A few months ago I had a conversation with a local church leader where he asked me—with genuine curiosity and a desire to learn—what difference it would make to me if women were ordained to the priesthood. He wanted to know how that would improve Church for me on a scale of “0% better” to “100% better.”

I didn’t really know how to answer him.  

A few years ago my answer would have been that the Church also needs to change on gay marriage, but that gender equality would make a huge positive difference to me (and, if gender equality happened first, I imagine it would lead to changes on LGBTQ issues).  And that’s what I ended up saying to him that day.  

But the reality is that at this point, my core beliefs about God and scripture and prophetic authority and many other foundational truth claims are so different from what’s said at General Conference and other official Church sources that, even if the Church started doing better on social justice, I would never really return to the type of believer I once was.  While I would feel better about participating and involving my family in the Church if it embraced women and queer folks with full equality, that would be because I would think the Church was good–not because it is “True”, at least not “True” in the same sense as I thought it was for much of my life.  

That got me thinking:  what would it take for me to feel the same way about or participate to the same extent in Church as I used to?  For me to move my one-and-three-quarters-feet-out-the-door back in?

I realized that the Church could do a huge list of things that would make me more inclined to give more of my time and means and loyalty to it—like ordain women (or, as Angela has suggested, “unordain men”), give full membership privileges including temple sealings to gay couples, repudiate and apologize for polygamy and the race-based temple and priesthood ban, spend its tithing money on humanitarian causes—but that really wouldn’t change my views on some fundamental truth claims around God and authority that I no longer share with many of my co-religionists, and that make it feel as though I live in a different universe from many of the people I associate with at Church.  Like all I can do is my best to fit in–but that I don’t really belong anymore, because I can’t bring my whole self to Church or be myself around Church members.   

What is really necessary, I realized, is actually a lot more simple than all of those huge changes—but in some ways a lot more fundamental. 

What is really necessary for me to feel at home at Church as I once did is for the Church as an institution and in our congregations to tolerate and accept and possibly even celebrate vast differences in orthodoxy and orthopraxy among its members.  To create a safe space for people to share different views about really fundamental things like whether God is (exclusively) an embodied male or the Book of Mormon is historical or whether women should be ordained or gay couples should be sealed.  To practice a faith where faith and belief aren’t conflated–where faith is a way of living out our relationship with God rather than a set of statements that we either accept or reject.  Where (as Brian McLaren puts it) what matters is “faith expressing itself in love.”  

I suppose that for some, this view of Church is untenable.  If the purpose of Church is to teach correct doctrine (i.e., indoctrinate), then we can’t really have a Church where people get to believe whatever they want. And for the orthodox, that open version of Church might actually be as uncomfortable for them as the closed version is for me.   

But if the purpose of Church is to draw us closer to God and to each other, I think it might be doable.  It could look pretty different, but would be based on shared values instead of shared beliefs; on spirituality (broadly defined as a connection to God, the Earth, and each other rather than whether you read your scriptures every day or attend the temple weekly); on community, and on service.

Whatever it would look like, I remain convinced that the only way to really keep a diverse group of people with a diverse set of life experiences and beliefs in the pews isn’t to try to convince them that, to the extent their experience and beliefs don’t line up with the party line, they are wrong and just need to pray harder so that they get the same answer as everyone else.  It is not to tell people that their only way to Christ is Church and that if they think they can follow Christ without following Church leaders they are deceived (hear that, Kevin Hamilton?).  It’s instead to ask what we can learn from each other and what our neighbors’ diverse experiences of God can teach us about God and each other.  

Without that change, none of the others will be sufficient. 

With that change, none of the others would really be necessary, at least not for me.* 


  • If you’ve stepped away or reduced your church involvement, what would need to change for you to go back?
  • Do you think it would be feasible to be in a church that welcomed different beliefs on fundamental issues? What might that look like? 

*I mean, I still hate patriarchy.  Like hate it.  Patriarchy is the worst.  But if I could say that I hate patriarchy and that the Church’s patriarchy is no exception at Church, I might feel better about attending a patriarchal Church.