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Why would you “stayLDS”?

January 29, 2010

In looking at the case of several “new order Mormons,” “middle way Mormons,” “stayLDS” participants, or whatever they can be called, I have noticed that one of the most pressing reasons to stayLDS is family. The desire to keep family together can be an incredible bonding agent, it seems.

I have been incredulous, however, of other reasons to stayLDS. I don’t mean to say I am incredulous of reasons that people stay LDS (note the difference with the space). This is not a post to suggest that people who stay LDS are blargl fargles (TM). (I did have a commenter swing by with approximately such a comment. I was not amused, but some of my other commenters seemed to salvage that discussion.)

What I mean is…when someone has something about them that makes them the less-than-orthodox LDS member (however we define orthodoxy…or if we can even come to a conclusion about orthodoxy at all), they face social pressure as a result of this sticking point. They are different. They don’t fit in. So, why do they stay in? It’s painful.

I have initially been unappreciative. My position has been that I (and most people) can move to the beat of my own drum outside the church, so there is no need to bear the burden within. I can control the level of “not fitting in” and the discomfort about that without subjecting myself needlessly to more. Except for things like family, friends, and community (and the need to maintain appearances with individuals in these categories), why would someone stick with it?

John Dehlin didn’t really convince me otherwise (sorry, John, even Tim is unsupportive of stayLDS!), but from reading John Gustav-Wrathall, I really got a different perspective — and saw the triumph in such an action. John has a radically faithful (if we can decouple faith from God from faith in the church’s picture of God) approach that doesn’t quite mesh with everything I want to say, but I think there are two powerful articles (actually, 95% of everything John puts on paper is pretty awesome; I definitely have a lot worse signal-to-noise ratio here)…First, from January 2008: Gay/Mormon. Second, from almost exactly two years after that article: Acceptance Won’t Save Us.

As John points out, so often do gay Mormons radically bifurcate homosexuality from Mormonism. So many blogs are either about 1) being a faithful Mormon (and keeping homosexuality in check, either through celibacy or through mixed orientation marriage) or 2) being an “authentic” homosexual, recognizing homosexual attractions, pursuing same sex relationships, etc.,…and leaving the church by the wayside in the process, generally. Perhaps with lots of anger, as even John discusses.

But the reason why John is so interesting is because of this radical third option he has taken…be a faithful Mormon and be authentically committed in a gay marriage. Why? Because of the wealth of spiritual experiences with both.

And so he, like a few other, takes this novel, yet open option. Even being excommunicated, he still goes to church and still seeks the spirit.

What I feel is triumphal about this is that John is separating the proprietary aspect of membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints from the un-owned and un-controlled concept of being a Mormon, seeking Zion, etc., I have warmed up immensely to other movements — stayLDS, new order Mormonism, and so forth — because of this idea. If Mormonism is in one’s DNA, can the church take that away? Can any institution take that away? Keep in mind that Mormonism is different than the Latter-day Saint church or the Community of Christ or the Apostolic United Brethren.

Yet, despite being rejected, we have an opportunity, as John writes in “Acceptance Won’t Save Us.”

So now we have an option. We can get stuck and angry and go back into the self-pity. We can make ourselves enemies of the people from whom we once wanted nothing but love. Or we can dig deeper within. We can find what it is in ourselves that will give us the strength to love truly and deeply, not looking at the surface but looking at the heart, not caring about convention but loving truth, not being afraid of anything in ourselves or in the other. We can learn that kind of love and then we can give it.

And whether they accept it or not… Well that is their choice. That is the nature of love. It must be freely given and freely received. And when it is given and received, true love for true love, there is nothing greater and nothing more divine in all the universe.

Isn’t that better than acceptance?

I can understand getting stuck, angry, whatever. I dislike the undertones (whenever I hear it) that this is a tremendous deficiency and flaw. Is it a deficiency to cry out when hurt? To be distrustful or perhaps even wary of the source of that pain?

So I don’t think anger is a deficiency. Rather, I think that moving past (which people generally do, even if we only take the cross section of outspoken anger and ignore the quiet peace after) represents a particular treasured virtue precisely because it is not the “norm.” It is not the “expected value.” And so forth.

And really, it points something more. What all can others do? I mean, excommunication is the biggest and baddest tool the church institution has. What is a church to do when they’ve used this weapon but a person still insists upon quietly attending — even if they say absolutely nothing? Is there a next option of banning people off the premises? Is there an executive decision that can truly bring misery to apostates (like a zap raygun or something?) Is there a knife that can completely cut away one’s heritage?

So, that is becoming the new value I see in these movements. I don’t necessarily think it’s what everyone should do, or even what I should do. But I think there’s something to holding on to one’s Mormonism no matter what others in power want to say about it. There’s something about engaging the community despite being formally split away from the community.

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  1. Therewas one of the September 6 that continued to attend church and even direct choir after her excommunication, too. I don’t remember which one.

  2. Lavina Fielding Anderson, IIRC.

  3. Andrew – thank you from the bottom of my heart for the very, very kind words.

    As I know you’re aware, I’ve never really been comfortable with the “cultural Mormon” or “DNA Mormon” approach to religion. I think it’s tragic if you do not believe in the tenets of Mormonism, while feeling like you can’t survive outside the boundaries of “Mormon culture.” Then you truly are trapped, in a way.

    I spent 19 years outside the boundaries of Mormondom, and, after flirting for a time with Evangelicalism, Christian Fundamentalism, and Charismatic Christianity, became a naturalized citizen of Mainline Protestantism (I belonged to congregations that ranged from conservative to liberal in their theological outlook). I brought some of my Mormon culture/upbringing with me (for example, convinced my UCC congregation to allow lay members to preach, so that I could have the Mormon experience of bearing testimony and teaching over the pulpit from time to time). But for the most part, I happily considered myself decidedly ex-Mormon, both in belief and culture.

    When I came back to the LDS Church, I found myself consciously rejecting Mormon culture — some of which I think is cute, but much of which I find repellent. Actually, I find most “religious culture” repellent. I would say the same thing about Evangelical culture vs. Evangelicalism the Religion, or Liberal Protestant culture vs. Liberal Protestant Religion (the religion of Schleiermacher and Rauschenbusch). I have great admiration for Liberal Protestantism the Religion (though I no longer consider myself an adherent), but think Liberal Protestant culture is terrible, one of the worst religious cultures in America. In fact, Liberal Protestant culture — not Liberal Protestant Religion! — is part of the reason people are leaving Liberal Protestantism in droves for groups like the Mormons, the Evangelicals, and the Pentecostals.

    I do think — and I think many True Believing Mormons think — that the Church should be more compassionate in relation to those who doubt or struggle with various aspects of the faith. While the Church is about fostering and promoting faith, I believe a truly faithful approach will be fundamentally compassionate; it will not isolate, banish, shame or coerce doubters. IMHO, the tendency to ostracize doubters is a function of Mormon culture, and is actually contrary to a more genuine Mormon faith. John Dehlin’s site — at least what I saw of it — seems to take that approach of faithfulness with compassion as its premise, and I applaud it.

    But my two cents (what you’ve picked up on here) is that commitment is what forges real faith. The process of wrestling with our doubts and committing oneself to the community in spite of one’s doubts is what forges real faith. Doubt is a crucible that burns away everything in our faith that is chaff and dross. We turn up the heat by wrestling honestly with our doubt, which we can only be motivated to do within a framework of commitment.

    By the way, there’s only one way to create these kinds of bonds of commitment, and it’s love. “By this shall men know ye are my disciples…” The true heart of every great religion is always that. The closer we come to actually living our faith as Mormons, the more we might find ourselves converging with people who truly live their faith as Evangelicals or Pentecostals or Catholics or Jews or Buddhists….

    Along those lines, I’m not particularly impressed with Tim’s approach to things, which essentially turns a Church into a club for believers. Telling folks “You can’t believe in X, so you have no business being here” is a denial of the faith. Creating tidy lists of what’s orthodox and what’s blasphemy — either from a Mormon or an Evangelical perspective — also completely misses the point, IMHO.

  4. This reminds me so much of Man’s Search for Meaning, where Frankl insists that it is not the conditions of a prisoner’s life which imprison him. Our psychological reactions are ultimately under our own control. We retain freedom of choice even when in severe suffering, and no matter how the Church has chosen to respond. My personal reading of John Gustav-Wrathall is much the same as yours, and I admire his self-possession and the inner hold he has on his spiritual self.

    I do admire this, and see it as a “higher path,” yet in no way to I condemn or look down on others who have chosen to disengage for their own spiritual well-being. Not everyone is called to step into the gas chamber. I think there ARE times when the torture becomes simply too much to endure, and it is the better part of valor to step away.

  5. “They are different. They don’t fit in. So, why do they stay in? It’s painful.”

    Anyone remember that original Star Trek episode where Kirk yells at the Orwellian aliens trying to lobotomize everyone into bliss “I need my pain!” ?

    Maybe it’s something like that.

  6. Wow, this was a popular post and I’ve been gone all day!

    Lemme see….John:

    Disagreeing with the cultural Mormon or DNA Mormon approach is one thing…but I think it’s something that has to be recognized nevertheless…as I wrote in my entry on Third Culture Kids and the DAMU, tha *is* our common experience.

    I do think of a different thing about what Mormon culture entails than most, though, so I don’t have such a negative reaction. Mormon culture includes a theological vocabulary and worldview…it changes even our outlook of what a just god would theoretically look like (whether we believe in it or not.)

    Consider your leave. You were ex-mormon, never a non-mormon. Even if you could somehow change every belief and every action, it would never change that your first language, set of beliefs, etc., was Mormon.

    In the way I use the term culture to describe Mormon culture, I think it is nowhere near as strong in the protestant community. So, you don’t see ex-insert-denomination-here people for most protestant denominations. You see people fluidly moving from denomination to denomination, from church to church.

    Now of course, there is a theological language and cultural umbrella, I just don’t see the strength of the connection as I do with, say, Catholicism, or, of course, Mormonism.

    I think the tendency to ostracize doubters in Mormon culture isn’t *just* something anti-faith. Rather, I think there is plenty of doctrine or rumor or saying from general authority (past or present) that people pick and choose to evolve culture.

    A culture of acceptance just picks and chooses different scriptures, etc., John Dehlin’s approach deifinitely fits this, for, I think, better.

    I tend to agree with you, especially as it relates to a disagreement with Tim’s approach.

    • I agree that people switch mainline denominations all the time without it being a big deal. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t such a thing as Liberal Protestant culture… It’s just that that culture (like the Evangelical culture) is transdenominational. A Liberal Methodist going to a Liberal Presbyterian church isn’t really leaving his or her culture behind. The cultural stuff kicks into gear, though, when you, say, consider converting to Mormonism or Catholicism or if you become a “born again Christian.”

      The main strength of Liberal Protestantism is its willingness to learn from every source, to be willing to enter into dialog with science or with other faiths… You see that in the Mormonism of Joseph Smith, too, and David O. McKay (though not necessarily in the Mormonism of Boyd K. Packer!). But Liberal Protestant culture has lost its power to demand sacrifice. People stay committed only up to a certain point, then they move on. They talk about love all the time, but don’t always have the cojones to embody love. I don’t think that’s inherent in Liberal Protestantism, it’s just the way its evolved, partly as a result of the Liberal cultural dominance (from about 1930 – 1960). To the extent Liberal Protestants continue to have this attitude of being the rightful rulers of America’s religious culture, and this attitude of “why won’t people just see it our way, and see that we are right?” Liberal Protestant institutions will continue to decline. Being a minority religion — I predict — will be good for Liberal Protestantism. Eventually folks will wake up, and then they’ll go back to the roots of their faith — which includes a sense of awe and mystery, and a love of knowledge and love of people that transcends religious or political boundaries, and a desire to make a better world.

      You’re right, culturally I continued to be a Mormon, even when I was in exile from it. I was always, I admit, an “ex-Mormon,” not truly a “post-Mormon” or something other than a Mormon without Mormonism. I won’t deny that. Though I had at a certain point accepted the possibility of living without Mormonism in any significant way.

    • I was there for a long time too… Being “ex-Mormon” for 19 years should entitle you to think that you’ll be an ex-Mormon for the rest of your life. God had other plans for me.

      • I think I would agree about the “transdenominational” liberal protestant culture. But I dunno…even though I guess you could say this aspect is a part of culture, what I was thinking of was what you had said: “liberal protestant culture has lost its ability to demand sacrifice.”

        If this is the case, then how can it effectively mold its adherents (across multiple denominations) into a cohesive, recognizable culture? You note (I believe correctly) that people stay committed to a certain point, then move on. This, I think, hinders what *I* have in mind when I think of a culture. You can’t “move on” from your culture or ethnicity because it is too pervasive than that. You can try to hide it or deny it, but you will never be able to hide it from *yourself* and your innermost core will always know you were lying to *yourself*.

        Have you checked out FireTag (The Fire Still Burning)’s comments here or on his blog? As a frequent commenter from the Community of Christ, I often (perhaps superficially) liken the difference between CofChrist and CJCLDS to liberal Protestantism and something more theologically and culturally conservative. But the difference I see is (which FireTag speaks of in the most foreboding terms) is that being a minority religion doesn’t necessarily do much, especially not to improve.

        Now, I *do* think that they have all of the things you mention (especially a desire to improve the world), but the strange thing I get from FireTag’s comment is that this desire blossoms in a fatalistic way. They know the church is sinking, so they are in the habit of finding a way to create a framework through which the world can be improved even if the CofChrist is never a major religious player. The love of people transcends religious boundaries for sure — especially the shaky boundaries of their own community.

        When you become reinstated with full privileges, become the next GA, reform the church and bring it to a tremendous golden age, then you can say you’re no longer an ex-Mormon 🙂

  7. BiV:

    I agree. Will have to check out that Man’s search for meaning.


    don’t remember that…but I guess that could make sense.

  8. I really don’t mind having all sorts of people at Church and letting them do things within the Church framework. I don’t mind having the “New Order” folks singing in the choir, teaching Cub Scouts, acting as Ward clerks, maybe even teaching some lessons – depending on how they did it.

    But I imagine it’s probably best that they not act as Bishop or anything.

    The only problem is… it would be hard to avoid forming cliques. It just would. I mean… suppose you do openly allow a variety of people into ward participation. Wouldn’t you still want to limit certain aspects of participation to those who are fully committed or “worthy?” Take the Priesthood for instance. Even if I’m willing to open the doors more to others, I’m still hesitant to offer Priesthood participation to just anybody.

    But if you have that division in the ward between “haves” and “have nots”, wouldn’t it naturally lead to people pridefully thinking that the people with the Priesthood are the equivalent of the Star Belly Sneetches? Wouldn’t it just lead to hurt feelings and a sense of exclusion anyway? And wouldn’t there just be a continuing demand for more and more erasing of distinctions between believer and non-believer.

    Maybe that’s a good thing. But it’s bound to seem threatening. Heck, it’s even threatening to me.

  9. Andrew, this is an excellent analysis. Particularly this part:

    I can understand getting stuck, angry, whatever. I dislike the undertones (whenever I hear it) that this is a tremendous deficiency and flaw. Is it a deficiency to cry out when hurt? To be distrustful or perhaps even wary of the source of that pain?

    I completely understand when people like John Dehlin and J G-W feel that they are more edified by staying LDS than by leaving, no matter how much they don’t fit in. I get that the challenge (and even pain) of it is something constructive for Seth.

    What I don’t like is the battle of personal choices. Just because it’s a worthwhile challenge for one person to stay LDS, that doesn’t mean that it’s a deficiency or a tragedy when staying LDS is not a constructive choice for someone else.

    (Also, I really don’t agree with Tim’s post that you linked above. There’s a lot more to the Mormon identity than the theology, and I absolutely don’t agree that obedience/allegiance to Thomas Monson — the leader of one sect of Mormonism — is the litmus test of whether you have a legitimate claim to Mormon identity.)

  10. jonedrahadian permalink

    Hi! This is a good blog!

    Im a gay mormon too. I’m 21 and from Indonesia. I became member of LDS Church since 6 months ago.

    One time, I had a trivia thought to be a faithful Mormon and still committed to same-gender relationship. But it will raise a new question. Can I go to the highest degree in Celestial Kingdom? Because we need to have a temple marriage to go there.

    Let’s say that same-gender marriage is approved and an eligible requirement to enter Celestial Kingdom. You know that in the Celestial Kingdom, we will become gods and have our own spiritual children. Then, If I have a husband, instead a wife, can I have children? Or maybe I can adopt some children from other gods?

    So, regarding the third option JGW took, I really appreciate his choice. But to become a Mormon and gay as well, how our lifestyle can be in harmony with the Gospel and the Plan of Salvation?

    Thank you.

  11. By the way, I love and totally agree with what you said here:

    So I don’t think anger is a deficiency. Rather, I think that moving past (which people generally do, even if we only take the cross section of outspoken anger and ignore the quiet peace after) represents a particular treasured virtue precisely because it is not the “norm.”

    Anger is a negative emotion, and we can get “stuck” in it. What I’ve said about anger, though, has never been intended to deny people it. The difficult stuff — doubt, pain, anger, alienation, fear, sadness — it’s all a critical part of the journey. Everything important that we learn, we learn working through this stuff.

    But I think it is important to understand that we can transcend the difficult stuff through choice — choice to return love for hate, choice to plunge ahead in spite of doubt, choice to set aside one’s anger and just listen.

    The most profound spiritual experiences I have had the Spirit has always presented to me a choice: you can do X or you can do Y. The inspiration part — the part that I truly believe can only come from God — has been helping me to understand more about the consequences of my choices. The Spirit has presented to me some really incredible visions of what is truly possible. But I still had to choose. I still had to say, “OK, I understand that I can get to this wonderful place, but I have to traverse this really painful stuff in order to get there.” I could decide if it was worth it…

    And by the way, it has been — more worth it than I could ever, ever have imagined possible. And when you commit to a path that God has shown you, you get help along the way. Making those leaps of faith entitles you to help. So I’ve always felt like the beggar in King Benjamin’s talk. I’ve always felt like I got way more out of this than I gave, because the blessings are so intense.

    But it always starts with commitment. The part that we do do — the only part we get credit for — is the choice. I’ve had a few moments of truth — like when I first felt invited by the Spirit to return to the Church; or in the aftermath of the Prop 8 victory and I felt so much pain. Those were moments when I literally could have gone one way or the other. But everything else is pure grace. When I have chosen for God or for the Spirit, I have felt so strengthened and sustained, many of my other choices have felt like no-brainers.

    There is a lot of struggle and pain in this journey — being gay and Mormon, there are just aspects of this that never get easy. Though it does get easier. I wouldn’t trade it for anything though…

  12. I see John Gustav-Wrathall’s case as profoundly challenging to LDS orthodoxy.

    Here’s a person who is stripped of sacrament and honor, as well as the fellowship of the saints, and is expected to slink away in shame. Outside of the Church and denied the Gift of the Holy Ghost (according to the script that every LDS person knows by heart), he will fall into unspeakable depravity unless he repents and admits his error. His fate is to become a “bitter” and evil person who spends his life kicking against the pricks. He will die a broken man. (Fade to black, with ghoulish sound effects and cries of anguish.)

    Instead, this man writes his own script. Time passes. He does not repent (it’s hard to repent about who you are without resorting to suicide), but he is not alone, and he is definitely not denied the Spirit. He forms a family with a wonderful and loving man. He returns to the church of his youth, as committed as any could be. He is filled with the Holy Ghost. Although he is denied all sacraments and privileges of community (the ritual shunning is still in effect), members of his congregation gradually discover the fire of his faith and are warmed by it.

    It’s not supposed to happen this way!

    What’s significant here is that Mormonism is John’s mother tongue of faith. It is the form of religion that shaped him from earliest childhood. It is distinct enough that replicating it elsewhere (in a gay-affirming church) isn’t possible, so he brackets the church’s hostility toward homosexuals and plows ahead.

    There are three reasons why John’s experience cannot be generalized into a broader movement.

    1/ Had John not been raised in the church, it is very unlikely that he would be there now. His experience should not be expected of any convert.

    2/ John is what Mormons like to call a spiritual giant, a person who radiates unusually strong faith. Very few have what it takes to commit to an organization that has (and continues to) publicly shun you. I like to call this quality spiritual cojones. Andrew calls it radical faithfulness. Not many of us will ever possess it.

    3/ Finally, there is the issue of backlash. People like John would be less accepted in the Church if there were more of them. It would just be too threatening. Imagine if half of the seats were filled with mute outcasts.

    John is a radical in the same sense that Jesus was a radical. I’m guessing hat John would have no trouble seeing the cultural aspects of Mormonism totally undermined; in fact, he might even welcome it. Eventually, the church may realize how dangerous he is, just as the scribes and the Pharisees did two millennia ago. The wonderful part (to me at least) is that the Church’s response won’t matter in the least. John’s own spiritual witness trumps ecclesiastical authority.

    In some ways I wish I could join him (the technical term for this feeling is Enos envy), but I take comfort in watching this remarkable person break barriers that I can’t. If the story of John Gustav-Wrathall is ever told in future generations I expect the medium to be stained glass.

  13. MoHo, that was the most stirring comment/tribute I’ve read in a long time, and I wish I could say more than AMEN.

  14. Hey, guys! I’m still alive here!

    But seriously… Mohohawaii, I wish you would/could join me at Church on Sunday. I wish we could go there and feel the Spirit together. I wish more of us would go. Recently, I was joined by a gay Mormon friend who lives in northern Minnesota… He’s been in a lot of pain over this; like me he has a testimony of the gospel, but he’s afraid. We met Sunday morning, we prayed together, and then we attended Sacrament meeting, Sunday School, and Priesthood together. I can’t tell you what a happy, profoundly spiritual experience that was. Afterwards, he told me how he’s not afraid any more, how he’s beginning to see a way forward.

    This path is replicatable. We only have to ask God for help, we have to listen, and we have to be patient. I wish others would join us — I wish you would join us — not just because it would make me feel less like an oddity but because I wish others — you! — could experience the joy and the complete sense of wholeness I’ve experienced. That’s ultimately what this is about, honoring every part of ourselves, body, mind and spirit, and honoring our Creator, finding our place in the grand scheme of things. That’s the whole purpose of our existence, so there has to be some way that every single one of us can get there.

  15. Thanks, BiV. I hope this makes up for me totally hijacking that thread of yours a while back. : -)

    John, I’d love to go to church with you, as long as you let me give the ward chorister amphetamine pills an hour before Sacrament meeting starts. (I have views about tempo.)

    If I went I’m sure I would feel the Spirit, as I do in abundance whenever I interact with you. Unfortunately, I’m a lost cause in the faith department, broken beyond all repair. It’s not pride that keeps me from believing– I don’t think my not-knowing is superior in any way to your spiritual witness. It could be the result of temperament, or it might be the result of disillusioning life experience. Whatever the cause, I just don’t have what it takes anymore. I see religion, as well as the emotions and passion that accompany it, as profoundly human in origin. Divinity is an apt metaphor for the transcendent and unknowable in nature, and I just can’t bring myself to pray to a metaphor. Even if doing so makes my heart burn within me.

    So what do you call a person who still feels the Spirit freely but who can’t bring himself to believe in God?

    Now you know why I have Enos envy.

  16. Oh goodness everyone…I leave for a day and then my blog explodes with conversation! Let me try to get through these messages…

    Seth: I think there is a structural problem kinda like the one you described. For example, different “tiers” of membership create perceptions of different levels of righteousness (and I’m sure many members would say: “Well, duh, TBMs are more righteous than NOMs…” so this issue can’t really go vary far.)

    So what happens instead? NOMs have to be in the theological closet. So, if there are NOM bishops, they are just playing the game. People get so upset at such a concept (this was discussed before on Mormon Matters, I think), but really, what is the better way to ‘fit in’ as orthodox (in a culture that is allergic to unorthodoxy) than to be one of the leading religious figures in a ward?

    chanson: I completely agree. I find that one of the biggest issues with navigating throughout the different spheres regarding to faith is navigating around attempts to place one choice above the other. This actually, unfortunately, goes both ways.

    At first, I was only used to hearing people say, “Oh, those angry ex-mos, why can’t they get over themselves?” in a way to marginalize and derail these concerns. So I’d have to argue that these emotions are normal, healthy, and even beneficial.

    But if there’s one thing I’ve found out at FLAK is that John Dehlin doesn’t even have to say a full word before people will make their opinions known about his operations. And then, it’s something of the reverse, “Why can’t NOMs who know stand up for what they (don’t) believe in?”

    (I also agree with your assessment of Tim’s post on his blog. I think Tim, intentionally or not, wants to mark a “legitimate” Mormonism so that he can pinpoint the ways it is not legitimately Christian according to his arguments for what is legitimately Christian. If Mormonism is like the jello that can’t be nailed on the wall, then this is a grave problem for his arguments.)

  17. jonedrahadian:

    I think plenty of people have attempted to answer this question (many with very differing answers), but one discussion I think I like is the idea that “spiritual birth” isn’t quite the same as human birth. So, even though the church officially puts the primacy of a man and a woman together, I don’t think spiritual birth is literally the product of a celestial sex act.

    It is uncertain whether temple marriage is necessary to get to the celestial kingdom or just the highest level of the celestial kingdom. But then, the question becomes whether a person can become an eternal servant of sorts, as John has also written about.

    I’d really go through more of John’s site for a good perspective of how to harmonize the two.

    John G-W:

    I agree. But I do not feel that it is necessarily the case (nor should be) that such traversing painful stuff will lead to the church. The “wonderful place” can be elsewhere. I don’t have 19 years experience, though, haha.

    MoHoHawaii: I totally agree and think BiV stated it pretty well — most stirring tribute.

    I particularly (and probably regrettably) identifies with your three reasons why this won’t lend well to a general movement. I’m not so worried about the first (although I also feel that there would be an immensely different dynamic for a convert that would make some things pretty weird), but the second one, I think, is the clincher. Spiritual cojones, I like that! I also am skeptical that this can generally be exported…for a couple of reasons.

    The first is my general skeptical approach. Not all people have the same spiritual experiences.

    The second reason, however, is a quasi-religious one. Even allowing for John’s descriptions of his experiences (sound like a lab rat yet, John?), the one thing that comes through is the unchosen aspect of it all. Yes, he says he had to choose how to respond, BUT he notes as well how he has always had the Spirit present such profound choices. In fact, what is telling is how he says that he felt he always got more out of this than he gave.

    I don’t think most people have that happen or can have that happen. Regardless of the church’s position about the light of Christ, HG, etc., I think there is something qualitatively different going on here that we can’t just choose to have happen. (I know John already has preemptively parried this claim, so I’ll have to get to that further down…)

    Your third point is interesting. I’d point out instead to the differences in wards. For whatever reason, despite a few individuals that John has anonymously discussed in a few posts, it seems the wards he has attended are surprisingly open. I’m not quite too sure this is generalizable. And to this extent, different options (for ex, leaving) become all the more alluring.

    I agree with you on the radical idea. So far, we are so good. No egregious character defaming stories to ruin it either, yet. (So keep it up, John!) A slim part of me thinks big things could happen eventually…

    • jonedrahadian permalink


      Well, thank you for directing me to another inspiring post.

      Anyway, even though I dont know for sure what will happen in the next life, one thing I know for sure is that right now I have to do what I think is the right thing to do. For me, this means obey the law of chastity, stay in celibacy and keep my membership in the church. For other people, it might be different, but it’s okay since everybody has unique circumstances.

  18. Andrew, when you say that my spiritual experiences make me “unique,” and, Mohohawaii, when you say you can feel the Spirit, but you just can’t bring yourself to believe, you both point to the crux of the issue here.

    Renewal of faith is the work of God, through the Holy Spirit. It is not something we control. We can prepare ourselves for it, by doing the best we can according to our own light. This is why I applaud what John Dehlin is trying to do. He’s trying to make room for faith by providing a forum for people to wrestle honestly. This is why I love atheists — because every atheist I know is a person of conscience deeply concerned about the search for truth and about building a truly moral social order. I will always take one honest doubter whose heart is filled with passion for truth and love, over a thousand believers who just parrot what has been taught them because they are afraid of what people will think of them. God can work with the former, but the latter will be unable to hear God’s voice over the noise around them.

    Mohohawaii, maybe your test in this life is for you to do the best you can without the kinds of spiritual experiences I have had. But I can say that, as regards faith, my views were almost identical to yours until August 2005. The difference is that God spoke to me in a way that made it impossible for me to doubt or deny any more. Literally, it just cut to my heart, and was so powerful and unique, I knew it was much more than “just a feeling.” It’s why I wept, why I was angry, why I kept it from my husband and tried to deny it for two months. If faith comes to you, I trust it will be in the same way.

    By the way, that process of wrestling according to your own best light to understand and to do what is right never ends. The Spirit may guide you, but it can only guide you when you are doing them best you can with your own native intelligence and resources. I pray daily, I plead with God to help me, but I know that my success always depends on me and my willingness to commit.

    God is at work in the world among those that the world least suspects. Andrew, BIV and Mohohawaii, I don’t even have the words to say how much I truly love you. I can’t describe the feelings… You are all much, much closer to the Kingdom of Heaven than you think.

    • If faith comes to you, I trust it will be in the same way.

      Oh, I hope I’m spared that! I’ve read enough Flannery O’Connor to know that you don’t really want to open that particular can of worms. : -) Or, as Rilke put it, “Jeder Engel ist schrecklich.” (Every angel will terrify.) I’m actually happy as a non-believing, cultural Mormon. One day I might be sitting in business class on the way to Damascus and suddenly … wham!

      When I talk to believers, I usually feel as if we’re talking past each other. I never feel that with you. There’s always a meaningful exchange.

  19. John G-W:

    It just seems to me very strange. When you say, “We can prepare ourselves for it,” what we can do to prepare ourselves for it seems uncertain (despite several treatises written on the subject), and for what we are preparing ourselves (what is “it”) is also uncertain.

    For whatever John Dehlin is doing in making room for faith by providing a forum for people to wrestle honestly, why is it that this forum doesn’t seem to produce the kind of noticeable, undeniable experiences that you speak of? While I don’t deny that many atheists happen to have certain values of conscience with a deep (if sometimes impractical) valuation of truth, this rarely, if ever, leads to the kind of undeniable experiences you are talking about. At best, you describe a kind of Mother Teresa experience — a crisis of faith and pervading sense of silence and darkness that reaches for nearly half a century. That, quite frankly, is not what you are describing has or had happened to you.

    In the end, even you admit that if it weren’t for God speaking to you in an undeniable way (which is something you couldn’t control), then things would be different. So, it seems imprudent to “hold my breath” for such an experience, even with the understanding that it could certainly happen.

  20. At the point of realizing you are angry because of past events, I think the right answer is to better understand what you are angry about, not try to force yourself not to be angry. I have very much gone through this leaving a fairly conservative form of Evangelical Christianity. Anger is not a wrong response (though it can become unhelpful), it is just a natural reaction to being hurt or confused or feeling betrayed by people you trusted.

    I have been exploring liberal Christianity in much the way you describe. It is awesome to see someone reaching the same conclusions coming from a different religious tradition. It is an extremely difficult position to walk, stuck between forcibly distancing yourself from somethings, even while trying to embrace others. And balancing all that with the expectations of the former community. I’ve reached the position of seeing the value in those movements as you describe, but am content to study it and enjoy learning about it without jumping whole-heartedly into it.

  21. Thanks for the comment, ATTR,

    I like how you put it…”the right answer is to better understand what you are angry about.” In the process, we can filter out what we are *not* angry about, and thus avoid lashing out at things or people who have not done us any ill.

  22. I would love to sit with you guys in Sacrament Meeting anytime. I’ve taken a different approach to my faith, more along the lines of Josh Weed, but only because the Lord blatantly told me that I WILL get married because that’s what He wanted, and, yeah, I did fall in love with a woman in spite of myself. We need more people like J G-W, though. People who are authentic, up front, and believing, in spite of the pain of rejection. If you want to know my story a little bit more, you can find me at

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