Maybe I should have titled this, “The Road Many Travel, but Most Can’t Stay On.”
It was about 6 years ago when I first started my faith crisis. Most of the details are typical, but after the initial unsettling disillusionment I found apologetics. It felt like I had found that there were answers to the tough questions. Emotionally I felt much better and I actually talked a bit about my faith crisis a bit at church and my wife knew. At that point I framed it as I HAD a faith crisis – as in past tense. Not all my questions were answered, but I felt like there were answers if I put in the time to find them. My wife was disinterested and possibly fearful of the whole subject, but was just glad that was “done.”
I was actually excited for the challenge to find the answers and rather eagerly jumped into the pursuit of finding those answers and helping others that encountered the questions. I continued to eagerly serve and had several significant callings. But my studies quickly turned into finding most of the apologetic answers unfulfilling and required quite a bit of mental contortions to swallow . I studied hard for years to, “figure this all out” because I assumed it was all just as I had been taught. After about 2 years of this I felt like I was in a hole that I couldn’t stop digging, but all the dime getting deeper and deeper. One day I asked myself, “what if this isn’t ‘true’ like I was taught?”, but this time without the safety net of, “but of course it IS” in the back of my mind. One second later I was changed. I could no longer consider myself a full believer.
I am absolutely an introvert. I am not shy and when I feel like it I can work a room. I would much rather spend some time in a small group of friends than at a big party. In big groups I very often find myself observing and reading the room. I actually enjoy being a bit of a arm-chair sociologist in a setting and observing others interact.
I have been a member all my life and very active in an area that has only a few members. This has had the affect that almost all my close friends are members. I always felt others wouldn’t be as accepting of me because of my beliefs and behaviors. All my family are members and very active at that. So when I had this change of belief, I started intently studying others that were “ahead of me” on the path I felt I was on. I was looking for how to stay in the church when I no longer believed exactly like I had before. I looked at some of the, “New Order Mormon” movement and I found it interesting, but not quite the fit I was looking for. I found some individuals to study via blogs and podcasts. I really studied them as I needed to figure out how they were able to stay and stay in a way that appeared comfortable for them. Some have used the term, “Middle Way Mormonism.” My study of this has gone on for years now.
But the conclusion I have come to is that very few individuals are able to do Middle Way Mormonism. It seems the vast majority of people that find themselves on the path I feel I am on eventually can’t do the Middle Way Mormonism. I find that this is true for myself and it makes me sad as I actually wanted to figure a way to do it. I used to be active in the StayLDS.com forum. Over the years it seems the pattern that everyone on that site follows is to try for a while, then eventually give up on it. I even glanced at the membership to look at when people joined staylds, and then when they last posted. With the exception of some folks I can count on one hand, the pattern is very clear.
One individual that was reached out to me in a period of turmoil and helped me greatly has given up on the Middle Way and is all but telling the church, “I dare you to ex me.” I fully respect his decision, but still feel sad. I can’t help but sing, “Another one bites the dust, Hey, gonna get you too.”
So I sit struggling with the question of if I can make Middle Way Mormonism work for me. Only I can answer that, but do wonder why some people can do it when so many seem to be unable to do so.
Any ideas as to why this path seems untenable in the long term for so many and why are a few able to do it?
 The commonly accepted term is “mental gymnastics”, but to me gymnastics is beautiful and I wish I could do. “Contortion” to me feels more unnatural and forced.
I think that a personality type that seeks external support and approval will find it harder to make it work.
I think your underlying model makes a huge difference too. Which is why I think we should study the Old Testament more.
As an “out” middle-way Mormon (for example, see the content of my BCC posts and comments by name, and see quotes in a recent Salt Lake Tribune article on the subject), perhaps I’m qualified to comment.
I too have seen people struggle with some kind of connection or affiliation, and then transition out. I like to think of faith journeys, and they go on. However, based purely on anecdotal evidence, I think the “problem” is in the definition of in and out and middle. It is a commonplace that the in crowd says “out or in” and the out crowd says “out or in” and nobody recognizes a middle. I think that’s a stereotype with a basis in fact (including things I will hear in Testimony Meeting on Sunday), but not close to the whole story. The push-back then tries to explain or define a middle. And however that gets defined, people find it hard to stay there just like that.
With 23 years now in a middle I can say that it defies definition except apophatically, i.e., not all in, and not all out. My middle way is not your middle way, and my middle way in 2018 is not my middle way in 2008. Do I have a calling? Sometimes. Some years. Some bishops. Do I go to church on Sunday? Sometimes. Some meetings. Do I speak up about things that bother me? Sometimes–in fact relatively little during the three-hour to become two-hour block, and relatively a lot outside of the standard meetings. I know people who would call me “out.” I know a few who would call me “in.” I don’t care. Maybe not caring is what really matters.
I’ll make two more generalizations:
1. I have observed that a secret middle is difficult to maintain and causes a lot of stress. I would guess (anecdotes, not statistics) that anybody managing some form of middle way for an extended period becomes relatively open about where they are, just to survive their own demons.
2. I have observed that a middle way without paying attention to temples and temple recommends is a lot easier than a middle way that constantly worries about the ins-and-outs of LDS temple practice.
“Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” (Tolstoy). In similar fashion, orthodox Mormons are all alike; Middle Way Mormons are each middle-wayish in their own way. So that makes it tough to find a forum or group that matches up with your own particular brand of middle-wayishness.
I’ve been middle way my whole life (40+) even as child I remember “not buying it.” But I am that way about a lot of things including politics. I find I don’t fit in with most forums including W&T’s.
I’ve been both active and in active.
I would echo both Dave B and christiankimball. You learn to do it your own way, that’s what I’ve had to do. I’ve learned a lot about being “alone” and sitting with tension. I also disconnected from social media (long before Pres Nelson asked us women to fast from it). I’ve stopped seeking validation (don’t care attitude). I rarely comment on things (I’d like to become a never commenter but I’m still working on it). I try to fight the black and white “all or nothing” that both sides use to justify their ferlings. I take some inspiration from those that have come before me and seek to just work on me, instead of trying to fix what others can’t see or how I think others should see it, that’s all I can do, but you’ll have to do what works for you. I don’t think there is a formula that is one size fits all.
I like these comments so far about how everyone’s “middle way” is so unique and different from others’ that it’s hard to share advice or formula that works for others (I say this right after publishing a post with advice on how I’ve made the middle way work for me so far). … I love the insight that letting go of temple practicing mormonism makes the middle way a bit easier. I do know there’s a bit of consternation among my fellow middle way friends about recommend interviews and if we can pass the questions or should even have one etc etc.
Some have found that a middle way can work even with temple recommend interviews (there is no requirement that one understand the questions in the same way as any particular bishopric or stake presidency member) and temple practice (if understood in its historical context and mentally adjusted to a current context). It would seem that at least some “faith crises” precipitated by what has been called the “bait-and-switch” tactic of LDS temple preparation, could be avoided with proactive teaching of that historical context, the historical facts of changes to covenants made (and some no longer made), covenants ignored with implicity approval (no loud laughter indeed!), and the fact that nothing at all prevents a husband and wife making reciprocal covenants with each other and to the Lord even if only one side of such covenants is present in the current form of the “endowment.”. Unfortunately, irresponsible responsible parties at all levels of hierarchy have sometimes made statements giving those very few non-disclosure covenants a vastly larger purported application than they deserve. One can speak respectfully outside the temple of almost everything that takes place in the temple. It’s high time that were regularly done — and that the choice some may make “of their own [informed] free will” were respected and valued.
I’d definitely second (third or fourth?) the idea that not everyone’s middle way is the same. But to Stephen Marsh’s comment about the OT as providing different models, I’m sympathetic to that idea, but I feel like the better I understand the OT, the more stark the difference between how scripture works, what prophets do, etc is between the church and the scriptures. I love the scriptures and wish we took them more seriously, but there’s such a gap between what I see in them and what the church teaches that frankly it’s just another thing that makes it hard to stay.
For what it is worth I also am introverted. I see the church as “layers”; a spiritual layer that’s not very particular or detailed, but powerfully motivating for those that experience it. There’s an ecclesiastical layer, that is to say, government of the church, structure, times and places. There’s several cultural layers. All of it together is “church” but so is any particular part.
The crisis that comes to Mormons comes to people of probably all religions depending on their brittle adherence to a specific thing that is and must be 100 percent true. That’s a very dangerous, unsustainable faith!
My roommate in Alaska was a born-again Christian, believed Mormons were of the devil. He believed it with all his heart. One day I said, “Jesus is come in the flesh”. That’s all I said.
1 John 4:2 Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God:
The result was a terrible conflict in his mind and soul. Either the bible was wrong or his life-long teachings were not entirely correct; and if his teachings are not correct, which they cannot be with complete certainty, what then? What parts are still true and what parts are not?
Well that’s no different than the very questions that plagued Joseph Smith and his answer should be yours. Pray to God in faith, see what happens. If nothing happens then my interpretation is that it won’t affect your path in life. You might choose to leave, you might choose to say, but YOU are still YOU and your judgement won’t change by the trivial application of where you spend your Sunday, or whose bible you read, if you read one at all.
About that roommate: I saw him a few years later and he was a much more relaxed person. Still had religion, still believed in God, but no longer had a brittle requirement of 100 percent correctness. He realized that most contact with God and humans is somewhat difficult to put into words so don’t “strain at gnats”.
People born in the church have a serious disadvantage in my opinion; you don’t get that freedom to decide as I did, coming in from the outside where I have perfect freedom to study and choose, and if I chose NOT to be a Mormon, there would be no social consequence.
JR, I have found a way to make middle way mormonism work in my last temple interview. Do I have a testimony of the Restoration? Well how would I define restoration? Do I believe anything at all was restored? Do I believe the restoration is ongoing? Technically there’s a wide latitude. But I waited until my TR had lapsed by 4 months and when I finally went in told the bishopric member I waited because I wasn’t sure I could answer the questions with certainty. His response? “Well none of us really “knows” any of this. We just believe it.” That helped me feel more okay navigating it in my own way.
What about middle-way wards?
A couple of years ago the middle-wayers in our ward reached critical mass, and the ward started to be a middle-way ward (university town). Some ward members were really bothered by it. Eventually the ward was split down the middle and now we have conventional wards again. It’s been good for me, because I have given up trying to change church culture, and that’s more healthy for me. I attend less often, but have become more active in my local Methodist church.
The trick is not to go looking for the community that’s following a middle way path exactly the way you do but to find the one that’s open to questioning, observing, experimenting, finding what makes sense and edifies and supporting fellow seekers.
Stephen – I have thought about that also. I don’t have a ton of stock in Myers-Briggs, but I have wondered if there are some “types” of people that will just react differently. I have wanted to look into that, but I don’t see a way to get a really good sample.
Dave B – I hear you on “it [is] tough to find a forum or group that matches up with your own particular brand of middle-wayishness”. I have found a few locals (some are post-Mormon) and a few of those think being able to go drink all the time is the best part of leaving the church. I have no issue with this (as long as they are responsible), but I have zero desire in that area. But then again, sometimes it is hard to find a good friend even in the church when fully a believer.
Christian/Mirror & others – Good advice on “do it your way.” I have done that to an extent, but I can’t seem to find a way for me that feels right. Maybe being a bit more open, which is in my plans, might help.
Kristine/JR – I certainly had to think about the TR questions and how I might answer. But I am probably headed to not renewing as I don’t have any intention of going.
Phil – Wow – a middle-way ward! That would be great.
Thanks for all the comments.
This post feels so valuable for its sincerity. No nervous stand-taking, just honesty.
“One individual that was reached out to me in a period of turmoil and helped me greatly has given up on the Middle Way and is all but telling the church, ‘I dare you to ex me.'”
This description reminds me of Bill Reel of Mormon Discussion Podcast.
I think certain people can’t do the middle way and flame out publicly. JohnDehlin and Bill Reel come to mind. Others stay middle way quietly. I was an admin at Stay LDS, but got too busy. I don’t blog as often here either. That shouldn’t be interpreted as not being able to make the middle way work. I know hawkgrrl and Ray are still admins there and are making the middle way work. Others like Kevin Barney, Richard Bushman, Terryl Givens are great examples of long term middle way Mormons. But yes activists probably can’t make it work long term. Some introverts and extroverts make it work, and others don’t. It’s hard to predict.
I have found that blogging less makes it a bit easier for me to stay. The emotional labor of navigating the comments was something I found I had to preserve for all of the other stressors in my life. I do agree that activists are going to burn out. But I also believe we continue to need activists. Hawkgrrl definitely came to mind as someone who has made middle way work over a long period of time. Longer than I’ve even been in the game. #goals
At the same time I think a significant number of rank and file members just don’t make it very far with the middle way.
I appreciate these thought-provoking posts.
I think it’s quite likely that if I laid out the points of my doctrinal belief, I would fit the category of the middle way. Certainly, if Hawkgrrl, Kevin Barney, Richard Bushman, and Terryl Givens are there, then I’m somewhere very, very close. However, I don’t think of myself as traveling a middle way, and trying to think of myself in those terms would probably break me.
One thing I know about myself is that I need a religious community. My spirituality owes as much to my connection to others in my community as it does to my private experiences with God. So in the way I conceive of my relationship to the Church, I’m in—not out, and not in a middle place. I would lose my balance if I had to be continually threading a path through the middle.
I need to belong, even if I belong with people whose faith is sharply different from mine in some ways. To be sure, I need a community of people whose faith is more like mine. I’m really blessed to have found that. But a crucial part of my religious experience is to be with people who are different from me—to lift them when I can, and also to be humbled by them.
It’s hard to pin down why some middle wayers are able to continually make it work. One aspect I think comes down to left over belief. What belief does one continue to hold? A belief in God or Jesus? In the Book of Mormon as scripture? For those like me who find themselves struggling to even be convinced that there is a God, it’s hard to find meaning or satisfaction in attendance. I know there are atheist mormons out there, but it’s a hard position to be in and nearly impossible to be open about it.
Also, the church culture itself marginalizes anything less than literal orthodox belief. It’s hard to stay in a culture where you are always made to feel less than. Staying is much harder and I have mad respect for those who do so, especially if open and honest about their beliefs.
For me, I find myself in a place where I no longer believe at all. And I disagree with so much of the doctrine, culture, and policies that I have little left to hold onto other than some social community aspects that, quite frankly, can be found elsewhere in abundance.
So here I am, as one of those “another one bites the dust.” Maybe I’ll come back to middle waying again in the future. But based on how much better I’ve felt since stepping away, I highly doubt it.
I appreciate this discussion. For years, I’ve felt the desire to maintain some sort of “middle-way” LDS connection. The idea of a middle-way ward sounds great. I doubt that it would really work, but it would be fun to try. I’d settle for just having one or two like-minded people to talk with in person who are not all-in or all-out. The funny thing is that I may know some people like that but I have no way of identifying them.
I took the path less travelled and realized it didn’t have a white blaze …
Through hiker on the Appalachian Trail.
Phil, If my memory is correct, I was a member of a middle-way Ward in East Lansing MI in the 1960’s. I was a teen at the time. We had great Sunday School and Priesthood teachers. Most were grad. students at MSU. Our discussions were fun and open. Church was fun and challenging. We didn’t need to check our opinions at the door.
Boy was I surprised when I went on a mission to Europe and found out that my East Lansing Ward wasn’t representative of Church thought and even belief. There was the craziness of “Mormon Doctrine,” “Man: His Origin and Destiny,” and “Challenge” (I believe that’s the book title). The Church I loved was a fiction. A brief moment in time.
Imagine my disappointment. 2-1/2 years to think about it. Also imagine going to the temple unprepared. Me who was anti-ritual. And not interested in joining a fraternity or fraternal order.
Joining a middle-way Ward is only good if you can stay in one. East Lansing is a distant dream. Perhaps it never happened. But my mission was real; it happened. We all need to face reality.
Blogging is my stress relief. If I didn’t blog, I’d have gone crazy long ago.
Whatever path you choose, there is comfort in knowing a middle way exists at all. I grew up perceiving Mormonism to be a monolithic, all-or-nothing proposition. You were all in or you were all the way out, and one size fits all. My family was active, but had a streak of unorthodoxy running through it, which sometimes ran afoul of the establishment. Rather than appreciate my family’s approach (not taking church too seriously) for what it was, I grew up constantly worried that our eternal salvation was in jeopardy. It turned me into a hypocritical, judgemental jerk as a young adult. I came to realize that I never really drank the kool-aid myself, and found a much happier and healthier spiritual life by carving out a middle way of my own.
After seeing many other family members and friends try (and sometimes fail) to navigate a middle path, I’m convinced that some people just aren’t meant to be that religious. And they manage to become decent people anyway. Others have their entire identity tied up in the church, or otherwise need to be reminded at least weekly that it’s wrong to lie, steal, cheat on a spouse or abandon children to keep from doing those things.
Thanks for a wonderful, vulnerable post, Happy Hubby. Whatever path you decide upon, you’re great in my book.
It’s easier of your family goes through a faith crisis together. That’s what my family has done. We have always identified more strongly as members of this family than as members of this church, so when one of us started to struggle, we all asked the questions together. We are all supporting each other on the way out, too. It’s very challenging because, when your god dies, it can be extremely difficult for some, and no biggie for others. It’s hard to predict who will be suffering the most and when. But it’s very hard to do it alone. I don’t know how the solo questioners navigate it.
If my family hadn’t joined me in asking the questions, I would still be trying to navigate the middle way, I guess. But I’m glad I’m not. Two years of weekly spiritual trauma is quite enough, thank you.
I think one of the biggest obstacles to staying on “Middle-Way” paths is the notion that Mormonism and the LDS Church are identical. To be sure, the LDS Church pushes this view pretty hard, but it is in its best interests to do so. Mormonism is bigger than just one organization, no matter how much space it takes up in the landscape.
Just came across this. This post really resonated with me. I consider myself a “middleway”. I see much that is inspired in the church and believe it can be a positive and enriching means to worship. I love the BoM and many of the teachings of the church. But I struggle with the absolute claims of being the one and only true church and way to God. Tonight I tried to discuss my “middle way” beliefs with my wife. She’s known for years that I struggled with certain doctrines, but hoped I’d pull through. I started the discussion trying to reassure that we had so much in common and that I would continue to attend and support. I wasn’t prepared for the absolute freak out. She accused me of breaking promises I made at the start of our marriage. She questioned whether she could trust me to stay faithful to her if I can change my beliefs. She told me that she did not believe we could have as strong a marriage and that this would do serious damage to her and the kids. And I’m sure she’s right in her fears of how we would be treated once people knew I wasn’t orthodox. I’m still reeling from the response, but it’s left me highly doubtful there is a good path for the Middle Way Mormon. It appears that for many if not most LDS, it is an all or nothing proposition.
I’m not Mormon but find it fascinating to read and study religions and how people incorporate strong beliefs into their lives in 2020., As soon as I read the words “ encouraged us WOMEN “. I immediately turn it all off. I am sick and tired of the oppression of an entire gender of women, in which our major religions play a huge part. I am so done with that crap. There are two major reasons men have been able to oppress women and compel their obedience in almost all of history. First, because generally, men are larger and stronger than women. But that attribute has ZERO to recommend it in modern times. Even wars are fought technologically, remotely and require exceptional intelligence over brawn. And in civilian life, in almost every instance (except perhaps professional sports), high testosterone levels are more of a hindrance than an asset. The second reason men have been able to oppress women through the ages is that only women can become pregnant and bear children. But now women can control their reproductive choices like never before and even decide not to bear any children. What a difference that makes in a woman’s life. With the reduced need for that extra testosterone in today’s world and with women’s ability to control her reproductive choices, THERE IS NO SOCIETAL JUSTIFICATION for ANY religious or secular attempts to constantly place women in submissive or secondary roles. It must gall men to realize that nature no longer justifies their superiority. They’re certainly kicking and clawing to hang on to their power. I, for one, have NO USE for any religion or organization that demands women be in a secondary role just by virtue of their gender. Uh uh – life is too short. It’s a deal breaker. I believe we each should strive to achieve our full potential, and even more importantly, to be happy. And the direction of our lives should be our choices, both men and women. So any married couple that chooses s traditional marriage with traditional roles for husband and wife will get no criticism from me, UNLESS I sense the woman chafes at her enforced limitations. And even then, it’s not really my business to butt in. But that couple better not try to force their ridiculously old-fashioned restrictive ideas on me. And heaven forbid if some church elder tried to “counsel” me. It’s best if I just stay away from organized religions !