I keep getting recurring questions about my religion in the comment section on this post back HERE and actually in several of my other posts through the years. Some are really genuine questions that have made me think and others are pretty emotionally inflamed. I know some of the comments make other readers uncomfortable, but I think it’s so interesting to hear where people are coming from.
People are so curious about how members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, particularly those in my family, live the gospel principles. Some don’t think we’re doing a very good job (which is totally fine, we’re all just trying to sort this out, right?) But I want to always be open to those questions. I think they should be an open discussion. I am grateful for how they make me dig deeper into my own convictions.
One commenter back in that post talked about how she left the church because of so much that went on that made her feel awful about herself. I appreciated so much that she would share her perspective. I left her a long answer back there, but I think it merits adding my thoughts here as well since so many people ask where I’m coming from.
First, I’ll attach the comment for context. This reader had a pretty awful experience with the church and I don’t think we should sweep these kinds of feelings under the rug. They are genuine concerns and I know she is not alone in how she feels.
As a former Mormon, I see this thread as a conflict between people who try to live or have tried to live Mormonism to the “letter of the law” as we were taught, and people who make adjustments to the rules for their own comfort. And they are definitely bending the rules – there is no room for interpretation in the instructions about garments given in the temple. I wish I had been comfortable bending the rules as a Mormon – it would have made my life so much better to be able to say “These garments are making me miserable and I hate wearing them” or “I have two small children, a husband who works all the time/travels frequently, and no family in town to help me, so I won’t be taking a calling in Young Women’s” or even “I don’t really want to get married in the temple, I’m not ready and I’ll be so sad that most of my family cannot be there.” I just kept on going and trying to fit the mold until I couldn’t anymore. And I do resent the way changes to church policy happen later when people do start to say those things, partly because I wish I had taken care of myself first and not worried so much about what the Mormon god, or my bishop, or the women in my ward thought. And partly because the Mormon religion is so unreasonable, and so unbelievably difficult for people who are converted, or of lower income, or without a wide network of Mormon family and friends, or who are LGBTQ, or who have disabilities. Those of us without the security to ask questions of the church and its doctrine and policies, or assert our own identities, accept and forgive our own limitations, and receive the support of a community that does the same, are at an enormous disadvantage. I pop in to this blog because it is a glimpse of the kind of life I thought my devotion to the church would bring me, and it reminds me why I left. I left because of the devastating and hypocritical sanctimoniousness of the church’s leaders, the crushing hierarchy of the money/faith combo, and the excruciating rejection I felt as a member. I’m sad I don’t have the network of Mormonism, the fun aspects of its culture, and the giant extended family unit I hoped for, but I have freedom from the judgment I imposed on myself and that was imposed on me by others, and that’s much better.
Here are my thoughts as a response: another installment of “the gospel according to me”
(part 1 of my gospel thoughts is back HERE)
I so appreciate you sharing these feelings and I’ve been waiting to come back to this comment when I had some time to write out a thoughtful response. First of all, I’m so sorry that this religion has caused you pain and hurt. I know that is not what God would ever want a religion to do. I think your points are incredibly valid.
Have you watched The Chosen? I know, this is a tangent, but I often think that the Christ portrayed in that series is the Christ I envision, filled with compassion for every person and every situation. If you were to go to Jesus and say any of those things you mentioned, “These garments are making me miserable, ” or “I am so overwhelmed I cannot take a calling right now,” or “I’m not ready for the temple,” I believe He would have complete love for you and would be willing to wait and to seek to understand. For a lifetime if necessary. For you to gain that understanding and have a desire to do those things asked of you.
The problem is, in my opinion, (and I think you agree from your last few sentences), that there is a cultural norm to do all these things without questioning. Like you said, it takes a particular amount of security to ask questions about doctrine and policies, and really, the majority of people in the church may be ok to just follow along. That is great if that’s how they personally can build their foundation to be strong. Some people have a natural gift of faith and these things come easy for them. I know because I think I am one of them. Growing up I didn’t have to question, I just knew the church helped me build my relationship with God and I loved it. I loved how I felt at church. I loved learning more about Christ each week (still do).
But I honestly think for many the “pushing back” is what helps to build their foundation.
The questioning, the digging deep.
And I think that is a beautiful thing! But I get what you’re saying, sometimes the culture looks down on that. I do not think that is the gospel. How can we change that? Dave and I discuss that all the time.
If someone doesn’t feel comfortable at church as it sounds like you didn’t (and I know so many others are right there along with you! And me sometimes too!), I believe things need to change. Church should be like a hospital where people can come in their brokenness to be healed. To find a better way. To feel unconditional love as they work to align their life to follow Christ’s example.
But there are three problems with that:
1) Sometimes the change needs to come from inside the person who is struggling.
A humbling experience that we tend to want to shrug off in our modern-day society sometimes. When someone is feeling shame, it is easy blame the church rather than reaching deep inside to consider what they could do better (this is not you I’m talking about btw, it sounds like you did everything you could to “fit,” which really shouldn’t have to happen).
But the whole purpose of religion is to have boundaries. Not “everything goes” if we want to strive to continue to progress. We have to have the valleys where we realize we have so much to learn along with the beautiful vistas. And not blame others or feel shame if we are in a different spot from someone else (much easier said than done!)
There was a kid in one of our wards years ago who didn’t have a very involved family. He had struggled in the church, but had learned and grown, and decided he wanted to serve a mission. He worked hard to turn in his papers and get ready to go only to be denied because he was overweight (missionaries have to be able to ride bikes and walk a lot, obesity can lead to some pretty tricky stuff on a mission). Dave and I were dying at this rejection for that kid. We loved him and were so rooting for him! Didn’t they know that this was a big deal he was trying to go on a mission in the first place? This was going to totally turn him away.
But you know what happened? That kid humbled himself and got to work. He lost weight. He got so motivated. He read his scriptures and dug deep. He put all his efforts into becoming healthy and became and incredible missionary.
Those boundaries changed his life for the better.
This could have gone the other way, of course, but I love that this kid was humble enough to take this rejection as a tremendous opportunity to learn and grow. And that through work and diligence, he could become a better version of himself.
2) The church is run by imperfect people.
Although I believe so fully that our prophet is called of God and strives every day to “hear Him” to get guidance for the church, and that there are so many incredible leaders in our church striving to do their best, they are human. Which means they make mistakes. Small and large ones. I know of stake presidents and mission presidents who have made horrible mistakes. My own stake president was excommunicated shortly after I returned from my mission. I personally believe this is part of our learning process. To learn that no one is exempt from sin. We all have learning to do. And we can chose to say things like “just like me, that person is learning,” (because we all are, aren’t we?), and give people grace, or we can choose to hold grudges and let someone else’s decisions determine our own paths. The choice is ours.
It takes a strong person to think, “that doesn’t work for me, but I’m still learning. And I’m going to be ok with people judging me if I don’t conform, I’m still going to church no matter how people perceive me because this is my progression, not theirs” (as per some of your struggles you mentioned).
3) Change takes a long time.
There are so many deep-set cultural norms in the church that aren’t necessarily part of the gospel. They are things that have come generation through generation and are set up to be part of the gospel but they’re really not (the “fencelaws” as one person calls them in a podcast I listened to…I’ll have to link that below because it’s good!) There is a lot of heaving and adjusting and realigning in the church right now, but movement is slow. And we have to figure out a way to understand along the way.
Phew, sorry so long, but I’m just grateful to hear your perspective to learn from, and hope that you will find mine helpful as well. I hope you have found happiness and hope you can find grace for those who have made you feel the way you did at church. Everyone is learning and hopefully growing but we’re all doing it in such different ways with such different experiences and backgrounds and capacities to grapple with. I am sending love and respect to you as you seek your own journey.
I’m grateful that we can all find our own sacred groves to seek answers and try to understand the things that may not add up in our hearts.