I am an active member of the church, and a believer.
I am well aware of most of the controversial issues (Book of Abraham, DNA, Book of Mormon historicity, polyandry, etc.). Some of them occasionally bother me. Others do not. Although according to statistics I am very educated, I probably could not win an argument defending the church on any of those points. I could not support the church on Prop. 8, (if you want to specifically comment on that, please go here). I will probably never understand in this life why we are discouraged from praying to our Heavenly Mother, or why women are no longer allowed bless the sick. I am sure I could go on, and so could many of you.
I occasionally get asked or read questions like, “If Joseph Smith made claims that were false, how can you believe any of his claims?” “When you line everything up, how can you still logically believe it to be true?” For anyone questioning the faith, or those who have left the church who may be reading this, feel free to mentally insert other questions here. They are all good and valid in my opinion. I do not fault anyone for asking them, nor for being disturbed enough by them to leave the faith. Although my path is different, I wish you the best.
How do I explain my belief and activity in the church? Have I put “feelings” above reason?
I was raised by a saint of a mother and an intellectual yet very spiritual father. Church books lined the shelves: Quinn, Compton, and even Bagley’s Blood of The Prophets and Southerton’s Lost Tribe made appearances. On hunting trips my father would sometimes shoot his buffalo in the name of Allah (in Turkish) so our good Muslim friends could enjoy it with us. As bishop, he helped countless families regardless of legal status, blessed a neighbor’s sick cat, and was a safe haven for gay members to turn to. My parents left their ward a few years ago to attend a Hispanic branch, where they can do a lot more than debate in Sunday School over gospel minutiae. They taught me by word and example that serving and loving others always trumps theology.
As a priest I loved blessing the sacrament. It was probably the first time I felt a significant sense of the sacred–it was intoxicating. I loved seminary and institute, even when I was taught that Darwin was Satan’s answer to Joseph Smith (that one still makes me smile). I often felt a sense of awe watching the RMs come home. I wanted what they had. My father called it “spiritual muscle.” My mission in Japan was the right place at the right time for me, for many reasons. It was the best investment of time I had ever made (up to that point, of course!).
The Book of Mormon has a special place in my life. One experience reading King Benjamin started what became a small series of nearly indescribable subjective positive spiritual experiences, (I once tried to describe what it was like to an inquiring non-member/acquaintance and was mocked for it, so I hold close what is most sacred–let’s just say that a few of them were more than just a “tingling down the spine” or “warm feelings”). I have also felt what I interpret to be the infinite love and patience of God, for me and for all of his children. These “feelings” are as important and special to me as my “feelings” for my wife and son.
I love having a community wherever I go. I generally enjoy responsibilities at church, (currently the strengthening marriage instructor) and I have found that if I’m prepared and attentive, the meetings are usually more than worthwhile. I love General Conference, and agree with the teachings almost all of the time. Some people (both in and out of the church) seem to think that a prophet is either always right or not a prophet at all. I was not brought up that way, and have a difficult time understanding it now. Like Henry Eyring (Sr.) said, I think that prophets are wonderful because sometimes they speak for God. It is for those special moments of elevation and insight that I respect and listen to them.
Certain aspects of Mormon theology also fit me better than any religion or philosophy I know. This will have to be a later post, but marriage and personal growth are two of the most important things in life to me, and Mormonism fits those quite well, (I am definitely open to other views or ideas on this, if you have some).
I love symbolism, and enjoy the temple ordinances–I expect that they will continue to evolve, and look forward to it. I see Christ and relationships in everything in the temple. It can be different, even awkward at first, but looking deeper provides inspiration and insight that is a moving and a stabilizing force in my life. I believe in Christ. He inspires goodness. He is the answer to the question of evil and tragedy and suffering. He unconditionally loves everyone. That is a God I believe in. His revelations are in the Church, in books, in the rocks, and hopefully in my dissertation in a few years. None of those conduits are free from error.
This is not an argument for Mormonism. I am not telling others how they should approach faith, or activity in the church. This is simply how I am doing it. I could not be more logical: Some stuff bothers me, some of it really inspires me, gives meaning to my life and family, and has been the source of experiences (not always just feelings) and growth that I cannot reject. I do not have my head in the sand. I am not plugging my ears and yelling “faith! faith! faith!” at valid and logical arguments against the church’s claims.
Some people may think that if I have concerns or disagreements I should drop the church. Others may think I should try harder to procure some answers for my questions and concerns. I have pondered the first option and tried out the second for a while. In one of the clearest insights in my life, I found that neither option is even remotely satisfying. I believe in the gospel, and I am not an apologist. So here I am, in the church, good and bad, best and worst, inspiring and awkward.
What is your story?
- How do you handle issues that are difficult or perhaps impossible to reconcile?
- What are the best parts of your experiences in the church?
- Why have you ultimately decided to stay or leave? (Please keep these in a spirit of sharing and mutual understanding.)
Do you know of any good related posts (by those who have stayed OR left–again, written with some humility, please). Next week there will be a guest post by a friend of mine who left the church a while back. Here are a few others, from various perspectives: