My 80-something aunt, who is descended from pioneer stock and strongly into genealogy, lives in Utah and had never before been able to visit Nauvoo. She wanted badly to go, and she finally made it this past weekend. This was her one shot at it. She went with her daughter and brother, and I took my daughter and we met them there. We had a glorious experience; it was tremendous fun.
I was a little bit surprised when this trip started to come together that my daughter expressed an interest in coming. She is not at all active in the Church. So I was thrilled she wanted to go.
Nauvoo is about a five-hour drive from my house, and like any good road trip the drive afforded lots of opportunity for conversation. She mentioned to me that she had attended a Bible study where she works. She had always been interested in doing such a thing, but she didn’t want to go to a conservative Evangelical type thing. The one she went to was more laid back, and the people there were already friends of hers. I was rather surprised by this interest; I had been under the impression she was agnostic with almost no interest in religious things.
She mentioned that the topic had been the evil of man. I offered to give her the Mormon take on it, and I explained that Mormons reject the dogma of Original Sin, which is a significant part of why we are considered so heterodox by most Christians. I talked about the origins of the dogma with Augustine, and how the Mormon view of Man is quite positive, how Mormonism has a certain appeal to those of a humanist bent. (I mentioned Sterling McMurrin’s Theological Foundations as a celebration of this aspect of the faith.)
We had never spoken specifically about what she finds lacking in the Church. (I had given her her space on the topic, as expressed in the link above.) Somehow the topic just arose naturally as we discussed this aspect of Mormon theology. She told me that she considers herself a humanist, and there is a lot about Joseph Smith that she can relate to.
Her main problems with the Church are (a) she doesn’t like the BoM and (b) she doesn’t like the way the Church treats blacks, women and gays.
This was a revelation to me. We talked about her issues a bit. I told her that I know lots of good Mormons who don’t believe in the BoM, that in my view that is an acceptable position as long as one doesn’t try to proselytize others to that point of view. I shared with her a terrific perspective on the BoM expressed by my fellow blogger John Hamer comparing the relationship between the BoM and the Bible to that between the Aeneid and the Homeric Epics, that just as Vergil wrote an epic with a continuity with the great Homeric poems of antiquity to bring Rome into the story, so the BoM gives the Americas a continuity with the religious heritage of the Ancient Near East and the churches of Europe. If one doesn’t accept historicity, that’s a good way of looking at it, I think (wrote the classics major).
I told her I understand and agree with her concerns about historic racism, patriarchy and issues relating to homosexuality. (She and a friend always attend the gay pride parade in Chicago.) The Church isn’t perfect, but they’re my people, so I’m willing to put up with some cultural traits that I view as less than ideal.
She also told me how when she was young she would ask probing questions at Church and would always be ignored, told just to pray about it, etc. I could well believe this, as I have seen this phenomenon repeatedly when people teach youth, and I think it’s a big mistake not to take such concerns seriously.
Somewhere along the way I explained to her the difference between the SLC church and the CoC, and she later surprised me by saying she looked on the internet and found a CoC congregation where she lived, and that she might go check it out. I was really pleased to hear this. I realize most LDS parents would be apoplectic at their child possibly going to check out the CoC. But I have tremendous respect for the CoC, I think it would be a good fit for her, and it would be a way to remain in the same general tradition. And compared to being an uninterested agnostic, showing an interest in the CoC feels like a major win to me.
I don’t know that she will actually join; she’s apparently more of a seeker at this point. But I was so pleased to have this conversation with her, that she felt comfortable sharing her thoughts on these topics with me, and that she continues to have a religious flame burn within her that I assumed had died.
Returning to the mainstream Church isn’t in the cards. But I would be pleased if she were able to find a religious home in some other church, and I would be absolutely thrilled were that home to be the CoC.
I of course will be following her journey with great interest.
See the kinds of conversations one can have in the car as the miles slip away?