What would keep me in the Mormon church
On the Mormon Stories Facebook group, there was a link posted to a Deseret News article that suggested that one reason for people leaving the church is what people perceive to be its problematic stances on gender and sexuality.
While the authors of the piece surely believe answers are available (and lament that people think otherwise and find the Christian tradition to be unable to address these sorts of issues), the article doesn’t really offer any clear solutions to the problem it asserts, which I would guess is par for the course, considering the ideological constraints of those who wrote it. (I really admire people who try to wrestle tough issues within a Mormon perspective… They’ve got tough starting material to work with…)
What is noteworthy about the article is that it doesn’t dismiss the reasons for disaffecting as merely “being offended” or “wanting to sin”. (or at least, If the authors hold these views, they aren’t overtly expressed in this article.)
But the thing that a few comments in the Mormon Stories Facebook discussion focused on was the fact that the authors recognized these social issues alongside issues like history.
And then came the comment that got me thinking.
Mark B wrote:
This raises an interesting question. Last week I had a conversation with a man who has exited Mormonism. He is reasonably intelligent and well-informed, and his opinion is that the church’s stance on gender issues and LGBT issues are the real reasons people leave, and difficult church history is something of a sideshow.
He proposed a thought experiment: Imagine an LDS church with female GAs and bishops, with gay people welcomed and celebrated, and which builds orphanages in Guatemala rather than malls in SLC. (I know, I know, but the key word here is IMAGINE.) How many people would then care about peepstones or various versions of the First Vision?
So, perhaps…social issues could not only be just as decisive, but even more decisive in disaffection than issues relating to church history?
Mark followed up by mentioning that he knows several folks who stayed even when they knew various things about church history, but the thing that ended up shaking them the most was Prop 8.
Perhaps because I hang out in the same circles as Mark online, this might explain why this story rings true to what I’ve heard from many unorthodox Mormons. It’s just not the case, as many Mormons prove out through their lives, that “if you only knew x, then you would leave too.” But matters of conscience tend to reach down deeper in the soul.
Anyway, my feelings are as such, and I posted them in the conversation:
I think that I wouldn’t have so much issue with the church if one of two things applied to me: 1) I thought the church and its truth claims were true or 2) I thought that the teachings of the church as to how I should live my life were relevant and uplifting for my development.
The problem for me is that I definitely don’t feel (1) to be the case. As for (2), I think that can be the case of you are a white, heterosexual, cismale with a degree of socioeconomic privilege, and are not empathetic to the experiences of those who are not the above.
Unfortunately, that is not the case for me either.
The church can’t really do anything about history… That’s literally in the past. I mean, the church could try to inculcate a different way of interacting with history, but this would probably have to be a gradual process to avoid shocking everyone who grew up with the church placing a lot of value on historicity and harboring such a rosy image of the prophets.
One thing the church really can do is make the church the most compelling place to be today. This is where the moral and social concerns come into play.
I would like to see the church just go all out here. Like, with stuff that we’ve never seen before in the 21st century of religion. Want to have distinction for gender? Fine. But I want to see priestesses with freaking majyyks. I want to see the church figure out a way to address trans issues in a way that speaks to the complexities of gender vs. sex. (let me arrange a few Lego blocks just as a possibility – if you think that gender is eternal, but that mortality [including bodies] are susceptible to flaw, then you can surely admit the possibility that one’s gender could be different than one’s birth sex. [Granted, there are still going to be issues with trying to stuff everyone into a gender binary, or to try to figure out what genders mean in the long run, but this change wouldn’t be earth-shattering.]) I want to see the church doing something radically different rather than looking like a me too throwback from the 1950s.
I am not under any illusions that this will happen, though.
However great it feels to dream up possibilities or post in the echo chamber of like minds that is the liberal Mormon Facebook world, I have to recognize that social conservatives do exist as well. They will not be dismissed. Especially not in the church.
I don’t see a way to reconcile. Obviously, each side is going to disagree with one another. But while many many liberals simply take the view that their more conservative brethren are mistaken, going against the tide of history or whatever, I think there is a potential for folks to approach conversations in poor faith. (If your reasoning is that your opponents can only believe the way that they do because of some deficiency, then you’re probably not engaging them in good faith.)
… And I recognize those as well who put their feet down and brook no compromise on what they find to be pressing issues like these. At some point, maybe you stop trying to find common ground and instead concede that maybe there are irreconcilable differences.
So, that gives liberals reason to draw their line in the sand.
But what about the conservatives in the church? Why should they try to appease disaffected liberal members either? Liberal churches don’t appear to have the binding power of staying power of the conservative ones, so why would the largest denomination of the restoration movement – the one that people associate when they say the word “Mormon” – want to risk annihilating its brand cachet?
I’m sure someone might say something coy like “because it’s the right thing to do” or whatever, but that is presuming what is right.
In the meantime, while I’m not holding my breath for any of it,I’ll look with anticipation to see if Linda and Richard Eyes can get to showing how Christianity in general or Mormonism in specific can offer answers that actually resonate with me. We may be just too different of people for this to ever work out…
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