I know that Mormonism would like to maintain the dichotomy that there are those in the Church who know it is true and those in the Church who because of less faith or a number of other reasons have serious doubts. I think this second group is shifting in terms of where their center is. rather than doubting this group I think can be shown to be more informed generally than those who “know” the Church is true and I think their center is moving to an I “know” things are not as we tell them. If one doubts it is easy to claim they simply don’t have the faith of those who know it is true and that they can do things to correct their doubt. The reality is that when the group is more informed and also “know” things contradictory to the full-believers it throws a wrench in the dichotomy and compels us to stop “trying to fix” those who are moving further and further into heterodoxy. As I keep saying this road only goes one direction. Seeing as generally speaking the more one gets informed the more heterodox they become, it seems if Mormonism really is truth and it really wants to value those who are honest to the truth they discover it must, if it wants to keep them, make real and legitimate space for those folks. Here is the kind of space that must be made If Mormonism takes itself seriously.
We recognize that having Prophets is essential to Mormonism. We have sustained them as such and while we interpret their role and experience differently than other members we value them as a source of truth and council as well as a catalyst for inspiration within us. We promise to both support them as well as endure them. That said we need space to disagree when the ground is such that we simply can’t hold it and we need room to dissent when we see visible harm being done. To speak up in defense of those who are vulnerable and marginalized is at the core of what we understand the gospel to be where in the D&C the Lord has implored that we “strengthen the feeble knees and lift the hands that hang down”. For us such council takes priority even at the expense of holding prophets who have institutional authority accountable when we see them responsible for added harm and damage to those on the margins. We need you to be more open about prophetic fallibility and the extent to which that plays out in the decisions of the Church.
We need room to dismiss the literalness of the stories in the scriptures. We can’t be compelled to believe in a global flood, a tower of Babel where all languages split from, a literal Garden of Eden, Jonah and the Whale, and so many more. To believe such inspite of the data feels implausible and absurd to us. We also need room to discard pieces of scripture, or use them as examples of what not to do. Some scripture harms, violates humanity, and even offends God and we will need room to set those pieces off to the side or to reassign new meanings to them. We have developed an awareness of how scripture has come to be written and realize that it involves tribes and cultures creating stories to give themselves identity and a sense of their place in the world. That said we recognize that Mormonism has done the same thing for itself and has a right to an identity and a sense of place in the world. We still accept the Book of Mormon as scripture, a sacred text accepted by us and our community as a holy writ, designed to invite us into communion with God, and to give us sacred stories that help us to push towards spiritual and moral improvement. We also value other faith tradition’s Sacred Texts. We consider the Bhagavad Gita, Koran, and the holy writ of other traditions as scriptures to their faith communities in the same way we hold the Book of Mormon. While we have not as a community sustained those texts as scripture within our faith tradition, we can only affirm these as scripture as well and we find deep value and spiritual truths in their pages too. We are not asking that you walk away from a literal interpretation, but that you make it clear culturally that one can and still be a faithful fully participating Mormon even while letting go of literal interpretation.
We recognize that for Mormonism to be relevant it has to have truth claims and it has to play a special role in the plan of our Heavenly Parents effort to bring their children home. So we grasp that saving ordinances are essential to Mormonism regardless of their being essential to salvation. We love our tradition and want respect the deep symbolism in these rituals. But often our faith takes this to an extreme of Ethnocentric superiority and shortsightedness of the role those outside the Church play. We need space to more fully recognize that God’s plan is much grander than Mormonism. We need space in our faith to praise the good and sacred that those outside our Church are called by God to flesh out. We need our Church to speak more to others being called and authorized (Such as President Kimball did here) by God to extend his word and his love to all of his children. We need the Church to more often acknowledge that non-members are among the Church’s Auxiliaries (As Orson F. Whitney did here). Doing such makes room for us as Mormons to not only hold an ethnocentric perspective where our tribe is special and important but also allows us to begin holding a world-centric perspective where we value all God’s children and begin to move the scripture that “all are alike unto God” from our head to our heart.
Our Faith tradition has added so much beauty and richness to our lives. It is unique to other worlds religions in its ability to build community and give people a driven purpose. Much of this can be explained by the deep Ethnocentric loyalty Mormonism ingrains in us. But one area has always had the Church being dragged to catch up. That is the area is Social Issues. Whether Racial Equality, Gender Equality, or Sexual Orientation Equality the Church we love seems to always be several decades behind. Don’t mistake us. We recognize the Church is not constant and eternal in these areas. That in essence it has shifted and moved in each of these areas in the very same direction the world has, only it appears to do so unwillingly and grudgingly. We pray for space for us as a community to ask ourselves if maybe we can do better and if maybe on some of these if we are the problem and the world, just maybe, is getting this area right. We hope that we can learn from history and choose to be out front on some of these issues with a desire to be better rather than to hold old ground tooth and nail. Christ was about pushing back against the status quo within his own faith. Can we at least be open to such consideration and conversation?
As a Faith we have told a simple narrative. Not simple in terms of God’s hand or providence. But simple in terms of sharing, while not the most accurate, the most faithful and beautiful telling of the events that have occurred. The trouble, is that in withholding discussion of the the fuller more real telling of our story we misled our members into believing and framing their testimonies around a narrative that doesn’t hold up. When our members discover the deeper more accurate telling they feel betrayed and a deep loss of trust often follows. We ask that you be fully transparent in the telling of our story. You have taught us that “Mormonism is Truth” and welcomes truth no matter where it is found. Yet the how of you telling our story indicates you do not value truth as much as your platitudes insist. Instead your telling seems to indicate you realize the full story is is damaging to faith and that you see a need to protect members from the full story. This contradiction between saying Mormonism welcomes truth and it’s deep avoidance of Biblical Scholarship, acknowledging the deep flaws of prophetic leadership, and an honest, transparent, and full telling of our story is at the heart of this loss of trust and we look to you to repair that and show us you truly value truth in your behavior.
Our culture has several perspectives that are toxic and unhealthy to those on the margins.
- A culture that vilifies critical questioning whenever the direction of answers leads away from orthodoxy.
- A culture that closes down any conversations or space for folks to talk about the deeper questions of our faith.
- A culture that puts loving those who are different as less important then passing judgement and being defensive and threatened by those differences
- A culture that suggest in its behavior that unquestioning obedience is preferred even when it at times says differently. this along with a reliance on outward authority figures over the spirit within oneself when there is a difference.
- A culture that shames and minimizes those who don’t fit the mold.
It has to make space where people can be honest and authentic to the truths they are learning and to the questions they are discovering. Mormonism has to learn not to fear truth and to truly welcome it even it that means it must more sharply shift the story it tells about itself.
There are likely many other points and areas that could be addressed but for me and so many others just letting us know you also are open to seeing these things and talking about them would begin to gain our trust back. Let me be clear. We are not the enemy. We are Mormon to the core and we want to to stay and we want to make Mormonism something better…… but we need to see that there is safe space for our perspectives, that are questions truly are honored by being acknowledged and addressed, and that you want to make room for us to be informed and authentic to where that takes us.
Here is hoping you can make the tent a little bigger……. so folks like me can stay.
Very nice Bill. I have been thinking “what could the church do to keep me from walking away?” These certainly are some of the things that would help.