So you Want me Back at Church?
Why? Do you really want ME? Do you really love me and want me to bring my whole self to church, just how I am right now? Or do you want my body there and not my mind and spirit? Do you need me to believe your creed and perform your checklist? Do you need me to bite my tongue about anything outside the whitewashed sacralized narrative?
Will you give me space to speak my mind even if I disagree with ward members, and especially if I disagree with church leaders? What if I cannot in good conscience sustain church leadership? Will you shame me if I don’t conform?
If I tell you the temple is painful for me, will you tell me I must not understand? If I tell you I spent over a year going weekly to an early morning session trying to work through the pain, pleading with God for peace, but the pain got worse? Will you tell me I didn’t pray hard enough or attend often enough, or in some other way my effort was not enough? Will you blame me if I didn’t feel the way you feel there?
Will you let me talk about my doubts? Or will you say doubters have weak character and are deceived by Satan? Will you say I am wandering toward the great and spacious building if I admit I no longer believe?
Will you judge me if I show up differently; dress differently than you? What if my shorts are a few inches above my knee? What if my shoulders show? What if I wear pants to church? What if I have more than one pair of holes in my ears? If you want me to look like you and act like you, you do not want me.
Will you tolerate my position that scriptures are not literally true events? Can I say that although I was taught the book of Mormon was a history of people on the American continent, I find that historical, archaeological, linguistic, genetic, botanical, and other evidence, does not support this claim? That when I read them, the stories seem farfetched and more like bedtime stories or tall tales than history? If you want me to keep silent about my disagreement, you do not want me.
Will you judge me if I stay home from meetings I am uninterested in, or that seem useless to me? Can I say a church meeting is useless, or will you choose to be offended?
Can I say “no” when you want my free labor?
Will you be okay with me expressing a belief that women should hold the priesthood and participate in all levels of church leadership? That women have been historically suppressed and undervalued in the church, their power and authority stripped and circumscribed by male leaders? Will you say that I just do not understand the special role of women (to support men and rear children)?
If I came to Sunday school can we talk about real church history? About Joseph Smith’s use of seer stones? His drinking alcohol? His land speculation and banking fraud? His coercion of underage plural brides? He was a complex character after all. Will you say I am expecting too much of leaders and they are flawed? Will you expect me to keep silent about my concerns? Will you expect me to be less flawed than church leaders?
If I am with you, will I be able to speak out against harmful practices the church has engaged in? Will I be able to ask for the church to change? To be more loving and accepting of those who are different? To apologize and make great efforts to support those they have victimized in the past? Or do you expect me to pretend all is well in Zion?
Are you willing to mourn with those that mourn? Will you listen if I tell you of my internalized shame and self-hatred from the teachings I grew up with in the church? That I never felt I could do enough or be good enough, no matter how hard I tried?
Will you listen when I tell you I spent decades in prayer and wrestle with God, looking for a firm testimony, and seeking to reconcile things like a God that loves men and women equally with a God that will ‘destroy’ a woman who won’t accept polygamy (D&C 132)?
Will you listen if I tell you I experienced trauma learning truths about the LDS church that I had loved and given all to? That I sought out and studied reliable sources and have spent the last few years processing my grief and pain. That the church’s modern social policies disappoint and pain me, and that historically it has made so many mistakes that I can’t believe it has any more direct leadership from God than any other institution?
Will you listen if I tell you I prayed before I stopped attending church on Sundays? That my decision was confirmed through a feeling of peace that it was okay to separate myself from the religion of my upbringing. Will you listen if I tell you God is not found only in the LDS church, and not only on Sundays in a chapel?
I am pretty sure, when you say you want me back in church, you don’t want me at all. You want a version of me that doesn’t exist anymore. It was an external shell that masked my true self, full of questions and doubts, who sat quietly in church and parroted the ‘correct’ answers. She couldn’t speak up because she knew it wasn’t okay to make waves. She did all that was expected of her. She submitted and submitted and she slowly died. After considering who I am now, do you want me back at church after all? If you do, make it a safe space for people like me. It isn’t.