“The gospel of Jesus Christ does not marginalize people. People marginalize people. And we have to fix that.”
~Sister Carol F. McConkie
“Hey, man. Aw, leave me alone…”
I have battled over the last year and a half with the decision of whether or not to continue as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. Until now, I have not divulged this fact to anyone besides my immediate family members and a few close friends, but I no longer really care who knows. If I’m judged by some self-righteous faithful, whatever. I don’t care.
(And if you are one of those people, chill out. You’re gonna hurt yourself.)
I just wanted to lay out a sample of what’s been going on in my head about the relationship between cultures, institutions, and ideals with regards to the Church. Read on if you’re interested.
The more I study the faith and search my heart for answers and ways to resolve my doubts, the more I realize there is nothing wrong with the teachings of Jesus Christ. The faults are in people. Big institutions like the Mormon Church can have a lot of built-in flaws, and I don’t think the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is any different. The good news is that institutions are comprised of individuals, and individuals can change. More importantly, I can change.
Mahatma Gandhi said, “If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him… We need not wait to see what others do.” Basically, he’s saying that social change and individual change are interlocked. They kind of happen simultaneously.
If I want my community to change, the best place to start would be within myself. I am inspired by radical thinkers and revolutionaries not to leave the church, but to be the beginning of positive change within the Church (which, if you think about it, is exactly what Jesus did within his own community during his life) and within myself. The decision to stay in the Church is rooted in a hope for a better world, and a better me.
“Is there life on Maaaaaars???”
As I said before, I don’t believe there is anything wrong with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. His teachings and his philosophies are pure, and I think the same thing can be said for the founding ideals of many religions and spiritual practices. The ideals are good, but sometimes they get warped somewhere along the way. For example, groups of people who claim to be followers of Christ will sometimes hate their neighbors, retaliate with violence instead of turning the other cheek, and judge others relentlessly for being poor, disabled, or just different. How can whole communities of Christians get so far off track?
Let’s take a minute to compare a religion to a planet. The molten core of a planet is clean and pure. This would be the ideals, values, or philosophies a religion is based on. Around this core of principles and ideas is a massive layer of earth. This is the institution (i.e. The LDS Church) that is built around those core principles and ideals meant to facilitate the lifestyle the core principles teach. The outermost layer of a planet, the surface, the part people inhabit, is comparable to the culture that naturally forms around the institution. It is not uncommon for people to lose their way when they base their faith upon a culture or an institution rather than an ideal. It’s like trying to build backwards, and they end up not seeing the forest for all the trees.
Mormon culture is not the same thing as the Mormon Church, that much is painstakingly clear (and a huge relief). But what is not always clear is that the Mormon Church is not the same thing as the Gospel of Jesus Christ. When someone is converted, they are converted to the Gospel. The Church is the institution meant to facilitate a lifestyle taught by Gospel. Put simply, the Gospel is perfect, the Church is not. Many people leave the Church because they forget this key difference. For example, if there is a Church policy that I believe is wrong and offensive, it should not necessarily follow that the Gospel is wrong and offensive. They are two different things. The Church will redact, change, or make new policies, change leadership, and even look completely different from one generation to the next, but the Gospel of Jesus Christ does not change. It is the core, the center around which we try to build our lives.
A more secular example of the relationship between a set of principles and an institution based on those values might be the US Constitution vs the US government. One is an impressive set of lofty ideals. The other is a bit of a messy situation full of sleazeballs and liars. I try not to confuse the two.
We could do more to be gracious and forgiving when our institutions fail to match our impeccable ideals. Institutions are just made by people, after all, and people are only human. But we also cannot give our institutions a free pass to be faulty either. They have to evolve. They have to be better.
As Gandhi put it, “We do not need to wait to see what others do.” Change starts with individuals. And that’s one of the reasons why I intend to stay with the Church. It might be the place where I can do the most good.
“We can be heroes just for one day…”
For better or worse, Mormons are my people. Sometimes I feel ashamed to be associated with this community. Then I feel ashamed for feeling ashamed of my community. All this shame instigated my own crises of faith/identity, which can be a lot of negative emotion to carry around. I understand–with a lot more empathy than I used to–the motives many people have for leaving and not coming back.
I totally understand that it can be especially hard for someone who feels different to feel like they have a place in such a conservative and homogenized community as the Mormon Church, or especially Mormon culture. I’m not an extrovert, so I won’t be very talkative, but if you feel like coming to church, and you need someone to sit with, you can hang out with me in the back row.