This post has been percolating in my mind for about six months. I hope I can do justice to all of the thoughts and concerns that I have felt during this time. I hope, too, that it can be received with the spirit in which it was written.
Mormons. Latter-day Saints. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Growing up in a heavily-Mormon-populated city in the desert of Arizona, I was very aware of people who WERE and who WERE NOT. Mormons, that is. A few of my dearest friends were not. I spent the night at their homes, I played all summer long with them, I attended their churches. I am grateful for their example of accepting me as a friend although I was of a different faith. I feel lucky to still consider them friends.
This post is not about them. It is not about the friends I have made since then that are believers of differing faiths. It is not about my agnostic and atheist friends. This post is about my Mormon friends who, for many different reasons, have decided to "leave the church." It is happening at a quickening rate. Every week or so, I discover that an old friend is "inactive" or a new friend is a "former Mormon" (or "Formon" for my blog's purposes). Why? What has caused this seemingly mass exodus? What are the issues for leaving? Would I ever leave? How would I feel if someone in my immediate family decided to be a Formon?
(I should add here for those of you who are unfamiliar with my religious and political posts that I consider myself a feminist and neither a liberal nor a conservative. Somewhere in the middle with definite leanings on certain subjects. I also consider myself a believer in Christ and an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Just a little FYI.)
Here is how and why I think the Formons are multiplying.
As Mormons, we relish the idea that we are a "peculiar people." We don't drink alcohol or coffee (don't get me started on caffeinated soda--please read this if you don't already understand that soda has no part in the Word of Wisdom), we don't have sex before marriage, we wear modest clothes, we display traditional marriages, we believe in the benefit of large families, we go to church weekly and sometimes more, we like knit skirts (just me? I don't believe it).
There is a definite culture of the Mormon church and if you don't buy into that culture 100%, it can be grating and frustrating.
Without harping too heavily on my own issues with some of the cultural pieces of the church where I struggle, let me give you some light examples of CULTURE that don't have any basis in DOCTRINE:
- men should wear white button-down dress shirts and ties
- men should not have facial hair
- caffeine should never be consumed (see above link)
- 1 husband + 1 wife + 5 kids + nice home = life goal
I think that why so many of my friends have left or are leaving is because of what I call FRINGE BELIEFS of members of the church. These are many things that we might cling to or once clung to because they defined our church's peculiarity and difference. When we begin to struggle or doubt one of the fringe beliefs, we let it grow and become the reason we believed in any of it in the first place. It can become so obnoxious that we would rather cut the entire arm off because of the irritation of the finger.
I made a =really rad graphic= to explain what I mean.
The cornerstones of our religion are simple and they will not change. When I struggle with a fringe belief, I recall the basic four and ask myself if I still believe in them. My answer has always been YES. The fringe beliefs are part of our religion either through priesthood revelation or because of cultural interpretation. Some of them I do not believe. Some of them I struggle with. Some of them I understand and believe. Any of them could change at any time and I would still believe in this church. They are not what makes the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints a unique church. What makes this church different from other Christian churches is our belief in the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith's First Vision, and that the keys of God's priesthood have been restored on the earth.
If this Sunday we are told that church will be two hours long and tithing will be increased to 15%, my testimony will not change. If wine becomes OK to imbibe, but chocolate becomes banned, I will struggle, but I will still believe in the main cornerstones of the gospel. They are immovable. They will not change. All the other stuff CAN change and many of it will shift. Not because we need to conform, but because God teaches us line upon line, precept upon precept (*). I recently read:
"Believe in God; believe that He is, and that He created all things, both in heaven and in earth; believe that He has all wisdom, and all power, both in heaven and in earth; believe that men doth not comprehend all the things which the Lord can comprehend." (Mosiah 4:9)
I don't understand why polygamy was ever practiced. Many have their explanations and reasons, but I still don't understand it. It continues to baffle me. But. The above scripture reminds me that all I need to do is to believe in God and in His wisdom and that I cannot comprehend all that He does.
The CULTURE and the DOCTRINE are very different pieces of Mormons. I choose to eschew parts of one but still hold tightly onto the latter. It does not change my testimony. For me, it strengthens it. It brings me closer to God through my hard-earned beliefs. It is not the fringe that will bring us to Christ. If those are all we are clinging to and they change, our unstable foundation is shaken. If the fringe are what deter us from attending and believing, then we are missing the big picture.
This great explanation shows us that the KJV's interpretation of a "peculiar people" is not that we are weird and different, but that we are "a people owned by God." So if the weirdness and fringe of the gospel is any reason why you have distanced yourself, consider this:
[The Lord God] doeth not anything save it be for the benefit of the world; for he loveth the world, even that he layeth down his own life that he may draw all men unto him. Wherefore, he commandeth none that they shall not partake of his salvation.
Behold, doth he cry unto any, saying: Depart from me? Behold, I say unto you, Nay; but he saith: Come unto me all ye ends of the earth, buy milk and honey, without money and without price.
I don't pretend to know why anyone distances themselves. I wonder, but I don't really know. I wonder solely because many times the people who become Formon are some of the very people that I believe would contribute so much value to a congregation. I wish that some of the words that are shared with me in private conversations could be heard by larger groups. There is insight in their questions and concerns. The loudest people in church settings are not always the majority. Christ does not beckon only those who wear white shirts with a short haircut to come and partake of His salvation. He beckons ALL.
Focus on the cornerstones. They are immovable. The fringe will either come to you or won't. They are NOT the doctrine.