Friday, July 25, 2014

# 47: Doubters are Multiplying and Replenishing

Every day, another Mormon stumbles onto Mormon Think, and has his or her testimony dashed to pieces.  Every single day.

The Internet is not going away, and the issues that cause people to lose their testimonies are not going away.  In fact, the presence of the Internet is growing.  And the research that calls into question the claims of the LDS Church is growing, and is being distributed more and more, every day.  The doubters are multiplying and replenishing.

What do Mormons do when they lose their testimonies?  Some leave.  Some stay.  There's no easy way to deal with the information critical of Mormonism so prevalent on the Internet.  Leaving is hard, and staying is hard.  Life is hard.

Those who stay, despite not believing all or some of Church doctrine, are sometimes referred to as cultural Mormons, or New Order Mormons, or cafeteria Mormons, or doubters.  I like to say that I'm behaviorally orthodox but theologically unorthodox.  Well... I like to say that in cyberspace.  In real life, I'll probably give you the impression that I'm a happy Mormon sheep in the happy Mormon flock.  And in some ways, I am.

I'm one of those who intend to stay, for the rest of my life.  And I'm not muddling along in quiet agony.  I'm not staying only until my family or work situation changes so that leaving is easier.  I'm in this thing for the long haul.  I find living the Mormon religion to be spiritual and meaningful, and there are many times when I feel that God wants me to stay.  To borrow from a favorite hymn, "Stay Mor-mon, Stay Mor-mon, Oh, there's One who smiles on high, when we stay Mor-mon."

I feel God nudging me to stay.  I've prayed a lot, not as much as I should lately, but, seriously, I've done deep and long soul-searching and studying and praying and thinking about staying LDS.  (Religion is the most important subject in the world, and it deserves strict attention and serious study, and solemn hours of pondering.)  And after all that searching, the conclusion that I've come to is that I should stay LDS.

And there are others like me.  There are other people who don't believe everything they hear at church, who don't believe that the Book of Mormon is a literal book of history, but who keep going to church anyway, because they want to share the religion with their families, because they want to be a part of the beautiful Mormon community, and because of so many other reasons, some of which are enumerated on this blog.

I've met some of these people in real life, and I've chatted with quite a few of them on New Order Mormon and  Again, I emphasize, there are more and more New Order Mormons being created every day.  

Why is this a reason to stay LDS?  Well, the more New Order Mormons there are in the Church, the more acceptable they eventually will be.  And even if New Order Mormons aren't officially welcomed by the LDS Church, their increasing population will probably mean that there will be more positive changes in the church.  These changes will make church more accommodating to New Order Mormons.  What changes might there be?  Well...

Maybe we won't sing "Praise to the Man," anymore.  Maybe there won't be so much pressure on young men to serve missions.  Maybe the Sunday School lessons won't be quite as whitewashed and dumbed-down.  Maybe there will be more financial transparency in the church, and maybe they'll open up the vaults in Salt Lake City and let historians do their thing.  Maybe tithing settlements will be discontinued.

I hope these changes are on the horizon.  But even if these changes never come about, that's okay with me.  Generally speaking, I'm happy with the Church the way it is.  And instead of advocating for institutional change, like Kate Kelly, I think my time is more wisely spent doing different things.  I'm trying to be the change I want to see in the church.  I'm trying to do my best to bring out the best parts of Mormonism on a small, local level, as I participate in my ward and as I raise my children.

If you're going through a faith crisis, you may feel alone.  And yes, there are few of us New Order Mormons, but again, our numbers are growing.  I hope you can take some comfort in knowing that there are more and more doubters every day.   Eventually, the Church will have to do something to make members like us feel more welcomed.

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  1. "Eventually, the Church will have to do something to make members like us feel more welcomed."

    Or, they will continue to do what they've always done which is to marginalize those who are unorthodox, threaten people with discipline when they share true, but inconvenient, information with others, and occasionally excommunicate those who refuse to accept every word of their leaders as if from God's mouth.

    This has been the drill for longer than either of us has been alive. What indication is there that this will change anytime soon?

  2. For what it's worth, a couple of things that help me with "hard teachings" within the Church are as follows:

    Jesus taught that “Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.” Upon hearing this, many of Jesus’ disciples considered it to be a “hard saying.” Basically, they thought it was too weird -- not to mention unclean -- so they “walked with him no more.” But his apostles? When they were asked, “will ye also go away?” and subsequently responded, “to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life” — does that mean that they stayed with Jesus because they understood the teaching better than the disciples who departed? Not likely. Might they have thought it was a hard -- or “weird” or “unclean” teaching as well? Possibly. But not until they chose to stay with Jesus because of their faith in him -- taking a couple of steps into the dark, as it were -- did they later learn the beauty of the symbolism behind this ordinance of the Sacrament.

    This can easily apply in our lives when we’re faced with doubts and “hard teachings.” I really like Christ’s direction unto the people he visited in the New World after his resurrection (found in 3 Nephi in the Book of Mormon) which could have easily applied to those disciples who had just heard him give his Bread of Life sermon. He instructs, “I perceive that ye are weak, that ye cannot understand all my words which I am commanded of the Father to speak unto you at this time. Therefore, go ye unto your homes, and ponder upon the things which I have said, and ask of the Father, in my name, that ye may understand, and prepare your minds for the morrow, and I come unto you again.” Can this not be applied to any “hard teaching” that comes our way? Not to mention the ever famous “... I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost. And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.” That applies to ALL “hard teachings” as well. (Part of the faith crisis, I know, is when we go through this process with a sincere heart as we seek for answers and are still left wanting, but for me, that's where eternal perspective and believing in future learning and future answers kicks in).

    Another thought — when considering the existence of thousands of different Christian denominations out there today, it’s easy to imagine how something like that can start... for example, what if some of those disenfranchised disciples said something like, “You know, we actually liked about 98% of what Jesus had to say, so let’s go and start a church based on that 98% of good stuff he preached and just leave out that bit about eating flesh and blood...”

  3. Previous comment continued...

    Those who readily embrace baptism and the sacrament as beautiful symbols of Christ's love (even though others outside of Christianity see them as "weird") are ready to denigrate additional LDS temple symbolism and covenants as "weird." And then we're right back to those first disciples who "walked with Jesus no more."

    Another example is from Luke 24. When reading it last, I was reminded of some details from the account of the two disciples as they walked the road to Emmaus. They had just heard the good news from the women who had been visited by two angels at the empty tomb that Jesus had risen from the dead. Yet, “their words seemed as idle tales, and they believed them not.” Jesus joins the two disciples as they’re walking, but “their eyes were holden that they should not know him.” Jesus asks them what they’re talking about “as ye walk, and are sad...”

    So, from this story I understand that these disciples, these believers in Christ -- these Christians -- were NOT able to believe such a fantastical story that Jesus was now living again. Despite the eye-witness account from several women of the angels’ declaration and Peter and John’s discovery of the empty tomb. Then, by verse 31, their eyes are opened and the recognize Christ, they said to one another “Did not our heart burn within us, while he talked with us by the way, and while he opened to us the scriptures?” Which led me to the conclusion that a witness by the Spirit can testify of truth to something that is wholly incomprehensible and doesn’t make sense. Anti-mormon advocates often mock the testimony of LDS converts who say that the Spirit has such a large part of why we join, why we stay, why we continue to believe and it shouldn’t be valid reason to do so amidst all the obvious evidence to the contrary of LDS doctrines. Did not the Spirit convey to the apostles that there was more to the story when they were taught the hard saying “Whoso eateth my flesh and drinketh my blood shall have eternal life” ? And didn’t the Spirit convey to the two disciples on the road to Emmaus that the “impossible” story that Jesus was alive could be something other than impossible?

    These are some scriptural examples I lean on when I come up against discrepancies about a historical or literal Book of Mormon or _____ fill in the blank with any other "hard" doctrine. These biblical examples lead me to let the Spirit be just as real and persuasive while I'm reasoning it all out.