Monday, November 07, 2011

Inquisition Monday: Faith

I don't normally blog about my beliefs because I don't think the majority of my readers care that much. And to be honest, the way someone connects to God/dess/the Divine/the Universe/the Force/the Flying Spaghetti Monster/etc isn't usually relevant for most conversations and daily interactions like grocery shopping or blogging. That's not to say that I'm indifferent to how belief and religion are an important part of someone's identity and life story. It's just I don't write about what I actually believe very often because I'm not interested in turning my blog into Heather-preaches-it-about-God. It's already enough of Heather-preaches-it-about-her-life! I incorporate religion when it's important to understand a story or perspective of mine. So with that in mind, I guess I'll talk vaguely about what do and do not believe.

On last week's post on obedience, I got this question from Anna, "On a side note, do you disagree with anything the LDS church tells you and "disobey" their rules? There are many teachings/rules that seem to be a bit taboo to non-LDS members; do you follow all of these regardless because of your trust in the church, or do you ever question and do what you feel is right, even if you may alienate yourself from the rest of the church? You seem to be a very strong-minded spicy girl, so was curious your take on this."

Yes, I disagree with the LDS church at times. Sometimes it's often and sometimes it's not. My beliefs and personal faith has changed dramatically in the past 6 years of this blog, but similarly, my beliefs and personal faith changed dramatically in the previous 6 years and I anticipate that it'll continue to change because that's how the human condition works. I can definitely say that in some ways, my faith was stronger 5 years ago, but I can also say that in other ways, it's stronger now.

In my Daughters of Mormonism interview, I spoke about faith in the very Mormon terms of being a seed and as a garden. My belief garden is full of lots of plants, but sometimes I give a certain plant or two more attention than the rest. I think that's really normal. I can recall times when I felt very strongly about things like Joseph Smith, the Book of Mormon, prayer, fasting, tithing, etc. But I don't feel strongly about everything Mormon all the time. And sometimes I decide that I don't want to feel strongly about certain things. I take what I want to focus on and leave the rest. That probably makes me sound like a cafeteria Mormon, but I would argue that every Mormon is a cafeteria Mormon. You simply can't be 100% in because all the "rules" are going to get in the way of each other and even contradict each other at times. Take obedience: sure, you can follow everything a leader says, but Mormons are also strong believers in personal revelation. What if it contradicts what a leader says? Then what?

I think that is ultimately the big Mormon question. For a religion starting with a boy who said he saw an angel/Christ/God (depending on which version you read), we've really gotten away from finding our own personal connections with the divine. I know in the past, I've put things between me and God: my parents, my leaders, my husband, my church, my friends, etc., but I'm working on tearing those walls down. But it gets complicated.

For example the "rules" are complicated. There's doctrine, there's practice and policy, there's personal opinions, etc. And it's hard to figure out what is what. There are things that were once doctrine that are now looked at "oh, they did something and it was weird, but it wasn't really doctrine." The most obvious of that is polygamy. In the late 19th century, it was certainly taught that polygamy was essential to salvation. Fast forward more than 100 years, and the President of the Church, Gordon B. Hinckley, denied that it is doctrine in an interview with Larry King. 100% confusing. But 100% exciting. Because the LDS Church claims to be a "living" church, that means things can change. And they do and will continue to do, even if it's at a snail's pace or sometimes in directions I don't like.

I give myself permission to believe, to not believe, and to outright reject some of the things taught over the pulpit and elsewhere. I give myself permission to do or not do all the Mormon things. And I'm ok with that.

Ideally, I would always, always follow what I personally feel is right. And I think I'm doing much better at that these days, but there are times when I sigh and let things go and accept some things in the meantime. No person is an island. I won't lie- I do follow some of the "rules" for the sake of relationships. But there are also other rules that I throw out and figure that if people take issue, then well, I guess they take issue. I've butted heads with family, leaders, other ward members, friends, and anonymous Internet people over various Mormon issues. I'm not always ok with it, as it's anxiety-inducing, but there's a point where you just can't please everyone and you have to take a deep breath and worry about yourself. And that was like 4 years ago.

On the other hand, I am privileged to live in a special corner of the LDS church. People in my ward (congregation) are not afraid to disagree. I've sat in Sunday School and listened to people talk about their concern of how women in the church aren't referred to "President," despite the title of their calling. I remember a Relief Society lesson in which the parable of the talents was described and when the teacher turned to the class for comments, the first one was, "I think this is a terrible parable. I don't like it at all. The master sounds like a jerk." I go to church with women who have openly aligned themselves with the cause of feminism and they are leaders in the stake and ward. I personally know people who went to the stake president during Prop 8 and said, "I can't contribute to this," and was told that they was totally ok and there would be no pressure either way. Mitch Mayne, the man who was called to be in a bishopric in San Francisco because he is gay and who, while not currently in a relationship, has been upfront in saying that he's not opposed to the possibility of finding a partner in the future, came from the ward I go to. I was privileged to hear his "farewell" talk in person. What this means is that the people who declared him "worthy" to be able to take a prestigious position like that are the same people who have the power to "talk to me" or "ask me to pray" about things or keep me from having a calling or take the sacrament (communion) or from going to the temple or even kick me out, but they don't. Similarly, Carol Lynn Pearson, a very well-known Mormon poet, writer, feminist, and LGBT ally also lives in my stake. This past spring, she spoke about our stake president's talk in stake conference last fall about making the Mormon tent bigger and being more inclusive- if you are Mormon, listen to her talk, it's amazing. What this means for me is that I have a lot of freedom. I can start a Heavenly Mother-focused blog or speak about Heavenly Mother over the pulpit without worry. In church, I can wear pants, be barefoot, nurse openly from the top of my blouse, and all sorts of things that seem counter to the Mormon culture and the ward still welcomes me every Sunday and has never said anything, well, except some of the older ladies worry about the temperature of my feet in the winter. I am really blessed to live here. And admittedly, I don't know if I would still be as active and gung-ho somewhere else.

And before I make my ward sound like the most universalist Mormon place in the world, I'll admit there are Sundays when I  close my eyes and mentally sing "LALALALALA" during a talk. And I get mad and angry with the patriarchal system. It's not perfect. But I'm grateful that there is room to stretch and try new things out here.

I'm not always the best Christian or Mormon or feminist or tree-hugging hippie or Oaklander or Californian (haven't even gotten my new diver's license!) or American or human being. I don't even know what I believe moment to moment sometimes: my view of God has shifted probably 7 times in the process of writing and pausing and thinking about this post. And it'll probably change up 30 times tomorrow. Or something like that. Can't be too boring!

I'm not sure if I answered the question well. I appreciate and welcome comments, but Internet rules apply (be nice!), along with "Bloggernacle" rules: you cannot attack someone's testimony or connection with the divine in the comments. I understand the touchy and sometimes painful and disgusting parts of Mormon history and doctrine, please don't come in and try to pronounce Mormons as bad and evil. No anti-Mormon stuff. But similarly, I'm not going to allow calls to repentance. No one gets to judge another person's journey. Well, you can, just not here. Keep it in your brain.


  1. What Jenni said.

  2. You are so cool! So glad to know that there are open minded wards like yours and especially that you are so strong that you have made room for yourself and your personal journey. I'm a big admirer on many fronts!

  3. Wow. I absolutely loved this post; so eloquent and well thought out. While I understand why you may shy away from talking about your faith, it is part of who you are and I think entirely valid to bring up in your posts without sounding too preachy. It also, I think, can be enlightening for those of us who are perhaps not as familiar with the Mormon faith and would be inclined to harbor stereotypes.

    I had always wondered how your feministy views worked with your being Mormon, but you did a great job explaining this to me, and on such a deeper level than I had even expected. I suppose in my mind, I imagined you struggling with very general, stereotypical "Mormonisms" such as garment wearing, alcohol/caffeine avoidance, patriarchal roles, etc., but you touched on so much more. Your struggles and revelations about your faith, and more importantly yourself, are things that I think we can all relate to as we try to find our place in the world.

    Oh and just to note, I truly enjoyed reading this post, and even as an atheist didn't find it to be "too much" religion. I think by allowing ourselves the chance to learn about others and their beliefs, we can learn to respect one another more. Keep up your thoughtful, opinionated posts! Much love. xx

  4. I'm glad this post was liked! For the first few hours after publishing, I only had Jenni and Dryad's comments- and I know both of them through other web places, so they did't really count (well, you do. I love the love). I was afraid that my extra comment policy add-ons were scaring people from posting at all!

    So thanks Jennifer P and Anna. And yeah, I spend a lot of time naval gazing at my Mormonism and place in it. My thoughts were all over the place while I was trying to write it, so I'm glad it made some sort of sense.

  5. I can definitely understand so much of what you said in this post. Sometimes I still feel like a kid, living under my parents' rules....then I realize I'm an adult and mother and wife, and I have my own views and opinions. Then I see that I might not agree with a lot of things that I always "agreed" with before. It can be -so- intimidating!!! Religion is definitely one of those things. I am still a very traditional Mormon, I guess. Maybe because I'm just learning to look at things and make decisions on how I feel about them. But I don't feel like my testimony or faith is where I have maybe had it before, or even where it should be.

    I am rambling here in your comments. Sorry. I guess this post made me think a lot.

  6. While I'm not a feminist in the slightest (I'd be happy to be barefoot, pregnant in the kitchen without voting rights and be sure that kitchen has wood burning stove) I really love this post, because I too have wondered on how your faith and beliefs coincided. And by beliefs I'm not refering to the religious sort. I learn much from you.

    That said, I'm glad I'm not in your ward, I'd totally end up being inactive because I'm not as open as I could be. And I'm entirely fascinated and delighted to hear there is an openly gay bishop, though I'm not fully supportive of homosexuality.

    While we were trick-or-treating, we stopped at a house of a member of our ward's an after we left my husband was telling me how when that couple moved into the ward, they were asked to speak in sacrament before their records had been recieved. They graciously did so with no problems. A month later records arrived and it turned out the wife wasn't a member. Some ward members are quite upset about that and according to my husband non-members aren't allowed to speak in sacrament. Which I think is just stupid. Sacrament is for learning more about Christ and his gospel, and becoming more like him, right? So why would whether someone is baptised to our church or not matter so long as their talk was spiritually uplifting?! Argh.
    I needed to get that out.

    Anyway, yes,I love that the Mormon church is all about free-agency and that includes whether or not you agree with something that is "doctrine", etc.

  7. Mallory- I consider myself a mostly traditional Mormon: I go regularly, I have a calling, we do FHE, the whole shebang. It's just that other people don't consider me tradition. *shrug*

    Abigail- Oh my examples of my ward are very much the minority. You wouldn't even notice the slight liberal tendency if you weren't looking (minus big things like Mitch's talk). I look because I'm always on the lookout for people that I can feel safe opening up to. But in general, the talks are pretty standard, the lessons are from the manuals, it's a pretty "normal" ward. Except for that person who comes to church without shoes. Goodness! :)

  8. This was really lovely. I struggle with patriarchy (generally) as well and even switched wards to find one where I could be active and enjoy my church attendance. Sometimes I feel sheer rage, but I try my hardest to be patient and open about my feministy-ness so that it can be okay for others to feel the same way.

    (Tangential, but I had an experience where my husband had one of the "priesthood interviews" and was asked about his scripture reading/praying/temple/FHE habits and I found myself very bothered by this. I thought of some of your posts on obedience and wanting to obey for my own reasons, not because people are keeps tabs on it.)

  9. Your new ward sounds fantastic :) I'm glad you've found a place you can grow in. Love this post.

    It's funny how people always say that the church is the same wherever in the world you go... Because it's really not. The gospel might be... But the church itself... The people, the culture... Different. So different!


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