“I’m leaving the church.”
Over the past month, I have heard/read this phrase seven times. Once from an incredible woman in my home ward who can’t take anymore of the ward’s judgement. Once from a family member who has felt the church is too restrictive for years. Twice from young adults my age whose knowledge and testimonies of the gospel have buoyed my own in the past. The rest from good friends and acquaintances. Some of these announcements, I’ve been expecting for months and years. Others, I never ever expected.
The intensity of the grief I have quietly shouldered these past few weeks has been hard to describe and has left me with an alarming loss for words. In the miniature chaos of having, as one friend described to me, multiple individuals I propped my testimony on discard their own, I’ve found myself wondering why I even bother. My social media accounts have been inundated with angry words about members of the church being voiceless and cowardly, critical articles about confirmation bias, Joseph Smith, the church’s stance on gay marriage; friends who virtually laud their doubts and tear apart the testimonies of my other friends. In the middle of this, I see some of my friends faltering and questioning, wondering why they stay, and it’s overwhelmed me. I’ve not been able to blog for weeks. I thought that was because I just felt uninspired. I’m suspecting it’s because I’ve been deeply discouraged, not wanting to add fuel to the flame, not wanting to hurt or be hurt by other people who are just waiting for a chance to do it. Not wanting to defend the beliefs that are so much a part of me, that I’d imagine I’d crumble apart without them, and only because I worry about how others would react.
Because of beliefs I have expressed on this blog and others, I’ve been cyber-bullied and sexually harassed by online strangers who have put me in virtual stocks to throw tomatoes at. I’ve been called horrible names and told I’m a horrible person in the comments on my blog. I’ve been told that I’m a totally brainwashed Mormon and that I’m on the verge of apostasy all in one long digital breath, and I’ve dealt with it. But to see some of the things my friends and family are saying? To see members of the church turning on members of the church? To watch so many doubt and then cause others to doubt and then invalidate their feelings for them? It’s crippled me.
I don’t want to and cannot stay quiet anymore.
I know that some of you reading this right now have serious doubts, and you’re wondering why you stay. And there’s no one there to encourage you to stay because the battle you’re fighting is quiet and lonely. I know that some of you reading this right now are doing so because you’re lurking about like the bigotry police, waiting for a reason to ridicule me and say, “You’re wrong! You’re so stupid and so wrong!” And I know that many of you reading this right now are just as discouraged as I am, because you’re seeing people who helped your testimony abandon theirs, and it’s breaking you apart. Many, many of you are wondering why the words of the prophets seem so at odds with the words that the media, society, and your own friends are telling you. Many of you don’t believe the words of prophets at all. Many of you don’t see other members living up to what the prophets ask us to do, and it hurts.
In a time that is so chaotic, confusing, and heartbreaking, a time when men’s hearts fail them and men’s testimonies don’t seem to be enough, it’s easy to say, “You know what? I don’t want any part of this. It’s hard to be a member of the church, it’s embarrassing to be a member of the church, it’s not worth it to be a member of the church, and it’s stupid to be a member of the church.” It’s easy to think that. But I believe that most of us who think that way have forgotten whose church this is. It doesn’t belong to prophets or men or the whims of society. It belongs to Jesus Christ.
He is the center, basis, and foundation of every part of it. He’s who we worship, who we strive to be like, and who we make covenants for. He’s in every ordinance, and should be in every testimony, because in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Christ is not some far off deity. He’s a living, omnipresent Savior who can be found in everything and every person. Our scriptures confirm that. The New Testament is not some made up storybook. It’s documented testimony of the men and women who surrounded Christ, who boldly declared that Jesus Christ was who He said He was and did what He said He did. The Book of Mormon is not some made up storybook. It’s a compilation of testimony after testimony after testimony after testimony of men and women who saw Christ, understood Christ, waited hopefully for Christ, and reaffirmed that Christ would come. Even when accused of being fiction by critics of the church, the Book of Mormon functions exactly as the words of Christ’s early apostles do, not to glorify prophets, but to glorify the Messiah.
Some would suggest that the church is not true because prophets have been wrong, because prophets are imperfect, and because prophets just don’t understand. I wonder, however, what we would worship if we had perfect men leading this church. Would we remember to worship the Savior without being compelled to do so? Would we see the consistent need for and infinite capacity of His Atonement? I can’t say we would. Instead of perfection, we have imperfect men who have made mistakes, yes, even mistakes that our 21st Century brains find shocking and hard to understand. We often falsely suggest that prophets are perfect. We often struggle with the thought that they aren’t. Many who pour over doctrinal oddities and human faults found in the saints of early church history use it as justification to leave and condemn the church. But this church was never organized for the agendas of those saints. It was never a way to deify imperfect men with corrupt agendas. A closer truth would be that the gospel of Jesus Christ was restored in this church to give us a massive and yet totally intimate view of how we desperately need the Atonement in our lives, and even (and maybe especially) leaders and prophets need it, too.
Prophets exist to help us worship Christ, not themselves. Christ Himself tells us, “O fools, and slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken; ought not Christ to have suffered these things, and to enter into his glory”(Luke 24:25-27)? After that, he expounds unto His disciples all scriptures and all the words of the prophets concerning Himself. I’d argue that all doctrine and all principles given over the pulpit are absolutely secondary when compared with the exhortation to become like and follow Jesus Christ, and as Christ teaches, that’s the purpose of prophets. To not believe in prophets and to still claim to believe in Christ is to invalidate a vast majority of Christ’s words. And to do that is to invalidate Him.
I can’t do that.
If there is one thing I know more than anything it’s that Jesus Christ is the Savior and that His Atonement is both real and mighty. There is no way that I could deny that, because I have seen it work. I have seen it work in the lives of people who I never guessed it could work for. I have seen it do things for me that I had no confidence I could ever do on my own. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is beautiful and it’s incomprehensible and it’s real, and it’s real because He’s real. Because He’s real, I am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I believe Him when He says prophets give us the truth. And because I believe Him, I cannot deny the truthfulness of the one church on earth that has prophets that testify of Him. To do so would be to selectively believe the Savior who chose to believe entirely in me, so much so that He died for me. I cannot imagine the pain that would give Him.
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is a living, progressing entity that represents everything the Atonement is. It represents the enabling power of the Atonement, the ability to go from humble, hard, and yes, even questionable — in our eyes — circumstances to edification and happiness, and within the walls of its chapels, we covenant to always remember the Savior. That is the key. Remembering. Remembering who we were, what we are, what we felt, and what we experienced. Hanging on to the things that bring us closer to Christ. This church does that. Sometimes I think we’re so concerned with the roots of the church that we tragically forget to look up and see the fruits of the church, even the ones we have picked and savored frequently throughout our lives. The Atonement of Jesus Christ, sacred covenants, and the ability to be with our families forever are magnificent fruits indeed, fruits that we cannot find combined anywhere else.
I am inadequate on my own. I make mistakes and I’m imperfect and I’m stubborn. But I’m staying in the church. Not because I’m a coward, a prude, an idiot, a bigot, a conformist, an illogical fool, or whatever other garbage noun society likes to throw at me to make me feel bad about believing in something. I’m staying because of Jesus Christ. He is here.
And I never want to leave Him.