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Critiquing Mormonism: Past, Present, and Future

October 11, 2015

There is a blog post at Outrageously Sensible where the blog’s author Scott discusses why he stays in the church. As often happens with these sorts of blog posts, the author describes several reasons why he thinks people leave the church, and he summarizes them in subheadings of past, present, and future:

1. They can’t reconcile the past.

When people come to find out that the history of the church isn’t as stark white as they thought it was in primary it can really take a toll on their testimony…

2. They  can’t reconcile the present.

The church has come a long way but to some they haven’t come far enough. People become at odds with the way the church operates currently, especially in relation to social issues…

3. They can’t reconcile the future

They don’t hate the church but they can’t see themselves continuing to live it. Priorities shift and views are altered that inhibit them from continuing forward…

At his blog, he goes in further about those three reasons, but please read there for the detail. When he provides his own reasons for staying, he addresses — at least in part — the reasons for leaving he had just set out.

I like that he separates the reasons in terms of past, present, and future, because I have often noted that faith crises and transitions can have different bases. And I think it can be difficult for those having faith crises in one area to identify with those having faith crises in another area.

So, when Scott challenges the foundation of having a faith crisis for Mormonism’s past, I am not too bothered by it, since historical issues weren’t my issues. However, I think the weaknesses in Scott’s post is that his reasons for staying focus on “present” and “future” aspects — but he does not adequately address that the “present” and “future” aspects of Mormonism may be what is pushing people away!

For example, he writes:

Put up a dark coke bottle to your eyes and describe what you see. You can make out vague shapes and a few items, but on the whole most things are unclear. The apostle tells us that this is how we will understand many elements of the gospel. In addition to the Gospel, we will almost always look at our own history through that same dark glass. Imagine right now if your neighbor took a fire hose to a group of black kids trying to enter a school. There would be universal outrage. It’s almost inconceivable to imagine. But 50 years ago, when our parents were kids, this act might have simply been viewed as mildly controversial and justified by many. And while 50 years ago, our parents might have been racist, they couldn’t have imagined actually owning a slave. But do you know who could? Their parents about 50 years before them. The point I’m illustrating is that what we find culturally acceptable or moral in our lifetime might be viewed completely differently 100, 50, 25 or even 10 years ago.

The church often gets an unfair microscope placed on it when their history is examined. Take something like marrying a girl under 18. Right now that’s illegal and universally looked down upon but 200 years ago it was viewed differently. We are slow to give people the benefit of the doubt during that era because we are comparing them to our standards, not theirs.

I stay a member of the church because even when I discover some parts of church history that I might find peculiar or even wrong, I understand that it was a different world back then. I believe that the fruits of the gospel carry more weight than the potentially distorted, cloudy histories of the church. Look no further than the bounteous life that Mormons statistically live. To me, that is a clear fruit of living the gospel. Does that prove the gospels truthfulness? No, but it’s easier from me to put stock into things I do know as opposed to things I don’t know. Even if Brigham Young said that people lived on the sun, that doesn’t change the fact that watching general conference uplifts me and serving my mission made me a better person.

I think that to some extent, Scott misreads the social milieu of Joseph’s era. When he writes that our outrage at Joseph Smith’s polygamy is presentist, I think that he misses that even people in Joseph’s day thought that he was a shady character.

But that’s not my main criticism. Instead, I look at the present and the future. Scott talks about how there would be universal outrage if our neighbor took a fire hose to a group of black kids trying to enter a school. Notwithstanding all the events of officer-involved altercations that get publicized on the media (where outrage is decidedly not universal), it seems to me that we can point out things that are culturally unacceptable in our lifetime that the church is doing a poor job on today.

In today’s society, women should rightfully expect to be treated equally in every dimension of their lives — school, work, etc. We certainly haven’t met this lofty goal; there is plenty of discrimination that still abounds. But for the most part, we all accept this as the ideal (even if it is not met)…except in one area.

When it comes to certain religions, all of a sudden, we are to believe that by virtue of a person’s gender, they are not qualified for entire swaths of organizational involvement.

On a more recent note, we are entering an era rapidly where discrimination against LGBT rights is becoming unacceptable. (Certainly, there is a long way to go…especially with trans rights. This year’s election in my very own city features an item over whether an anti-discrimination statute should stay or go.) Mormonism not only opposes the right for same-sex couples to marry, but opposes the very idea of same-sex relationships to begin with.

When Scott talks about the fruits of the gospel, I think that that can be well and good — for him. (And I’ll get to this more later). But there is an extent — and I’ve blogged about this before — to which Mormonism really works for straight, heterosexually-married, white, socioeconomically well-off men…and as one diverges from that archetype, Mormonism is less and less a fit.

I agree with Scott that that has nothing to do with what some leader said about people on the sun or Quakers on the moon or whatever. (Although I would suggest that it’s possible that the past can in some cases inform the present.)

Near the end of the post, Scott wraps things together with the following:

This final question might be the most important question to ask yourself if you are considering leaving the church: To what end?

Is the gospel lifestyle so terrible that leaving would provide some euphoric freedom? Are you willing to sacrifice the strong ties of your spouse, your friends and your family just because you don’t have enough evidence to believe in something? Is it worth giving up all of the great things that most saints testify of every Sunday just to appease your current lifestyle?

I stay because there aren’t enough reason to leave.

I have a great job, an amazing wife, connections all over the world, and a genuinely happy disposition all because of the church. Why would I leave that? Because I can’t understand why polygamy was instituted? Or because I think gay people should be married? Or because I read some damning quote from the internet? No, I can recognize both my lack of understanding and the fact that I might just be wrong about it.

I want to emphasize how much this says about Scott’s own position in life. When he asks, “are you willing to sacrifice the strong ties of your spouse?” he misses several things: why should there be an implication that the strong ties to your spouse are due to your religion, and would be jeopardized by leaving it? And even further, what if your religion is the thing that discourages you from seeking a spouse, or discouraging you from seeking a spouse with whom you are truly attracted?

When he says, “Why would I leave that?…because I think gay people should be married?” does he realize the distance he places? For him, it’s an external issue. But for others, it’s their lives. And for other still, it may not be their lives, but they have enough empathy to recognize that this cannot just be waved away as someone else’s problem.

I am happy that Scott is happy, and I am happy for anyone who finds joy however they find it. However, I would just wish that more people would recognize that — even if they find their joy within Mormonism (or any other religion), that one size may not fit everyone.

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One Comment
  1. JYN permalink

    At the risk of sounding nerdy, I quote my favorite Game of Thrones character: “It’s easy to confuse what is with what ought to be, especially when what is has worked out in your favor.”

    Why would the privileged have any need to question the status quo? Or a need for empathy (for the less privileged)? Especially if any of those things might threaten that privilege.

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