Why I Stay a Mormon When Many Friends Have Left

mormonn

“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.

Continue Reading

Today I Learned that I’m Living the Gospel Wrong

happiness.jpg

At 11:30 today, I was sitting in a packed cultural hall at the Logan LDS Institute, waiting for Al Fox Carraway to speak. A blank notebook sat on my lap and my eyes were riveted on the pulpit. I’d been waiting weeks to hear her, and I didn’t know if I could wait much longer.

As she stood up and began to talk with us, I began to write, feeling little tidbits of inspiration just flow through me. I was absorbed and engaged and really enjoying myself, when suddenly, from seemingly out of nowhere, a thought slammed into my mind.

You’re living the Gospel wrong. 

What. I mean, really. What?

I’m not perfect, but I’m not breaking commandments with reckless abandon, I thought. I’m not rebelling against authority, skipping church every week, or treating my covenants lackadaisically, I thought. Really, I’m doing quite well. I thought.

But as I watched Al on the stage, watched the way her eyes lit up and her hands moved and her body bounced up and down on her heels, I realized what I was missing, what I was failing to do. It wasn’t something overwhelming, it wasn’t something that jeopardizes my worthiness, but it was something I’ve stopped doing consciously for awhile now. Something meaningful. 

I’ve been living the Gospel wrong by not loving it and being excited about it every. Single. Day. And today I learned that Heavenly Father hasn’t been too happy with me about it.

I’m really good at living my life as if I don’t know the greatest truth that the world can know. I live my life as if I don’t have the answers to life’s hardest questions, as if I haven’t been atoned for, as if I don’t realize my family can be together forever, and as if I don’t have a creator of a universe for a father. Sometimes, I walk around and forget that I am part of a Plan of Happiness and that my prayers are answered. So many don’t have what I have, and yet, I forget to be excited and grateful about it.

How can I? Knowing what I know, how can I not be ecstatic every single day of my life?

It’s because I forget.

When the Sacrament is being passed and my covenants are renewed, I forget to raise my head and rejoice. When I open my hymnbook and the song is marked with the words cheerfully or with enthusiasm, I forget what those things mean. When I’m sitting in a meeting, listening to someone speak, I forget to be excited, to recognize that the truths they teach guarantee my eternal happiness if I allow them.

I have the greatest gift anyone could ever be given, and I don’t wake up every morning excited about it. In that way, I’m failing.

Today, watching Al speak, I noticed the way she smiled, the way she glowed, the way she punctuated everything she said with “and I love it.” Joy radiated from her, and I felt so embarrassed. How could I have lived my whole life knowing the things that I know and not be as happy as she is? And not want to share it every single day?

This thing, this big thing we call life, is part of a divine plan. It was created for us to teach us, strengthen us, and save us. It was designed in a way to allow us to be saved and saved at the side of our family members. No one is left behind, and no one is left out. Every one of us has been carried in the arms of a Savior who came here, not for himself, but for every individual who has ever lived. You are living and breathing and changing because of him. Isn’t it incredible? Isn’t it joyous?

Of all of the bad and depressing news, this is the best and happiest news. And it’s eternal. Unchanging.

I know Heavenly Father wants us to be happy about His plan, to wake up every single day and be excited to be a part of it. This is no mediocre, meh journey. It’s salvation, eternity, happiness, and adventure. It’s the Gospel.

And sometimes, no matter how good we are at living it, we forget to do what matters just as much: love it.

Continue Reading

Why I Took “Returned Missionary” Off My Checklist

rm

Disclaimer: This post was in no way written to marginalize missions and the great importance of missionaries, nor was it intended to be used to excuse unrighteous judgment and decisions in any way. Its purpose is to hopefully remove stigmas that I feel are not Christlike. It’s a hard world we live in, and we cannot allow the environment in our wards and hometowns to be just as hard for someone who is struggling. Be kind. 

I remember sitting in my young women’s class one Sunday with a bookmark-length piece of paper my leaders had passed around resting on my lap. Dotting the top and surrounded by curling filigree were the familiar words “What I Want in a Future Spouse.” I wrote down some stupid things, like dark hair and beautiful brown eyes or someone who is tall — it’s really funny to see how preference changes over time — but then there were more important and personal things, too, some that, as a girl, I don’t think I understood fully.

Things like:
“He must honor his Priesthood.”
“He must be able to look past my weaknesses.”
“He should talk to me about important things.”
And then, near the top: “He must be a returned missionary.”
I must have written that last one dozens of times, spurred on by well-intending leaders who made sure that we knew the importance of a mission. I’ll admit to picturing a handsome young man, home from an international mission with lots of stories and a new-found love of a culture. We’d decorate our first home with flags and native prints and tell our children his stories. That, in my head, is what it would be like.
It’s been four years since I left the Young Women’s and a lot has changed since then. My list is no longer hair/eye color focused and I’ve become incredibly picky when it comes to the spiritual things. I, like most people, I’d imagine, regret that I found certain traits so important, and as I get older, I find myself regretting unexpected things.
Namely, I regret that “Returned Missionary” had such an unshakable place on my checklist.


By saying that, I realize full well that I’m stepping into an area of scarlet letters and glaring taboo. It is not socially acceptable where I am from to admit that you’re not necessarily looking for an RM. I’d imagine that’s the case for most of you reading this as well. A lot of you have sat through Sacrament meetings where proud fathers talk of their sons who have returned from serving “honorable” missions. A few of you, like me, have probably gone on dates with some of these RMs who unintentionally use their missions as social/romantic leverage. It happens a lot.

The question I have is this: what are we really looking for? In all of our searching for a potential spouse, is there something else we need to be focusing on? In my opinion, the answer to that second question is yes.

Truth be told, we’ve gotten ourselves into a seriously nasty predicament and a very un-Christlike attitude, I’ll add, without noticing because we’re so focused on the current mission status of the young men in the church. We have a problem, and it’s a problem that stems, in part, from a generation of young women who were told “RM or bust” from a very young age. I’m not saying we should completely throw out the idea of dating an RM, but that we shouldn’t let that define who we date. We are so consumed with returned missionary status or the lack thereof that we completely disregard what I feel are the most important qualities to seek in a potential spouse: outstanding character and temple worthiness. In doing so, we are marginalizing dozens of worthy young men and sometimes justifying the less-than-honorable actions of the young men considered honorable for serving.

I never realized that this was an issue within LDS culture until I was sitting at Angie’s Diner, cleaning “The Sink” with some friends and listening to one describe the dating climate at BYU. She told us of a guy she knew who was perfectly worthy, but hadn’t served a mission or only served for a little bit — I can’t quite remember. He was on a date with a girl, and when the mission question came up and he had nothing to say, she reacted as if she’d tasted sour milk. The date was basically done for her at that point, and he was left gutted and wounded. I remember sitting in our little booth and feeling my forgotten ice cream melt on my tongue as I listened, disgusted. That night was a tipping point for me.

These stories didn’t just go away after that night — in fact, I heard many more of them, some affecting incredible young men that I had the chance to interact with through my calling this year. It is no exaggeration whatsoever when I say that these men are the closest to the Savior that I have ever met. That being said, I have listened to their stories and have had a taste of their pain as they have explained why dating is so hard for them, how they were willing to serve a mission and wanted to, but all girls and all anyone, for that matter, ever sees is how they didn’t serve or didn’t make it through the two years before being sent home. Some of these young men don’t even bother dating to avoid the pain of rejection. In the church as a whole, some go completely inactive and don’t even bother to try anything. They are consistently hurt by girls like me, and that hurt isn’t a mere cut, but a deep wound. Though valiant and temple-worthy and doing all they can to become like the Savior, they are tossed aside because of how they spent or did not spend two years of their lives. The pain of that is something I can only imagine.

It’s honestly a little superficial for me to say that my friends’ experiences are the “close to home” hitters when it comes to missions. I myself am the product of a temple marriage, not between a girl and what many of us consider a typical RM, but my mother and my father, who came home from the London, South mission early due to medical issues (I’ll add that I have met people who would say that that is dishonorable, who would erroneously assume that he got sick because he wasn’t righteous enough. They are horribly misled. My dad is one of my greatest examples of strength and testimony.). Luckily for my siblings and I, his sickness, something out of his control, wasn’t the issue for my mother, but, rather, whether he could take her to the temple or not. That is what mattered to her, and I am here and can spend eternity with my loved ones because that is what mattered to her and to my dad, too.

To the young women my age, I plead, as President Uchtdorf did, stop it. Use discretion, but righteous discretion. We are quite literally isolating and emotionally abandoning a group of young men who are worthy of and have the desire to be sealed to a spouse, but haven’t yet reached that point in their progression because “medical leave” and “wasn’t able to serve” have been made into leprous stigmas in LDS dating culture. Dating, though the main focus of this post, isn’t even the only sphere where this happens; as communities and wards, we sometimes turn blind eyes toward these young men (and young women, too) who come home early or stay home, as if it burdens us to associate with them or as if we’re ashamed to know them. In their moment of dire need, we abandon them merely because we don’t want to look bad. The honorable, two-year RM is laudable. Missions change lives and do so much good. But sometimes we use the honorable RM as an image, an idol, if you will, that we cling to and seek in our loved ones and neighbors because we don’t want to be judged. This is not only wrong, but incredibly cruel and horribly judgmental itself. It is the exact opposite of Christlike behavior.

The reality of missions is that we maybe set them on too high a pedestal. We know how amazing and life-changing they can be — that’s why we encourage everybody who can to serve and make missionary work a personal responsibility in the church. Missions are incredible things, and if you’re willing and able, they can only make you better than you are. But I think we sometimes forget about other important things. A few months ago, I, and a few others, had the opportunity to eat lunch with President Barrington of the Logan, Utah temple presidency. We sat down at our table and talked for a bit, introducing ourselves and such. The conversation, naturally, turned around temple worthiness and preparedness, as well as missionary work. At one point in the conversation, I watched President Barrington’s face contort with frustration as we sat over soup and salad.

“The temple has become nothing more than an item on a checklist for some of these missionaries getting ready to serve,” he said, brow furrowed. “But the temple should really be the whole focus.” Don’t get me wrong, he later said, serving a mission is a great and important thing, but the temple takes priority.

That conversation has been at the back of my mind ever since, in multiple contexts. Is the temple just an item on a checklist to us, whether that checklist be a personal, missionary, or future spouse checklist? Is it just a word on a page? Where is “temple worthiness” on our lists? Where is “the willingness and desire to take me to the temple” when we decide what we want in a companion? Is it below “returned missionary,” as if one cannot exist without the other? Does it take less precedence than the mission itself?

Too often, I think we misuse the scripture “by their fruits ye shall know them” in the context of missions. We assume that the mission is the fruit, that obviously a young man is good and upstanding and worthy of being married in the temple because he’s served two full years. In reality, the mission is more like the climate the fruit has to grow in and fight in, just as the military or life or work or the critical culture of a hometown are the climates that other young men get to fight through. Half the Quorum of the Twelve are perfect examples of fruit flourishing without the aid of a mission. The fruit is simply what a person makes of themselves during and after their experiences.

Two things.
1) Stop it, stop it, STOP IT.
2) Tell that to President Monson.

Truth be told, I have seen both sides — incredible returned missionaries who are a blessing to their community and others who struggle. I have seen what could have been “good fruit” decompose far too rapidly after some missions. I have seen some returned missionaries, men called “honorable” by their fathers and mothers, come home after two years, only to lose themselves in self-gratification, pride, self-righteous judgment, and reckless habits. I have watched RMs willingly distance themselves from the spirit. I have also heard stories of young girls being taken advantage of at the hands of someone they thought was trustworthy simply because he was a returned missionary. RM status has become just that: a status, one that seems to entitle certain wearers to certain perks that are in complete violation of everything they promised to stand for out in the field and the covenants they have made. These young men, the ones not living up to their covenants, are celebrated and respected, when others who try harder and, frankly, deserve better get nothing in return for it. That is wrong. Serving a mission is far more than serving the Lord for two years — it’s devoting yourself to Him for life, and some have managed to do that on their own while others fail almost immediately upon coming home. What a tragedy that is!

I feel that we need to stop using “RM” as a status, as a justification, and as a qualification. It is certainly an accomplishment, and in most cases, returned missionaries are outstanding individuals. Lest I be misunderstood, I’m also of the opinion that serving the Lord on a mission is one of the most rewarding things you could do, and you should do it if you get the chance. But let’s not forget about those who aren’t RMs and let’s not judge them. We cannot stigmatize young men (and these days, young women, because trust me — it happens) who did not serve or only served for a short amount of time. Sometimes that’s due to medical, spiritual, physical, or mental reasons that we can’t see. For us to assume that they are less than or unworthy is for us to become Pharisees. Would Christ do that? Would he refuse to befriend and support and build a relationship with someone simply because they didn’t serve a mission? If you think so, you do not know Christ.

To those young men, who I know are struggling: the Lord knows you. You are so critical to His plan, and He loves you. He never stops loving you. Don’t give up.

For me, the phrase “returned missionary” has been replaced by the phrase “someone who is doing his best to become like the Savior,” and there are lots of young men doing just that. Temple worthiness and dedication to the Gospel have taken complete priority, as they should. I have had remarkable examples of young men in my life who, though they were unable to give their lives to the Lord on a two year mission, have given their lives to Him anyway and never stopped trying.

We owe them much more than we are giving them.

Follow up: A few of you have commented that the Lord, through His prophets, has asked all worthy young men to serve, and you have expressed your shock that I did not mention that in this post. To that I say that yes, that is what He has asked. A mission is rewarding and beautiful, and it is one way to give back to the Lord, who has given us so much. We are told to serve because His children need us and we need to serve, not because it will make our neighbors think highly of us. I did not write this post to advise young men to break commandments of the Lord, nor did I write it to marginalize what He has asked of us. I wrote this post to advise everyone to keep His most basic commandment: love thy neighbor as thyself.

Continue Reading