Some of you may know Ann – she’s a long-time commenter, and a thoughtful one at that. She’s been kind enough to submit a guest post related to our ongoing discussions of why people stay in the Church when they don’t believe the entirety of the Church’s teachings. I’d invite you to listen to her story, and comment with the same thoughtfulness and compassion that Ann has obviously put into her remarks.
When I proposed the idea of guest blogging on this topic to the Cabal, I had thought I would write a detached, impersonal essay about why non-believers (as a group) might want to continue to attend and participate as members of the CoJCoLdS This topic has been addressed other places, and in a manner similar to my original choice. My friend Peggy Rogers wrote an essay, The Paradox of the Faithful Unbeliever, several years ago. The subject was also the topic of a Sunstone Symposium session in August 2003 (printed in the magazine under the title Why We Stay in October, 2003). Since there has been so much said along those lines in other places – and even here, in the “Firestorm” thread – I’m going to address the subject more directly: Why do I keep attending and participating as a member of the CoJCoLdS when I no longer believe many of the church’s unique doctrinal claims? At the risk of invoking a hearty “Who cares?” from anybody reading, here goes…
The first reason I continue to attend church is my husband. We come from very different backgrounds and found each other rather late (late 30’s). I consider that finding as almost miraculous; I had a very bad first marriage, and this one is everything I could have hoped for. We rarely argue. He’s a wonderful listener (which works out well, because I’m quite a talker). He has been encouraging and supportive and stalwart during my long, messy, angry, and painful journey from devout convert to bemused observer. I think he loves me more than God does. He is a loyal, faithful believer. If I go to church with him, it is to the LDS church. Why would I want to go to church somewhere else when I can go with him?
Second is awareness of my own limitations. I am perfectly willing to accept that I might be wrong about my conclusions. Other people know all the same things I do about problematic issues, and yet have not come to the same conclusions. Perhaps somewhere along the line, I will be able to synthesize the data in such a way that I will see what others see and I am missing. I have not yet received the gift of believing on the words of those who believe. Perhaps I never will. But I try to be open to the gift if it should come.
The third reason is communion. I was born and raised Catholic, and I take the sacrament in a way that may be different from how other members see it: it’s a community act. When I take the sacrament, I see a group of people, who may not have a whole lot in common besides their church membership, coming together as they seek to remember and emulate and learn about Jesus. The sacrament is a powerful symbol of many things to me, including our common humanity, desire to serve, and the great Teacher who brings us together. The room is filled with good people. They’re my neighbors. I want to share that symbolism with them.
The final, and most significant reason I continue to attend is personal revelation. After a particularly horrible sacrament meeting (it was a High Council Sunday), I decided I was done. I went to my bishop’s office and told him that as soon as he replaced me as Primary President (a process that was already underway) that I would not be back. Later that day, as I was complaining to God about my horrible sacrament meeting and how I didn’t want to go back, he told me very clearly: This IS my church. Stay.” Maybe I don’t invest the proper meaning in that statement: God didn’t say “only,” so I don’t infer it. God didn’t provide any information as to WHY I should stay, only that I should. So, I do.
I don’t delude myself that I’m making a difference. The church is what it is, and I’m not in a position to affect any changes. I don’t do things that require bearing a testimony, which means I pretty much can’t hold a calling, unless somebody decides someday I’d be good on the activities committee or as a building scheduler. I can’t even sing in the choir now, because I’m not detached enough to sing big arrangements of “Praise to the Man.” It gives me pause that I may never go to the temple again.
More often than many believers, though, I sit in a pew on Sundays, singing the hymns (sometimes thinking alternate lyrics, I confess), listening for the good in the talks and taking the sacrament with my friends, the Saints. Very recently, for the first time in several years, I had a connection with the divine. LDS would describe it as the Holy Ghost. My Buddhist friend says it’s the Great Emptiness from which everything emanates and to which everything returns. Maybe I was just tuned in to a perfect E-flat being hummed by the Collective Unconscious. I don’t know what it was, but it happened, to me, in an LDS sacrament meeting. Maybe it will happen again. I want to be there if it does.