Road Trip Conversation

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?


  1. Good for you. But how do you know what is in the cards? Are you a fortune teller?

  2. i began road-tripping with a digital recorder a few years back. i’ve been able to capture fun conversations with my kids and intimate revelations from my dad’s time as a marine in vietnam. i think the conversations are one of the main reasons i enjoy road trips as much as i do.

    this post says you’re a good dad. i threw the towel in on my catholic upbringing a few years before joining the lds church and my mom still hasn’t forgiven me. i feel like i understand how hard it must be for her that i’ve forsaken the faith that got her through some horrific times… but i don’t understand at all the way i’ve been treated because of it. i’m glad there are parents like you who at least keep lines of communication open over such heavy topics.

    i always like to remind parents of “wayward kids” that i once carried around a stamped envelope addressed to the cob for over a year. never mailed it, still haven’t resolved all of my concerns, but can’t imagine ever going back to where i once was. i finally realized that it’s okay to have questions and doubts and to not understand and to still believe that i’m as full of faith as the next.

  3. Thanks for a very nice post, Kevin. I hope she goes to the CoC. Funny, I’ve given them a lot of thought too and think I should visit their congregation in Burbank sometime. Any fellow LA-area bloggers want to meet me there some Sunday?. It’s particularly interesting that they continue to receive revelation. They added a powerful new section to the Doctrine and Covenants just last year.

  4. CJ Douglass says:

    I used to dislike hearing the term “Cultural Mormon”. Likewise, I used to laugh at the idea that others in the Mormon tradition (CoC, FLDS) were anything but apostates. But I’ve softened over the years due to various experiences.

    A few have been sitting at the feet of my Grandmother – listening to her describe the history of our family in this country. Showing me old photographs and priceless (to me at least) old church books in her library. Because my Welsh ancestor’s first reason for coming to the U.S. was to be with the Saints, that history is inescapably linked to the Church. And although she hasn’t been active for some time she maintains such an appreciation and understanding of her Mormon heritage.

    I guess what I am saying is, I identify with your post Kevin. Thanks.

  5. What a lucky daughter you have. I wish I could talk to my parents with such receptiveness.

  6. I have to echo Tracy. You’re a parenting rock star. I’m just continually impressed by the thoughtful way you talk with your kids. You’re a great example, in a lot of ways. Thanks for this post.

  7. I have a little tradition of attending other church services on General Conference Sunday (here on the east coast, GC starts pretty late). Maybe I’ll take this Sunday and head over to CoC–I have been meaning to for years.

  8. Mike, if you wait till January, I’ll be out that way and go with you.

  9. Mark Brown says:

    Here’s what’s interesting, from a parenting point of view: If you had started out with the intention of having this conversation, it never would have happened. Sometimes the best things cannot be planned.

    I am very happy with they way that the various branches of Mormonism have been able to acknowledge their differences (and there are some big ones!) and yet also acknowledge the common ground they share. Hooray for another potential convert to the Restoration!

  10. My father was an officer in the Navy. We seldom saw him when he was at sea, but during our frequent moves he was there. Our moves consisted of driving across country often with endless side trips. On these trips my father nearly always drove and the kids took turns riding “shotgun”. Our job was to talk to Dad and make sure he didn’t fall asleep. Hours of conversation over weeks crossing the “plains” helped create a bond with my father that he didn’t have to wherewithall to develop at other times.

    Having just this as an example of how to bond with your children, I’m finding it hard to bond unless I do the same with mine. Even though I don’t spend month away from my kids, road trips are the only time I ever seem to get to talk with them, one on one.

    Now that you have brought it up, I think it is time for another trip. Thanks.

  11. Token Average Member says:

    ESO: We are also on the east coast and my daughter and I have sampled other church services on conference sundays as well.

    Wish we had a CoC to try!

  12. It sounds like great conversations and a wonderful trip, Kevin. It reminds me of two pilgrimages to Nauvoo that I’ve taken with members of my family in the past several years. Like your family, mine has a diversity of religious opinion. My mother and two of my sisters are active LDS, another sister and my brother are atheists (the sister is still very engaged with the community as a cultural Mormon; the brother isn’t nearly as interested), and my father left Mormonism and converted to a moderate form of evangelical Christianity. Even so, we’re able to get together pretty well as a family by giving each other space as you do with your daughter. On our trips to Nauvoo, I had a wonderful time visiting with my mother, father, my active sister and her young children, seeing the sites of our shared heritage, and visiting the lots where our ancestors lived. (To get to the main home site, my mother and I jumped a fence to follow a road that is no longer a road just a few more blocks to get a photo. I shouldn’t admit that and I don’t advise people to trespass on the rights of Nauvoo’s residents, but it was a special moment for us.)

    I like your insight that Sunstone is actually an institution that keeps Mormons engaged with their culture, even if they have no interest in engagement with the LDS Church. If it’s a door today, I think it’s more a door back into the culture than a door out of the church. I hope your daughter decides to have a positive engagement with her heritage, either through the Community of Christ or through other independent Mormon cultural institutions. Whether or not she decides to, she certainly has a great dad.

  13. MikeInWeHo says:

    re: 8 I’d love that!! Definitely, you’re on.

  14. StillConfused says:

    What is CoC?

  15. #14—CoC is short for Community of Christ. They used to be known as the RLDS church (Reorganized LDS).

  16. Kevin Barney says:

    John, one of the things she mentioned to me was that she really enjoyed it when I took her to Sunstone a few years ago, but she didn’t want to acknowledge that at the time, because she was afraid that would give us false hope that she might be coming back.

    We also found the site of our most prominent Church ancestor’s home (Thomas Grover). I had never been able to find it before and thought it was just somewhere in Nauvoo State Park, but this time we got a better map and determined that it was in a heavily wooded area behind a house. We would have had to do some fence jumping to get closer and didn’t try that, but just being that close and being able to see it was indeed special.

    Some time I’d like to get you together with my daughter. She’s specializing in museum and gallery work, and your projects would be right up her alley.

    I also noted that, as a matter of taste, I preferred the CoC patter to the LDS in giving the tours. What I dislike about the LDS approach is that everyone bears their testimony. For me, less is more; getting a testimony at every house is a little bit much. The CoC guy giving us our tour was great.

  17. StillConfused says:

    What is a CoC service like? I see that they refer to “pastors” and am wondering what the chruch service is like. Also, does anyone know why Grant McMurray resigned as their leader?

  18. John Hamer says:

    “Pastor” is a word that was used occasionally in the early church and it is still used in the Community of Christ. For example, in the Gospel Reflector (1841), the first independent Mormon newspaper, my g-g-g-great uncle Benjamin Winchester referred to himself as “Pastor of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in Philadelphia.” In this case “pastor” means “presiding elder” which in the LDS Church is now called “branch president” in Branches. In the early church, bishops used to be financial officers and that continues to be their role in the Community of Christ. However, in LDS Wards, the role of bishop has been transformed and has displaced the presiding elder as general leader of the congregation. Essentially a Community of Christ pastor is the same as an LDS bishop or branch president. Most pastors are volunteer lay ministers who hold the priesthood office of high priest or elder.

    Community of Christ services vary significantly from congregation to congregation because there is a lot more local control. The ones I’ve been to have a lot of similarities to LDS services. For example, the sacrament prayer is identical, there are announcements, prayers, hymns, and talks. In some cases the talks quote the Book of Mormon, but I’ve heard the Bible and Doctrine & Covenants quoted more frequently. There are also some differences. The Community of Christ uses a small amount of liturgy — readings, etc. — which I’ve never seen in an LDS meeting. The Community of Christ also has free will offerings instead of tithing settlement and so there is an offertory. I think LDS members would find both similarities and differences.

  19. so i want to know if she’s ok with you posting that conversation for all the world…

  20. Kevin, you’re a model father. The Church desperately needs people like you to reorient our discourse about so-called “wayward children.”

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