Why I Stick With the Church
Why I stay: Let me be perfectly upfront. Church is a real struggle for me sometimes. A lot of the rhetoric I hear over the pulpit about gender roles and identity, “us” vs. “the world”, exclusivity, and black and white statements in general – not to mention a lack of focus on Jesus – drive me up a wall.
But despite all of that, I am somewhat committed to remaining at least a partially active member. I can locate a few reasons for this.
1. Mike. He’s the best human male I’ve ever met. Hands down. Kind, ethical, compassionate, thoughtful. And really smart. Sure, there are some things I would change (e.g. his politics and lesser interest in helping animals), but overall he is an incredibly good person. And the LDS Church helped produce him. I can’t forget that. Every time I wonder why I stay, I look at him and know that the Church can indeed do very good things for some people and teach some very good principles. It helped fashion a marvelous human being in Mike.
2. While I find a lot of Joseph Smith’s actions, particularly during the Nauvoo period deeply problematic, I like his radical vision of a new religion. I find compelling his vision for the divine potential of humans, male and female. I like his radical approach to battling poverty through the United Order. I think his ideas about the spiritual and divine potential of women were particularly revolutionary, as when he “turned the key” to the Relief Society and organized them “in the order of the priesthood.” I think our present day Church institution has unfortunately retreated from the liberated vision Joseph Smith had for women and their auxiliaries.
3. I stay because I now realize I can choose what to believe in. I stay because I now realize that I have the privilege, the right, and the responsibility to embrace those wonderful LDS ideas that empower me and to reject the ones that don’t. And this realization – that I can choose what to believe in, that Mormonism is not an all or nothing proposition – has liberated me. By rejecting the ideas that tear me down and hurt me (men presiding in the family, women having to hearken unto husbands, a circumscribed definition of womanhood, polygamy as my eternal future), I am now at liberty to embrace the ideas which I love that are also a part of my faith. It inspires me to no end to know that the Jesus we Mormons believe in is the same Jesus who went out of his way to include and teach the outcasts of society, to break taboos, and to uplift all humans despite race, sex, or class. That is the Jesus I accept and love, and any ideas that have crept into Mormonism that go against that, I roundly reject.
4. I stay because I know that leaders need to be allowed to make mistakes and grow. At this point in my spiritual life, I am on a religious journey that privileges my own conception of God’s wishes and my own conscience (i.e. personal revelation/the Spirit) over the statements of Church Authorities. I now realize that all human beings, including Church leaders, are subject to their own cultural contexts, and that even the wisest, most wonderful leaders can allow unfortunate cultural ideas to creep into their conceptions of the gospel. I am trying to be more compassionate towards these leaders. After all, they are human, and I am human. And I know that I make mistakes too.
5. I stay because of my own fallibility. This realization of my own fallibility has also profoundly affected my relationship with the Church. Just as I need Jesus to forgive me for all the mistakes I make, I know that I need to forgive the institutional Church for the mistakes it makes. It’s not easy to do. I am extremely hurt by the ways women are routinely shut out from the general Church hierarchy, by the ways women’s voices and ideas are lost or ignored in nearly all Church talks and lessons. But I need to give the Church time to progress. This is the gospel of progression; it is also the Church of progression. And I have reason to hope that it will indeed progress with time. (After all, blacks did eventually get the priesthood.)
6. I also stay because, in order for the Church to progress, it needs people like me to stay. The Church benefits from having all types of people of various ethnic backgrounds, ideologies, and political persuasions. The more types of people it has, the more types of people it can help. Besides, this is my church too. If progressive, liberal people keep leaving the Church, it will be left with a population that grows steadily more conservative and homogeneous in ideology. This would negatively impact its ability to be the inclusive and compassionate church I know it has the potential to be.
7. I stay because I care. Despite all my issues with the current hierarchical structure of the church and certain doctrines I find disturbing, I really do care about it. I have shed countless tears over the problems and unfairness I have perceived in the institutional Church. After all, this is my religion, my heritage, and my identity. My ancestors sacrificed and died for this religion, and I want this to be an institution they would be proud of. I want to be proud of it. I desperately want it to be better than it is, just as I want me to be better than who I am. And if I don’t stay, I will no longer have the same types of opportunities to help it progress.
I would love to hear why others have personally chosen to stay in the Church, despite possible difficulties.
Note: this is adapted from a post I made a few months ago at my personal blog, Madwoman Out of the Attic.