Why I Stay(ed) … and loved it


Last week I attended the Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City. It was a mixed bag for me. There were definitely some speakers who struck an inner chord for me, others who I didn’t connect with at all, and still others who I regretted having missed. However, when all is said and done, my favorite session was “Why I Stay.” I found so much that gave me relief, validation, hope, and motivation that I knew this post would be a review and extension of what was said there.

The common threads woven through each of the speakers were: a conviction of the gospel as a vehicle for spiritual growth, opportunity to offer service and positively influence the lives of others, understanding that the church is administered through imperfect leaders, and an acceptance of doubt as a companion to faith. And having listed them in this order, I will contrarily proceed to discuss them in reverse order.

Doubt as a companion to faith
Cherry Silver grew up in a household where she felt the intellectual and spiritual right to examine church doctrine and policy. Armand L. Mauss stated that doubt is the inevitable companion of deep thought, and that ignorance makes one vulnerable. And J. Bonner Ritchie asserted that making decisions on the margin feels right and good, and that demanding all or nothing dooms oneself to a life of frustration.

As a child growing up in the church, I never experienced a lot of doubt. I grew safe in the knowledge that this was a just world, and a keen sense of right and wrong. However, as I’ve become more aware of the history of the church, had ecclesiastical abuse directed at my family, and found issues in which church policy directly conflicts with some of my deepest convictions, I’ve had to find new ways in which to negotiate my personal spiritual journey. Yes, there are issues which I am unable to reconcile. Some concepts I have put on hold until I have greater understanding. Eternal polygyny and the degree to which evolution was utilized by the creators of this world are two such issues. As to the issue of women and the priesthood, I have decided to put this on hold until the church is ready for greater understanding. Yes, my world nowadays is no longer black and white, but I’ve learned to find comfort and wisdom in the nuanced patterns of gray.

We are lead by imperfect leaders
Silver talked about the need for a sense of pragmatism and irony in dealing with the church. Thus it is that when my good and well-meaning bishop said in a temple chapel meeting that the most important tasks we can accomplish here on this earth are to marry and have children, I had to bite my tongue and sing, “Where Can I Turn For Peace” under my breath. Frankly, I think he’s wrong. Our purpose is to gain a body, and knowledge and faith that will allow us to return to God. Granted, marriage and parenthood are excellent vehicles to help us obtain knowledge, faith and opportunities for Christian love and service, but they are not enough in and of themselves. That said, I do like my bishop, in a rather distantly fond manner, and concede that despite his mistakes, he is doing his best.

There was also a lot said about those in power seeking unrighteous dominion. Molly Bennion notes that even though she is sometimes disappointed by church policy and action, she is never disillusioned. I must say that I have been disillusioned in the past, as ecclesiastical abuse has been an issue my family has had to deal with over the past six years. I’ve been unsatisfied with the admonition for patience, and that all will be made alright in the end, since other’s unrighteous actions can have devastating consequences in the present, that can seriously affect how “the end” may turn out. It’s at times like these that I feel that the church needs to take a more proactive role in weeding out the occasional harmful leader. Sometimes having good leaders is a matter of fortune, but I can’t help but feel that it is the church’s responsibility at all levels to remove those who are unrighteously administering to faithful members.

However, as Ritchie states, we can never make the organization safe for the people; we can only make the people safe for the organization. And so even as I am impatient, I am trying to build a relationship with deity that is enhanced by the good I see and experience, and not as vulnerable to the awful.

Stay to offer service and a voice
Silver understands that the church has a structure within which we can interact and benefit one another. Ritchie stated that he doesn’t strive to be an alternative voice, merely an honest one; that we need a dynamic tension between liberal and conservative ideologies in our leaders; and that making decisions on the margins feels right. Mauss asserts that he is not a reformer, but that he does have talents to offer that can help to mitigate some of the systemic problems.

As I’ve struggled with the gospel, it has been a matter of intense relief to find communities where I can discuss my doubts with others who have struggled in the past or are currently struggling. I’m so grateful to those who make a conscious effort to further their relationship with deity in the face of mortal imperfections, and are willing to share and lift others in need. Discussion groups that meet in person or on-line have been invaluable in helping me navigate difficult stretches. There have been times when I’ve thought that surely it would be easier to throw in the towel, but have been buoyed up by finding others who continue to ride the edge of the herd, and found the strength to remain. Organizations such as Exponent II, Dialogue Journal, Sunstone Magazine. T&S, FMH and
Genesis Group have been invaluable in helping me realize that the church is not a homogeneous club, but a gathering of diverse people unto God.

Vehicle for spiritual growth
Mauss recognizes that, regardless of being in or out of the church, he would still keep gospel values. Silver find a fulfilling inner spiritual life, and recognize divine direction in the church. Shirley Paxman believes that the church answers the three questions of this mortality, and feels like an “indelible mormon.” And Bennion stays because of a belief in basic gospel principles.

I stay because the remembrance of past spiritual experience and the hope for future events keeps me moored. I have had experiences which are too sacred to share in this forum, but which convince me that I have heavenly parents who desire my return. And while the gospel does not answer all of my questions, it does so more completely than anything else I’ve encountered, and indeed encourages me to continue to seek answers.

Jana

Jana is university administrator and History professor. Her soloblog is http://janaremy.com/pilgrimsteps/

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16 Responses

  1. AmyB says:

    Thank you for the summary Dora. I’m still trying to negotiate questions of why I stay, or if it is good for me to continue to stay. I appreciate reading about why others stay.

    This statement intrigued me:
    We can never make the organization safe for the people; we can only make the people safe for the organization.

    Can you say more about what it means to you? My reading of it is not very favorable, so I think perhaps I’m misinterpreting.

  2. jana says:

    Dora:
    Having been your friend through much of your faith journey, and having had you as a good listener for my joys and frustrations with the church, I really enjoyed the way you interpreted the thoughts of the speakers in this panel. 🙂

    IMO, your post embodies the best of what Sunstone has to offer–the opportunity to sit at another’s feet and feel of their spirit and learn from their choices. I’m just sorry that I missed this session, and though I’m glad to have experienced it through your writing, it sounds as though it will certainly be worth downloading when the mp3s are posted next week!

  3. Rory says:

    Amy,

    This statement comes from Ritchie’s 1981 speech (printed in Sunstone) “The Institutional Church and the Individual.” (reprinted in the 1999 25th anniversary edition of Sunstone.) It’s a fabulous article, and talks about the nature of institutions and their tendencies to self-perpetuate through a conserbative convergance, even sometimes at the expense of individuals.

    In short, because leaders are human, fallible, and make mistakes, there is significant probability for cases of institutional abuse. Therefore, rather than trying to swim upstream and make institutions safe for individuals (a losing battle), it is better to help people to approach institutions in a manner that factors in the organizational tendencies, thereby making the individual safe.

    Hope that helps. Get the article! 🙂

  4. rory says:

    It’s late – I’m typing too fast. “conserbative” should have been “conservative”. It was the peanut butter…

  5. AmyB says:

    Thanks rory- that explanation helps a lot. The way I read it was that the institution is more important than the individuals. I saw the “making the individual safe for the institution” as making individuals less of a threat to the institution. I had a feeling that wasn’t what was meant, though. Thanks again.

  6. istayedtoo says:

    After my recent yet prolonged spriritual journey in and out of church history, I have finally been able to find sincere reasons to stay. It has been tough for me to try and Once I realized things were not as they seemed, I went through a depression feeling betrayed and lied to. Thankfully I have been able to recognize that I need the church. My relationship with Jesus Christ has become central in my motivations instead of “being a good mormon.” I’m not without confusion but at least I no longer feel resentful or betrayed.

  7. Stephen says:

    About thirty or so years ago, as a part of the packet of materials for the Hill Cumorah Pagent, we were given a huge chunk of quotes from early brethren, mostly Joseph Smith, talking about how human and frail they were and how they were no better than anyone else, merely being who God was working through.

    It was a powerful lesson, combined with the perspective that when God is talking to Joseph in the Doctrine and Covenants and admonishing him, it isn’t just pro forma gloss, it is sincere.

    Perhaps we need more discussions of that sort, now that we no longer live in the shadows of our leaders and in their immediate memories.

  8. Deborah says:

    Ah man! You were there TOO? I was just getting over my not-attending gloom. Can we better plan this next year? Have an ExII “reunion” party were I can finally meet the other half of my co-bloggers? ‘Cause knowing women like you is a big part of why I stay.

  9. Mindy says:

    “I have decided to put this on hold until the church is ready for greater understanding”.

    Isnt it we who need to be ready for greater understanding?

  10. Tracy M says:

    I stay because the remembrance of past spiritual experience and the hope for future events keeps me moored. I have had experiences which are too sacred to share in this forum, but which convince me that I have heavenly parents who desire my return. And while the gospel does not answer all of my questions, it does so more completely than anything else I’ve encountered, and indeed encourages me to continue to seek answers.

    Amem, and thank you Dora…

  11. Dora says:

    AmyB and Rory ~
    The comment regarding institutions was also referencing D&C 121:39, which was referenced numerous times in this and other sessions. Thanks Rory for the very succinct summary.

    Jana ~ It’s wonderful to have fellow pilgrims along the journey. And, I bought the cd to share with those interested. I’ll bring it to the next OI discussion.

    Istayedtoo and Stephen ~ Mauss also talked about the need for more institutional frankness about the history and doctrine of the church. I don’t think that we are alone in feeling betrayed after having delved past the general niceties that we learn as children or new converts. I think if the membership of the church was more educated about our church, there would be fewer crises of faith. Of course, this may mean less converts, but wouldn’t it also mean greater retention? Then again, not everyone may feel as I do …

    And, as much as I admire JS, I do think that at times, he very much needed to be taken down a step or two. Definitely, there were times when his pride and self-importance caused him to alienate those he thought were crossing him, as opposed to crossing the office of prophet.

    Deborah ~ I would love an Exp II reunion … or union, since I haven’t met most of the women on here that I am so inspired by. This is both the strength and weakness of the internet: egalitarian annonymity.

    Mindy ~ I was speaking personally, from personal revelation I’ve had in response to prayer about many things, including the endowment. Everyone is entitled to their own POV, but I recognize that only the prophet is allowed to speak for the entire church, which is why this issue is currently on my back burners.

    TracyM ~ You’re so very welcome.

  12. Eve says:

    Dora, thank you so much for the summary and for your own reflections on sustaining and refining your faith in the face of trials. I find it so faith-nourishing to hear from people who have struggled with hard, ultimately unanswerable questions and stayed anyway.

    I stay in part because people like you help me to. Thank you.

  13. Matt Thurston says:

    “Why I Stay” is always one of the highlights of Sunstone. If all testimony meetings were this open and honest, we’d see a spike in activity and an increased outpouring of love/understanding amongst all Mormons. There are several “Why I Stay” sessions from past Sunstones available to download at Sunstone Online, and most of them are free. I have yet to listen to a bad one.

    It’s interesting, because I used to only find “relief, validation, hope, and motivation” if I heard a person’s journey of faith and they matched my own. I now find all heartfelt journey of faith stories uplifting regardless of the end result. In other words, journeys that take one out of the faith are as uplifting to me as journeys where one remains in the faith.

    It’s the actual journey that uplifts me, not the conclusion; its the honesty and courage it takes to stare into the void and ask the tough questions; the fortitude it takes to follow one’s conscience, to follow the spirit; the humility it takes to plead with God for answers, despite outside pressure… this is what inspires me, not what they found at the end of the road.

  14. fMhLisa says:

    I wish I could have gone to that session, or any of them really. I’m really going to try to make it next year. Do you know, Is this a session they do every year?

    And thankyou for your story of faith, I love reading stories like this, they help me a lot.

  15. jana says:

    They almost always have a “Why I Stay” session at Sunstone. You should definitely peruse the mp3 archives for past sessions like this one! 🙂

  16. Anonymous says:

    What a great site » »

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