Church Hop: Introduction

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(This series of posts is by an anonymous couple who’ve decided to launch an experiment: a summer of church hopping. Every post will include the perspectives of each in a “she said/he said” format.)

She Said:

It’s time. We’ve decided to take a break. To use Jana Reiss’s words, we’re taking a sabbatical. Our whole lives we’ve been Mormons. Card-carrying, mission-serving Mormons. After a faith crisis four years ago, I’ve tried very hard to make things work, attending meetings and serving in callings week after week with my family. But in order to survive these weekly meetings, I have arrived at the point where I have to deaden myself emotionally and spiritually. That shouldn’t be what church is about, should it? I miss that conduit to God, the healing and connecting time, the space to think about how I can try harder to be a better mother, wife, citizen, employee, friend, daughter of God.

I don’t want to delve too deeply into the reasons why we’re taking a break. Suffice it to say, for me, I would rather attend a church that is fully inclusive of women and the LGBTQ community. Those are my primary criteria.

My husband and I have landed on the idea that we will try out different churches for the summer and see what happens. We’re not saying we’re leaving Mormonism; we’re not saying we’re joining another church; we’re simply experimenting with no commitments either way. We may end up running full gallop back to the church that has been our stomping ground for so long, sorry that we ever forsook it, or perhaps with more appreciation for the things it does well. We may end up finding a new spiritual home. We may find that no church really fits us, extending our sabbatical indefinitely. Maybe a combination of the above.

I’ve never really been comfortable with the idea of church hopping. It seems superficial. I cringed when I heard people use that phrase on my mission. Back then, I still believed in a “one true church.” Even now that I don’t, how much can a person really understand about a religion by attending a few services? Answer: not much. Still, we’re willing to give it a try. Who knows where it may lead. We’re certain, at least, to come away with a greater appreciation for people of other faiths, having walked in their shoes, or, um, knelt in their knee grooves.

Another certainty: I feel renewed, lighter, anticipating the summer ahead and what insights it may bring.

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He Said:

This may sound like Captain Obvious speaking, but the Church’s claim to be the “one true church” is based on the assumption that there is such a thing as “one true church.” I guess I’m slow, but even during the early period of my faith crisis, I tended to think in the either/or terms that the Church encouraged. I assumed that either Mormonism was the one true religion, or that there was no God. That was part of what made the crisis so hard for me, and why I clung so fiercely to a religion whose teachings I was starting to doubt.

It has only been in the past while that the “one true church” assumption stopped making sense to me. If there were such a thing as one true church, it would imply that the vast majority of the world’s population has failed a test that they didn’t even know they were taking (a point the guys at South Park make very nicely. I realize that Mormon doctrine accounts for this problem by offering vicarious ordinances, but it seems like a clunky system. If there is a test, I doubt that we pass it by participating in certain rituals or obeying the leaders of a certain church. We pass it by developing charity and standing up for justice and kindness.

For a while I managed to continue my Church participation by thinking of it not as the true church, but as a good church. I have definitely had wonderful experiences serving in the Church that have helped me to grow and do well on what I see as the test of life. This kind of thinking has become increasingly problematic for me, however, as I have seen the Church’s willingness to sacrifice its goodness in order to assert its trueness. A good church would be honest about its history. A “true” church whitewashes it. A good church would be open to suggestions for improvements from its members. A “true” church excommunicates those who ask for change. A good church fights for equal rights. A “true” church lags decades behind the rest of the world on social issues.

If the real purpose of life is to be good, it seems that participating in a “true” church distracts from that goal, so I have decided to take a break from the “true” church that I grew up in. As my wife and I spend this summer church hopping, I don’t believe that we will stumble upon a true church anywhere, but I am curious to see how other churches strive to be good. Perhaps we’ll pick one of them to start going to. Perhaps we’ll decide that the best way to pass the test is to not go to any church, and instead volunteer at the food bank every Sunday morning. Perhaps we’ll see how other churches and their members balance goodness with truth claims, and come back to the Mormon church with ideas about how to make it work for us. Regardless of the outcome, I see our summer-long church hop as the first step in taking the real test of life.

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