“Go on then!” said Frodo. “What do you know?”
“Too much; too many dark things,” said Strider grimly.
Aged 9, Malvern, England
I am at a St. George’s Day service with the Scouts held in our local Church of England church. It could not be more different than my Mormon ward and I am now at an age when I am starting to learn that Mormons believe their church is the “one true.” I suppose I believe this too . . . and yet the music and the aesthetics of this ancient church are wonderful. I feel good. I “feel the Spirit” . . . so is this church also not true in its own way? Holy envy has been with me ever since and has enriched my Mormon life.
Aged 15, Malvern, England
I read an anti-Mormon pamphlet about the temple. I know it’s full of lies because it says the temple includes a “masonic” ritual and strange ceremonial clothing. I ask my YM president and he basically confirms it is true. I spend the next stunned week or so imagining all the trusted Mormon adults I know performing this weird, secret ritual. It’s the secrecy that shocked me. And yet four years later I go to the temple myself and rather enjoy it. I suppose Hume was right: just because something is so (ultra low church everyday Mormon worship) doesn’t mean it will always be so. I also learn that God may well indeed be wholly Other.
Aged 19, Vienna, Austria
For something that is supposed to be so wonderful, the mission is surprisingly dark at times. I serve with one missionary who is suicidal. A few others are clearly depressed. This should not be so. At least it was not so on the Called to Serve video. One day, faced with a rather stubborn investigator, I proclaim to him that as “a servant of Jesus Christ, I testify that my message is true and that you must join God’s church.” As soon as I say it, I know that I do not mean it, that I cannot know with certainty anything that I have just claimed. It is blasphemy to do so and yet it trips off the tongue so very easily. I really believe his joining the church will be pleasing to God, but I cannot claim to know God’s mind with surety, despite the bold words we are encouraged to speak. All of this is jarring for me at times . . . and yet, despite its frequent heartache and occasional dissonance, I count the company of that mission eternally dear.
Aged 21, Birmingham, England
When I left for my mission, nobody had the world wide web at home. When I go to university afterwards, it is everywhere. I am reading for a degree in ancient history and devour FARMS and Nibley . . . but Mormon themed websites also introduce me to some shockers. You know the list. I was more informed than most but the church is revealed to be full of many more shadows than I had realised. Yes, I knew Joseph was a polygamist, but how! And yet this is the man who gave us the best latter-day vision of Zion I know. It failed, but so does everything down here.
Aged 30, Baltimore, Maryland
I am blogging by now and I am also an academic. Very little fazes me — history is a mess, people are fallible, institutions can hurt people — but on the new Mormon internet, like-minded intellectuals remain faithful. It can be done. Then the church starts to ramp up its anti-gay marriage drive and I feel stricken. Given our broken history with gays, I lack confidence that this time we are right, and my experience with gay friends and family has led my heart to want marriage available to them. To be on the other side of the church’s primary moral drive in my lifetime is heartbreaking. It still is. And yet the familial happiness in my own life has much to thank Mormonism for.
Aged 37, Malvern, England
My daughter, 8, realises that unlike her brothers, she will have no public role in the church when she turns 12. She is sad, and as she is the most earnest of my children, so am I. I am left un-teaching her the swimsuit modesty lessons. And yet her Primary teachers really, really love her.
So, here I am. In writing this, I am tempted to find some kind of grand narrative to explain it all, especially my continued activity and service at all levels, including twice on a bishopric. I can only think of this: for some reason, propositional knowledge has never seemed to be for me the best route to God, which is why church history reveals have been quickly assimilated into my faith. Much more difficult to overcome are the contemporary social and ritual failures at church as aesthetics and love and emotion and friendship and goodness reveal God to me more than Gospel Principles.
As such — and this will be a bold claim — you could demonstrate that Lucifer himself ran the Mormon Church and I would struggle to abandon it so long as we devil worshippers are loving each other despite ourselves. Here are my friends and here is my family; these are my people . . . and here, Lucifer be damned, the power of God is so often made manifest that we shall just have to solve the problem of good here in hell and be done with it.
But let’s not be complacent: we’ve got to find a better place for our women and for our gays and we’ve got to do better serving the poor. That is what my heart tells me. The tragedy of Helen Marr Kimball is far from the mind when we are in our yellow shirts doing good. I would much rather have an hour at church planning our week’s charitable service than learning about Mountain Meadows. For the latter, a short, honest note in the manual will do with a reference to further reading. Hours and hours of lessons are not the answer; helping all people feel close to Jesus in their church life may be.
Finally, we ought to acknowledge the complexity of doubt and resist the urge to diagnose similar causes. I know people, mostly women, for whom Joseph’s secret polygamy is shattering, identifying with Emma as they more easily do. Shattering too the realisation of the obfuscation with which they were raised. For whatever reason, my temperament is wired differently, maybe because I am acutely aware of my own fallibility and yet still feel capable of doing God’s will. For me, my activity in the church was most at threat when I felt alienated from my ward. For others, belief in Mormonism’s historical claims is fragile, given their remarkable nature. Thus, Joseph reading the gold plates like a book somehow feels credible but his head in a hat tips us over the edge. Truth be told, we are never far from it, ready to fall.
Help, God, our unbelief.