A high school friend recently messaged me to say that—after reading my Facebook posts and my blog posts (as well as other Doves and Serpents posts)—she wondered why I stay in the Mormon church. If it’s such a source of pain and frustration, why don’t I just leave?
I mostly resent the idea that if I don’t like it, I should just leave. Being Mormon isn’t exactly a thing you can just cross off your to-do list: “Dishes? Check. Pick up dry cleaning? Check. Being Mormon? Check.” But, on the other hand (channeling Tevye from Fiddler on the Roof), I guess it’s a fair question from an old friend.
So here’s my response:
Have you ever read any of Chaim Potok’s books–especially The Chosen? It’s a novel about two Jewish boys–one whose father is a rabbi, very conservative, traditional, and the other who is less traditional/conservative. It’s a beautiful story of how these boys tussle with the religion they inherited from their families. I relate to much of that story.
You are right that I have numerous opinions and beliefs that don’t gel well with the standard Mormon line anymore (although I actually doubt that there is such thing as a “standard” Mormon line). I’ve thought long and hard about those issues and I feel like I’m following my conscience right now–something I learned to do in a loving Mormon family and in wonderful, cozy Primary and Sunday School lessons as a child. There are parts of Mormonism (beliefs, behaviors) that I just don’t believe are what God wants us to be doing or thinking. And it’s my belief in a loving Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother that leads me to continue thinking about these issues and hoping for change.
Many people in our parents’ generation were very saddened and confused and disillusioned by the priesthood ban. It simply did not feel right to them. Some left the church over it; they just couldn’t square their belief in a loving God with a doctrine that excluded one race of people from holding the priesthood. And I certainly don’t judge those people for leaving. But thankfully, some stuck around. And they rejoiced when the policy eventually changed. I was only five at the time, but the basics of the story are clear in my mind. My mom and siblings and I were swimming at a local hotel pool. My dad showed up at the pool unexpectedly (he had come from work) and threw his arms around my mother. They both wept as he explained to her that he had heard Kimball’s proclamation on the radio. I’ll never forget those minutes. So frankly, the idea that I should just leave because the church doesn’t suit me 100% is not one that I embrace.
If something important falls short of my expectations or fails to live up to its potential, I feel like that thing is worth critiquing. I feel this way about public education. You won’t find a bigger public education advocate than I am, but that doesn’t mean I refrain from criticizing public schools. If I didn’t care about them, I wouldn’t bother. Rather, it’s because I care about them that I continue to have my kids attend them while I also seek to improve them and call them out when they disappoint me.
So here I am. Mormonism is like my mother tongue. It doesn’t feel as comfortable as it once did, but I can still speak it. It’s sort of my go-to framework for religious issues. It’s a huge part of my family, my identity, and my family identity. So part of me feels like, “Hey, this is my dang church, too. Don’t think you can get rid of me so easily.”
Sometimes, that’s enough.