What is your relationship with Mormonism?

Andrew SMormon 41 Comments

This is a question I just had for everyone…because if there’s one thing I’ve learned from all this blogging, it’s that people have such widely differing relationships with Mormonism. I’ve taken for granted that people are looking for the same “things” from it as I was/am, but that is not the case.

So, my question is: what is (or was) your relationship with the church and Mormonism? (I asked this question on my blog too, and there were a few answers.) What purpose did it/does it serve…what do you look for (or what did you look for) from it?

To give an example of what I’m trying to think about, let’s take three different people, whose positions I hope I have correctly surmised. These types aren’t meant to be comprehensive…I just had three people in mind.

Person A:

Person A looked for something that spoke out to him internally. Subjective/spiritual experience and validation were principally important to him. He wasn’t concerned about historical issues or theological issues, because those weren’t what he got or was looking from Mormonism. Rather, a pursuit of personal authenticity, personal peace and joy was what he was looking for. To the extent that the church did/does not lead toward these things, this disharmony was/is a dealbreaker.

OK; that’s person A.

Person B:

Person B had a different view from Person A. The subjective experiences person B got from Mormonism weren’t necessarily all that good (no ground-shattering revelations to share for fast and testimony meeting…), but these weren’t the matter of principal importance to him. Rather, even if the church caused him a great deal of pain, he dealt with whatever personal discomfort that came by recognizing that the church is simply true, so it is “necessary,” and may actually be a “necessary” (as a result of its facticity) “evil” (as a result of the personal pain it causes). However, if the church were not true (or if Person B sufficiently doubted such), then it would not make sense to continue to bear the burden.


Person C:

Person C had a different view from both Persons A and B. For C, again, the actual truth of historical events or theologies weren’t vitally important…and neither was personal peace…so to the extent that there were uncomfortable or controversial parts in either of these, the “reason” for being Mormon woudn’t be threatened. Instead, Person C’s relationship with Mormonism was that it was his community first and foremost. As a beneficiary of that community, he owed an allegiance to the community. Person C was invested in being a Mormonism and it, in turn, was invested in him. Regardless of the nature of history or theology or experience, the Mormon community he grew up in provided him with the backbone for seeing the world, for evaluating ethics, philosophy, and so on. And so far as that backbone was flexible and adaptable to the world, he continued to pay homage to his sustaining community.

As I said before, these examples aren’t mean to fit everyone and everything. They aren’t meant to be comprehensive. So my question…does your relationship fit into one of these or is it different? If it is different, how would you instead describe your relationship with Mormonism?

Comments 41

  1. I resigned from the church a few years ago and became disillusioned with religion in general. While I disbelieve many of its truth claims and teachings, I don’t harbor animosity toward the LDS Church and retain an interest in Mormon studies (thus my following this blog).

  2. Hm. Person B is closest, but with a caveat: Mormonism offers the narrative context for my life that I most want. I believe in the Plan of Happiness, and no other religion offers what I love most about it. My relationship is that I am choosing to believe in that particular narrative, and all the rest comes with it.

  3. So, my question is: what is (or was) your relationship with the church and Mormonism?

    Which “church” are you referring to, Andrew, and who’s understanding of “Mormonism?” Surely you don’t think that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (an entity which didn’t exist during the lifetime of Joseph Smith) is the only church claiming to originate from the teachings of Joseph Smith, let alone the sole expression of “Mormonism.”

  4. At one point, I was what people would probably consider TBM: Born in LDS Church, seminary council, mission (including ZL, AP), multiple callings, etc. Outwardly, I would probably still be considered that – still pay tithing, have a temple recommend, etc.

    My worldview has broadened significantly in the past few years, however. I believe that the LDS Church contains truth, much the same way that many other faiths contain truth – up to an including Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, etc. I don’t think the LDS Church has an “exclusive” lock on truth, which is the essence of our missionary program where we essentially say whatever you have, ours is better. I don’t think the 0.05% of the world who are active LDS are the only people who will make it back to God – which implies that it doesn’t technically matter if you’re active LDS if you’re a good person.

    So why do I stay LDS? Inertia? Family/societal reasons? A recognition that there is good and bad in all religions – just different goods and bads in each religion. In that case, why throw this away to join something else that also has its own faults? This works as well as anything else – so why change?

  5. I had revelations of the heart. They told me this Church was the Divine authorized organization on the Earth. That comes closest to A, I suppose, but it doesn’t have to do with the pursuit of personal authenticity, personal peace and joy. Remaining active in the LDS Church isn’t always those things, but I stick with it and defend it even during dark times of my life. It has more to do with following His Will because it is the right thing to do as revealed to me.

  6. Post

    re 5:

    Nick, you can actually address this question toward *a*n*y*t*h*i*n*g*. This is really looking more at you than the church (whichever church it is). What you are looking for.

    I just use the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as an example because most of us are *most* familiar with it. So, we can assess our reactions to it, what we sought or what we still seek, recognize what the most troubling parts were, why we stayed (or why we didn’t), and then learn quite a bit about ourselves.

    I’m sorry if I made the post altogether too specific and constricting.

  7. The doubts of Person B are fighting with Person C’s need for community. Right now Person C is winning, and will probably continue to win as long my husband’s faith stays strong.

  8. At the believing period of my life I was closest to (B), but I chose to ignore the discomforts as anything more than an inability to comprehend God’s ways, or a proper understanding of history. In other words, everything worked out so long as we could gather the context.

    Now I would say that I am somewhere along the tangency between (A) and (C).

  9. I’m confused. How can a person B recognize the church is “true” without any good subjective experiences, especially if it is hard to put up with?

    I guess I’m more like person A.

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    re 16:

    Well, if a person has reason to believe the Book of Mormon is a historical document, the restoration of the church is historically accurate, etc., etc., then regardless of whether he feels a burning of the bosom or something similar, he is tied to his perception of the “fact” of Mormonism being correct.

    A lot of non-LDS Christian apologists try to do this, I think. They say, “OK, it’s historically most likely that Jesus was resurrected. So even if you don’t have any good feelings about Christianity or Jesus, this is The Way Things Are (TM)”

  11. My relationship with Mormonism is D-Z. I have no idea what that means but I just wanted to write it. 🙂

    Really, I view my relationship with God first and foremost and then my religion as the vehicle of helping me get closer to God. Throughout my life I have been in different places in relation to the church. I went to church, fulfilled my callings and things were good. When I hit a major crisis in my life, I starting really seeking out God, especially at the temple. I spent a lot of time communing with the Lord and I have no doubt that He was listening and guiding me. Most of my life I have felt I belong in the church, but there have been times more recently where I feel like an outsider. This has been good and I am grateful for this experience. I have been a person who has always felt like I fit in and I am able to make and keep friends easily. Feeling like I don’t belong or that I don’t quite fit in has been very eye opening. I know that this is an experience that God has wanted me to have and I see things very differently now. I see a part of Mormonism that I didn’t see before and I hope to be a member of the LDS church who can truly accept and love others as the Lord would have me do, not as I did before in my little Mormon bubble. I know God loves every single one of His children and if we could just do it right, the LDS church could be a refuge for so many. I hope this to be the case more so than not in the future, but for now we have to deal with it being less than optimal. I really think the Mormon culture needs an overall, but how do you do that without bringing people to their knees and being forced to see the need for a change? The Lord brought me there and I have remained there…I now see what I couldn’t see before. So, I would describe my relationship with Mormonism as involving a lot of pain, but a necessary pain. I see the truth in it and I see the need for it. I have had more than enough “revelation” to convince me that it is where I belong, even if I don’t feel like I do. I love so many things about the church, especially the temples. Basically, I love being a member of the church even with all the pain and suffering and I believe it to be a force for good.

  12. A recognition that there is good and bad in all religions – just different goods and bads in each religion. In that case, why throw this away to join something else that also has its own faults?

    @ Mike S.: I asked myself the same question. But the choice needn’t be between Mormonism and another religion. Why not dissociate yourself from religion altogether. Is there something unique that religion affords you that you think you won’t find elsewhere? Don’t feel obliged to humor my curiosity should that question be too personal.

  13. #19: Jon

    No problem with regards to your question. I’ll try to articulate my answer if I can. I believe there is a higher purpose in our lives than mere animalism. The LDS religion calls this God. Islam may call it Allah. Hinduism may call it Brahma. In my “struggle” with my beliefs, I have gone through much the same transformation as Jen stated in #18. I feel much more connected to the world. I feel much more that we are all interdependent on each other. I feel much more of an “Eastern” philosophy in that regard. So, why not “dissociate” from religion all together? Probably several answers:

    – Children: While I teach my children good values and think the home is the most important place to do this, I feel there is some value to raising them with some religious structure. They may choose to go down another path at some point, which is fine, but at least they have a background with which to compare. There is some “bad” in this, as I abhor the way the LDS church causes many kids to look down on people who smoke, drink, are gay, or are “different” as being “bad” people, but we’ve hopefully been able to fix little problems like this as they have come up.

    – Family/society: My family is LDS. My community is LDS. It may be a cop-out, but there is value in not “rocking the boat”. It would unfortunately cause great sadness to my parents and to my in-laws and to many other people if I were to change.

    – Community: There is value in groups of people supporting each other and trying to help each other in a somewhat structured way. Early Christians met in homes. Others meet in mosques or synagogues. Even in Buddhism, one of the “Three Jewels” taught by Buddha as fundamental is the SANGHA, or community of other Buddhists.

    So, structure for my kids, community to try to help people, and not rocking the boat are probably the reasons why I say. Are there things about the LDS Church that really bother me? Sure. Would there by things about other churchs that would likewise bother me? Sure. Are there advantages to leaving organized religion all together? Sure. But there are also disadvantages in my mind. So I stay. Might this balance change at some point in the future and might I leave? Sure. Might I have some great “revelation” and buy off on some of the LDS Church’s more exclusionary ideals? Sure. I don’t know what life has in store for me. I’m willing to accept that. But I do know that my viewpoint has been greatly expanded over the past few years.

    Anyway. I don’t know if that answered your question very well. I tried to express something that is hard to express in words.

  14. Andrew S–

    Nicely done. Whenever I have attempted to categorize reasons people are members of the LDS church I’ve come away realizing the gospel net “gathered of every kind”.

    The following scripture gives insight into how the Lord views His church:

    Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.

    Whosoever declareth more or less than this, the same is not of me, but is against me; therefore he is not of my church.

    (Doctrine and Covenants | Section 10:67 – 68)

    Another way of restating this scripture would be say that all those who acquire the gift Holy Ghost are part of His church, and none else.


    I recently reacquired my temple recommend. After the interviews I got to thinking about Alma 5. The temple recommend questions for worthliness are easy compared to the questions Alma brought before the church at Zarahemla.

    The Lord invites all to come to His church, but only those who are serious about making and keeping covenants are made “alive in Christ”.

  15. #21:

    Question: How can the phrase “whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church” be restated as “all those who acquire the gift Holy Ghost are part of His church”.

    In my mind, these are vastly different statements. The phrase “whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me” is very inclusive. It includes the billions of people on this earth who repent, are good people, who fear God, and therefore have a chance to be with God one day.

    The implication of the “gift of the Holy Ghost”, as least as interpreted in the LDS church, implies people who are only members of the LDS Church. Your restatement of the scripture is much more exclusionary. Assuming that half of the people on the membership records are inactive, your restatement implies that probably only 6 million or so of the 6+ billion people on the earth are “part of His church”.

    I therefore respectfully disagree with your restatement and don’t think it’s related at all.

    Anyway. Happy New Year. Have a great 2010…

  16. Post
  17. #22 Mike S–

    I’ll begin by wishing a Happy New Year. I hope 2010 is great year for you and yours. Oh, be sure to have a good home storage plan.

    Regarding my restatement of D&C 10:67-68 you asked:

    Question: How can the phrase “whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church” be restated as “all those who acquire the gift of the Holy Ghost are part of His church”.

    Following is my reasoning for saying the gift of Holy Ghost is what verse 7 implies:

    The 4th article of faith explains this.

    We come unto Christ in steps 1. Faith 2. Repentance 3. Baptism by water 4. gift of the Holy Ghost (baptism of the Spirit).

    It seems to me that one must take all four steps to please God–“cometh unto me”.

    This same thought is stated in D&C 39:5-6.

    Pres Benson speaking about D&C 10:67 said:

    In the usual sense of the term, Church membership means that a person has his or her name officially recorded on the membership records of the Church. By that definition, we have more than six million members of the Church.

    But the Lord defines a member of His kingdom in quite a different way. In 1828, through the Prophet Joseph Smith, He said, “Behold, this is my doctrine—whosoever repenteth and cometh unto me, the same is my church.” (D&C 10:67; italics added.) To Him whose Church this is, membership involves far more than simply being a member of record.
    Ezra Taft Benson, “A Mighty Change of Heart,” Ensign, Oct. 1989, 2

    Related thoughts:

    Is the gospel is exclusionary. I think the answer is both yes, and no.

    YES: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Matthew 7:14 This seems to be referring to the C. Kingdom.

    NO: Because of the revelation on ordinances for the dead, all have an equal opportunity, but few will take full advantage. That is why we have the degrees of glory.


    More Related thoughts:

    1. The Father invites all mankind to come to Him through His Son, the Savior Jesus Christ.

    …his blood atoneth for the sins of those who have fallen by the transgression of Adam, who have died not knowing the will of God concerning them, or who have ignorantly sinned.

    But wo, wo unto him who knoweth that he rebelleth against God! For salvation cometh to none such except it be through repentance and faith on the Lord Jesus Christ.

    (Book of Mormon | Mosiah 3:11 – 12)

    I think the above scripture is as inclusive as possible.

    2. Ordinances must be received from those having authority. Only one church qualifies.

    …without the ordinances thereof, and the authority of the priesthood, the power of godliness is not manifest unto men in the flesh;

    (Doctrine and Covenants | Section 84:21)

    3. The “gift of the Holy Ghost” is received by the ordinance of “full” baptism. Water baptism is only half a baptism. Full baptism is realized when one is baptized by the Spirit–fire and the Holy Ghost, receiving a remission of sins. This is explained in 2 Nephi 31:13 and 17.

    If we properly repent then we will receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

    The gift of the Holy Ghost and the Holy Ghost are different gifts. All mankind can have access to the Holy Ghost, but only members of Christ restored church can receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.

  18. Mike S. and Andrew S.–

    My hat is off to both of you for asking the question. I was hoping someone would.

    Remember, the doctrine of the LDS is:

    1. everyone has the light of Christ

    2. everyone has access to the Holy Ghost

    3. NOT everyone has access to the gift of the Holy Ghost

    4. the ordinances for the dead, temple work, gives EVERYONE who ever lived or will live access to all that the Father hath.

    There is nothing exclusionary about the doctrine of the LDS church.

    The difficulty comes when the Lord tells us that in order to receive all that the Father hath they need to put their foot on the narrow path; that results in “few”, because we have agency and not everyone is willing to do walk the path.

  19. #25: So what makes a person willing, or not willing, to “walk the path”?

    A common (arrogant) LDS presumption is that Mormons are special, because they alone are brave, diligent, dedicated, etc. enough to walk the relatively difficult Mormon path. (I think the Amish have it even harder.)

    It may be more accurate, though, to consider that it is not one’s diligence that makes him willing to walk the Mormon path, but rather his judgment. That is, what makes the difference is whether you believe the Mormon path is actually the one true path to the tree of life, or not.

  20. Thomas – It is further perplexing when one considers that the vast conglomeration of religious inclination is geographically bound. In other words, what are the odds that the preponderence of those who are alone, diligent, dedicated, etc, all live within the same geographical area’s, and belong in large numbers to the same families. The would be statitician in me suggests that the case is otherwise. Rather, culture has a larger pull on what relgion someone will belong to, than about anything else. I think has some telling implications about the Gift of the Holy Ghost implied by Jared also. After all, ones liklihood to benefit from the gift has more to do with where they are born and raised, than any due diligence on their part.

  21. I identify most with person B.

    I believe the reorganized church is true, but I have some complaints about one piece of doctrine. The Proclamation on the Family encapsulates all of the gender role/sexuality beliefs that I have a problem with. I continue to pray that some of these doctrines will soften in my lifetime. My biggest problem though is the confusion of “culture” and doctrine, and a hard-line reading of the Proclamation on the Family only reinforces the confusion.

    The rudeness and noise in church meetings has kept me away recently, but I am hoping to find a way to cope with this in the hopes I will be able to feel the Spirit at church meetings again. I keep reminding myself that the primary reason to attend on Sunday is to renew baptismal covenants, but some Sundays, that is not enough to motivate me to endure the problem.

  22. Just returned from seeing Avatar. Great movie!

    #26 Thomas–

    I think people walk it for different reasons. Some, like you suggest, may even be arrogant. But certainly not all, that would be statistically odd.

    However,I can answer why I attempt walk path. I was liveing a very worldly life. The Lord, for reasons known to him, parted the veil and allowed me see meet a messenger (angel) from hell, I was only delivered by calling upon on God in prayer. That got my attention! Now I’m sure that will get some laughs, but its truth.

  23. #27 Cowboy–

    I don’t entirely disagree with your position. I think of it as the patriarchal order. This order begins in pre-mortality and extends into this life. See Patriarchal Chain, Mormon Doctrine, P. 558.

  24. Gordon B. Hinckley and Jeffrey R. Holland have both suggested in the last few years that not a lot is known about the details of how pre-existent behavior had mortal outcomes. I’ll admit that both did so in reference to the “folklore” doctrine on the priesthood ban. Even so, I find it difficult to maintain a consistent “first estate” doctrine and rationalization for what we percieve to be mortal “outcomes” if so much of what was taught in that context is no longer official. I find the whole thing problematic because Abraham 3:26 suggests something akin, though not explicitly, to what you are suggesting. So we have this convoluted doctrine that based upon on a pre-existence, of which we have no recollection, we made choices that somehow impact us here. Going further, at a point in history Mormon Prophets and Apostles have claimed so much that our ancestory including the conditions we are born into are direct results for our valiance during that “estate”. However more modern Prophets have suggested that at least part of that is not true. Bruce R. McConkie coined it as “former leaders were operating under limited light and knowledge compared to us (paraphrased)”. Though, any further explanation has yet to be given. Particularly given that certain editions of Mormon Doctrine specifically made the ancestory case, whereas later editions have it omitted, I am not certain McConkie is the best authority on current LDS thought. In other words Jared, from an LDS standpoint I could neither agree or disagree with your position here. To me the whole thing is a mess.

  25. There is changing ground when trying to understand all this. There is the reversal on polygamy from an essential principle to an excommunicable principle. There is the reversal on the race issue. And even for something as fundamental as believing that we have the potential to become like God, President Hinckley wasn’t too clear saying he wasn’t really sure what that meant and didn’t know that we taught that.

    My focus is instead on being a good person, loving my fellowman, and looking our for my neighbor. I happen to do this in the context of the LDS Church.

  26. #32 Mike S and Cowboy–

    No doubt the doctrine of pre-mortality is rife with difficulty. I tend to be one who considers about every kind of source. I’ve read a few books like George Ritchie’s, Return from Tomorrow. Some of these accounts refer to pre-mortality.

  27. #33 Mike S

    Changing ground is a constant in religion. The standard works have many examples starting with the fall. Our day is no different.

    However, as you point out there are constants. The ones you mention, and others like faith, repentance, ordinances, the Holy Ghost, and the gifts of the Spirit.

  28. I would consider my TBM life to be B. Currently the closest thing I am would by C. Since I do not believe The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has an exclusivity to truth, I find myself looking in many places to find ways to be a better person and help those around me. You could call me a cultural Mormon, but when they pull out giant twister for the New Years Dance activity, lets just say I always went running!!!

  29. I don’t quite fit into any of the three. I am an atheist but practicing Mormon. I go through the motions for my family and because I like being associated with Mormonism. I respect much of the church, but I struggle to believe its true. I grew up in the church, served a mission, but after being educated, I just can’t bring myself to believe in God, as much as I try. And I do try to undo my disbelief, but I just can’t.

  30. Post

    re 38:

    Skeptic, I’m not necessarily saying that every person has to fit one of these, because they aren’t meant to be comprehensive and all-encompassing categories. However, I dunno…it seems to me from your comment that you remind me of a person C.

    I mean, you “go through the motions for your family and because you like being associated with Mormonism.” Isn’t that the community aspect?

  31. I don’t know that I relate well to any of the 3. I guess if I’m being honest I would say that when I was an active member I was most like person C, although I never would have admitted that and probably didn’t even know it. As soon as I started being honest with myself, though, I abandoned even that, although I wouldn’t say it was because mormonism wasn’t flexible or adaptable enough to the world. I guess I would say that when I was in the church I was doing it largely for social reasons, but I decided to leave for principle reasons.

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