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Tuesday, July 9, 2013

On Formons and Belief

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)
  • SUVs
  • 1 husband + 1 wife + 5 kids + nice home = life goal
I could go on, but I am afraid that my snarkiness would send the point of this blog post down a path I do not intend to go. Point is, the culture that we portray as WESTERN members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not gospel, it is not doctrine. It has NO bearing in my testimony. It is not what I believe, it is not who I am.

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.

Behold, hath he commanded any that they should depart out of the synagogues, or out of the houses of worship? Behold, I say unto you, Nay.
(2 Nephi 26: 26-28)

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.

a

8 wise comments:

Sue said...

I stick to the cornerstones myself, and I leave a lot of the cultural stuff behind. I am not a black-and-white thinker, so I realize this is easier for me than for some.

I am also converted every day by the fruits of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I think an increasing number of the "Formans," as you call them, are having issues with church history. Occasionally, I have issues with it myself. But I still can't get away from those things I know to be true and the experiences I have had in my life that bear them out.

I love the Church. But I don't see it through rose-colored glasses. But that's okay. I don't need them.

Great post.

=)

Kris said...

Fantastic post Anna! I think when many people go through a crisis of testimony, they look towards those fringe beliefs as a way to invalidate the entire religion. And a lot of that is probably the fault of the Mormon membership in general. We come dangerously close to being like the Pharisees who built all sorts of meaningless fringe rules and laws in order to "protect" the true religion.
I love your approach of remembering what is important and unchangeable about God's plan. Whenever I don't comprehend something I try to remember that I trust God, that there is an answer, and that I will understand it when the right time comes.

Nancy Pitney said...

Anna, I love what you say here and you did it in such a nice way. My husband is a "Forman", and I could write a novel about how he got to that point. I agree with Sue that a lot of it may come from church history (I think the church is getting better at acknowledging the past, but there is still quite a bit of apologetics going on). I also agree about the fringe beliefs. I think it takes a person very firm in their own beliefs and self to be able to continue going to church when they don't agree with everything that is said or assumed. Like you, I am an independent and it really bothers me when comments are made in church that assume everyone are right wing conservatives and watch Fox News. But because I know who I am and what I believe, I just let it go. (Heaven forbid I actually voice MY opinion-I surely would get black listed, right Kris? (He's my bishop)). In relief society just this past Sunday a comment was made about the difference between religion and spirituality. I think more and more of us see the difference between the culture and the doctrine. The more we share how we feel about it, the better the church will be, as we will see that a lot of us struggle with these fringe beliefs but that it's ok.

jen said...

I was prepared for a fringe post--not that I don't appreciate hearing opinions, but thanks for avoiding hot-button issues to clearly state what you believe and why. I don't think bashing on those hot-button issues ever helps anyone, and often can unintentionally hurt someone.

I would like to add to your priesthood cornerstone that we believe in living prophets on the earth. Our belief in prophets is what guides our belief. Either we believe what they teach, or we don't. That is where things get a little dicey for some people, Mormons, Formons, or Normons (not Mormons). (Thanks. I made that last one up myself.)

Angela Henrie said...

It's difficult to put into words, but I can relate to why some just stop going. It can be a reminder of what is not in your life or what SHOULD be happening. It's just easier to not go, then to feel worse, depressed, discouraged after you get home from church. It takes a strong person to face that week after week. Just a thought.

Kelli said...

Or maybe for 'formons', it is as simple as they just don't believe it. I feel silly having any type of discussion, debate, disagreement with my loving family or dear friends whom are active members. For what? I don't need to criticize their beliefs. I know their beliefs. I don't believe them. For me, it is that simple. Instead, I choose to cultivate loving relationships and find commonalities among those that I love and don't agree with in regards to religion. My family members are some of my best friends. My very best friends are Mormon. I love Mormons. I am one. But don't believe it. My brothers favorite is, 'i choose to believe'. My response is as simple and true (and my favorite), 'i choose not to believe'. Love you Anna!

Anna M said...

I wish my blogger formatting allowed me to respond to your comments individually.

Alas.

Thanks, Sue. The more I get to know you, the more alike I think we are. Who needs rose colored glasses?!

Kris: Bishop, eh? Remind me to tell you some things about Nancy. Thanks for your comment.

Nancy: I kid. I got nothing on you. I appreciate your viewpoint. There are a lot of reasons people become Formon, and I don't assume to know any reasons why. But I think it must be really difficult to have someone you love on the other side of the fence. Church history is incredibly dicey, but I just try to remember that ALL history has tainted viewpoints and weighted perspective. It's like Laman and Lemuel, to me. Maybe they weren't such horrible guys like the cartoons portray them to be, and maybe I empathize with them too much. But ultimately they chose poorly and because I empathize with them, I need to use their story as presented to me to learn--not to hate. I am not making sense, I am sure.

jen: Yes, the Priesthood cornerstone definitely includes the entire keys, the Prophet as holding all of them currently. You know I could go all day long on hot button topics and one day I might make everyone hate me with my BYU opinions, but this was my love note to friends.

angela: sure, I think we all can relate. I know I can. But sometimes what we think we aren't doing right are the very FRINGE BELIEFS that are not central to the gospel. I know I could have put a dozen other things on that list. Point is, eventually we have to choose to be members and believe in the gospel or we distance ourselves completely. Those reasons to distance ourselves take on a life of their own. love you, Ange.

Kelli: thanks, sister. I appreciate your candor. I am interested, if you ever wanted to share with me, WHAT exactly you don't believe. All four parts? I hear you on the making relationships. Mormons are notorious (especially where I live) for only making relationships within their small circles and sometimes miss HUGE opportunities for wonderful friendships. I miss YOU!

Nancy Pitney said...

Amen to what Kelli said! I hear people talk about less actives in church and they always want to believe it's because someone offended them, or some other really simple thing. It never occurs to them that some just don't believe it anymore (if they ever did). I really like the direction the church is going in teaching true conversion (to the main points you brought up in your blog). Without true conversion, it doesn't matter what the excuse is, people will eventually stop going to church, or just follow the motions because no opposition is ever presented to them. Once again, I love reading your posts and just want you to know that there are more of us like you out here than you may realize! :)