In the Middle Space

Mette Ivie Harrison is a well-known mystery and young-adult novelist and frequent guest here. She is, most recently, the author of The Book of Laman, published by BCC Press.

Speaking to a group of women at the YWCA this week, I was surprised at how many of them were non-Mormons who nonetheless were having some of the same struggles with their church doctrine, hierarchy, and culture that I was having. One of them said that she was “in the middle space” of her church and I thought it was an apt phrase. Being in the middle isn’t the same as being on the fringes. Being in the middle is being in the midst of everything. It means digging in with your whole heart and mind, engaging with others, being open to being taught as well as to teaching, and remembering you are not above hard work and getting your hands dirty.

There are things that I love about Mormonism: the doctrine of Heavenly Mother, the rejection of original sin, the universal resurrection and heaven, the focus on happiness and on living here and now in our physical bodies in a godly way. There are things I don’t love about Mormonism: the idea of eternal gender roles, male-only priesthood, the lack of space for singles and LGBT+ people in our universal heaven, the continuing specter of polygamy, the strict hierarchy and near worship of apostles and prophets, the lingering racism of the past. But I choose to continue to engage in my religious heritage and I think many others in many religions are the same way.

One of the difficulties with living in the middle space is that people on either side want to push us one way or the other. Mormons who claim to have no doubts call Mormons like me “cafeteria Mormons” or “buffet Mormons.” They claim that we are picking and choosing between God’s laws and that this is not allowed. I’ve been told I’m not a real Mormon and that I should just leave if I can’t embrace every part of Mormonism.

And yet I would claim that these same Mormons are themselves “cafeteria Mormons” by their own definitions, because I could find plenty of quotes by prophets and apostles of the past that they would reject as not doctrinal and that means they are also picking and choosing. What about the temple blessings ban on black members of the church, now acknowledged not to be doctrinal? What about the Adam-God doctrine? What about Blood Atonement? What about uncomfortable quotes on those with disabilities? If you ignore those quotes, argue that prophets were “men of their times,” or say that it doesn’t matter now because our current prophets are better, you are a cafeteria Mormon.

No Mormon can possibly follow all the prescriptives of Mormon church leaders. While you may be perfect at following the Word of Wisdom, modesty rules, and accepting church callings, there are so many talks calling us to do so many things: weekly temple attendance and genealogical work, journal writing and home beautification, gardening and canning, joining charitable organizations outside the church, missionary work, and on and on. I can find a way that any Mormon is rejecting some of the counsel offered by church leaders. None of us is perfect, of course, but some of us are a lot more imperfect than others.

Just as eagerly, ex-Mormons like to push those in the middle space out to where they are. They claim that I can’t remain a Mormon if I disagree with the church about LGBT issues or if I don’t hold to all the truth claims of the church. I should take a stand and walk away from the church in order to prove my true allegiance to LGBT rights. I can’t be a member of a church that has a stance in direct opposition to my own on equality and same-sex marriage. And yet, here I am, in the middle with others standing next to me.

I choose to define my Mormonism my way, just as I define feminism in a different way than other feminists, and I define my Republicanism in a different way than other Republicans. I’m an American and I can sing The Star Spangled Banner and recite the Pledge of Allegiance without agreeing with our history of racism and segregation, without thinking every war America has ever fought was justified, and every President of our country was a hero. I think there’s space for me to be proud of parts of America without endorsing all of them. In fact, I think it’s important to acknowledge the shameful parts of our past in order to help build a better future.

Mormonism is the lens through which I find the divine. Mormon songs are the songs that bridge the gap between me and other family members. Mormon scriptures still force me to think harder and prayer harder. The Mormon ideal of “do what is right” is one I still strive for. I still believe in family and clean living. I still believe in working hard and being part of a community to magnify my efforts. I still believe that we can grow and change radically in the course of our lives and that this message is worth something to others. So here I stand and here I hope to stay.

One woman at the YWCA asked me if I thought that the middle space was sustainable. She pointed out that she had tried to occupy that space for a few years and had eventually fallen out of it. I admitted that I’ve seen a lot of people who have done the same. There’s no shame in taking a different path. I believe there are many good paths. But I hope that anyone who falls out of the middle space doesn’t do so because of pressure from both sides. We need to do better at rejecting a binary when it comes to our religious beliefs. It’s not about right or wrong. It’s not for us or against us, all in or all out. These are harmful ways of viewing the complexity of humanity, and are attempts to enforce a tribalism that I hope that we as humans have grown out of by now.

I remain in the middle space. I close my eyes, step onto the tightrope, reach for God’s hand in the darkness, and hold to my faith to get me across one step at a time.

Comments

  1. Cynthia H says:

    I’ve always found it strange that in a church where we spend millions of dollars and countless hours of time on missionary work so many members are willing to show other members the door when someone else’s beliefs don’t quite align with theirs. I’m in the middle space too, trying to hang on.

  2. In my snarky moments I love to throw out “no playing with face cards” by President Kimball. I know the talk, the date, and can source it in a heart beat. It’s my take that moment when someone feels the need to remind me “to follow the prophet.” I can get dang defensive about the middle space. I am with you Mette. Eyes closed, hanging on.

  3. It’s frustrating when my fellow Mormons tell me things like “You can’t be Mormon and believe in X” or “You can’t be Mormon and reject Y.” I am Mormon, and I do believe X and I do reject Y and the tithing checks keep getting cashed. In essence, they don’t want me to exist because it complicates things for them.

    I often wonder what thing will finally push or pull me out. But it’s always helpful to know there are others like me out there; thank you for this post.

  4. east of the mississippi says:

    Totally in the middle space… it’s the only way I can survive in the church today.

  5. [If this ends up a duplicate, rather than one version being lost in internet space, please mod.]

    Love this, Mette.

    I claim middle space too. One characteristic of a middle way is that it isn’t well defined. Rightly or wrongly, many of us think we know what “all in” means. And think we know what “out” means. But nobody knows–and few even think they know–what the middle way means for me (or Mette, or anybody commenting above who also claims middle space).

    My most recent frustration comes from a different direction than any of those described in the OP, from the direction of the conservative all-in camp drawing me back/in/toward the center. Comments like “come on, you’re making it up for effect, you can’t really be as radical as your comments seem to say.” And “you and people like you are not so different . . . no tie, rainbow pin, a few good questions, what’s the big deal?” I end up feeling like I’ll have to strip bare (figuratively, but literally might work too) to be seen.

    So maybe being seen isn’t so important. But I choose to be part of the Mormon community as I am–not wearing a disguise, not making nice. That’s my middle way. In practical effect I reject the liberal Mormon orthopraxy that my parents followed.

    Do I have to do a public confession of faith or non-faith? For what it’s worth, my current bishop has a pretty good idea who and where I am. My family and close friends (online and off) are reasonably well informed. Most of the time that’s plenty. However, this comment is proof that not always. The “not really so radical” and “what’s the big deal?” comments bug me.

    To close, in the mode of “can’t comment like this without just a bit of public confession,” here’s one::
    The temple recommend is not part of my life. I don’t agree with the process. And even if the process were fixed I don’t think the questions are right. And even if I took the questions my honest answers may or may not be correct by somebody else’s measure, in part because I’m paying attention to another set of questions (much longer, for what it’s worth). I don’t even sit for an interview.

    In? Out? No, neither. It’s part of my middle way.

  6. It’s a big middle, probably more of us in it than any other space. I’m in it, facing out. I’ve always felt drawn to the fringe people, not to rescue, not to argue, just because I feel comfortable, and I acknowledge their goodness and the thoughts they have, which are just as legitimate as mine. The fringe folks I know don’t tend to find fault with me and I don’t look for faults, in the fringe, the middle, or the hard core – of which I can’t say I know of very many out here in the ecclesiastical boondocks – I’d rather find things to praise and build on. I’m old enough that I don’t care much what anybody thinks of me or my thoughts. I choose to stick with the church because I have felt truth here, and I can appreciate Peter wondering where else would they go. I stick with it, even as once I also began to write The Book of Laman – not the same as Mette’s, but I too recognize that they who aren’t righteous clones have their story. I didn’t finish the story, and it wouldn’t have been as good if I had.

  7. Your average Mormon says:

    I have recently entered the middle space (last two years or so). Some days the middle space seems unsustainable but other days the middle space feels natural. I think a lot of how the middle space feels has to do with how much I let other people’s comments affect me.

    When I really focus on JUST my relationship with God, the middle space is comfortable. When I allow others to tell me that I’m only able to be a Mormon if I do “x,y, and z” and believe in “a,b, and c” then I feel like I’m in a rocking boat and I’m sliding off the edge.

    I’m active in the church and with a temple recommend too but I no longer pretend to believe what I can’t, and I no longer hide it. But I was open in my last recommend interview about this and I still have one, which I attribute (hopefully) to a leader who understands that we all have our place in the choir. Some days it’s hard and painful and uncomfortable and I feel like I will have to walk away. But other days I put aside all those things and really focus on my relationship with god and realize that it’s okay, that I’m okay.

  8. I agree it’s in the longevity of the race, not the sprint. I’ve seen many less active members back into activity with a zeal that is almost impossible to match, yet within a few months the fire burns a little dimmer and once was perfect church attendance becomes sporadic church attendance. As long as you do not put your philosophies above the teachings of God, you will be alright.

  9. So many of these discussions include the phrase “hanging on” – terminology someone with terminal illness or a bad marriage might utilize. That’s alarming, from a public health standpoint if nothing else.

  10. Kevin Barney says:

    Christian, was your dad’s article on the history of LDS temple admission standards in JMH an influence on your thoughts as to what the right questions should be? (Just curious.)

  11. Kevin: Yes. Probably being on the other side of the table (as a bishop in the 1990s) was the stronger influence. But in an intellectual sense, Dad’s article was surely a beginning, and gave me a framework and history to work with. My actual experience was discovering that my self (legs, knees, head — that kind of self) would not sit for an interview. Then I worked backwards to figure out what happened.

  12. Happy Hubby says:

    Mette – Just like every one of your posts here and elsewhere, all I can say is “YES”.

    For the many people that are in the same situation as you, I appreciate your willingness to express yourself so we know we are not alone. Thank you.

  13. Christian: “In practical effect I reject the liberal Mormon orthopraxy that my parents followed.”
    While I knew your parents being in the same ward for a couple years, I did not know them well. I would like to hear you describe, if you are willing, just what you mean by their “liberal Mormon orthopraxy” and how your participation in the church differs (other than the temple recommend/attendance issue you have already described.)
    Mette, Thanks for the post. I think my ward continues to lose people I value because of needless polarization and sometimes because they have not discovered that there is a substantial middle that doesn’t speak up too much in SS, RS or P meetings.

  14. JR: About me, participation is affected by four things:
    (a) Temple recommend and worthiness interviews more generally. A really big deal in how an adult man participates or is asked to participate in the modern Mormon church. Not that a woman wouldn’t be affected too, but actual practice is that the delta for men (with and without recommend) is greater than the delta for women, because of all that women are not called to do in any event.
    (b) A reluctance to participate in priesthood ordinances. It pains me (stabbing pain in the side) to do so, which I associate with women being excluded. I don’t think I will be able to stand in a circle freely and happily until my sister stands next to me.
    (c) A personal determination to silence myself at Church when I’m angry, and to speak constructively and supportively when I do speak. I’ve been angry a lot.
    (d) Physical condition. A not suitable for family audience story the end of which is that being at a particular place at a particular time is very difficult. For a church run on meetings, this is an obstacle.

    About my parents, let me recommend Mormon Stories episodes 137 and 138, “Edward Kimball, son of Spencer W. Kimball.” Dad does a better job telling his own story than I ever could. My mother never said very much and the few quotable lines feel private, but listen to Dad talk and then peg my mother at more outwardly orthodox than Dad, but even more of an independent free thinker in private.

  15. A famous bit of folksy existential wisdom from Vin Scully, the great baseball announcer: Commenting on a player’s injury status, Scully said, “Andre Dawson has a bruised knee and is listed as day-to-day.” Then he paused and added, “Aren’t we all?”

    At any moment any of us might find ourselves standing in the middle space. It is an honorable place to be. In fact, I would be mildly suspicious of anyone who claims never to have been there at all. We are there because we care enough to keep seeking. The middle space is a place where faith dwells.

  16. Love this.

    The hard part about being in the middle way is that I want my kids to choose their own way but my wife and church leaders want them to choose the orthodox way. Family complicates the middle way substantially. I suspect there are more middle spacers than we think but the cost of revealing ourselves publicly – or even to our own spouses who should support us – can be high.

  17. Thanks, Christian.

    It occurs to me that the middle space is no more homogeneous than the “all-in” or “all-out” fringes. (This is at least implicit in the OP.) It also occurs to me that the middle space any of us occupy, at least as far as praxis is concerned, might be as much or more related to personal life experiences and individual temperaments and desires than to what we think we have learned about Church history or doctrine or doctrinal or policy changes, etc. Of course, I have no way to test that hypothesis. But,e.g., as far as I can tell, Christian and I think many of the same things, but he has dealt with being “angry a lot” while I have dealt with being sometimes disgusted but more often depressed (now thankfully mild or rare) and most often with boredom. That difference seems to make a difference in how we can participate.

  18. Love this, Mette. It captures my experience pretty well.

  19. I’m an ex-Mormon and active in the ex-Mormon community. I still attend church with my wife weekly and participate in a calling as the librarian, although I have made it clear to the bishopric that I will no longer accept callings. Although I can’t fully speak for your experiences, I take issue with the idea that ex-Mormons are trying to push out of Mormonism “just as eagerly” as TBMs are trying to do so.

    I could care less (and I’m confident that many fellow ex-Mormons would feel the same) that you are an active Mormon and that you have your own reasons for being so. In fact, if that is what makes you happy, then I am happy for you. What I take issue with is the following:

    1) Middle pathers ridiculing ex-Mormons as weak for lacking the will and ability to perform the mental gymnastics that appears to be necessary to maintain some semblance of faith in the Mormon teachings.

    2) Middle pathers who view Mormonism as defined by the sum of members’ views of the religion and not the leaders’ views. In other words, a person who believes that god is a spirit without a body of flesh and bones could very well be a Mormon who is active in the LDS church. However, god as a bodiless spirit is not a Mormon belief. The same goes for same-sex marriage. You can be an active and participant LDS person and support same-sex marriage. But supporting that runs counter to LDS teachings. This may seem like common sense to some, but too often I find middle pathers basically inventing a different Mormonism in order to justify belief in Mormonism. Sorry, but Mormonism isn’t whatever you want it to be. The leaders of the past and present have the exclusive right to define what it is.

  20. Great article! I’m in the middle too, although not in exactly the same way as the author. As she and a recent commenter have suggested, we in the middle have a lot in common but we aren’t homogenous.

    Although I don’t claim to know it all (far from it!), I am happy with the path I’m on, and it’s also where I believe God wants me (not necessarily anyone else) to be.

    One of the ironies of the middle is that while the orthodox (for lack of a better word) tell me I have to believe in ABC to be a good Mormon and the ex crowd tells me I need to believe in XYZ to be a good Mormon, so often ABC=XYZ. Fortunately, it’s more important to me that I am seeking God’s will (sometimes finding it, sometimes not) than trying to fit someone else’s ideal.

  21. I was fortunate to spend the majority of my adult life in singles wards, first the college, then the college plus working up to age 40, then the mid-singles that morphed into a no upper age limit ward.
    One of my friends put it very well when she stated that the singles ward was the only place in the Church where she did not feel single. It was not as if it was never mentioned, but we got to define our roles and expectations. We also got to define much of the program our ward offered to us. We responded by putting on the most creative plays and parties and dances and service activities I have ever experienced at church. There was no program handed down from above that it was our duty to execute according to some pre-written script.
    Gender roles had to play a much lesser part in people’s lives, especially as we aged and the percentage of women in the ward became greater. The women became more dynamic and just took charge of things that the priesthood leadership likes to control in family wards. And I know we surprised the bishops by just handling major issues ourselves without even notifying them. I know in one case the bishop was surprised to learn that a ward member had moved after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis and the sisters had organized and held her goodbye party without notifying him she was leaving.
    Our teachers always brought in outside material. They would not have accepted the callings if they thought they were restricted to the manuals. The teachings were definitely Church doctrine but not boring. Again, no one even considered asking if this was permitted. We just did it.
    I guess what I am trying to say is that I believe the rigidity we experience within the Church is often a result of the culture, not the actual beliefs of the Church. Too often gender roles are used as a “Boys Only, Girls Keep Out” sign on whatever the male leadership has decided the women should not do. As another friend mentioned in Relief Society once during a lesson on the differences between masculinity and femininity, the lists on the board seemed to be an indoor job list for the women and an outdoor job list for the men. And as singles, we were doing both job lists so what made one feminine and one masculine? Those silly ideas had been tossed decades earlier.
    Am I on the fringe? I do not know. I used to be made to feel that way when I was married, but I have learned to ignore many people and fight back against those who try to bully me. Because that is what I now see their comments as, junior high bullying by the in-crowd to enforce a hierarchy or to place limits on others who might surpass them.

  22. Mark C. @5:35 pm: Conveniently you provide an almost perfect example of the ex-Mormon problem.

    “Middle pathers ridiculing ex-Mormons as weak” — Deplorable and worthy of criticism, when and if it happens. But it feels like a strawman to me. Every person I know who claims a middle path (a significant and growing number) is very respectful of the path out and has seriously thought about it for themself. I might criticize for criticizing. But “ridicule as weak” is someone I haven’t met.

    “mental gymnastics . . . to maintain some semblance of faith” — Misperceives what happens. “Serious work to rebuild a personal faith” would be more like it.

    “The leaders of the past and present have the exclusive right to define what [Mormonism] is” — Strikes at the heart of our disagreement. This line nicely illustrates the defining differentiation between me and my ex-Mormon friends and family. I remember an ex-Mormon family member exclaiming to me “that place you’re describing doesn’t exist!” But I say it does. I live it.

    I don’t think we will come to terms over this issue, but let it be said that the “leaders . . . exclusive right” line feels to this middle way person an example of the OP’s “ex-Mormons like to push those in the middle space out to where they are.” Like it or not, it feels to me that you are doing that very thing.

  23. I bristle a bit at Mark C’s idea that I’m only a Mormon if I fit into an authority-approved Mormon Box. I call BS on that. My lived experience calls BS on that.

    “Sorry, but Mormonism isn’t whatever you want it to be.” Sure it is. How on earth are you (or anyone else for that matter) going to stop me from making it anything I want it to be? And why on earth do you get to be the judge? Shouldn’t I be my own judge of how God’s spirituality works out in my life?

    And I’d argue Mormonism isn’t one single thing. There is no spiritual ‘box’ (although I’d be the first to argue a whole lot of people like to build cultural boxes). The way my orthodox convert parents practice/think is vastly different from their orthodox (prepper-types) neighbors practice/think. Which is vastly different from the way I practice/think. And vastly different from my pioneer-heritage inlaws practice/think.

  24. I read Middle Mormon in the same understanding as the middle of the road. Not straddling two edges as it were with one foot on the dock and one foot in the boat. But standing firmly looking outward to the fringes on both sides. I believe it’s my responsibility to stand as a witness that the Middle is where Jesus stood. The Middle is where Joseph Smith stood. And I firmly believe the Middle is where the prophet really stands as well. Culture overwhelms us but the Spirit leads us if we allow it to do so. Change happens in the Middle because that is where eyes are open to see, ears are open to hear and hearts are open to understand. Matt 13:15-16, 3 Nephi 9:13 and 18:32 all apply here.

    I know and have served with several of the permas at BCC and see the same spirit that drives them. I believe it is the true spirit of the message the good word teaches.

  25. ReTx, consider the following scenario. A believing active Mormon female baptizes her 6-year-old child and then claims to a friend that this is a Mormon practice because she is a believing Mormon and is doing it. Let’s say that friend has another Mormon colleague and then asks them if it is Mormon practice for the female to baptize 6-year-olds citing the example of the other friend. What do you think that that other Mormon person is going to say? What should they say? The female baptizer is not representative of Mormon practice. There are clear limits to what you can consider to be valid Mormon belief and practice. Something does not become a Mormon belief simply because someone who claims to be an active Mormon believes it.

    You are a perfect example of what irks me about middle pathers.

  26. christiankimball, “But “ridicule as weak” is someone I haven’t met.” You haven’t met enough middle pathers then.

    ““mental gymnastics . . . to maintain some semblance of faith” — Misperceives what happens. “Serious work to rebuild a personal faith” would be more like it.” Confirms what I wrote. That “serious work” is nothing but extreme straining to reconcile the irreconcilable even if it means distorting what Mormonism actually is (which is the common solution to challenging and uncomfortable realities about Mormonism for middle pathers).

    “I remember an ex-Mormon family member exclaiming to me “that place you’re describing doesn’t exist!” But I say it does. I live it.”

    You can be an active Mormon and drink alcohol and have orgies with people. It doesn’t make those acceptable Mormon practices.

    Look, be an active Mormon if it makes you happy. I don’t have a problem with that. But don’t turn to someone who left the LDS church because of its troubling history and doctrinal contradictions and tell them that they are interpreting it wrong. Don’t tell them that symbolic and metaphorical interpretations of the scriptures, and not literal ones, are somehow true Mormonism and that the literalists don’t get it. No, the literalist orthodox members do get it. That is why they are called to be leaders in the LDS church. That is why their words are featured in LDS church publications and not yours. That is why you are confined to blogging and not writing the curricula for the LDS church. You must accept that many of your beliefs and practices are simply out of line with Mormon teachings. I’m not saying that is a bad thing or that you can’t consider yourself a Mormon. But they are.

  27. “You are a perfect example of what irks me about middle pathers.”

    Fair enough. Here’s the thing… I had a faith crisis because I could only see black or white and that didn’t jive with the world of grey I actually live in. What I hear you saying (and this is why it bugs me so badly) is that my world of greys doesn’t exit. It’s really only black or white and I have to choose. But I fought that battle already. I am at peace with grey. Grey does exist. I can do Mormonism any way I want and while you may not like it, that doesn’t stop me from doing it. And if I am doing it, then it is real. You want to argue that I am not doing it, then that is fine – but you will have to prove it.

    For you question: “What do you think that that other Mormon person is going to say? What should they say?”

    The baptism isn’t valid in terms of creating a record with the church and the mother who did it knows that and felt (for her own unknown reasons) that it was important anyway. The church has process and procedures and record keeping. So if the parent wants the child (or the child at some point wants it for themself) to be of record, they will have to meet those criteria. However, meeting the criteria does not mean the child/parent didn’t have a deeply spiritual ceremony that tied them both a little closer to Christ. If the child chooses to never have a traditional Mormon baptism, the child will have a different Mormon experience. There will be things they can’t participate in. If those things are important to their relationship with Christ, then they will need to meet the criteria. If those things are not important to their relationship with Christ then they can do Mormonism however they want, attend church on Sunday, pray, bond with God through the scriptures, and develop a spiritual life without the elements based on baptism.

    To be honest, I don’t see this situation any different than my choice to let go of the temple. It means I can’t attend weddings, am limited in callings, etc. But since none of those items are related to my relationship with God, I pretty much don’t care. Shades of grey.

    Life has actions and consequences. That is true of the church as well. I follow a path I believe leads me individually to God. Those are the actions I take. I recognize that there are consequences to making choices. I don’t expect life to be any different.

    “But don’t turn to someone who left the LDS church because of its troubling history and doctrinal contradictions and tell them that they are interpreting it wrong.” That’s fine. People do say this. To be honest, I haven’t run into middlers that do this. I have run into many, many apologist and traditional members that do this. At the same thing, you are doing the very thing you are complaining about. How about. “Don’t turn to someone who chooses to stay in the LDS church after making peace with its troubling history and doctrinal contradictions and tell them they are interpreting it wrong.”

    Why not just accept that my path is my path. Your path is your path. That my path is right for me and your path is right for you (and a traditional members path is right for them) and that none of it reflects on anyone but that individual?

  28. Mark C., if I use how frustrated and combative I feel reading your comments, as a measure of how frustrated and combative you probably feel (and that is a not uncommon effect of conversation), then there’s no point in continuing. God bless. Shalom. Namaste.

  29. Mark C:

    Count me as a middle pather who thinks those who actually leave are very courageous, especially given that you still attend with a believing family. Whenever I actually consider the costs of leaving, I’m humbled by how incredibly high they can be. As a middle pather, I too get irked when some respond as Elder Holland did that “I’ve been to a prestigious university and have read a lot of books” when I think there are much better responses out there for middle pathers and Ex-Mormons to build upon.

    Regarding the mental exertion required to stay, I would say it’s a combination of nuance and hope; nuance that we all see through a glass darkly, and hope in continuing revelation and makes the middle path more real. That may not make sense to you, and I get that. But for me right now, it works, even if it is a fool’s hope.

  30. I have a number of close friends who actively participate in other faith traditions. Most of them–Jewish, Catholic, mainline and even evangelical Protestant–do not accept everything taught by their faith communities. And yet they attend services regularly and do their best to live the religious faith they have chosen, to love God and love neighbor. They are a good example to me.

    To a greater degree than in some other faith traditions, our tradition delegates (via common consent) to a core leadership the right to define what it means to be Mormon. Yet, as LeGrand Richards once is reported to have said in a meeting of the 12, “Everything above bishop in this church is all talk.” It is in the local congregation, in the home, and in our individual lives where much of real religion happens. For better or worse, what many people call church “culture” (the combination of the lived religion of those who identify as part of the tradition) defines what the church is as much or more as do the core leadership.

    I also have a number of friends who have chosen to disaffiliate from any religious community. There is a large body of “unchurched” today consisting of large numbers of people seeking good and truth whom I admire and respect. They too are a good example to me. One of them, who has belonged to a number of churches, observed to me that a reason she has disaffiliated from any religion is because “though religion is supposed to unite people, I find that religion almost always ends up dividing instead.” Regrettably, there is truth in her observation. And while I choose to stay connected and a part of my own religious faith and community, I try as hard as I can to keep my circles of influence and friendship as broad as possible, in the hope that in my own journey my religious faith can be one of inclusion and love and acceptance. It isn’t easy, I don’t claim to live this as I would like, but I aspire to it.

  31. These “middle path” folks tend to be an extra grumpy bunch! They get awful judgmental about other Mormons, they get just as smug and superior as other groups, and some tend to cheer on those who try to leave the very group they stress that they (the middle pathers) are a part of. Apparently, because the have been tempted by it, disloyalty is a noble choice. By some middle pathers definition, Mormonism can mean anything they want it to mean, which is another way of saying Mormonism means nothing at all. Some even appropriate past LDS leaders, claiming if these leaders were still around, these leaders would be middle pathers as well. (I have a hard time thinking of Joseph Smith, who faced mobs, instigated plural marriage and saw martyrdom, as a middle pather.).

    Anyway, none of this sounds like a path of happiness to me. I’ll stick to simply being grumpy about the weather and even more serious vicissitudes in my life.

  32. The middle path is a club anyone can join and for any number of reasons.

    The middle path appears to reject religious hierarchy and central authority and therefore will have a hard time maintaining any boundaries or borders.

    I suppose then that a Church member who believes in white supremacy (against the explicit counsel of the Church, of course) can now consider himself or herself to be a middle pather, albeit not one endorsed by BCC.

  33. Leo, it’s not a club so “joining” is a non sequitur. You’re in middle space if you say you are, and it’s one of those “alone in a crowd” kind of places. Lots of company but no two people exactly the same.

  34. Christian,
    I was, of course, using club in a colloquial sense. OK, so it’s obviously not a club in a formal sense, but my point remains. Anyone can consider themselves a middle spacer for any reason including people who are not only not exactly the same, but also who would wholeheartedly believe in things BCC very strongly disapproves of, like white supremacy.

  35. ReTx, “What I hear you saying (and this is why it bugs me so badly) is that my world of greys doesn’t exit”

    No. What I’m saying is that the LDS church is very black and white in its teachings and doesn’t like to accept a lot of grey area interpretations. I recognize that you and many others choose to participate in the LDS church in spite of not believing some of its doctrines or living according to some of its prescribed behaviors. But you should recognize it as such as well. It is fine to say you are a Mormon culturally, but disagree with it here or there. As noted in the OP, there are many people of other faith traditions who are the same. Instead, what I often hear from middle pathers is that the middle path is THE true Mormon way that the members have drifted from or even sometimes the leaders. In fact one of the commenters, Loki, wrote that Joseph Smith exemplified the middle way. That is just plain intellectually dishonest. Most of Mormon teachings emanate from Joseph Smith. It wasn’t as if Joseph Smith was in the middle between two Mormon extremes.

    Also, to say that ex-Mormons are the way they are because of a black-and-white view of Mormonism is not true. One of the most common analogies that ex-Mormons use to explain why they left is that their metaphorical shelf collapsed. What this suggests is that ex-Mormons had been willing to remain active LDS for a period and tolerate some ambiguities and unfavorable information. But as these piled up, they could no longer justify giving their time and money to the LDS organization. The shelf collapse perfect describes why I left as well.

    “Don’t turn to someone who chooses to stay in the LDS church after making peace with its troubling history and doctrinal contradictions and tell them they are interpreting it wrong.”

    You are conflating morally wrong with factually wrong. Mormonism does not teach that women can baptize 6-year-olds. That is factually incorrect. Such a practice would not represent commonly accepted Mormon practice. Would such an act be morally wrong? Not necessarily. The same applies to the historicity of the Book of Mormon. To say that the BOM is purely metaphorical is incompatible with what Mormonism teaches, which is that it is historical. Jesus actually appeared to ancient American Jews is a core teaching of Mormonism.

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  37. Mark C.,

    Your comments are refreshing.

    I have done my share of mental gymnastics to remain faithful to my church.

    But to be faithful to God, I pick and choose what I want from the LDS way of worshipping.

    I agree–that means I’m not a true Mormon. I am basically a person who subscribes to many LDS beliefs.

    I don’t flinch at your comments bc my own child has said the words you have. And when your own child speaks so clearly and honestly, to explain why they do not want to be LDS, you can’t help but be proud of them, for having the guts to follow their conscience, and not engage in mental gymnastics, even if you hope they also look for the good they can take from it (which u already seem to do).

    I don’t find your comments offensive, just very observant.

  38. “No. What I’m saying is that the LDS church is very black and white in its teachings and doesn’t like to accept a lot of grey area interpretations.”

    Tell that to the constant debate on whether walks on the beach violate the Sabbath, whether we should be gross vs net tithing, the difference between righteous judgment and gossip, or who really initiated the ban on blacks and the priesthood, or why you can’t buy caffeinated soft drinks at BYU, or when it’s appropriate to follow the Holy Ghost’s promptings to kill.

    Yep, the Church keeps it black and white. It must be God (and the middle pathers) who enjoys the grey stuff.

  39. it's a series of tubes says:

    the constant debate on whether walks on the beach violate the Sabbath

    Man, what I’d give to be a fly on the wall in your ward. Your comments are a useful reminder to me that what one person considers “constant”, another has never seen in 40+ years of church participation all across the western USA and the UK.

  40. glasscluster, thanks for the kind words.

    Chadwick, consider what Gordon B. Hinckley had to say on the matter:

    “Each of us has to face the matter—either the Church is true, or it is a fraud. There is no middle ground. It is the Church and kingdom of God, or it is nothing.”

    Even though LDS leaders sometimes avoid giving specifics about every last thing you can and can’t do (and they do give lots of specifics, this is a church that has priests repeat sacrament prayers over and over until they get it exactly correct and will not accept a baptism if so much as a strand of hair is seen rising to the top, never mind the exactness demanded in the temple ceremony), they are unambiguous about declaring that they have full truth and god’s full authority.

    “when it’s appropriate to follow the Holy Ghost’s promptings to kill”

    Please, now you’re just being facetious. But I’ll indulge. The LDS leaders’ words are full of contradictions and doublethink. However, the LDS leaders do not acknowledge such and insist that they are consistent in their words, represent an unchanging god, and possess the fullness of the truth of the gospel. Make no mistake. This is clearly not a church that is willing to acknowledge when it has been wrong or when it has exaggerated, been vague, or contradicted itself.