An Inactive Mormon's Reflections on What She Finds Valuable About the Church

by Caroline
A few months ago, as I was escaping the Prop 8 circus which was invading my ward, I started to attend a local United Church of Christ (UCC). This particular congregation has become a haven for gay people looking for a religious community, and for former members of stricter traditions looking for a more open and affirming vision of Christianity. A handful of Mormons are a part of this group.

Sarah, a Mormon woman in her 60s, current leader in this congregation, started attending this UCC a decade ago. I was talking to her after the service one day about my current struggles with church, and she started to reflect about what she valued about Mormon teachings. What she said surprised me. When I think about the good parts of Mormon teachings, I think of the usual – eternal progression, limitless divine potential, strong community, etc. She had much more specific reflections.

“You know, there are two things I really appreciate about my Mormon background and its teachings. I am so glad I was taught the importance of one partner, of working with your spouse through all the difficulties. My relationship with my Mormon husband has been enriched by our determination to stick with each other despite our different spiritual paths. We’ve learned a lot from one another over the years. And the other thing – I’m glad I was taught to not drink alcohol. Meditation is a huge part of my life, and if you drink alcohol, you can’t sustain meditation.”

OK, so I don’t know much about the relationship between meditation and alcohol, but I take her word for it. This is a woman who goes on month long meditation retreats where she doesn’t speak to a single soul for 30 days straight.

 But I was struck by that first thing she talked about. I myself am in a marriage in which our spiritual paths have diverged a bit. My husband is a devout Mormon. I, on the other hand, have my doubts. I intend to stay an active Mormon on some level, but I also get great satisfaction and uplift from attending places like UCC. I feel God there, and I don’t intend to give that up. (Currently I go to both churches every Sunday).

Sarah’s reflections about ‘one partner’ and the growth that she and her husband have experienced by sticking together through all the transitions were comforting to me. I get queasy when I think of the disagreements that are sure to occur as my husband and I raise our children. It’s not going to be an easy journey, that I’m sure of. But I do have faith that when I’m 65, I too will be able to look back and see how much I and my husband have grown through our determination to navigate our diverse journeys in tandem.


Are there particular, specific Mormon teachings that you’ve found (maybe unexpectedly) valuable in your life?  Do you have insights on how to navigate marriage when the spouses are different in religious outlook?


Caroline has a PhD in religion and studies Mormon women.

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28 Responses

  1. Edie says:

    As I watch the final scenes of earth life unfold and prophecy being fulfilled regarding the upheaval of the last days, I’m really grateful that I was taught the importance of self-reliance and emergency preparedness. I have really worked on my food storage over the last couple of years and I can’t believe what peace of mind it has brought me, especially now that the economy is in a crisis situation and the immediate future looks bleak for a recovery. I am grateful for my mother and for church leaders who have taught us to be prepared, even when we weren’t sure what we were getting prepared for.

    In light of all the diseases and addictions that we see in the world, I’m also grateful to have been taught moderation in all things and abstinence from alcohol, tobacco, and sex outside of marriage. Those practices have also brought me peace by sparing me some of the trials that I see friends and colleagues suffering now.

  2. Janna says:

    Several years ago a friend of mine recounted the story of a recent date she had been on with a fairly conservative Mormon man. As part of the date, they attended a Christmas program at the local temple visitor’s center. This particular visitor’s center contained a large display on families replete with a fake living room with family pictures. My friend said that she was bemoaning to her date, “Why do they have to put so much emphasis on families?!” Her date responded, “Well, probably because families are pretty important to Mormons…seems like a good thing to me.” As per usual, my friend and I then spent the next few minutes criticizing her date and the church about their focus on families, etc.

    All of a sudden, I realized the comedy of our responses — we were criticizing a man for valuing family! I made this observation, and we hooted and hollered about for several minutes. In all our desire to be “progressive,” we noticed that we often dismissed men in our dating life who had “conservative” views. We had, in some circumstances, thrown the baby out with the bath water. Why were we complaining about a man who values family?!

    Anyway, I hope this retelling captures my meaning…

  3. JM says:

    I know Mormons don’t have a corner on the
    market on good, kind, religious, service-
    oriented people, but I do appreciate the lay
    clergy aspect of the Mormon Church.
    I like the way that the structure teaches and
    stretches us, beginning from our youth, to
    interact with and serve people with whom we
    may not encounter on a strictly social
    basis. It also gives the opportunity to learn
    social, leadership, and practical skills.

    Again, I know that these attributes may be
    developed many other ways other than being

  4. Caroline says:

    I too am starting to appreciate the idea of self-reliance when it comes to food production. I have a little garden these days, and it’s so cool to be able to grow some of my own vegetables. I don’t know if necessarily connect this in my mind to emergency situations, but it is nice to know I can do it if I need to.

    Janna, that’s a great story. I understand where you and your friend might have been coming from. It’s probably the same thing I feel when I see those fake and cheesy family pictures in the Ensign. Family is great and all, but does it always have to be depicted like that? And how about showing some non-traditional families? Or emphasizing the importance of family by showing how war and poverty threaten families? (Like that would ever happen.) But your point is well taken – a guy who thinks that family is important has got some things fundamentally right.

    JM, yes, the lay aspect of our church is cool in a lot of ways. It’s good to see youth learning to be leaders and give talks, etc. On the other hand, I sure do love a beautifully delivered professional well thought out sermon… this is something that’s really come in to focus for me since I’ve started to attend places that have professional clergy. I miss the lay aspect, but I love the quality of the professionals.

  5. breathingmoss says:

    As one who tends to lurk here, I sometimes miss threads. I’ve said this before, I think, in other comments: what I value most from my religious upbringing as a Mormon was the notion of HumanPotential=God.

    As a gay person, I appreciate the emphasis on familial relationships. My parents’ struggles, as they hear ignorant and hurtful things in their ward meetings about “the gays”, is ameliorated by their knowledge/belief that their family relationships, their love for me as a daughter, transcends everything else, including their membership in a particular church.

  6. Reuben says:

    I love the Mormon understanding of personal revelation and my right to approach God to seek direct and specific answers to prayers. If there’s one aspect of Mormonism I embrace above all others, it’s the idea that God Himself will teach me and guide my path.

  7. Caroline says:

    breathingmoss, thanks for the comment. I’m with you – the idea of limitless human potential is one of the most inspiring Mormon ideas I can think of. And I’m so glad you’ve got loving parents whose understanding of the importance of family is so expansive. Church must be hell right now for you guys. (my ward still won’t shut up about prop 8).

    Reuben, that’s a good one. I love that idea too – though sometimes I wonder how that’s supposed to work with the very heavy emphasis we have on authority in the Church and ‘follow the prophet’ types of rhetoric. I’m someone who sometimes feels that my conscience or personal revelation leads me in a different direction than my leaders would want me to go – this can definitely lead to some turmoil, both personally and with my relationships to other Mormons.

  8. Martie says:

    Ruben and Caroline

    A quote from the June 2008 Ensign by President Eyring. Their counsel trumps our own revelation. That bothers me, especially when it concerns personal issues.
    “Sometimes we will receive counsel that we cannot understand or that seems not to apply to us, even after careful prayer and thought. Don’t discard the counsel, but hold it close. If someone you trusted handed you what appeared to be nothing more than sand with the promise that it contained gold, you might wisely hold it in your hand awhile, shaking it gently. Every time I have done that with counsel from a prophet, after a time the gold flakes have begun to appear, and I have been grateful.”

  9. amelia says:

    but martie, what happens when you’ve shaken and shaken and shaken the sand you received from someone you trusted and nothing of value appeared? or worse, the gold that showed up proved to be fool’s gold?

    i hate the assumption–one that i think is very common among practicing mormons–that those who question counsel do so flippantly and without allowing themselves time to thoughtfully consider the counsel. maybe some do. but certainly not all. certainly not those i know.

    so i find very little substance in that particular quote. to prayerfully contemplate counsel–to shake the sand–does not necessarily mean that one will find gold. and what is one to do when one finds its worthless simulacrum?

  10. Caroline says:

    I think that Eyring actually left the door open for that possibility, Amelia. From what I could tell, he simply says hold the counsel of the prophets close. And then he gives his personal experience of always finding gold eventually, but he doesn’t tell us that we will always find gold. I think he’s very carefully leaving the door open for us to go against prophetic counsel, so long as we hold it close and shake it a lot. At least that’s how I’d like to read it. What do you think, Amelia? Is that too positive a reading? Thanks for the quote, Martie.

    Something that relates to this is that New Testament parable about how a man has to dig up a whole huge field of dirt to find the valuable little speck of gold (or something like that). I figure the Church (or any church) is sort of like that. We have to dig through a lot of garbage (including some prophetic counsel) before finding the gold. (I got this from Laurel Thatcher Ulrich’s fantastic essay ‘Lusterware,’ in which she says that if 10% of the teachings of the Church is true, she’s going to be thrilled and hold on tight to it. Her point being that we shouldn’t expect too much from this human run institution and the fallible humans running it.)

  11. amelia says:

    i guess i’m just not in an optimistic enough mood to think so positively of it, caroline. and have been hurt enough by finding dross in precisely the places i’ve been promised i would find gold that i’m not much interested in hurting myself more by digging and digging for the sake of a small fleck when i know for a fact that i can find enormous amounts of good when i let myself out of the boundaries set by staying in that one small field.

  12. Martie says:


    I was in a rush when I posted that quote earlier so I didn’t explain myself very well. That quote makes me VERY nervous. I agree with Amelia on this. I think you’re generous in your reading of this Caroline. In practice, there will be a strong inclination on our local level–if not higher up, it could get quoted in General Conference and then, the sky’s the limit–to quote this to members who don’t follow counsel because, geez, if President Eyring ALWAYS finds gold in the counsel of the prophet, who are we to say we don’t? And if that is so with the prophets’ counsels, why not our local leaders, who, after all lead the flock by inspiration?

    I’m not sure President Hinckley EVER intended that his “no two sets of earrings” comment become a way to judge a young woman’s righteousness, but Elder Bednar’s now famous story made it so.

    Too often a personal comment made by a leader is elevated to the level of scripture and made to apply equally to everyone. I find that disturbing. But what I find really disturbing in Pres.Eyring’s comment is that we must doubt our own inspiration if it conflicts with the Prophet’s. With so many members already going around wondering whether their impressions are really inspiration or whether it’s heartburn, it just sort of throws out the concept of personal revelation for yourself and your family.

  13. Caroline says:

    I don’t mean to sound overly generous about that quote. I don’t like it either, for all the reasons you state, Martie and Amy. I’m just working hard to find wiggle room that doesn’t discount personal revelation. I suppose I’m doing that in an effort to help those Mormons who feel constrained by the words of GA’s. I myself am way beyond that – my conscience (personal revelation) generally takes precedence at this point in my life.

  14. Martie says:

    Thank you Caroline. I’m way beyond that too. In a way I have been for more than 20 years, ever since a member of the Seventy counseled my husband and me to not have either a vasectomy or tubal ligation after the loss of two young children due to a devastating genetic disease. One of us might die and the other remarry and want more children, he said. Our own marriage was stressed and threatened with the possibility of pregnancy and bringing another such child into the world, but we had to be concerned about another marriage which, in all likelihood would never happen. We’re in our late 50’s and it didn’t happen but I’m not sure we’d still be married if the possibility of getting pregnant had been a monthly fear in our marriage.

    It didn’t make sense then, still doesn’t make sense today. Back then i did the only thing which i knew to be right for my family. I got my tubes tied and never looked back. Never felt one itty bitty tinge of guilt.

  15. Kiri Close says:

    For all the complaining/’honesty’ I cough up, I am still so appreciative of a multiplicity of things LDS: friendships, my teen life, countless true feelings of love & the Spirit combined, a 14 year-old boy who saw what he saw & I still believe it (even though he later kinda messed it up with multiple wives, etc.), the complexities of this life & eternity, the Word of Wisdom, a music loving church, BYUHawaii (not Provo), the Polynesian Cultural Center, my time with our youth (LDS or non) through Young Womens.

    Add to my LDSness my Samoan-ness—2 identities that have always been the make up of something strange & grateful that is me.

    Though my husband & I are not quite happy with our current LDS branch, we both appreciate my LDS membership overall(yes, even my once agnostic, yet always-loved-Jesus-freak spouse, Rob). He isn’t into organized religion, but appreciates when he can help out, & have access to several people for conversation from my church. I also belive he is grateful I would never step out on our marriage if I’m attracted to another man & that he can always trust me in that way.

    I, in return, love how he keeps it on the real with me (there are days I don’t realize how LDS orthodox & unkind & exclusive I can be)—in this he truly is a great, gentle, & direct buffer & wake up call for me.

    He, like, me, is not obsessed with immediate honeymoon baby-making the way LDS culturally expect couples to be. He is also the 1 person I can go to when there are days I hate my church & many of the uncouth actions LDS people do. I can expect him not to hate it along with me, but to listen to me, help me consider what others might be feeling but never in any condescending way.

    I am still surprised that he would be disappointed in me if I ever decided to leave this church. Yet he currently isn’t interested in officially joining.

    It is strange, but that’s what we are right now—neither here nor there. Yet very much in the ‘now’.

  16. Kiri Close says:

    PS–And I LOVE our LDS obsession with food!

  17. I heard once “The church is perfect, the people aren’t.” Someone said that to me in reference to issues I was having with the church. That’s not how I feel at all, though. I feel the church has lots of historical problems, but I stay because of the social network of good people.

  18. Martie says:

    I want to add that when I lost two children in the first few years in my married life, the Church’s teachings on life after death offered much comfort. It is, I believe, a belief unique to our Church and it applies a healing salve on a very painful wound. Only recently did i realize that the concept of “raising your children during the millenium” was no longer important to me, nor does it make much sense anymore but I fiercely clung to it as a young mother. I’m grateful for that.

    I’m grateful for my community. The orthodoxy grates on me these days but I can step back and recognize that the institution and the beliefs give my friends an anchor. I respect that.

  19. Caroline says:

    Wow, how sad that that church leader didn’t have the sensitivity to advise you to leave that very personal decision up to your own conscience. I wouldn’t feel a bit guilty for going ahead with the operation either. And how heartbreaking that you had to go through the misery of losing children. I can’t even imagine that kind of pain.

    Thanks for mentioning those things you treasure about your Mormon heritage. It reminds me that I should look back at my youth and see the good things the Church provided for me then. And it was also fun to read about your interfaith marriage. Your husband sounds like a great guy.

    Martie, I can see how you would find a lot of comfort in the idea that you could raise your children in the millenium. If my little toddler died, I’d probably cling to that too at this point in my life. As for community, I value that tight-knit quality too. My problem is that I’m starting to realize I could have that kind of community in other religions and congregations – ones whose teachings of inclusivity resonate more with my spirit.

  20. Gwen says:

    What I love most about church is that it is a community of people who are trying to improve. No one is perfect (although at times some members forget this and act as though they are), and I feel that as individuals grow and develop in the gospel, so is the organization itself (regarding it’s history). I love that I don’t need to be a perfect person, or expect perfection from other people, but that I can grow and learn and develop through the years. I think one of the hardest parts of this growth though is recognizing that just as I need forgiveness from others for my past mistakes, others will need that of me, even if they are too proud to ask for it.

  21. Stacy says:

    Being married for twenty years to a non member was not an ideal path for me. Raising two children in a part member family has been difficult. But through our love for each other we have managed mutual respect, love of service and to watch our children grow into Young adults who share gospil priciples and integrity, honor and moral fortitude. I’m glad I have Jeff and someday we will walk hand in hand into the sealing room of a temple. Through prayer, attend all three meetings, and put others above self you will find the path to what is right.

  22. Em says:

    I went to a UCC church and the Mormon church every week for years, too, although for a different reason. My husband is a professional organist and worked at a UCC church, so I went each week to support him, but grew to love the people there. We made great friends, and I was touched at how they took us in and accepted us completely. For me, comparing their doctrines and worship style with the one I grew up with has brought into sharp focus the parts of Mormonism that I wish were different; for my husband it’s a major factor in his waning testimony of The Church. But in spite of that, he values the Word of Wisdom and Mormon teachings about sexuality, and believes sticking with these teachings has made a real difference in his happiness. Funnily enough, I’m not so sure drinking wine or having premarital sex would have made me unhappy. As much as I chafe at the rigidity of the Church hierarchy sometimes, I like the idea of a prophet as an anchor to God in the Church. I’ve watched my husband’s church struggle with a leadership vacuum, and that’s one thing we don’t deal with in Mormonism.

  23. Maverick says:

    Caroline, I’m recently new to reading this blog, but your two recent posts spoke right to me.

    Two summers ago I became very disillusioned by the church and haven’t felt right since. The social issues really hinder my feeling anything close to a spiritual connection with God when I am at the church (the rigid gender roles, the male hierarchy, the stance on gays, etc). I wanted to high-tail it out of there, but my therapist (did I really just start a sentence with that!!), who is an atheist, said that she thought it was really important to stay involved with the church because I would be losing too much if I left only because I was feeling like it had to be socially constructed rather than Truth From God and disagreed with a lot of the social constructs.

    I’ve spent the last 2 years thinking about this very question. What would I be losing? What specific teachings have been valuable? What do I gain from being involved?

    So…I don’t really know yet. I have been trying during this time and I still don’t know. My husband says I can’t see beyond the gender stuff. Which I can’t. Doesn’t make sense to me that God cares as much about gender as the church seems to…. Seems like we got stuck in a 1950s timewarp, why does it make sense that God did too?

    I guess I feel like my project right now is to find the answer to your question. I’m a little blinded by my feelings on certain issues, but every now and then I get a glimpse of what it could be like, trying to make my own meanings and my own experience out of my church membership. If I don’t think God is gendered or cares a lot about gender, great! I can have that experience, I can find meaning going to church with that as my very own understanding about God.

    And I also find myself trying to navigate a marriage with a husband who is very devoted to the church. We can talk about everything and we agree about so many things that are wrong with the social issues, but at the end of the day, he still feels God in the church and feels like it is God’s church. And it is hard for him that I don’t arrive at the same conclusions at the end of our talks.

    Mostly, I am just saying, it was really great to hear that someone else is going through this too. No answers from me, just a great big: ME TOO SISTER.

  24. Caroline says:

    Your experience mirrors mine in so many ways. I’m very glad you’ve found our blog here – many of us are on this journey you describe. How to stay and appreciate the good things the church offers us, while at the same embracing our convictions of gender equality, social progression, and the good things that other belief systems offer us and the world. And balancing all that with families or spouses that are not on the same page with us. Please do keep commenting – I love hearing what you have to say.

  25. Marie says:

    I just found this website also. I joined the church in my early 30’s, twenty years ago. I have been very active, but recently I have struggled with some of those guilty feelings. One year ago, I married a man who joined the church after we met. This was completely his idea and decision. In fact, I asked him several times not to do it unless he believed. He assured me that he did, but he was ready to join before he knew much about the church. Though he does attend church with me, I do not believe he truly has a testimony. I think he joined for what he thought was the right reason – me – but he seems oblivious to the teachings he learned and (supposedly) accepted when he took the missionary discussions. On the other hand, some of his thoughts have caused me to question some aspects of the church. However, the issue that has really made me question, is the fact that my son has come out of the closet. I watched this young man try to self-destruct for years. It all makes sense to me now – he didn’t know what to do with his feelings of same sex attraction, knowing that the world despised gays, and that the church didn’t accept it either. Though he hasn’t been with anyone, he is so much happier now that he has admitted it to himself. I have been the RS President in my new ward for almost a year, and I’m really struggling with guilt over my feelings about some of the church doctrine. Anyway, I guess I’m just kind of venting. It’s difficult to find someone with an objective view to share my thoughts with. Thanks for listening.

  26. Caroline says:

    Hi Marie,
    My thoughts are with you. Finding yourself in the position of questioning certain church policy or doctrines can be painful, I know. I am wishing you inspiration and insight in your journey.

    One thing that has helped me is coming to the conclusion that it doesn’t have to be all or nothing when it comes to the Church. You can choose to embrace those ideas that empower you and your family, rejoice in the good things you do see in your Church community, and reject those that don’t empower. That’s how I approach the gay issue. I’m hoping for the day when all will be welcomed within the Church community, actively gay or not.

  27. Marie says:

    Caroline – thanks for your response. I’m just curious about your thoughts on the temple? Now that I’ve finally found a good man to be sealed to, I don’t feel worthy, according to the church’s view of worthiness. Lots of guilt, especially since I am the RS Prez. In all honesty, I would like to give it up, but don’t want to go into it all with my bishop or anyone else.

  28. Caroline says:

    Hi Marie,

    If you’d like to be sealed to your husband, I say go for it. If your guilt is about having questions or disagreements with the Church, don’t let that stop you from going. Sustaining your leaders doesn’t mean agreeing with them on everything. There are plenty of other Mormons who are actively involved in the Church, appreciate it for its good things, but don’t believe everything.

    That said, if you don’t believe that the temple sealing would be meaningful for you, then I probably wouldn’t go and just go through the motions. I’d just figure that God knows your heart and will make sure everything will turn out in the end.

    That’s how I would approach this stuff, at least.

    Good luck with navigating this journey, Marie. I know it’s difficult and painful – I’m hoping there will be some joy and growth for you as well.

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