So, a bit of a change for this post. I had planned on posting very personal information about the things that have changed for me since my faith transition began. I actually had that article completely written with only editing and tweaking left, as I tweak and edit compulsively for tone (not always successfully, I’m sure) and content. I have since decided that I was being too vulnerable and I don’t think I’m ready for that. I still worry about being judged and about the reactions of others so I think that personal information will have to remain personal. I do intend on following through with the rest of the outline I gave last time, but now there are only two more articles for me to write after this one.
In my last post I discussed different options for belief once an individual knows the difficult history of the church, as well as what I now believe. After chatting with a couple friends, I would like to make some edits. First, I believe I made the apologetic view appear more open to adjusting their beliefs than I believe this view actually is. The apologetic view is extremely resistant about giving any ground when information does not match the official narrative of the church. For instance, I wrote that some apologists would admit that Joseph Smith got dozens of things wrong when making his translation of the Book of Abraham scrolls. I would edit this to say that the apologetic view would more likely largely ignore the mistakes and focus on the one documented account that the papyri scrolls were very long. So, the apologist would more likely say that there is a possibility that we do not have all of the scrolls and that Joseph did translate correctly. I stand by my comment in the past post that I believe much of the apologetic view is deceptive, as there is clear documentation of Joseph’s process in translating and his errors from the scrolls that we do have, including the facsimiles. Many of the areas I discussed in the apologetic view where I suggested that they would accept certain issues in the church would more likely fit better in the reconciled view.
Another edit I would like to make is that I gave four broad categories to belief, but when all is said and done, belief is really a spectrum. Some would choose to believe certain things from the traditional view as well as from the apologetic and reconciled, as well as any other variation of the three. And I do have friends that believe many things about the church but also take the critical view on certain subjects. In addition, I offered many views within the reconciled view that were very progressive. Not everyone that would take the reconciled path would be as progressive. There are many different ways for a reconciled belief to look and I regret if it came across as if what I wrote was the only way to have a reconciled view. But a new set of beliefs is necessary when factoring in the history of the church. For instance, many members do not know about Joseph using his seer stone in his hat to translate. This is historical fact. So, believing that he had the plates in front of him and looked through two clear stones solely and for the entirety of the process is not what happened. In this way, a change in belief is required to match history. This is what I mean by changes in belief are needed to reconcile with history.
Also, I hope that members of the church, as well as believers in other faith traditions, realize that I accept you for your beliefs no matter what they are. I accept that your affiliation with a church or belief system brings you happiness, purpose, a hope for an afterlife, and many other positive benefits. In my last post, I simply state my personal beliefs as well as how others have found ways to continue their belief in the LDS church while knowing difficult information about its history. I hope it doesn’t come across that I am belittling those that believe differently than I do as that was not my intention at all. I hope that your faith continues to bring many positives into your life. I suppose I just ask that my personal brand of belief is also accepted and considered valid.
Which brings me to the purpose of this post, the good that is in the Mormon faith. I’m sure I will miss some, probably a lot, so for anyone reading that would like to comment either on the blog or on Facebook, feel free to mention the positives you receive from active membership in the church.
1. Purpose/Direction for Life/Spirituality
The church gives those that believe a path to follow throughout their lives. They receive comfort from their answers to difficult questions about the purpose of life and what they are supposed to accomplish during their lifetime. There is a peace that comes with believing you know the correct way to live. I know that when I joined the church, it seemed to make sense. Many of the concepts taught matched well with what I thought a Christian should believe. The church offered a path towards the divine which, at the time, I thought was the path God wanted me on.
There is a strong hope for a life after death. Losses of family and friends, while still difficult, are accompanied with promises that you will be able to see those loved ones again. Death becomes somewhat less scary when viewed through this lens. In attending funerals, the messages taught were comforting to me. I have had extremely close friends pass away and I can honestly say that I wish I still had that reassurance that they are happy and that I will see them again.
Members of the church are some of the nicest, kindest people you will ever meet. The vast majority are very friendly, cheerful people, as this is ingrained in the culture of the church. There is a lot of value placed on continual self-improvement. Bettering yourself day-after-day will hopefully create better, more moral people over time. There is a specific structure regarding morality for those that find comfort in having set expectations. There is a code of health, specifically a ban on smoking, drugs, and alcohol, that can promote healthy lifestyles. I believe that many of these teachings are still ingrained within me now, even though I no longer believe. Sometimes I wish that I had never joined the church so that I would not have to go through the pain that I have described in past posts. But other times I am grateful for the person that I have become because I spent my early adulthood there.
There is an opportunity to have spiritual experiences, both shared and individually, through participation in church. Feeling closer to the divine is encouraged. This can strengthen an individual’s feelings of finding meaning in their life. When I attributed these feelings to God communicating with me, I believed that I was on the right track. This belief strengthened my resolve to do the things that I thought were right. Having shared spiritual experiences with others was powerful in a way few other things are. But again, for me, I had to re-evaluate what these experiences actually meant.
Community is an area that I find extremely positive about the church. No matter where you move, there is often an LDS church there. There is an instant support group no matter where you find yourself. Individuals and families with similar values offer a positive source of belonging and friendship. There are very few secular organizations that provide community the way a church does. Through major life events such as having a baby, a funeral, weddings, etc. the members of the church are there to offer help and support. My family has moved to five different cities since my wife and I were married in 2003. More often than not, we received help from church members to pack and unpack our belongings.
The LDS church is one of the most organized religions that I know of. There are set opportunities to provide service for people, both within and outside the church. Members of the church are often willing to give their time to help people move, clean their yard, and help wherever they can. Serving others is often second nature to members of the church. Disaster relief is often given by the church as well. I remember the encouragement we received from the church to assist after the flood in the Calgary area of 2013. High River was hit particularly bad and we were encouraged to help wherever and however we could. If an individual or family is struggling financially, there are opportunities for the church and its members to offer assistance. The church has a Bishop’s Storehouse, where struggling members can receive food and monetary support when needed.
There is a very strong organization for the youth. Activities occur weekly and are often based on having fun, learning skills, and building faith in the religion. This often fosters close friendships as well as opportunities to have adventures, such as camping, mountain climbing, cooking, etc., some of which would be difficult for youth to have if not for this structure. The church also puts on activities for the membership as a whole, which strengthens those bonds of community discussed earlier. I was introduced to the church through such activities. Many of my friends in middle school were members of the church, even before I decided to join. I loved attending these activities as a youth.
3. Emphasis on the Family
This has been a focus of the church for as long as I can remember. Parents are taught to be good to their spouse and children and to raise them in positive, moral ways. It’s taught that priority should be given to family over almost all else. There are many positive messages given in church about how no other success in life can make up for failure in the home. Divorce rates for those that were married in the temple are generally quite low.
One evening every week is dedicated to a Family Home Evening (FHE), where the family prays, reads scriptures, and enjoys a lesson and activity together. I still find importance in this and therefore my wife and I continue to set time aside each week to sit down with our kids and teach them what we feel are important life lessons, for example: being honest, treating everyone with respect no matter who they are, working hard and not giving up even when things get hard, etc. It’s also very important to us to spend quality time with our kids creating memories. These are things I believe the church ingrained in us and I’m thankful for that.
4. Leadership/Public Speaking
There are frequent opportunities to serve in leadership positions in the church. As there are no paid clergy at the local level, even the congregations’ leader, or Bishop, is chosen from the membership of that specific congregation and is changed every five years. I think any leadership position requires you to develop a skill in organization, commitment to your work and compassion towards others. There are quite a few different callings throughout a church ward that members are given that could help develop these skills.
Public speaking is also commonplace, as talks and lessons in church are given by lay-membership. You quickly learn to become more comfortable with speaking in front of groups of people. From a young age, primary aged children give short 2-minute talks in front of their peers. This definitely becomes a helpful life skill whether it be giving a presentation in school or being interviewed for a job.
My two years serving as a missionary in California, talking to and serving complete strangers, again helped shape me in becoming more confident in communication. Missionaries in the church are assigned to, and required to be with their missionary “companion” at all times. You are typically stuck with this individual for between 1.5 - 3 months. Sometimes you are placed with someone you get along with but other times it is the exact opposite. You quickly have to learn ways to communicate and compromise because if you don’t, the time will be horrible. I wish I could say I never had companions that I disliked but that would not be the truth. But I also had great times with the several different missionaries I was assigned to. I have no idea if any of them are reading my posts but I hope you know that I appreciate you and the lessons learned while we served together.
5. Progress with Transparency
While I have many concerns about certain aspects of the history of the church and the decisions its leaders currently make, I do acknowledge that the church is making strides towards transparency. The Gospel Topics Essays are at least a recognition that there are certain issues of history and doctrine that the church needs to address. The church history book “Saints: The Standard of Truth: is also a step in the right direction. There are many difficult issues that are not included in either of these resources but the church is making progress that I hope will continue.
As I stated before, I’m sure there are additional positive aspects of the church that I have not included. I hope that some would feel comfortable to comment and add their perspectives to this list. I, personally, had many positive experiences while I was a believing member. I don’t remember having major negative experiences while attending even though I have heard of others that have. I know that this blog can often come across as antagonistic or critical but there definitely were beneficial aspects of my membership in the church while I was still a believer.
With the completion of this post, I am now down to two more posts that I will write personally before concluding this blog. But I have asked five other people to write posts from their varying experiences. From what I have heard from those that I have asked to write, their posts are in different degrees of completion and I will publish them as they come in. Out of the five that will write, three are actively attending with only two of those three being believing members. The fourth one has never been a member of the LDS church but was previously attending another church before their faith transition.
The fifth will write the next post that I publish. It will be from a high school friend of mine that many of you may know. She has given permission to post her name, which I will do in the introduction to her thoughts next time. Her journey has been very close to mine as she was previously a fully believing active member of the church before having her own faith transition. I reconnected with her nine months ago through a local support group for those of us going through a faith transition. I hope that by posting her experiences, others can see the difficult process many of us go through when we find we can no longer believe in the truth claims of the church and also that my experiences are not unique. I hope that those that do know her can offer her the grace, acceptance, and support that we all hope for.