I am 19 years old, studying global health at [Ivy League college] and am struggling with my testimony.
As the fortunate progeny of faithful, intellectual Mormons, I was taught to never shy away from the big questions within Mormonism and within the world. The past few months have been a whirlwind of grappling with tough topics for me. Last summer, I worked in Ghana doing orphanage reform work and saw firsthand the plight of special needs children in Ghanaian orphanages. Seeing such deprivation and poverty forced me to realize the stark contrasts in the situations under with God places his children, and I struggled to refine my understanding of suffering and the Atonement. Then, I spent the past several months working with leading researchers to analyze a survey on the experiences of LGBT/SSA individuals in the Church. The narratives I read in this study were so heartbreakingly honest and the stories of shattered testimonies so poignant that they have made me increasingly critical of the church and its stance on homosexuality, among other issues.
Lately, I go to church and try to feel the spirit, but too often I find myself tuning out due to comments by the members that seem callous or provincial. I really do love and respect the people in my ward, but I often feel so ideologically different that it’s hard to really relate to other members. As an intellectual, feminist, straight advocate for gay rights, I nearly always keep my mouth shut in Sunday school, lest I end up ostracized or on Boyd K. Packer’s watch-list. Sometimes to retain my sanity, I have to ditch Relief Society and read Dialogue instead. The few sympathetic Mormons to whom I feel comfortable in expressing my frustrations typically offer one of two rationalities that allow them to stay in the church despite their own struggles:
1) “While the Church is flawed, I haven’t found anything better to encourage me to develop a relationship with the divine and cultivate meaningful family and community bonds.”
2) “It is only by remaining in the Church that ‘Mormons like us’ will ever help to bring about change within the church.”
While I agree to some extent with these sentiments, I can’t help but wonder if there isn’t something else that can be done. Maybe it’s my youthful impatience, but change just seems so slow and nonlinear and difficult to have faith in.
How can I maintain my faith that “small and simple things” will actually result in positive change?
Will women forever be valued primarily as wives and mothers, and be discouraged from seeking to reach their divine potentials beyond the domestic sphere?
Will our homosexual brothers and sisters forever be led to despair by the harsh rhetoric of misunderstanding leadership?
Will we forever shirk from opening the whited sepulchres of our shaded past?
Will an insistent spirit of faithful reform forever be silenced by the boot of correlation and hierarchy?
Right now, this is my testimony:
1) I know that Heavenly Father and Mother love every one of their children, including me.
2) I believe in the Atonement and in the example of Jesus Christ.
3) I think the power of the Holy Ghost is real.
4) I think that the institution of the Church teaches me to be a good person (most of the time)
5) I love the Book of Mormon.
6) I love the idea that I can be with my family forever.
But are these statements enough to keep me active in the church for my entire life? I’m not particularly invested in the whole Mormonism-is-the-one-true-way approach, and I feel like the more I learn and see, the more I find paradox and confusion in everything around me. Faith is supposed to provide comfort, but my proclivity to overanalyze is constantly morphing what I think is faith into inner turmoil. I feel weary from always trying to build a shelter of faith when the walls are constantly crumbling down. All I can ever seem to do is keep the mustard seed containing my desire to believe alive.
As I continue to study the world and I see the goodness that lies outside of Mormonism, juxtaposed against the troubles within it, I become ever more confused. How can I continue to pursue what I consider to be “the good fight”: searching for truth and healing wherever I see hurt, without throwing my hands up and ceding my soul to either thoughtless submission or despairing nihilism?
I am not worried about you. Not one bit. To show you how not worried I am, I’m going to keep my answer relatively short and sweet.
(Besides, I let you do most of the talking–because I’ve heard many young progressive Mormons say what you’re saying and it needs to be said out loud, and because the non-Mormon world also needs to know this faith is rich enough to produce young people like you.)
No, it’s not easy to be a young progressive Mormon woman. And it would be a mistake for you to spend these precious years in your early twenties trying to solve Mormon cultural and religious problems that have been more than a century in the making.
This is your time to make your life, and dear one, your life is going to be awesome. My advice to you is this: go away, and go big. Not from your faith, not from your family, but do go away from the most familiar haunts of cultural Mormonism. I don’t want you moving to Salt Lake City after college and looking for a husband. I want you to take that global health degree and find the remote corner on this earth where you are the only Mormon, and when you get there, you plant your feet, work hard, develop a sense of your authority, and proudly project what you love about this faith. As you do, you will help define the future of the Mormonism.
My suspicion is that for Mormons like you and me it may be easier to represent as proud unorthodox Mormons in the outside world than it is to stay inside fighting old battles. (In any event, they’ll be waiting for you when you come back.)
Plus, this world needs Mormon women like you—with brains, education, opportunity, guts, compassion, a pioneer work ethic, and the burning-in-your-heart conviction that this life is really about spiritual growth.
Church is not the only place to practice your religion. There is a lot of territory in this big old world. And there’s a lot of need. Hold onto the basics of your faith. Travel light. And go kick some *#$. As a proud twenty-first century Mormon girl.
Readers, anything else?
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