Thursday, January 15, 2015

An Open Letter to My Church: Please Stop Excommunicating the Doubters

This blog post is written in response to the Mormon Church's move to excommunicate John Dehlin announced this morning January 15th, 2015.

I am a (sort of) Mormon woman living in Salt Lake City. I am hurting.

That's what happens when one wakes up and finds themselves in the grip of a harrowing and tumultuous crisis of faith: it hurts. I hurt.

I was raised with one foot in Mormonism and one foot out: the daughter of a Mormon and an atheist. Even though my Mormon parent was never very religious, I stayed involved in LDS activities and called myself a believer. 
I progressed into my early twenties, growing into myself and developing an understanding of who I really was and who I wanted to be. With that growth came a slew of glaring and unanswerable questions. Suddenly, mercilessly, I understood that my belief in the teachings of the Mormon church came not from my
own convictions but from passive acceptance of the lessons and traditions I'd been raised with. It wasn't working for me anymore; blindly accepting what I was told and calling it faith was not the way I wanted to worship... it stopped being enough.

I am a doubter.
I am a doubter, and I'm hurting.

I don't fit perfectly within the Mormon box. I am loud. I am ambitious. I want a career. I want to graduate summa cum laude and go to an Ivy League graduate school. I've been happily married for over three and a half years but still have no desire to have children. It's not that I just want to wait until school is over or until we're more financially stable....I just genuinely do not want to be a mother at this point at time. Maybe that will change. Maybe it won't.

I have no desire to stop consenting adults from loving or marrying each other, regardless of their sexual orientation. I can accept that God considers the union of a man and a woman to be sacred, but I believe fiercely in agency (2 Nephi 2:27) and I can't wrap my head around the idea of a religious organization pouring millions of dollars into influencing legislation to take that agency away. It baffles me and breaks my heart.

As I began sorting through these feelings I read talk after talk, lesson after lesson, all telling me I was wrong, selfish, a sinner. The guilt was overwhelming. Why couldn't I change the way I felt? I wanted to change, and yet it was impossible - it was impossible because it would mean rewriting every facet of my identity and lying to myself on the most intrinsic of levels.

I wanted to believe. In many ways, I still do. It's not a thing I can fix by just "praying and reading my scriptures," which seems to be the cure-all prescribed and exhorted in every Sunday school class and Testimony Meeting.  If I am to ever find my way back to that proverbial path I will need to be unfailingly honest with myself.  If I'm to find or grow the testimony I wish I'd always had, it needs to be real and, most importantly, it needs to be mine.

I began a zealous search for answers. I read the Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants. I read a 740 page historical biography of Joseph Smith. I poured over books and blogs, subscribed to podcasts, joined facebook groups.

Incredibly...I found that I wasn't alone. There were thousands just like me who had one too many questions and many seeds of doubt, and yet they were trying just as earnestly as I was to hold on and find a way back. It was the most merciful of blessings I could have hoped for - suddenly I had a family who understood me, supported me, and carried me back to a much healthier and positive place.  They showed me that it's possible to be a flawed, passionate, liberal, imperfect feminist and still believe that Jesus is my savior, that the Book of Mormon is inspired, that the leaders of my church are human and flawed but can still be called to do God's work.  They gave me hope.

As I'm sure you've already gathered from the title of this post, one of those groups is Mormon Stories, a website/podcast/facebook group that creates a genuine discussion about the issues within the Mormon church, created and run by John Dehlin.  This is not an anti-Mormon website. This is not a wolf in sheep's clothing out to prey on the flock.  This is a community of doubters who want, like me, to find their way home.

Today you moved to excommunicate John Dehlin. Last month, you called a friend of mine into a BYU disciplinary hearing for no other crime than identifying as a feminist. This summer, you removed a woman I respect from a church calling because she voiced her opinion on same-sex marriage in front of a church member who then reported her.

By doing these things you tell me that my doubt equates to apostasy. You tell me that voicing genuine opinion and fears is dangerous and worthy of punishment. You tell me that people like me are unwelcome in your house. 

In a church and community where I am supposed to feel joy and love and forgiveness, you make me feel unsafe.

I want to be a Mormon and I want to be a believer.  I just wish it weren't so hard sometimes. 


Bradicus said...

Beautiful! I wish I could express my similar sentiments so clearly and respectfully. May you find happiness, in or out of Mormonism.

arookiereview said...

Wow! What a fantastic post. Thank you.

Alexander De Leon said...

Thanks for having the courage to post your thoughts, Lindsay!! I am not as strong as you to go public that way because of my social/familial frame. I don´t call those, like me, who doubt as doubters, since it has negative connotations. We should be called awakened/better informed/progressive. I have argued with my wife several times about this and don´t want to break my marriage and hurt my kids when they witness our fights. That´s why I have learned to be quiet. However I sustain that the best way to find happiness and piece is by talking this over and over. Human beings are not good a keeping their feelings... All the best for you Lindsay.

Elyse Holmes said...

I don't think anything is really as easy as it may initially seem. I was reading in 2 Nephi 28 yesterday, and in verse 14, it talks about how "humble followers of Christ" are many times led to err because "they are taught by the precepts of men." That really stood out to me. It's really difficult to decipher what is right and good and true in this world. And I can't claim to know everything, nay, hardly anything!

I do know this: Thomas was a doubter. Joseph Smith was too. So many people, including prophets had doubts, made mistakes, sinned (heck, everyone has sinned!) That's why personal revelation is SO vital to our testimony. And those silly Sunday school answers really are the answer. God will direct your path if you trust in Him. Men are fallible. God is not.

I don't have the right thing to tell you that will make you feel better or less of a doubter. I can tell you that my life is better when I'm at the very least reading the scriptures and praying. (And trust me, I'm not very good at it! haha). I don't struggle with all the same questions that you do, but I have struggled with a lot of other personal things, and when I was in the midst of it, all I could feel was hurt. When I finally made it through that awful year, looking back, I realized how much the Lord was in my life and how there he really was.

As for the John Dehlin thing, I'll admit I don't know much. But based on what I've seen and read, he may identify as a Mormon, but if he denies just about everything pertaining to its core beliefs, I don't understand how he really can represent the Church. I think excommunication is a scary word and thought, but it's not intended to banish people from ever coming back to the Church. I think part of it is actually to make them less "responsible" (so to speak) in the eyes of God. (I'll fully admit that I'm not well versed in either John Dehlin OR excommunication, so please take that comment with a grain of salt and don't be offended).

Much love to you friend <3

(P.S. I should say I never comment about things like this because there is always some kind of backlash, angry followup comments, or offense taken. Please know none of this is intended to offend or hurt. Just to offer up an opinion)

Unknown said...

Doubts do not equate to apostasy - we all have them to one degree or another - but this does: "Dehlin's letter to King said he would not agree to stop making public statements critical of church doctrine or practices. In fact, Dehlin said in his release posted on Facebook and his website that "In the coming weeks, months, and years ahead, it is my intent to provide increased support to Mormons who are transitioning away from orthodoxy." This is a sad situation. I hope Bro. Dehlin comes to realize the difference between working through doubts (building faith) and leading people away. Lindsey, I hope you come to feel that your greatest safety is in the Lord's church.

Stephanie Simonson said...

Unknown, I'm not seeing the problem with what he said? (1) There is nothing inherently wrong with being unorthodox in any religion -- in fact, in some areas, being Christlike practically DEMANDS unorthodoxy -- and (2) he didn't say it was his mission to lead people out of the Church, just to lend support to people who think the current culture of the Church (something that is constantly changing, by the way) is not conducive to being Christlike. What, do people who disagree with you on some things not deserve any emotional support now? I'm honestly not seeing the problem with what he said. Open your mind and your heart.

Alli Lizer said...

I can relate so strongly to this post. I wasn't raised Mormon, but non-denominational Christian and it's so hard to want to believe but not be able to make yourself. Then every time you look for reassurance you get a cyclic explanation. I wish you luck on your faith journey and hope you can find a group that really supports you and helps you find the road that will work for you.

Amber Gregory said...

I can also relate very strongly to this post. I *was* raised Mormon, but have always --ever since I was a small child -- a square peg in a round hole, a skeptic, a loud only child. I never fit in with my religion. As a teenager and now as an adult, I am a very loud proponent of liberal social causes. I do see the value of religion, and of the Mormon community, but it has caused me so much pain. I stopped going to church a LONG time ago, but that doesn't mean I'm healed from this exact thing you speak of -- the way the church deals with doubters, the way people feel so lost but feel they can't talk about it or figure it out or figure out a way to make it work.

I hope you find what you're looking for -- whatever that is <3

Sweet Love and Ginger said...

This took incredible courage. It is beautifully written. I am in awe of your strength. I am not a Mormon, but have close friends who were raised as such and feel similarly to you. I remember the years of long talks about thier beliefs and the consequences of talking to their own people about it. I hope that it is possible for you to find a way back. My prayers will be with you all.

Say Holt said...

I know you wrote this a long time ago, but I just wanted to say thank you for this post. I am not a mormon, though I know a fair bit about the LDS church, but I am struggling with my faith. I was raised christian, my mother is a pastor, but since leaving home I have struggled to find a faith that belongs to me and isn't just what I've been told to feel. You aren't alone. On another note, earlier today I read this post by a women who left the LDS church that you might find interesting about the importance of discussing and not ignoring flaws in church doctrine.

I wish you luck in your journey

Linda said...

My heart goes out to you, and you wrote something that was in your mind and your heart, and you expressed yourself so well. I am not a Mormon, I just found your blog today and wanted to let you know I was here. Please know that I wish you all the best in whatever you do in your life, and that you are more than welcome to visit my blog anytime you like, and it would be an honour to have you.

Vapid Vixen said...

This is a brave, inspired and beautifully written post.

liz said...

You are certainly not alone. There are many people who grow up in communities of faith that find themselves at some point looking in the mirror and asking if they really believe... I did. Ultimately, I could not reconcile the chasm between my personal beliefs and the tenants of my faith and I broke with the old traditions. I never for one minute regret it, continuing to live a lie would have warped my soul. But it came at the cost of loosing my family and the community. I had good friends who became family and created a new community for myself. Good luck with your path, each must choose what meaning they will make for their own lives.
When it comes to faith, I find myself thinking about a scene from SecondHand Lions about choosing to believe in things that may not be real:

Sometimes the things that may or may not be true are the things that a man needs to believe in the most: that people are basically good; that honor, courage, and virtue mean everything; that power and money, money and power mean nothing; that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love, true love, never dies... No matter if they're true or not, a man should believe in those things because those are the things worth believing in..

May you find your truth.

Elizabeth Bowman said...

Hey Daryl-

I happened onto your blog from The Everygirl. I have a similar experience, but from an Evangelical Christian background. Like you I didn't want to keep accepting what had been drilled into me as a child and just call it "faith."

It was very painful and hard. It's hard to grow up. It's hard to have your worldview shift, even if its just a small shift. I tried desperately to square the circle and to allow my religious upbringing/beliefs to jive with my newfound intellectual understanding of science, feminism, politics, history, world religion, etc. etc.

What I found is this: the circle cannot be squared. I read the book "God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" by Christopher Hitchens, and it was the final nail in the coffin for me. I no longer associate with a religious dogma or any sort of official faith. I have no belief in a monotheistic deity. And let me tell you: I've NEVER felt more at peace. For me, I realized that the pain came from trying to hold on to something that I needed to let go of--just like a bad relationship that you know deep down you need to leave.

I can't speak for you, of course, but from what I can tell based on your Everygirl pieces and just from this blog post, this might not be a circle that can be squared for you either. It's okay to walk away from it. It's okay to have the courage to say that it's not for you anymore.

I strongly suggest you read anything by Christopher Hitchens or simply watch some of his Youtube videos. There's no shortage of him debating against religious scholars, but his solitary speeches are some of the best. I've been brought to tears especially when he discusses the grandeur and awe that one experiences in the natural world. "We don't need a deity to understand morality, majesty, or to feel awe. The world is enough." That's his general thesis.

Best of luck to you on this painful yet purifying journey.


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