Monday, April 4, 2011

I can't just turn off my brain...

(As a note, there is a bunch of LDS content in this one which may or may not all make sense for those who are not members of the feel free to skim or skip if it's losing you.)
The Ostara Supermoon ~ taken from my porch
In the last couple of years--particularly in the last few months, several of my friends have left the LDS church. They have all left for different reasons, and in different directions, but so many are going that it's beginning to feel like an exodus.  I got to know these people through the common ground of the church, but came to love them through our other common ground, and so I still am friends with them. I find myself reeling a bit to see intelligent, thoughtful people walking away from the church, and I am left with what feels like a very important question: why?

And so I have talked with my friends about their reasons and their choices. Like I said, these are intelligent people whom I respect, and when they explain their choices then I start to think. I start to ask questions too.
It's not that I'm asking questions with a malicious intent, nor that I'm looking for flaws with the church or excuses to leave it. I have no desire to leave the church--I never have--but some things are coming up that I am struggling to reconcile, because they're in my head now. Some of them are pretty big questions, and I can't just turn off my brain.

And so I think.

I realize that this really got going last summer, and that I was somewhat depressed at the time. I know that depression (for me) brings with it a real lack of feeling. As in, I just don't care much about much of anything. The combination of lack of feeling with the raising of questions about my church was unquestionably a troublesome duo. I really struggled for a month or so, until in August we went in for our temple recommend interviews. I'd felt a little awkward about going in actually, because I wasn't feeling sure about some things. We only have the interviews every other year, so I didn't remember exactly what was in the questions. I'm the sort of person who is honest to a fault, and if I'm really troubled about something I'm not going to say that everything is ok, so there was even that nagging part of me that wondered if I had any business seeking a (re)new(ed) recommend in the first place... However, when it came down to it, as I went through and answered each question with my Bishop, and then a few minutes later went through them all again with the Stake Presidency counselor, I felt with absolute certainty that this church is exactly where I need to be. In spite of my concerns about certain issues, my basic testimony seems to be intact, and was bolstered by the reminders in the interview.

I am not asking for things to change, but I am trying to understand why some things are the way they are. For example, I know people who are agitating for women to have the priesthood. I don't feel a need to do that--I never have--I'm ok with how things are; but these agitators do raise some logical questions, and so I would really like some nice logical answers for why women don't have the priesthood, you know?

So I still think about things, like I said, I can't just turn off my brain. So I wonder why the church is legally a corporation rather than incorporated as a church (which is what most religious organizations do). If our righteousness and salvation are between us and God, then why is there so much official checking-up on each other, from taking attendance in sunday school to holding interviews every year to officially state whether you've paid a 'full' tithe? Why do there seem to be conflicts between scriptural teachings and certain practices of mainstream LDS culture? (eg: "love one another" verses anti-socialism, or the political actions against homosexuals*) Why are there double standards about things? (eg: piercings or tattoos = evil and disrespectful of our bodies; but botox, boob jobs, and circumcision = totally acceptable?) My dad and my husband have both had church leaders give them grief for wearing beards. How is that anybody elses business anyway?!

I have shared this questioning of mine with a few friends. Some of them are asking some of these questions themselves, but others have warned me that this kind of thinking and asking is dangerous and will probably lead to apostasy. Pardon?! Talking about things or asking questions doesn't make me an apostate. As a matter of fact, I think questions are a healthy part of discipleship: Joseph Smith's asking of questions was precisely what instigated the organization of the church in the first place, and we've been told over and over by leadership to seek personal confirmation about everything.

Several people approached me after my post about delving into paganism, warning me that it was a path into darkness. I appreciate the concern with which the warnings were given, and what I trust was concern on the part of the person who reported me to the Bishop (who then called me in to ask some very awkward questions to 'check' and 'make sure' that I was not 'going off the deep end'). At the end of the day though, my spiritual path is mine, not anyone elses. I prayerfully and thoughtfully seek direction for myself and my family. I instigate and participate in conversations (even debates) about some of these awkward topics in order to try to make sense of things that trouble or confuse me. I am hoping for some answers at General Conference, but ultimately the responsibility for my testimony is only mine.

I think that any group of people will have a certain amount of human error inherent in the system; even church organizations. I do believe solidly in the gospel of Christ however, and I know without question that personal revelation can be relied upon to guide us in all things. So I'll keep relying on those things, and I'll keep ignoring the naysayers all around me.
at the beach, taking in the mountains, waves, and wind

*For anybody who is wondering, yes, I do think that homosexual behavior is deviant, and not acceptable in God's eyes. However, in light of solid scientific evidence (from multiple sources) that same sex attraction is inborn (rather than being a choice), I am troubled by how to reconcile the whole thing. The behavior may be a choice, but if the attraction is not, then isn't it asking a lot to ask someone to act against their nature? It seems something akin to saying that shortness/blondness/autism is a sin...and really, that's just messed up. I do not have any answers on this one. It is one of the things that troubles me.


Chandelle said...

I think I've been one of those warning you that questions like these might take you on a dangerous path. :) I support your questioning, but I know very few people who have been able to follow those questions to their logical (not necessarily faith-promoting) conclusion while retaining loyalty to the Church. I have no love for the Church, but I know your religion is very important to you, so I felt I should give you that warning. It shouldn't be that you must remain ignorant and ignore the cognitive dissonance you're experiencing to retain absolute faith, but that seems to be the truth for SO many people -- that once they start questioning they can't stop, and then they experience that moment of "the shelf breaking," and that's it. Those who do have serious doubts seem to retain membership primarily by picking and choosing which doctrines they'll believe, which seems contradictory to a hierarchical, prophet-driven religion.

Speaking personally, my experience wasn't exactly like that. I had a billion questions but my basic faith in the basic tenets was strong. I didn't leave the Church because of polygamy or sexism or homophobia or because I wanted to drink coffee -- I left because I didn't believe in prophets, scripture, basic doctrine, or even the existence of a Christian god. That was the only good reason for me to leave. If I hadn't lost that faith I would have stayed, even with all of my doubts... well, maybe until Prop. 8. :)

It's a tangent, but I'm always curious what people mean when they refer to "homosexual behavior" or "gay lifestyle." I have many many gay friends and their behavior and lifestyle parallels mine. They work hard, love their friends and family, raise children, range widely on political and spiritual scales, and desire to share their emotional, physical, and spiritual selves in a monogamous relationship. Are you referring explicitly to gay sex, saying that this is the sin? Because apart from the details of their method of sex, I can't see anything about them that is different from us. (Plenty of straight people have sex like that, anyway. :)

Katrina said...

Great post, Jenni. I agree on so many levels with what you've said here. I especially loved your comparison of earrings/tattoos with plastic surgery/circumcision. Such a great point! And so dumb that the double standard exists.

Brooke said...

I just finished reading 'Line Upon Line - Essays on Mormon Doctrine', and it has me thinking as well. While I totally and completely believe in the LDS church as it is NOW, some of the ideas that were around at the beginning are really a problem for me. Pretty much anything to do with Brigham Young just doesn't seem right. I know that with continuing revelation the old gets chucked, but that doesn't seem right either. Even if things weren't FULLY known, it seems like what was known should still be true.
I am still relatively new to the church (my 3 year baptism anniversary is this month and next month will be one year since I first went to the temple).
Also, while I generally enjoy the General Conference talks (I still have to watch the last session), I don't know that I *LOVE* conference as much as everyone else seems to claim... I don't make my kids watch either because there is nothing to hold their attention (they are 3, 5, and 8). They did each come and snuggle next to me while I watched for a while...
So, that's me :) I have a lot to figure out... but I guess we all do.

Elizabeth said...

There's a lot of things in the church that I'm glad God gets to sort out and not me. I don't think it's wrong to have questions, it shows that you atually think about what you believe. Maybe in the church we think we should have all the answers because we have more answers than a lot of churches. But we still need to have opportunities to have faith so we don't get all the answers in this life. Oh and I hear you on the double standards. There are a lot of people who don't realize that everyONE is their neighbor and should be loved. And there's a lot of people who don't understand how to respect their bodies.

Jenni said...

In answer to your question about my take on homosexuality. I realize that the same sexual activities could be engaged in between hetero partners too, so no, it's not that. It's the partnering. I perceive same-sex partnerships as deviant. It's evolutionarily unsound (even without any moral/religious take on it). I think people have a right to follow their hearts and do what makes them happy, and I can't fault someone who is same-sex attracted for choosing to then be with a same sex partner. BUT I don't think that same-sex partnerships are a good thing.
I'm not falling into the silliness of saying that it's about commitment/monogamy/promiscuity or any of that, because I know some couples are great and some are not and it's not based on the sex of the partners. I just honestly believe that homosexuality is a deviant state. (Any minority could be viewed as 'deviation' from the norm, including left-handedness or blue eyes or ADHD, but of all those only one is a biologically self-extinguishing practice, which is why it seems different to me.)

For the record, at the time of prop8 I was inclined to say 'yessir' and do what they said. (I wasn't in CA so I didn't vote on the prop there but I did vote on a matching prop in Utah two years earlier...of course in Utah it was a foregone conclusion which way it would go.) BUT, I no longer would vote that way. I would now have to fall in with the "no-h8" side. As I've learned about ERA I wouldn't have voted against that either. I think the church is overstepping when they take political stances under the claim that it's just on 'moral issues.' Racial equality was a moral issue if I ever saw one and they refused to take a stance on that! (that was a big deal breaker for me when I learned that). I think the decisions about what is 'moral' vs what is 'political' is very much a matter of opinion of the leaders at the time. It's a policy thing, NOT a doctrine thing. The basic doctrine of Christ was, is, and will be love. As I paraphrased it to a friend "love God and be nice to people." So there you have it, the basic Gospel of Jenni. Love God, be Nice to People. The end.

drainey said...

The best thing for questioners to do is to go to the bedrock of our church, The Book of Mormon. A person with a deep testimony of the Book of Mormon can handle the small stuff and people stuff with grace, (all meanings of that word.)

Intelligent people do question, but intelligent people are also the group most engaged by that book, truly the book of books.

Chandelle said...

I'm troubled by what you said, but I'm loath to jump all over you in the middle of what seems to be a serious and positive transition for you, especially since homosexuality is not the point of your post anyway. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Jenni.

Jenni said...

I'm troubled by a lot of things right now Chandelle, and homosexuality is a big one no question. I'm not entirely at ease with where I sit on it at the moment, but it's where I am so that's what I shared.

Elizabeth said...

I agree with the other Elizabeth... sometimes it's hard to want all the answers to your questions, but you aren't necessarily meant to have them all. Even leaders of the church don't claim to have every single answer... life is confusing, all you can do is pray continually. And anyone who professes to have ALL the answers, is full of it.

Jenni said...

I should clarify Chandelle (and anybody else) on the gay issue...

I feel firmly that the only right/moral/appropriate LEGAL thing is for gays to have exactly the same rights as anyone else.

However, I still think there's validity to a religious organization not approving a behavior for their membership (be it homosexual relationships, drinking coffee, etc). So, given that the church has that stance, I'm ok with it.
Until they get into politics, and then I've gotta go my own way.

Raleigh foodie said...

This is a great conversation. I'm not LDS, so I don't have any perspective on that, but I think the naturalistic elements you've incorporated into your belief system are lovely and comforting. The constant reminders that we're part of something much bigger than ourselves are, I feel, universal and shouldn't necessarily be seen as a threat to faith. That's just my take on it.

Jenni said...

my dad emailed me this explanation of why the church is a corporation:

The church is a corporation because it allows it to handle the funds it receives. That is the easiest question of all. Other churches spend the money they collect in the basket as fast as it comes in. We don't. The money we collect in 2011 is spent in 2013. We have a 2 year's supply of money, in investments. Since it is in investments, there is an income stream from dividends. That income allows us to cover living expenses for those general authorities who are not self-sufficient, without dipping into any church money. Thus tithing remains sacred and untouched for 2 years, until it is dispensed according to revelation, by the council on tithing (and it goes to church construction and upkeep, mostly). The only way a church can hold or earn or invest money is to be a corporation. The only way they can give it to people, or send it overseas, without tax consequences, is to be a corporation. The only way they can avoid political entanglements (in the USA) while advocating moral positions, is to be a corporation. That one was easy. If you read the news, some other churches have been hit hard by the IRS for "political activity" or for sending money "offshore" (usually to their missionaries.) If you want to keep your nose clean, you have to play the game according to the rules--whether they are right or wrong.

Mallory said...

I remember the first time I heard my dad (who was a bishop) pose a question about the church. It shocked me. I thought, "You can't ask questions like that, and still have a firm testimony that the gospel is true." But, I then learned, that...yes, you can! It is part of the learning process. I think the big thing is to listen to the right Spirit for the answers to the questions that you ask!

As for the gay issue, since that seems to be a big thing, I understand your opinion (while all the same, respectfully disagreeing!) Homosexuality is definitely unnatural. I don't know if some people are born with it or not...I can't rule it out, because other people can be born with different trials. But, to act on those desires is definitely wrong. I believe that homosexual people deserve to be treated with respect, in the same way that a blind person should be! But I don't think they should be allowed to marry (that falls into acting on the desire). Also, my dad explained to me once that allowing gays to marry would lead to a push for the church to accept and allow gay marriages to take place in the temple. I do think that anyone (in the Church, especially) who believes that they were born homosexual should choose to live a celibate life...unless they would be willing to "ignore" their inclinations. It is a hard thing to accept...I am glad that I haven't had to deal with that trial.

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