Last week, Tom Stringham published an article called “The Other Religion” in the Public Square Magazine. In it he compares the relationship between the Church and its “disaffected members” to a marriage in which a faithful spouse (the Church) is bewildered by the behavior of its wayward spouse (the disaffected member). The wayward spouse gradually loses interest in the marriage, but the faithful spouse cannot seem to understand why and, if anything, its overtures toward and accommodation of the wayward spouse only make things worse. Eventually, the wayward spouse abandons the marriage, and the faithful spouse learns that the wayward spouse had simply “fallen in love with someone else, become unfaithful, and left.” In other words, it isn’t so much that the Church is failing wayward members. It’s that wayward members are abandoning the Church for another lover.
The remainder of the article sets out to define the “other lover.” Stringham proposes that the other lover is, in fact, another religion–albeit a false one: the “false religion” of “progressivism.”
While I don’t disagree that too many people–on both my side of the aisle and Stringham’s–treat politics like religion and are identifying more closely with political affiliation than racial or religious background, Stringham might have found additional insight about the “other lover” had he asked a so-called wayward spouse what they were leaving for. I’m going to address that question here.
To be clear, I only represent my own experience as a “wayward spouse”–although I’ve got many close friends and family members who are in a similar situation, and for similar reasons, as mine. We are return missionaries, temple-married, former ward and stake leaders. We are pioneer stock or brave converts. We hung on every word of the prophets–we took notes during General Conference, and we took our second piercings out when President Hinckley told us to. We paid 10% on our gross income, we attended the temple monthly, and we wore our garments night and day.
Since meeting the other lover, though, our relationship with the Church has indeed shifted dramatically. Some of us still attend and even have callings in Church, but it has taken on a much diminished role in our lives; we are constantly reassessing the relationship and may be looking for alternatives. We no longer feel a strong sense of loyalty to the Church or trust its leadership, even if we have affectionate community and familial ties. We may not carry temple recommends or follow all of the rules. We may have unorthodox beliefs and may even disbelieve many fundamental truth claims in the LDS Church. But God and spirituality are still at work in our lives—maybe more than ever—and we are doing the best we can at navigating changes in belief that we never anticipated having and that were just as shocking to us as to our “faithful spouse”. Sometimes we navigate ourselves out of the Church; sometimes we make it work, but on radically redefined terms. I’m speaking about that group, because I’m in it.
Mr. Stringham, the other lover is not difficult to identify. The other lover is God.
We met God, and everything changed.
We were plodding along the covenant path, thinking our spiritual power depended on it, only to realize like Dorothy in Oz following the yellow brick road that the power was within reach all along. The man behind the curtain was not the source of power and we do not need to perform arbitrary tasks for his benefit to access it. We had only to recognize the divinity within us.
We were hustling for our worthiness, hoping to one day earn a prize in heaven, when we realized that we are already more than conquerors through Jesus Christ, and that nothing–nothing–can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. We listened carefully to the heaven Mormonism promises us and realized that we didn’t want dominions or kingdoms or principalities. We don’t need to rule over anybody. We just want to rest peacefully in the shade of our own vine, under our own fig tree.
We met God and realized that He didn’t want us to worship the false idol of the heteronormative nuclear family. He loves all of the human family, and weeps when we are without affection for our queer brothers and sisters and when we hate our own blood and turn our queer children out of our homes. He wants us to drop our muskets, to beat our swords into plowshares and our spears into pruning hooks, and to stop making our queer family afraid.
In fact, when we met God we realized She is not some petty, jealous being in the sky demanding that we worship and obey Her without reason. We learned that She, like a woman who cannot forget her nursing child or the children of her womb, simply wants us to connect with Her and to care for one another. Any commandment that does not meet one of those aims is not of Her but of humans. And She will never ask us to hurt others to prove our obedience to Her.
We learned that eternal belonging isn’t something obtained through a man-mediated covenant given to a select handful of people. We have always belonged to God and to each other, and we are all chosen.
We met God in women and learned, finally, that women matter. Their bodies, their voices, their health, their choices, their dreams, their abilities, their leadership matter. We know that it is not arrogant but faithful to ask, seek, and knock. We know that our experiences and our theological work is not speculation. We learned that we look like God and She like us. We learned that if we ask God for fish, She gives us fish, and if we ask for bread, She gives us bread, so we dropped the serpents and the stones that our leaders kept insisting that we carry and followed after Her trail of breadcrumbs wherever it might lead us.
We met God in black people and felt to our core that Black Lives Matter. We realized we had so much work to do to root out our own racism and to acknowledge our privilege. We knew that the first step was to apologize, unequivocally, for things we have done and said out of ignorance and prejudice and the ways the organizations we support perpetuate white supremacy. And we recognized the call of our baptismal covenant to mourn with those who mourn, and we are mourning.
We met God in queer people and knew that only the best will do for them–no second-tier heaven isolated from family and connection both in the here and hereafter. We recognized that there is one Body of Christ and every week we are to remember Christ, so our hearts break when Church leaders dismember him instead by excommunicating our queer friends for the sin of loving and committing to one another. But we know that there is one fold of God and we found it in the folds of the rainbow flag we fly.
We met God in the earth and awoke to the need to better care for it. We lamented that we had been spending too much time waiting for Jesus to return and fix all of our problems and cleanse the earth and too little time taking responsibility for fixing them ourselves. We committed to do our part to reverse the environmental degradation that is inseparable from spiritual degradation.
We met God in the homeless man, in the prisoner, in the cancer patient, in the impoverished child, in so many suffering people and we realized that we had been spending too much time looking for God in expensive, exclusive buildings when we should have been looking in the homeless shelters and prisons and hospitals and schools and anywhere else there is suffering or need. We decided to let the dead bury the dead–we need to attend to the living.
We met God in scriptures that we had read dozens of times but had not yet allowed to read us. We met Jesus again for the first time. We realized that the kingdom of heaven is at hand and within us–just like Jesus said–and that we didn’t need to wait until a literal second coming to welcome him into our lives and homes or to see him embodied in others or try to embody him ourselves.
We met God in other books, too, and in art, and in music, and film, and we saw that God has revealed Themself time and again across peoples and cultures and religions and mediums. Because our trust is in God and not men, we can drink widely from the wisdom in other places without fearing ideas that might upset our worldviews or insisting on deciding what we do and don’t agree with. There’s no box we need to fit God into anymore and the world has never been more marvelous. We learned what a prophet really is, and we found many–both within and outside of our faith tradition.
We met God in a million ways in a million places and we finally, finally realized this Truth that Mr. Stringham seems to miss:
We were never meant to be married to the Church in the first place.
We are the bride and Christ the bridegroom. Church was the other lover, not God.
“Wokeness” did not take us away from God. God woke us up.
- Do you think progressivism has become a false religion? How about conservatism? How would you even define either of those terms?
- If your relationship with the Church has shifted, can you identify the “other lover”? What other options are there?
- What do you think of Stringham’s metaphor of the Church as a “faithful spouse” and a disaffected member as a “wayward spouse”?