Joining the Church, Leaving the Church

Whatever else he intended by his comment, I doubt Richard Dutcher was hoping to provide fodder for my blog posts. Nevertheless, Richard’s spiritual journey away from orthodox Mormonism has caused me to reflect on a question that I ponder from time to time: From an LDS perspective, is it heretical to believe that God might have a plan for at least some of His children that entails something other than their joining (or staying a member of) the LDS Church?

I usually think about this question in the context of my friend, Father Hans. Old-timers in the Bloggernacle may remember Father Hans from this post. Hans is an “Old Catholic” priest who happens to have a deep, abiding testimony of the Book of Mormon. He loves God, Christ, Joseph Smith and Gordon B. Hinkley as much or more than most Mormons I know. He thinks that LDS missionaries are, on the whole, the most Christ-like people he has ever come across. He hands out Books of Mormon to lots of people, and he directs struggling souls to the Mormon elders without even thinking of recruiting them to his own flock. He has struggles with certain aspects of Mormon doctrine and teachings to be sure, but probably no more so than many denizens of the Bloggernacle. But that Father Hans has any affinity for Mormon teachings at all is rather remarkable to me. Hans has his own, “Old Catholic” congregation, and he has been ministering to his flock for decades. As a Catholic priest, he has devoted his life to a particular brand of Christianity, and he is a person of at least some authority in his faith tradition. To leave Old Catholicism and become a baptized member of the LDS Church would be an incredible lifechange for Hans … probably more so than it is for most investigators. It would certainly be easier, and more convenient, for Hans to dismiss Mormonism as some weird cult and to continue his own ministry as he has always done. And yet he doesn’t. He attends Church faithfully in his local ward (right before traveling into Hollywood to officiate at his own services), and he sometimes even talks about the possibility of one day getting baptized in the LDS Church.

And yet Father Hans has not yet agreed to get baptized. One could argue at length about why this is. Perhaps, despite his conviction of the truth of much of Mormonism, he is too afraid to leave his former life behind. Perhaps he is too invested in his position of leadership over his congregation to be willing to give it up. Perhaps the few LDS doctrinal areas where he has qualms are being blown out of proportion in his mind so that he doesn’t have to confront these other concerns. But for what it’s worth, what Hans actually says about his baptismal hesitation is this: Hans feels that God has a plan for him that entails his remaining an Old Catholic priest, at least for now. He believes that it is God’s will that he not yet become an official Mormon, and that God’s plan involves his serving in his current capacity as an Old Catholic priest who happens to attend the LDS Church. It’s not clear to me if this plan centers around Hans continuing to minister to his currently miniscule Catholic flock, or if it primarily involves his effectively serving the LDS Church from a position outside its membership roles. But for now, Hans feels like it isn’t right that he be baptized a Mormon. Yes, he is aware of Mormon teachings on the exclusivity of LDS priesthood authority and the need for LDS baptism, and he doesn’t formally dispute them. He understands LDS teachings well, but has joked that he might need to get baptized in the Spirit World, since he still has an earthly role to play as a Catholic priest in God’s plan.

What to make of Father Hans? It would be easy to dismiss his claims as rationalizations along the lines I described above, and just write off his explanations as another variant of the same old excuses investigators often use not to get baptized. But I am inclined to take him at his word. He might be wrong, of course. He might be misinterpreting the Spirit, or getting spiritual promptings from the wrong source. But I doubt it. I tend to take his claims at face value. I don’t think it’s my place, or within my abilities, to interpret his experiences for him. Such is the nature of spiritual confirmation — one can’t really claim to interpret someone else’s subjective experience.

I wonder how to fit Hans’ claimed spiritual intuitions within LDS theology. The LDS Church doesn’t provide a lot of exceptions to its teaching that the whole world needs the ordinances and blessings that only baptism into the LDS Church can provide. I don’t know of any scriptural passages that would provide justification for seeing things differently. But the more I think about it, the less I’m inclined to think that Hans’ claim is necessarily inconsistent with LDS truth claims. Maybe God does have a plan for him outside the Church. (It’s not hard to see the good he’s doing from where he is now). Maybe he will eventually get baptized, after finishing whatever it is he needs to do, and maybe he’ll get a spiritual witness of his need to do so later on.

But, then again, maybe he won’t. In fact, maybe he’ll get hit by a bus and be killed tomorrow. If this happens, we’ll certainly know that his opportunity for an earthly baptism will have passed. Would such an event effectively invalidate his prior intuition that it wasn’t yet right for him to be baptized? Or might he still have been correct in thinking that God had another plan for him that differed from the one the LDS missionaries kept trying to impress upon him? Might Hans’ imagined baptismal service in the Spirit World still be a real option for him?

Whatever the answers to these questions, I think the questions posed by Dutcher’s departure from practicing Mormonism represent an even more interesting case. Can believers in LDS orthodoxy grant that it might be part of God’s plan that particular Churchmembers leave the LDS Church? One frequent commenter – a former Elders Quorum instructor of mine – seems to think so. Personally, I think it is hard to scripturally justify such a move, and divinely-sanctioned departure from the fold doesn’t seem to jive with what I grew up hearing in Sunday School. And yet many of us probably know people who have fallen off the LDS wagon, only to return later with a faith they claim was strengthened by their stint in the wilderness. Even those who don’t formally leave the Church, but who take a hiatus from activity and/or the commandments, often gain an important perspective that gives them an empathy or awareness that they wouldn’t otherwise have had, and that they can use to reach out to other struggling souls in a way that the ever-stalwart sometimes can’t. Of course, it is understandable that we don’t want to trumpet these truths (if, indeed, they are truths) too loudly. It is easy to make ex post declarations that one’s stray from the fold was worthwhile, but harder to acknowledge this truth ex ante without running the risk that some within earshot might give themselves permission to leave the fold and then never return. Nevertheless, I don’t think I can definitively exclude the possibility that inactivity and/or departure from the Church might be the right choice for some individuals, in at least some instances, for some length of time.

Is acknowledging all of this theologically anathema in Mormonism? Do these conclusions do violence to the LDS Church’s exclusivist truth claims, and potentially unravel the neat and tidy Plan of Salvation, with its carefully calibrated constituent parts? Or is there room for an understanding of God’s will and our own, highly individual spiritual paths that permits consideration of these notions within Mormonism?

Comments

  1. Nice post, AB. From what I know of our own Taryn’s story, I have no doubt that her journey into Anglicanism from Mormonism and back again has been a path of spiritual progression for her. Her former Mormon life was not one that was bringing her to Christ; Anglicanism then brought her to Christ; now she continues that journey in Mormonism again. If “coming unto Christ” is Christ’s wish for us, then it’s hard to see how the Anglican part of her journey was not God’s will. But I’ll let Taryn further enlighten us.

  2. MarkinPNW says:

    I remember struggling with activity in regards to leadership in the local ward while at the same time encoutering some “teasing” at work for being religiously active, and the having the Spirit clearly tell me that going inactive or leaving the church to be popular with the world (people at work, etc.) was definately NOT a good reason. It did not tell me that there never is a good reason to leave activity or the church for a season, just that worldly popularity would NOT be one. On the other hand, I have known people who have gone inactive for a season and then come back very strong in the church later in life, but there families often suffer what seem to be long-range consequences (children being totally inactive as adults, for example, from not having an example as children).

  3. MarkinPNW says:

    I was “encountering” teasing, not “encoutering” it, whatever that may be. And having the Spirit, not “the having the Spirit”. Oh well, I always fault other people who don’t pay enough attention to grammer and spelng on the inrrnet, to I guess tthe Spirit is trying to keep me humble about my weekness as i tipe.

  4. Aaron,

    I believe that God wishes all his children to accept his plan and become as he is. That would mean full membership in his church, endowed in the temple and sealed for time and all eternity to a spouse.

    As we read in D&C 76, however, due to our own choices, that just won’t be so. I think he is sad every time one of his children chooses to remove himself from His kingdom. However, that removal does not stop God from continuing to love him, or even to help him in the things he does in life.

    I believe there are times in our lives where we are faced with one or more challenges of what some call an “Abrahamic test,” that is their faith would be tested on the level of Abraham having to sacrifice his own son (having a daughter now, I see how hard that really is—something you can’t experience until you have a kid yourself). I believe God hopes we all make it through those challenges and still stay on the path. Some might not make it and choose to leave. God will continue to help them because he still loves them, and he will help them find a way around that trial to hopefully eventually come back on the path.

  5. I have wondered such thoughts for many years. It may indeed be so that some can do us more good out than in. Perhaps the most famous of these would be Thomas Kane in the nineteenth century. His temple work was all done later and would any of us suggest that it was not effective? (But without a doubt it is a lonely and dangerous mission–one that none of us would deliberately seek.)

  6. It is easy to make ex post declarations that one’s stray from the fold was worthwhile, but harder to acknowledge this truth ex ante without running the risk that some within earshot might give themselves permission to leave the fold and then never return.

    But, by refusing to acknowledge this truth ex ante, there is always already the risk that some will conclude it’s an all-or-nothing deal and make a harder break with Mormonism than perhaps they would have otherwise.

    I’m skeptical that the real worry here has anything to do with the “risk that some within earshot might give themselves permission to leave the fold and then never return” … the real worry is probably more like: to acknowledge this suggests that I am free to ratchet my LDS commitment/participation up or down according to what I feel best suits my current spiritual needs, and thereby diminishes the prospect of my gaining great rewards for my years of unflagging loyalty.

  7. Does anyone remember that book that came out years ago and was popular within church circles called Embraced by the Light? It certainly set fire to a lot of folk beliefs. Anyway, one part of it said that during this woman’s near death experience, she learned that each religion had a purpose on earth and that people were participants in various religions and were on various spiritual paths for a purpose and were meant to be where they were at that moment. Everyone wasn’t meant to be at the same place at the same time.

    Anyway, the reason this book was popular at the time was because the woman ended up converting to Mormonism because she found it was the church that most closely resembled the truths she learned in the afterlife.

    At least, that’s how I remember it. It’s been a long time since I read it.

  8. Dan in CVille says:

    Aaron,

    I know this is a controversial opinion to have, and it is emphatically not supported by scripture, but I do believe that leaving the Church is a good and maybe, maybe necessary part of some people’s spiritual journey. From time to time, an individual’s perception of the Gospel gets corrupted — sometimes through their own decisions and other times through other people’s decisions — and the individual might begin to form some unhealthy associations with Church participation due to their inability to process the Church/Gospel relationship in the right way. In this situation, if a person does not have the spiritual or mental wherewithal to “reboot” their spirit within the Church, it can be helpful to leave for a while, regroup their thoughts, feelings, and self-image, then return when they can see the Church more clearly for what it is (and is not).
    I know that sounds muddy, but my thoughts come from personal experience with people who have benefited from leaving the Church for a while, growing and maturing, then returning with an ability to really appreciate what the Church is and what it offers.
    I, myself, went inactive for three weeks once(!) out of frustration over some personal and church-procedural issues. When I returned after my long, dramatic absence, I went to a sacrament meeting and when I took the sacrament, I really appreciated the difference in my spirit before and after the sacrament. It was a powerful contrast, and that was only after three weeks of being away.
    So ultimately, I would argue yes to your question, but with the speculative caveat that the Lord has an ideal plan for us (Church activity) and perhaps contingency plan for times when we are incapable, through our own decisions or otherwise, of benefiting from that ideal plan.

  9. I am free to ratchet my LDS commitment/participation up or down according to what I feel best suits my current spiritual needs

    Perhaps this is indeed the wrong attitude, and perhaps the kingdom was only meant to serve the spiritual “elite.”

    But when I reflect on my childhood friends who no longer come to church, I wonder if they feel that because they found “unflagging loyalty” so difficult that there’s simply no point in them returning. In other words, do we lose people precisely because Mormonism is held to be an all-or-nothing enterprise — people who cannot be “all” and thus choose “nothing” — and is this how it should be?

    I can think of dear friends who would probably come once a month and even volunteer now and again if they didn’t think that their return would lead to a temple recommend fast track.

    Is being luke warm really worthy of being spewed?

  10. Aaron – Thanks for this thought provoking post. I hadn’t read Taryn’s post until you referenced it and it all gives great pause for thought. My lifetime in the church, some of it in relative inactivity – or at least in a non-committed membership – and some of it as a devout believer, has taught me that we all have our own journey to the truth and sometimes it requires great patience – from others and ourselves. I think the key is to keep searching (and of course I believe that honest search will eventually lead us all back to Mormonism.)

    I love the story of your friend Father Hans. He reminds me of a fellow ward member. This man is a devout Catholic whose wife and children are all Mormons. The children – three boys and one daughter – have all served missions and been married in the temple. My friend spoke at all of their missionary farewells (this was when we were still having those) and he has taught lessons in priesthood meeting. He knows the scriptures, including the Book of Mormon, as well or better than most ward members. He loves the Mormon “community.” But he is also actively involved in his own faith. That might be a huge understatement. He is now retired and spends ALL of his time in Christian service. He works at a homeless shelter; he provides transportation to doctors visits and other places for anyone who doesn’t have a car. He and his wife organize our annual “Angel Tree” project during the Christmas holiday and through their efforts we all get to participate in this act of love. I think I can honestly say that he is the best Christian that I know and my life is better just for having known him. I have had brief discussions with him about some issues he has with Mormon doctrine which I think ultimately keeps him from being baptized. But, as I mentioned above, he has come to love the community of saints and how we support each other – the way God wants us to support all people. It reminds me of the discovery that Taryn described as she watched Richard Dutcher’s film.

    I’m sorry for rambling on. I said your post was thought provoking. What I really meant to say is that whether we have arrived at the right place is not as important as whether or not we are on the right road, headed in the right direction. If some need to leave Mormonism only to rediscover it, then I think that may be part of what God plans for us.

  11. I wonder if this is one of those instances where the message we hear is the one many or most need to hear — with the expectation that the exceptions to the rule will find their path through the voice of the Spirit? For some who leave — temporarily, perhaps — the message that it is never correct to leave may be in part designed to make that decision a more serious challenge, another kind of Abrahamic test. I do know that I find no margin in judging other people’s spiritual experiences. Nor do I have insight into their hearts. And what’s right in one circumstance can be wrong in others. Here’s Joseph Smith in a highly relevant comment:

    That which is wrong under one circumstance, may be, and often is, right under another. God said, ‘Thou shalt not kill’; at another time He said, ‘Thou shalt utterly destroy.’ This is the principle on which the government of heaven is conducted — by revelation adapted to the circumstances in which the children of the kingdom are placed. Whatever God requires is right, no matter what it is, although we may not see the reason thereof till long after the events transpire.

    For me, it may always be wrong to leave. Yet for another, it may possibly be right. How am I to know? If the voice of God in your heart commands, I do know that only a fool disobeys.

  12. I have no idea why stumbleupon lead me here, but I found this post interesting. How about this for a thought: perhaps God not only has a plan for people being catholic instead of mormon, perhaps God has a plan for people being of other faiths entirely. (Islam, Hinduism, Wiccan, Animalism, Buddhism, whatever)

    And perhaps then God even need some people to be atheists for the time being. Is it really such a stretch? Isn’t everything part of God’s masterplan? As an atheist thinking back on my own life starting out as a Christian and gradually losing faith to accommodate knowledge and beliefs to make sense of what I actually experienced, if I am to hypothetically accept a personal intervening God as a possibility, I must also necessarily accept the fact that it would be such a God’s will that I be an atheist. Otherwise that God would not have given me those experiences. Or alternatively if those experiences were intended to test my faith, surely this divinity would realize by now the adverse effect and choose to remedy this for instance by direct or indirect manifestation. It really would not take much to convince me.

    I am entirely able to see it from your point of view. Do you have the courage to see it from mine? Or should I just stop tainting you with my wicked and evil ways?

    Either way I meant no harm. I just thought seeing things from a different perspective might further your spirituality, if not by changing your mind then by strengthening your current convictions.

    If you would like to chat or the like, you can reach me at TaoTeSketch@gmail.com

    Sincerely,
    Sketch

  13. Many people, maybe even most, need to be reconverted at some point, and that might involve leaving or drifting away and returning with more focus on spirituality. That was certainly my experience. I can’t say that my drift was God’s will; it was certainly not the result of a prayerful decision. In retrospect the experience saved me spiritually, but in my case that can’t justify a series of decisions that were not in keeping with the example of Christ.

    There are probably situations in which a person is directed by God to leave or avoid joining the church — stranger things have happened — although the lack of scriptural precendent would suggest they are rare. But I would whisper this rather than declare it. The possibility of such cases might induce some to leave the church based in part on pride: because one senses he or she knows better or has a superior sense of morality. I am not saying that everyone who leaves the church is prideful: I am saying that our human tendency toward pride looks for these sorts of loopholes. (Example: Because Jesus drove out the moneychangers, I can be a pushy jerk when I feel justified.)
    I wrote this and then read JNC’s paragraph: he says what I feel as well. I would add that God expects us to withold judgment and help everyone return to the church regardless.

  14. to acknowledge this suggests that I am free to ratchet my LDS commitment/participation up or down according to what I feel best suits my current spiritual needs, and thereby diminishes the prospect of my gaining great rewards for my years of unflagging loyalty.

    Problems arise with the issue of loyalty to the organization. It’s natural to feel slighted when someone says, ‘I’d rather not belong.’ It is a natural tendency we need to fight and really focus on concern for a person’s progress, not a defensiveness about our group.

  15. Is being luke warm really worthy of being spewed?

    May be, some people would return if they would not fear being treated second class citizens at the level of commitment they are willing to give.

    Lets remember that those people are adults who have made choices in the pursuit of what is best for them. The same is true of Richard Dutcher.

    The only thing that sets orthodox believers apart is the dubious notion that feelings are a reliable source of truth. That’s probably not a sound foundation to judge people who disagree with orthodoxy as selfish, self-destructive, sinful or luke warm.

  16. Let me begin with an observation Aaron: It is literally impossible that our Father would not have a plan for people outside the Church. The vast majority of people born never hear about it. Our Father sent them to families knowing that it was unlikely that they would ever hear of Joseph Smith. He sent them to families and no-families knowing of the abuse, the neglect, the tragedy, the love, the blessings that already a part of the family-chain of behavior into which they were born. It is literally impossible that any being worthy of the appellation “God” would not have a plan for all of this.

    What Mormonism teaches is that there is light available to all and that we will all receive that degree of light that we are willing to strive for, be and accept. It seems to me that it must be the case that those who are born in families in say China where they are extremely unlikely to ever hear of Joseph Smith nevertheless have life-plans that will assist them to learn what they came here to learn, to move forward into further light from where ever they they. Not everyone is best seved given where they are by being Mormon. Some will learn more than they would having been born into the covenant — given where they are.

    However, my view is different about those who leave the church and turn their back on the light. I believe that the community of Saint moves us into a celestial light to be as God is in his light. To leave the Church, to turn one’s back on the community of the kingdom of God is to walk toward darkness. Nevertheless, our Father certainly leaves such choices up to us. If we choose to refuse the light given to us already we can do so. But let’s not miss the fact that it is a rejection.

    Nevertheless, we are all works in progress. Maybe those who have turned from the light will turn again and walk toward it — that is what the word “repentance” means in Hebrew (“shuv”) to turn around and walk the other direction. Maybe those who have walked away will come back but only if we have open arms ready to receive them when they come.

    Hellmut: Anyone who reduces what “orthodox believers” experiences as the knowing that one knows of testimony to “feelings” doesn’t know what is being discussed by the experience.

    Finally, I knew a wonderful Catholic priest on my mission to Italy who belonged to the Salisiani order who also had a testimony of the Book of Mormon, loved it, taught it, loved the missionaries and yet knew he was called by God to be a Catholic priest. I honored his decision and God’s.

  17. We don’t even know God’s plan for lifespan, amount of suffering, size and shape of family, to hold to know God’s plan for someone else’s religious affiliation is myopic and unfortunate. We can believe that Mormonism is the one true ultimate Plan and still recognize that God responds to all of us whatever our situation. We can also believe that Mormonism is “a” true path. We can also believe in the enthusiastic approach that Hellmut derides rather unfairly (I’m with Blake on this).

  18. Ronan, I like Mormonism demanding, even if it can be hard to negotiate easily and even though at various times I have refused callings and involvement in home teaching and have preferred the living woods to the deadwood pews on a Sunday.

  19. Blake,

    You’re making the assumption that being a member of the Mormon church means you are de facto in the “celestial light.”

    What if you are a member of the Mormon church but have lousy Mormon parents, a lousy Mormon bishop, lousy Mormon friends, lousy Mormon teachers, in short, you have a lousy Mormon experience? It surely happens from time to time.

    Not having felt this “celestial light” you leave the Mormon path and find God’s light somewhere else. You become a better person, closer to God. Who’s to say that God didn’t will this?

    Please note, I am not talking about specific people, just a theoretical possibility. I think it’s theoretically possible that someone — perhaps through no fault of their own — can stagnate in Mormonism, but would flourish spiritually elsewhere. This is not to deny the efficacy of saving ordinances, but that’s not really what I’m getting at.

  20. In my personal opinion I refuse to discount the possiblity that its possible for the Spirit to lead Father Hans in this direction. I think the answer to your last sentence is yes its possible. I do not want to put the Spirit and God in a box.

    There is a convert sister and family in my ward who joined us in 2004. She was actually converted in 2002 but spent 2 years preparing her family for the “rigors and commitments” that being active LDS entailed. The black and white thinking would say that if she had died in say 2003 she would have had her chance and thats it. Terrestial for her….

    Its not so simple. Its impossible for us to tell when an individual “has had her chance”. We are not allowed to make final judgments only intermediate judgements

    I also recall an Anglican minister and family I baptized on my mission. The father was converted first. Really converted….. His wife took 6 more months to agree to baptism. He would not get baptized without her. If he had died prior to baptism??? In the end it was the right decision. His eldest is now an RM etc.

    Here is a paraphrase of the doctrine:

    ” They would have accepted if they had been permitted to tarry” I cannot remember where it comes from and lack the time to look it up right now.

  21. Sam (#18),
    Your testimony coupled with your relationship with church convention is a model that seems to escape many, many people. They fear that by returning to (or staying in) Mormonism they have to accept every calling, diligently Home Teach, and be in their pew every Sunday, or else they do not belong. I wish there were more like you who are inspired by the church’s demands but not suffocated by them, who know of the church’s kinks, but can still proclaim a powerful witness of truth. Blush now, mate: you’re a hero.

  22. To pick up on Ronan’s question to Blake, what if you have good and faithful Bishops, friends, teachers and parents but you still find your experience as a Mormon to be spiritually empty? What if their talk of answers to prayers and spiritual experiences seems so very foreign to your own experience? What if when you read and pray about the Book of Mormon for the umpteenth time, you still feel impressed that it is not true? There is no room for such people within our church because they are not supposed to exist. But they do.

  23. bbell “The black and white thinking would that if she had died in say 2003 she would have had her chance and that’s it. Terrestial for her…”

    In support of your point I recall a situation where a family was baptized in our ward a few years ago. It was a mixed family meaning the wife had been married previously and had children from that marriage. Her husband was the natural father of one child. When they made arrangment to be sealed in the temple as a complete family, the ex-husband balked at giving permission for his children to be sealed to another man. The couple was urged to go ahead with their sealing with the idea that they could be sealed to the children in the future when they were old enough not to need the permission. But they hesitated – at least briefly.

    At that time I had a conversation with the mission president about the situation (I was the bishop) and he expressed the idea that the Lord knows our intentions. If something happened before the ordinances were performed here on earth, the Lord would understand what is in the hearts of individuals. Obviously this is not doctrine – just the opinion and feelings of the mission president – but I think he has special insights into such matters. By the way, the family in my ward was sealed together when the ex-husband changed his mind about 18 months after the first sealing of the couple .

    Likewise, if your ward member had parished before baptism, I think the Lord would understand the desires of her heart.

  24. Dan in CVille says:

    In The Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck tells a story of a Catholic lady who, thanks a combination of awful family influences, cannot process her Catholic upbringing and teachings the right way, and she ends up in a neurotic soup of scrupulosity and self-loathing. The result of her therapy was that she left religion altogether for the time being, and it seemed like that was the best course for her because it would allow her to “detox” from all the influences that had, in combination, messed her up so badly.
    I thought the story was useful, because I think if the Gospel is received and/or accepted by someone with a sick mindset, it can be transformed (perverted?) into a toxic influence on that individual and sometimes other Church members.
    That said, I DO NOT believe this is the case with Richard Dutcher, and I think that despite his human shortcomings, he has been a blessing to us. I am sad he is moving on, right or wrong.

  25. Ugly Mahana says:

    (Note: I have not read through all the comments. I am just responding to the initial post.)

    I think the problem we have to face is ordinances, and the blanket statements of Jesus. He never taught that we must take upon ourselves the name mormon, or even member of the Church, or even Christian. He did say that we MUST take upon ourselves the name of Christ, and endure faithful to the end. And he was quite plain that authorized baptism is required to enter the Celestial Kingdom. He condemns any teaching “more or less than this” quite strongly.

    So, in conclusion, I think that if we want to be found on the right hand of God, then we had better get baptized. And we had better be faithful. How are we to be faithful? We listen to the Spirit of God. Anything more or less than this…

    And how are we to recognize the Spirit of God? A complete answer goes beyond the scope of my comment. But I think we are more likely to recognize the Spirit of God whan we are searching for Him and studying His attributes than when we are looking for faults in any of our brothers and sisters.

  26. As I read this post, I am reminded that I read some twenty/thirty years ago, an obituary for a long term Catholic nun who had served faithfully for her whole life, dying in her 80′s. I was surprised to read that she was survived by a brother, Marion G. Romney.

    I’d love to hear that story, and understand how she left the church to become a nun while her brother went on to be an apostle and a member of the first presidency.

  27. “ `Perhaps the Lord needs such men on the outside of His Church to help it along,’ said the late Elder Orson F. Whitney of the Quorum of the Twelve. `They are among its auxiliaries, and can do more good for the cause where the Lord has placed them, than anywhere else. . . . Hence, some are drawn into the fold and receive a testimony of the truth; while others remain unconverted . . . the beauties and glories of the gospel being veiled temporarily from their view, for a wise purpose. The Lord will open their eyes in His own due time. God is using more than one people for the accomplishment of His great and marvelous work. The Latter-day Saints cannot do it all. It is too vast, too arduous for any one people. . . . We have no quarrel with the Gentiles. They are our partners in a certain sense.’ ” (Conference Report, April 1928, p. 59.)
    Church News editorial, November 28, 1998

  28. StillConfused says:

    Thank you for this topic. The nicest, most Christian people that I have encountered in life have not been LDS. And some of the worst people I have met in my life have claimed to be LDS (though based on their actions, they clearly weren’t living Christian ideals). Case in point, I have a good friend who is transgender. She suffers untold grief at the hands of man but maintains a sweet Christian disposition. Many of my LDS friends look down on her and say she is destined for Hell. But who really knows what God’s plan is for her? I certainly don’t claim to.
    I personally have chosen to be LDS but I allow all people the right and privilege to worship how they may without looking down on them or ridiculing them. For me, the main focus is just to live as Christ would as I understand it, which is to be uplifting and inspiring to all who cross my path. Maybe that is the right thing; maybe that is the wrong thing; I guess I will find out when I get to the other side. But that is how I understand Christ to want me to live my life.

  29. Chuck McKinnon says:

    My own very orthodox mother actually believes this; we spoke about it when Mother Theresa died. She told me she has a firm conviction that there are some few people for whom the Lord does not intend membership in His church in this life.

    “Look at what Mother Theresa did,” she said. “She just couldn’t have done that in the framework of the Church. Someone that obedient would have gotten married and probably raised a wonderful, devout family. But she couldn’t have had the impact that she had.”

    I agreed with her then, and do now, although I don’t know how I feel about divine sanction for someone who was already a member leaving the church. While it’s an interesting question, it honestly makes me grateful for the Lord’s injunction not to judge: I can simply enjoy Bro. Dutcher’s films, accept his apparently sincere explanations without feeling the need to turn away from the church myself, and mourn the loss to “Mormon cinema” of the most consistently good director the genre has yet seen.

  30. That quote in #27 by Orson Whitney says a lot. But I think we’re talking about separate issues. I strongly subscribe to what Whintey said. But that’s different than saying that it’s ever “better” to disobey commandments than to obey.

    How can anyone say they are better off for having left and come back? How can you test that hypothesis, not having actually stayed? That doesn’t mean they aren’t better than before they left. I’m sure they are. The Savior will try to bless us and help us, no matter what path we take.

    But if we say that there are some obstacles in our progression that can only be overcome by disobedience…that doesn’t really mesh with my understanding of the Atonement.

    Again, I’m not discounting anyone’s experience. Very positive, wonderful outcomes can occur for some people through less traveled paths. But we can’t conclude that was the best path, or even better.

  31. Mondo Cool says:

    In this discussion, should we not also consider that entering into a covenant relationship of salvific ordinances via recognized priesthood power is an indispensible milepost on our path to God’s approbation, as necessary as the faith-filled service we hold and display? My take: the final judgment will consider both.

  32. Thomas Parkin says:

    #8 Dan – exactly.

    I wrote about my experience with this – with my usual dyslexia – on the other thread. Sometimes you get to the point where there is no way ahead in the church. (This, btw, is the real point of excommunication, isn’t it?) And however much difficulty and pain it causes, it is less or better directed pain than what staying in the church would cause – at that time.

    That doesn’t mean that we don’t ultimately need to receive and understand all the ordinances, and to become clean through grace and our own faithfullness. What’s more, the scripture says that those who are cut off from the ordinances of his house are overcome of the world – and that may very well be where Richard is, I couldn’t say. It is definitely where I was when I left the church. We do absolutely need to get to that point of faithfulness, and we should encourage each other with love to strive to get there. The ‘path’ isn’t ‘our own,’ what’s more, it’s straight and narrow. But how that point of faithfulness is reached, how a person navigates his way on to the Christ-centered path, what a person might need to do to clear his way through his own personal undergrowth, is, I think, not always so easy to say.

    Sometimes we have insights into other people’s lives – but more often we will struggle with the beams in our own eyes. There is always a danger of hubris when we go to correct another person, especially where we have no personal calling to do so. I think in a case like Richard, and other people who find themselves in a similar place – we should be humble enough to say that we don’t neccesarily see the end of his road, any more than he does, and that God may have a purpose in it. And we can pray for him, love him and wish the very best for him, and make sure that we, whatever we do, we do not harden our hearts towards him, or anyone else.

    My 2 cents.

    ~

  33. Thomas Parkin says:

    Oh, and Aaron is a former Elder’s Quorum instructor of mine as well. A fine one, too, with a wonderful open, genuine and easy going style. I miss him and many others in Seattle 1. :)

    ~

  34. Joe B,

    I agree that we cannot conclude that anyone’s leaving the path for a time (or even a very long time) was the “better” or even the “best” path.

    But we do know the path God set out included a Savior in the event we diverge, and that part of life is to learn from our own experience to distinguish good from evil. And for some of us, “our own experience” in learning to distinguish good and evil included leaving the path for a while. It may not have been the best way, or the better way, but I am not sure that there was any other way for some of us to learn. Whether there was or not, I thank the Lord for a loving, redeeming, and transforming Savior.

  35. Great post, Aaron. I believe it’s possible that Judas himself has been embraced, forgiven and thanked by the Lord for his role in ushering in the Atonement. I think his and other “departures” from what the spirit has previously witnessed to to be true, is a perilous path, one that I have no intention of undertaking, but one that I acknowledge others have the free agency to take. I am hopeful that Brother Dutcher will return to our flock, but if he doesn’t, I won’t be surprised if he is hanging with Jesus and Judas in the next life.

  36. The 11th article of faith states, “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”
    So how many of you really believe this? It seems to be what this thread is about. If this is scripture, this seems to be that precedent that some of you were looking for.

  37. DavidH, I think I can support what you’re saying. Maybe I’m making more of a distinction than is necessary, but to me, there’s a difference between an “acceptable” path or way of gaining “our own experience” (as you put it) and a “preferred” way. I don’t think anyone can justify disobedience as a preferred or necessary path.

    I think of the people of Ammon who had the attitude that they were fortunate enough to repent and get on the straight and narrow the first time, that they weren’t about to pick up a sword and run the risk of having to find their way back again.
    Again, I admire the people who have come back. THat’s wonderful. The church as a whole should probably learn to do more and be more loving of people who aren’t 100% in.

  38. #36, We believe that through the Atonement of Christ, all mankind may be saved, by obedience to the laws and ordinances of the Gospel.

  39. I think its possible that Father Hans has been called to serve as a Catholic Priest. Heavenly Father wants us to be full active members, married in the temple etc etc but for a lot of people-that won’t happen until after this life. However, for those of us who have the opportunity in this life, I don’t think its a cut black and white line–you’ll be damned if you have the choice and deny it. I still think God takes each case by case.

  40. The 11th article of faith states, “We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.”
    So how many of you really believe this? It seems to be what this thread is about.

    Comment by a wife — April 19, 2007 @ 2:11 pm

    Yes, but I think what’s so thought-provoking about Aaron’s comments is the next step that’s implied: not only tolerance, but real acceptance; not just withholding judgment in words, but actually finding room in Mormon theology for those who walk another path. As an outsider looking in, I commend you for making the effort.

  41. If I’m to emulate Adam, I understand that I’ll have to leave the Garden at some point and in some way.

  42. Slippery Sam says:

    I like to think of God as always acting for the greater good, while still having a vested interest in each of us. In a lot of ways, it goes back to free will. I believe that He leaves many (most?) decisions up to us, and only on rare occasions directly intercedes in our lives. We know that his stated goal is “to bring to pass the immortality and eternal life of man”, which I interpret as making sure that the maximum possible number of His spirit children return to Him. As a practicing member of the LDS faith, I believe that the optimal path back to him is through obedience to the commandments, church activity, etc. I believe that there is a master plan at work, and that if we could see the entirety of that plan, we would understand a great deal more about the events of our lives.

    I also believe that in the context of this master plan, there may well be reasons for people to leave the church path, even if we cannot understand that reason. I would certainly not presume to question His wisdom in leading them down another path. As long as we have faith in that master plan, I think there is room to concede that God is capable of bringing people back to him by a path that has diverged from our own.

    Now, I would however emphasize that these thoughts are based on God’s intervention (which as I said before I believe to be very rare), not on our own willful departure from the path. Our free will still allows us to leave the path whenever we like, but this is definitely not God’s will for everyone.

  43. …and in violation of a commandment, to boot.

  44. greenfrog,

    I agree with your analysis of the Garden of Eden events. I think, though, the reason why many Church leaders are careful to call eating the fruit a “transgression” rather than a “sin” is to avoid the conclusion that sometimes “sin” is necessary or leads to a greater “good.”

    I do not agree with this reasoning–I believe eating the fruit was a “sin” because it was deliberate disobedience to God’s command. And it was God’s will, in a sense, that they “sin” to know of themselves good from evil. I do not think there was any other way.

    And the same is true for many of us. For some things we can tell good from evil by listening to advice of others, for other things we can tell by observing the experiences of others, but for some things, some of us seem only to learn through the school of hard knocks.

  45. I heard you, Jason. I hear you. That’s where my faith carries me on.

  46. Greenfrog (#42)

    Respectfully, leaving the Garden, even though the Garden may have symbolized the presence of God, is not akin to leaving the fold of Christ (IMO). I would offer that it was the next natural and perhaps only step to return to God’s presence on a full-time basis, eternally, because it represented the first rungs in the ladder of the Plan of Salvation. Thus following Adam out of the Garden could more closely be compared to actually joining the Church (or coming back to it) (IMHO).

  47. gamaliel says:

    #22 “…what if you have good and faithful Bishops, friends, teachers and parents but you still find your experience as a Mormon to be spiritually empty? What if their talk of answers to prayers and spiritual experiences seems so very foreign to your own experience? What if when you read and pray about the Book of Mormon for the umpteenth time, you still feel impressed that it is not true? There is no room for such people within our church because they are not supposed to exist. But they do.”

    I don’t think members like to think or talk about this issue, hence the lack of responses. But the question remains: Can a person in this situation remain a faithful member while still maintaining their integrity?

  48. Meems (#7),

    I was one who was caught up temporarily in the “near death experience” outlined in Embraced by the Light, some 20 or so years ago. As I recall, the author and her husband had joined the church in the Midwest prior to the NDE, but then were inactive off and on, even after the NDE occurred. I saw her on TV talk shows where she no longer committed to one religion being right. Later an LDS author (name unknown) wrote a scathing rebuttal to her book entitled Embarrassed by the Light.

  49. When comparing to Adam and Eve, don’t confuse the doctrinal principle. By breaking a law, Adam and Eve were forced to suffer the negative consequence (leaving the presence of God.) Does that mean there’s no hope for them? Of course not.

    There is a law, irrevocably decreed in heaven…

    When we break a commandment, there is a negative consequence. Period. We cannot escape it. We may not see it, but it’s there. Some times people can out run them and get them passed down to their children, (see JRH “A Prayer for the Children” April 2003 Conf…sorry, I don’t know how to do links), but the consequences are there. There may also be positive end results, because the Lord loves us and provides a way for us to return, but there are negative consequences. And I can’t see the value of teaching or proclaiming any other way.

  50. Gamaliel (#48),

    I have a son who is less active currently but who tells me he knows the Church is true and that he needs to go back. The integrity issue is huge for me because I have unfortunately been on the other side, where those who have dealt with me in the most treacherous and dishonest ways, have all been temple recommend holders, two of which were (are) Bishops. Sometimes I question whether I am being honest with myself by staying. But then I remember that I know the Church is true (sometimes I wish I didn’t!).

    I would not think anyone’s integrity would be compromised, if they simply admit that they don’t have answers yet. People who say they have never doubted the truthfulness of the Church, scare me quite honestly, because I have them (doubts) from time to time and remember Elder Maxwell expressing that sentiment as well. But in the mean time, I still come back to the fact that I have a testimony that Joseph saw those Two Dudes in that grove that day. I hope my son acts on that same knowledge that he says he has and comes back.

  51. As I understand it, this life is for us to muck around, get our bearings, and learn to embrace all that the atonement/gospel/Church offer. Or not — our choice.

    Sometimes people wander away during the mucking-around time, needing either to test other paths or to take a “time out” to pull it together. e.g. sons of Mosiah, Oliver Cowdery.

    Of course God has a plan that includes members spending time out of the Church for their spiritual benefit and sometimes the Church helps members move forward with that plan — that’s what excommunication or, in my case, disfellowshipment is for. The help and growth I’ve experienced since are invaluable. I wish it were not true, but I believe that I had to have this experience to cure the deficiencies in me that led to my own “time off.”

  52. salesiani

  53. part of God’s plan that particular Churchmembers leave the LDS Church?

    Aaron B, nice post, man. For me, the answer to your question I pasted here is a resounding “yes.” One thing that bugs me about mainstream Mormons is the idea that God has no plans for people outside the church except to lead them to the church. This is simply not true.

  54. Lonny Mower says:

    I thank God that many of the major personalities that contributed to the end of the Cold War were not Mormon. IMHO, Pope John Paul II should have been declared a Catholic Saint upon his death. No Temple Work needed for him. And I hope the Church does not disgrace his memory by adding his name to IGI. I’m thinking of the recent bruhaha over the latest Jewish addition(s)/retractions to the IGI.

  55. — given where they are.

    and where is that, exactly?

    Maybe you could draw up a spiritual map of the world and color in the lighter and darker bits according to your estimation of the various levels of “striving toward the light” you’ve noticed in your journeys, Mr. Polo?

  56. Re: #51 I think Gamaliel was referring to people who are in the opposite position of your son. People who DON’T know it’s true, but people who are trying to follow God and do what is right. The assumption is that if someone comes to church, accepts callings, and lives a good life, they must have a strong testimony of Joseph Smith and that the church is True and all that that entails. However there are people who serve faithfully in the church who don’t believe in some of or even most of the doctrine of the church. There are people who have decided that being Mormon is a good way to live their lives and who are willing to be home/visiting teachers, cubmasters, clerks, or even ward mission leaders simply because someone they respect has asked them to do it. They serve the best that they can. They love people and don’t want to hurt them, and they don’t want to be rejected or thought ill of, so they keep their disbelief a secret. It’s a hard and lonely road. There is help for those who are sinning the big sins, and who are offended, and those who haven’t learned the gospel, but these RMs and children of goodly parents, there is no help for them.

  57. Ugly Mahana says:

    Re: Number 55.

    What do you mean no temple work needed? Does this make Christ a liar when he said that *All* must be baptized? Did He not mean it when he said that there is only *one* way? Are the principles of the gospel indeed unnecessary?

    I don’t think this is what you meant. I think what you meant is that allegiance to any earthly organization is not necessary for entrance into heaven. But the ordinances of the Temple are not earthly. They are required of all. There is no other gate but the one pointed to by the Son.

    So does that mean that all who are not Mormon perish? No! This is why we do ordinance work. Not so that we may withhold eternal blessings from those who do not kowtow to us, but under a strict command from God that all may stand before Him on equal ground and be judged, in the end, as if they had received the ordinances in the flesh. The work performed in the Temple does not diminish the holy life lived by any righteous person. It sanctifies it and enriches it and justifies it, so that the person may stand before God without sorrow, and be rewarded, and not condemned, for living by the light he or she had.

  58. Space Chick says:

    Joe B., can you point to the law that anyone is breaking by adjusting their level of Church participation? Or specific consequences outlined in the scriptures (not just anecdotes from various GAs)?

    Ronan, you probably know that the “lukewarm” reference was an admonition to the members of the primitive church in Laodicea for being lukewarm in their conversion to the gospel, because they hesitated between being pagan and being Christian. Their drinking water was lukewarm, because it was neither hot like the water from the springs at Pamukkale, a pagan worship center, nor cold, like the water in Colossa, where the water came down from the surrounding mountains and the saints were faithful. I agree with the post that there’s a big difference between backing off from being totally immersed in church activities or culture, and actively turning away from Christ. As long as we don’t do the latter, I don’t think we’re being lukewarm.

  59. Re: #57
    Thank you. That’s exactly right.

  60. Space Chick, umm…let’s see, how about the temple recommend questions. Following a prophet of God. Whether my voice or the voice of my servants, it is the same.

  61. Steve Evans says:

    Joe B., temple recommend questions aren’t laws, as you know. If you’re meaning to say that they articulate a basic standard of conduct, that’s fair, but that’s not quite what Space Chick is getting at. For example, is it sin to not attend church activities outside of Sunday meetings? You’d be hard-pressed to say that there is. And certainly in the scriptures there is little to add in this respect.

  62. Gamaliel and a wife,

    Point well taken.

  63. Steve, there is no question in the temple recommend interview about attending meetings other than on Sundays. Are you saying that chastity, word of wisdom, tithing, honesty and keeping temple covenants are standards of conducts but not laws that we have to obey?

    Or is space chick implying (and maybe I’ve misread this entire blog) that the person leaving the church is keeping all covenants and that “leaving the church” only means not attending on Sunday?

  64. shelahhunter says:

    (Please allow this comment for the “Am I immoral?, by Aaron B/” section, being a Yenta from NY I had to add my 2 Shekels)

    Hi everyone! Especially to the very human Aaron B. I am a Jewish Mormon~ I am a retired journalist (I hate proper punctuation, unless I’m being published:)

    While at this last GC, the anti’s were misquoting Jewish mitzvots, beliefs/mormon beliefs etc. etc. and I just lost it and looked at the fiend and like Joseph ( I wished I could to the “ye fiends from the inferno pits of hell” thing…) anyway I said I speak Yiddish and my dad was a Rabbi, you don’t know what you are talking about you biggot!!”

    I did this might I add, before a precussion of Priesthood men going to the nightly Conference session (sat) and was really embarrassed at the lousy example I set for the teenage boys…one brother came put his arm around me (totally kosher, my husband was there:) and said “good sister, don’t lower yourself to his standards, it does absolutely no good.” sooooo Good brother Aaron, while your intentions were pretty just, I agree with above statement that originally “offering your coat/cloke” immediately upon the asking of, is the right response to that sweet older gentleman. after all….”there but for the Grace of God go I”…that goes for the unfortunate, unhappy Saab cursing gal behind you..

    Love, Kittywaymo (Sheila H.)

  65. shelahhunter says:

    (aaron, can you please tell me a way to contact your site, to post without infringing upon other topics? please count the below post in”brokeback mt” I thought my experience might be valuable my emai is listed in your databank)

    Hello Aaron~ I was married/sealed to a gay mormon dentist, now I’m happily married/sealed to a straight mormon ObGyn (I know…It’s like going from one end to the other…not my joke, someone in our old ward, GP Doc)

    SoOOO I rented Brokeback, I liked it very much because I related to it on many levels being that many of my friends are gay mormons, non gay mormons and my ex is a friend… I would have liked the writer/s to have shown more of the wife/familys pain as well…basically I think it tells us that “honesty is the best policy” “don’t live a double life, be true to the truth” “there but for the Grace of God go a.your brother/sister/parent/friend…Having said that I would not want our teens to see the movie, not because I’m afraid they’ll “catch becoming gay” but because of some of the sexual content.

    a fair amount of guys (the stats are 3-4 in each ward) suffer from SSA(samesexattraction) or homosexuality(with/without experience) talking about the our Church. I finally did research for at least 10 years and the CHurch is doing its best to try to be there for the loved one and family members. WHere now you can talk to your bishop about SSA, I’m 41 and my poor ex husband didn’t quite know how to tell me till AFTER we were married. Now smarter/wiser guys like “L” and other good guys tell their wives before marriage and let them decide if the struggle before the two of them is a choice they want for their lives. My advice is: (hey I’m jewish/lds, gotta give it)
    1. if you are ssa and married, PLEASE talk to your wife so she doesn’t think her natural God given intuition is her going crazy when she thinks..”hey…there is something amiss in our intimacy/marriage” You’ll be surprised at how strong we women are.
    2. If your single and ssa, talk to your bishop and get priesthood direction etc and support to help you love yourself and have good healthy self-esteem. Brothers like Stuart Matis should not have gotten to the point of desperation that they felt unloved or uncherished…

    Most of all realize that everyone has addictions, temptations etc, we are all expected to do the best we can to stay morally clean in thoughts and deeds. When we sin, we have our Mediator, Jesus Christ who loves us and knows about our pain and suffering. The Gosepl is a rich resource and wealth of support…I hope you don’t mind, I try to use whatever forum I can to educate others so they can have happy marriages and successful family lives..

    Love Kittywaymo(shelah)

  66. Hans Hansen says:

    I came across this topic by accident and was amazed to see you talking about my old friend Father Hans. I have known Father Hans for about 5 years and am a member of the stake, though not the ward, that he attends. We have had many conversations over the years pertaining to music and other subjects and I have been struck by his kindness and caring for others. We kid each other about our common name and part-Scandinavian ancestry. I hope that he will join the church in the future but for now he has an active ministry helping others.

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  1. [...] Aaron B. at By Common Consent raises an interesting question for his fellow churchpersons.  I find it notable for the priest he knows, who apparently believes in much of Mormonism.  [...]

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