In the Sunday Morning session of October Conference, Elder Ballard gave an impassioned sermon asking those who are considering leaving the church to consider what they are leaving behind. This talk feels particularly relevant to me, as I am currently feeling a lot of pressure, internal and external, to clarify my relationship with the church. I haven’t been to church recently and, even though it is not for the typical reasons one doesn’t go to church, I still feel less Mormon for it. I may well be stopping and catching my breath, as Elder Ballard suggests, or I may be on my way down another path. I honestly can’t tell right now.
When I stop to consider the things I love about the church, it is only occasionally coincident with the sorts of things the church talks about. I love the Book of Mormon, and the Gospel and Doctrine of Christ. I love the notion of theosis, I’m intrigued by our henolatry, and I’m particularly humbled by and devoted to the notion of an open canon. I’ve long felt that the Mormon notion of priesthood, defined as a broad power to act in God’s name in the service of his children, is a powerful tool for helping people look outside themselves.
Elder Oaks stated in his talk, on Saturday afternoon, that there is a difference between a conversion to Christ and a conversion to the church. I feel like I’ve been (somewhat shakily, always tentatively) converted to the Gospel. When Elder Ballard discusses the things I’ve learned in church about Christ, the Atonement, the purpose of life, I’m reminded of the things that draw me into the church. But then he talks about church organization, traditional values, and the temple, which are much more of a mixed bag for me. There are things I love and things that are very off-putting in how we’ve embodied Christ’s church. And, frankly, there are lots of wonderful doctrines to be found in other Christian (and non-Christian) churches, probably equal to our own in providing purpose, moral guidance, and a sense of eternal belonging.
For all my life, I’ve been drawn to this church. I’ve defined myself by it. I’ve contemplated the scriptures, argued about them online and elsewhere, fought to defend it, and criticized it when I felt I should. It is something I’ve taken very seriously, because I’ve felt called to do so. And I still do. But, it could not possibly be any more obvious that the church isn’t interested in me.
Not that I think it should have to be. A church that catered to my every whim, political, social, and spiritual, would be a church that I’d treat with suspicion. But, at the same time, it is tiresome to be treated with suspicion, as a kind of miscreant, for one’s whole life as well. I often feel like a barnacle, clinging to the Old Ship Zion, hiding on the undercarriage and mostly bothering no-one, but worried that one day I’ll be scraped off the hull when the officers have nothing better to do. It always seems safest to just hide in that shell.
So why bother? I don’t know. I have a testimony of the Gospel, I even have one of the church. But I also have a testimony that God wants me to speak out in whatever little way I can. Even if I mostly sit on my hands in real life, or skip church entirely, my writing here (what there is of it) may well be the most important aspect of my testimony. It demonstrates that I think the church is important enough to care about, to discuss, to appreciate, and to argue with. Whether or not it is the only path to Christ, God, or the words of Eternal Life, it is so obviously my path, where I found my God, and where I find my words, that I cannot imagine my life without it. So, I guess, I’ll probably start moving forward again eventually. Or not. I really don’t know right now.