It’s been a long time since we’ve talked…or rather, from my perspective, it’s been a long time since I’ve tried to talk to you, since from my perspective, we have never talked. Maybe I have the wrong number, but from my perspective, every time I call, I don’t get an answering machine, dial tone, or even one of those courtesy, “We’re Sorry! Your call cannot be connected…” messages. Instead, I am well acquainted with silence from the other end. A silence that each time makes me wonder why I was even there in the first place.
Maybe I’m just doing this whole prayer thing wrong. (I mean, I am aware that this sort of letter isn’t quite in line with Matthew, although since I am writing from my room, maybe that counts?) Maybe I’m supposed to figure out that the number is wrong. Maybe this is all just a hoax that my friends and family have been playing on me by continually insisting that I get in contact with you. Because that’s why I’m here, you know. Even now. My upbringing trains me to consider you seriously, even if from my perspective, I don’t have any personal record or recollection of your contact.
I don’t want to sound too bent out of shape over this. But maybe that introduction will help explain what I would like to say next.
The reason it’s been a long time since I’ve tried to talk to you is that, for several years now, I have actually been pulling away (in parts, in pieces) from that training of my upbringing, and seeing what it means to live my life without trying to keep in contact every day. Seeing what it means to live outside of a long distance relationship.
It turns out that I am not alone. I am one of the third in my generational cohort who is a None when it comes to affiliation with religious institutions. I am aware that of that third, we are not all the same, especially in the aspect I will share next — I identify as agnostic and atheist (notwithstanding this letter to you. Or does this letter override my self-labeling?)
Even if most of my fellow millennials who are Religious Nones wouldn’t go so far as to say they are atheist or agnostic, chances are that many of them do happen to see similarly to me when it comes to a particular reason we find so much difficulty with the institutions that claim to be your agents on earth: in addition to being a religious none, in addition to being an agnostic, in addition to being atheist, I am a progressive liberal sort of guy. Maybe this is a personal flaw, maybe this is youth and this is inexperience and this is naiveté, maybe this is something you have put in side me as a challenge to overcome, but nevertheless, I feel that these sentiments run to my core and represent the culmination of many of my life experiences.
Why do I bring this up to you? Well, in your omniscience (if you have that? …your followers often say you do), you probably already know, but I bring this up because I have a problem with the fact that many of your most devout followers — though they may disagree on many theological points and have many religious and denominations — tend to be the staunchest opponents of the progressive liberal causes that arouse my sympathies. Even more, they claim their motivation is following you and your ways.
You know I was raised Mormon, a denomination that even those who might consider it to be insufficiently Christian will still admire and envy for its ability to better instill and inculcate a mature, grounded, lasting faith, and yet here I am, looking from the outside than the inside. What happened?
Well, Mormonism happens to be a good example — but just a microcosm of the same sort of thing that’s happening in many other denominations and religions — of what’s turning many of us liberal progressive young adults off.
I could talk to you about LGBT issues, I could talk about the sense that we must walk on eggshells when talking about our doubts, I could talk about so many things…but for now, the recent issue I will talk about is women in the LDS church.
You know that recently, a group of faithful LDS women, “Ordain Women,” requested tickets to the Priesthood session of the LDS church’s General Conference. You know that they ask for the LDS church leadership to take the matter of ordination for women to you. You know that the church rebuffed them, meeting their request for equality and fellowship with the ordained brethren with a suggestion that they should instead demonstrate in the free speech that have long been established “for those wishing to voice differing viewpoints” — but most commonly the place for anti-Mormons to protest. My coblogger here at Wheat & Tares, Jeff, has already written about this, and indeed, I have already written too, but though this issue relates specifically to Mormonism (although gender role issues are certainly not unique to Mormonism), I wanted to write about this from a more general perspective.
I know you probably get people complaining to you a lot about why you allow injustice in the world. It’s apparently enough of a trope that your followers have developed a response in anticipation of what you would say:
But here’s the thing…when folks like the supporters of Ordain Women do what they can to try to “do something about” injustice (and I acknowledge that this “injustice” pales in comparison to much injustice in the world), and whenever liberal progressives of all sorts of stripes try to do what they can about the injustices they see on many issues, I find that many conservative religious adherents will instead say:
There will still be hurt feelings.While this probably will generate more publicity for them, If the Lord wants them to have the Priesthood [or whatever liberal/progressive cause], it will happen in His own way in His own time, maybe never.
Remember, it is THY will be done, not my will. Even Jesus respected that. this is clearly a matter of pride, the wrong kind, IMO.
Clearly a matter of pride, the wrong kind.
Maybe the statistics are outdated or the methodology flawed, but when the basic statistic thrown is that some 90% of LDS women oppose women’s ordination, I wonder what shall I do.
When many of the adherents of what I see to be a basically unjust system remark that not only is that status quo right, but it is divinely commissioned by God (and wanting things to be different is “clearly a matter of pride”), I wonder what shall I do.
For the faithful LDS proponents of Ordain Women, the answer to this question is to agitate faithfully for priesthood ordination. I totally have respect for them and their efforts.
But for me, and for many folks in my generation, that option doesn’t come up as one of the viable options. Instead, when I ask: what shall I do?, the following possibilities come to mind:
Shall I lament your impotence?
If I still even am willing to entertain that you exist, that this letter is even going anywhere, shall I concede that perhaps the you really can’t convey a message of justice and equality and fairness to those who claim to be his adherents? To be fair, I know many liberal and progressive adherents of religion who suggest just this — especially in the case of Mormonism. That you are a God who weeps because you watch the suffering that we experience with the understanding that unless we can prove that we’re doing it, we can’t have it all.
Shall I defy your injustice?
Shall I recognize that maybe equality is not the Lord’s will? That those sentiments and inclination and desires that so speak to the deepest part of me as an identified liberal progressive are folly at best and a ticket to my damnation at worst? Yet, even if I concede this, will my heart acquiesce? I know what is written, and maybe this is just clearly a matter of pride, the wrong kind, but even if I concede this, I fear that if asked to go for an eternity defying your injustice, I would resign myself to the Sisyphean task.
Shall I renounce your alleged followers?
Perhaps I have been seeing things too narrowly. As I stated earlier, maybe I have the wrong number. Maybe my upbringing in this Mormon religion, my upbringing in a community of conservative religious folks, has been too limiting to my spiritual development. Maybe that internal sense that there is something better is not a false implant…maybe you do recognize equality (even if I can’t recognize you in my deep yearning for it because of my upbringing) and you do implement it in your own ways, but the Mormon church and other conservative churches just aren’t the places where this work is accomplished.
I am not like all the members of my generational cohort of “nones,” so perhaps what I will say next is premature, but I feel that whenever a person walks away from organized religion (and especially the conservative traditions of his or her upbringing), on his or her own path, that is another person who has confronted the question: what shall I do?