Definitely, maybe…

by Juliane

Juliane was born and raised in Germany by her semi-feminist mother in a somewhat spiritual, but non-religious home. She started investigating the Church in 2001, and was baptized in 2002. She is presently in a state of transition, being open to wherever God will lead her. Her heart is neither set on staying in, nor leaving the Church. Yoga, running, and writing help her keep her sanity (sort of). Juliane has one very patient husband, four fabulous daughters, and lives in beautiful Montana. She recently went back to college, and will be graduating next May (fingers crossed) with a B.A. in Communication Studies. She’s in love with blogging, and is currently working on her first book, which she will hopefully self publish in late summer 2011. Juliane blogs at http://www.mollymormonseviltwin.blogspot.com

The other day, I had a conversation with my temple president, about my doubts and questions relating to the Church. He was very kind, and listened patiently. He tried to comfort me by sharing his testimony. However, towards the end of our conversation, he stopped and told me he didn’t feel very helpful. In that moment, it hit me; why our conversation – while mutually respectful – was not really productive. All of a sudden, looking at my temple president, I realized (and immediately blurted out), “I don’t believe there is only one true church!” 

It was like stepping back from a huge painting, and things started taking shape. Of course, faith conversations are much more frustrating when you are on completely different page regarding exclusivity claims. 

The claim of Christianity, according to the scriptures, is exclusive: “Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) In Acts 4:12 we read that “neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” Should you have any question as to what kind of relationship this creates between believers and non-believers, look no further than John 3:18 where we are admonished that “he that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already…”. No wonder members of exclusive religions so often feel justified in condemning people of different beliefs. 

Islam and Judaism have a similar exclusivity claim to Christianity, while Hinduism is the only major world religion that does not. Of course there are more progressive sects or scholars within those religions that are pushing for a more inclusive approach.
Our church, however, is on the conservative end of the spectrum, and not only believes in Christianity’s exclusive claims of salvation, but that within Christianity the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the only true church. This claim is based on Mormon scripture, such as Doctrine & Covenants 1:30, in which God calls the church: “…the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth, with which I , the Lord, am well pleased.” As Bruce R. McConkie said in the now slightly controversial Mormon Doctrine: “There is no salvation outside the church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints” (page 670). On lds.org we learn that “Joseph Smith was called to help bring back the true Church of Jesus Christ.”  
Our Church has been based on this exclusivity from the beginning, when Joseph Smith was told by God that none of the existing churches were right, and instead was called to restore the one true church. Even though church leaders recognize that there are good people everywhere, believers of different religions and atheists alike, they unequivocally teach that one can only fulfill his/her highest potential as a member of the one true church, which is superior to all others. 

Since there are so many individuals, groups, churches, denominations, and world religions who claim to be right, a lot of them must necessarily be wrong. Why not ours? Other churches have just as many spiritual experiences, revelations, and prophets to back up their claims. To me, this means that ultimately my agency in this exclusive church is either to believe it all, or discard it all. There is no middle ground.

When I think back to what attracted me to the Church in the first place, it was never exclusivity (if you must know, it was the divine feminine, eternal families and personal revelation). The exclusivity claims were in fact a huge turn off, which is why I could never bear my testimony on the one true church, and often cringe when I hear little kids repeat what often seem to be hollow words (or maybe I’m just jealous that all the five year olds seem to “know”, and I don’t). My understanding is this: There is a God, and therefore divine truth. However, we as human beings with our flawed brains, hearts, and language are bound to fail at understanding and communicating those truths perfectly, therefore the truth also becomes flawed as soon as we try to grasp it, or make sense of it. I believe there are as many different ways to approach God as there are people. Of course it’s not a popular view within those exclusive religions….which is why I think so many well-meaning members have tried to kindly (or not so kindly) set me back on the straight and narrow. 

I know that for many members and investigators, the Church’s absolutist claim of possessing all truth is what draws them in. If you have a testimony of the one true church (or the one true anything), I would think that it gives you an immense sense of security, because everything else becomes irrelevant. When the world is black and white, it is easier to navigate right and wrong than if you had to deal with shades of gray.

Where do you fall on the spectrum? Do you think it is possible to reject absolutism, and still be a true believing Mormon?

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61 Responses

  1. spunky says:

    I agree with you on the rote repetition of children recitation “and I know this church is true and I love all of you…” Blech! It grates on me to now end! I do not believe the church is true, and refuse to say so when bearing testimony. I think to claim this is contradictory to the philosophy that relates there is ongoing revelation- after all, how can it be absolutely true if new revelation changes what was previously thought or practiced? The theory of ongoing revelation is what draws me to the church, and because of that, I can never say that the church is true or contains all truisms. I have a testimony of this ongoing, increasing and personal revelation, and that is what keeps me in the church. There are other things of which I also have a testimony that are personal and solidify the deal for me. So I guess that is how I deal with aspects of the church that are nonsense to my mind—I believe that revelation will change and improve in areas that do not fit me, in God’s time. And I am okay with that. I wish you well in your search. It is fun to seek personal revelation- I think you are in the process of doing that right now. Good for you.

    • Juliane says:

      Spunky,

      I never thought of it this way that the Church is maybe not completely true, because the doctrines do at times change. I guess others might argue that it is always true at any given time, until new revelation is put in place, and then that’s true. BUT what does that say about truth?? Either it means that truth is relative, or it means that we really don’t have all the truth at any given point in time.

      Thanks for making me think!

      • Juliane says:

        Spunky,
        this is actually a reply to your second post, but there was no reply button for some reason….mmmh.
        Anyway, I totally agree that the church is imperfect, in part because of us imperfect people in it. Do you feel that “true” and “perfect” are synonymous?

      • spunky says:

        Hi Julian,
        Trying to reply to your reply…wrong spot, same theme 🙂

        I do not think the terms are synonymous, but church cultural terminology implies that “true” is “right”… i.e. the gospel is “right”, the church is “right”, implying some other churches are “not right”. We know that the spirit can be felt in other churches, so they have to have a degree of “right” and, therefore truth. Then the Mormon argument is that “the Mormons have all of the truth and the right priesthood”… but that MUST be false in consideration of ongoing and increasing revelation. So, truth ergo “right” to me implies a finite answer, which I find impossible in this imperfect and mortal realm, i.e.:

        pi is 3.14 = “the church is true/right/perfect”

        pi is really 3.14159265358979323846264338327950288419716939937510… = the church has truth and is developing to perfection, but is not perfectly true or finite.

        Clear as mud? I think the ongoing revelation thing is the factor that makes the gospel of the church perfect, so it is perfect in its infinite development, but the church can never be perfect in its stagnant state. Ergo, I can’t ever say the church is true.

        Can you tell that the “church is true” phrase really bothered/s me enough to put this much thought into it?

    • Howard says:

      The way I account for new revelation is the gospel is taught by God in a series of metaphorical paradigm stair steps.

      • spunky says:

        I don’t think we have all the truth at any given point in time. I just don’t as that suggests perfection, and this life is about being mortal, and imperfect. Hence, for me, why the church can never be true– if only because I am not a true saint, am imperfect, but sometimes hold positions in the church for which I am supposed to be inspired. My mortality aids in the church being imperfect, if that makes sense.

    • Juliane says:

      Spunky,
      why can’t I reply to your last post???? Argggh 😉 So, I’ll reply here to your lovely explanation about the “true” church. Absolutely loved your explanation!! I am not a big fan of math (“Dear Math, I am not a therapist, please solve your own problems!”) but I totally dig your pi analogy (a pie analogy might have been EVEN better 😉

      Totally makes sense to me that the church can’t claim an open canon and perfection/absolute truth at the same time.

      • spunky says:

        Thanks… but now I am craving pie… banoffee…. or cherry…. grrr…. try to stay focused….

        In a bizarre and personal reconciliation of this for me (so I am well aware that this may not help anyone one else and just works for my vision of “pi”)… I am strengthened in the fact that in the temple recommend interview, it is NOT asked if I believe the church is true. Because I am too honest to answer that I believe that it is (for the aforementioned reasons) and lying does not invoke the spirit. Knowing that I do not need to claim that I believe or sustain the church as a true in the temple recommend interview brought peace to me and opened my mind in regard to ongoing revelation and perfection of the temple ceremony, as well as perfection of the saints (me).

  2. Kristen Says No says:

    Maybe the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is the only church with the appropriate authority and ordinances necessary for salvation…but the only thing I can figure is that acceptance in this life (with all of its baggage) must not be nearly as important as we are taught that it is. We represent such a tiny portion of the world’s population, present and past. So, the “correct” answer is “that’s why we do temple work!” right? For those poor souls that lived at a time when Mormonism didn’t grace the earth? Or who just never got to hear the missionaries in the life? However, I feel like the notion that salvation will all be worked out fairly in the end applies even to people who consciously choose not to be Mormon in life. I don’t think that being Mormon is really God’s plan for every person, right here, right now. I think other religions are often *actually* God’s plan for individuals, as the best way to nurture their individual growth. And I believe it must all work out in the end. So that’s my yes and no answer on absolutism. I feel like a TBM, but the term is open to interpretation.

    • Rachel says:

      That’s very close to my perspective, too.

    • Juliane says:

      I agree that Mormonism isn’t necessarily the right thing for everyone. However, I do think that the church leaders believe it is. Why else would we have missionaries? I think you’re an exception as somebody identifying herself as a TBM who doesn’t “know” those absolutist claims to be true.

  3. Howard says:

    Yes other claims aside how can we know what is meant by D & C 1:30 it has three qualifiers it apparently means at the time He was pleased with it. BRM was wrong about the Priesthood ban so what does he know about exclusivity claims? We have no monopoly on the Spirit inspiration or personal revelation and the scriptures tell us Christians will be saved. The church is not true the gospel is.

    • Juliane says:

      Howard,
      I not only disagree with the church’s claim that it is the only path to salvation, but also with Christianity’s claim that Jesus is the only path to salvation.
      I’m not saying that the gospel is false, but I can’t say either that I believe it is more true than a Jew, Hindu or Muslim’s way to approach God.

  4. Amber says:

    I have already shared my opinions with you, but do have a few other thoughts since reading this.

    Spunky: I do agree with you on so many levels. My husband often asks how I feel about a church that still doesn’t include women and black people in its administrative and revelatory process, I tell him because change takes a long time and I think eventually we will see that happening. For right now, there are many things that attract me to the Mormon church–despite my resignations for absolutism and the priesthood–its focus on Christ. At the same time, there are so many people who lead Christ-like lives and who aren’t Mormon or even Christian. Would they really be sent to a lower Kingdom because they didn’t accept the Mormon church as the only true church? I just can’t accept that.

    Mormon is a title that helps like-minded individuals band together; but I feel that in the next life we will be surprised that the LDS church isn’t the “True Church.” Instead, we will be banded together with Christ as our head.

  5. LovelyLauren says:

    This post perfectly describes what I have been feeling lately and what has made going to church so difficult. I once told my husband, “If this is really the one true church, then why is membership less that half a percent of the earth’s population? Wouldn’t God’s one and only truth be more marketable?” I cannot see how this is it, and even with member claiming that this is what temple work is for, I can’t see how a ritual that hurt me so personally is supposed to be necessary for the salvation of everyone. Furthermore, it has always struck me as narrow-minded that there is only one way to God.

    Honestly, I don’t see how any of the ordinances after baptism are necessary and that makes me wonder how I can even claim to be Mormon these days. I just feel like by claiming a monopoly on truth, we make God into something so small, instead of something grand and full of mystery.

    • Juliane says:

      LovelyLauren,
      I have often wondered as well, how the Church is supposed to even make a dent into saving all those souls….it’s an overwhelming feat, when like you said, Mormons account for less than 0.02% of the planet’s population. It has always seemed unfair and unlike the God I believe in, to pick a “chosen people”, or only bless people in the one true Church, or love Christians more than other religions, and so forth. No way! I love all my kids, even in my very imperfect way, so I cannot believe that God would only grant a tiny percentage of his children the supposedly supreme blessings of temple ordinances.

  6. Juliane says:

    Amber,
    I’m totally with you on that I, too, think that God wouldn’t send good people to a lower kingdom because they’re not Christian, or not members of the Church. It seems so petty to me. I hold onto this scripture in Moroni 7:47 “But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him[/her].” As always it comes down to love. I think people who live from a place of love will be fine no matter if they’re jewish, muslim, or atheist.

  7. jks says:

    I believe we are the one true church. I don’t feel exclusive though because I believe you can join after death.
    It does give me a sense of security to have some black and white. I do see the shades of gray in many things, but I can be confident about my principles and standards when I make decisions in my life. When I do have to compromise, I know I’m sacrificing a less important thing for a more important thing.

    • Juliane says:

      jks,
      I respect your beliefs. I think it’s interesting that you said you “believe” it’s the one true church, but not that you “know”. Maybe you could have as well said that you know, but for me personally this “knowing” makes it more sound like a fact that makes other people, who don’t “know”, wrong. I’d be interested to know if you chose the word “believe” deliberately, or if I’m making this into something way bigger than it is 😉

      • jks says:

        I think I can use “believe” and “know” interchangeably (for instance I know the church is the one true church to the same extent that I know things like my husband loves me and that the world is round and that teaching my children delayed gratification is important). I probably chose “believe” because it seems more appropriate for the particular conversation. I admit I am not naturally the smoothest blog commentator, but I do try to join in respectfully even while blatantly stating my opinions.

      • Juliane says:

        jks,
        I hope it didn’t sound like I was trying to pick on you or your word choice. I’m not, sorry if it came across that way. I’m really just interested, because the way I’ve been taught in the church, “believe” would more associate with faith, and “know” with knowledge and testimony. I think belief expresses strong personal feelings, while “knowing” sounds more like asserting a universal truth. Anyway, I guess I feel that believing and knowing are two very different things, and can’t really be used interchangeably in my opinion. If someone bears their testimony about their beliefs it is much easier to accept for me and agree or disagree. However, when someone says they know something to be true, and I disagree, I feel it creates a dividing line between who’s right and who’s wrong.

  8. sara says:

    Check your facts on one small detail – essentially, only Christianity (and some strains of Islam) claim to be the only true religions. The vast majority of the world’s religions are non-proselytizing and do NOT make exclusive claims.

    • Juliane says:

      Check your facts on one small detail – essentially, only Christianity (and some strains of Islam) claim to be the only true religions. The vast majority of the world’s religions are non-proselytizing and do NOT make exclusive claims.

      Thank you, Sara, I should have qualified that I’m only referring to the three major world religions Christianity, Islam, and Hinduism, plus Judaism, because it is especially pertinent to Christianity. Obviously I’m not a religious scholar, but from the little research that I have done the main sacred texts (the Bible, the Qu’ran, and the Torah) all include plenty of scriptures as to the exclusivity of each faith. Of course the interpretation depends on how orthodox a sect, strain, or church is, which is exactly what I said in my post (“Islam and Judaism have similar exclusivity claims to Christianity, while Hinduism is the only major world religion that does not. Of course there are more progressive sects or scholars within those religions that are pushing for a more inclusive approach.”) Hinduism is the only major world religion that openly rejects such absolutism as far as I could tell, BUT I’m sure there are plenty of other religions that I know nothing about which are also inclusive.

      • Juliane says:

        oops, that first paragraph was yours, but now I don’t know how to edit my post….sorry.

      • amelia says:

        I think it’s important that we’re clear on what constitutes a major religion. Traditionally there are five “major” religious traditions–Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Judaism. It’s interesting to note that Judaism is actually smaller, in terms of number of adherents, than other “non-major” religions like Shinto and Sikhism; however it has had a disproportionately larger influence on world history because it shares roots with the two largest traditions, Christianity and Islam. And probably also because of the political climate of the last century.

        While it’s true that monotheistic traditions tend to emphasize exclusivity while polytheistic or non-theistic religions do not, I think it’s safe to assume that even if the religion doesn’t explicitly claim to be the only “true” way, there is a powerful human tendency to believe that one’s own way is the Right Way. As such, we continue to face conflicts between major traditions, even if not all of them insist on exclusivity in quite the same fashion as Christianity and Mormonism do.

  9. Patricia says:

    I am left believing Christ’s claim that he is the only way to the father. Often I wish that it didn’t have to be that way, but I am not the one to chose the rules. I don’t think a Chruch can own Jesus. I have heard that it is said that Jesus is the wisdom which is spoken about in Proverbs 8. Perhaps Jesus can be known through wisdom without being known personally. I for one know that I cannot judge who is in a relationship with God the Father and who is not. I am glad that is not my job.

  10. Corktree says:

    I have come a long way in this aspect of my belief system over the last few years. I no longer believe that we hold a monopoly on truth or that we are the only correct choice when people are looking for religion. I can possibly accept that we hold truths that no one else has and that we possess authority that no other church holds, but somehow that doesn’t mean to me that everyone must join our church. In fact, I have come to believe that for other individuals, God does NOT intend for them to become members above all else. I think there are many that are called to other traditions and faiths, and understanding this has brought me a lot of peace and actually allowed me to be more open about my OWN beliefs and choices with others. Something about removing that aspect to be a witness of “truth” has helped me to be more forthcoming about my LDS membership.

    BUT, I do still feel that there is something we need to understand about Christ’s statement that He is the only way to return to God. I don’t think this has to imply exclusion, but points more to the idea that Christ was sacrificed for EVERYone, not just those who believe. And certainly, living according to His example is the highest degree to which we can aspire in our relationships to others in this life, so I don’t think it’s exclusive to say that everyone, regardless of denomination or religion, can seek out that ideal. It doesn’t have to be limited to a church, and even the “gospel” as we have appropriated it, can actually be seen as much more inclusive than mere Christianity.

    So I, personally, feel called to stay in the Church. This is *my* road to God (with some detours and parallel routes thrown in) but I am comfortable and happier knowing that it is not meant to be everyone else’s road. And some days, I wish I felt called to another path. I wish I felt better about leaving and finding something that works better for me, but I don’t. I’m not sure why yet, but I hope I understand more some day.

    • Juliane says:

      Corktree,
      I long for that knowledge of where I belong, whether that be inside or outside the church. I’m sure it’s still hard, but at least you have some kind of confirmation of your path that can give you peace. I feel I am close to figuring out this path for myself, but as of right now, I don’t know.

  11. Maureen says:

    Exclusivity isn’t an issue for me. I don’t think what Christ preaches is the exclusivity that you fear. I don’t think that because others do preach exclusivity, even in His name, that they ought to or that it’s necessarily representative of truth and doctrine. Especially concerning such limited interpretations as we often hear. I think other churches can be “true”/have saving truth, others can be living, and others can be well pleasing to the Lord, all while the Church is the only one “true” AND living AND well pleasing to the Lord. (I also believe there is a temporal context to that scripture which means that the church may not always be such). I think the church can be “true”, living, and God pleasing, without having all truths (in fact if it had all truths I would consider it better labeled translated than living), thus being predicated on continuing revelation.

    I tend to focus on the “living” and “well pleasing” descriptors of the Church, as it doesn’t make sense to me to call a church “true” (doctrines, beliefs, statements, yes, but not a church). And concerning that “living” description, something occurred to me recently. I think the obvious application is that living things grow and change. But to put the not so obvious into terms my three year olds would understand, living things poop. The church is going to have deal with its own wastes, unpleasant byproducts, and other elements which it produces and needs to get rid of. So the church is NOT only and all truth, it is going to bring forth a lot of crap (some of which will be falsehoods, misdirections, bad policy, and the like) which it will hopefully get rid of in a sanitary manner. All this doesn’t mean it is evil, not of God, or has no right to make the claims it does. It just means that it is alive, growing, learning, and overcoming its own imperfections. So I think it is not only possible to faithfully reject the idea that the Church has all the truth and only truth, I think it is imperative to do so.

    • Juliane says:

      Very interesting ideas! I LOVE the poop analogy!!! But then, I just love poop analogies in general 😉 It makes sense to me how you explain that the church has to deal with its crap in a “sanitary” manner. I guess I just think that the church doesn’t handle its crap very well at all. Usually inconvenient and controversial stuff in our history or our present is not dealt with in a healthy way in my opinion.

      I do not believe that Christ preached exclusivity at all. He was a Master at including everyone. I just don’t think the church does a very good job at emulating that example at times. When I acted the way I should, trying very hard to be the perfect Molly Mormon, the church was very welcoming, however, now that I’m asking some uncomfortable questions, not so much anymore.

  12. dwg says:

    “Why not ours..” It comes down to your belief and testimony of the First Vision. Either it happened or it didn’t. I’m sorry but it is that simple. Jesus Christ himself said: 19″I was answered that I must join none of them, for they were all wrong; and the Personage who addressed me said that all their creeds were an abomination in his sight; that those professors were all corrupt; that: “they draw near to me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me, they teach for doctrines the commandments of men, having a form of godliness, but they deny the power thereof.”
    As for exclusivity, I feel exactly the opposite. The Savior’s love is so great and far-reaching, that He has provided a way for ALL mankind to hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ preached to them. Whether in this life or the next, every soul will have the opportunity for informed, deliberate choice.
    I agree that there are preparatory steps. Aspects of other religions are good and necessary as preparatory steps to hear the Gospel in its fulness. This is why we as LDS people pay homage to Martin Luther, William Tyndale, and many others who acted righteously and courageously with the knowledge and truth that they had access to and recognized.
    Continuing revelation does not negate the truthfulness of the Gospel in the least. How did Christ learn? All at once. No. Line upon line, a little here, a little there. As for doctrine, we have all the necessary principles and ordinances needed to return to Heavenly Father. Do we know everything? Not even close.
    Isaiah 55:8
    8 ¶For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord.
    Isaiah 55:9
    9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
    The ONLY way you can be absolutely sure, is to have the Spirit of the Holy Ghost manifest to that eternal matter which is part of your being. Not the natural man, and it will change you forever. However, you have to want it more than anything. You have to cry out, and wrestle. I know because that is what I did. And all of these irritants melt away. Why? Because not knowing the answer to them does not negate truth. Truth is not relative. Nor is it determined by the number of people who embrace it.
    I would also highly recommend Dallin H. Oaks’ talk in General Conference 2009: Love and Law . Here’s one quote:
    Some seem to value God’s love because of their hope that His love is so great and so unconditional that it will mercifully excuse them from obeying His laws. In contrast, those who understand God’s plan for His children know that God’s laws are invariable, which is another great evidence of His love for His children. Mercy cannot rob justice, 2 and those who obtain mercy are “they who have kept the covenant and observed the commandment” (D&C 54:6).
    Anyway, I wish you well and hope this has helped.

    • Juliane says:

      dwg,

      like I said in a previous reply, I don’t think Jesus was exclusive in his love. My point is that churches, church leaders and members that claim to be his followers often exclude others, or use his words to exclude others. Big difference there.

      Also, I must disagree that it comes down to whether or not the First Vision is true. I’m not sure about that, but even if I had a complete testimony of its truth, I could still feel that the church today is not anymore what Joseph Smith established it to be. Who says that we as a church are immune from a “falling away” today? I guess if you think that the prophets are infallible, then this could never happen.

      However, I don’t think they are. So, for me, having a testimony of one thing in the church doesn’t necessarily lead to peace or knowledge of the grand total of everything that could possibly be included in a testimony.

      The Dallin H. Oaks article I probably won’t read, simply because Elder Oaks is not someone I necessarily want to take counsel from. He was the one who said in a PBS special: “It is wrong to criticize leaders of the Church, even if the criticism is true.” He says even more things in his talk “Criticism” on lds.org that I have to vehemently disagree with.

      So, no you’re comment wasn’t helpful (like you asked at the end), because it felt a little patronizing, especially the part where you said that one can know those things, but one has to want it more than anything. I’m glad it worked for you, but it hasn’t worked for me. I’m sick of people telling me I just have to try harder, when all they mean is just that I have to keep going until I find the “right answers”. This is precisely the difference between absolutists and relativists. What you are telling me is that there is one truth, you know about it, and if I tried hard enough, I could know too. I’m saying that we can both receive different answers that can both be right.

      • kolms says:

        I love Alma 29 — Alma wants to be an angel, end sorrow on the earth (ie. which I think include our questions, exclusivity issues, truth anxieties, etc.) — then realizes he’s just human — and over-reaching. He realizes God has a plan that will reach everyone, somehow, eventually. Alma just needs to focus on his part in that plan and rejoice in it. He needs to be content with being less than an angel. He needs to trust God.

        In the context of our own restoration scripture–I see Mormonism as part of God’s plan — not all of God’s plan. It’s truly a part, but clearly not the only part.

        While, like Alma, I have a hard time being content with my little part — I’m trying to find it, do it, and rejoice in it. When each of us does the same, in Mormonism or out of it, I think we’ll find some of the joy that Alma finds.

        If we’re not hearing God’s voice in our life, maybe it’s because we’re asking the wrong questions, concerned with the wrong things–not unlike Alma, maybe we’re trying to end sorrow on the whole earth (or solving the truth claims of Mormonism) when there’s something much more important we need to be doing. If you want to hear God’s voice try asking “Who should I be serving?” — I think it’s the surest path to personal revelation. If you hear the “who”, the “how” will often follow. When we actually start following God and His Spirit’s still, small voice we will likely put ourselves on a path to receiving some portion of the additional light we desire. Or more likely be so engaged and content with doing our part in lifting others, that the questions that now consume us will fade into their true significance. God’s got a plan. Is Mormonism part of the plan for us? If we start listening through serving I truly believe we’ll find out.

      • Hydrangea says:

        I agree that it boils down to the basics- do you believe in the atonement first, vision, plan of salvation. . .. .

        I believe that the gospel, in its “pure state,” teaches us to ask questions and gives us the liberty to come to God with contradictions and concerns.

      • amelia says:

        kolms, you realize that while your tone is slightly less condescending than dwg’s, you’re doing essentially the same thing, right? The implication of your comment is that if Juliane (and others who similarly struggle) would just find enough humility to ask the right questions, rather than letting herself be pre-occupied with interesting but ultimately misguided questions and desires, then she’d find her way. Like dwg (and so very many mainstream Mormons, regardless of how kindly they do it), you situate the problem in Juliane and completely deny the possibility that Mormonism or Christianity or even theism might not be the best answer for every single person.

        I do not deny that your approach may have worked for you, or that it may work for others, but that fact does not make it a universally helpful approach. Nor does that fact mitigate the fact that it at least implies fault in those for whom it does not work.

  13. Macha says:

    GREAT post! I always felt that way as a Catholic, that to say it was the only true church was just so alienating, and Jesus didn’t come to alienate people.

  14. JennG says:

    Ok so pondering our conversations this evening… I was hit with a truth that WOW for the first time in 10 years filled me with an undoubtable (ok so I know that isnt a word) knowing. A heart truth for me.

    The church was the one true living church for me at that time in my life. Wow!! Wow!! I came into the church as a convert at the age of 18 behind my parents backs and in complete revolt to my Lutheran upbringing. It felt rebellious. It made me feel really special for the first time in my life. I had boundaries and rules by which to live and I KNEW where I was going in life and after this life. It gave me the security and foundation that I needed at a time when I felt alone and lost in the world.

    And then a day came when I realized that the security and foundation couldnt answer some fundamental questions… and ergo… the security was an illusion… the knowledge was only based on what I “could” know. And the reality is that there are things we cant know. And I could continue living with the false security or venture out into insecurity and trust and faith on a whole new level. It took me a few years of waffling back and forth before I finally said my goodbyes and grieved over the loss of the dream… but now 5 years on I am so much more at ease and at peace than I ever was in the church always looking over my shoulder and worrying about what law I was breaking by drinking a Dr. Pepper. When we live by Christ’s higher law of love… by definition we arent “breaking” any laws or sinning… as we are living in the highest accordance and mandate… judging others is no longer a part of our experience. Not saying I am better than anyone… no way! But neither are active members of the church better than me. There is no less than/better than in Christ eyes as he taught…

    Oh and one little thing that someone said about it being all about whether you believe in the first vision… no it isnt. I have a very strong testimony about the first vision… what I question is the constant deviations from the initial vision and backtracking and changes that are later swept under the carpet or denied.

    And as to the point about praying until you get the right answer… well to me that is like forcing your kid to eat brussel sprouts demanding that if they eat enough of them they will like them and they eventally give in to stop from puking… sometime the answer is that there is no answer or that it is time to ask a different question like… “Is this right for me right now?” Demanding that our answer is the only answer is like saying that our view of any situation is the only view… everyone would agree that if 3 people witness an event you will have 3 different recounts of the event… the main thing might be the same… but the details are different. God is All there is … and how one gets there depends on the individual.

    Anyway….Juliane just wanted to say thanks for bringing that realization to my soul… that the church was true for me AT THAT TIME in my life…. it was just what I needed THEN….. this journey of yours has really really impacted on me. Thank you again.

    • Juliane says:

      Jenn,
      I have felt the same way that when I joined the church, it was the right thing for me to do at the time, but things change and now I’m not sure if it’s still the right thing. The guy I was dating when I was first investigating the church broke up with me a few months before leaving on his mission. He said that he thought maybe we weren’t meant to be together forever, but simply go part of the way together. I hated it when he said that. Turns out he was right. I feel similarly about the church now. It was the right thing for me for a certain phase in my life and now I have to re-assess if and how I want to be involved.

  15. Juliane says:

    Amelia,
    yes, it is very interesting how Judaism has influenced so much of religion, politics and culture. For such small numbers, the impact is huge.

    I left out Buddhism, because from what I read, and depending on how you define “religion” Buddhism isn’t necessarily considered a religion, because as far as I understand Buddhists don’t believe in God, and don’t worship God. If you have more insight, let me know.

    And yes, I agree, for everyone, whether they be religious or not, the tendency and danger to think of one’s own opinions, beliefs and worldview as the right one is always there. I personally have to continually work at being open to others and truly hearing them, without trying to convince them of my way. However, when I manage to do that, the conversations that ensue are truly enlightening (big, cheesy word, but true).

    • amelia says:

      If you require a system of belief to be theistic in order to qualify as a religion, I suppose that Buddhism doesn’t count. But most religious studies scholars and historians consider Buddhism a religious tradition and it’s usually included when discussing the most important world religious traditions.

      • Juliane says:

        I guess I have always defined religion as theistic. Honestly I have never even considered that a religion could “exist” without a God to worship. I have usually heard Buddhism be included in the major world religions, and therefore assumed Buddhists believed in God. Well, I’ve been wrong before 🙂
        Can you explain to me what exactly the difference is between a religion and a philosophy then, if religion doesn’t necessarily require God?

      • amelia says:

        Well, I’m not a religious studies scholar so I don’t really know how they differentiate. My instinct is to say that a philosophy is less all-encompassing than a religion. While some philosophies do attempt to answer all of the big questions, not every philosophy does. On the other hand, it seems to me that all religions attempt to answer all of the big questions–or at least to promote engagement with and examination of all of the big questions, even if doing so only leads to more questions. I also think that a religion tends to have a more concrete system of practice associated with it than a philosophy. I think it’s entirely possible for someone to embrace a religious philosophy without embracing the religion. I, for instance, embrace a lot of buddhist philosophy but I wouldn’t think of myself as Buddhist or as practicing Buddhism. So in my mind a philosophy is more theoretical and abstract; while one can certainly act on a philosophy and while one’s actions can be informed by a philosophy, I don’t think subscribing to a philosophy is quite so structured in terms of how it dictates actions as subscribing to a religion is.

        I’m not sure how good an explanation that is, but in my mind there’s a major difference between a philosophy and a religion. Mostly to do with the systematic and/or institutional nature of religion (even religions that are not overly institutional do tend to have a systematic aspect to them).

      • Juliane says:

        Amelia,

        I’ve studied philosophy a lot more than religion, and I have to say that philosophy concerns itself with pretty much the same set of questions as religion, you know those essential ones that are so damn hard to answer…sigh…

        It makes sense to me what you said that religion usually has that practical component, of certain prayers, ordinances, practices, and so forth. Religion does seem much more organized and institutionalized. I think what I was first thinking about is that theology and philosophy seem very similar to me, but religion maybe is more the adaptation into daily life.

  16. Juliane says:

    Amelia,
    thanks for your reply to kolms, you pretty much said everything I wanted to say…only more eloquent. For some reason I can’t reply directly to that individual thread….mmmh.
    Anyway, it illustrates my whole point, that often absolutism breeds that kind of thinking that only accepts a certain answer as truth, and if one doesn’t get that answer, it’s that person’s own fault. Psychological double bind….sigh…that’s one sure way to drive a person to insanity: not accepting that the answer they’re getting is correct for them, but insinuating that there must be something inherently wrong with them as a person for getting the “wrong” answer.

    • kolms says:

      On a re-read I can see the perceived condescension that Amelia calls out in my reply. So let me attempt to clarify.

      The OP ends with “Where do you fall on the spectrum? Do you think it is possible to reject absolutism, and still be a true believing Mormon?” My answer is YES. If we see Mormonism is “part” of the truth, rather than “all” the truth — then, like Arkwelder (in his comment below), we are free to enjoy Mormonism as a “beautiful religion with many unrealized possibilities” (not excusing its faults and regardless of whether we stay in or out).

      Juliane, you made the comment “I long for that knowledge of where I belong, whether that be inside or outside the church.” I suggested that Alma 29 provides some important context and guidance for coming to that knowledge. You mention, “often absolutism breeds that kind of thinking that only accepts a certain answer as truth.” So why does it have to be “inside or outside”? It is possible one could belong both inside AND outside the church. When we start from the supposition that it has to be one or the other — we may end up trading one (narrow) exclusivity trap for another (albeit broader) one.

      Amelia, I did feel my approach might be helpful in the context of the OP and Juliane’s comments, though it was not to imply “fault in those for whom it does not work.” And it was not to suggest one must conclude Mormonism, Christianity, or even theism is “the best answer for every single person.” Finding “enough humility to ask the right questions, rather than letting [ourselves] be pre-occupied with interesting…questions and desires” is not a bad goal — though I disagree that these “interesting questions” are misguided or wrong. Dealing with exclusivity is a big deal (your post “Should I Stay or Should I Go?” beautifully captures why). I just suggest that Alma grappled with it as well, and was humbled to recognize God’s plan reaches all of humanity, in wisdom, and with respect to each individual’s desire. He was then able (at least temporarily) to move beyond exclusivity to find a joy to eclipse his sorrow.

      Arkwelder (below) again says it better: “If one truly wants to connect with God, and most of us come to that point in our lives whether we act on that impulse or not, then it makes sense that he or she would look everywhere” truth can be found. In my (unfortunately) condescending way — I just meant to suggest that one path to connecting with God (and finding out “where I belong”) is seeing God’s plan is bigger than Mormonism, yet allowing Mormonism its part. In discovering “who” we are called to serve we will hear God’s voice and find joy in our part — even if that ends up being (possibly) among the Mormons (despite our flawed people, culture, history, and organization). Sam Payne beautifully captures a helpful attitude in his song “These Are My People” (http://sampayne.com/audio/SAM_PAYNE-These_are_my_web_hifi.m3u ) — for many of us, Mormons are our people, flaws and all. We can find ourselves among the heroes and the villains. But we don’t have to be a stranger here.

      • Juliane says:

        kolms,
        I really loved your comments this time 😉
        I think you make a great point that maybe I’m restricting myself too much by trying to figure out whether I should be inside or outside the church. Excellent point! I will ponder that. Maybe there is a way to have “the best of both worlds”.
        The problem I see in my situation is that I also have four little girls, and I’m not sure I want to expose them to this exclusivity thinking their whole lives, and hope they will still grow up to be accepting, loving and tolerant people. I know there are plenty life long mormons who are just that, but I maybe don’t want to take my chances by having them be taught something regularly that I disagree with.

      • kolms says:

        I’m so glad I could be a little clearer the second time. And I can completely empathize with the challenge of teaching our children in, through, or around exclusivity (3 girls and 8 boys of challenge in our home.) Thankfully, Christ reminds us that from stones God can raise up children of Abraham. There’s no safety in group exclusivity — I’m never bashful in teaching that to my children. If we’re chosen for anything it’s to become better servants than we are.

        I really believe though, as we encourage our children to seek their own connection with the divine, and try by example to serve where our personal connection leads us, we will lead them to good, both in and out of the church. They will be free to choose that good and we will rejoice when they do — wherever it leads them. Your acceptance, love and tolerance — especially for the sometimes unloving and intolerant among us — will help your children grow to be the accepting, loving and tolerant people you hope they’ll be.

        Thank you for the engaging post. Exclusivity is a fascinating hurdle and stumbling block — we just won’t escape it by trading one easily identified version for another less easily identified one.

  17. Arkwelder says:

    Hi, Julianne. I really enjoyed your post, so thanks. Glad that you gave a little tip of the hat to Hinduism, too, because Hinduism has, for me, been indispensable in tempering my frustration with Mormonism, which is a beautiful religion with many unrealized possibilities. Along with the example you provided, Hinduism actually DOES have an open canon (and it shows!), whereas Mormonism only claims to. Furthermore, Hinduism (Shaktism, more specifically) has provided the world with a very robust and cohesive picture of Heavenly Mother. I have a handful of favorites (Inanna/Ishtar, Isis, Demeter), but none of them quite hit the mark like Durga, imho.

    You said, “…we as human beings with our flawed brains, hearts, and language are bound to fail at understanding and communicating those truths perfectly, therefore the truth also becomes flawed as soon as we try to grasp it, or make sense of it.” which is exactly why we must motivate ourselves to communicate with people of other faiths! There is nothing like talking to a Muslim, Jew, Agnostic, Humanist, Feminist, etc., and realizing, “Wow! This person who grew up in a completely different religion and culture actually feels what I’m feeling right now.” There is nothing more faith affirming than that.

    There have been times when I have had people, non-Mormons, describe the Holy Ghost to me, how it feels, the impact it had, etc. There are few human experiences that can compete with that. I remember the first time it happened to me; I was completely awestruck.

    And it’s when we communicate with one another, share stories, etc., that we really get the full picture. Sure, we do this in a highly structured way within the Church, but it’s when it happens outside that the magic really happens. And it can come by reading a book or really just asking a question, i.e., outside of the box, so to speak. Right after reading the Gita I concluded that it was every bit as true as the Book of Mormon, D&C, and PoGP, and it remains YET ANOTHER testament for me. In fact, the Gita’s portrayal of God was the very God I believed I had known my entire life, as opposed to the God of the OT (who we also find traces of in the Mormon canon).

    If one truly wants to connect with God, and most of us come to that point in our lives whether we act on that impulse or not, then it makes sense that he or she would look everywhere, and not just the “approved” places. When people ask me why I’m still a Mormon and not, say, a Hindu–believe it or not–I actually cite the Hindu concept of “dharma” as the reason. Go figure? There’s another, more personal, reason: It’s because, for some crazy reason, an ancient polytheistic religion on one side of the world and a young monotheistic religion on the other side of the world have an incredible amount in common.

    • Juliane says:

      Arkwelder,
      loved everything you said. Seriously. This is pretty much exactly how I feel when I speak to other people who seem so very different from me at first, and then we connect despite those differences in a way that makes me realize all over again that we really are brothers and sisters.
      I have recently started practicing yoga, and have become interested in Hinduism, however I have not had time to do a lot of research. There are issues in Hinduism too, of course, like the caste system, but like you I so strongly feel that I want to be open to all truth, wherever it may come from.

  18. Marie Louise says:

    I absolutly love Arkwelder’s comment, as well as some of the other comments on here. Realizing that other’s, of different religions, “Know” the same God that I do has been a fundamental part of what has shaped my faith. I am not a mormon, but growing up close to the church, I attended many meetings. One talk that a return missionary gave, has really stuck with me. He was talking about his mission, and how at one point he went to the home of a catholic woman, and rather than telling him to go away, she invited him inside. She told him she was not interested in converting, but enjoyed discussions about faith. They had a wonderful conversation, and this young missionary left her house inspired, and a little surprised. This woman, this non-mormon woman, knew the same God and Christ that he did.
    A different story, happened much more recently. I was out with two of my very best friends, and we were talking about faith, and one of them mentioned how she was surprised to learn that something from a different religion so closely resembled the Mormon stance on that same issue. It was litterally all I could do to not yell, “DUH!” I have never understood how so many people can stand up in testamony meeting and declare that “The Church Is True” when a great many of them have not taken the time to learn about other religions at all.
    Like Arkwelder said, it is amazing how so many of the world’s religions are basically saying the same thing; live from a place of love. Its as simple as that. When we distill the messages of Christ, and Heavenly Father, as well as the other major world religions, I think we find that all of them are True.
    Too often the hand of man, gets passed off as the hand of God in organized religion, and we lose sight of His true message for us.

    • Juliane says:

      Marie,
      you make a great point that we have to know about other religions to have a reference point and figure out what we believe to be true. If we have no idea about anyone but us, of course our perspective is skewed. I believe as well that if we’d thoroughly study other faiths, we’d find more that binds us together than drives us apart.
      To live from a place of love, like you said, is my ultimate goal in life. You hit the nail on the head there. There is nothing more important to me.

  19. SimplySophia says:

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post and the discussion it prompted. It’s so reassuring to know that others are working through some of the same questions I’ve had lately. While I appreciate my solid, Mormon upbringing and the simplicity of the black and white faith I embraced for the first 29 years of my life, the past three years have been incredible, allowing me to truly embrace the beauty and truth I’ve seen in other patterns of living. I find that I’m much happier navigating the gray zone and figuring out my own faith. So where do I place on the spectrum? I still attend church regularly, teach Gospel Doctrine to the 15 to 18-year-olds (thank heavens this year’s course of study is New Testament so we can focus on basic Christlike principles), and appreciate the positive things the Gospel can bring to my life. However, I no longer buy into the belief that there is only one path that brings people close to the divine, and I find it ironic that accepting the Church as a whole precludes the importance of exercising the agency that has been ours since before the world was created. Does that make me less of a true believing member? Perhaps. But I know what I truly believe.

    • Juliane says:

      Well, yours is a class I’d actually LOVE to attend!! 🙂 What a blessing that those teenagers have you as their teacher to guide them to find their own path of faith! How do you respond to others who make these absolutist claims in church? Do you ever feel uncomfortable?

      • SimplySophia says:

        Thanks! I love the kids, they’re fantastic. But it does amuse me to note when they’re giving “Sunday School” answers vs. engaging in real conversation. They all have so much potential, and I hope they learn to embrace their right to personal revelation.

        As for the claims to absolutism, they do make me cringe. Even the lesson manual that instructs teachers to bear their testimony about specific Gospel principles seems so horribly smug these days. How dare they presume to define something so personal and profound as an individual testimony? It’s the assumption of absolutism that leads them to believe a teacher who has been called and set apart has a testimony of the Gospel obviously buys into everything at face value. I skip over most of those suggestions.

        In personal conversation, I don’t echo the opinion, but I don’t contradict it, either. If that line of thinking is working for someone, then more power to them. I don’t see it as my place to take that comfort zone away from them.

        As I grow to trust a friend, I’ll open up about more of my personal beliefs, but it’s only with a select few people in the LDS community, and one of my five brothers. Not sure how the family at-large would react … they’re all absolutists, and I know from past experience that they would choose their faith over family. It’s sad, really.

    • Juliane says:

      Sophia,
      I love that you have found this path that works for you staying true to yourself, without having to make someone else feel wrong. I’m sorry to hear that your family would choose their faith over family. Unfortunately I feel this is more common among LDS families than I thought. There is this notion that it is noble to put one’s faith above all else, and forsake family ties for that if need be (which is so strange to me considering it’s such a family centered church).
      Thanks for your great comments!

  20. Stella says:

    I just don’t believe much of what we see as “absolute truth” is really absolute. And it would be a shame if Mormonism and Jesus Christ were the only way to be happy in an afterlife (if there is one, which I am beginning to doubt more and more). This battle of what is true or not is hard because what was true for me ten years ago is no longer true for me now. What is true for one is not true for another. I think if we could all understand than and still feel validated (and not intimidated) in the truth that we choose and the truths that others choose, then we’d all preach a little less and work on connecting a little more. I would hope, at least.

    • Juliane says:

      Stella,
      YES!! Less preaching, more connection! I like it! I have noticed too, that what’s true for me changes throughout the years, and I’m starting to not feel bad about that anymore, but here I am back again at my belief that truth is often relative to the person, the circumstance, the life phase, etc…

  21. Alex says:

    I guess I interpret the church’s claims of a monopoly on truth a bit differently. I see the claim that we are the only church with authority to perform the saving ordinances as what we claim exclusively. As for having all Truth, I take that claim to mean that lots of others may have truths, but if something is true, we claim it as ours. This applies equally to mathematical equations as it does to the scriptures. So instead of only being able to find truth in the church, I think wherever I find truth, it is part of the church and something I believe.

  22. Juliane says:

    Alex,
    I totally agree on the whole accepting truth wherever it comes from thing. That truly is an awesome doctrine of our church. However, I personally don’t believe that all the truth the church claims to have, is in fact truth. And I also think that those ordinances that only we have in the church are not necessarily essential to salvation. Therefore, I think anybody anywhere on the planet can have just as much or as little truth as the next person. It is an exclusive claim to say, that we as a church, are the only ones who have “all” truth, as opposed to the partial truth all the other good people have. That’s just a nicer (but just as condescending) way to say “We are right, and you’re wrong, but you’re still great people, good for you!”

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