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Saturday, November 23, 2019

21. Believer Post – Reconciling Church History while Continuing in Belief


Long time no read, amirite!? It has been almost three months since I finished my last personal blog post. I dont know that my blog has done what I had hoped it would do, which was build understanding among believing members of the church for those that leave, but the blogs impact on me has been what I had hoped. I am feeling better. I have externalized what I needed to and the information is at least available for those that want to understand.

Three months ago, I decided to be done writing about my thoughts and process through my faith transition but I hinted that there may be other posts, just not posts written by me. This is one of those posts. Im really excited to publish something a little different than what has been on my blog in the past. This one was written by a friend of mine that is an active, believing member of the LDS/Mormon church. He has chosen to remain anonymous but has assured me that if anyone was interested in discussing these beliefs further, he would be open to do so. My friend has researched quite a bit and has found one of the best ways, at least in my mind, to reconcile church history with remaining a believing member of the church. The way he makes it work doesnt work for me, as it is not what makes the most sense in my mind, but its okay for us to disagree. We are still friends and these differences dont get in the way of our friendship.

I have a lot of respect for this individual for many different reasons. He was willing to sit down with me at a very vulnerable time in my life just to understand me and allow me to give words to what I was going through. Never did I feel judgement from this person and I have always felt acceptance. This is what I hope for from every believing member. A desire to understand. A willingness to show empathy and support. Care and love that isnt conditional on believing the same way. This is what I feel from my friend.

I want to include one final thing before I wrap up and let you read the actual post. James Fowler was a professor of Theology at Emory University and a minister in the United Methodist Church. He wrote a book titled Stages of Faith: The Psychology of Human Development and the Quest for Meaning. He created what he called the Six Stages of Faith Development. Stage 1 is the Intuitive-Projective stage, where beliefs are defined mostly by what your parents believe. Fantasy and reality often become confused during this stage, which predominantly explains belief in young children. Stage 2 is the Mythical-Literal stage, where individuals begin to think more logically but continue to accept the stories told to them by their faith community. However, they interpret these stories in extremely literal ways. Stage 3 is the Synthetic-Conventional stage, where an all-encompassing belief system is adopted, typically determined by your social circles (family, friends, etc.). People have difficulty seeing outside of their box, often not even realizing that many of their opinions are due to being part of their belief system. They accept the authority of their faith tradition absolutely. Many people never leave this stage. Stage 4 is the Individuative-Reflective stage, where people begin to critically examine and question their beliefs, as they start realizing the validity of others religious beliefs. They often become disillusioned with their previous beliefs. Fowler states that those in the previous stage (Stage 3) often view those in Stage 4 as backsliders, when in reality they have actually moved forward. Stage 5 is the Conjunctive Stage, where people begin to appreciate the paradoxes and mysteries of life and recognize the limitations of logic. They may return to sacred stories and symbols but this time view them as allegorical rather than literal. They can appreciate and learn from these stories and symbols while no longer being obligated to believe everything within their previous theological box. Stage 6 is Universalizing, which very few people attain. During this stage people live their lives to the fullest, typically focusing on others and community rather than the self, without any real worry or doubt.

The reason I bring up this faith model is that many of those in the church are in Stage 3. By saying this I am not trying to be disparaging in any way! Members of the church typically have not opened themselves up to analyzing and researching their beliefs from all perspectives to determine what makes the most sense to them. Faith is often based on family history and personal experiences without looking further. Stage 4 is where people like me start out. Doubt is a constant companion and what you are researching is continually on your mind. Many family and friends believe we have fallen backwards in our journey through spirituality. To be perfectly honest, I dont know if I am through this stage or still in it. I am not against spirituality but I know if it does return to my life it will be much different than it was in the past. But to the point, I believe that my friend may be in Stage 5. While these stages do not deal with incontrovertible truth, they do deal with finding a balance between belief and evidence. My friend seems to have found a way to do exactly this. Fowler would call my friends belief a Mature Faith. So, without further adoon to their post.


We often hear comparisons made between religion and science. Some are able to find harmony between them while others find them irreconcilable. One key difference between them that I dont hear discussed as often is that while science only aims to discover and publish truth, religion has the added burden of teaching truth in a way that motivates action. Often these actions require personal sacrifice and the deferral of things we want now for better things later, which is very difficult to do across a wide audience.  It is interesting to see a case today where the science of climate change is compelling many to try to convince people to make sacrifices and give up comforts now to ensure a better future for the world. Its not exactly the same, but I do notice many of the motivators historically employed by religion used in this effort. Prophecies of impending catastrophes motivate out of fear, charismatic leaders try to persuade, data that would confuse the masses is supressed, and apologists quickly shut down every criticism. I recently saw a version of Pascals Wager that said even if climate change ends up being false, there is only good that comes from caring for the planet, but if it is true then we will be glad that we acted on it. I hope it is clear that Im not criticizing the climate movement. Im just trying to point out how hard it is to motivate large populations to act in self sacrificing ways in order to achieve a greater good.

My core religious belief is that spirituality is real and that it is worth my efforts to live my life to develop it and to help others to do the same. My definition of spirituality includes gaining an awareness of our true nature and potential, forming a loving connection with a greater power and with each other, and to change our life from one that is compelled by natural instincts to one motivated by love and concern for others. Greater spirituality results in a general feeling of peace and contentment within ourselves and in our lives in general. While I have my ups and downs, I am generally experiencing increasing spirituality in my life and I can say with certainty that it is worth the effort for me. Beyond my own experience, I find the testimonies of many other people from different cultures, religious backgrounds, and time periods that have had similar experiences in their lives very convincing that spirituality isnt a learned response to a particular upbringing, but an actual reality.

Based on this core belief, I feel the main purpose of good religion is to teach people the reality of spirituality and to provide an effective means of motivating them to do the things that will develop it in their lives. The religions that are most effective will be deeply motivating across a wide population and throughout time. As Ive already said, this is very difficult to do, but I feel fortunate that the religion I was born into is doing this for me. Im sure that others are developing spirituality within other organized religions or are finding their own ways outside of a religious practice, but for me personally I have found incredible depth in theology and practices of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and I expect that it will provide a framework that will allow me to continue to grow for the rest of my life.

When Dason posted a letter about his faith transition we didnt know each other very well, but I wanted to reach out to him and see if he would be willing to go through the issues with me. I hadnt taken the time to study them carefully, and I hoped that we could have some good discussions. Im grateful that he took me up on it and that over the past year and a bit hes become one of my closest friends. I know that he is a genuine seeker of truth and I hope that our discussions have been at least a little bit as helpful for him as they have been for me. The process of going through the issues with someone who has studied so much has helped to focus my beliefs and practices and to become so much more aware of the different points of view that intelligent and good people can have about the church.

During this past year I have become settled on the difficult issues that Dason outlined in previous posts. This doesnt mean that Im not still learning new things, which changes my perspective or beliefs on certain topics. I feel like that is still happening often, but I feel that I have a solid base for belief that is flexible enough to handle issues as they arise. The most important result for me is that it has allowed me to focus on developing my spirituality rather than focusing on the issues, which has been much more rewarding. Id like to share the beliefs that I feel are foundational to how I handle issues, with the hope that it is helpful for others to consider when dealing with difficult issues in church history and doctrine.


1.       I believe in God and that the main purpose of this life is to develop God-like attributes through experience.
I acknowledge that it is possible to pursue spirituality without a belief in God, however I have found it essential in my own experience to focus my devotion on God. I love the God of my religion. Each of the 3 members of the Godhead provide incredible depth to ponder and find comfort, strength, and meaning in my life. The theology of Heavenly Parents that are a more developed form of our same species creates space to approach God in a very personal way. The fundamental doctrines about the nature of God have been a great starting point for my own studies and experience. I choose to believe it, and I feel completely at peace with that decision because of the spiritual growth that I see is possible starting with this foundation.

Another way to summarize spirituality is the process of becoming like God. I believe the most fundamental attribute that must be developed is a genuine love for each other. The longer I live, the more I am convinced that this world provides that opportunity for all of us. The separation from God, the uncertainty about the future, the physical trials and emotional difficulties, it all creates an environment where we can learn and grow in ways that help us to reach our potential. Love can not be compelled; it must be chosen when there are alternatives and I believe that this world provides the environment for that choice to be made.

I believe that our lives are not mapped out, that our choices are real and that they matter. God is committed to allowing these choices even though the consequences of them may cause pain to ourselves and others. I find it much more difficult to rationalize the stories in the scriptures where God intervened in a spectacular way, than the times where He is seemingly absent. The latter is far more consistent with my experience and how I understand this life must be. I do feel Gods love and guidance in my life, but it is subtle and leaves me uncertain about what the outcome will be. It does, however, give me confidence that it will all somehow work out in the end.

2.       Belief is most likely to begin through literal teaching and understanding, then deepened by personally pondering symbolic aspects of the scriptural stories and the ordinances and rituals.
In the church we are very comfortable with examining some scripture, including many of the teachings of Jesus in the gospels, as allegories and metaphors. This might be because the text itself gives us permission to do that when it offers explanations of parables, which are always something beyond the literal meaning of the story. The Bread of Life sermon (John 6:22-71) is an interesting example, where Jesus taught the symbolic meaning to the manna story that the audience was all very familiar with as a literal story. He taught by metaphor throughout and never let them know that he wasnt speaking literally. A literal reading would leave no conclusion other than he was teaching cannibalism. He lost a lot of followers because of that sermon, so why did he choose to teach in that way? I believe it was because the depth of what he was teaching could not be communicated powerfully enough to motivate the required action by talking about it literally. How much power is in the words: You really, really, really need to take what Im teaching seriously. If you dont you wont be able to have the conversion experience Ive been talking about. or something like that? The metaphor is so much more powerful and can be pondered deeply to find more meaning throughout your life.

It is interesting that Jesus didnt tell his audience that he was speaking metaphorically. Would this be considered deceptive in the strictest sense? Is it wrong for us to teach a story in the church today literally when it might actually be figurative? I believe the power of the metaphor is diminished when it is explained rather than discovered. It is more powerful and life-changing to come to understand the meaning through individual pondering and inspiration. Its interesting to me that even when you have this experience of gaining a deeper understanding of a concept, attempts to explain it to someone else directly using words usually falls flat. I find discussing concepts at this level has to be in an intimate setting where all involved are participating at that level and forgiving of the times that words dont convey the meaning very well. If there is someone there that is struggling to understand what is being discussed they often feel confused and frustrated by the experience. In short, I believe that the deepest, most important religious teachings need to be taught literally to the general audience but pondered figuratively by individuals building on their current understanding.

This is how it worked for me. I didnt arrive where I am in my beliefs directly, I had to start with a very literal and basic belief and slowly, through study and experience, come to a deeper understanding. I expect that is how it is going to continue to be. Slowly, bit by bit, I will gain a deeper understanding for how I need to live and what I need to believe in order to progress spiritually.

3.       Everything in this world is imperfect.
Every person and any thing that was created or influenced by a person is imperfect. This includes prophets, historical records, scripture, and the church itself, both in policy and doctrine.  Out of all those the doctrine might be the most controversial to include, but I maintain that there are still more great and important things to be revealed and clarified. I think the doctrines of the church represent our best understanding of truth as it has been revealed so far, but we should always be seeking further light and knowledge. This doesnt diminish the value I place on any of any of these things, and I believe this perspective puts me in a better position to receive personal revelation and to accept changes as they come to the church in general.

A key point is that imperfect people and things can still be used by God to do His work and by us to become closer to God. A prophet can have many faults and still be a prophet. A book of scripture can be influenced by the person who received it and still be capable of connecting people to God.  The details of our ordinance ceremonies can change over time without invalidating the power that was felt in the previous versions. These things dont have to be perfect to be useful. If they are inspired by God, then they can help to increase spirituality and to build a closer relationship with Him.

The most difficult aspect of this for me is the pain that is caused by these imperfections. There have been many people that have been hurt by bad decisions, actions, and teachings of church leaders. It would be so hard to be hurt by something you love and have served. I am motivated to try to learn from my mistakes and from the mistakes of others in my own church service and in the rest of my life. I recognize the pain that my imperfections have caused my family and others and I want to do better. This perspective helps me to be more forgiving when I am the one that is hurt. None of this is easy. It is a result of living in this imperfect world, which I trust is slowly helping me and others to grow, but I recognize that this idea isnt always comforting and feel empathy for all those who have been hurt. I hope we can do better.

4.       Revelation involves people, so it is also imperfect.
I believe that God works the same way with the prophets as he does with any other person on the earth who is seeking His guidance. I admit that this wasnt always the way I saw it, but since Ive settled on this it has made a lot of issues easier to handle. In my own experience of the times that I felt inspired, it has never been completely clear what I was supposed to do or what the outcome would be. I love the phrase that Paul uses, that we see through a glass darkly, which I feel describes the revelatory process for me. I think it is intended to be this way. It makes growth possible as we exercise faith to act and learn from both our mistakes and successes. While I believe it is possible to become more sensitive to spiritual inspiration and better at interpreting it, I think there is always a possibility that we will impose our own desires and biases on inspiration. This doesnt make it worthless and I have still had pivotal experiences in my life as Ive tried to receive and act on revelation.

I believe that spiritual feelings do have a purpose and can be trusted over time to direct us toward God. I believe the main purpose of these feelings is to personally motivate us to make decisions that will bring us closer to God. Where our conscience is a universal influence, spiritual feelings are individually suited for our own lives. This could result in two different impressions for two people sitting beside each other with the same question in their heart. The spiritual feelings I get are imprecise, but still of worth to me. They give me confidence to continue on and comfort that difficult times will pass. The fact that people all over the world, in many different cultures and backgrounds, experience the same feelings is a clear indication to me that it isnt the product of specific teachings, but that it is part of the human experience. I choose to believe that it is the influence of God in my life and that has been a beneficial belief for me.

I believe that the prophets and apostles today are very experienced with receiving revelation for themselves and the church as a whole. It is not a perfect process, even for them, but I have a lot of trust that they are seeking for and receiving revelation. For my own life, it is my responsibility to decide what I will believe and how I will live, and I seek revelation from God to help guide me in this as much as possible. I value the teachings of the prophets that give me ideas and inspiration to ponder. I respect them as good men with incredible life experience and spiritual capacity. I am confident, however, that God doesnt intend for me to hand over responsibility for my thoughts and actions to them. I still have to seek answers and be sensitive to spiritual promptings.

In the cases where my thoughts and promptings dont seem to align with the teachings of prophets, I ponder questions like: Is this something that could be true, but wouldnt be helpful, appropriate, or maybe even possible to effectively teach to the church in general? Is there a possibility that the church leader was speaking their opinion at the time? Is there something that could be wrong in my own thoughts that I should reconsider?  As Ive pondered questions like these, Ive been able to get to a place where I feel true to myself and more confident that my beliefs are on solid ground.

5.       Historical events are messy.
As Ive already said, I believe that spiritual truths are taught with the most power when done by allegory or metaphor. An inspired story can provide material for deep study and contemplation for a lifetime. The value of the allegory is in the spiritual ideas that it can create in our minds with power that would not be possible with a direct recitation of facts. What I have only recently appreciated is how little value the historicity of the story adds for me. Consider the parable of the prodigal son. This story can be pondered in so many ways and has provided deep meaning and lessons for millions of lives even though none of the people ever existed. I would argue that it is that powerful because it is not historical. Every word in the story seems carefully chosen. Every detail has meaning. You can trust the investment of time and energy into studying it, because there is truth there that is only found through deep reflection and pondering.

Historical events involve actual imperfect people who are not acting out a script. Their actions, thoughts and motivations will not always be relevant to the purpose of the story and will lead to wasted effort if you try to glean deep meanings from them. When historical events are successfully turned into a spiritual lesson, it must come at the cost of historical accuracy. We might flatten the people into caricatures that serve a purpose in the narrative, we may omit unnecessary words and actions or add some that help with the message. These are all improvements if we keep in mind that the goal is to teach a spiritual truth or some sort of moral, not to faithfully tell history. Actual history is always messy.

When I study the scriptures now, I do so with faith that there is a deeper spiritual lesson to be learned from them. Some scriptures feel deeper than others, so Ill spend more time with them, but my default assumption is that the story is there for a reason. I dont have to spend any energy on proving it is historical, because to me I dont care if it is or not. Even if it is historically based, the story will have to be simplified and even altered to be effective. If this werent the case, then the scriptures would be far less powerful for me. I would have to spend more effort trying to sort out where the meaning is than what it is. It would be difficult to rely on them as sources of spiritual strength.  My energy now is focused on getting spiritual meaning from them, which I often do. It would be a wasted opportunity to discount the value of scripture because it isnt likely to be historical.

6.       It is understandable why the church leaders chose to present church history in a faith promoting way.
While I dont place a high value on historicity of scripture, it is obviously different when we are talking about history itself. In the case of church history, it can be particularly difficult to discern what is the true history because so much of it has been presented with the primary purpose to try to show the church in a certain light, both positive and negative, rather than presenting the history without an agenda. Good primary sources for the more difficult issues are scarce and even if we do have solid evidence of what happened, the motivations for everyone involved and all the circumstances surrounding the events is usually not clear. Historians do a good job of taking all the available sources and crafting a story that fits it as much as possible. We can listen to all these stories and decide which one is the most believable, but in the end, we know that we dont have the full picture, just the one that made the most sense to us with the available information.

After learning about the issues and trying to come up with my own way to make everything work, Ive now decided to stop trying to discover the one true history. Instead I learn what I can and decide what is the range of stories that I think are possibilities that cant be dismissed. As long as I can accept anything in the range being true then I can live with the uncertainty of not knowing exactly what happened.

For the most part, the church has not placed the highest priority on teaching history. When it does present a historical narrative, the primary purpose is to try to build faith in the members of the church and present the church in a positive light to those outside the church. There are many books/essays written that put the decision to take this approach into context.  In my opinion the key time periods are the early 1900s, when Joseph F. Smith was leading the effort to change the narrative surrounding the church from plural marriage, the Utah war, and other unfavorable events to something that would be perceived better by the outside world and build cohesion within. There was an obvious bias in the resulting stories not only to present the church in a positive light, but also to defend the names of his own father and uncle. The version of history that was created at this time dominated the narrative from the church through the 20th century and has only recently started to be carefully shifted with the release of the Saints books.

The other key time began in the mid-80s, when church leaders chose to supress the movement toward openness that was led by Leonard Arrington and others in the previous decade. Again, there is a lot written about this time period that helps to put it into context. It led to the culture that most of us were raised in and I think has led to the greatest feelings of betrayal among those leaving the church today. For many, I think it is more difficult to deal with the sanitization of church history than the history itself.

For this to become settled in my own mind, I had to come to a place where I could believe that the church leaders were acting in what they believed to be the best interests of the church and its membership as a whole. I can understand that it was a difficult position to be in, and the more I consider the context of the situation of the church and the background of the church leaders, the more I feel settled that they were doing what they thought was best. I acknowledge the pain that has been caused by this approach for many and feel empathy for those who were hurt and continue to be hurt. Im happy to see the direction the church is starting to take, and I feel hopeful that it will lead to a more transparent culture in the future.


As the central figure of my religion, Jesus Christ stands in contrast to what Ive written about the world. I believe that He came to earth and lived a perfect life. I believe that he taught a way of life that will lead every person to know God. I believe that he suffered the pains of all humanity and died and I feel the power of that atonement in my own life as I meditate on it and reach out to God and ask to be healed from the wounds that I have in my own soul. He is the focus of my religious worship as I try to emulate his life and live his teachings, and I feel sure that this will continue for the rest of my life.

I am grateful to be a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. I know that it is imperfect and lead by imperfect people, and I dont excuse the mistakes that have been made in the past, but I hope that we are learning from them and progressing toward a better future. I see evidence that we are. I love my local ward community and I know I am learning and growing from serving them and being served by them. There is power in being part of a group of people with a common goal. Even though we are all very imperfect, we are a community that is there for each other when we know someone needs help and I get a lot of strength and motivation from being a part of it.  This religion has been instrumental in my own spiritual development and I believe a lifetime of growth is possible for me within it. It is deep and unique, and I love the expansive experiences I have as I explore it.  I can see the blessings in my life, and in my family, that are promised by the gospel of Jesus Christ as taught by the church so in that way, which is the most important to me, I know the church is true.

Saturday, August 31, 2019

20. Final Thoughts


So, this is my last post. I think I feel a tear coming to my eye…Honestly though, I think I am ready to move on from writing these. I’ve mentioned how I have thought long and hard about how I want to end these posts, and I’ve pined over the final message that I want to give for those that have read my blog. Rather than plan this out obsessively as I usually do, I think I will go with a different approach. I’m just going to write. And I hope that as I write, my honest thoughts and feelings are expressed. I hope this doesn’t go from J.K. Rowling to Stephenie Meyer quality as a result, but hey, Twilight was pretty popular…

To start, I should probably include a summary of my blog in order to reiterate where I’ve gone with these posts. I began with an introduction about what I hoped to achieve by writing these. I think I will include more information on whether my hoped-for goals were reached later in the post. In my second article, I discussed my own history in the church with the important aspect being I was a complete believer. I had spiritual experiences. I believed everything and did everything I was asked to. In post three I described where my doubts began, including that I did not feel recharged or spiritually uplifted by attending church, nor did I feel the promised joy by attending. I continue by giving a definition of what information actually fits the term “Anti-Mormon,” with one important point being that if information is true, it can no longer be deemed anti-Mormon. And in my fifth post I discuss my process of researching the church, including where I got my information as well as how it felt to go through a faith crisis.

My next three posts were what I call my disclaimer posts. My sixth, seventh, and eighth entries were the specific problematic issues that I learned about during my research. I dubbed them my disclaimer posts because I placed large warnings before each of them so believing members of the LDS church would not stumble into them by accident or without fully knowing what they were getting into. In the church we are taught not to research information that is not given by “reliable sources,” AKA the church, out of fear we may lose our faith. In the first two of these posts I include information that the church acknowledges on its own website in its Gospel Topics Essays. In the last of these three posts, I included information that is not acknowledged by the church yet is very problematic to its truth claims. In my ninth post I discuss how devastating it was to discover these issues and to conclude that they were not compatible with the church being God’s one and only true church on the earth. I also wrote about my stages of grief and loss. I then copy and pasted (don’t judge me, lol) the letter I wrote to my family and close friends letting them know about my disbelief. I discuss how relationships were affected by my loss of belief and move on to explain what believing members can do to support those that lose their faith or stop attending church. This twelfth post was not read as much as I had hoped, as I believe it is one of the most important posts I have shared. In my 13th post, I discussed how members often must change what and how they believe when they know the issues within the church, with the end result being that their faith is very different than that which is taught over the pulpit. I also included positive aspects of the church that I appreciated being a part of my life.

In my last several posts I had three friends write articles, most of whom have either stopped believing the truth claims of the church or have stopped attending completely. Kate discussed how it felt for her to lose her faith and as a result lose her faith community. Ryan, a currently attending non-believer, discussed his journey to disbelief as well as hoped for change within the church. Scott wrote directly to those that have left or no longer believe and offered suggestions for how we can maintain relationships with our family and friends that continue to believe in the church. These guest posts were some of the most read posts of my entire blog. I really appreciated the vulnerability Kate, Ryan, and Scott showed in writing these as their different perspectives were insightful and frankly amazing.  In the midst of these, in post 16, I include what I believe is harmful within the church. Whether you believe in the LDS church or not, it is my opinion that it is EXTREMELY important to acknowledge these specific issues and for each and every attending member of the church to make individual and informed decisions about these harmful aspects of the church.

These three friends may not be the last to write for this blog, as I may also have up to four others contribute at some point. Whether or not any come before I complete this final personal article, I’m not sure. These final guest posts will be from individuals with a spectrum of belief, from a non-believer, to a nuanced believer, to a mainstream believer. I hoped to offer several different perspectives, including from those that believe and attend church, in order to have some balance in viewpoints. Some members that know all of the issues find a way to continue believing, though it is almost always accompanied by a change in belief one way or another. But in the end, these more nuanced perspectives didn’t work for me as I could not make myself believe again after gaining the knowledge I did. But either way, this post is my last as I have said essentially all I have wanted to say.


But on to the question of whether I achieved what I wanted to by writing these posts. There were several goals I had when I set out to write this blog, which I listed in my very first article:

1.  To Receive Support: Whether it was after my initial post on Facebook on August 5th, 2018, or the entirety of my blog which I started February 23rd, 2019, I have found support by certain individuals. The vast majority of family and friends responded positively. I have noted that many members of the church that I am close with have not shunned me but have allowed our relationships to remain very similar to what they were before these events, even though we never talk about where I am in my faith journey. Several members have reached out to me and we have had very meaningful conversations that I believe were amazing. I hope that those that have met with me felt the same. I want to publicly say that these efforts are greatly appreciated. A couple who I was not close with previously have reached out as a result of my posts and have started very meaningful friendships. You know who you are and it is extremely valued.

However, I had hoped for a bit more support for my wife and myself through my “Dark Night of the Soul.” I had hoped for more texts, more calls, more contact. But I have come to realize that my expectations may have been unrealistic. I appreciate the positive responses that I have seen from friends and family, and I have learned to focus on this rather than what was not given.

2. A Way to Process my Pain: This goal was definitely successful. I have noted marked improvements in my own peace and contentment with my journey and with my life. I have attended church on occasion and I no longer feel the same anger that I did when hearing messages that I knew were inaccurate or that I did not agree with. By being open with my path, I have externalized much of the negative feelings I had roiling inside me. While I cannot say that I have completely healed through this process, I am much farther along than I was six months ago.

3. Understanding: This point is a mixed bag for me. For those that have read my blog in its entirety, and especially those that have taken the time to talk to me about where I am at, I do feel more understood. It was never my expectation or even my hope that those that read my blog would lose their faith or agree completely with every one of my conclusions. But I did hope that those that read would at least understand that my decisions were based on real issues, rather than based on the myths about why people lose their faith. I have had several believing members of the church say they have appreciated reading my blog specifically for the increased understanding on how difficult the process is for someone to lose their faith and/or stop attending church.

For those that read only parts of my blog or none at all, or who have not talked to me about my journey at all, for obvious reasons I do not feel understood. I am coming to realize that perhaps the majority of my active, believing LDS friends and family have not read every post, with some not reading any or very little. While I can understand why individuals would make that decision, it still leaves me feeling unheard and misunderstood. If you have not read my blog in its entirety, you do not understand me or my reasons for leaving. You will never understand those reasons without reading it all. I will not force anyone to read, particularly the disclaimer posts, as I realize these are extremely scary to have to think about. But without determining for yourself, through researching the original source material, you cannot come to an accurate conclusion about my choices. I am not saying you are pre-determined to believing the same way that I do, you may very well come to a different conclusion, but until you have researched the information that I have, you have based your faith on an incomplete set of information. And you have no real basis for judging me or my conclusions.

4. Be a Safe Place for Others that Doubt: This is a goal that I also believe was achieved. Since being open about my disbelief, I have had several previous members tell me that they no longer believe and have left the church. I have had several believing members approach me with specific issues and doubts. I have had several attending members tell me that they no longer believe or that they are significantly doubting. This last group is terrified of the possible repercussions. I find it interesting that even those that have approached me have often waited weeks or months to do so. I believe this is due to fear or shame. They fear what it might mean if they were to be more open about their disbelief. The possibilities are extremely scary, such as having a spouse leave them or family disown them. Due to this, later in this article I will ask for a very specific yet meaningful gesture from those believing members reading this.

But for now, I want to reiterate something I have said numerous times in these articles: If you have difficult questions or specific concerns, I am here for you. I have obviously come to a particular conclusion about the truth claims of the church, but those that have come to me know that I don’t have an agenda for anyone. I have specifically said to those that have approached me that, for some people, researching deeper or leaving the church may be the wrong decision for them. In the end I will answer any questions you have based on the knowledge that I have gained through my hundreds of hours of research (literally, that is not an exaggeration). If you are gay and don’t know what to do, I am here for you. If you have learned something disturbing about church history, I am here for you. If you have specific concerns about some aspect of the church doctrine or culture, I am here for you. And if you completely believe in the church and want to simply understand me, I am here for you too. No agenda. No preplanned end result. Just answers and support. No. Matter. What.

5. Dispel Myths of Why People Leave the Church: Again, for those that have read I do believe this goal was accomplished. To reiterate, both myself and many others that have decided to leave the church did not do so because we were lazy, had a desire to sin or were already sinning and lost the influence of the Spirit, were offended, or read lies about the church. It is quite the opposite. Those like me that have left have done so after many, many agonizing hours trying to make the church make sense in a faith promoting way. We wanted the church to be true. But we leave because we can no longer believe because specific information about the history and doctrine of the church has led us to this conclusion.


When I started writing, I used to need to prove to others that I had legitimate reasons for coming to the conclusion that the church was not true. Whether I was agreed with was irrelevant. I needed members to understand that I had legitimate concerns. I have come to realize that I cannot control anyone’s belief about me. I have let go of this expectation. I then needed to prove to myself, through writing this blog, that I had legitimate reasons. I no longer need to prove anything to myself. I know the reasons why I have made the decisions I have and I continue to believe very strongly that I have made correct ones. At this point forward, I don’t need to prove anything to anyone.

But I will say, I am open to any information that any member of the church believes would answer my questions. I have had several individuals send church articles to me, and I appreciate them reaching out. I have read every single thing that has been sent to me and I will continue to do so. I am often already familiar with the article that was sent (I have frequently already read it) but I always read them again. I am open to hearing any potential answer to difficult questions about the church. At this point, I can honestly say that I have not heard anything that has changed my mind about the truthfulness of the church. But I am open to hearing or reading any and all information that may challenge my conclusions.

I have heard from friends that just as much as I have worried that believing members of the church would judge me for leaving, believing members may worry that I will judge them for continuing to believe. I want to publicly say that I don’t judge you. I respect you and the reasons why you believe. I understand that you have had experiences that have been powerful for you, experiences that you can’t deny. I understand that you appreciate and love the community, teachings, and beliefs contained within the church. It makes sense to you. I honestly don’t believe you are stupid or naive for your belief. You are invested in the church. It is your everything. You have all the answers to all of life’s difficult or impossible questions. I get it. I used to feel exactly the same way. And I still feel a sense of loss at no longer having that feeling and surety. I completely understand your position as I used to be you. I accept you regardless of what you believe. Your faith is legitimate and valid. I hope that my change in faith is also seen as legitimate and valid as well.


Over the course of my faith transition, a lot has changed for me. I have discussed in past posts that when you go through a faith crisis and end in a faith transition, you have to re-evaluate everything you believe and why. As a result, I’m much more liberal than I used to be. I am much more accepting and supportive of different races, genders, religions, and sexual orientations. I definitely consider myself an ally. I drink coffee and alcohol on occasion. There, I said it. I believe in scientific findings on sexuality and sexual health based on research and evidence. I believe we have a responsibility to take care of the earth rather than wait for the Second Coming to make it all right again. I still don’t own guns but I do support increasing restrictions on gun ownership. While I’m sure these things will not ingratiate me with many members, I hope you respect my decisions. Again, if anyone ever wants to discuss any topic with me, I am honestly an open book. But I have reasons for every single change that has occurred. And I believe the vast majority of changes that have happened have made me into a better person, a better human, than I was before.

I want to reiterate something that I have said numerous times throughout these posts. I don’t hate the church. I don’t want to see it collapse and all the good it does be wasted. I want to see it improve. I appreciated Ryan’s comment in one of his posts where he admits he is a critic of the church but does not see it as a bad thing. He can be a critic of his favorite hockey team or TV show as well. Critics are those that point out the bad so that organizations can become better. “Burning your Martin Luthers makes you stagnant.” I believe that. For those that see the church, along with its leaders, as infallible and perfect, critics won’t be seen as helpful. But for those that realize the church isn’t perfect, and neither are its leaders, realize that those that speak out against certain practices are not only needed but extremely important.

For instance, there was a recent change to church policy where members that work with children are now required to take a brief training course on preventing abuse and what to do if it occurs. While I have concerns with the length and content of the training, it is definitely a step in the right direction. And this change, this improvement, would not have occurred without the efforts of Sam Young and the Protect LDS Children movement. The same Sam Young that was excommunicated for those efforts. Whether you agree with his approach or not, I believe it was due to the pressure he placed on the church that actually caused the change.

As I’ve already listed what I believe to be harmful about the church I will not rehash that now. But I will list what I wish members would do as a result of reading my blog.

1. For those that choose to stay because you fully believe: research. Not for the result of learning difficult information or to lose your faith but to learn accurate history. Read the Gospel Topics Essays on the official church website. Research the Fair Mormon website, which tries to answer the difficult questions that I have been talking about in a faith promoting way. Learn what it actually is that you believe. Reread my 16th post about the harmful aspects of the church and make a decision about any changes you want to make to protect not only yourself but your children. Live your religion, but be informed.

2. For those that choose to stay for the community and good teachings: choose what you follow. I have stated before that I find the current LDS version of tithing to be harmful. Rather than paying a full 10 percent, choose how much you pay. Or rather than pay tithing, pay a very generous fast offering, as these funds stay in the ward to help local members. If you have a problem with the church’s stance on the LGBTQ community, don’t subscribe to it. Accept everyone, don’t merely tolerate them. Attend every single interview in the church that your children have. If you want a drink ending in -ccino, have one. Watch Game of Thrones, it’s really good (except for the last season, don’t get me started…). Do what works for you.

3. For those that doubt or no longer believe and don’t know what to do: call me. Text, email, invite me to lunch, send me smoke signals for all I care. Don’t suffer through this alone. To beat a dead horse (or tapir, as it were) I honestly have no agenda for where you end up in your faith, but I will be an understanding ear and will help you figure it out.


Now on to my request. And when I make this appeal, I do it in complete seriousness. I hope that every active, believing member of the church that reads this article will publicly say that they will never shun, abandon, or leave a family member or friend that leaves the church. I want you to turn to your spouse, and if needed your adult or teenage children, your friends, really anyone that you believe may need to hear it, and say that no matter what their status with the church is, or what it may become in the future, that you will love them and stay with them regardless. My preference would be that this statement would be made public, whether on the blog itself, on my Facebook post, or even by making a Facebook (or other social media) post of your own, so that others will know you are a safe person to be open with if they were to ever doubt or stop believing. I personally know of several attending members that are either doubting or no longer believe. And they are terrified to tell their family and/or spouse. I know the feeling, so was I. Please. PLEASE. Do this thing for me. Or rather, do it for your loved ones.

To support this notion, I will quote the Bible, 1 Corinthians 7:12-13:

12 But to the rest speak I, not the Lord: If any brother hath a wife that believeth not, and she be pleased to dwell with him, let him not put her away.
13 And the woman which hath an husband that believeth not, and if he be pleased to dwell with her, let her not leave him.


And here is an article that was published on the church website:

https://www.churchofjesuschrist.org/blog/who-do-i-choosegod-or-my-husband

Here is my favorite quote from the article: “To me, the Savior embodies what it is to practice perfect love. He loved when it was uncomfortable, not reciprocated, and even ridiculed. A simple yet powerful commandment He told His disciples, one that He repeated three times over, ‘Love one another; as I have loved you.’ I am so glad this commandment didn’t include disclaimers. Can you imagine, ‘Love one another, except when someone does not believe or act as you do, then please disregard this commandment?’ It sounds absurd when it’s in this context, but when life gets real and loved ones disagree on personal matters, this simple but powerful statement can get lost in translation.”


As this is my last post, I would personally love to hear from anyone and everyone that has read these articles. Tell me about your reaction, whether positive or negative. Whether it has changed your perspective one way or another or whether you have hated this blog and are convinced it is anti-Mormon, I am completely open to your perspective. Even if you have never been Mormon and have discovered a morbid fascination with my blog or Mormonism in general, I would appreciate your input!


I will end this post and my contribution to this blog with two quotes. One is from a past leader within the church and the other from one of the founding members of modern philosophy.

“We must give up this idea too many of us have, that our way of life and living is not only the best, but often the only true way of life and living in the world, that we know what everybody else in the world should do and how they should do it. We must come to realize that every race and every people have their own way of doing things, their own standards of life, their own ideals, their own kinds of food and clothing and drink, their own concepts of civil obligation and honor, in their own views as to the kind of government they should have. It is simply ludicrous for us to try to recast all of these into our mold.”
 – J. Reuben Clark, member of the First Presidency 1934-1961


“If you would be a real seeker after truth, you must at least once in your life doubt, as far as possible, all things.”
- Descartes

Monday, August 19, 2019

19. Scott’s Story – Maintaining Relationships with Loved Ones Who Choose to Stay

This post was written by another high school friend of mine, Scott Goates. Although he went to a different school than I did, we had many mutual friends. He has gone through his faith transition over the past 6 years, so has much more experience in the process than I do. But I hope you find his perspective interesting, as he shares this post specifically to those no longer believe but are trying to maintain relationships with their LDS family and friends. I hope it gives some insight into this aspect of our journey!


A little over 6 years ago I sat down with my wife and explained my concerns about my LDS faith. About 3 years ago I stopped attending church with any regularity. Today I no longer consider myself a believing Mormon. Like Dason and others who have shared their stories here, it has been a rocky journey, full of study, soul searching, and heartache. As I explained to my wife, after a lifetime spent in church meetings, serving in callings, and surrounding myself with fellow saints, I simply didn’t know how NOT to be Mormon.  

Perhaps my biggest fear going through my faith transition was how it would impact my relationships with loved ones who remained in the Church. Being raised in Southern Alberta in a strong LDS community, attending BYU, serving a mission, and being an active member all my life, most of my family and friends were Church members. Mormonism was a big part of who I was, and I didn't know how my LDS loved ones would react to my decision.

Naturally, reactions from my loved ones in the church varied; Some were defensive, some had the same concerns I had, some empathized but didn’t want to know details, and one immediately said she thought I was being deceived by Satan! I don’t judge any of them for their reactions -- relationships can be hard, and there are no “best practices” when dealing with a faith crisis. Recently, though, I came across two articles giving advice to Church members on how to treat loved ones who are going through a faith transition:


As one who left the Church, I found these articles positive and affirming. It is gratifying to see discussions like this happen in Church circles, and it shows that many members want to maintain healthy relationships with those who leave.

This post is written partially as a response to those member-directed articles.   In leaving the Church, I have worked hard to maintain healthy relationships with my loved ones who stay.  I have done some things right, and there are some things that I wish I had done differently.  This post shares what I have learned about Maintaining Relationships with Loved Ones Who Choose to Stay.


1. Do Not Define Yourself or Others by Relationship to the Church

When you leave the Church, it can feel like an all-encompassing experience. Your identity as “Mormon” is stripped away, with nothing to replace it. Many who leave identify as “Exmormon” or “Post-Mormon,” or “Apostate.” While this helps to identify individuals with similar experiences who can offer support, it is important to remember that this isn’t your only identity. You are still you! You still have the same likes and dislikes and a broad array of interests. Do not define yourself by your relationship to the Church.

Why is this important in maintaining relationships with those in the Church? If you define yourself only by the fact that you are exmormon, that is how others will define you (they may see you this way regardless, but that is their problem, not yours). Have you ever been stuck in a social situation with a person who is OBSESSED with only one thing? Maybe they only want to talk about their favorite sport, or their hobby, or their Church calling. You try to change the subject, but they just cannot move on. People who define themselves by only one thing are BORING, and it’s hard to maintain a relationship with them. Be more than an exmormon.

By the same token, do not define Church members by their relationship to the Church. Your loved ones are still your loved ones. Your reasons for loving them haven’t changed just because they have chosen to stay in the Church. Do not let the Church come between you.  

You may find, unfortunately, that some relationships you have were entirely based on the Church. It may be that, while you and Bro. Johnson got along great while planning the big summer activity, you don’t actually have anything in common outside of that. Or maybe your ministering Sister was a sympathetic ear, but she no longer comes around since you are no longer her assignment. Here you have the same choice that you have with any adult -- you can try to build a relationship, or you can move on.


2. Pick Your Battles

When I was going through my faith crisis, I wanted to share all the facts I found with loved ones. Partly because I wanted to know if I was interpreting information correctly, and partly in hopes that my loved ones would validate my conclusions. I also shared because of the uncertainty and fear of taking this journey alone, hoping that my loved ones would walk the hard road at my side. Often, however, my loved ones in the Church were not at all interested in knowing what I found. I was faced with the decision of when and how to discuss the issues that caused me to leave.

One of the things I often forget is that, even when everyone has access to the same information, not everyone sees the world in the same way. In the decision to leave the Church there are several competing values, such as loyalty, group cohesiveness, family, duty, family happiness, personal happiness, truth, etc. The difference between those who stay and those who leave may lie in how they prioritize these values. Although we may not know why our loved ones choose to stay in the Church, or even choose to remain uninformed about issues in the Church, we must respect their right to do so if we value our relationships.

I believe that as exmormons we have a responsibility to speak out against harmful doctrines and false information. If someone posts something untrue or damaging on social media, I have no problem publicly weighing-in. I consider that they have invited the conversation by their post. Personal, private conversations, however, require more discretion. While I am happy to discuss my beliefs with almost anyone, I try to consider the potential harm that might come from sharing unsolicited information with unprepared loved ones (admittedly, I struggle with this).

If someone tells me that they wouldn’t want to know if the Church isn’t true, I try to believe them. If someone tells me that there is nothing that would convince them that the Church isn’t true, I try to believe them. If someone tells me that even if the Church wasn’t true, it wouldn’t change anything for them, I try to believe them. I can see very little to be gained from sharing my reasons for leaving with those who do not truly want to understand, and who aren’t ready or willing to act on that knowledge.

If loved ones in the Church want to understand why you left, of course you should discuss your reasons, but only what you are comfortable discussing. You do not need to defend your decision to them, and you do not need them to agree with you.


3. Set Boundaries

As someone who has now spent a fair bit of time in the “Exmo” community, I think this topic is one of the most important. It is not uncommon in the same day to see a post from a former Mormon describing how hurt she was not to be invited to her niece’s baptism and just a few posts further down seeing another former Mormon hurt because her family invited her to sit in the temple waiting room while a cousin was sealed. Fair or not, as the person who has made a change, it is up to you to decide how you would like to be included in religious activities and then to clearly communicate those preferences. Our loved ones in the Church are not mind readers.  

Honestly, this is something that I’m still figuring out. I’ve leaned towards the side of wanting to be invited to most events (though Temple trips, obviously, are out). If I want to go, I go. If I don’t want to go, I say thank you for the invitation and I decline. My loved ones, thus far, have been understanding and I have never felt pressured into doing something that I didn’t want to do. I feel very fortunate in this, as I know from reading stories from other exmormons that this isn’t always the case.  


4. Find Support

Going through my faith crisis, I wanted friends who could empathize with my anger, frustration, sadness, etc. with the Church. However, many of my LDS friends were simply not able to provide that empathy. It was tempting to be frustrated with them, but I realized that their inability to empathize was not a reflection on me or our friendship. They were just in a different place. Fortunately, I found communities of support, including online communities, who were able to empathize with my faith journey (if you’re interested, you can contact Dason for more information).

You are not responsible for how others feel about you leaving the Church, and you do not need their permission. However, you should realize that your loved ones need empathy as well, which you might not be able to provide. My wife is still a believing member, and as you can imagine my faith journey has been difficult on her. She has found support in a FB group called Believing Mormons with Doubting Spouses. Because I love my wife, I am glad that she has found people who can better empathize with her feelings about my leaving.


5. Be Gracious

Being gracious means, primarily, that we assume the best intentions in others. While it is possible that your mother-in-law meant to shame you by offering you a sweater to cover your porn shoulders (gasp!), she may have just thought you were cold. Don’t look for opportunities to be offended.

Being gracious also means that you make a reasonable effort to make others comfortable. I recently attended my 20-year High School reunion. It was held in a pub in Lethbridge, and there were quite a few of my friends, both Mormon and non-Mormon. In a social situation like that, if I was among coworkers or non-Mormons, I would usually order an alcoholic drink.  However, I had some good LDS friends there who, although they may know of my disaffection, have only ever known me as a sober Mormon boy. I decided not to drink. This is not because I am ashamed that I left the Church, but it is a way of showing respect for my LDS friends and helping them feel comfortable. I didn’t want my drinking to be a distraction to them in what was an enjoyable night. This is the same respect I would try to show anybody. If I was dining with orthodox Jews, I would avoid ordering pork -- my LDS loved ones deserve the same respect.

This same principle can be applied to other social situations such as attire when attending Church functions, or selecting topics of conversation during gatherings. If you have questions about what would make your friends uncomfortable, it may be okay to ask them.


Conclusion

Leaving the Church is hard, and many things change in our lives. Ironically, the time when we most need the support of our loved ones is the time that those relationships feel most at risk. Looking back after six years, I can happily say that most of my relationships with loved ones are still intact -- both in and out of the Church. Things aren’t perfect. I’m sure that there are things that my loved ones in Church would like to say to me about my leaving, and there are certainly things that I wish I could share with them. And one day, maybe when I’ve been out of the Church much longer, we will have those conversations. For now, however, I will do my best to not let my relationship with the Church (past or present), define my relationship with people. I will prioritize individuals over indoctrination, and hope that they will do the same with me.

Monday, August 12, 2019

18. Ryan's Story Part 2 - Hoped For Change from a Currently Attending Non-Believer


Part 2

Let’s get something out of the way. Am I a critic of the church?  Yes. I’m a big Calgary Flames fan, I also yell at the TV when they aren’t playing well. The Office is one of my all-time favorite TV shows. Seasons 6 and 7 were terrible, I wanted them to be better, I criticized them. And their influence on people is trivial next to a high-demand church. Critics are friends, they’re the best kinds of friends. Burning your Martin Luthers makes you stagnant. Onward and upward.

Here are some of my thoughts on what I’d like to see.


Authority

In the earliest days of Christianity, as power was consolidated by competing churches, churches needed to evoke authority and legitimacy. Even today many European churches display the body parts of deceased saints, pieces of the ark or the cross, or any other relic that would have given them legitimacy as a seat of power. Various means of expressing authority remained important, and legitimacy and authority persisted as important concepts in the settling of the New World.

The Mormon church arose in a time where the American frontier was expanding faster than established, institutional churches could expand their infrastructure. As various branches competed for adherents, authority was an important component for winning the hearts, minds and spirits of the “unchurched” Americans. For Protestants the Bible was the ultimate authority, for Catholics authority sat with ordained leaders, for others it came directly from God. Puritans believed in personal revelation, visions, dreams, folk magic, and other means of communicating with God. Ordained authorities were less important, and the Bible was only one avenue for spiritual knowledge.

Mormonism for its part embraced all of these forms of authority. It had “the most correct book,” translated by a man who had been ordained by God. Yet members were free to explore their own personal revelation and lay members were given the Priesthood. I believe this democratization of religion was the most exciting part of Mormonism in its early days.

Symbols and institutions of authority remain as important as ever in the mainstream church today. The Book of Mormon is still taught as a literal translation from the Gold Plates, Mormonism’s earliest and most important relic. The Priesthood is taught as something that must be conferred, given to the modern church by John the Baptist, with the higher Priesthood being conferred to Joseph Smith by Peter, James and John. Under this model, the church is “true” (or at least legitimate) because of its roots, less so than by its fruits. Adjusting to contemporary social issues is difficult and orthodox interpretations of things like the Book of Mormon are necessary. Mormonism has its own treasury full of figurative relics. It is the one true church, with the roots more important than the fruits.

As a useful contrast, I’d like to offer an experience I had last year. As a fan of architecture, I’d always wanted to visit St Paul’s Cathedral in London. Christopher Wren’s most important work, the cathedral was built after the London fire of 1666 destroyed much of the city. Today it is an important cathedral for the Anglican church. It is breathtaking, one of Europe’s greatest cathedrals, yet it is a fairly modern construction as European cathedrals go. To someone of a Mormon background however, the roots of the Anglican church itself would seem unimpressive. A king breaking from the Catholic church over a divorce, no divine visitations, no translations from ancient works or conferral of Priesthood keys.

The history of the Church of England is also violent. Anglicans were at times the recipients of violence at the hands of Catholic monarchs but were just as often the aggressors. Protestant kings and queens made martyrs of more than a few Catholics. It seems to pale next to a “restoration of the one true church”. Yet visiting St Paul’s was for me a profoundly spiritual experience. The Anglican church has a robust progressive branch, extending leadership roles to women and gay members. They have recently encouraged providing religious ceremonies for transgender members using their chosen name. It’s not perfect, the battle continues between progressive and conservative factions. But progressive Christians have a real seat at the table. The roots aren’t very good, but the fruits feel firmly in the spirit of Christianity. I felt a profound peace walking through St Paul’s, I believe doing good and drawing a bigger circle means more than stories of centuries-old visitations and other foundational mythology.


Inclusivity

I won’t spill much ink here because it gets so much discussion already. A church can’t possibly hope to be true, or even good, if its benefits aren’t available to everyone. We don’t get the spiritual benefits, the social benefits, or intellectual benefits from a flavourless, exclusive community. As long as we exclude and shun people who don’t think the same or love the same, we are missing crucial members of our tribe, and we are profoundly hurting people. These are the very people who would do the most to make us better as individuals and as an institution. We need to accept LGBTQ members and recognize that you can’t separate people from their relationships, attractions, intimacy etc. Imagine being welcomed into a community, but being told your significant other can’t come with you, that your partnership isn’t valid. Maybe the relationship is new and exciting, maybe it’s a spouse you’ve built a home and raised a family with. Would you feel loved? Like you had any part in God’s plan? I don’t pretend to speak for our LGBTQ members, there is no “correct” way to feel, but to me it feels like the church only offers counterfeit love to these individuals. Or maybe so-called love.

If you want to call my experience at St Paul’s the Holy Ghost, I think the Holy Ghost goes where it is welcomed. I think when you welcome people, you welcome the Holy Ghost. Bigger circles bring us closer to God.


STOP EXCOMMUNICATING EVERYONE!

We have a real problem with taking our own most ardent researchers, and instead of dealing with the difficult challenges the data presents, shooting the messengers. Excommunicating a popular podcaster or trained historian doesn’t make the problem go away, and it’s not defending the faith. It is friendly fire.

Looking at the current level of disaffection I often joke that we’re up crap creek and we’re excommunicating all of our paddles. John Dehlin, Kate Kelly, Bill Reel, Michael Quinn and many others were never “anti-Mormon”, they are the paddles. They might not have been your flavor, but you might find you need them one day. These were my paddles. They were being intellectually and emotionally honest, and we punished them for it. John Hamer is one of my favorite people, he was LDS, it wasn’t the most welcoming environment, now he’s one of the Community of Christ’s greatest assets. Man would I love to have John Hamer helping us write curriculum. Keep the paddles.

If you don’t look a little bit like a radical in a conservative, exclusive institution, are you really being like Jesus?


Literalism

Literalism is a powder keg to a faith crisis. It’s the ball and chain that tethers us to the darkest beliefs and practices of Mormonism and broader Christianity. I don’t think kids need to stop hearing people affirm their belief in a literal Book of Mormon translated from gold plates, or that we should forbid anyone from proclaiming their belief that animals lined up two by two so God could drown everyone. I want them to also hear from a few people in the ward who think Joseph was writing fan-fiction and who are skeptical of the idea that two penguins waddled back home from Turkey.  Call it heterodoxy or plurality or whatever, black and white literalism is still the default position from the pulpit. Alternate views are met with suspicion and this is not working well.


Humanization vs Hagiography

Hagiography is the kind of history that whitewashes our forebearers and elevates them to mythical greatness. Today we often write “warts and all” history about people. We don’t mind telling their dirty secrets. In the past we wrote about a person’s greatest accomplishments and hid their faults. We wanted heroes, not real people. It’s the literary equivalent of erecting a statue. Many of the people enshrined in hagiography did terrible things. All of them were flawed. Writing hagiography makes weakness seem unacceptable, while paradoxically excusing atrocities. We say that leaders make mistakes. We don’t hear what those mistakes are, and we’re left to assume they might have double-dipped once, or left the lid off the fry sauce.

This leads to a culture of “great men” (it’s pretty patriarchal), where national and religious mythology become instrumental in your own belief system and development of self. Your religious and national identities are likely inseparable from some of these larger-than-life figures. “Great men” have faults, but they’re small, endearing faults. We get stories in Mormonism about men who couldn’t throw a baseball or had poor penmanship. Cutting much deeper than that is traumatic to our identity. Men we have never met are so elemental to our sense of self and our belief system it is painful to consider they could commit anything more than mistakes, or that their mistakes could have dire consequences.

The Mormon identity is so dependent on mythologized men it doesn’t have the capacity to deal with fraud, or the full implications of polygamy. It doesn’t quite know how to process a Mountain Meadows Massacre, the Nov 5 exclusion policy, or a sexual predator for an MTC president. I believe as a community we would survive unflinching honesty about our “great men.”

Real people are easier to love and relate to. You’ve battled alcohol addiction? So did some of the whitewashed heroes of Mormonism. Going through a difficult divorce from an abusive but respected husband? Maybe hearing about someone who’s been in your spot isn’t the worst thing in the world. Maybe you blew all of the money in the savings account, or told the neighbors you had a gold bible when you didn’t (too far?). Give me the messy, occasionally appalling history. Where there’s abuse, call it abuse. Where there’s fraud, call it fraud. Hagiography gives us the heroes we want, and robs us of the heroes we deserve. You are not responsible for the actions of Joseph Smith or Brigham Young. Your spirituality should be independent, but a culture of “Great Men’ made you wrap up your identity and spirituality in theirs.


Between literalism and hagiography, we are neck keep in mythology in the church, and it may be making us miserable. You’re not perfect because there’s no such thing, and you don’t have to know the church is true because the concept doesn’t make any sense. You’re comparing yourself to statues and constantly falling short.

I’ve got a lot of issues with Brigham Young. You’ve got a lot of issues with Brigham Young. It’s okay, you can say it out loud. Didn’t that feel good?

We have messy and sometimes ugly roots. It’s okay. We can’t control the roots, but we have considerable say over the fruits.


Today I’m at a point where I can’t confidently speak of gold plates or translated papyri. That’s not my personal weakness, it’s where the data leads me. Historically, the word “priesthood” just meant your vocation was that of a priest. I think we can continue in the spirit of the priesthood, not as a conferred power that gives us exclusive rights to ordinances, but as a commitment to act in pastoral ways. In willingness to constantly take inventory of one’s own growth, to care for the people in your stewardship, to love and serve your family, and to seek God in whatever manner works for you (none of these activities is inherently “male”).

My goal isn’t to lead people out of the church, I want to see Mormonism at its best. Where it’s honest, vulnerable, and forward thinking. One where the array of speakers at General Conference looks like a representative sample of the rich variety of people on this earth. One where, when God keeps sending more and more gay spirits, we take the hint and grow the tent. Some of my favorite people don’t think there is a God, or spirits. Some of them are deeply engaged in Mormonism in one way or another, and I’m confident what they would offer from a pulpit would blow high council Sunday out of the water. In big tent Mormonism you get to meet and learn from people whose experience is vastly different from your own. That’s exciting.

In short, I want a church that is radical and bold in being protecting and welcoming. What if instead of holding up Jesus as a symbol of perfection and obedience to authority, we held him up as a radical defender of the marginalized? What if instead of protecting our foundational stories, we doggedly protected our people. What then would we call “anti-mormon”? What would our critics then look like?


To finish I’d like to quote Mormon apostle Carol Lynn Pearson (yes, she’s an apostle, fight me). “Along with so many other women and men of all cultures, nations, and religions, I have a calling to help the human family cross the plains of Patriarchy and enter the land of Partnership. This pioneering work I was born to. It was written in my bones and rattled around in my head before I even had words.”