This week current W&T bloggers discussed the merits of “middle way mormonism,” triggered by seeing friends and associates, again and again, “biting the dust.” A few of us wanted to blog about what we feel are the dynamics at play and create a series of posts that are in conversation with each other. Happy Hubby’s post earlier today introduced the topic.
Before I jump in I wanted to define “middle way mormonism.” By chance last night a friend sent me this “faith crisis survey” that was done back in 2011, I really liked how they defined it:
Middle Way Mormonism defined, I think, is something people reach only if they had been in a believer stage previously defined by more black and white thinking based on certainty. I know people who grew up with nuanced beliefs and I don’t think they are as susceptible to “biting the dust” as many who go through what I like to call a “certainty crisis.” One of my friends who grew up with nuanced beliefs is in the family of a GA, so it exists in a variety of forms.
My story starts back when I lived in Virginia in 2011 and started reading Modern Mormon Men and realizing some posts were able to verbalize some issues I’d had for a while. I started experiencing cognitive dissonance for a lot of reasons, for one an answer to prayer that conflicted w prophets’ teachings on the role of women. Another is researching historical issues and learning about Joseph translating with a seer stone (and many other things) and being told I was reading anti-mormon lies. Researching issues led me to discover social issues, starting with feminism, that answered a lot of questions about where I was at as I was rebuilding my world view (a lot of things fell apart for me out in Virginia).
So I’d say I’ve been through about 7 years of deconstruction and reconstruction of my faith. The rock bottom is when I allowed myself to question everything, “what if none of this is true” and my answer was that either way I think what matters most in this life is how we treat others. That was my first step to reconstruction. Another thing I think I had going for me is (have you heard Gina Colvin say she always has been and always will be a “God girl”?) that I’ve had spiritual experiences about the existence and love Jesus has for me that I will always be a “Jesus girl.” Even if I leave Mormonism I will always be seeking Jesus. So in that sense I emerged from my crisis a Christian first and Mormon second. I have a full belief that many people access and participate in the Gospel of Jesus Christ in a variety of churches and ways — and that Mormonism is a place just as credible as anywhere else to do so.
As I was “spiritually wandering,” as I was trying to reconstruct my faith and find a way forward, I think I was lucky that in Rexburg I had become friends with a handful of Mormon historians. As I read their work and spent time among the community I think I found a group of people who knew everything I was just finding out and they were making things work for them. Reading a lot of their work helped, as did things like the Maxwell Institute and Dialogue Podcasts, esp this one. It helped me even more to take history classes on campus at BYUI about how historians think and understand things in their context and train my brain to think that way. Also, I increasingly cared about issues of race, gender, and sexual orientation in the church the more that I learned about them. I came to hope that the church would begin to make changes in these areas.
So with that context behind me I’d like to present my thesis: if you are staying in the church and your main reason is to help change it, I don’t think you will make it very long.
Over and over I’ve seen people try to stay to improve it from the inside and eventually they will burn out, lose patience, and leave. If you would like to stay in the Church with nuanced belief here are some things that have worked for me the last few years (that may or may not work for you, tbh):
- I continue to have a strong testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ: faith, repentance, baptism, forgiveness, grace, and mercy. Grace to the millionth degree
- I ensure that my spiritual bucket being filled is not dependent on Sunday meetings. I regularly seek out podcasts, expanded religious studies (including conferences and book talks, etc.), hikes in nature, community service, etc.
- The main thing at church holding spiritual significance for me is partaking of the sacrament as I find it an important aspect of the Gospel of Jesus Christ I’m primarily converted to. Making and keeping covenants remains a significant aspect of my spiritual life. Connected to this is my attendance every week focuses on the challenge of loving my neighbors.
- I also believe all man-made organizations to be systemically imperfect and broken. The US Government? Academia? All churches? Yep. I’m reminded that after the November policy was released three years ago I laid in bed heartbroken trying to figure out if and how I could ever walk into a church building again. I was listening to Hamilton and the lyrics, “The constitution’s a mess / so it needs amendments / it’s full of contradictions / so is independence” hit me like a ton of bricks. I’ve been able to walk through the doors of church ever since then.
- I also believe that our participation in all of these institutions means we’re complicit in the oppression of others. Should I leave the United States and give up my citizenship because of the terrible abuses of the past *and* present? Should I not participate in higher education that is inherently built to advantage those of privilege? Should I stop watching all NFL and college football because they profit off the physical and fiscal exploitation of mostly black bodies? Should I stop eating Nestle chocolate because they use child slaves in their production? These are questions all of us need to answer and tbh I answer ‘yes’ on the last two, but it’s nearly impossible to remove ourselves from all complicity.
- I used to be where many certain, apologists are and I used to have little patience for them until I came to forgive and love my former self. They are still frustrating but I used to be them, so give your past self and others grace.
- Have a community or network of like minded people to vent to in real life.
- My family relationships are stronger with me in the church. This is just one of many reasons why I stay.
- Ultimately I would love for my big mouth to be a part of change in the church. But we’re talking about a glacier and it’s a long game. Lower your expectations. Good, now lower them again.
When I think of all of the ties that leave me tethered to the church I realize I have quite a few: the testimony of my ancestors, my heritage, that this is my first and natural language of faith, my marriage, my family, that I access the Gospel here, the radical and expansive theology we started with, the testimonies of black Saints, that I would like to be a part of change, etc. The list goes on.
To be honest it doesn’t have a lot to do with belief because depending on the day my belief swings anywhere from “shall the youth of Zion falter” to “agnostic choosing to believe.” I still find that my reconstructed faith is worth participating in, it brings me value, and it brings me hope. I’ve just started a lifetime of study to learn more about Mormonism and its strengths and weaknesses, its beauty and its scars. I hope to see some of you along for the ride.