Image result for satanic smurfsThis was an interesting article I recently read by an Evangelical-raised woman about the things that happened in her life where she felt a disconnect with what her church told her. The article was titled “How I Became a Heretic (or How the Evangelical, Conservative Church Lost Me). Some of her moments included:

  • When, at age 7, she was told the Smurfs were Satanic.
  • When, at age 14, she was told by a youth pastor that her body led men to sin, and she understood that what men said was more important than her own instincts or conscience.
  • When at 15 she saw that handing out tracts was more important than helping those in need.
  • When at 29, her friend came out as gay and said that he couldn’t stay in the church without killing himself because of the harmful messages, so he chose to live.
  • When she saw her church being taken over by the Republican Party and became an in-club for white, middle-class America.
  • When she saw that saying “Oh my God” was considered blasphemy, but spreading lies in God’s name was OK.
  • When the church said drinking wine was different in Jesus’ time.
  • When she watched others who struggled being cast off and marginalized so that her church could retain its comfort with how it interpreted scriptures. When she saw border-policing and isolationism becoming more important than people.
  • When she saw pastors saying “come as you are,” but really meaning that they hoped to change them into conforming clones or be cast out eventually.
  • When she was told to examine her life for sin after a miscarriage.
  • When she was told that women can “bring a message,” because only men can preach.
  • When she was told that at least her Vietnamese adopted baby was “not black.”
  • When she said what she genuinely believed and was punished and shunned for it.
  • When she saw the difference between Jesus abandoning the rules to reach out to marginalized people and the church telling her to monitor her skirt length and word choices.
  • When she saw that the emphasis on being polite and soft-spoken was just to make those in charge more comfortable.
  • When virginity was called her “most precious gift.” When she was told premarital sex would ruin her life and relationships forever, and they were wrong.
  • When she saw the church cast itself as a victim despite continually disenfranchising and abandoning those who were different, who were seeking God.

Image result for equal rights amendmentI can quite easily think of some of my own “you lost me” moments, and some of them would be similar to hers. A few have a more uniquely Mormon flavor to them.

  • When I was 10 and found out that the church was opposed to ERA after I had smugly convinced myself that whatever was right was what the church would do, so obviously that would include women being paid equally for equal work.
  • When I was a teenager, and my seminary teacher told me I couldn’t be a Mormon if I didn’t accept polygamy.
  • When I was listening to General Conference and a speaker said that the reason we use “thee” in prayer is to show respect for deity (and not because it’s the familiar form). I was, again, smugly thinking he would give the answer I knew in my linguistic-majoring brain was right. And he didn’t, instead making God a more distant, foreboding presence, not someone we could seek to know intimately.
  • When E. Ballard mocked the big bang theory in his Gen Conf talk, and the conference center chuckled in agreement.
  • November 5.
  • The doubling down on gender roles that don’t suit me. The sexism in the temple and in other teachings.

Those are just a couple of mine. And yet, and yet . . .

Image result for lds hugWhat I think the article really missed out on (perhaps the author doesn’t see it this way) is the inherent tension in belonging to a church. There’s a very powerful flip side, moments when the church “had me at hello”[1]. These are moments that still pull me back into my church community [2], every time I think of them. I can write this list all the live long day, too. There are many, many of these moments.

  • When a woman I’ve known for a decade came up to me out of the blue and thanked me for always keeping it real at church with my fresh comments.
  • When I saw how much the church improved the lives of some of the families I baptized on my mission.
  • When I heard that a wealthy family in the ward paid to have someone’s roof replaced when they were out of town because they knew this family really needed it. (Also, I suggested that this person be reassigned as my Home Teacher, but that didn’t happen. Rats.)
  • When my kids’ youth leaders just showed up for my kids’ school performances and to cheer them on. That still makes me misty-eyed.
  • When I needed a babysitter in PA for my high school reunion (after being out of state for 20 years and having no local relatives), and I just called up a random ward member from my youth who referred me to a woman I didn’t even know who agreed to do it. I’ve been (internet) friends with this random woman ever since.
  • When a guy in our ward gave his talk and it was more than 50% about tacos.
  • When my good friend whose politics are utterly wretched to me goes out of her way to chat with me about all sorts of things, including women’s rights and racism and church news, and she always keeps it real. [3]
  • When I think back on my own life choices and see how the church has steered me away from some of the biggest pitfalls to which I might have been prone.
  • Finding and participating in the bloggernacle and all of the interesting people I’ve met here.
  • When at 15, I was asked to lead the music in sacrament meeting and also asked to substitute teach my own Sunday School class. Being trusted and feeling needed at such a young age really made me feel good.

When I think about my two lists, I see some patterns. For one thing, my first list is often things originating with church leadership, far outside of my day-to-day interactions, although by no means exclusively. Local ward members can do and say some pretty awful things. But the things that pull me back in are almost always local, personal experiences. If you had asked me at age 19 which was better, the local ward or church headquarters, I would have without hesitation said church headquarters was better in that local people were often bigoted, ignorant, didn’t hold confidences, didn’t know what the heck they were talking about, gave boring lessons, were terrible parents, etc.

One lesson I have learned from being in this church is that when I find someone who says or does something awful or objectionable or ignorant or just plain wrong, when I’ve gone out of my way to befriend that person rather than cut them off, I have universally found there to be more good than bad, more things to love than to hate, more benefit to myself than drawback. Those awful things don’t usually go away. They are just balanced by the good. There is a tension. [4]

But the longer I have lived, and the more I have engaged with the church as an adult, the more I see that the beauty in Christian worship is the community of believers, that awful, yet somehow redeemed community. I would love to see the church handle this tension more gracefully. On a good day, it does. More often that’s a big part of the flawed community, an inability to embrace various viewpoints, to see past the obvious divide. Rather than getting to know more about someone, it’s so much easier to dismiss, marginalize, trump them with authority (scientific, church leadership, or scholarly). It’s still my first choice, obviously. But I know I must continue to do better, to be the change I want to see. The tension is a feature, not a bug.

  • What things are on your list that pull you back in?
  • How do you handle the tension of the awful and the redemptive in your own experience?


[1] Jerry Maguire quote.

[2] Allusion to the Godfather.

[3] She is sassy and fierce, and for some unfathomable reason has aligned herself with Satan politically; she can even agree with the Proclamation, albeit in an eye-rolling condescending way (like a head pat to men, the little dears, who apparently have to have certain things or they will take their ball and go home).

[4] Maybe that’s a lesson that should be applied to the politically divided country these days, but it’s nearly impossible to execute. It’s not easy stuff. I can’t understate how hateful and terrible some of the bad things are.