I have really enjoyed the various posts on navigating the “Middle Way” in Mormonism, beginning with Happy Hubby’s vulnerable post about the tenuousness of remaining, then Kristine’s post about her story and way of carving out her way, and then Andrew’s outsider’s view of the Middle Way.
As you know, I’m “out”, having been baptized and confirmed in the Episcopal Church, but after having worked at the Middle Way for many years I wanted to comment a bit about something in Andrew’s post, where he said:
You’ll note from my previous sections that I have put a lot of hedges on my hypotheses. This is because ultimately, I would agree with my co-bloggers that the Middle Way is a narrow path.
The other three posts, along with many of the comments, spend a great deal of time discussing what the person navigating the Middle Way must do in order to make it work. I’d like to talk a bit about what the community can do to broaden the path so it is not so narrow, easing the burden on the person trying to navigate that Middle Way.
Many of our Episcopal Church parishes in Utah have a good population of Middle Way Lattery-Day Saints who are trying to make that path work. They typically come to our parishes for spiritual nourishment. We are happy to provide it. Our tradition is one where they are given the room to breathe and figure things out. On many things the Episcopal Church takes the stance of “all may, some should, none must.” There is a lot of latitude given to people as they navigate their spiritual formation, so doubters and hard questions are par for the course. In fact, the Anglican tradition is known for a “middle way” – via media – between Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. We have deeply Catholic parishes (complete with white gloves and all); more evangelical, low-church parishes; and everything in between. So, we’re happy to have people of all levels of belief. Not sure you can comfortably recite that part of the Nicene Creed? Remain silent on that part, reciting only what you’re comfortable with, and please sit next to me on Sundays. Unsure of whether God exists but want to participate in the choir? Get your butt up in the loft and sing your heart out. Doubtful whether Jesus really lived and was resurrected, but love his teachings and want to acolyte? Wear the purple and white proudly and know that you’re loved.
The tradition of Anglicanism is more caught than taught, so we provide a great deal of leeway for people to just breathe it in and let the Spirit do the work. In order to do so, there has to be a great deal of humility and vulnerability within the community. Does the Presence at Eucharist mean transubstantiation as the Romans believe, or is it less literal? We Episcopalians are happy to let things remain a mystery, so leave it for the believer to discern for themselves. We must have the humility to admit we don’t know with precision how this stuff works, and the vulnerability to be wrong or let others come to their own conclusions (which may be different than mine).
So, this is a tradition that provides a safe harbor for many Middle Way Latter-Day Saints in Utah. Many of them believe Joseph Smith to be a prophet, bring their Quad to Mass, and attend their ward as well. Some of them are only “in” Mormonism for family and come to Mass/Holy Communion/Eucharist (see, we don’t even force a particular name) for spiritual nourishment. Why do so many LDS believers still come for spiritual nourishment? What is it that makes the community culture so healing for them? I think it comes down to vulnerability and humility, so here are a few suggestions for broadening that path of the Middle Way in Mormonism:
- Reduce boundary maintenance activities. This can start with the temple recommend interview. Change the questions so they aren’t so focused on right belief, but rather on right living. Many who may struggle to assent to keys, prophets, and such, are incredibly loving and may benefit from the spiritual nourishment of the temple.
- Stop with the leader worship and clericalism. Vulnerability cannot be found in de-facto infallibility.
- Don’t blackball doubters or treat them as broken or infectious. Open them up to full fellowship and service.
- Let doubters and those without a temple recommend see their children get married and perform all ordinances for their children (e.g., confirmation and ordination to Melchizedek Priesthood).
- No more talk of obedience for the sake of obedience. Persuade, love, and be patient. Stress the importance of the spiritual journey, not simply the destination.
- Let people discern their callings rather than assign them. Andrew touched on this point and it is important, I believe. Someone at the margins is more apt to remain and participate, despite their doubts, if they have a sense of purpose that is meaningful to them.
- Focus on spiritual formation. Spiritual formation is more than simply accumulating information about God. The Christian journey is more than simply an exercise in fact-gathering and intellectual assent to propositional truths. Rather, formation is the process by which, consenting and surrendering to God’s loving presence and action in our lives, we gradually learn to become more and more like God, and more attuned to God’s will in the midst of our daily lives. The key here is that a one-size-fits-all system isn’t the answer. Correlation has to yield to spiritual formation, because people’s needs are unique; a corporate mentality is anathema to spiritual formation.
- Move classes away from a catechism-like structure where questions are asked with specific, “right” answers in mind. Allow for pushback and tough discussion. Be vulnerable.
I know many people who are trying to make Middle Way Mormonism work. Some are more successful at it than others, and there are many ways to make it work. Each person’s Middle Way looks different, but our communities can make that journey an easier one; less narrow and fraught with obstacles; more forgiving of mistakes. We in the Episcopal Church are happy to continue providing spiritual nourishment for many of these people, whether they remain with us or return to full activity in the LDS faith, but I hope LDS communities can change a bit to make it easier on those choosing to stay.