Would I have stayed as a liberal mormon?

The answer is yes. If I could have been a liberal, non traditional mormon, I might have continued to be mormon.

There is no space for openly liberal mormon in the Utah LDS church. There certainly wasn’t when I left. I did not see then (over fifteen years ago) anyway to be a liberal, feminist mormon.

I distinctly remember a conversation about temple marriage in my young women’s class. I remember saying that I knew I wanted to get married, but not necessarily in the temple. I remember seeing and hearing shock from fairly open minded young women’s leader and class.

My memory might be flawed, but what this instance taught me was that there was no in between. It was either all true or all false. The goal is/was marrying (a man) in the temple and if you disagree with that, don’t speak up about it. If you disagree with polygamy, misogyny, racial statements, authorship of the Book of Mormon or Abraham, treatment of GLBT people, definitely do not openly talk about it at church.

Many (most) agree that it is perfectly fine to express private doubts, even about such “optional” things like temple marriage, but not publicly. It’s not as if I were saying that no one in the class should have a goal to marry in the temple. But I knew, even that long ago, that it wasn’t right for me.

I was tentatively stepping out in the liberal mormon, third wave mormon, new order, middle way, uncorrelated, internet (before the internet was widely adopted) mormon fray – and it was obvious that being open and honest about my beliefs was not acceptable.

Even now, over fifteen years later, I’m not sure that it’s acceptable.

I use this example as one in a host of boundary testing measures. I was testing the boundaries to see if I could make it work – to see if I could be more gray than black and white.

I think it’s not stressed how difficult it is to leave mormonism. Maybe it is stressed, but honestly, I believe most mormons would stay if they could. These are people who have strong familial, friendship, emotional connections to mormonism. One doesn’t quickly turn one’s back on one’s family, friends unless there are good reasons. I believe most people would try and make it work if they could. If there wasn’t the assumption that everyone is either with us or against us. President Hinckley’s assertion that it was “all true or all false” was not terribly helpful either, to people who want to find a way to reconcile their knowledge with faith.

I’ve mentioned before that I grew up in a suburb full of Roman Catholics. Catholics seem to have much more tolerance for lax members, as Joanna Brooks suggests. If you didn’t show up for church, nobody cared. If you lived with your boy (or girl) friend, you wouldn’t get called in front of an all male church court and told you were excommunicated. If you wanted to confess to a priest, you could. But you wouldn’t be routinely interviewed – it was personal initiative. I could be mistaken about how liberal Catholics could be, it just always seemed very different than in the LDS church.

Hindsight is 20/20. But if there had been a clear path for me, one where I was not regarded with suspicion and derision, maybe I would have stayed. Maybe I could have seen a more nuanced view of mormonism are that was unrelated to truth claims. Perhaps I could have stayed to fight for women’s rights, GLBT rights, racial equality from within.

Some people continue to press for more openness – more “uncorrelated” mormonism. Just like with WAVE, I wish them luck. I doubt I am the only person who wanted a non traditional, non fundamentalist mormon faith.

I think if there was a path, without someone being labeled an “apostate” or excommunicated, many more people would remain mormon.

11 thoughts on “Would I have stayed as a liberal mormon?

  1. Keeping the cultural Mormon ID would be easier if the Book of Mormon wasn’t racist. That book’s the dealbreaker for me.

    For those who do want to stay Mormon but only if they’re free to agitate for progress, the next 18 months should be fun. It’s looking increasingly likely a Mormon will be on the GOP ticket, and Salt Lake would be nuts to ex or disfellowship anyone for supposed “apostasy” in the run-up to Nov 2012. If the church were to go after any of our friends, they can be sure both Romney and Huntsman will be asked about it in very public fashion. So, think twice and play nice, LDS leadership.

  2. Aerin, I’ve had very similar thoughts. My understanding about being Mormon was that believing the truth claims was more important than anything else (it’s even part of the temple worthiness interview), and when I couldn’t believe those anymore, I didn’t see a way to stay. I, too, am rooting for those who are trying to forage a middle way.

  3. And isn’t that the problem. The Leadership is so concerned with 100% “obedience” that they don’t see what they’re doing. They figure those who leave will come back, but certainly not everyone. I wonder if it’s a majority. I certainly have no desire to ever go back–but for me, the concept of god is a sketchy one. Mormonism–99.99% of Christianity–ruined god for me. The logic doesn’t set.

    But you’re right, the social ties and the ritual can be very comforting.

    I’d like to see some numbers, but we all know how easily those are obtained.

    Oh–and as for having your own beliefs but not saying them publicly, Hinckley actually said that. I don’t remember the exact quote–I know it’s somewhere in my old blog–but it was something to the effect of “They can believe what they want, as long as they don’t say it out loud”

    That didn’t help me.

  4. I give this question a lot of thought, and I think I’m getting close to being able to articulate an answer. I’ll work on a longer blog post of my own about it, but the short and sweet version is, no, I could not and did not (do not) want to stay as a liberal Mormon because despite growing up in the Church and despite the best efforts of my mother, my core identity was never Mormon.

  5. I agree with Kullervo – and it’s good to hear it articulated (I look forward to the post). I do hear a lot about those who would stay if they could, and I understand that point of view (objectively), but I don’t hear as much about those who desperately needed to get out because they simply never fit at all, and, for those still in, it’s a very lonely place to be.

  6. I guess it depends on what you mean by the term “liberal Mormon.” A lot of people seem to consider me one. And I have a firm fixed place in my ward.

    So just based on that fact alone, it seems that apparently – yes – there is a place for “liberal Mormons” in the church.

  7. I also agree w/ Kullervo. I never fit in, though I did try to make it work, to believe it. Desperately. But I always knew I was an outsider. Outsider to the members and an Outsider to the non-members, because I desperately wanted it all to be true and was afraid of “them” out there in the world, so didnt’ really make friends in HS. What a lonely young woman I really was, looking back on it. I don’t know what part of “liberal mormon” works, honestly. If Joseph made it all up, then why stay?

  8. I think it would be nice if more of a spectrum of belief/participation — like with Catholics and Jews where the less-believing can occasionally participate in (religion-related) family rituals without it being weird.

    That said, I don’t feel any desire to actively participate in the CoJCoL-dS. I’d rather spend my time with an organization whose tenets I agree with. I can see why people would want to stay for the familiar rituals and community. But, like Chino @1, revering The Book of Mormon is a deal-breaker for me. I’d just add The Bible to that list as well. I would not want to support an organization that reveres The Bible as a moral guide.

    However, for those who want to be part of a faith community that will honor your LDS heritage — without all of the authoritarian drawbacks described in aerin’s post — I highly recommend the Community of Christ (formerly RLDS). My brother, for example, joined the CoC after leaving the CoJCoL-dS.

  9. In response to #7, I would say that’s why it’s important to define what you mean by “liberal.”

    If by liberal you mean – “you believe that Joseph made it all up” – then no, I’m not a “liberal.”

    My personal position is that Joseph was a flawed man channeling a genuinely divine message. But he remained a man subject to flaws and his own fallibility in all other respects.

    Often being “liberal” as a Mormon means nothing more or less than a rejection of the black-and-white, all-or-nothing kind of thinking that seems to afflict fundamentalists both inside the LDS Church, and on the RfM message board.

  10. Chanson, I agree that the Community of Christ might not be a bad option. The biggest problem with that denomination however is that they tend to be a bit spread out and a group may not be meeting as near you as you’d like. But I don’t have detailed information on that either.

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