Today’s guest post is by Kate from Myriad Mormon Musings. Here is a brief introduction, in her own words, followed by her post:
“My name is Kate. I was raised Catholic, but converted to the Mormon church in 1999 in a hippy branch at Cornell University. Since leaving that branch, I have struggled to find my voice within the LDS world. Where does a politically liberal, PhD-holding, working mom fit in? I created the Myriad Mormon Musings blog in an attempt to find my niche as I struggle with LDS culture versus doctrine.”
Recently, my husband and I attended a marriage and family retreat. One of the speakers described three phases of the marriage relationship as the honeymoon, disillusionment, and joy phases. The honeymoon phase is where your spouse can do no wrong, and is perfect. The disillusionment phase occurs when you start to realize that your spouse is not perfect, and ask yourself “what have I done?” However, it is only with a full understanding of the other person, warts and all, that you can reach the “joy” phase, where you love one another despite (or even because of) their failings, and this makes the commitment that much greater.
I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how this concept applies to my walk with God. It will be 10 years ago in September that I officially joined the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the Mormons). Before joining the church, I thought I had done a lot of research into my decision. I had spent 4 years looking at other churches, learning their doctrine and attending their church services. Surprisingly, not all of my academic efforts led me to the decision to become Mormon. It all came down to the Holy Spirit and what it was telling me God wanted me to do.
When I was meeting with the missionaries, they talked a lot about the Restoration, and how we are the only church with authority on the earth. The talked about how other churches have light and knowledge, but how ours is the only one with the fullness of the Gospel. In Conference talks, there is a lot of focus on our church Fathers, the Pioneers who lead the way across the Plains to Utah to settle Zion. In our Sunday School lessons, Church history focuses exclusively on Joseph Smith’s first wife (Emma), and ignores the “less-savory” aspects, such as polygamy, blacks in the Priesthood, the expulsion of the intellectuals, the Church’s role in the ERA, etc.
I knew that there was a lot of history that has tripped up the testimonies of others in the church. For that reason, I have really pushed off learning about it, in an effort to build my own faith before trying it. This past year, I made the decision to open that historical can of worms and found… worms. Yes, it wasn’t as bad as I was afraid of (it wasn’t snakes). However, it still has been enough to change my perspective and shake things up a bit for me.
I know that all churches have things about them that they would prefer to ignore. The Catholic church has the Inquisition and its relationship with Hitler. Muslims have the fundamentalist view of Jihad. Mormons have polygamy. The problem I am having now is that for years I have thought that our church was perfect. That the Prophets would never teach anything that was incorrect or untrue. Then I find statements from Brigham Young saying that interracial marriages are, in God’s eyes, punishable by death. I find contradictions, where early church leaders taught that the “new and everlasting covenant” meant polygamous/plural marriage, whereas now we teach that only monogamous marriage is acceptable. While my faith in fundamental Gospel principles and doctrines remains firm (I still believe in the Restoration, for instance), my ability to blindly accept everything the Prophet says as true has been shaken.
It may not sound like that big of a deal, but in a lot of ways it is. It’s like being married to someone and then finding out that they aren’t what they appeared to be when you married them. You still love them, but some of the being “in love” has worn off. You find out that they have imperfections where you once found them perfect. They have fallen from a pedestal you had placed them on. My hope is that this disillusionment phase can only lead to a final joy, where I can rest in my stronger testimony of God and His Apostles.
Another thing that I realized recently is that there are several non-doctrinal “ways to faith” that the Mormon church doesn’t really emphasize. For instance, meditation and devotion are largely undiscussed in our faith culture. Yet, these are some of the ways that I have felt closest to God in the past. I have been rediscovering them, and realizing how much my own spiritual growth has suffered without them. How does one learn about these things, when they are not taught or an active part of the faith culture you are in? Does the fact that they are not taught make them wrong?
Another example is the idea of a personal ministry. In the Mormon church, you are called by a priesthood leader, through no power or act of your own, to different responsibilities/ministries in the church. There is really no place for someone who feels God calling them. Typically, it is said that if you aspire to a calling, then you are unrighteous. It’s as if God must work the hierarchy; if you haven’t been called by a priesthood leader, it doesn’t count.
Recently, I have been feeling more and more like God has been trying to call me to a specific ministry. But I can’t determine what it is. Moreover, it is somewhat impotent when I feel like there is not a church program or mechanism for me to reach that ministry, no matter what it may be. I felt strongly that I was supposed to go to the Marianist retreat. Now I feel that I should be exploring other faith cultures again, to “find” this ministry. But to what end? If I know the Book of Mormon is God’s word, then what else and where else can I go?