions and teachings of current leadership. This leaves room for, broadly speaking, only three categories within Mormonism: the Good, the Disciplined, and the Silent. The Church is certainly not signaling that it will come to the table and parley with liberal Mormons on the positions they advocate for any time in the near future.
What does the future hold for liberal Mormonism and the fallen proponents of “Big Tent Mormonism”? Certainly Mormon identity and voice transcends what comes out of Salt Lake City. But can liberal Mormonism survive under the censure of Salt Lake City? By continuing to contribute their time, tithe and talent to an organization whose current leaders seem to want them gone, are liberal Mormons not, in some sense, building their own organizational gallows? Or can they weather the storm in hopes that future leadership will be more sympathetic to their views?
Only time will tell. In the meantime, may “Big Tent Mormonism” rest in peace.
 That said, some have argued persuasively that Mormon apologetics–with its championing of models like the Limited Geography theory, its disdain for the teachings of past prophets, and its acceptance of large swaths of secular biblical scholarship–is just another kind of Mormon liberalism. The church’s ouster of the former MI team could be viewed as yet another rejection of liberal Mormonism in that regard.
 My source for this was an interview with “Silus Grok,” an anonymous gay Mormon blogger at the now-defunct Nine Moons. It seems neither the Podcast nor any transcript of it is online anymore, but I referenced the matter years ago here.