Letter to a doubting Mormon

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stay strongMy post about the LDS Church’s appointment of three new apostles earlier this week has garnered more than the usual comments — some in the public square on the blog and in the newspapers that picked it up on the wire, and some to my personal inbox.

One in particular I can’t stop thinking about.

A woman wrote to tell me that her husband, who is scheduled to baptize one of their children this weekend, is very upset over the new apostles’ callings, and is realizing how much it hurts him to have the church show, as she put it, “disregard to racial representation.”

“Just looking to connect with someone that has these feelings and yet despite real disappointment is not disaffected,” she wrote. She asked me if I am still going to stay active in the Church. She wants her family to stay active, and is struggling to find a way to help him reconcile his feelings.

I don’t think my response is adequate, but it’s the best I can come up with. Faith is a difficult thing to express — and even more difficult to persuade others to adopt. It’s so individually experiential. But this points to some of what keeps me going in the Church.

Dear Sister X,

Thank you for writing. I appreciate your reaching out to me in the midst of what is obviously a tough time for your husband and your family.

Yes, I am an active LDS church member, and I do sustain the apostles and the Quorum, even though as I said, I was disappointed that we will have to wait a little longer to have our first apostle of color.  I believe that it will happen over time, especially since several prominent members of the Seventy are people who represent many different nationalities and races, including this week’s announcement that Elder Gerrit W. Gong will be serving in the Presidency of the Seventy.

And today, Elder Joseph Sitati, the Kenyan member of the Seventy that I mentioned in the post, is going to be the keynote speaker at a conference at the University of Utah on race and the international church. I wish I could be there to hear him.

There are other signs of change too, like the 2013 Gospel Topics essay on race. That was a great step forward.

Changes like this are enough to keep me from getting too discouraged. And over the weekend, as I listened to the newly called apostles, I was impressed by their obvious dedication to God and their love for the Church. They are good and qualified men.

Do I wish that the highest leadership of the Church more closely reflected the racial and ethnic diversity of the Church rather than a legacy of white colonialism? You bet.

Do I believe that the Lord has in waiting many, many men of color who are also equally qualified to serve as apostles when the leadership is prepared to welcome them fully to the table? You bet.

Am I going to leave the Church because this change is not happening on my preferred timeline? No, I am not.

I sometimes wish, when readers ask me how I stay in the Church, that I could impart a sense of the spiritual blessings I get from staying active. I’ve never been able to manage to convey how much being Mormon has graced my life. Since I wasn’t always LDS, I can recognize many of the gifts the Church has given me.

But also since I was not raised LDS, I have never expected the Church to be perfect. The concept of a perfect institution is totally foreign to the way I was raised, as is the idea that revelation could occur without human agency and experience being a part of it as both blessing and obstacle. All human beings are creatures of our time and place in history.

While I am critical of some aspects of how the Church is administered, that doesn’t negate the fact that I see it as a fundamentally good institution. It’s not perfect — and for a few people it can even be harmful — but for me it has been, on the whole, a great blessing.

This in no way answers your husband’s question, because the truth is that he will have to get his own answers. They may be different than mine — and, more importantly and more painfully, than yours.

My hope is that this past weekend’s leadership change does not affect his testimony so much that he can’t baptize your child into what I believe to be a fundamentally good church that is trying to serve people. But if the issue is serious enough for him that it would feel like a violation of his conscience to baptize her right now, then he may need to honor that sense of discomfort by waiting.

He probably knows about this, but there are a number of helpful online resources to help Mormons who are going through questions and faith transitions, including the Mormon Matters podcast, the A Thoughtful Faith Facebook group and podcast, and the new Faith Transitions podcast, which just aired its first episode.

He is not alone.

P.S. If you have a thoughtful and kind comment you would like to leave for Sister X, please do so. USE “I STATEMENTS” and be considerate. If the essence of your comment is, essentially, “The prophet has spoken and the Lord’s ways are not our ways, so stop asking question and fall in line,” then take your perfect certainty about other people’s lives elsewhere.

  • ron

    The blessings ive received from my baptism and confirmation many years ago have far outweighed all the misspoken and indoctrinal comments ive heard from others and said myself for me to ever recommend delaying such a cherished opportunity to build faith by participating in a covenant with diety.

  • Devan Carlin

    It’s with a heavy heart I write these words, my only advice is love and compassion. I recently told my wife that I could no longer reconcile what I know with mormonism. The crying started and didn’t end for 3 days, on the 4rth she took our child and left to her parent’s house (even more fanatical than her). Her world was crushed, mormonism since birth is all she knew and all she was taught.
    I don’t hate her, abuse her, or mean to hurt her. I am not a bad person and I care deeply for her. I would put her before the church in our marriage, but when I was TBM I am not sure how I would have responded. I am bitter about her decision but if we don’t have a real foundation of marriage then there is no room for change and hard situations result in extreme rashness. I hope she will come back to me. God instituted the union between man and women, man’s church made it all conditional. Think clearly about who your husband is to you and your family and be strong for him.
    God Bless,
    Devan…

  • Porter

    This may not be the message she wants to hear, but there is life outside of the LDS Church! My family left the five years ago after two years of intensive study; the decision was a conscious decision we made together after much study and prayer.

    And I want you to know that my wife and I have never been happier. We are faithful to each other, we are committed to serving others with our kids, we have not become alcoholics or drug addicts, and we haven’t looked back. Our marriage is stronger than it has ever been! We spend more time together (no callings anymore) and we have a more equal partnership that is not based on priesthood patriarchy, but rather mutual respect and consideration for each other’s needs and wants. Please consider that your husband’s concerns are well founded, and you might want to listen carefully to what he has discovered. Who knows, you might just discover he is right.

  • Cat

    All I can offer is a shoulder to cry on. I’ve been the retained member for the past decade. I looked for anyone to help but couldn’t find it. I appreciate Jana working to share some of her feelings. It is hard to see why people stay when those descriptions aren’t shared very often. Sadly more are leaving than staying and none of us can fix it. I will think hopeful thoughts for you. You both have big decisions ahead of you. I pray you will find peace, courage, and an answer that is true for you as you go along. Please know that others are going down the same road. Each of us blindly. The light ahead seems to be our best guesses. Don’t beat yourself up for not having the answers or being different. There has been no preparation for the disaffection tide that presently rocks the church. Look at all that is good inside you. Hug yourself extra tight. Good luck as you go along.

  • Allie

    To Sister X: It is so hard. In my experience the disillusionment is overwhelming when you love the Church so much and put so much hope in it. Like Jana I am a convert, and a big part of my testimony comes from the hope that I feel from the Mormon vision of Zion and how I have seen the Saints work together to enact that vision. So the times when like your husband I have felt us far from Zion, it has been so painful and heavy on the heart. Something that I have struggled with is coming to terms with the kind of harm that your husband has experienced, caused not by malice but by ignorance and/or fear in the Church. I have often wished that we could be above all of that as a church of Christ. Even more, I’ve wished that we could be more aware of the harm because when people do not acknowledge it and instead defend the Church and insist that there is nothing wrong, it feels a lot worse.

  • Allie

    What Jana said–“the Lord has in waiting many, many men of color who are also equally qualified to serve as apostles when the leadership is prepared to welcome them fully to the table”–is something that has helped me through, to remember that God’s timeline depends in part on us because He has to work with us and can only give certain blessings & revelation to the Church as a whole when we as a whole are ready to receive it, and I guess as a church we are in many areas closed off, stiff-necked and hardhearted. It has helped me to pray for the Church’s heart to be softened and eyes opened, and also for our leaders and each of us who may need it, for all of us as a body, and as we become better collectively I understand that we are paving the way for more revelation & progression for the whole church. But it is hard not to feel anxious or impatient, especially with our leaders in the 15 who are the very ones who need to receive that revelation on our behalf.

  • Allie

    When I didn’t think I could keep going to church it helped me to keep going for the Sacrament and the strength that came from it, for me and I know for everybody partaking together. Recently it has also helped me to seek out passages of scripture that speak to the healing power of the Atonement and to know that we will be healed even from the pain that comes from being a part of the Church and striving toward Zion with all of the messiness of error and harm from within. To know that in the times when the Church may fail us, Christ will carry even that burden. “And I will also ease the burdens which are put upon your shoulders, that even you cannot feel them upon your backs, even while you are in bondage; and this will I do that ye may stand as witnesses for me hereafter, and that ye may know of a surety that I, the Lord God, do visit my people in their afflictions” (Mosiah 24:14). It has helped me too to feel the sorrow of Enoch in Moses 7 and of Mormon in Moroni 9.

  • Allie

    But that is all I know from my personal experience and I do not know if it is helpful. I hope it helps though as Jana says that you and your family are not alone because faith crises can feel lonely, especially when many people may love you deeply yet not understand why you are in great pain in your relationship with the Church. I hope that in person your family will have people to mourn with you as you mourn, comfort you as you are in need of comfort, people “who will open [their] hearts to [your] disappointments, fears, and heartaches” (Elder Renlund). Your husband’s hurt is real, and it is a hurt that I feel comes from him wanting with all his heart what Christ wants: for the marginalized to be represented, heard, and cared for. He wants the body of Christ to be whole and healed, and he feels so much where it is broken and suffering. And it is difficult in these circumstances to feel trust and hope with the Church.

  • Allie

    Institutional progress is slow and it is so tough when the institution in question is the church that you love and are a part of. Sometimes it is hard to keep in sight those bright lights that Jana points to, and other supportive people and experiences with the Spirit can help to keep those in sight. Other times it feels like the burden will not be lifted, and many days are dark, and waiting on God feels long, but take time and do whatever you guys need to do, for your emotional & spiritual health, and keep going knowing that he and you will make it out strong. Brokenhearted he is close to Christ, and Christ will take care of him! Praying with you. Love, Allie

  • Joel

    Your husband is not alone. In fact, I’m guessing that at least 10-20% of the active people in your ward are disillusioned about this or a myriad of other things. If that weren’t the case, there wouldn’t have been a dozen talks about ignoring troubling information, encouraging simple reliance on faith, and outright shaming of doubt.

    Buy time to cool off and reflect. Maybe the ultimate decision will be to stay, maybe to go. To buy time, (1) maybe your son is able to put it off a month or two. (2) Perhaps your husband could baptize and have grandpa confirm, which will require him to say a lot less. (3) Or—as countless men have done before—he could go through the motions, praying God to give him the strength of faith, which will avoid potentially regrettable drama. Who knows, maybe it will turn out to be “a testimony is found in the bearing of it” type moment.

  • Fred M

    What Jana said. I would also recommend your husband read The Crucible of Doubt ASAP (if he hasn’t already). It was a massive help to me as I grappled with a lot of these issues. The church and gospel have brought such joy and direction and peace and satisfaction to my life that I am committed to stay. Not just for my family, but for myself. I hope your husband is able to make peace with his struggle.

  • Allen

    Dear Brother and Sister X,

    This bothered me at a pretty deep level. I am still working through my own feelings about it. I have been struggling anyway for other reasons and this is one more thing. The last few days I have been closer to leaving the church than ever. I finally came to pray that I could find peace with the church somehow, within it if possible.

    That is what I wish. Perhaps it is what both of you wish for yourselves. If you have found value in belonging to the church or comfort in its doctrines, then I hope you will continue to try to find peace within the church before you give up.

    Nothing is permanent. Everything changes. I would like to think things will get better in the future. Things sometimes happen that surprise us, in good ways and bad ways, so better days may come unexpectedly. That last part almost sounds like a fortune cookie, but it is true.

    Also, there is real value in hanging tight when tough times hit.

    Peace,
    Allen

  • This morning I came to the comment thread expecting to have to delete a lot of remarks that would not fit the parameters I set yesterday for people to be kind and pastoral in responding to this family. But almost everyone stepped up to the plate in offering words that are heartfelt and caring. I only had to delete a couple of comments, and I want to tell you all how much I appreciate your kindness.

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  • Mike

    Sister x, like your husband, I too am troubled by the lack of diversity at the highest levels of the church. As a convert, I do see much that is good in the church while recognizing it is run by men who are not perfect. As a result, I choose to be a member. My wife who was raised in the church has left the church because of things like this. Far from ruining our marriage, I must say we have found a comfort and peace that we did not have when she was active and unhappy. Good luck to you and your family!

  • Trytoseeitmyway

    Look at your last sentence please. Isn’t that unfair? I appreciate that you want to be treated with respect, and your concerns trecognized as having validity. But do you see how your last sentence denies those very things to those who see things differently? Who, like Jana herself, might want to help you have the faith they have? It’s hard to know how anyone is supposed to do that if you’re going to dismiss the effort as “tiring to tell you there is nothing wrong.” It’s hard to understand how anyone is supposed to do that if you’re going to reject the well-meaning offer of help, advice or encouragement as “making it worse.” I acknowledge that I don’t know anything specific about individual interactions, but I don’t imagine that everyone who offers help, advice or a different way to evaluate some issue or other has done so out of meanness, disrespect or judgmentalism. So, find the kind and thoughtful ones and give them a chance, without retreating into “you’re…

  • … into”you’re making it worse.” It’s not that nothing is wrong. It is that no person, save One, and no institution has ever been perfect. It is that our ways aren’t God’s ways, and our thoughts aren’t God’s thoughts. There is risk of error in taking our own feelings and preconceptions, even when deeply held, to be our lodestar, especially when that leads us to doubt or even to deny the testimony and gifts of the Holy Spirit which brought us to the Gospel in the first place. I hope this makes nothing worse.

  • cnandrews

    You consider your wife a ‘fanatic’. You may not ‘hate her, abuse her, or mean to hurt her’, but you clearly see yourself as better than she.

    You say that ‘her world was crushed’, and that ‘the crying…didn’t end for 3 days’. These statements suggest your detachment from her pain, to the point of obliviousness. Finally, you admit your ‘bitterness’, and allude to the church being responsible for this falling out.

    It doesn’t seem like this development is an altogether undesirable one on your side.

  • cnandrews

    No ill will intended, but if inequality in your marriage was present due to priesthood patriarchy, then that priesthood was misunderstood and misadministered.

    On the other hand, very glad to hear that things are better in your home, regardless of how that came to be.

  • cnandrews

    Excellent suggestion – A wonderful book.

  • I guess I spoke to soon . . . I just deleted most of the recent comments.

    People, when I say that that the discussion for a particular post is going to follow some rules, I am not kidding about them. This woman’s pain is not an excuse for you to argue about the truth claims of Mormonism, nor is her family’s situation merely a springboard for you to dive in and explain why your view of truth is the One True Way — and in saying that I don’t frankly give a hoot whether those beliefs are Mormon or atheist or Pastafarian.

    LISTEN TO THIS PERSON’S PAIN. Do not troll this space searching for a platform for you to pontificate or fight. On this post, I have asked you to be particularly respectful, to use I statements, etc. If you have not done that your comment was deleted. And if this is a pattern — Debbie Stowcroft and Downtown Dave, I’m looking at you here — then you will be banned from the blog.

  • Bryan

    I have been researching lately and I think better men could have been chosen for the apostleship. My three choices are: 1)Joseph of Arimethia. Devote follower, ruling class, would have given credibility to the new religion. 2) The Roman centurion. Greater faith than all oF Israel. Would have been a great asset when bringing the gospel to the gentiles. 3) John the Baptist. Immediately recognized the Messiah. Gave everything including his life for the gospel. “Of those born of women there are none greater” and yet he was left out of the apostleship.

    Instead we received leaders who bickered amoung themselves, who were chastised for having little faith. Some doubted. The Lord called one “Satan”, one turned out to basically be satan, and the leader of them denied him three times.