In Profxm’s recent post about inactivity rates among single women of the LDS church, some comments referred to the experience of being a single Mormon woman and why it is painful. I too was a longtime single Mormon woman and found it intensely painful, far too often. When I would talk about my experience, I would find some people who were very sympathetic and having similar experiences, though it was often hard to get people to talk openly about it. I had a very good friend who would often cry quietly throughout church every week, so painful was it for her. I didn’t show it as much or as often, but I found that especially General Conferences were almost literally excruciating. Perhaps it’s the kind of pain, for the kind of reasons, that you can only understand if you’ve been there?
But actually, no – I don’t agree with that. I think it is our responsibility as ethical and moral human beings to try to understand and hear other people’s experience, and to, as far as possible, validate people’s humanity and acknowledge their stories as meaningful expressions of who they are and where they’ve come from. But what is it about people’s personal stories that makes sometimes makes us defensive? A classic (and often humourous at this point) example of this is a typical ‘nacle thread discussing something vaguely liberal or non-orthodox in view, particularly in a case where the mainstream perspective is very painful for someone, and there will inevitably be at least one comment along the lines of “Wow, what church do YOU attend? I’ve never seen anything like this in the [insert number of wards, states, countries] I’ve been in!” Meaning, essentially, “YOU are the outlier and this is clearly YOUR problem.”
I get that – one thing that is certainly true is that everyone’s experience is their own and we can’t expect people to agree with everything we say. And if they disagree with what we say, we are not necessarily invalidated every time. Yet I do see a pattern (that’s my experience so you better not invalidate it ) of defensiveness about things not within the mainstream of Mormon culture and/or doctrine. So here’s my question: Why can’t the church be true for people and at the same time still allow for others to have bad experiences that are actually caused/exacerbated/ yea, even fostered by, the culture or doctrines of the church? Can an active, believing Mormon sustain their leadership while still allowing for them to be “wrong”? Is it really possible to believe the LDS church is capital-T True and still believe other people’s painful experiences with it –- and allow that some of that experience is even a natural outcome of some core doctrines and things taught by the leadership clearly and regularly?
I want to think that the smart, cool Mormons I know are not secretly thinking I am just a lame old garden-variety sinner. I do want some of them to know my story and have an at least basic understanding of my experience and where I ended up vis-à-vis the church. I know their feelings about Mormonism, I understand their stories of faith, I can see why they are where they are. Can they do the same for me and still sustain their leaders, still be faithful Mormons? Can they believe that my conscience and experience led me in a different, yet not “wrong,” direction? As ‘Inactive Mormon Woman’ commented in the previous thread, “what does sustain mean”? How much can you disagree with the doctrines of the LDS church and the teachings of its leaders and still be considered faithful? How much can you hold individuals and all their unique experiences to that line? And when they waver from that line, how far can they go off the expected course before they are questioned on what they are doing wrong so as not to have the Mormon experience of truth? Can we really account for people’s different stories and experiences as being the product of pride, sin, rationalization, justification?
At what point does someone’s story become invalid in the face of doctrine that is contrary to their experience?