Mi Religión

R-20100610-0014.jpgJoshua Tanner is a full-time husband and father.  He is also a full-time high school Spanish teacher in Arizona.

Spanish philosopher and author Miguel de Unamuno, in response to the question of his religion, responded, “… my religion is to look for truth in life and life in truth, even knowing that I may never find them while I yet live. My religion is to struggle constantly and tirelessly with mystery; my religion is to wrestle with God from the break of day until the close of night, like they say that Jacob struggled with Him” (“Mi religión”, translation mine; image from National Gallery of Art). Unamuno’s perspective has given me a way to express in words my approach to Mormonism – The religion I was raised in and have been a part of, though never feeling that I belonged.

In every congregation I have attended, I have seemingly been surrounded by people completely convinced of the existence of God, and the truthfulness of Joseph Smith’s claims to have seen Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. Each month they stand and testify that they know it is true. It seems to come to them so easily. They know, “without a shadow of a doubt”, or “with every fiber of their being.” When policies change, or don’t change, whatever is said by the Church is accepted without question or doubt. After all, “When the Prophet speaks, … the debate is over” (Ensign, Nov. 1978, p. 108).

I have never been a Mormon who just knew. Even in my most spiritual moments, ones that filled my heart with joy and an overwhelming sense of love from my spiritual Parents, I couldn’t (and still can’t) say that I know that They exist. I can’t say that I know Joseph Smith was visited by heavenly beings. I feel strongly that these things happened; I believe they happened; I want so badly for them to have happened. I don’t know, though. And, when policies change, or don’t change, I struggle with those things. I wonder and debate if they’re from an all-knowing God or from imperfect men doing what they think is best.

My religion, like Unamuno’s, is to struggle and wrestle with God. But maybe it’s not that simple. I have naively thought my wrestle was one-on-one, but all along it has been a tag-team fight, only I don’t have anyone to tag in. Just as things seemed to be going well, instead of continuing to wrestle with God, a new challenger appears: the Church. First, I’m put in a headlock with the baptism ban for children living with gay parents. Then I’m hit with a pile driver with story after story of an organization that is aware of its leaders sexually assaulting women and actively protecting the assailants. These actions stemming from years and years of unequal treatment of women within the church while simultaneously declaring that men and women are equal. How can this be Christ’s church? How can this be the place where we bear one another’s burdens and mourn with those that mourn? How can Christ’s church so easily cast aside the afflicted, supporting those who impose afflictions?

I’m down on the mat, close to tapping out. Is there anyone I can tag-in to help me? Can we shuffle the teams a bit so that God wrestles with me? Or is this the end of my match, and I’ve lost?

Comments

  1. You represent so many of us. My faith is like yours and Unamuno’s. I think though that the wrestle isn’t against God, but rather to see Him. And all these scandals and policies and thoughtless actions are the obstacles we must overcome. I find it so much easier to see God when I let go of Mormon expectations of what He looks like. But I struggle to do that and also find reasons to bother staying in the church.

  2. I stay so I can fight the fight from within. I love Jesus Christ and most of the time – some of the time – the Church gets me closer to Him. I sometimes feel as though I’m tilting against windmills but I’ve been at it for 70 years (minus eight years I guess) and I’m still at it. I’ve been to the mat many times.

  3. historyrepeats says:

    History helps me see that scandals and messes have always followed the church. The financial Kirtland crisis being one of them. As I follow the history of the church and read the Book of Mormon I see clearly that the faithful are rewarded and generations are protected from the misery the world has to offer. It seems there is a Divine filtering system. History has taught me there are always reasons to leave, but there are better reasons to stay. History will continue to repeat itself.

  4. Brother, I hear you. I see you. I’m down there on the mat with you. Please stay so I know I’m not the only one.

    I knew a young, closeted man in one of our wards once. At sixteen, he had already struggled, fought, in ways I can’t begin to fathom. His parents didn’t know; he couldn’t tell them. But he knew that I knew, and that I didn’t think him broken, sinful, less-than. He was an inspiration to me. I will remember his grace and forebearance always. I hope he remembers that I saw him, that I see him.

    I like what ReTx said. The struggle is to see God, but it is also to see each other. Sometimes, that’s all we have. Often, that’s all I need.

  5. Count me in. I have been inhaling the mat so much these past years. I wanted to walk away when I was 17. At that time I had no idea what wrestling matches lay ahead. But as I sat there on that bench outside our ward buildings primary room, I felt like I was invited to stay – Not because it was what everyone said it was, but because it needed to become what everyone said it was. I don’t know that there ever was “one true church” but there is a “gospel”. A gospel that compels the best in us if we want it. So I fight on for that. I no longer feel that I am wresting God. I am wrestling my siblings – for the best in all of them. Even the ones I am struggling the most with.

  6. Thank you for this. You’ve articulated what I feel too. Regarding the comment from historyrepeats, I can’t speak for anyone else but I’m wrestling with precisely this idea that “the faithful are rewarded and generations are protected from the misery the world has to offer.” We are seeing so clearly right now, so many instances of this *not* occurring. Some of those in power in the church are actively inflicting misery and others in power are, as the OP said, enabling and supporting them. For many people, mostly women, the church is no longer a safe place and sanctuary, but ground zero for assault and harm. How can we make sense of that?

  7. Jonathan Cavender says:

    Of course you are exhausted – these stories serve only to drag you away from the joy of the Gospel and the blessings of the Atonement. If you focus on them, you get all the downside to a large organization and none of the upside from the Peace in Christ. Let me explain.

    Bias is found not only on how stories are covered but also which stories are covered. It is not an accident that certain stories are getting extensive coverage. Do you seriously believe that the good done within the Church is less common than the bad? Do you seriously believe that the Church and its influence haven’t led more people towards kindness and away from abuse than those claiming the Church sanctioned or encouraged abuse? And yet, the narrative is full of one side and not the other.

    Why? Ask yourself who benefits from that: on this side of the Veil and the other. By all means, fight abuse wherever it is found. Especially fight abuse when it is done under the name of the Lord. But your exhaustion comes from only seeing the negative, from losing sight of the positive and the countless blessings the Church has brought into your life and the lives of others. What’s even worse, it focuses your a attention outward, to the other, rather than to the one and only place you are certain to find true evil – within your own heart.

    The Church isn’t a place for saints, it is a place for sinners trying to become saints. Judging the Church on any other standard is unfair, and because of our limited perspective judging on this standard is quixotic. That tape describes President Bishop doing some horrible things. What sort of man would he have been without the Church? Was he a saint the Church made into a sinner? Was he a sinner that the Church didn’t make into a saint? Would he have been even worse, done even worse, without the Church?

    You don’t know, and neither did I. Does that excuse abuse? Of course not. But it should also caution against the moral panic seeking to use this story (as is so often the case) as a club to wield against the Church.

    I love the Nibley line – the world is not divided into the righteous and the unrighteous, it is divided into the repenting and the unrepentant. And it’s a personal thing for each of us. Do these stories encourage us to focus on our own hearts and root out the evil there? Or do they focus us in the unrighteous other, feeling we are good and they are bad? Do they encourage us to humble ourselves and repent, or do they encourage us to see ourselves as good and focus on the problem outside of us? Because if it is the latter, then we are willfully abandoning the true joy that Christ has to offer – leaving us only with imperfect leaders in a perfect organization (which has to be exhausting and miserable if that’s all we have).

  8. historyrepeats says:

    Johnathan Cavender- Very good points. People like “John C Bennett” need to be rooted out. They cause so much damage to individuals and to the church. I wonder how many woman were not protected because church leaders at the time did not believe the women. It is just plain hard when church leaders are caught between two people with different stories. My husband financially abused me. When the money was gone he abandoned me and found another woman who would pay his bills while still married to me. He was a Bishop. Since he still held a current temple recommend I came forward with plenty of evidence. They held a council, believed his lies and gave him back his temple recommend. I know what I am talking about. I could not believe it. It was wrong. I had a choice to make. I wrestled and chose to stay and see the good. There will always be exceptions, but overall, this is still a safe place for women to be. I *willfully chose to stay and have felt the true joy that Christ has to offer*. Thank you John.

  9. Styrofoam Boots says:

    My composite answer to your questions at the end of your post (which I assume are not rhetorical or merely intended to attract encouragement to stay where you are) is this: if your heartache is as profound as your post conveys to me, you may try stepping back from your committment to the Church—as if this really were the end of your match—and seeing how it feels. I think you’d only have “lost” if you were to remain inactive after realizing that stepping back was the wrong decision.

  10. Chadwick says:

    I’d be honored to be your tag-in.

    This post is amazing; you are a talented writer.

  11. Poppa Stooks says:

    Thank you for sharing your vulnerable self with us! I hear what you are saying and I mourn with you! The day I admitted that I don’t ‘know’ on a visceral level many things about the church was freeing to me. It also became more difficult to skate over issues that I find it very difficult to accept let alone embrace. I choose to stay. I stay because I want to know there are people who think like me when my future grandchild has questions. I want to offer counterpoint to the greater contingent and gently remind that ideals which eventually bring about change within the church have always viewed as ‘progressive’, and even heretical. I stay to help preserve the integrity of the bell curve! There are some on the far right of the curve who would drive this great organization of ‘mostly’ love and service right into the mountainside! I kid. Keep up the struggle – for it is real. We love you, and we’re pulling for you.

  12. Jennifer says:

    Many of us share this struggle. I have at times wanted to walk away, but not nearly as much as I want to stay. A few months ago, travel took me to Palmyra, and I had the chance to pray in the Sacred Grove. I wanted to finally banish any doubts that I had that the church was the right place for me to be — that I was following Truth; I wanted to know with a surety that would allow me to testify to others who had these questions. The answer I received was not the assurance I craved. My strong impression was that I needed to have the kind of testimony and questions that I have — that although my trust seems to crumble when I am blind-sided by a new policy, or when I hear of another case of abuse of authority, or when I wonder if LGBQT friends wonder if I belong to a hate organization, my experiences with the Light I have only known here keeps me on the path, and I pray that others gain strength from that. I joined the church because the Spirit testified to me when my intellect doubted. I stay in the church for the same reason — and because I do not want to be without the transcendent spiritual experiences I have had here. I value my intellect, but I cannot deny the Spirit.

    In the temple a few weeks ago, it occurred to me that most of the evil and pain in the world would not exist if everyone kept temple covenants. No #Metoo; no corrupt and craven politics; no ambition that seeks to undermine others for personal gain.

    And just this past week, I realized that my prayer in the Sacred Grove is being answered. As I continue to study and ponder, I find that President Uchtdorf’s message from October conference expresses what I feel now: “When you walk the path of discipleship—when you move toward Heavenly Father—there is something within you that will confirm that you have heard the call of the Savior and set your heart toward the light. It will tell you that you are on the right path and that you are returning home. . . following the Savior will not remove all of your trials. However, it will remove the barriers between you and the help your Heavenly Father wants to give you. God will be with you. He will direct your steps. He will walk beside you and even carry you when your need is greatest.You will experience the sublime fruit of the Spirit: ‘love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, [and] faith.'” In the end, I do not want to be robbed of these gifts by focusing on flaws that are the common lot of mortal life, and that are much greater outside the Church than within it. I do not believe we are wrestling God; we battle the barriers that we and other mortals place between ourselves and Him.

  13. historyrepeats says:

    Amen. A witness to what you have beautifully said is true.

  14. Rockchalk says:

    A spiritual wrestle can be as exhausting as a physical wrestle. It is no fun. It wears the soul out. Yet, just like the body if we choose to participate our testimonies can become stronger. This is normal and sometimes it is nice to know we are normal! The thoughts expressed above remind me of the talk Sheri Dew gave called “Will you Engage in the Wrestle?” It may be worth a read. And like the sporting match many are rooting on the sidelines for you!
    https://www.byui.edu/devotionals/sheri-dew

  15. MDearest says:

    This post rang true for me, and because of that, it refreshed me somewhat. Something about my exhaustion was validated. Some of the comments haven’t resonate with me, so I don’t find any refreshment or validation in them. I think it’s because wrestling with a spiritual struggle is always intensely personal and people are so diverse and such struggles almost always are a real mess, like life in general, it is difficult to try to guide it without resorting to manipulative guile. The OP didn’t try to do this, just honestly expressed the essayist’s experience without explicitly directing the reader. It honors the reader’s different personal perspective.

    On a related note, if you’re going to sit on the sidelines watching someone’s intense spiritual struggle as if it were a sporting event, you should bring refreshments. Popcorn at least, or cheesy fries.

  16. EnglishTeacher says:

    I’ll tap in too–these matters have confronted me so many times over the last few years, but I continue to wrestle to maintain my place at church because I have hope things will change. I also think of figures in the past who had to endure far more antagonism than I have; one of my ancestors officiated a plural marriage post-manifesto, at the behest of an apostle, and was summarily excommunicated while no action was taken against the apostle in question. He had been driven out of Missouri, watched Nauvoo burn, and sacrificed everything for his faith, only to be made an example of by church leaders in his eighties. It was almost a century before his blessings were posthumously restored to him. I think of Jane Manning James petitioning church leaders for saving ordinances until she died, being met with denial every time, yet maintaining faith in an institution that repeatedly discriminated against her. And I think of a former roommate and good friend who finally removed herself from a YSA ward, and regular activity in the church, because she kept falling in love with fellow sisters in the Relief Society and didn’t trust herself to continue being gay and not “acting on it,” as we like to say. She was heartbroken that she felt this was a necessary action for her mental health, but I do not blame her for needing to step away. Her faith and love of God is fierce, and I hope one day that she will feel comfortable returning. I want to be there waiting for her, and others like her, so I stay and continue my wrestle.

  17. You need to read one more piece by Unamuno–San Manuel Bueno, Martir (https://thebuddhistbishop.wordpress.com/2018/02/08/literature-for-the-member-errant-part-3-san-manuel-bueno-martir/#more-155). San Manuel did not believe–but he believed his congregration needed to believe, and so he served with a pure heart. Unamuno very much struggled with this–as you point out. Did he believe as San Manuel Bueno believed? Perhaps those of us that are seekers will have to be San Manuel Bueno, Mormo`n.

  18. Joshua Tanner says:

    John, I have read it many times and love it. Manuel Bueno is very autobiographical in representing Unamuno’s own struggle to, as he wrote, “believing that they didn’t believe …, but without believing, believing it in an active and resigned desolation.” (“creyendo no creer …, pero sin creer creerlo, creyéndolo en una desolación activa y resignada”). I feel a very strong connection to Unamuno – through the essay I quoted, to San Manuel Bueno, Mártir, to his philosophical work “The Agony of Christianity” (La agonía del cristianismo).

    To all others who have commented, I am so greatful for the kind ways you have expressed compassion, solidarity, and even disagreement with me. I was quite nervous sharing this, but you’ve listened to me, and respected what I’ve had to say.

  19. Rachel E O says:

    Thank you for this post; I too empathize. These individual struggles all relate to the overarching struggle for me, which is that I only get one mortal life to live, and I want to live the best life that I can. And I believe, informed deeply by my Mormon and Christian faith, that the most important way to do that is to “succor the weak, lift up the hands which hang down, and strengthen the feeble knees.” What I love most about the Church is that it provides me with direct and intimate ways to do that within my ward, and it emphasizes the importance of doing that within my family.

    But I am anxious to live a more universal vision of God’s love for all of Their children, to range through the whole world blessing the whole human race. And I want my children to be filled with that same anxiety to love. The Church teaches that love, and it sometimes encourages its lay members to enact it (especially in recent work with refugees, and through Mormon Helping Hands). But all too often the Church institution and its membership do not behave in accordance with that love. Some of this bad behavior is visible and identifiable (see OP), but some of it is actually non-behavior… inaction, apathy, unawareness.

    For so long I excused such behavior as primarily inherent to the fallibility of humankind–and of course, we all have sinned and come short of the glory of God–but I have also gradually come to believe that there is something more fundamentally awry. Something in the way we surrender our agency to authority, and in the way we draw boundaries between people, and in the interplay between those two sins.

    I started reclaiming my agency several years ago, and finally and completely after the November 2015 exclusion policies. But lately I’ve also been trying to learn to stop drawing those boundaries, to stop seeing myself as “Mormon” or as a “latter-day Saint” in juxtaposition to everyone who is not, but instead as a child of God alongside all of my siblings in God’s great human family. This effort has been harder and more radical than I initially expected. It has challenged some of the fundamentals upon which I have always unconsciously based my identity. It has required me to change my attitudes toward missionary work, temple worship, priesthood authority, the meaning of the Restoration, and the ‘onliness’ of our institution. Espousing heterodox attitudes on all of those matters tends to make being an active Mormon really uncomfortable in a lot of ways. It’s uncomfortable to have the sense that most of my fellow church members, if they knew the full panoply of my beliefs, would not recognize me as very Mormon at all.

    But this is my people and my heritage and my community, and I love it and want to work for change within it, so I stay. What’s more, so many of the people I most understand and feel most understood by are other heterodox Mormons that stay, and I especially want to continue communing with them. But as time unfolds, I also sense that there will be times and seasons and ways in which God calls me to devote more of my time and resources and effort to other communities, communities that view the body of Christ more broadly–universally even–and that enact that vision in the way that they work for peace and justice.

  20. Wow, I feel a strong connection with so many of you, John, historyrepeats, Jennifer, Rachel, can we be friends? I’ve appreciated most every comment and commenter here.

    It seems the Church is doing something right, something is brooding, I can feel it deep within me. And more, I’ve seen the end of it. Let us keep going, good will come of it, I can feel it.

  21. (*meant Joshua, but John too :)

  22. Jennifer says:

    Rachel, your words resonate with me; I don’t think I would have thought of the idea of “reclaiming my agency”, and I think I understand what you mean. I have felt increasingly confident in being the type of Christian/Latter-Day Saint that comes naturally with my experiences and opportunities, without worrying whether anyone else thinks I’m orthodox. I’m more in touch with what feels valid for me within my sphere of stewardship, and as I do that, the things that bring ME to the mat fade in importance. Thanks for articulating this so well.

  23. Jennifer says:

    Steve — of course!

  24. historyrepeats says:

    Good article, good conversation, good feelings…no problems here.

  25. You say “San Manuel did not believe–but he believed his congregation needed to believe, and so he served with a pure heart.” I am wondering if it works the same with love. If a married couple has fallen out of love, is it better for them to stay together because they believe the children need them in love and together? So the parents stay in the marriage for a higher purpose and hearts full of love for their children. Is it right or wrong?

  26. Rachel E O says:

    Steve, ditto to Jennifer! I just read some of the posts on your blog and love your vision of the organized strings that make up our spirits. It spoke to a peculiar phrase in my patriarchal blessing — “You shall enjoy the Testimony of Spirits” — that I have never encountered anywhere else (in Mormonism or otherwise) and still don’t feel that I fully understand.

    Perhaps this feeling of communion, of “resonance” that several have mentioned in response to Joshua’s original post, and that I often feel when reading thoughtful comments on BCC posts like this, is a fulfillment of that promise in my patriarchal blessing. Maybe we are “enjoying the Testimony of Spirits,” as the strings of our spirits resonate at the same frequency.

  27. What an interesting phrase, I paused and thought on it before seeing you also mentioned its uniqueness. My mind immediately went to the phrase “try the spirits”, and then I thought, “well I suppose if you tried/experimented upon those spirits, what would be the result? I guess it would be a testimony of spirits – whether good or evil. That could make sense. Perhaps it speaks to not just understanding a single truth, but a wide variety of them, an overall discernment.”

    I don’t mean to try to interpret anything for you, just thought I’d share what ran through my mind. I think you’re right that it does fall very much in line with the things I saw, I’m glad you liked it (there may be more to come on that experience down the road, if it feels right.). And that rings true to me, I do feel that resonance in many of the words spoken here.

    Jennifer, Rachel, Joshua, history et al., if you have somewhere else that you write – I’d love to read as well. Feel free to connect or message me if you’d like.

  28. Rachel E O says:

    Also, picking up on something Jennifer mentioned in her first comment, which also relates directly to Joshua’s OP – sadly, the fact of the matter is that we do belong to a homophobic organization. The November 2015 exclusion policies completely invalidate whatever hate-the-sin/love-the-sinner defense the Church may ever have had against that charge (and IMO it’s a dubious defense in any case). As a result, I am not convinced that the church is a safe place for LGBTQ people at present; I do not fault gay members who distance themselves from the church and I would not feel comfortable inviting my gay friends to be a part of it.

    But the fact of the matter is, there are still gay Mormons, and there are always going to be gay Mormons. And while LGBTQ Mormon adults may have the possibility of leaving the Church (though it is rarely that simple or easy), LGBTQ Mormon youth who are in the midst of coming to make sense of their gender identity and sexual orientation often do not have that luxury, or have a harder time reconciling their identity and orientation with their Mormonness. And so I feel that it morally behooves me to remain involved in this institution, despite its homophobia, so that I can be a more effective agent for change in the church at a general and local level, and so that I can *be there* when a gay Mormon in my ward or family or on the interwebs needs someone who will affirm their identity in all of its multifaceted complexity and assure them that God loves them just as they are and will love them whatever they choose to do or be or whomever and however they choose to love.

    As for our LGBTQ friends outside of the Church, we have to love them and their queerness out loud. Otherwise, we *will* be sending a message of complicity and acquiescence to the homophobia of the Church organization of which we are members. We have to share our views in person and on social media and make it clear that we oppose our Church’s exclusion policies, and that we support their right to marry and raise children and be equal members of our society both as individuals and as families. And then we have to show our love through action. We have to attend their weddings, throw baby showers for them, invite their kids over for playdates with our kids, send them flowers when their dog dies, take them meals when they’re sick, vote and advocate for officials and laws that support their rights, and donate to organizations like Affirmation and Encircle and HRC that support their rights.

    For a long time a secret scared little part of me wondered if my worries about what my LGBTQ and non-Mormon friends think of me for being part of a homophobic institution were in fact evidence that I had gone astray because I care more about the judgment of men than the judgment of God, that I was one of those people who had tasted of the fruit and then cast it aside out of fear of being mocked by the people in the great and spacious building. But I have since recognized that paranoid fear as the insidious falsehood that it is. I’ve taken ownership of my convictions, including my conviction that LGBTQ people and relationships are as beautiful and beloved in God’s eyes as straight ones, because I believe that conviction comes from God and Their love for all of Their children.

  29. Rachel: thanks for your powerful witness. Your comments here have moved me deeply.

  30. Thanks for this. I feel the same way. I am trying to redefine my identity and boundaries, but am really wrestling in the same way. I am coming to believe that it is extremely important for people to be authentic, honest, and to not discount their beliefs and values. We are all evolving and changing and I am SOOOOO grateful for agency. The way each person uses that power to choose is very individual and should be respected and encouraged. It is complicated and messy though. Thanks for sharing.

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