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Letter to a doubting Mormon

Here I try to explain to a reader why I stay Mormon even when I sometimes disagree with or question the LDS Church. Good changes are happening, even if they are slower than I would like.

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.

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