One of the more fascinating aspects of my job at Sunstone was meeting the average Joe Mormon and chatting with him or her about the Church. Whether it was someone at the hotel we were booking for the symposium, an advertising rep, or even just someone on a plane on the way to an out-of-state conference, the Church inevitably came up when they learned what Sunstone was. What made it fascinating is what these Church members were willing to share when they started to grasp what it meant that we were “Sunstoners”. They’d reveal, sometimes with apprehension in their voice, sometimes even whispering as though worried someone might hear, their problems with the Church.
No one, so far as I can remember, broke down and confessed to being an Atheist. I have little doubt everyone I spoke with was a believing, faithful member and will probably remain so throughout their lives. On some occasions, the problems were bigger and had larger implications, and I could almost sense some fear as the person I spoke with realized they were looking down a path they didn’t want to travel. But typically, the issues were well-trod bloggernacle topics such as “Church is soooo boring (including General Conference) — why can’t they shorten it or make it more interesting?” and “I don’t know about that whole blacks and the priesthood thing.” These people were free to share their true thoughts and issues — something they could never do in a Church setting, even if the issue is as mundane as “General Conference is boring and they repeat the same stuff over and over again.”
These conversations and many other experiences have led me to wonder, what do Church members really think? When I sit in Sacrament and gaze around at me fellow members, sometimes there’s nothing I’d like more than to be a mind reader. It’s been said that we all have three lives: a public life, a private life, and a secret life. The public life is pretty self-explanatory — it’s what people see of us at Church, work, social settings, etc. The private life we reserve for our families or close friends only. They might know more about us than we’d ever share in public. The secret life, however, is just for us. No one, not even our spouse, knows this life. (Let me interject, I don’t want to imply that everyone is off having an affair or is secretly a drug dealer; while this is undoubtedly the case for a small minority, most people’s secret life consists of thoughts, emotions, or desires they are too embarrassed, ashamed or unwilling to share with others.)
If we could open up the minds and examine the secret life of those Mormons around us, what would we find? Would someone in the Elders quorum presidency be feeling guilty for looking at porn online the night before? Would the mother to our left be tired of dragging her three young children to Church, thinking she’s only doing this because, “What would my mother think?” Would we find a young father who’s afraid to admit he hates being a parent, since we’re all supposed to love family life in the Church? Would most people be happy to be in Church, or would they be bored? Do they come because they want to, or because they’re supposed to? Would we largely discover doubt or would we largely discover faith? Would we see more dysfunctional homes than we thought, or would we see Mormon families relying on each other, even in tough times? Do Church members feel compelled to believe everything that comes their way from Church leaders, or do they pick and choose, creating a Mormonism inside of themselves that works for them? How many are there because of strong testimonies strengthened by the spirit, and how many are there because they were born Mormon, and if they’d been born into another faith, they’d be down the street at another church?
I can guess at the answers, but I suspect we’ll never be very certain. A lot of these issues above reflect my own perspective and idea of what might be troubling for some; no doubt I’ve missed some issues while inflating others.