Friday, June 17, 2011

I'm NOT a Mormonist

I am a Mormon by heritage, but I am not a Mormonist.

Even though I am no longer actively participating in the LDS church, I am sad and troubled by how the faith that once held so much meaning for me has been co-opted and bastardized in the name of short-sighted political gain and used to divide the very families it purports to exalt. Maybe it's always been so and I've noticed only because the current politicization process is so focused on the role of gay people in society---an issue that deeply affects me. In any event, the institutional church has doubled down in all its code word splendor in an Ensign article, continuing the trend of polarization. (For an excellent response to that article, please read this post by MoHoHawaii.)

What it comes down to for me is an aversion for the all-or-nothing, I'm-right-therefore-you're-wrong approach to life. So, I am anti-religiosity, not anti-religion. I am anti-dogma, not anti-faith. I am anti-authoritarian, not anti-establishment.

The writer Andrew Sullivan has spoken about the trouble he has with "Christianists" as opposed to Christians. The latter find personal meaning and fulfillment in Christianity. The former want to force their world view on others. This isn't unique to Christianity, but it's the religion most familiar to most of us. I tend to agree with Sullivan's take on this. It has particular application within Mormonism.

During my many years as an active, trying-to-believe Mormon, I was never comfortable with the incessant pressure to do missionary work. Although my full-time mission as a young man was ostensibly a proselyting mission, it was very unorthodox. Thankfully. Much of my mission was more about social work and community service. We helped recent immigrants adjust to life in the U.S. We did translation and interpretation work, we helped with family issues, we helped comfort people at hospitals. I even taught piano lessons for several months at the end of my mission. Of course, none of this was in the Missionary Handbook. A lot of it was technically (or blatantly) against the mission rules. I saw it as service that met some of the needs of the people. Naively, I thought that service was what a mission was about. I learned the hard way that "service" has a much more narrow definition in the prevailing LDS conventional wisdom. After my mission, I learned the hard way that "spirituality" has a much more narrow definition in institutional Mormonism. What I discovered is that I'm a Mormon, not a Mormonist. And that discovery led me out of the church.

Rigid dogma, authoritarian leadership, vilification of groups of people, rejection of critical thinking and fear of scientific inquiry are at the top of my list of things that bother me about many religious organizations/movements and many their most strident adherents. Myths, traditions, ceremonies, and many other aspects of religion generally aren't bad in themselves. The problems arise when leaders and followers of a particular religious tradition use differences in perspective and belief to drive wedges between people and appeal to base tribalism and the dark angels of human nature. Sadly, many Mormon leaders and devout members are experts at doing this.

Lest you think me a complete pessimist, the last thing I'll share here today is a link to a hopeful, wonderful post. The author of the linked post is Krisanne. I would like to hope that she and many people like her are the Mormons of the future. Not because she is accepting of me as a gay Mormon, although I deeply appreciate that. And not because she's a smart, thoughtful, loving person, which she is. But because of the powerful openness and genuine love that shines through the tone she establishes. If that tone can find a flow within Mormon culture, that will be a wonderful thing to behold.


  1. I really appreciated this post. (In fact I think I have read it four times today...)

    There were so many things that I loved about the church. Leaving behind my own all-or-nothing attitude has recently left me wondering if I can somehow reclaim the title of Mormon in some way.

    I just don't think the real core of the church and its teachings are the really and truly about rejection, separation and dogma...

  2. Oh, and I wish I had served my mission the way that you did. Service should have been the focus rather than the number of contacts, lessons, and books given away...

  3. Here's a great (satirical) interpretation of Elder Porter's article. Enjoy!!!

  4. Thank you so much Kiley! You are one of the sweetest, most thoughtful and generous souls I know. I'm so glad that this eclectic blogger world and the disaffected Mormon underground helped us to connect. One of these days, we'll get to sit down and trade mission stories! xoxo

    Thank you also MoHoHawaii. That piece was wonderful! As are you!

    And I'm not apologizing for being gushing today. I mean every word of it.