Guest Post by Tasha. Bio: Tasha mothers four children and chooses the beauty of a mixed-faith marriage. She works in a library, craves plants, and runs in the dark of the morning.
Why do I stay? Why do I continue to attend Sunday service, weekly activities, and serve in callings in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints? The answer is decades-long, decades of redefining, discoveries, and experiences. And even now my faith is evolving and moving. But I will try to capture it into words for a moment.
For me, one of the most helpful discoveries concerning faith is the book Stages of Faith by James Fowler. He defines faith as a human phenomenon, a search for meaning. The book also breaks faith development into six stages that correlate with human development. According to Fowler, stage three is a vital and important stage in the process of development: just like being a child, stage three is dichotomous thinking.
For some reason, many adults in this religion never progress past Fowler’s stage three ideas. I think it is because Mormonism is a fundamental religion that caters to and promotes dichotomous thinking; a lot of the curriculum, scripture, leaders, and decisions use fear as a motivator and read scripture literally. This is frustrating; however, I have witnessed people’s movement from stage to stage and find that the process is fluid and beautiful. Religion is not for everyone, but I like it. I stay because I have encountered the divine here; not just through finding deep and profound meaning but also through unlearning, tearing down, and creating space for my ideas.
Like all history, the history of the LDS church is messy and full of human behavior. Racism, sexism, elitism, and selfism have caused incredible suffering in this church. It has hurt me and the people I love deeply. I have had to untangle myself from the cruelty, hate, fear, and division promoted through the pulpits of this church; however, this is not the church I stay in.
I read Sister Saints, a book about Mormon women since the end of polygamy, and in it, Sonia Johnson, a spokeswoman for Mormon feminism, who “when asked why she belonged to a church whose rules she did not want to obey, she raised a larger issue of who constituted the church. ‘Well, I think they think it is their church,’ she observed. ‘But I felt as if it was my church too, you know.'” Johnson recognizes this assumption that men in history and men today are capable and able to tell others what God thinks, that certain men stand between The Divine and a human; however, this is not the case. Like Johnson, I define faith and God and goodness for myself.
The Mormon church is not just the chaotic oppositional Presbyterian church it started out as, nor the politically deviant and violently persecuted church of polygamy, nor the anti-democrat and anti-feminist regime, nor the anti-gay and anti-historically accurate policies and ideas propagated by a few members who write history: it is me. This church is filled with people who choose to love and serve and listen and learn. People who have differing experiences and disparate backgrounds, people from all around the world who create their church with love, listening, and curiosity. A place where people heal. I stay because it is “my church too, you know.”
In Fast Girls, a novel about the 1936 women’s Olympic team, there is a story about a man who served in the military with his friends in WWI. None of his friends made it back alive. Years later, this man got all dressed up in his uniform and excitedly took his niece to a Fourth of July celebration in the town where a plaque was uncovered honoring the fallen men who died for their country. As the names were read, the uncle wilted realizing that his comrades’ and dear friends’ names were not on this plaque: they were African Americans and the government did not see it “fit” to honor them in this way. The injustice is sickening, the dehumanization appalling. Interestingly, in this story, that same African American veteran wears his uniform to the parade every year and waves the American flag from his porch – not to support the plaque or racism – to celebrate his country and his friends who died for that country. There are two countries simultaneously existing side by side in the same town. Both are real.
In a less dramatic and less horrible way, I see my story in the veteran’s story. I see me dressing up twice a year in hopes that my letters to the general offices and my prayers to God were heeded and then wilting as I witness another conference where women are grossly underrepresented; I see my little young self diligently reading The Book of Mormon every night without a single heroine and so few feminine pronouns that unknowingly I erased my own; I see my body sobbing on so many floors begging God to love me, to speak to me, to save me from myself in a language and rituals designed by the men who never thought of me in the first place; I see generations of women and minorities not described as He or His wilting under the words, practices, and prophets that forget them, exclude them, and condemn them. The dehumanization and ingratitude are crushing and I carry the wounds of my mother and grandmothers. This church is real.
This church historically and currently excludes women from authority, leadership, speaking, decisions, design, finances, and creation. Additionally, this church excludes LGBTQ people from marriage and acceptance; the wounds fester for generations. Curiously, this church only excludes and oppresses everyone the leadership is not (female, colored, and queer) while honoring and celebrating everything the leadership is and understands.
We are all limited by our experiences and the doctrine of this church is clearly limited by its white, straight, male experience. This church is real, it exists. However, simultaneously, another church exists with the same name. A church where women do not wait for permission, where no one defines God for another person or discredits another’s experience; where everyone belongs, especially the marginalized, the queer, the feminist, the questioning, and the confused. A church where there are no limits to faith, God, and Self. Where the divine is found within. Where rituals are fluid and changing with the personal experiences of the people. This church is real, too. I know. I made it.
Staying in this church is lonely. However, I appreciate people who leave – people who turn away from a history that hurts, and a current culture that promotes it. Their leaving helps the church learn, helps it change so all of the babies that are born into it now are raised with more information, more power, more courage. And then I stay because the church I see is beautiful. I feel like the veteran who dresses in his uniform on the Fourth of July. The uniform represents racism and a history of horrors but it also represents something else. Something deep inside him that not everyone sees or understands. His country is just as real as theirs. And even if he can’t bear to wear the uniform anymore, his beautiful country still exists and he can take it wherever he goes.