A friend of mine, The Faithful Dissident, wrote an entry entitled "Why Are You Still Here?" a few months ago (thanks, sweetie, for the correction :) . Those who read shared their reasons for staying, but even then I wasn’t sure how to respond besides “I don’t know.”
That’s a lie, really, but to tell the truth really opens up some wounds and I fear the salt. I know why I stay. Are they good reasons? Eh.
More and more I wonder if it’s worth it.
First I’ll start with the good, the things I do believe in, what I like. I believe in eternity. I can’t not believe in that. I believe in families being together forever, but to be honest (and despite Mormon myth), there are a lot of Christian and non-Christian denominations which believe this. It may differ, but there’s little that separates us. When we speak of families being together, most believers will nod their neads.
I’ve always believed in God. Even when I stopped attending my dad’s Assembly of God church and rejected all organized religion, I still believed in God. I still prayed. Today my prayers are rare, but I don’t doubt God is there.
I believe works are more important than most realize in salvation. Key to salvation? Heck no, but "faith without works is dead." That said, I’m tired of trying so damn hard. The list is long, and I can deal with that, but too many things on said list seem trite to this tired girl.
The temple. I’ve mixed emotions about the temple. Beyond the standard “hearkening” to the husband stuff, I’ve other issues. What’s with the women covering their faces with the veil?
(On a slightly related note, what’s with so much focus on the Church and less on God? I know this is a touchy thing for me to say, but I’ve always, always hated “Praise to the Man”
Thankfully, at least in my area, we don’t sing that hymn often, but the discovery that my beloved ex-Stake President’s favorite hymn was Praise to the Man unsettled me.)
The people. My SIL became one of my best friends. We’ve changed so much in the past seven years, but when we were close (before we were SILs), she was an anchor. I loved her for many reasons. Before her and through her I've met some amazing people.
My husband. Need I say more?
Institute, much as I squirm to think of it now, saved my life. When I started college, I know for a fact two paths laid before me. Without the girl who introduced me to Institute and befriended me, I would have undoubtedly embarked on the wrong path. The church has been a godsend for me and my life. Much as I want to regret it sometimes, I can’t. We hear a lot of converts say they don’t know where they’d be without the church, but I have a pretty good idea. It is much of what frightens me about life without the church today. I have to keep reminding myself that it doesn't have to be as scary as I (a) think it would've been, (b) am told it is, and that (c) many people lead good lives without it. It's not easy.
The knowledge God can speak to me. Priceless, and yet one of the most compelling reasons I struggle so much today.
And, much as I writhe within it, the culture. The social network. It’s wonderful. It’s just what a new convert from an angry family needs. It’s just what a teenager in the throes of high school needs. I understand its importance and yet understand all too well its restrictiveness. I think the consequences thereof outweigh the benefits. But maybe that’s just me. I don’t imagine anyone free from the Mormon spiritual struggle understands this (and I mean those who have ever, if only briefly, truly considered the idea of leaving), but there are many who do.
Isolation. Rejection. Pointed fingers and whispers.
Tough love…maybe. Perspective changes everything.
The story of the Book of Mormon appealed to me. I’d always rejected the idea of the Trinity. I appreciated the constancy of the Church. I appreciated staunch adherence to values.
And why not Joseph Smith? Would I as a person back in the day of Christ believed in Christ, or back in the day of Moses believed in Moses? Why not Joseph Smith?
That said, I know the possibility in believing in only part of the gospel. GA's love to talk about how if we accept Joseph Smith as a prophet all else falls into place - as in everything the Church has ever done, is doing, and will do. I don't buy that.
Onto some issues:
Four years ago or so, my family moved so my husband could attend the nearby university. The prospect of being on our own appealed to me very much; I’d tired of others referring to me as “Mary’s* roommate” or even “Eric’s wife.” I had a name, thankyouverymuch.
Some may speculate distance from family contributed to our struggles, but after a year we assimilated into our new ward. For all intents and purposes, I really liked our ward. I loved being on our own. I loved others calling me "Sister J" than "Eric's wife."
Something else of which I am uncomfortable discussing here started it all.
Then we read Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling. Not anti-material. Refreshing. Largely unbiased, and by that I mean as unbiased as a book written by a member can be. Honest.
Polygamy. It hit home for me that year. The idea sickened me. I cried often, knowing I could not accept such doctrine. For some years I reconciled it, but to personalize it, to feel how it might feel, the reconciling process stops. The teaching that I must accept it or be damned didn’t help either. My husband fought with that idea as well for the first time. Until then he defended polygamy as “sacred.” No longer.
Enter first “What if I left?” thought.
Somehow, though, we managed and even went through a period of rebirth. We purchased some pictures, books, videos, etc. When our doubts resurfaced, peeking over the horizon like the beginnings of sunrise, we ignored them.
Long story short, then Prop 8 happened. Yes, my bishop said “oh you’re okay,” but his blessing failed to heal the gaping, festering wound that was first my friend’s reaction to my stance, and then the realization that the answers to my prayers were in vain if the Prophet had spoken; the idea our prayers are meant only to confirm and never to contest.
Many argue this point, but it’s there and I don’t intend to debate it further.
Open the floodgates to other issues I’d always silenced. Open the floodgates to the desolate land that is life inside this closet, inside the idea that if I left I’d lose friends and in many ways lose family. I’d be alone because, as an introvert, this is my social network. It would be gone. I’d take on the label of apostate, and nobody wants to hang out with an apostate. It's contagious.
Enter guilt and fear like I never knew possible.
Enter the emptiness that comes with really not belonging anywhere. I’ve so many issues with the church, yet I cannot accept many fundamental doctrines of mainstream Christianity either. In many ways this feels as if it would be a spiritual exile. Just call me Cain.
I don’t know what to do or how to do it, and putting everything into words proves far more difficult than it ought to be.
I do know this: The more I hear about how awesome we are, how much apostates suck, that I need to just suck it up and have hope and faith; the more I hear about how many people are missing out on the “one and only truth of the Gospel,” how righteous we are (and by definition, how wicked others are) and have to endure cultural traditions that blur with doctrine so that the line no longer exists…The more I have to be told to stay within my very small box or risk falling into sin (heaven forbid we mess up): the more I don’t want to be here.
We talk about accountability and freedom of choice, but I don’t see it anymore. There is no freedom here. Don’t drink (still have thoughts on this. Many will disagree), avoid the appearance of evil, don’t curse, give everything we can to the Church, serve serve serve with little focus on heart and intention, just serve; one earring only per ear now girls, Sundays are a day of church, meetings, and never seeing your family, etc. The list goes on and is largely meant to keep us from even the chance of sin. Where is the choice in that?
Where is the choice when it's either obey or suffer the consequences of eternal misery?
I’m tired of the word “worthy.” I’m tired of simple answers to complex questions. I’m tired of Pharisaical guidelines (again, the damn earrings, but there’s more). No beards? For real? The inability of the church to discuss difficult topics such as Mountain Meadows, Blacks and the Priesthood, and SEX. People! I need to do another post on sex.
I don’t want to strive for perfection. It’s an exercise in futility. I’m tired of having the weight of the world on my shoulders that is being a great example. I’ve had this weight on me before I joined the church, and in my experience it doesn’t matter as much as we want it to. Because of it I’ve never been true to myself nor have I ever allowed myself to make mistakes from which to learn from. I cannot tell my son to be good because his little brother is watching him. Surely there are better and more motivating reasons that pertain only to him, so that he'll feel he's "choosing the right" because he believes it's right and not because he feels the pressure to be a "good example" or has the weight of ensuring the souls of those around him are righteous because of him.
The world is not that bad of a place. We fear so much. Too much. It will come back to bite us in the ass and I’m tired of always looking back to see what’s coming. Let me enjoy life. Enough with the don’ts. I just want to live, be a good person, and live according to my conscience which seems to have served me very well thus far.
Oh, and by the way, the Spirit works in the hearts of non-members as well. Probably far more than we care to realize.
And let’s not forget the awesomeness of Joseph Smith – his 200th birthday celebration was ridiculous. So much pomp and circumstance over a man. Yes, he did much, suffered much, etc, but come on.
I wish everything was easier. There are days I long for freedom of the confines of this church, and I feel them more as shackles these days than anything else. But I know where I would be without having joined this church. I can’t deny its power in my life. Being told if I leave all sorts of hell will pour down upon me...well. This is safe. But do I want to stay where I merely feel "safe"?
The grasp is firm and unyielding. Guilt and fear are strong, strong motivators, and the fact it is guilt and fear keeping me here gives me only more reason to think I’m in the wrong place right now. Perhaps I’m done.
Rebel Girls in a Boys Club Church
2 days ago