Wednesday, February 11, 2009

I didn't want to be the rule.

When I first started this blog, I had all of these same doubts, questions, and the knowledge that I might not be able to hack it.

I didn't want to admit that, though.

When I first began discussing lefty topics with fellow LDS on Facebook, I did so to feel a sense of community. The good people there gave me strength. I thought maybe I could do this, that who I am doesn't have to contradict the Church, that maybe I was wrong concerning everything and could be a middle-roader without sacrifice.

Numerous faithful, liberal members of the Church fight valiantly against sweeping generalizations that one cannot be a liberal Mormon and yet a good Mormon. Some succeed better than others. It's a hard fight to be made in a Church which seems to pride itself on being rooted in "family values," in being "pro-life" etc. and can't see past their ideological noses. Funny, really, because the Church is technically pro-choice and is based on as many liberal ideals as conservative. But whatever. Nobody wants to see that.

When I first began this blog, a girl from my stake came by to discover I support Obama, I am Pro-Choice, and I thought Prop 8 was a load of crap. She said something to the effect of "Except Obama, everything you just said goes against the Church!" These are basic stances many liberal members have and must contend with, along with a very real questioning of our faith and worthiness. This is the reason many choose to remain in the closet. I daresay this is why so many of us became so aggressive when it came to Prop 8. In our own way, we know what it's like to be shoved into a closet.

Over time, though, I weakened. My doubts raised to a piercing scream I couldn't ignore anymore. Knowing that my bishop could find this blog and call me in for expressing my opinion and discipline really rubbed my fur the wrong way. It's happened to too many others. Good members everywhere have walked into their bishop's offices where they were asked to shut down their blog. One commenter at The Faithful Dissident's recent post says his bishop told him he wouldn't sign his temple recommend based on his blog. He shut it down. Call me prideful, but there's something seriously wrong with that. I don't think I could shut mine down. Not in good conscience.

Freedom of expression, shut down. There's a reason so many abhor censorship - it brings to mind far too many things I'd learned in school, so much history we'd rather never happened. We live in America where we are supposed to be free to express our own beliefs. Without America, we would have no Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I should be able to say I respectfully disagree and why without fear of rebuke. I should be able to discuss why I think marrying gay couples won't be the end of society as we know it and encourage people to reconsider their vote.

But, one might say, if you don't believe, why are you here?

This is my eternal soul, that's why. For so long I fought against the cultural crap - I could sweat the culture. I could rally against and scream about it all I wanted. There are some things about LDS culture I really love but most of it just sucks. But this is my church, I've been grafted to it. This deals with my eternal soul. I believed in enough for it to matter.

I didn't want to be this stereotypical liberal Mormon girl on the precipice of apostasy. I wanted to be an activist of sorts, change minds. I've never wanted to be an activist for anything until this past year. I wanted to be an example, so the first time I expressed serious doubt with the Church. I thought great, so much for being an example. But I couldn't keep pretending. That wasn't fair.

The Faithful Dissident says that without the courageous gay community who fought for so long to have others know their orientation is not a choice, that without courageous Mother's Who Don't Know fighting against the June Cleaver or Die mold, that without activist members this church never would have changed. And despite what many orthodox members will insist to the contrary, this Church does change.

I wanted to be part of that so much. I'm a martyr. I would be more than willing to fight except I don't really believe this anymore, not enough of it at least. I could still attend (and do) without being "worthy" of the temple, but...I would be willing to pay tithing if I could and if I believed in what I was investing my money in. It's not really a matter of faith. I would be willing to avoid coffee, tea, and alcohol if...well, as stupid as it is to make a point to drink this stuff, it's just as stupid to make a point not to drink it. I could give it up, though. Much as the garment top bugs the absolute shit out of me, I would wear it. These things matter about as much as they don't in the eternal scheme of things, and instead of worrying about the piddly crap, I'd rather spend my time focusing on other things that will make me a better person because I've so far to go. So that's what I'm doing.

This is the church that most closely mirrors my lifelong beliefs. BUT! sometimes the best form of protest is the one we make with our feet. I have a difficult time believing God would place me on the same shelf as the man who couldn't give up everything he had and follow Christ because I have an occasional cup of coffee - and no, I was never addicted to the stuff (though I freely admit addiction to soda).

My bishop knows I'm having a crisis of faith. At least that's what I told him. The truth is I've been having a crisis of faith for four years now; my husband for the last eight - I didn't even know about his doubts until I expressed my own. The truth is I'm at my end. I requested release from my calling as a Relief Society teacher because I couldn't stand up there and do what I could to show these girls that the norm isn't always the best way, that there are good people outside the church, that the culture doesn't always jive with the doctrine. I couldn't stand the material, of people trying to sound biblical instead of like regular members of the human race who are trying just as hard as I am.

They are no better than me and I am no better than them.

I never wanted to be the rule. I wanted to be the exception, but sometimes it's not worth the fight, not worth the mental abuse one has to go through. I've a family. I worry about enough things. I guilt trip myself, I don't need any help.

There are good, liberal Mormons out there who do believe and have testimonies. I just don't know what I have to add anymore but more of the same, more validation to the idiots' belief that "Liberal Mormons aren't Good Mormons." They do exist, and they're amazing people with very valid views and concerns. I hope more members accept them and give their ideas a moment of their time. I wasn't always like this. I used to be a Limbaugh girl - it was because I listened to other views that I began to change my mind. Not everyone will, but acceptance is all we ask for. We need each other, after all - apostate or not.

33 comments:

Toad said...

Lisa,
Insighful post. We share your struggle, and wish to you our support.

Urban Koda said...

Lisa,

Thank you - that was very inspiring! I've been feeling much the same way over the past few years and it's good to know I'm not alone. I found your blog yesterday, and spent several hours last night reading. I think you truly get it. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

Actually the timing was perfect. My parents all but disowned me this past weekend, because I don't agree with their fundamentalist view of the gospel. It's not that I was actively rebelling, or that I have apostatized, because I haven't. I just expressed some doubts and shared some opinions privately on my anonymous blog. I didn't want to discuss it with them, but they couldn't leave it alone. I was either 100% committed to obedience to my leaders (many of whom are obscenely corrupt), or I needed to remove my name from the records of the Church - Is this seriously how Christ wants his Church run - Absolutely not, but that's just my opinion.

Thank you again!

Rick said...

Lisa -- hey, I know what you are going through - I made my own blog private (invite only) and under a pseudonym so that I didn't have to deal with asshole bishops calling me on it - I've been going through the crisis of faith for 5 years - I actually feel I'm on the other side of it now - I feel at a place of peace - but its hard, because that peace doesn't come squarely in the church - in fact, I foster just as many non-mormon beliefs as Mormon ones. So I'm at this strange fork. I've been living overseas, hiding from the fact that I eventually have to go back to the states, and answer for my beliefs and lifestyle changes, and I'm scared shitless. Anyhow, thanks for those expressions - don't worry, you aren't the rule. People are people - unique, individual, and perfect in their own way - not rules, or exceptions to rules. Remember that.

[kɹeɪ̯ɡ̊] said...

This is a great post Lisa, thanks for sharing.

No matter if you choose to stay in the church or at sometime leave it, I support you in your decision. I know well what it is like to be stuck in a culture that doesn't understand you, and sees you as wrong and even evil just for being who you are. It's not easy to live with the belief that there is good with in some of the church's teachings, and at the same time, have so much negative to have to swallow to be allowed to have that little bit of good.

shannon j said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Grégoire said...

BUT! sometimes the best form of protest is the one we make with our feet.

When I was a teenager I was absolutely determined to purge myself of all my Mormonism. It was a futile process which lasted about fifteen years. At around thirty-five (three years ago!) I gave up.

I'll always be a Mormon, in the same way a chasid from Boro Park will always be a Jew, even though he might eat ham sandwiches every day and pray to Jesus with the Episcopalians every Sunday.

In that regard, you can still be a Mormon even if you decide to leave the LDS church (which seems to be your declared intent). I've never seen anyone refused a seat in sacrament meeting before, provided they didn't start a fistfight during the service (I did see that happen once). If you don't want to attend, you can be one regardless. Join me, and Mo Udall, in Secular Mormonism. It's quite nice.

There is no God, no heaven, and no eternal soul. Of this, I bear my testimony. I can assure you that we'll both be dead and gone in a very short time (fifty years at most in my case). Every day you spend unhappy is time wasted.

Woman is that she might have joy...

G

shannon j said...

That was me that deleted the comment. I had too many mistakes to fix.

I just don't understand why we have to be an all or nothing church. There are some really beautiful principles in the church like eternal families for example. Why can't I just say I believe in that but don't believe in other aspects of the church? If I told that to someone in my ward they would think I was an apostate. It's like what Urban was saying, about not being 100% committed to the church and removing your records.

Both my husband and I (I thank God, that I married this man, I don't know what I would do if I married to a strict Mormon) are fine with our beliefs. I'm with Rick, I feel at peace. But my family is what worries me. I don't want to tell them because I don't want them worrying about me. Praying for me, fasting over me, etc. It's like don't worry about me, pray for the people that are being abused by their family members or don't have a meal to eat tonight.

Sorry my thoughts are kind of random tonight. And I have to agree with Rick again, you're not the rule. I refuse to think of myself as the rule, I'm just one person on this earth trying to figure things out. Thanks for having the courage to write about this on your blog, I don't have that.

Lisa said...

Thanks, everyone. Really means a lot :)

Soxy Pirate said...

Water finds its level.

Steve M. said...

I have known a few Mormons who have managed to be both politically liberal and religiously orthodox (well, close to orthodox, anyway). I've known perhaps a few more who have managed to be politically liberal and religiously heterodox, but nonetheless fiercely loyal to the Church. In my opinion, neither of these options is easy, for many of the reasons you lay down. For instance, opposing Proposition 8 was viewed by many as an act of apostasy. It's not just that most Mormons disagreed with you; it's that they thought you were less of a Mormon.

I think we need broader recognition within the Church that there are different types of Mormons, and that one type is not inherently superior to another.

I would like to see a Mormon equivalent of being a Reform Jew. I know there are some who profess "Reform Mormonism", but that's not really what I'm talking about. It would be nice if unorthodox Mormons could openly express (and openly practice) their version of Mormonism without having to forfeit the title of "faithful" Mormon.

Ideally, I'd like to see this happen within the tent of the LDS Church. Rather than seeing separate "Reform Mormon" congregations, I'd like to think that Mormons of different persuasions could congregate and worship together, in a spirit of mutual respect and appreciation.

But I think I'm being unrealistic.

I used to really want to be a "reformer." At some point, I realized that there was a degree of futility in this endeavor. But more than that, I've realized that maybe the most important thing is to simply embrace and live according to one's own conscience and beliefs. I'd like to be able to do this within the Mormon framework, but if an overzealous bishop thought it was in the Church's interest to cut me off, then I guess I couldn't stop him.

Soxy Pirate said...

Steve,

So I can understand your vision, are you suggesting that the Church become more lenient in the enforcement (for lack of a better word) of church standards and/or commandments (Word of Wisdom, Law of Chastity, sustaining the Prophet, etc.) so as to "broaden the gate" for those who wish to identify themselves as Mormons and gain exaltation...

or...

are you saying that the church needs to be more welcoming of people who wish to identify themselves with the church in one way or another (like, for example, because of our emphasis on family, community, education, etc.) but who still fall short of standards for baptism and ultimately the temple?

The first scenario seems ridiculous, while the second seems urgently necessary. However, I question whether the subject matter of this post deals primarily with the first scenario or the second.

Grégoire said...

Dear Soxy Pirate,

...the Church become more lenient in the enforcement (for lack of a better word) of church standards...

...wish to identify themselves with the church in one way or another...

The first scenario seems ridiculous...


It's so strange to hear someone talk about "the church", as though everyone else were just automatically supposed to know what s/he means by the term. Do you mean the Catholic Church, or the Community of Christ/RLDS church?

The LDS Church is utterly irrelevant to whether someone does or doesn't identify as a Mormon. There are, according to the LDS Church, some 14 million (give or take) people on their records. Worldwide there are (again by the admission of the church) only about four million people who even occasionally visit an LDS service. This doesn't count the RLDS, polygamists, secular types, etc.

The LDS Church doesn't get to decide who is and isn't a Mormon, any more than Temple Beth Yisrael in NYC gets to decide who is or isn't a Jew. The vast majority of Mormons in the world aren't considered as such by the old geezers in SLC, and who cares? Very few people do.

My point? Lisa can take what she learned in Mormonism (and there are good aspects to it) and identify with Mormonism for as long as it amuses her. She doesn't need anyone else's permission, and nobody can identify her as well as she can.

Soxy Pirate said...

Greg,

Read Steve's post...

Pause for reflection...

Read my post...

Connect the dots...

-Soxy

Soxy Pirate said...

P.S. Read Lisa's post, which references "the church" or "this church" 10 times.

Then read through the comments again, which contain another 10 references to "the church."

Steve M. said...

Soxy,

I'm more concerned with your second proposition, but with a caveat.

I don't think it's the Church's job to "enforce" commandments, except perhaps at the margins (e.g., excommunicating child molesters). The Church should not feel compelled to lower its standards (including those required for participation in the temple), but I think LDS culture could benefit from an increased emphasis on grace and more of a "live and let live" attitude.

Basically, I'm talking about a lot of the ideals that Stephen L. Richards discussed in his "Bringing Humanity to the Gospel talk.

Grégoire said...

Greg,

Read Steve's post...

Pause for reflection...

Read my post...


I read Steve's article, paused for reflection, then read yours, and commented on it.

Connect the dots...

-Soxy


Sounds good.

Your 'water finds its level' comment was evocative of Anton LaVey (founder of the Church of Satan - he coined that phrase).

It can be read as a thinly veiled passive-aggressive insult, suggesting that anyone who leaves the LDS church is inherently inferior to those who stick around.

In another response you describe various sentiments as 'ridiculous', while proposing solutions that, from my perspective are founded on faulty notions.

I gave you a chance to expound and you responded in your usual tone and register to me too. Not too surprising, and with all these examples it doesn't take too much dot-to-dot to discern your underlying motivations. The more observant of the readers here have, no doubt, already come to their own conclusions. At this point I've come to mine as well.

Take Care,

G

Soxy Pirate said...

Steve,
You're right, "enforce" was a poor word (hence: "for lack of a better word").

I meant exactly what you said in reference to standards for baptism, temple attendance, etc.

Love that talk, by the way. I found it on your blog.

Soxy Pirate said...

So you can discern my underlying motivations but couldn't figure out which church I was referencing?

Look, if I've done something to personally offend you, I apologize. You may notice that my MO is to come out and say what I'm talking about. Why don't you go ahead and tell me about the "faulty notions" and "underlying motivations" you've uncovered so I can respond to them, as I admittedly responded tit-for-tat to your "passive aggressive" response to my comment to Steve.

Soxy Pirate said...

Oh, and I was going for Alvarez's quote "Despair, in short, seeks its own environment as surely as water finds its own level," but if LaVey said it/coined it then oh well.

Grégoire said...

Dear Soxy,

Nope, not offended at all. Just trying to figure out where you're coming from. The use of vague one-liners leaves context to the reader.

but if LaVey said it/coined it then oh well.

He used it in the 1960s, to attempt to keep people paying his rent. It was pretty humorous to see it appear on a Mormon's web page.

The Church of Satan was in many ways very similar to the Mormon Church, but all these new religious/spiritual movements operate on similar lines. LaVey was a little bit more honest than Joseph Smith, in that he admitted in print that he didn't believe in the devil, and that he was more of a showman than a conduit to some ephemeral spiritual truth.

Soxy Pirate said...

Greg,

No doubt. My grandfather also used it in the 40's and 50's.

Grégoire said...

No doubt. My grandfather also used it in the 40's and 50's.

In what context? To degrade people who didn't want to "pay, pray and obey LaVey?"

That phrase is inherently demeaning. It alludes to some sort of character flaw in people who might simply disagree with the subject.

Soxy Pirate said...

Maybe, but he was also a fisherman and a boat builder...maybe he was talking about a watermark on a boat?

[/senseless diversion]

Urban Koda said...

Back to the topic at hand though... I think the problem Lisa and many of us are facing is with the culture, not the gospel.

The Church was founded on questioning and a search for truth. Blind obedience, infallible leadership and judgmental membership seems to be completely at odds with the original intent.

I feel like change is coming. The internet provides a place for open discussion and sharing of ideas that just could not be achieved in a Sunday Church service. Lisa and those like her, are going to be the force (Pioneers if you will) that changes it. I hope to be counted among them as well.

It doesn't seem to be about attacking the LDS Church, it's about realizing that the Church has become something it shouldn't have, and that change is needed to return it to a community of those who care for each other and uplift each other. Sunday services and Church related interactions should leave you feeling uplifted, energized and optimistic for the future.

Should the Church (It's leaders and members) relax it's standards - absolutely not. But they need to become far more compassionate and more willing to accept that the love of Christ extends to all, and all are entitled to feel loved and be able to partake in the atonement - or reject it, if they so choose.

Lisa said...

Thank you, Urban. I am also speaking of doctrine, but you got the point. Thanks for steering us back.

Steve, precisely.

Look, this really isn't the time or the place for petty debates. Gregoire, I appreciate your attempts to back me up here but it’s a little much. Everyone knows what we're all referring to as "The Church" - I suspect it's an issue that bothers you much. Since this is an LDS blog it should be evident; if this were an entry poking fun at how members make use of and ensure the capitalization thereof, then perhaps this would be the place. Your attempts to equate the LDS Church with the Church of Satan is a little extreme, too, and is reminiscent of lessons in church we all reject.

Something we all need to understand is that some people do not care for the temple. I care for it in that I've always enjoyed the Celestial Room and other aspects, but I take issue with some of the other events/wordings of covenants. I care that if a loved one were to marry I could not attend. I care about that.

But I'm not out to get my own kingdom. Beyond the doctrine that it is the only place where I can be with my husband for eternity, I see little reason to strive for the highest kingdom. Most who read this blog understand that; I’ve touched on this subject before.

Urban says he feels the Church is approaching a crossroads. I don't know if that's true, but it would be nice. For us to take a couple hundred steps backward would be a gargantuan effort of changing preconceived notions and ideas concerning what is and what isn't. I don't know if that's possible.

We are a church which preaches agency and, honestly, a belief that very few will ever be admitted into hell/outer darkness. It's true that people can not follow exalting doctrines and still attend Church, but that's where the culture gets in the way. Culture is taught, I would say, much more than doctrine is. Especially if its true what so many in the bloggernacle are saying right now about “what is doctrine/commandment” versus “what is opinion/guideline.”

Culture is in every church though. People are imperfect everywhere. We just tend to think we're less imperfect than others, despite all our disclaimers to the contrary.

Again, though, that's true for most religions.

Urban Koda said...

Perhaps there are 3 separate areas here... The gospel, the doctrine and the culture.

I think the gospel in it's simplest form is relatively pure. Unfortunately, it's been overlaid by doctrine and is all too often confused with the gospel.

Perhaps some of the doctrine has come by direct revelation from God, some may be based on gospel principles, but some of it, is just from men with their own opinions and agendas.

And then the culture is just a whole other thing all together, which has itself influenced the doctrine as well.

For me the gospel in it's simplest form is: Free Agency, Eternal Progression and the Atonement which makes both the preceding principles possible.

In a perfect world, culture and doctrine would all point directly to the gospel, not detract from it.

Steve M. said...

I should add that while I don't think the Church should feel compelled to "lower" its standards, I certainly wouldn't mind if it chose to re-evaluate certain of them (the specific prohibitions in the Word of Wisdom, as currently interpreted, come to mind).

What's sometimes difficult about Mormonism is that, while there is some degree of tolerance for heterodoxy, there is substantially less tolerance for heteropraxy. In other words, while heterodoxy is not a sin per se, heteropraxy frequently is. My objection to this paradigm is that it fails to appreciate the relationship between religious beliefs and religious practice; if one's beliefs are more "liberal," then why should this not translate into practice? For instance, while I don't believe God cares about whether His children consume green tea, if I choose to drink green tea I will be viewed as less of a Mormon.

As hinted at in my previous comments, I think this is more a "problem" (if it can be termed such) of culture. I don't think the Church should be compelled to adjust its standards in accordance with the views of a small minority of its active membership (i.e., liberal/unorthodox/whatever Mormons). I'd simply prefer more tolerance, on the ground level, for those whose approach to religion (in terms of both belief and practice) falls outside the mainstream but who nonetheless identify as Mormon and wish to participate in the institutional church.

So perhaps my Reform Judaism analogy was misplaced; maybe what I'm looking for is a Mormon equivalent of the "cafeteria Catholic." Many modern Catholics use contraception and support abortion rights (and thereby act in defiance of the institutional Catholic Church), but they generally aren't considered "bad" or unfaithful Catholics.

I probably just opened a can of worms. My apology for the threadjack, Lisa.

Steve M. said...

And to be clear, I'm not just looking for an excuse to "sin." It's not like I'm dying to drink green tea or something.

Steve M. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Lisa said...

Steve: No problem.

I hate how we're forced to offer the caveat "Not that I'm looking to sin or anything!"

Like I said, I think it's just as lame to look FOR a reason to drink these things as much as I find it lame that we make such an effort to NOT drink these things.

But if a person decides to, it should be a personal decision. I tend to think God doesn't care if I drink an occasional cup of coffee. It's absolutely not nearly as health-hazardous as tobacco or even alcoholic drinks (in moderation). That said, some hate alcohol for their own, non-religious reasons. I respect that.

But I have a hard time understanding why the WOW might get in the way of my exaltation. I'd rather focus on other things; I really do think that focus can get skewed by piddly things. Like green tea.

What sucks is I feel, like many do, the need to defend my "occasional cup of coffee." Does it matter if I don't have it? Nah, but I likewise don't think it matters if I do. I have no better a reason to drink "hot drinks" or strong/mild drinks as I do my soda or other junk food. Moderation in (most) things.

belledame2 said...

Urban Koda, I totally agree with you about the three areas, those being the gospel, doctrine and the culture. When I first got to BYU, it was a culture shock for me. I thought for a long time that the culture was the church! It took me a few years of being back in reality (anywhere outside the Mormon Corridor) to realize there's a huge difference between the two. Like I said before with all this stuff, especially what the GAs say, I think it over and see how what they say fits into my life. I give more credence to General Conference talks rather than articles they may write in the Ensign or say at a fireside.

OSweet said...

Couple things, from an atheist ex-M:

1. At this point in the evolutionary trajectory of the LDS church, if you want to remain a member in good standing, you can't criticize publicly the church, its history, its tenets or its leadership. You just can't. Maybe later.

2. It's hard to blame Mormons for detesting or being distrustful of modern liberals: Democrats now harbor a barely concealed hostility for white, sincere Christians (and especially Mormons), generally considering them to be moronic, backward-minded fools.
By contrast, black Christians, however devout, get a pass.

SAHM: Surviving Assorted Home Mayhem said...

Hi there, I stumbled onto your blog and just wanted to say that both my husband and I were where you are at over a decade ago...well, all I can say is we are very happy now and discovered that we can now be who we are, beleive in what we beleive in (including those values we consider "keepers" from our Mormon days) and live a more genuine life without all the nonsense. Best of luck to you.