This is another one of those “do I dare say these things?” posts- but this one is the dariest of them all.
I love having a blog for the purpose of expressing myself and reaching out to people. The most frequent comment I get on it might be, “you said what I was thinking, but didn’t know how to say.” This makes me happy, because I like being the person who is willing to speak up and say the things that everyone else is thinking. It makes me feel powerful and important.
But it also makes me feel vulnerable.
I bare a lot with my writing- my weaknesses, my sins, my questions, my failures, my insecurities- and every time I do, I wonder if I am crossing over the line. The line of respectable, the line of likable, the line of credible. It always feels like I am taking a risk in sharing a little bit too much about a “little bit the wrong thing”. I care what people think of me, and while I don’t want to be intimidated into silence, I would rather keep a few things to myself than have people find me distasteful or too brazen.
So, I’m nervous about this, but I am willing to go forward if you are. We are going to get right down to the nitty gritty, right away:
Last fall, I almost left the Mormon Church.
Yup, I really almost did.
By “almost left”, I mean that I was one step away from disassociating myself from my Mormon identity. I no longer felt the need to be approved of by the Church, and was looking to find God somewhere else.
Whilst preparing to become a seminary teacher, I wrote the following words in my journal, bolded, capped, and twice as big as everything else:
NEVER PLANT DOUBT
This has been one of my mantras though teaching and after teaching. I never wanted, and still don’t want, to shake people’s faith. This is why what I am about to say will be news to almost everybody. Even when I was at my very closest to being gone, you would have never known it. Church on Sunday, scriptures in my lap, smile on my face. I kept my spiritual situation private both for the sake of my own reputation, but also because I didn’t want to be a negative influence on the spiritual journey of others.
And I still don’t want that- I never want to plant doubt. I worry about this being read by my former seminary students, or EFY kids, or anybody else who has ever looked up to me or considered me “stalwart” (I’ve been called that and I hate it). In writing this, I am running some risks.
However, I want to be bold in my inkling that there is more good that will come from this than harm. I have a few aims in writing this:
To express my love for God and for His Creations.
To help active LDS members understand why people leave.
To give hope to those who are thinking about leaving or who have left.
To help people be open about the process of dealing with doubt and disbelief.
I Was Wrong
I had always believed that people left the Church for one of the following reasons:
- They were unrepentant sinners, trying to justify themselves in wrongdoing.
- They never really had a testimony.
- They became offended, or had some other petty issue, and decided to disassociate themselves because they couldn’t just work it out.
- Generally, they were prideful, and lovers of themselves instead of lovers of God.
In summary, I didn’t think that good people left. I made them a villain, and resented them for treating the most important thing in my life like it meant nothing at all.
Also, it scared me, because it shook me. If they, especially those who had once seemed os faithful, could leave, then couldn’t anybody? Couldn’t I? And what would that mean?
I am not interested in talking about the specific issues that shook my faith in the Church, because they aren’t very important to me at this point. It’s not that they are necessarily resolved in my eyes, but I’ve just moved on. However, I would like to share what caused me to “wake up” to the fact that there were some issues with my spiritual location.
I had an institute teacher dedicate one day to talking about “the hard issues”, the things that people use to discredit the Church. They included blacks and the priesthood, polygamy, Mountain Meadows massacre, and a few other issues.
He tried really hard to resolve issues and concerns, but, at the end of the class, I was more confused than I had ever been.
My struggle, summed up: We seem to be able to look at the actions and words Church leaders in the past that don’t sit well with us now and say, “everybody makes mistakes” or, “that was just one apostle” or, “he wasn’t speaking as the prophet at the time”. Basically, we accept that mistakes and been made, and that we can move on from those.
So I raised the question, “So, how do we know today if a Church leader is speaking prophetically? Or if he speaks for everyone? Or if he isn’t making a mistake?”
And nobody had a good answer.
I guess that people either think that what was once possible (leaders making mistakes) is no longer possible, or that it is better that we obey absolutely everything, even if it isn’t actually right, or actually the will of God. The former doesn’t make sense, and the latter was not going to work for me.
After that, I began to see a lot of things in the Church that I had never witnessed, or at least paid attention to, previously. Inconsistency of doctrine, inconsistency of teachings, unfair and discriminatory practices. And some things were not bad, but, frankly, ridiculous. (Meet the Mormons, if you know what I mean.) I saw the ways that people, especially young people, were manipulated into believing, or at least into acting like they believed. My eyes were opened to the relationships with God people were having in other religions and life styles, and began to feel a lack of authentic and enthusiastic worship in the Mormon culture.
And all the while, I felt like God was opening my eyes. I know that, if you are a true blue, rank and file Mormon you are shaking your head right now and thinking, “this poor girl has been deceived”, but I absolutely felt like what I went through was a revelatory experience.
I felt, for a while, that I was going to have to choose between the Church, and God.
At this point, one might be wondering why I didn’t just leave.
I said I almost left, and that “almost” is loaded with meaning and experience.
While I began to feel easy about the general establishment of Mormonism, the truth is that I didn’t want to leave it. Here are some reasons why:
- All of my friends, just about, are LDS.
- There are people who look up to me spiritually and I didn’t want to have hard conversations with them.
- Ordain Women was the talk of the town at the time. While I don’t think that women one day getting the priesthood is an impossibility, I have never felt disrespected or disregarded because of my gender. Actually, I feel that, as a woman, I am treated better in the Church than maybe anywhere else.
- I love the values of the Mormon community- family, service, sacrifice. We are not perfect, but we usually take these things seriously.
- I love serving in the Church, especially teaching from the scriptures.
- I actually really like living Church standards, and find them liberating.
- Generally, the Church has NEVER done wrong by me. I have no complaints about it, generally or specifically, in regards to my interaction with it.
So I was left dealing with the following premises:
- I want to be in the Church.
- I don’t agree with the Church as often as I feel comfortable with.
- I don’t want to pretend to believe something I don’t believe.
And having to choose from the following options:
- Leave the Church
- Stay in the Church and try to ignore the cognitive dissonance I would have for the rest of my life.
- Stay in the Church and privately disagree.
I was not okay with any of these. I take pride in being genuine, and if I was going to stay, I was going to mean it. I did;t want to be one of those people in church with that dead, meaningless look in their eyes, like the reality of a living God was as regular as sweeping the kitchen floor, or as insignificant as a single blade of grass being picked from your lawn. I wanted to love church, and love THE Church. I wanted to mean it, to be enthusiastic, to feel saved, to feel excited. So faking it wasn’t going to work.
So then, was I going to go?
Why I Stayed
The thing about going is that you have to go to somewhere else.
And this realization is what stopped me from leaving, dead in my tracks.
When I joined the Church over 11 years ago, I felt like if Christianity was legitimate, than this church was it. If anybody knew the truth about Jesus, it was the Mormons.
Through all of my questions and doubts, I never doubted God, only the Church.
A few times I tried telling myself that I was done with religion all together, that atheism was simple, and that I would be happy to former have the whole “is this the right church?” issue behind me. I entertained this notion for a few seconds, and then moved on from it.
Because, for me, not believing in God is a joke.
There’s no way I don’t believe. I just do. And I want to.
And not just God generally, but Jesus. I really believe in Jesus and in His atonement. I wouldn’t believe in it if I hadn’t experienced it, but I have experienced it. It’s not just a mental understanding of what supposedly happened. It’s not just demotivating myself to change because I believe in a God who wants me to. I have felt the actual atonement work in me, being something separate from me. I have been healed by it, enlightened by it, and transformed by it.
I say this all the time, and I will say it till the day they put me in the ground: Jesus Christ is my God and my Savior. He is real and he is relevant.
Leaving religion altogether was not a real option- only leaving Mormonism for a different Christian sect.
All of my experience with Christ and His atonement falls in line with the teaching of the LDS Church, especially what we learn about Him in the Book of Mormon. (That’s another issue for another blog- the reality of the spiritual experiences I’ve had with that book.)
I am not going to turn my back on what I know, and in my heart, I know that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is special- it’s unique in the most significant way a Church could be unique: I think it’s actually got the truth.
How I Deal
In case there is any confusion, let me make myself totally plain: I generally accept the eternal doctrines espoused by the Church as true. I have an enthusiastic testimony of many of these doctrines. My cause of concern, or reason I almost left, revolves around the way in which decisions are made for the Church today. I feel that there is a discrepancy sometimes between the Lord’s involvement and the degree to which we are supposed to believe that the Lord is involved.
Because God is perfect and the Church is not.
Like I said, I don’t want to be half-in- I don’t want to come to church but not care, because I’ve become numb to skepticism. I want to be all in, and all honest. What does that mean?
That means, straight up, that if I get some directive from the Church, at any level, that I don’t genuinely believe to be the will of God, I won’t comply.
I am not saying that I will always be right, but I am saying that if I am wrong, that will be between me and God, thank you very much.
Also, I prefer that everything that comes down from the top, or the middle, or just from right above me, really feels right. I am okay with being asked to do difficult things, but I’m not okay with doing things in the name of God that I don’t really believe are His will.
That would make me a bad Christian, and I would rather be a good Christian than a good Mormon.
A Law Unto Myself
I realize that there are people reading this who are assuming that I am sinful, or faithless, or deviant. And, at least to some extent, those people are right.
After all, are we not all sinners? I certainly am.
I have asked myself frequently over the last year, “Am I having doubts because I am just evil? Am I just too prideful? Have my sins consumed me to the point of being hard, beyond feeling?”
In other words, is it just me? Are all those things I used to believe about people who love the Church true, but I am able to see it because now I AM it?
If you think that my faith crisis was entirely due to sin, you’re wrong. If you think I am blameless, you are also wrong. I am somewhere in the middle, and the only thing more I will say about my personal righteousness is that I am grateful for a forgiving God.
If You’re Having Doubts
If you, too, are troubled by your doubts, I would recommend a few things to help you work it out.
- Write down what you DO believe.
- Be fair in your moral self-evaluation. Get rid of your pet sins. Repent of those sinful things you’ve been putting off repenting of.
- Pray to know the truth, and be open to WHATEVER God has to tell you. I major milestone for me was praying without the idea that I was “doing it wrong” if God didn’t make me feel like “I know the Church is true, I know that Joseph Smith was a prophet, I know that Thomas S. Monson is a prophet today”, in that order.
- Try to cling to the fact that God is real and aware of you.
This really has been a very brief overview, and while there is so much more I could say, I probably won’t say much. Like I said, I have mostly moved on from the specifics of the issues which I have found troubling, and I don’t want what I don’t know about to distract me from what I do know.
However, as always, I am happy to talk. I have a feeling that what I have written will resonate with at least a few people, and I want you (whoever you are), to know that there is hope. There is a way for you to at peace with your God and with your church.
I hope that I have been able to shed some light on the fact that there are good, righteous, loving people who leave the church because they feel it is their best option. I am not one of them, but I understand them, at least to a degree.
I hope that all will truly find God. I don’t know what that will look like for everyone, but I know what it means for me.
Sunday morning, 11am.
I’ll see you there.