Friday, November 20, 2015

Why I Love the LDS Church Enough to Both Criticize It AND Step Away From It

In March (2015), on the 50th Anniversary of "the March" in Selma, Alabama, President Barack Obama delivered a masterful speech with the Edmund Pettus Bridge as a backdrop. He captured the spirit of America and the importance of drawing inspiration from specific episodes of our history to better shape the present.

 I especially love this quote: 
What greater expression of faith in the American experiment than this; what greater form of patriotism is there; than the belief that America is not yet finished, that we are strong enough to be self-critical, that each successive generation can look upon our imperfections and decide that it is in our power to remake this nation to more closely align with our highest ideals?
I re-read and re-listened to President Obama's remarks, and was moved each time. Not only did it capture my patriotic commitment to speak out against injustice in order to make America better, but it likewise encouraged me to look inward at the imperfections of my church and courageously work to remake it to be better--to be a church more focussed on compassion than righteousness and purity. I was about to blog about the connection between love and loyalty and criticism but Rachel Held Evans beat me to the punch with her powerful column on CNN: “Strong enough to be self-critical: In America AND the church."

She was later interviewed by Valerie Tarico:
Tarico: Some fellow believers see your questioning and critique as a betrayal of Evangelicalism. But in one of your recent blog posts, “Strong enough to be self-critical: In America and the church,” you came down hard on the side of criticism as a sign of love and loyalty. You said, “Mature people and mature communities are strong enough to be self-critical and wise enough to speak the truth in love.” Are there limits on that? 
Held Evans: A lot of cultures set limits on how much you are allowed to ask. They encourage curiosity and questioning up to a point but your answers need to fall within a certain framework of what the answers are supposed to be, and I think I pushed up against that one too many times for some critics. 
Criticism can be hard to do well, and I am often clumsy at it, but those who advocate for reform in the Church often do so out of a deep love for it. I want the Church to be a more hospitable place for LGBT people, precisely because I want the Church to grow and thrive and welcome all of God's children through its doors. I want the Church to embrace science precisely because I want the Church to remain relevant in the world and tenable for those who shouldn't feel like they have to choose between their intellectual integrity and their faith. In my work, I feel it's important to hold both the good and the bad of my faith tradition truthfully, candidly. If I weren't deeply invested, I wouldn't care. I wouldn't speak up.
That right there is a perfect summary of my own personal feelings regarding the LDS Church. I've loved it enough to be critical, however clumsily at times. Yet regardless of one's heart, so many Mormons view any criticism as "anti-Mormon" and jump to question one's motivation. Yet I persisted in blogging and speaking up on Sunday's because my interest in reform was greater than my interest in preserving the status quo.

It didn't matter to me if now and then someone misunderstood my lack of acquiescence as a lack of faith or even compassion. I knew where I stood. And my leaders knew where I stood. I wanted the LDS Church to be a more hospitable place for LGBT people and their families and to welcome all of God's children through its doors. I wanted to add my voice to those concerned about gender inequality. And I wanted to add my knowledge of our history to lend perspective to our present circumstances. Because "to love something is to see it for what it is, flaws and all. To love one's country, or one's church, is to invest in making it better." And I deeply believed that I could likewise love my church just like I love America enough to be critical of its shortcomings.

It's been years since I've believed in such a thing as a "one and only true church." I'm a Mormon in the mold of Gina Colvin of "A Thoughtful Faith." I don't need the church to be true. I just need it to be good. And the infamous handbook change is most definitely NOT good. I don't even need the church to be right. I just need it to be ennobling. And this was anything but noble. In fact, I feel it's exclusive, divisive, and hurtful.

My idea of Zion is so much more inclusive--one that welcomes all of God's children. Thus, I will now use my personal authority to love without conditions and be radically inclusive. Those are my values. And I've never felt more Christian. After all, Jesus was a radical activist, bent on bringing the practice of love and compassion to a religious orthodoxy mired in man-made religious rules. And that's why he was killed--he was seen as a threat to conventional wisdom.

Conventional wisdom has been that Mormons over-emphasize righteousness and purity over grace and mercy, but the historical Jesus was actually quite subversive to the righteousness/purity system of the contemporary religious establishment. I saw this most clearly while reading Marcus Borg's "Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time: The Historical Jesus and the Heart of Contemporary Faith". One of my favorite quotes in the book is the following:

"Compassion, not holiness, is the dominant quality of God, and is therefore to be the ethos of the community that mirrors God" (Borg, p. 54.)

In other words, "an interpretation of scripture faithful to Jesus and the early Christian movement sees the Bible through the lens of compassion, not purity." Borg uses a specific example on page 59 that is particularly relevant to the handbook policy nightmare:
I am convinced that much of the strongly negative attitude toward homosexuality on the part of some Christians has arisen because, in addition to whatever nonreligious homophobic reasons may be involved, homosexuality is seen (often unconsciously) as a purity issue. For these Christians, there's something "dirty" about it, boundaries are being crossed, things are being put together that do not belong together, and so forth. Indeed, homosexuality was a purity issue in ancient Judaism. The prohibition against it is found in the purity laws of the book of Leviticus.

It seems to me that the shattering of purity boundaries by both Jesus and Paul should also apply to the purity code's perception of homosexuality. Homosexual behavior should therefore be evaluated by the same criteria as heterosexual behavior. It also seems to me that the passage [Galatians 3:28] in which Paul negates the other central polarities of his world also means, "In Christ, there is neither straight nor gay." Granted, Paul didn't say that, but the logic of "life in the spirit" and the ethos of compassion imply it.
I know that speaking and writing this isn't going to make me popular among Mormons who believe the prophets have got it all figured out and we should just follow them. But as John Pavlovitz wrote, I'm resigned to "be the Samaritan: judged, despised, but merciful." So I appreciate voices such as Marcus Borg above, and Matthew Vines' insights into the Bible and homosexuality. And I appreciate Natasha Helfer Parker, who just a few days ago wrote the following:
I know it is difficult for many within the Church to hear an LDS therapist take the position that homosexual behavior, in of itself, is not a sin and not completely dismiss me. I have advocated for a long time that LGBTQ individuals be held to the same standard as heterosexuals when it comes to the Law of Chastity. And for many this will mean I am taking a blasphemous position. But let’s please remember that we have a history of redefining sin; with several clear examples being interracial marriage/sexuality, polygamous marriage/sexuality, and what is considered appropriate marital behavior for heterosexual couples. Those sins have been redefined largely due to the social pressures and education/research of the time. Not because of God. But because of us. The essay written by the LDS Church on the policies around denying the priesthood to black males explicitly says our own biases got in the way. And now we “disavow” past racist teachings once considered doctrine. So it is completely feasible that we may not currently understand all that will change, shift and be revealed in the future in regards to LGBTQ issues. And when the positions we have taken as a church lead to so much heartache, rejection, unhappiness, mental illness, family & community turmoil, excommunication, and even high rates of suicide – you better believe I’m on the side of ‘we are making a mistake.’ I don’t have the luxury to wait around for authority figures to decide for me, while I’m in the trenches with capable hands to help those who are bleeding.
It has been both hard and rewarding as I've participated in the LDS church post faith-transition. I wouldn't be the person I am today had I not traveled this unique path. I'm glad I stayed in the boat as long as I did, even when I was seasick, because I was able to help fellow passengers and helping felt good. But lately I've been stunned as it appears the crew of the boat, rather than reform the culture onboard, have preemptively begun throwing people overboard in order to "protect" a minority from being exposed to potential hurt. Already, just like in the past, people settle their conscience by pointing the finger at God. I'm too sickened by institutional bigotry and discrimination to stay. Whether the metaphor is a boat or a bus, I'm tired of being confined by a segregated boat/bus, entirely a human construction. Moreover I had already learned and previously written that "I am in the drivers seat of my own search for the divine--not the Church™."

Still, I went along for the ride in the collective vehicle of the church that sustains fifteen men as "prophets, seers, and revelators" (regardless of if or how often they actually do any of those things). And while I wrote that many Mormons have their own "grievous sin" of elevating their leaders into the realm of idolatry, I acknowledged:
It's not my place to grab the steering wheel (not even God coerces the driver), [but] I still have a responsibility to love and help the driver as best I can. I believe our prophet-leaders are entitled to our sympathy, our support, and our suggestions. We're not lemmings just along for the ride. We're free agents. It would be easier to just sit back and trust the authorities. But we've seen what happens when we go down that path. (And that path starts looking a lot more like Satan's plan than God's plan.) 
The easy path is to let someone else do all the thinking for you. It's harder to follow prophets when you have to seek revelation/inspiration for yourself to discern when a prophet is acting as a prophet, discerning if the counsel is inspired and/or applies to your circumstances. If all we do is tell people to sit down and shut up in the proverbial boat, we're no longer expecting people to exercise freedom of the mind and think for themselves, seeking their own spiritual confirmation. Or is the expectation to be told what to do, just obey, and get in line and don't rock the boat? If so, Hugh B. Brown is probably rolling in his grave. 
Obviously there's an extreme line somewhere that I wouldn't want to cross in becoming that annoying back-seat driver. I want to always remain loving and respectful, but I feel I have a duty to alert the driver of dangers I may see out my window, especially if the drivers attention is so focused on the road ahead that he doesn't see what the passengers in the back seat may see. Of course it would be extreme if all someone did was ride along in order to criticize your driving. But there's another extreme of actually having an insight that might help the driver out but failing to speak up because of fear it's not your place. And it would be an extreme driver indeed that was too stubborn to listen to suggestions. I believe in trying to navigate the healthy middle ground between the extremes.
The two underlined sentences above underscore the fact that if I were to continue actively participating, I risk becoming that annoying back seat driver. The gap between my conscience and the direction of the leadership of the LDS church has never been wider. And the truth is that I find as much truth and goodness outside of the LDS church, and far less frustration.

Unlike many who are resigning their membership, I'm not "divorcing" the LDS church--my Mormon identity is too entwined--but I will be separating. As a matter of fact, I think there are persuasive public reasons NOT to resign. They would have to kick me out for loving too much. It's now a matter of principle. As I step away, I commit to extend grace and show love. It's not healthy to be antagonistic, and that would only hurt my family and my marriage. I want to maintain the loving relationships I do have with both friends and family.

I've been active all my life. It's been years since I've believed in such a thing as a "one and only true church" but I've still managed to attend church to try to be a bridge builder, and because I believed in big tent Mormonism, or even better, expanding grid Mormonism. I showed up to look for and contribute to goodness, as well as appreciate the truths that I do find in Mormonism, even while personally rejecting that which I now see causes harm. Mostly I figured it was as good as any place to practice the gospel of Jesus Christ that I do believe in (compassion and grace) among people who are radically different than me. It hasn't always been easy, but I have a local community whom I truly love and who truly love me and my family. Many of them are true Christians who prioritize love over dogma.

But something broke open in our church culture with these recent handbook changes. The culture now officially excludes people I personally deeply desire to include. I cannot in good conscience participate with an organization that stubbornly insists on labeling that which is normal as "grievous sin."

The institution doesn't appear anxious to learn from its own mistakes, such as when it was too stubborn to see how it wrongfully labeled good people and persisted in being too stubborn to change for too long; long after society had awakened to a new truth about racial equality. Society likewise is awakening today to a new truth regarding our LGBT brothers and sisters but the LDS church is reluctant to accept it. It digs in even deeper (because heaven forbid we be influenced by "the world") and elevates its Family Proclamation over the Book of Mormon. It labels good people who commit to each other in marriage as "apostates," and deprives their children (in the present) of the blessings and ordinances it spends countless resources and energy on convincing others (in the present) to urgently embrace.

Unfortunately, when most Mormon apologists read the foregoing they'll dismiss it as an "attack." That's one of the unhealthy aspects prevalent among many Mormons with whom I interact: any criticism is seen as an attack or "anti-Mormon." There isn't much discernment between loving critics and antagonistic critics. Most welcomed are the uncritical lovers. Nevertheless, Mormons are my tribe, my heritage, my people, and I want them to be better just as I know they want me to be better. I don't want to be antagonistic. I want to be compassionate. Moreover, whenever people spew forth antagonistic stuff about Mormons, they just get more and more defensive. I want to extend grace and show love.

But this sucker punch from Salt Lake took all the wind out of me. It's too painful. My wife isn't going anywhere (she's the stake primary president) but she supports my decision to step away from active participation in the LDS church as a way of maintaining my own sanity and well-being and to be able to focus on loving and putting my own family first (because I could easily let this eat at me and ruin my balance.) I don't want to become a stumbling block to the people in the pews next to me, nor to my own family, so it's finally reached that point where I need to take a serious sabbatical (indefinitely) because the gap between my conscience and the LDS church is unbridgeable at present.

I still find inspiration in the teachings of Jesus, but they're often missing or misrepresented in church. But I applaud, as the New York Times put it, those "growing number of churches of various denominations [that] have come to embrace all people" just as God made them. I will now spend my days using my personal authority to INCLUDE rather than EXCLUDE. To embrace ALL people. Because we're ALL broken and we ALL need God's grace. Another friend of mine who has left the LDS church to find her calling in the Lutheran church put it this way: "When we freely admit that we're broken and need God's grace, it opens us up to be vulnerable with each other, to tend to each other in sorrow and pain, to be compassionate with each other, to find growth and healing together in community. The gospel, y'all. It's a thing."

I have a dream that one day the LDS church embraces that gospel of grace, rather than refuse to admit its own brokenness and imply infallibility by never apologizing for its wrongs and mistakes (past or present.) And I have a dream that one day Latter-day Saints will join in singing with their Community of Christ cousins my new favorite hymn: "For Everyone Born, A Place At The Table." I sing of justice, joy, compassion, and peace with great conviction, because it represents everything I've come to believe about the Divine.

For Everyone Born, A Place at the Table

For everyone born, a place at the table,
for everyone born, clean water and bread,
a shelter, a space, a safe place for growing,
for everyone born, a star over head.


And God will delight when we are creators
of justice and joy, compassion and peace;
yes, God will delight when we are creators
of justice, justice, and joy.

For woman and man, a place at the table,
revising the roles, deciding to share, 
with wisdom and grace, dividing the power,
for woman and man, a system that's fair.


For young and for old, a place at the table,
a voice to be heard, a part in the song,
the hands of a child in hands that are wrinkled,
for young and for old, the right to belong.


For just and unjust, a place at the table.
abuser, abused, with need to forgive,
in anger, in hurt, a mind-set of mercy, 
for just and unjust, a new way to live.


For everyone born, a place at the table,
to live without fear, and simply to be,
to work, to speak out, to witness and worship,
for everyone born, the right to be free.


And God will delight when we are creators
of justice and joy, compassion and peace;
yes, God will delight when we are creators
of justice, justice, and joy.


sallgood said...

Thank you for sharing such a personal journey. Yes to the gospel of love and acceptance, charity and grace.

Anonymous said...

You should step away and when you do, stop criticising the church.

Anonymous said...

You state that you need the church to be good, not true. I'm here because I believe it to be true. I believe that those truths, though they may be hard, are defined by our heavenly parents to lead us to the ultimate good. And that aptly sums up the difference between the two campus. And also clearly demonstrates why the gap will not narrow. Best wishes on your path.

Dave K said...

This is very powerful. Thank you clean cut. Staying is the place for me. Unfortunately (for me), some of the best people I know are making different decisions. I include you among those. Among the bloggesphere you've been a consistent voice of reason and compassion. I hope you keep blogging if you can. Peace, brother.

Benjamin said...

Enjoyed your post. I found particularly poignant this line: "Lately I've been stunned as the crew of the boat, rather than reform the culture onboard, have preemptively begun throwing people overboard."

I converted to Community of Christ in the last year and can honestly say I've never been happier. I don't think it's for everyone, but sometimes going elsewhere can be more rewarding than you'd ever imagined. The Sunday after this new policy broke, our SLC congregation doubled in size with newcomers seeking peace and healing. I happened to preside over the worship service that day and insisted that we sing "For Everyone Born, a Place at the Table" as our closing hymn. We also included an extra verse that I think you might enjoy under tehse circumstances. It goes as follows:

For gay and for straight, a place at the table,
a covenant shared, a welcoming space,
a rainbow of race and gender and colour,
for gay and for straight, the chalice of grace.

I would also add: it is very, very common to be told that if you leave the church (or even just separate from it), you should just shut up and let it be. It's not your concern anymore. Leave it and leave it alone. You've probably heard that too many times to count. An anonymous comment says it in this very comment thread. Don't listen to that. You have every right to be as concerned for the welfare of the people in the LDS Church as anyone else. The charge to mourn with those that mourn requires it. The analogy might not be perfect, but if an employee of a tobacco company quit their job after learning about unacceptable practices of the company, it would be ridiculous for us to tell that person he/she no longer has a right to criticize the tobacco company because it's no longer his/her business.

Darren said...


Thanks for the post. As usual, your thoughts are well reasoned and articulate. For our benefit, would you mind expanding a little on what "stepping away" looks like? Functionally, what will change in your life?

Teresa said...

I am curious about this, too. Will your wife and children also be stepping away?

Teresa said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Unknown said...


My name is John Draper. You don't know me from Adam. What led me to you is I'm a first-time novelist who is furiously marketing his first book, A Danger to God Himself. As such, I'm continually scouring the internet looking for blogs who might be willing to review my book.

My book is about a Mormon missionary who goes insane on his mission. I'd like to send you a free copy, paperback or Kindle.

Let me tell you the story behind my story:

Writing this novel cost me my religion. I’m not bitter or anything. Actually, it was liberating.

I started the book eight years ago as an Evangelical who wanted to skewer Mormonism. The book took me eight years to write. I probably read 25 books on Mormonism (and read everything on Mormonthink at least twice) and 25 books on schizophrenia. What’s more, I started attending a local ward undercover.

Long story short, I saw that devout Latter-day Saints had the same religion I had, really. Basically, we both loved God and Christ and we wanted to serve God and live more like Christ. I had to admit, the only difference between us was the words we used to describe our experience.

Further, I came to realize that the only reason I believed what I believed was that someone had told me to believe it.

I was just like so many Latter-day Saints and Evangelicals—if not all.

Bottom line, I became an agnostic.

The novel is narrated in the first person by Kenny, the missionary companion who watches his companion, Jared, succumb to schizophrenia. At first, Kenny and others assume that the voices Jared is hearing and the visions he’s seeing are from Heavenly Father.

But as Jared gets sicker and sicker, Kenny has to rethink his whole view of God and how God does or doesn’t interact with the world. Kenny’s journey became my journey: theist to, at best, deist.

So . . . I’d like to send you a free copy of my novel. I’m hoping you’ll write a book review—good, bad, or indifferent. Or maybe you’d like to interview me. Or maybe I could do a guest post.

If nothing else, you get a free book out of this.

Obviously, I want to sell more books, but I really think this book would be of interest to your subscribers. I think they will be able to see themselves in Kenny.

I know the book's not for everyone. My mother, for example, loved it but complained it contained too much vulgarity. I'm not sure how much vulgarity is too much, but the book does contain 91 F Bombs. (I counted.)

Let me know if you would like to talk more.

Thanks for your time


Anonymous said...

Do you recognize YOUR mistakes? Are you stubborn in labeling people? You sound like someone who thinks they have it all worked out and therefore can call out anyone (church or individual) for their flaws. Surely you are not that perfect in your relations.

"One of the unhealthy aspects prevelant among Mormons...any criticism is seen as an attack?" You sound quick to lable and point out others flaws while elevating your own view. I disagree with this statement and think its an excuse to be harshly critical rather than respectfully critical. There are plenty of people who respectfully disagree with the church and criticize something or another but still maintain a sense of humility and kindness. Unfortunately I do not feel like you have had this approach here, or in your recent posts. I do not feel these comments are a step in the "loving too much" direction. Perhaps you disagree. You must not be aware of how your words sound.

I truly hope you are able to now finally "extend grace and show love" as I feel like you have definitely not been so gracious in your words towards the LDS church. That is the only way to really have peace in ones life is in being gracious, forgiving and noticing the good in our relations with others. I'm curious how your family has responded to your dissent.

All the best as you move forward.

Mike C said...

Thanks for sharing your story. It so closely mirrors mine. And I too am stepping back (indefinitely, as far as I can tell). I didn't envision ever really taking this step, but "sucker punch" is an apt description, and I just feel so out of step with our current leaders. I will always be Mormon and will always love what the Church and gospel have done for me, but this policy was too much and it signaled to me that the upper leadership is not at all interested in reform in the foreseeable future.

I think the Church will be much poorer for losing a member like you, which is sad. But I hope that you can find joy in your next adventure. Best wishes on your new journey.

Anonymous said...

"But it was when I was called to be bishop of the Los Angeles Singles’ Ward in 1986, nearly thirty years ago, that I truly understood the devastating impact of the Church’s teachings on the LGBT members of my little flock—and throughout the Church. The fear, shame, and self-loathing experienced by LGBT members of my congregation, who for the most part were good, faithful, often even exemplary members of the Church, led me to think more deeply, to search the scriptures more closely, and to read the scientific literature more seriously. From that moment, I became an ally on behalf of LGBT Latter-day Saints, and have remained so, working from within the Church but nevertheless with conviction that its deeply entrenched teachings were destructive to individual members, to the very fabric of the Church and, more importantly, to the central teaching of Christ’s gospel. It is because I consider this new policy so harmful to my gay brothers and sisters and their families, especially their children, that I feel compelled to respond"

Anonymous said...

I too had to disaffiliate from the LDS Church because of this. The leadership acts as though they're infallible by allowing its base of members (exceptional ones excepted) to shame other members for following the dictates of their own conscience rather than "following the Brethren" (whom history has proven shockingly fallible on major issues and doctrines time and again.) Of course they say generally that they are not infallible, but never do they name specific mistakes or apologize, because after all, we don't want to give people the impression that they're *truly* fallible enough to lead the Church astray. The circular logic is too much: "I know the prophet will never lead us astray because the prophet said so." NOWHERE did God give such a false promise.

Ultimately I left the Church because I believe in being benevolent, virtuous, and doing good to ALL men and women, black or white, gay or straight. The LDS Church has sadly lost track of their own beliefs and priorities when "authority" is prioritized over all else. Members will even defend their sacred cow of authorities over empathy and compassion for those blessed individuals who cannot remain in such a hostile hierarchical institution and leave the corrupted culture behind so they can truly try and be like Jesus, even if the LDS handbook doesn't allow it because, ironically, it exists to maintain a religious establishment that in so many ways has come to resemble the pharisaical religious establishment Jesus himself so often criticized.

No one has the right to be a mediator between a person and their Savior. Christ's grace is sufficient. No ifs, ands, or buts. But most Mormons actually believe that Jesus is rubber stamping all of the actions of the LDS Church leadership. They haven't learned by "sad experience" that many are called, but few are chosen--even among themselves.

Clean Cut said...

John Pavlovitz powerfully articulates my own feelings here (and proves that this isn't strictly a Mormon phenomena):

I've outgrown the furrowed-browed warnings of a sky that is perpetually falling...

Most of all though, I've outgrown something that simply no longer feels like love, something I no longer see much of Jesus in.

If religion it is to be worth holding on to, it should be the place were the marginalized feel the most visible, where the hurting receive the most tender care, where the outsiders find the safest refuge.

It should be the place where diversity is fiercely pursued and equality loudly championed; where all of humanity finds a permanent home and where justice runs the show...

It's getting harder and harder to love all people and still fit into what has become American Christianity, so rather than becoming less loving and staying -- I'm leaving.

I'm breaking free from religion for the sake of my soul.

I'm not sure practically what that looks like, but I can feel myself consciously and forcefully pulling away; creating distance between me and a system that can no longer accommodate the scale of my God and the scope of my aspirations.

Jesus said that the Spirit moves where it pleases, and with it go those in its glorious grip. In my heart and in the hearts of so many like me, that Spirit is boldly declaring its emancipation from the small, heavily guarded space that wants to contain it, and taking us out into the wide, breathtaking expanses of unfettered faith...

I know that there is something much greater beyond it worth heading toward; something that looks more like God and feels more like love.

Maybe you see it in the distance too. Maybe we can go there together.

Fear is in the rear view, freedom in the windshield.

Anonymous said...

Hey Spence,

I have not been here in awhile. I enjoyed your post and I sense quite a bit of emotion connected to it.

My advice for what it is worth would be to take a fresh look at scripture.

Read the Gospel of John. It is striking for it's simplicity in describing the love of God and who Jesus is. Next read Romans. Romans in a nutshell contains Christian doctrine. I think if you only had that book you would have a clear understanding of what Christians have always believed. Paul lays out a clear and concise treatise on God, his justice and mercy, our responsibilities and expected reaction to the message.

I am praying for you and your family. I know God has big things in store for you.

In Christ,

Tanner said...

In an attempt to live more authentically, I too am no longer affiliating with The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. This decision has not come lightly nor quickly. It is the result of countless hours of study, prayer, temple attendance, and fasting. It began when I discovered deeply disturbing issues in our history. I was shocked to find that much of what I had grown up hearing and believing was incomplete or even false.

Reading official sources like the recently published Gospel Topics essays only compounded my concerns. Yet despite the profound pain and confusion, I decided to throw myself completely into reconciling my faith. For the last year I have studied almost incessantly, as my roommates and close friends can attest. At last, I have found staying an impossible task.

This has truly been the hardest thing I have ever been through. I wish with all my heart that things could be different. I don’t know anyone who has loved Mormonism as deeply as I have. I have never been a lukewarm member. My whole life has been a demonstration of my devotion. I was not looking for a way out, I was not searching for an excuse to sin. I was not offended by someone. I have only sought truth and love.

Mormonism has been my upbringing, my religion, my family, my tribe. It has been my history, my culture, my passion, my social circle, my very life. I do not regret the time I spent as a Mormon. I have loved singing with you, learning with you, worshipping with you, and serving with you. I don’t regret any of the time I spent as a Mormon. As I set out on this new journey, I don’t go empty-handed. I take with me the precious things that Mormonism gave me.

Mormonism taught me what it means and what it takes to have a happy family. Mormonism taught me what it means to serve with full purpose of heart. Mormonism taught me how to passionately search for truth. Mormonism taught me how to love indiscriminately. Mormonism taught me how to fearlessly face opposition and defend correct principles. Mormonism taught me how to be happy during trials. Mormonism taught me how to care for the downtrodden, how to lift the hands that hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees. Mormonism taught me how to mourn with those that mourn and how to comfort those that stand in need of comfort. Mormonism taught me to respect life, to love liberty, to work independently, and to live deliberately.

I thank all my friends for their constant love and support. This decision has in no way affected my feelings for them, but in many aspects has strengthened my love and respect. I know this decision will come as a painful shock to many good people, but it has never been my intent to hurt anyone. I have wept as I have considered the possibility of losing loved ones over this. I hope we can all continue positive relationships based on mutual respect and love.

David said...

Selma was a very powerful, moving film. One of the most touching scenes depicts white religious leaders responding to Dr. King's call, joining him in his famous march towards the Edmund Pettus Bridge--Catholic nuns, Jewish rabbis, Evangelical ministers taking a stand against the dehumanization of a persecuted minority. Yet as powerful as the scene was, watching it made me feel sad. I couldn't help but lament, "where were my people?" And of course I knew the answer.

The leaders of my own church were defending a Priesthood/Temple ban directed against those of African ancestry (which ironically includes all of us), and many were making public and private statements in support of segregation.

During the 1960's, the NAACP attempted to convince the LDS Church to support civil rights legislation and to reverse its discriminating practices. NAACP leadership tried to arrange meetings with church leadership in 1963, but the church refused to meet with them. The two groups finally did meet in 1965, and as a result of the meeting, church leadership agreed to publish an editorial in the Deseret News, which would support civil rights legislation pending in the Utah legislature. Unfortunately, the church failed to follow-through on the commitment, and LDS Apostle N. Eldon Tanner explained, "We have decided to remain silent."

True, there are those within my church who did stand up for what was right, but there should have been more of us. Far too many were blinded by a commitment to damaging scriptural and theological constructs that dehumanized a segment of God's children.

Over Thanksgiving, my family attended the Norman Rockwell display at BYU. The exhibit showcases a couple of Rockwell's paintings produced in support of the Civil Rights movement. They're beautiful, and we have one of them hanging in our Family Room. As we watched BYU President Kevin J. Worthen praise Rockwell and the Civil Rights movement in the opening film, I found it interesting to think in terms of history, that these words could not have been spoken by a Church/Educational leader at the time the paintings were being produced.

LDS Apostle and future church President Harold B. Lee was an outspoken opponent of Civil Rights. As a member of the Board of Trustees of Brigham Young University he was in favor of barring blacks entirely from the school. In 1960, Lee officially scolded BYU President Ernest Wilkinson for allowing black students on campus, stating, "If a granddaughter of mine should ever go to the BYU and become engaged to a colored boy there, I would hold you responsible."

We all make mistakes, including religious leaders. I'm not trying to be overly critical. I'm very grateful that things have changed on this issue, both at BYU and within the LDS Church. But I've made a personal commitment that when it comes to the mistreatment of persecuted groups, I will never be on the wrong side of history, no matter what the cost. None of us know how long we have on this earth. I have only limited capacities, and no grandiose ambitions. But someday, when my great-grandchildren are studying history, I want them to know where I stood, and what their grandfather was willing to do to follow the dictates of his own conscience.

Anonymous said...

I can no longer be the member that my leaders require me to be while I strive to become the disciple I feel called to be.

Kevin Rex and Family said...

Thank you, Clean Cut, for your openness and for your integrity. I had previously followed your blog, but left the Church and tried to distance myself, but I saw you one a BRODIE award and I'm glad! Thank you.

David Y. said...

What's your latest, Spence? Where you at?

Clean Cut said...

Thanks for the inquiry, David. It's nice to know people still care. Basically, it feels great to have moved on. Due to the growing expectation that we are to subordinate our own agency, conscience, morality, and personal inspiration to the Church's correlated programs and policies, I was expressly feeling unhappy and even suffocated. Sometimes it felt like the top-down pressure to conform, in order to be acceptable, became unbearable and inauthentic, and I have to walk away from it to maintain valued relationships, and my own spiritual, emotional and mental health.

I no longer feel any obligation to pretend to believe things (even in a nuanced way) that I simply no longer believe. (I'm also really enjoying my relaxed and peaceful Sundays.) I'm happy for and love the "true believing Mormons", even if I personally feel like the majority of them are basing their beliefs on improbabilities and/or not fully and deeply seeing the problems I see. But as for myself I'm happier now (and completely free from Prozac!) to be living more authentically, having let go of that which was causing so much angst in my life.

Anonymous said...

You're a flaming liberal! Of course you criticize the church.