I’m a 19 year old progressive Mormon woman, and I’m so frustrated at church. Help?

Dear AMG:

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?

Sincerely,

Forlorn

Dear one:

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?

Follow @askmormongirl on Twitter.  Send your query to askmormongirl@gmail.com.

About these ads

149 Comments

Filed under faith transition, young women

149 responses to “I’m a 19 year old progressive Mormon woman, and I’m so frustrated at church. Help?

  1. Ianne

    I think it is important to have a “come to jesus” with yourself and your beliefs. It is the only way we truly grow. It’s part of the human experience. I think if anyone claims they have never struggled with anything within their belief systems, they are not being honest with themselves. There were moments within the past few months where I was questioning if I made the right choice to take out my endowments, but it has only strengthen my resolve of my testimony. I know all I can do is be the best who I can be and be as supportive for those who struggle. We all have our personal Gethsemane.

  2. Shaura Meservy

    “progressive mormon” Read the Book of Mormon every day. It can keep the spirit in your life. What you have written smells of a lot of pride and indoctrination by the world. Discontent in church is easy when you think you know better than the prophets. I have a testimony that Thomas S. Monson and the other Apostles have been called by God to lead this church and this generation through the perilous times we live in. Please don’t let your intelligence, a gift from God, lead you to dismiss worthy goals and developing trust in God.

    • Shaura: How is it not prideful to publicly criticize and shame strangers with whom you share your faith? Where in our religion is it taught that seeking honest answers is “indoctrination by the world”?

      • Rawkcuf

        Thank you Joanna! That was the proper response.

      • ClaraSusan

        Why attack Shaura? She is being honest in her reply. She is as honest as the initial questioner. Can we each not find more courteous ways to express our ideas in speaking?

      • Brent

        I feel to a certain extent, “faith” has come to mean blind acceptance of what the top tells us. Apparently prophet’s haven’t been right all the time. What about polygamy? Blacks and the Priesthood? Our stance on homosexuality? All these things have seen modification and or eradication as time has progressed. If they were right, why did they change?

      • ACM

        I think what Shaura is referring to is Progressive Mormon’s tendency to discard the teachings that are fundamental to the church in favor of progressive intuitions that don’t seem to immediately line up with things that she’s been taught. I think PM’s questions and inquiries are wonderful and will be very spiritually productive for her, if she holds on to the things that she DOES know and has the humility to study things out carefully and seek Heavenly Father’s guidance. As she does so, she will either find (as I most often have) that her progressive intuitions don’t actually contradict these essential doctrines of the church, in fact they can fit in quite nicely, or she will have a change of perspective and change of heart wherein she submits to Heavenly Father’s will, understanding that He knows all things and we are only seeing a tiny piece of the puzzle. Either outcome requires an initial confidence that God will indeed lead us to the truth, and the humility to delay judgement (e.g., not throw the whole church out the window because we don’t understand a small part of it) until we can be further enlightened or understand something we’d missed before.

    • djemilysmith

      The only thing I agree with in this reply is that reading the book of Mormon every day is a good thing to do. You can have faith in the prophets and still not have to agree with them 100%.

    • James Smith

      Shauna: what a blindered, un-compassionate response to a person who clearly cares very deeply about the lives of her fellow human beings. You should be ashamed of your self-righteousness.

      • ClaraSusan

        I hear no “self-righteousness” in Shaura comments. I hear honesty. I believe she could have phrased the sentence more kindly. As I believe, James, you also could have phrased your reply more kindly, and honestly. Sharing our “replies” with kindness, without the inclusion of “fighting words” or any denigration of one another, will help us really converse. And, conversing in this way, will help us really learn.

    • Lisa Murphy

      Shaura, it is responses like this that makes being a thinking, questioning, seeking Mormon so difficult within the church structure. What you have written smells a lot of pride and indoctrination. Forlorn is reconciling the instincts of her heart with the teachings of her church and resisting indoctrination by ANYONE! Before throwing out your judgments about pride on others, have a look in the mirror and another good study session with your Book of Mormon.

      • Fear is the only reason why we either not question things or ask about our questions. Fear and religion go hand in hand. Honesty is about telling how you feel, even if its against what you have been thought. Many of us are happy no to question and killing the questions that arise once in a while that may shake our testimony…but many of us will grow bored trying to follow without questions. The very act that Joseph Smith grew unhappy about religion is the example for us to follow…ask Him and only Him.

  3. Jacqueline R.

    I love your posts bc they do often reflect my own inner struggles and questioning. I am a 48-year-old Roman Catholic and have the same issues. Great advice on some very hard questions. Continue to pray even if makes no sense. God bless u all, Jacky

  4. Geoff S

    I appreciate Joanna encouraging you to live your life and find your voice outside of SLC. I’d like to also encourage you that if your growth leads you away from Mormonism that can be okay, too.
    RE the responses you get from other LDS with similar concerns.
    1) Not finding anything better isn’t a good enough reason to stay. And I’d guess that if they haven’t found anything better then they probably haven’t looked too hard.
    2) I’d argue that the church is more likely to change when more people leave. Nothing bothers the GAs more than not having continually increasing membership numbers. They respond well to doing what they can to avoid bad publicity and to people leaving the church. They don’t respond so well to people within the church who are suffering, but do so quietly and without complaint.
    RE your testimony
    1) belief in a loving god is a wonderful thing. Keep that as long as you can.
    2) For me it doesn’t make sense to believe in the atonement, but also believe that there are multiple paths to salvation. Unless you’re a universalist; then you believe everyone’s going to heaven anyway so stop stressing about all this stuff and just live a good life.
    3) sounds okay to me.
    4) agreed.
    5) there are a lot of great things in the BoM. And from various sources throughout the world. It bothers me that it was written by a guy who was trying to make a fast buck off of other people, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t valuable teachings there and I probably need to be less judgmental about the source.
    6) definitely the best thing about the church’s teachings. I hope it’s true.

    Good luck to you. You are very young, but clearly mature to be asking these questions at this point in your life.

    • donna tagliaferri

      What “fast buck” are you referring to?

    • jen

      I completely agree with this:
      “1) Not finding anything better isn’t a good enough reason to stay. And I’d guess that if they haven’t found anything better then they probably haven’t looked too hard.
      2) I’d argue that the church is more likely to change when more people leave. Nothing bothers the GAs more than not having continually increasing membership numbers. They respond well to doing what they can to avoid bad publicity and to people leaving the church. They don’t respond so well to people within the church who are suffering, but do so quietly and without complaint.”
      Thank you for saying it!

    • Rawkcuf

      Geoff, I understand what she means by not having found anything better. Joseph Smith (for better or worse) was very good about asking important questions about commonly held, but clearly problematic beliefs. Thanks to him, the concept of original sin, transubstantiation, the confusing mess that is the concept of the trinity, the arbitrary nature of a binary ‘either heaven or hell’ approach to the afterlife, the ‘big as the universe, small as your heart’ God, the problems that come from a paid, celibate clergy, the idea that the heavens are closed.. etc. etc. all have some sort of clarification or alternative that makes a bit more sense.
      One could say that describing the church as less problematic than the others is an example of damning with faint praise, but when one looks for an alternative religion, the choices require even more nose holding than experienced within the church. It is a dilemma, and one of the reasons most people leave all religion when they leave the church.

    • BURT

      It is a hard thing to talk about a man’s apparent motivation, when the product teaches so completely the exact opposite about him. My life has been transformed for the better by the Book of Mormon, and I will cherish it and honor Joseph’s role in bringing it forward until my dying breath. I would challenge you to bring forward one thing from that book to support the idea that money was his motivator In its publication.

      I loved Mormongirl’s response. I am deeply impressed by Forlorn’s courage and determination. God stands ready and eager to help you sort this out as you humbly inquire and study this out. I would just tell you, things are not so very much at odds as you might think. In my life, it has often been the lines I attempted to draw around issues that limited my ability to sort them out. Be careful not to stumble or trip over your own lines

    • mike

      Friend, your 2nd point is a bit flawed. People have been leaving the mormon church for quite some time now, citing polygamy, racism, and women being oppressed as their reasons for leaving. Yet, for some reason, the brethren haven’t changed any of the doctrine. You’ll find, if you study the stats, that as more and more women leave the home, and put the nurturing of their children into someone else’s hands, more and more people are leaving the church. Why do you think that is? I believe it’s because a daycare worker is not equipped to nurture and teach young children about the gospel of Jesus Christ. So those children grow up without a firm foundation in the church and they leave. And yet, the brethren still haven’t changed the doctrine. Instead, they have put even more emphasis on the importance of a woman’s role in the home.

      Back in the 70’s, when Blacks were finally given the priesthood, there was no great exodus from the mormon church that caused the brethren to change things. It wasn’t a question of folding to pressure from members. Think of the times back then. How many white church members do you think were really upset over Blacks not getting the priesthood?

      I hope that didn’t come off unkindly. I do agree with ClaraSusan, that we should try to be more kind with one another to express our views.

  5. azsoap

    nope that is a GREAT answer. I hope she takes it to heart, starting with this part “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.” Love this.

  6. lifer

    I am 55 years old, born into the church, but over the past few years have found myself increasingly uncomfortable there because of similar issues. I went today for sacrament meeting and sunday school, but felt a sense of relief when I left before RS, pun not intended but fortuitous.

  7. lifer

    What i meant to say before my ipad made it difficult to continue the response, was that I married in the temple at 19, giving up scholarships and mission plans for several wonderful children and
    an unhappy marriage. The past decade of singleton life has been quite good, but the church seems increasingly irrelevant to my life; i don’t know where I fit in. I keep silent in class when sexist and racist comments are made, though i have walked out in several
    occasions.

    So to our young sister, yes, continue your education. Get married at age 26 minimum, preferably after an advanced degree and a mission. Blessings.

  8. Fer Alva

    was is Hinckley who said “No other success can compensate for failure in the home.”
    I’m just a normal ‘Block’, ‘guy’ and I really try to understand women but I never have forgot to include my ‘mamita’ in my prayers.
    Some how I have the feeling that her coworkers, subordinates have by now forgot about my mom.
    A successful career, an award, a prize is recognition from human authorities but all those pale in comparisons with what the lord comissions us to do.
    In the race to out do our fellow students, coworkers and others we can forget that life is not a race for recognition for our earhly endevours but a school for our heavenly destiny!!!

    • LRC

      No, it was David O. McKay. In 1935, and his quote came from a book written by James Edward McCulloch. Here it is in context from the conference report: “In ‘Home, The Savior of Civilization,’ we read: When one puts business or pleasure above his home, he that moment starts on the down grade to soul ruin. The loss of fortune is nothing compared with the loss of home. When the club becomes more attractive to any man than his home, it is time for him to confess in bitter shame that he has failed to measure up to the supreme opportunity of his life and has flunked in the final test of true manhood. No other success can compensate for failure in the home. This is the one thing of limitless potentialities on earth. The poorest shack of a home in which love prevails over a united family is of greater value to God and future humanity than the richest bank on earth. In such a home God can work miracles and will work miracles. The greatest miracle that King Herod ever saw was John the Baptist. The religious home, though poor, produced John the Baptist. ”

      Clearly, love can prevail in many circumstances, not just the ones where moms stay home and dads work (or go to clubs).

      And part of understanding women includes understanding and accepting that they have talents, abilities, dreams, desires and God-given gifts that include things other than motherhood. The same way men have talents, abilities, dreams, desires and God-given gifts that include things other than fatherhood. Especially 19 year olds who are not parents and don’t anticipate becoming parents in the next couple of years.

      And, believe it or not, many women are commissioned from the Lord to do things in addition to those few years spent caring for dependent children in their homes. They make prayerful decisions about when and where to spend their time, taking into account the needs of themselves, their families and their communities. And they adjust their decisions the same way men do as circumstances change.

      It sounds to me like a young woman with a desire to make a difference in her world, serve the poor and hungry, improve the lives of orphans and develop her God-given intellect and charity is not so much trying to “out do” fellow students or coworkers, but is magnifying her own callings.

      Brava to her for wanting to make the world a better place for ALL of God’s children, and for trying to find a way to balance her broader experience and understanding with the more sheltered visions of those around her.

      • mari

        I think you’re onto something here. My only concern is that so many women are trying to do and to be something

      • mari

        (Oops, I hadn’t meant to post that so soon!)
        I had meant to say that I think you are onto something, but my concern is that so many women are trying to be something other than mothers, while they’re still mothers with babies and very small children. I have seen enough mothers wait until their kids were in school to pursue their, “something other than motherhood,” and they have been very successful in their pursuit. You CAN have the best of both worlds.

      • RBC

        To LRC: Can you please let me know where you found that lengthy quote from the McCulloch book? I have been assigned to give a talk on “The work we do in our families is the most important work we can ever do” and of course that quote came to mind. I LOVE the true context of it. Did I mention I am a full-time grad student with a one-year old planning to work full time (for about 4-5 months) when I finish my degree before we have #2? Feeling a bit targeted re: the subject of my talk….

  9. Fer Alva

    Gooodness i understand to come from the light that the lord placed inside of all of us not just the fortunate few who belong to the church. Yet, the organized and united effort to better ourselves has a better chance to give a sweeter fruit in a well tended garden. There is beauty and happiness outside the garden of Eden but I still ask my self how it could have been if humans would of never left it.
    WARINING: Khalil Gibran is not mormon!

    http://www.quotesandpoem.com/poems/SelectedPoemByTopic/Gibran/Happiness/Joy%20and%20Sorrow/126

  10. Dawn Marie

    Joanna, thanks once again for your insight and encouragement and a very special one to this young woman! To Forlorn, I sincerely wish that you will stay true to yourself and recognize your faith is also true, and do like Joanna says at the end. Go kick some …!

  11. Kris

    I am absolutely THRILLED to read your letter to Mormon Girl, and THRILLED to know that there are young women like you out there within Mormonism! Please, PLEASE don’t change — you are what God wants you to be, a strong, intelligent being who is making decisions based on experience.

    The Church is full of good experiences and has potential for great things. Raising a family within the church can make church membership “worth it,” but trying to fight the good fight from within the church as an intelligent young woman is probably currently too hard. Things will change as certain leadership dies off and younger, more progressive leaders remain — those that are more like you with outlooks that reflect true Christiantiy, not small-town mentalities. This is just the reality in a male-dominated church.

    Just yesterday, I finished teaching the youth in Sunday School, and opted out of Relief Society in order to sit in my car. I just cannot do Relief Society any more. I would rather read something uplifting. It’s a sad thing when watching a TedTalk is more uplifting than church. But this is our lot — we can either remain in a church where we have very little in common with the other members, or we can go out into the big world — with basically the same outlook we’ve always had — and realize that in the big world, there are truly lovely people who are good, Christlike souls who we identify with. The world has much good to offer, and it is not a crime to know this. The Lord created you to have a brain and to USE IT.

    I do think that the church’s attitude to LGBT issues will have to change over time, as young people like you take over. I was just discussing this with my daughter at BYU, where things are beginning to shift concerning gay men and women, at least with the student body. But, the attitude about women in the church — I’m not so sure that will morph any time soon. Your decision will have to be based upon whether there’s a place for intelligent women in the church, or if you will be constantly faced with attitudes like the above negative post attacking you. That post is not of Christ. Your desire to actively help others with the work that you will be doing — THAT is of Christ. You can do Christ’s work within or outside of the church — it is being done ALL THE TIME.

    • Burt

      My dear sister, I just hope you aren’t confusing the imperfect… often so very imperfect members of this church with the more perfect organization and inspiration that went into it, and that stands at its head. If you are seeing attitudes or practices that don’t seem to fit a Christian model, chances are it isn’t even in line with what the Church’s teachings are.

      Look at what inspired leaders are teaching, and then try to help others by being a teacher yourself. If we are to be like Christ, who was Himself The Master Teacher, than we should be willing and eager to help teach our brothers and sisters. God brought us all here, different as we are, with all our various strengths and weaknesses. What if your unique awareness of these things that trouble you so much are a part of why God needs you there so much in the first place, to help others be more Christlike by seeing that important perspective. Life is not chance, or happenstance. You decide your course, but don’t be too quick to disregard the possibility that you’re exactly where He needs you to be, for very specific reasons.

    • mari

      I’m sorry, but I find it hard to not be offended by this comment, Kris. No, let me rephrase that. If I knew you, and you said this to me, I would find it hard not to be offended. Cause it seems to me that you are saying that women who have strong testimonies of the gospel and the church as it is run today, are unintelligent. I have a strong testimony of the gospel and of the church as it is run today. Does that make me unintelligent, Kris?

      Perhaps that isn’t what you are saying, but that is how your comment reads.

      I get it that people who think and believe differently than you can be hard to relate to, but sometimes it’s our own warped perceptions of those people that make it so hard. Sometimes, because we expect a person or a group of people to think and act a certain way, we see it anytime we’re with those people, whether they’re really acting that way or not. Did that make sense (darn my unintelligent brain!)?

      Perhaps, instead of looking for ways that the women are less like you, you could try to find ways that they are MORE like you. You could start with the fact that you are ALL beloved Daughters of God, and go from there…. you’d be surprised at what else you have in common with those women.

      Don’t ostracize yourself from your Relief Society, or things will never change. I don’t think the change you want and the change I want are the same (Examples: I don’t have a problem with male leadership, but I do have a problem with anyone who feels that a woman should be subservient to a man. I do believe that practicing homosexuality is a sin, but I also believe that a person can be a homosexual and still be a worthy member of the church). I do believe that we all have something to offer each other and change and compromise can only happen if we work together. Don’t sell yourself or your sisters short!

      I hope that made sense, Kris. Gosh, I just feel so hindered by my extreme lack of intelligence right now! ;)

      • Kris

        Mari, I definitely write in ways that are unintentionally offensive, and so I apologize for that. I just get so frustrated at times, and then I say and word things too strongly. I may do it again, because I am not smart enough to word things in such a way that they are really putting forth my real agenda!!!

        Let me take a shot at explaining myself a little…

        I am an older woman in the church. Most of my children are raised and out of the house. I listened to our leaders completely and led a life exactly the way the general authorities suggested that we women do. I never ONCE felt that there was anything wrong with the men having the priesthood, and the women raising the children. I actually still don’t have a problem with that. I had the typical mormon family, with a husband working outside of the home, three children, and all of the callings a woman could have in the church. I was a Republican, conservative woman who felt completely at home with the church and all of its expectations as a woman.

        Then, years later, I changed. Many things happened at different times, but all leading to where I am now. I raised a daughter in the church, a good girl who is still very strong, and I raised her to be intelligent and to think for herself. I saw how she did not fit in with her peers at church because they were not being raised to be independent women. She was well-liked, but “odd” because she was taught to think for herself. We purposely taught her to be independent — not to try and make her “intelligent” but to try and make sure that she was strong enough to be a good mormon. I began to read about church history in order to improve my testimony, and it did the exact opposite. I changed political parties, and as a democrat realized that I was part of a quiet minority that is regularly marginalized in the church by certain members of each ward. I love and admire the men in my ward, most of who are exceptionally good men, but have come to realize that hey — my RELIEF SOCIETY, an organization FOR WOMEN, is RUN BY MEN. It wasn’t always that way. Why did it change? So many little things started to pile up, until I finally realized that I wasn’t so comfortable with the status quo anymore. In the church, we are always taught that people who leave do so because they strayed, they sinned, they did something wrong. Nobody ever says they may become disenchanted with the church because they were in the process of trying to IMPROVE their testimony…

        The church has many good things to offer, and I will never convince certain people otherwise. But I do not feel like women’s intelligence is valued. It is just my opinion that women’s intelligence is given lip-service. Women raising children — that’s valued. Women serving constantly in the church — that’s valued. Women supporting men — that’s valued. When the relief society president makes a decision, but that decision can only be acted upon AFTER the bishop has ok’d it, yes, I feel like we are “less than.” When I realize the Relief Society used to be actually run by women, and THEN IT CHANGED, I feel like we are considered “less than.” You may not feel the same. That’s ok. I’m sure people wouldn’t understand why I am not bothered by the men having the priesthood (people outside of the church). Some things just don’t bother some people. Also, in my particular Relief Society, there are some truly off-the-wall comments made by a few of the women — like, seriously, CRAZY stuff on the very fringes of mystical fanatical Mormonism that you would probably agree was going too far if you could hear them — and nobody ever says “uh, I don’t want to offend you, but that’s not what the church teaches…” including me. I just go and sit in my car…

  12. Sam

    Other than belief in the Book of Mormon, I feel like I have been in your shoes and wandered for quite awhile before I found happiness. I think many people can find happiness in Mormonism, and many people can find happiness elsewhere as well. I find it interesting that many people I’ve talked to who question my departure say that Mormonism is better than the alternatives, without even really knowing what the alternatives are.

    The best thing you can do is look around and determine for yourself. I personally have felt so incredibly close to God in our United Methodist congregation we recently found, moreso than I had in 31 years of Mormonism. I find a focus on Jesus, a very rich Sacrament service that has deep meaning (Communion) every month, amazingly rich sermons, while still having Sunday School, a strong focus on the children, a strong lay ministry involvement, and so forth…without a lot of the other stuff that I found wasn’t appealing to me in Mormonism (some of which you list above).

    I’ve given up the One True Church belief in favor of a belief that, as is taught in the Bible by Paul, all Christians are a part of the body of Christ, and have a lot to learn from each other about how to be more Christlike (as well as pitfalls we need to be wary of). It has been such a blessing in my life since doing so. I wish you the best in your journey, whether it is Mormonism or elsewhere; it is amazing to find a spiritual home.

    Besides, the “worst” that can happen by exploring other churches for a few weeks at a time is that your faith that you are called to serve in Mormonism is strengthened, right?

    • Dani

      Thank you Sam, for sharing your experiences in the United Methodist faith. I am curious. What are your experiences with Priesthood blessings and/or temple work? Are these elements of Mormonism imbedded within other activities within your new church, to a degree that satisfies you? Or were they not meaningful to you in the first place? Please note: I’m not being critical. I’m simply curious about your opinion on these matters.

  13. Leigh Statham

    This is what they mean when they say “endure to the end”. I am a 35 year old sah wife and mother and still struggle with the same issues you do. Here’s my take:

    The gospel is perfect and beautiful with room for all. Our “church” is full of imperfect people trying to understand it and follow it to the best of their abilities. The “church” and it’s people are not perfect.

    No church is perfect. I’ve been to other churches and while they may agree with me on the hard issues, they are lacking in some of the core truths that we Mormons sometimes take for granted. I suspect you will not be happy at another church if you aren’t happy with ours.

    The very most important truth we hold and sometimes overlook is the Sacrament. You cannot renew your covenants in any other service. It’s a quick, often loud ordinance, but it is essential to our spirits and our relationship with the holy ghost.

    Every ward is different. I am very guilty of ward shopping. It has saved my testimony more than once.

    Do not undervalue the power that lies in the role of wife and mother. Too many women in the church think their worth lies in their husband or their college degrees, or lack thereof. The hand that rocks the cradle still rules the world. And the best way to ensure change for our future is to mentor or raise loving, tolerant and faithful children.

    Lastly, I don’t think you should be quiet and keep your mouth shut in RS. If you can do so without contention, it’s time to let your voice be heard. I think its good for other members to know we don’t all think alike. You have nothing to be ashamed of. Even Joseph Smith asked the “hard” questions in his day.

    Don’t let go of your faith. Don’t let go of the church. Plant your feet firmly wherever you land and be patient. The Lord loves us and will give BOTH of us the answers we crave … In his own time.

  14. djemilysmith

    This is one of the most fantastic articles I have ever read because it so closely mirrors my own thoughts! I had a short conversation with one of my brothers. He is in the military an is upset that people can now be openly homosexual. I told him how awesome I think it is. He ripped into me because I am a temple recommend holder and can’t support things like homosexuality if I want to be worthy to go to the temple. I asked my bishop about that and my bishop replied “that’s why he’s not your bishop,” as he signed my temple recommend.
    The things that gets me through those struggles is the part of the faith that teaches about agency, developing an individual relationship with God, and divine inspiration. When I struggle with my faith due to these big political controversies, I get down in my knees repeatedly and pray to God until I feel like he and I come to understand each other. I often find myself feeling like I have a different opinion from the members around me, but God lives me for those opinions and accepts them. The chuch as a whole hasn’t accepted them, but if one member at a time does, that is a wonderful thing. Those differences in opinion don’t make us any less Mormon, any less spiritual, or any less closer to God.

    • Geoff S

      “that’s why he’s not your bishop”
      Great response!

      • Yes– more bishops like yours and more people like you in every family! Of course we support gay people because supporting people is what it’s all about. I look forward to the day when the right wing agenda is a minority in the US church membership.

    • Christine

      I wish I had a bishop like yours! One of my big struggles is that, while I’m straight, my tendency is to support and encourage SSA people to be happy and live their lives. Being against church policy though, I bite my tongue. My tongue is getting pretty sore from all of this biting down though.

  15. meagan

    I was in that exact same place 4 years ago graduating from BYU. Then I went to the Peace Corps in Africa and figured things out for myself, independent of outside influences. It was the best decision of my life and while I’m no longer active in the Church, I have found my peace and calm; something that had never happened while surrounded by Mormons.

  16. Connie

    If you love the Book of Mormon, then there is your answer. That’s how I gained my testimony of the church as a teenager — I realized that the Book of Mormon taught precious truths, so the church — its story of the restoration and prophets, etc– must be true.

    That being said, I am not without my own struggles from time to time, and as you said, the judgmental comments made by other members at times really grates on me. I also have a hard time reconciling the church’s stance on homosexuality with those I know and love who are homosexual. But God is good, so I base my faith on him, not on the people around me.

  17. The original questioner’s points 5 and 6 of her testimony [i.e., 5) I love the Book of Mormon. {and} 6) I love the idea that I can be with my family forever.] suggest that the Restoration and priesthood ordinances of salvation are real. Points one through four are a solid foundation of a great testimony in my opinion. To the extent she can build on these things over time I think the advice offered by Joanna Brooks is excellent. I would only add that making an effort to figure out which parts of the Gospel resonate at a critical level with one’s self is important, once those principles are identified they in turn can used as a foundation to build a functional belief system that will hopefully bring a lot of joy into the life experience. The Church (and Mormon culture as well) has a lot of problems and issues; but if the Restoration is real then it (the Church) also has keys and ordinances which we need. Like Joanna I think the poster has a potentially wonderful life ahead of her, one which will bring joy to her and great service and blessing to others.

  18. Carole

    But Joanna, moving to Salt Lake City after college and hoping and seeking to find a person whom you love and who loves you and shares your values, including the ones you learned in primary, and the ones you learned in Ghana, and the ones you learned at [Ivy League College], aren’t those valid decisions that a smart, independent-minded young woman might choose? Salt Lake is a whole city with lots of different kinds of people in it and experiences to offer, and finding a partner in life doesn’t seem like such a bad goal.

    On a side note, having grown up in Utah and lived a lot of other places as well, my opinion is that Utah can be the best place to learn that there is actually a great diversity of ways to be Mormon. My personal experience has been that there is more homogeneity within wards outside of Utah than those in Utah. In that sense, Salt Lake City might not be such a bad place for a Mormon girl to find her place in the church, if she chooses to stay. I’m not necessarily advocating a move to Salt Lake, but I feel a need to defend those who have made that choice.

    Forlorn, Many of us who have chosen to stay have done it, not out of thoughtless submission, but out of a deep love for both the Church and the Gospel (see Eugene England’s essay “Why the Church is as True as the Gospel. It’s nice.) I personally find the Gospel to be both emotionally and intellectually satisfying. We have an awesome, interesting, amazing theology that rings true to me on so many levels. And even though I am often frustrated at church as well, I also love it. Ironically, as a liberal, one of the reasons that I love it is that I think it is important for me to continue to practice respect and tolerance for ideas that are different from my own.

    I can only speak from my own experience and I know that the experiences of others may be different, but I strongly believe that there is a place in the church for intelligent, thoughtful people. The church is richer for having you in it, and you are richer for being a part of it.

    • Thank you, i think you’ve raised some excellent points.

    • Penny

      “aren’t those valid decisions that a smart, independent-minded young woman might choose?”
      Thank you, thank you, thank you for saying this. So much. I have been reading this blog and others of the same tone and I have repeatedly found that there is a lot of condemnation (albeit subtly) towards women who might choose differently.
      One of the many life lessons I have learned is that there is one way, one path or one plan, not just for all people but even for one person. If you are doing what you know to be right the Lord will guide you. Bless you “dear one” in your search for your life, your path, your plan.

  19. Kris

    Sorry to be writing a second time, but an issue comes up in these discussions that gets to me…

    Yes, the Lord created women so that we can bear and raise children. I am grateful for that opportunity, and did exactly as the general authorities suggested I do in the 70’s, and 80’s — finish my degree, and then have children. I gave up an opportunity to work in an international construction firm, and raised three children. While I don’t regret that decision, I now realize that I could have raised the children AND worked. It would have been complicated, it would have been hard, and I would have been tired. But I’ve watched women around me raise good families WHILE working. It’s a Mormon myth that this cannot be done. I reject the notion that staying at home is the only “righteous” option. As I’ve noticed working women who have raised good families, I’ve noticed plenty of Mormon women who have had the time and inclination to raise a big family — and have ignored their children, and put as much time into their church calling as they might have a job, and their children have not turned out so good. The problems are the same — working woman, church woman with a demanding calling or just the type of woman who bears children but doesn’t mother them — some times, mothering doesn’t come naturally, and children suffer. Then there are those women who can do all sorts of things — work, have a big church calling AND raise children — whose kids are happy and well-adjusted. Go figure!

  20. Ann

    Just be yourself. Let your conscience guide you. If something is said in church that doesn’t sit well with you, remember that we are all flawed, and that individual members are not speaking for Him.

    I relate to every point that you made in your letter. I am in my forties and consider myself very “invested” in the church, which had me struggling for awhile (still do sometimes) but I am finding peace in realizing that I can accept own feelings and just be me. I am choosing right now to work on my own flaws, instead of focusing on what others (including church leadership) say, that may not feel right to me.

    I believe that the Lord knows our hearts. He knows if we are trying to improve and become better individuals. I believe that our salvation depends on our attitudes and our treatment of others, and not on whether or not the church to which we belong is perfect.

  21. Allison Warnick

    Forlorn,

    Just want you to know that there are groups of young Mormon girls just like you questioning the exact same things every day. My Mormon/investigating friends and I at Wellesley have the same struggles, questions, consternations, and reservations with the some of the cultural praxis and even with some points of the doctrine and we have discussions about them all the time. If you want to talk more, we can figure out a way to get in touch. Best of luck to you either way. :)

    • crimson

      The Harvard girls too! Here are some things that have helped me as I’ve struggled the past few years:

      – I got this from an AMG commenter: ALLOW. I became weary (you used the perfect word) trying to decide if I Believed and what it meant if I Didn’t. Once I decided to allow my testimony to just be what it is, my paradigm shifted. Instead of being a member of the church that didn’t have a testimony of X, Y, and Z (which, I was afraid, meant I shouldn’t be a member of this church at all), I became a member of the church that has a testimony of A, B, and C, who is working to understand X and how it fits into my life. I’ll get to Y and Z, but right now I am allowing them to be big fat unresolved questions. Allow yourself to find comfort and joy in Church teachings you love and allow yourself to change your mind on any issue. When you can’t walk by faith, walk in hope. Protect those beautiful articles of faith you listed and don’t worry right now if they will be enough for the rest of your life — allow them to be enough for you right now.

      – Find someone in the church who you respect completely and use them as a reminder that it can be done. Maybe your parents would be good for this, or Joanna or someone else on the internet. I have two people in my life that fill this role — an amazing Institute teacher who never shied away from difficult questions and a classmate that epitomizes everything I love about everything. I think that they would agree with me on almost any social issue, but they don’t stay in the Church for either reason you mentioned above; they stay because they love it and believe it is true. They live honestly and still have rock solid testimonies, and I am comforted and inspired by their examples.

      – Experience goodness elsewhere. Whenever I go to a service at a different church and experience prayer and worship in a new setting, it always impresses upon me that we aren’t really that different. It comforts me to remember that God doesn’t just speak to people who go to Mormon sacrament meeting each week and agree with the general authorities on every issue. God talks to these people in their church the same way He talks to us in our church. God can talk to me in my situation and you in your situation and we can lead very different lives and we are both going to be great.

      And when all that fails and I get overwhelmed I just try to remember: pure, undefiled religion before God is to visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep yourself unspotted from the world. I think this means that when you get down to it, what really matters is living a life of integrity and being actively kind to others (or put another way, “Love the Lord with all your soul” and “Love your neighbor as yourself”). Your desire to live with integrity is palpable, Forlorn, and I’m willing to bet you’re pretty kind, too. Things are going to work out.

      • Dani

        I loved these posts from all of you Ivy League girls! I’m “only” a UCLA grad, but I struggled with these same issues during my academic years (20 years ago) and, in fact, remained inactive for a very long time.

        I’d like to relate something personal that resonated with me when reading Crimson’s comment about “Allow(ing) yourself to find comfort and joy in Church teachings you love.” I received my Pat Blessing at 14, like most other lifers, and it failed to mean much to me over the years. It is now, however, at 44, that one line in particular moves me to tears. I only wish I’d been wise enough to have drawn from its well long ago. The line is, simply, “live for those blessings that are most important to you.” What a gift! When my faith is trembling beneath my feet — in matters temporal or spiritual — I remember the Lord’s merciful counsel to me, and I begin to be made whole, once again.

        I am no Prophet, Seer or Revelator. I am “merely” a woman (in fact, I am that most unlikely sort of Mormon woman: 44-years-old, never married, no children). But my advice to all of you marvelous young women is to use your God-given agency and live for those blessings that are most important to you.

    • TinDC

      Yes, all of this a thousand times. I don’t know if you’re keeping up with comments of this post, Forlorn, but I had to chime in. I could have written your questions 10 years ago. You are not alone and please don’t leave. The Church needs women like us and we need each other. I was inactive for quite a while–my husband and I have only recently gone back. It was a tough decision, but I came to the same conclusions as these wise women. I can’t say it any better, only give you some of my own experiences. The advice to stay outside of Utah is wonderful. I find the Church to be a vastly different, more accepting, diverse, and welcoming place far from “Happy Valley” where we live now. Please continue to attend RS. Speak up. We need you. I feel blessed that my RS is one where frank discussion is welcome and happens often. I don’t remember the last time I heard something that made me cringe. I still have challenges ahead. My son is only year old. My husband and I need to decide how to navigate his religious education, though one thing I’m sure of is that it will be unorthodox, in more than one sense of the word. I want him to be a citizen of the world, as corny as that sounds. I too had life and world-view altering experiences as an undergrad and I can’t imagine not imparting that to him as best we can. He is, however, primarily LDS culturally and I want him to understand that and for that to have meaning for him as well. I hope this all makes sense. I am typing hurriedly on my phone before said son wakes up. I just couldn’t go about my day without adding one more voice to the chorus of empathy.

  22. Rachael

    I’m right there with you, forlorn. As a young, progressive, educated, modern woman (did that sound too prideful??), I understand where you are coming from. I think leaving the Utah area is great advice. The Gospel is true wherever you go, but it is refreshing to meet people of different backgrounds once you leave the Beehive State. Test your faith elsewhere, and I think you’ll realize that all good things come from God, inside and outside of the church.

    For me, some time spent independently away from family helped me realize that I needed the church as much as it needed me. I believe I have something to offer but even greater than that I need the cleansing Spirit of the sacrament each week. And for me, that is what going to church came down to. Eventually, I found peace and others who shared my views at church. I hope eventually you too will find peace.

  23. Columbia Student

    Dear Forlorn,

    Though I don’t know you, I too can identify with your sentiment. In fact, each struggle you presented has been on the forefront of my mind lately. I think Joanna and the rest of these commenters have given great advice, but if you want another feminist, female, gay-rights activist, Mormon Ivy League contact, I’d be willing to keep in touch. Press on, friend, press on :)

  24. alliegator321

    I’ve dealt with very similar issues, and my advice, is if there are things you believe in, cling to them. The rest, let go of. When people make awful comments, remember that we’re all at different places in our lives, doing the best we know how. When church leaders think we have all the answers on an issue, remember that they might think they do, but things change. People change. Our understanding of what God wants for us changes. Do what you feel is right for you, and follow the path God has for you. Don’t expect perfection from yourself, or from anyone else.

  25. Brett

    I am proud to be a part of the same faith community as this young woman. And, I love your advice to her.

    One of my former early morning seminary students is now finishing up her freshman year of college and heading to Africa (HELP International) to work in an orphanage. She is a faithful young woman and I think it’s amazing that she, like “Forlorn”, is willing to expose herself to a world that few of us see.

    Likewise, my nieces just returned from serving in the leper colonies of India (Rising Star Outreach). Their hearts were deeply touched and they developed a rich love for a people who were incomprehensible to them just a few weeks ago.

    Now, after reading Forlorn’s letter, I wonder which is greater: the service these young women will(have) perform(ed) or the change of heart in their own souls and the impact it will have moving forward. Fortunately it is a question that doesn’t need to be answered.

    Great post, Joanna. Thank you.

  26. Helen Bee

    There is a very big world out there! People ARE good-not just Mormons as they think they are-at least in my ward. I like eastern philosophy myself. There is more depth. All religions are good. Having no religion doesn’t mean a person can’t bee good too. God is all inclusive!!!

  27. Marion Sæternes

    I just LOVE both “forlorn” and your answer Joanna <3. 19 is not the most sereene age, in my experience. To live with ambuguity and contradictions does get easyer with some perspective, I find. After all, in science one is also still looking for the TOE! It is out there, but to find it we have to ask the correct questions. One wise woman (well into her eighties) in my ward usually says; we have to distinguish between the commandments og God and the commandments of men. I personally also fall back om Simone Weils words: “It seemed to me certain, and I still think so today, that one can never wrestle enough with God if one does so out of pure regard for the truth. Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth. If one turns aside from him to go toward the truth, one will not go far before falling into his arms.” I agree; you WILL do fine "forlorn"!!

  28. jen

    I love this letter, and I love your reply.
    I have left the churhc, because I just couldn’t make it all work. It didn’t bring me joy, it made me crazy… Most of the people in my life (all still active members) have listened and are understanding. They also see that the church is not the only way to find happiness, and they’ve been respectful of my journey.
    That to me, says changes are happening. Maybe not at the top of the church, but the members are changing. As the membership changes, the leaders will naturally change.

  29. The best answer I can offer you is to pray. If you have tried this and are still unable to hear an answer to calm your spirit, then ask for a blessing from the priesthood. I have found in my greatest moments of turmoil that God is listening…even when I am not.

    I would also recommend you obtain your patriarchal blessing…if you have not done so already. If you do have one, then revisit it. Mine has helped me better understand the hurdles I have to deal with and my life path.

    As AMG stated…You should definitely go forward, out in the world to share your light, knowledge and testimony with others. Do so with the strength of what you know to be true. Understand that man is flawed, the gospel and God’s love is not.

  30. Helen Bee

    I meant to say the women in my ward think ONLY Mormons are GOOD!

  31. jack

    My answer is similar to those above, with a twist. I have never considered the church to have a monopoly on goodness, though sometimes the “us vs. them” thought morphs into an “our way or the highway” attitude. I DO have faith that God (through his organized church) has a monopoly on saving ordinances, and with that comes a responsibility to withhold judgement, criticism, and invite all to come unto Christ. I think we downplay the duty to minister to those in need at the level of their need sometimes because it’s tough to visualize what the path to the temple looks like for some people. In many cases it would take a series of miracles for people to reach the potential God sees in them.

    So for me, here’s the twist: It’s not my objective to find out how God plans to settle the world’s inequality problems. Instead I try to find out what God needs me to do… then to do it. Every word or action makes a difference. Stand up against gossip. Be firm against speculation and judgement. Recognize that God wants us all to shed our flaws. A traditionalist and nonconformist both need the atonement, and both ultimately need God to “sign off” on our weaknesses and failures.

  32. christer1979

    Forlorn–I’m with you girl. It wasn’t until after I served a mission that my lifelong feminism caught up with my testimony, and, well, that’s been an interesting journey. So I’m not as precicious as you (at the ripe old age of 25 ;) ) but I want you to know this: you’re not alone, and you have more allies than you think. I’m a grad student at BYU right, and while I’ve made my commitment to be active for the rest of my life (a complex choice in its own right, but Im simplfying here), my circle of friends and acquaintances include TONS of folks who are agonizing over these same things. There is no one way through this. How could there be? As a daughter of Heavenly Parents, you are wonderfully, thoughtfully, naturally, beautifully unique. Your journey is your own, and other people’s answers may not work for you, but you’re not the only one fighting the good fight. Like you, I’ve got conviction of a core set of beliefs, and that keeps me going when I want to punch people for denigrating my gay friends or waging another fruitless battle in the Mommy Wars. But I’ve found is loads easier to stay as I’ve connected with those around me (both in person and via the internet) who believe as I do. I bet you’ll find in time (heck, you probably already have) that the people in your university’s YSA group are not so different from you as you might think.

    This kind of questioning can be hell. Emotional and cognitive hell. But I believe it’s also a spiritual blessing to have the desire and capacity to work through these things yourself. I love how Joanna regularly invoke the examples of Joseph Smith having questions and taking them to God. That’s your heritage. That’s your right and blessing–divine knowledge and guidance from the Heavenly Mother and Heavenly Father who love you.

    If you ever need a safe place to vent, contact Joanna and she can give you my e-mail address. Here’s my last piece of unrequested advice: be smart about what you read. You’re obviously super intelligent, so don’t shy away from doing your homework. As you know, footnotes on a website doesn’t ensure quality scholarship, so fight for knowledge about everything (church history, religious pluralism, polygamy, ERA stuff, etc. etc.) in a smart and balanced way, knowing you can take it all to God and They’ll guide you through. I wish I could give you a hug. But you know what? Hearing your story gives me hope, and it helps give me strength to continue going to church. So thanks for being brave and asking questions.

  33. Carole

    I tried leaving a comment, but then there were issues with posting and not being logged into wordpress, and then I had to run off to class – so I’m not sure if my last comment is just awaiting moderation, or if it got lost in cyberspace. Anyways, to boil down what I wanted to say in the comment I tried to leave before:

    If you want the general membership of the church to be more tolerant and loving and thoughtful, please, please, please show the same courtesy to them. Those comments in Sunday School and Relief Society that seem callous and provincial – might there be more to it than what appears on the surface? Might there be something you can learn from people who think differently than you do?

    Never assume that people who seem to have a different perspective than you simply haven’t thought it through. It is possible for thoughtful, intelligent, faithful people to disagree on important issues. Please be charitable. Please assume the best.

    Since “all are alike unto God,” not one of us is better than anyone else. Not by virtue or our race or our gender identity, and also not by virtue of our education, intellect, life experiences, or political beliefs. There is no one in the world who doesn’t have something they can teach you if you listen with an open heart. However you decide to move forward (I personally love Salt Lake, but that’s just my opinion), please keep an open heart.

    Also, can I recommend Eugene England’s essay, “Why the Church is as True as the Gospel?” http://eugeneengland.org/wp-content/uploads/sbi/articles/1999_e_004.pdf

    • Carole (and anyone else who is noticing that this is my third comment)

      I’m a little shy to be replying so much. (I’m spoiled from other mediums to be able to simply hit a like button because I want to give support whenever I can… AMG doesn’t have a limit, so here goes.) In your case, since you are a bit of an anomaly so far in the replies, I wanted to “like, like, like!” your comments because the others have the expected and well deserved praise, mine included, and yours should not be overlooked. I really enjoy that you are able to show support to the seemingly non intellectual types (especially because that is probably me and my family and it really helps to be taught with respect for where we are at the moment. Not that I don’t want change. I do! Gay acceptance first and then women. I put them first because they have it tougher than we do). Anyway, it’s very sweet and captures the real essence of charity. It’s not just serving the underprivileged folks in Africa where charity is sorely needed. It’s where we are today and on Sundays in that 3 hour block.

      I once lived in Nigeria and it was so remote that we had church in our house with two other partial families that worked with my husband and my little family. No matter where I’ve worshipped, even in the most dogmatic settings, I’ve always noted the generosity for which loving “intellectual” people have had for me as I’ve been a student of the world around me. I was never bashed or criticized for my limited knowledge. The lack of ridicule and the feeling of interest in my (back then) points of view were what allowed me to grow. I earned a BA from a state school in NM, but it’s living around the world and then ending up in Provo for the last two years that has been my real education. I did not have educated parents but I ended up marrying a guy who got a Ph D from Wharton. I only mention these two snippets as a little bit of how widely I’ve been exposed to humanity. I came from a convert immigrant mom who was emotionally abused by my convert, white dad. Both of them had/have many struggles and imperfections but without the knowledge and faith of the core gospel of Jesus Christ, we would all be hopeless.

      In my limited observations, I find that the people with more to say are often the quieter ones. So when they speak, I would really, really, listen. That taught me TONS! And now there is blogging! Sometimes, sadly we get road rage in the blogosphere because people feel okay about being impatient or intolerant from the privacy of their screen (windshield or computer).

      Thanks for the solidarity! I’m a non intellectual but intellectual wannabe, so as I grow, I have taken the examples before me and rather than the “punch in the face” reaction that might enter my mind, I hold off until I can say anything decent if I can say it with charity.

      • Kris

        Dolly Etta —

        I was so pleased to read your post.

        Your wide experience in different locations does expose you to a lot of different viewpoints, and your experiences in your home does that as well. I think your comment as “a non-intellectual but intellectual wannabe” — that comment gives me the most hope. If more people in the church could be more like you, the church would GROW, and BLOSSOM, and could be what it truly wants to be. I just feel that “intellectualism” is a sort-of dirty word in the church, just as “science” is looked-down upon. Why? Why is having a questioning, discerning mind a bad thing? I see people like you as the promise of the church!!! We are ALL basically “non-intellectuals” and those of us who are just interested in life, and answers, and in understanding what we don’t currently know I guess makes us “intellectual wannabe’s.” The things we could do if this was a valued thing in the Mormon church!!!

        I’m very propped up by the young people currently going to BYU, and so many other colleges, Mormon young people who are kind, and righteous, and like our original poster — young people who want to stay true to the church, but have the need to know WHY and the need to understand church policy. This is not a BAD THING. If young people in the church are to stand up to the “perceived evil” in the world, then they need to be STRONG, and to be sure that they are RIGHT. If Joseph Smith had just gone along with the status quo of religious society during his time, there would BE NO MORMON CHURCH. He bucked the trends. He asked questions. We revere him for that. Why is it that we do not revere the current youth of church FOR DOING THE SAME THING???

  34. ijustlookedup

    Forlorn,
    I am a 45 year old woman who has walked various rods in the LDS church. Several years ago I removed my name from the records. It was not to prove anything to anyone, and most people immediately pointed fingers, assuming the worst that they could. I left for confusion with the history, and no longer could sit and feel like a fraud, locking my truest feelings away. In fact, it was a trip to Africa that sparked most of my deepest feelings to rise. I never had lost my faith in God or the Atonement. But, I lost faith in what men were doing with the religion I loved. I also had to unwind a huge piece of my personal life involving a home teacher that had come into our home raping a brother causing a rip tide of hell to unleash for me. Anyway, I was baptized back into the church when the epiphany of truth struck me; I did not need to feel or believe like anyone else. I did not need the leaders to be perfect. After all, I wanted to be allowed to be imperfect too. I believe in love, faith, hope, and that all roads lead home. I often bite the inside of my mouth raw at church trying to keep kindness in place as I listen to callous, cruel, comments and judgments that are spewed in every direction. I agree with Joanna, find your corner in the world and stay true to your heart. There are countless LDS women trying to find a way to allow for love to be more than it is. I find them all over the place, but often many are afraid to speak up because of the harsh judgments. Be like Christ. Pick up clay and be willing to use it, even if someone tells you not to. Just like the Rabbi who told Him it was wrong to heal on the Sabbath; know that He went ahead and blessed anyway because He knew it was right thing to do. You have been given an honest, beautiful heart to use…so follow it and know you don’t have to measure up to anyone. Just love…just like He did.

  35. MikeInWeHo

    Mormons could develop a Rumpspringa tradition like the Amish have. People raised in the Church could take some time off to live outside the community, then make a better-informed choice about whether or not to make a covenants like the Endowment and Temple Marriage.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rumspringa

  36. Couldn’t have said it any better than AMG! AGREED! I had a very difficult time with Mormon culture being a convert and moving to BYU for school. But now that I am back down South in a world where there are LESS and I have a chance to really test my testimony, I love the Gospel even more. Go out, get that degree, do what you love and SERVE!

  37. Forlorn, this is your church as much as anyone else’s. Speak your mind without shame or reservation. Bear _your_ testimony. Live the gospel. You’ll do just fine.

  38. Molly

    The biggest lie I was ever told is that one couldn’t be happy not “living the gospel”. You can be a good person without “the church”. You can have a relationship with God without “the church”. You can find beauty and joy and inspiration even if you don’t read the Book of Mormon every day. There are many books, writings, and belief systems with similar sacred truths about happiness that don’t require all the intellectual conflict. I’m not trying to convince you to leave, but if you choose to do so, you are not giving up. You are not a bad person. And you won’t have lost your faith. You will have just found faith in something different. Follow your heart AND your mind. Don’t let feelings trump logic. Be true to yourself first and foremost. You know better than anyone what is right for you. Go into the world with an open heart and mind and you will find your path.

    • mari

      Molly, you are right. In this life, God, beauty, joy, inspiration, happiness…. it’s all very easy to find, even without, “the church.” In fact, if you take, “the church,” out of it, life would be a heck of a lot easier on a lot of people!

      Eternal happiness, though, can only be achieved through living the gospel of Jesus Christ. You do need, “the church,” for that. Sure, it’s flawed, but that will never change if people just keep leaving when things get hard.

      And yet, I totally agree with your words, “Be true to yourself first and foremost. You know better than anyone what is right for you. Go into the world with an open heart and mind and you will find your path.” I would only add that if you add prayer to that approach, you can’t go wrong.

  39. loved the post and the reply. joanna – thanks for pointing out that the battles and tensions here are not new – and I would add that these very tensions and paradoxes are likely very important for the kind of growth that is and will continue to occur in individuals and institutions in and outside of “the church.”

  40. David

    This feels a lot like my wife and me 25 years ago. Back then, we had the good fortune to be able to make a clear distinction in our faith that draws a line between the gospel of Jesus Christ and his imperfect church (that sometimes feels deeply flawed). My wife and I have also been blessed to live in a ward that is filled with faithful, educated, cosmopolitan folks who are pretty self-honest about their doubts, concerns, and sticking points. This has helped us feel safe in practicing an orthodox, yet honest, authentic version of Christianity as Mormons. We happily pay tithing, serve, attend, wear garments, and attend the temple. We believe that the Prophet really did translate the Book of Mormon (mostly while looking at a rock in a hat). We read the scriptures and pray as a family, and have FHE (AKA Family Home Torture). At the same time, we practice honesty (in constructive ways hopefully) about things like priesthood leadership, male dominance, LGBT issues (Prop 8), etc. Oh, and I curse like sailor.

    In plain English, this means we still get to have enriching participation at church, and share thoughts and insights with others who often have the same concerns. However, I was still left to struggle when the “Brethren” would say or do something that I simply could not square with what I know about Jesus. Reading the David O. McKay biography helped tremendously with this by illustrating the slow and deliberate wheels of church leadership within a construct that makes do with the leadership that it has at the time.

    On balance, we believe that our life (and lives of our children) is better with full activity. I’m not saying that’s the prescription for everyone, and I honestly don’t know if we would have survived our 30’s in a more “iron-rod” style ward. I offer this as hopeful alternative to a life on the outside of participation.

  41. Brittanie

    Thank you both so much for your honesty and integrity. Take heart to know you are not alone and that many women (like us) find a way to make this all work. Some days it is harder than others. Be your best self. Be the kind I Morman woman you want to be. It’s the only way things will change. Thank you for putting in to words what so many feel.

  42. DG

    Soooo, are “progressive” and/or feminist LDS women the only ones who qualify as having “brains, education, opportunity, guts, compassion, a pioneer work ethic, and the burning-in-your-heart conviction that this life is really about spiritual growth”? That seems extremely elitist and arrogant to me. (In fact, the entire letter responded to seems condescending and patronizing of an admittedly somewhat eccentric culture of people. If you think you can expect compassion, dare to show some. Everyone is fighting their own battles, even if they don’t seem to measure up to your highfalutin standards.) There is nothing wrong with intelligent, driven women with guts and compassion and a work ethic finding a husband and raising a family in righteousness in Utah Valley.

    • Kris

      Ouch. Burn. There IS nothing wrong with intelligent, driven women with guts and compassion and a work ethic finding a husband and raising a family in righteousness in Utah Valley. Also, there is absolutely nothing wrong with any number of alternatives to that lifestyle — and yet, those of us who DARE to think otherwise in wards all over the U.S. are thought “less” of. If we don’t fit the mold that you portray, or we tried it for thirty years (as I have) and realize now that another way could have been JUST AS GOOD, I cannot say so out loud in my ward for fear of the kind of response that you provided. The “righteous” plan for women is limited to a very finite mold, and if you don’t fit exactly into that mold, you are possibly denigrated by other members of your ward. Just ask working women, single women, or divorced women in your ward — see how marginalized they feel…marginalized by the leaders of the church, from the top down, and marginalized by their friends who DO fit the mold. So don’t climb all over anybody who has a question about this issue — they are just looking for support and answers to a problem. If you fit the mold, and that mold is working for you — that’s great, and probably most people here would support you. It just doesn’t work for everybody in the church, even though we are led to think that we are supposed to live happily ever after if we make ourselves conform to said mold…

      • prudence

        DG – There is nothing wrong with the scenario that you just described, if that’s what the woman chooses to do. In fact, you will never hear a single bad word uttered by a general authority about women that choose to do that. In the past two general conferences, there have been negative things said about women (or couples) that choose to wait to have children. It’s really hard to be a woman in the church that chooses to live a different lifestyle. I didn’t see Joanna state that those terms are to be used exclusively for progressive, feminist women. She was simply giving Forlorn a nudge of confidence to go and live the life that makes her happy.

    • prudence

      You’re right, there is nothing wrong with that, especially if that’s what the woman chooses to do. You will never sit in conference and hear a single bad word said against a woman that chooses to do that. However, it is really hard for women that choose to live life a little differently. During the past 2 conferences, there has been negative things said about women that choose to wait to have children. So in my opinion, Joanna used those words to encourage the Forlorn to find the path in life that makes her happy. Also, she never once said those words only apply to progressive feminist women.

    • M.D.

      Yep. I found that if you talk in church, ask questions, point things out, bring in outside sources (there are other forms of wisdom in the world, and many support Mormon teachings) that you won’t date. Guys avoid you like the plague. Happened to other girls I knew too. Ergo — I assume all the married LDS women are either not interested in being intelligent or learned to keep a lid on it.

      One is sad, the other angering.

      And I left the church because I was sick of being condescended to by the patriarchy and their judge-y, cruel, dismissive female lackeys. Sucks to get your own back, doesn’t it?

      • Nan Stephens

        I am sorry you have had such a bad experience. My own father has had difficulties as well because in the community I grew up in while the people meant well they also came off as provincial. I was lucky enough to have teachers who encouraged me to become more than a mother but to have something else. I had a really good religion class that encouraged us to look at different religions and find the good in them. I have been living in a “mormon” bubble and it is really hard because if you are progressive they act like you are the spawn of the devil. The one thing that has helped me is knowing that the church is perfect but that does not mean that the people are perfect and that I need to look past people and their close minded attitudes. To those who read this I encourage you to take the opportunity to get education as “Ask a Mormon girl” suggests.
        Good luck to everyone.

  43. Paulette

    I spent a few years asking myself whether I should stay in the church or go. I have resolved to stay because I am determined to find a way to remain true to myself. I like to think of it as being a Mormon on my own terms. I have faith in those doctrines and practices which ring true to me. I allow myself freedom to abandon those which don’t. Although my approach is not without a struggle, I find it fulfilling for me personally.

    I love motherhood and endeavor to raise my young daughters to be loving, intelligent, thoughtful people like you and Joanna, whether they are Mormon, straight, liberal or not. I also love being a physical therapist and share your concern regarding global health and poverty. My instincts tell me that you may have already found motherhood through your work in orphanages and will continue to make a positive and needful impact whether on your own children or on the motherless. Both are rewarding and noble.

    I really hope you decide to stay. I doubt you will do so at the peril of changing your personal values in order to meet the unrighteous expectations of other church members. I hope you can find a happy place in the church where your doubts and concerns won’t jeopardize the peace you feel. If not, I hope you find a happy place outside the church where you can be at peace too. I send you heartfelt wishes as you continue your education and go out to make an impact on the world.

  44. Thank you, thank you for this letter and response. I have been ‘inactive’ in the church for 2 years now. All my life I was ‘Molly Mormon’ although I considered myself a feminist from a young age and actively sought out other’s spiritual and religious views for perspective. Through different life experiences, I found flaws and issues that I deeply disagreed with within the church but I was able to rationalize and put them aside because I knew that the Church has changed in the past and I looked forward to new change. But after social issues coming to the forefront of gospel discussions, I could no longer keep quiet and it was agonizing for me to participate any longer. I walked away from each Sunday with heartbreak and high anxiety. There is so much in the Church to love and even more to love within the gospel. I still cling to a deep personal value of family. But the reason I decided to stop participating in the Church was because of my children. The thought of others within the Church teaching them horrified me. We plan to teach them about the Church as part of our heritage and gospel principals, but choose to not to have them participate in such an exclusive culture.

    Thank you again for this guidance. I just want to say that this is the first thing I have read that so closely aligns with the clear answer I received to a prayer regarding our choice, “Remaining an active member in the Church would hinder you from becoming who you are supposed to be.” I believe that the Church is a very good catalyst for leading a good life (for a lot of Church members), but I was miserable, and I have found that we are not meant to be so unhappy and hindered in spiritual growth.

  45. Here’s my simple input:
    Do your research! You obviously know how to research academic answers, now it’s time to research theological and spiritual ones. I think it’s important to look for objective sources. Dismiss anti-mormon sources, and even take pro-mormon sources with a grain of salt. Try as best you can to be 100% open-minded to whatever you may find. Whichever direction this takes you, you’ll always have a welcoming congregation waiting for you should you decide to take that road.

  46. I loved your response to her. It may be the only way her testimony will strengthen. It’s hard to be around people who expect you to think and act exactly the way they do. Just because you said that she has “brains, education,” etc., doesn’t mean other women don’t, regardless of their choices. Sheesh! I think it’s really difficult living in Utah, and I couldn’t imagine how much more of a hellish nightmare I’d have if I lived in Utah Valley.

  47. Dani Lofland

    Dear Forlorn,

    Just some thoughts…

    Trust in Him who created this earth and in your Heavenly Father- Putting your trust in the arm of flesh can get confusing. “Lean not unto thine own understanding.”

    The members of the church while Christ was on earth were confused because they had put their trust in the schools and the learned over the few humble men of the cloth that were left. (..not talking about the Pharisee’s etc., here.) The people were missing the mark.
    .
    The gospel is simple (and, yes sometimes the people are too..). Have enough faith to look upon Moses’ staff.

    And then, enjoy your amazing and wonderful life!

  48. Lee

    I understand the difficulty in seeing so many people suffering and so many people with so much wealth. I have traveled extensively and seen much of both. I have spent many hours trying to reconcile it myself and am not yet done. What I don’t understand is a tolerance for sin. God cannot tolerate sin and neither should we. Sinners yes, but not the sin. Homosexuality is a sin and I don’t understand where your confusion comes from. The impression I get from many of your comments is that you are hoping the church will change its stance. If this is the case then I think you will be waiting a very long time. Has God changed his mind about any sin so far? I don’t think it is remotely reasonable to expect a change about homosexuality.

    What I really think is that you are allowing Satan to lead you way from the truth.

    • This is a perfect example of the type of attitude that drives people away from the church. The whole “Satan is leading you away” rhetoric is hurtful and unnecessary.

      • Lee

        Homosexuality is a sin. Believing that it is not leads you away from god. If Satan is not responsible for that then who is? I admire forlorn for her courage and desire to make the world a better place. But sin is sin and trying to soften it is not going to help her at all. A desire to find the truth is encouraged but don’t try to cover up sin folks, it doesn’t help anyone.

      • Sure, you can say homosexuality is a sin. So is telling lies. So is using profanity. So is self-righteously judging others for their sins. We don’t infringe on people’s right to free-speech just because they might tell a lie or use profanity. Why should we attempt to infringe on people’s sexual freedom? I don’t think it’s our place to judge anyone other than ourselves when it comes to sin. If you feel homosexuality is a sin, then don’t practice homosexuality, or repent if you do. But to place any sort of judgement on someone else in terms of his/her righteousness, or to attempt to influence others to do the same, is what breeds confusion and resentment.

  49. dlcroc

    Some of the best advise my father ever gave me when dealing with these issues of faith was, “It is ok to get out on a limb, just don’t go out so far out you can’t reach the trunk.” Part of our growing in gospel truths is to stretch and expand. Sometimes that is a painful process. We must remain humble when we don’t receive the answers we hope for. I have a figurative shelf in my mind where I place all my unanswered questions. Periodically, I pull those questions down and think, pray and fast for answers and direction. When the answers do come they are sacred personal revelation to me alone. Many of those questions will remain on the shelf for years. The best therapy for unaswered questions is serving our brothers and sisters in and out of the church. I to have been deeply involved in issues of poverty. When thus engaged my theological struggles see less important in the grand desgn. Good luck. Like Johanna I think you will be just fine. Hang on. The Church needs you and I promise you the Lord has a plan for you.

  50. Forlorn

    Wow. I feel truly overwhelmed and inspired by all of your thoughtful comments. I am so grateful for the time you’ve all taken to offer some advice to a poor girl struggling to figure out the universe. Joanna, I absolutely love your advice—it’s brilliant, as usual. And to the other responders: I appreciate your feedback and support. I am the first to admit that I have room for improvement in my scripture study and prayer habits. I will try to seek the facts, to be less critical of my ward members, and to balance intellectual grappling with active, pragmatic service, as recommended in Eugene England’s essay (which had been on my to-read list for months, so thank you Carole, for linking it). I actually got called to serve in Primary last week and I can already tell it’s going to be a positive change for me. I’ve also been reading Bob Rees’ Why I Stay, which I strongly recommend for anyone else wondering if they have a place in the Church. I also have spent some time lately learning about other religious traditions. I am involved with my campus’s Multi-Faith Council, Ecumenical Choir, and will travel to Poland for a week this summer with my school’s Jewish group to help restore cemeteries from the Holocaust (yet another incredibly difficult topic to grapple with spiritually and intellectually—a question for another time, perhaps). I also took a comparative religions course, which helped me to ground my faith within a more global context. After all that, I’m still Mormon and proud. However, in my efforts to make sense of things, I’ve had to develop a pretty nuanced approach to a lot of issues. My answers aren’t the same as everyone else’s, and I just want to say that I honestly respect anyone who has thought about the same things and come to different conclusions. And I’d love to talk about it!
    Also, it’s not that I’m opposed to the whole wife-mother thing, but I feel like I’ve been given some incredible and unique opportunities to learn and understand. Given these amazing opportunities, don’t I owe it to my spirit brothers and sisters around the globe to channel the amazing resources I’ve been given for good and try to help as many people as I can? And if this means getting married in Salt Lake and raising some awesome kids, I’d do it; but I so desperately want Mormonism to accept me if I do (and I do) feel drawn away from that path and instead compelled to “go away and go big,” as Joanna put it. In the end, I feel like I’ll just have to follow my heart/my conscience/the Spirit to do what I feel called to do, even if it breaks with the expectations for a traditional LDS woman. As one of my favorite quotes states:

    “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” ~Frederick Buechner

    Plus, I realize that while all I want is answers right now, I’m still young and that figuring everything out takes time. In the meantime, I pray for the patience, endurance, and strength to continue to seek for truth wherever it exists and continue to grow spiritually, whether planted on the “gospel sod” or in lesser-known pastures. Thoughts?

    • Lee

      Fantastic attitude and no Bishop could ask for more from anyone. Good luck in all you do. You are certainly headed in the right direction.

      • Forlorn– I already left a long winded comment in reply to Carole, posted above but maybe some of it is worth reading towards your continued encouragement.

        For Lee– just in case he reads my long winded comment and interprets the “acceptance toward gay” comment as an acceptance of sin (since all tangents seem to lead to that topic), I just want to say that I already get it. That’s not what my reply was about. I know there is a huge difference between tolerance and acceptance of people who sin and the agreement for the sin. I suspect that is what you also meant because you clearly said, “tolerance of sin”, but it still sounds like condemnation toward people who have no choice in SSA. Our collective church voice DOES need to soften because it comes off as intolerant of the person. They desperately need a place to worship God and share their testimony of the Book of Mormon within the church walls and without having to be shamed about their biological identity. This discussion did not originally include this tangent, but when Lee posted about it, I got concerned. I am not wanting to detract and be a tangent creator myself. I’m just super sensitive to clarification on that point because I just lost a brother in a freak/fatal work related accident and we believe he was called home at a young age, as a “tender mercy” not to have to endure the gay struggle any longer. I’m reluctant to say this because it sounds provincial and simplified. Trust me– It is not a knee jerk conclusion on my part. I’ve written and received countless letters to my brother’s friends over the last four months since his death. He was known among his friends as a deeply closeted gay mormon who shared the gospel with them any chance he got. This did not erase his struggle, but God help him, he tried. He knew that only Christ could do that, but yet he had to live a life that was filled with hopelessness. And yet he still had hope and faith that God had a plan for him. He had so much to offer this world with love and acceptance and his true heart is now sealed up with God. (Maybe I have truly learned to have gratitude in all things.) I’m so grateful for my brother’s legacy of love (he had tons of friends that proclaim first off, that is what he was full of) and I dare say I am grateful for his struggle, if it means that I can be a voice for the rest of us that still have to live beyond 2012. Even though I’m not the biggest fan of the RS program in it’s current form and in it’s entirety….. The motto is spot on. Charity Never Faileth.

        Sorry for the tangent Forlorn. Enjoy the primary calling and increased SS!

    • TinDC

      I am late to this party (I just posted a couple of comments above), but I again feel compelled to chime in. We are kindred spirits, my dear. I know there are many of us. There is much I could comment on, but I’ll just stick to one topic: motherhood vs. “going big” … you don’t necessarily have to choose one or the other. Go big first, have children later. Or do the opposite (more risky, perhaps? Though if you really want it, it’ll happen.) Or do them both at once. My husband and I are preparing to move our little family overseas to start our own adventure. We can’t think of a better way to raise our son and I hope that as an extension he will make a difference in our world, both on a small (family, church) and large scale. Future generations need mothers like us. (I’m positive I could say this much better with more time, but my son is awake and my day must begin. I also wanted to be succinct, so there you go.) I wish you all the best!

  51. I feel many of the things I think Forlorn is describing. I’m so happy you wrote. Since I no longer believe in the Only True and Living Church either, for me it has boiled down to asking myself if I still feel I am getting some spiritual benefit out of the things one does as a Mormon. So far, I still feel like going to church is a good thing for me. I will keep attending unless that changes, at which point I will stop and not feel bad about it. I try to do what brings me the most spiritual satisfaction. That will be different for everyone.
    P.S. I don’t think you should mind Sister Meservy. She I think she truly wants to help. Maybe one day she will understand there are some problems that simply throwing more righteousness at won’t solve.

  52. Eric Ellis

    While I regard myself as a social conservative, I am also a union Democrat, so I campaign for politicians who support things like a living wage, which I regard as a family value. Comments I know have been made about my politics at church, but this is not the church’s fault. Latter-Day Saints who watch Fox News all the time can be as politically indoctrinated as anyone else, so if anyone chooses to not accept me because I am a Harry Reid Democrat, then he or she is not Christ-like.

  53. jewelfox

    I was like that for years, until I realized I could no longer support an institution that was causing so much hurt to people who didn’t deserve it.

    I think that the option of leaving the LDS church needs to at least be on the table. Because the fact that it’s not is the reason that she feels so trapped.

    This is not how Jesus would want anyone to feel, and it’s not her fault — or the fault of the light and knowledge she has, that makes Mormonism so painful for her — that she feels this way.

  54. Thanks a lot for writing, Forlorn. We’ve had very similar problems, it seems to me. SInce I no longer believe in The Only True and Living Church either, my solution so far has been to try to do whatever things bring me the most spiritual satifaction. Those won’t be the same for person to person. For now, for me, continuing to attend church is one of them, but maybe it won’t be later. God knows. I keep saying my prayers (when I remember to) and trust in God’s grace for the rest.

  55. xenawarriorscientist

    Forlorn,

    Let’s talk. Some friends of mine are organizing a professional association for LDS women in science… exactly because of the struggles of people like you (and me, and far too many other friends). You’ve seen that you’re dealing with some cultural issues that are far, far bigger than yourself. It has been having a group of friends who see our culture’s ugly underbelly with a critical eye, *and* are committed to the gospel, that has kept me on the inside. Everybody ought to have that opportunity.

    Please, please, please come find us– the Martha Hughes Cannon Society– and contact me via the blog, http://mhcsociety.blogspot.com/. I can link you up with an old BYU roommate of mine who’s doing a PhD in global health; it sounds like the two of you are encountering some very similar issues.

  56. Serena

    Forlorn, in my opinion, you’re being respectful and responsible with the questions that are coming from inside. It’s that concept of it’s not what comes into our lives that matters, but how we respond.

    I’ve done a bit of wrestling, too, and hope part of my journey may be helpful for you. I’m 67 and white. Born into a liberal family and the Southern Methodist church; got a Masters in Special Education, as it was called then; married and divorced – no children; found spirituality through 12-step programs; participated in traditional Native American “spiritual” practices for 10 years; & then went through several years of spiritual drought. For me, a formal religion was out of the question.

    For about 25 years after the divorce, my life was on the lesbian feminist end of the sexual orientation continuum. I was involved in the Equal Rights Amendment campaign and practiced a gentle Wiccan spirituality.

    The drought ended when I found a Hindu teacher whom I’ve followed for 17 years, although I’m not Hindu. Rather than teaching beliefs and practices of Hinduism, she lives kindness and caring for others. Around her, I experience what seems to be unconditional love. Let me tell you, it can be disconcerting to be free from any religion, spiritual tradition, or religious leader telling me I’m wrong or bad or doomed for being every last speck of who I am…

    About 3 years after a relationship with a woman ended, I was surprised to be attracted to a man. We’ve been together almost 15 years.

    The hardest part was my parents’ response when I came out. It was clear they loved me and also fiercely rejected my sexual orientation.

    With each new segment – 12-step programs, Indian traditions, etc., I kept going until my heart wasn’t in it anymore.

    Through wretched, agonizing soul searches, my tolerance for ambiguity has increased. Not my choice, but it turns out the more I can live with ambiguities somewhat peacefully, the less I’m acting from fear, the less likely I am to be prejudiced, judgmental, self-righteous, etc., and the more loving I can be to myself and others. (Does this make sense?)

    Ambiguity – in your place, I’d be in pain, trying to resolve conflicting thoughts and feelings about the church. In my place, I’m thrilled for you. You could have chosen drugs, alcohol, having a child, throwing yourself into a relationship – anything just to shut up your head… You’re choosing to let the conversation continue for now, unable to see what’s ahead. Mighty courageous on your part.

    The way I see it, the Serenity Prayer gets to the core (may not seem that way to you):
    God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change (the Mormon Church any time soon),
    the courage to change the things I can (children’s lives & mine, too),
    and the wisdom to know the difference.

    You’re doing great! Serena

  57. Abigayle

    While it is good to keep an open mind to the philosophies of men and gain what light and truth there is, I would ponder deeply whether you aren’t being deceived by worldly teachings that are mingled with truth. Truth is eternal. It doesn’t change from age to age. Relativism is a dangerous falsehood. Pride in your own intelligence can keep you from the Intelligence that God can give. Think about it. Pray about it. Be honest and humble and you will be able to recognise the eternal truths of the Gospel from the cultural idiosyncracies of our culture.

  58. I haven’t read all the other responses. But all I can say is that if you are this smart and not asking yourself these kinds of questions…then that would when you should become worried. This world is confussion and even many who seek the light obscure it by “looking beyond the mark.” The thing to remember is How infinite the Atonement is…it is enough to melt away sin, to balance all the unbalance in the world, to take away all pain of every brother and sister we and Christ have. So why can that atonement not take away the confusion too? I believe it can and will…it may not happen in the time which we want. But sometimes those challenges will be what helps mold those individuals as they seek to be the best in themselves…and seek Christ, he will reach them. That I promise will take place regardless of what religion they are, sexual preference they claim, political view they hold or the generation into which they were born. I know that the atonement is that infinite. The people in this world are finite or rather their modality of thinking and or emotional charge is finite because they don’t have their eyes opened and we as members of this church are just as susceptible as anyone of God’s children…just as we don’t have a monopoly on answered prayers…that snipit is from Elder Packer by the way. I believe this is Christ’s church and it is the only one that has the authority of the priesthood and can truly move us toward exaltation…but this gospel superceeds this world and it’s many religions and opinions and so forth…this gospel is true because it is designed to fairly offer mercy to all, whilst fulfiling the need of justice. If it were any other way it wouldn’t be God’s plan, nor his church. So here or in the next world all things must become whole; knowledge, memory, hope, body and family too…moreso than we can possibly imagine.

    I hope that that is of use. And keep your chin up…it is that kind of caring for all of your brothers and sisters that truly sets you apart and Christ has use and reason for you, be patient and faithful and inquisitive, please. I am glad I am not the only one…though my questions may not be the same as yours, they are of similar vein and it is nice to know I am not the only one that wonders/wanders in thought.
    Take care.

  59. Kari

    I love the discussion here and many things ring true to me.

    Regarding the whole “in-SLC-or-out,” my personal experience is that it just as hard to be Mormon in Utah as outside. I am a better member of the Church when I live outside the state, in that I find it easier to talk to my friends about the Gospel when I’m not personally cringing about the political scene here or the sometimes embarrassing things that members do, with the best of intentions (because everyone makes mistakes, and whether a whole religion should be judged on those mistakes is definitely a debate for another post).

    In the 5 years we’ve been back, I have struggled with many aspects of my home ward, not the least of which the lines of politics as reflected in Fox News and religion are so easily blurred (someone discussed their love of Mr. Beck during Fast and Testimony meeting, for instance). I am sometimes envious of my friends who live in more liberal parts of the city and therefore attend wards with a different culture than mine. But I come back to the idea that there are also some really great things about my neighborhood that they don’t have, and there are nut-jobs in every ward. And, in fact, isn’t that a good thing? Isn’t that why we come together, to practice being Christian? So I get lots of opportunities to practice tolerance for political differences. Wherever we live, we can choose to develop skills of compassion because there is never a shortage of growth opportunities in whatever path we take.

    One more thought on faith, as Forlorn said, “How can I maintain my faith that “small and simple things” will actually result in positive change?”

    I see that we talk about “faith” sometimes as a synonym for our theology (as, people of different faiths) and sometimes we use it to talk about our overall attitudes in life (she is a “person of faith,” for instance). But in this question, I believe she is using it as a way of describing belief–how can I believe in something that I’m not seeing evidence of.

    I’ve been highly influenced of late by a woman named Brene Brown (you can find one of her TED talks here: http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html). She has a definition of faith, from her book The Gifts of Imperfection, that goes like this:

    “Faith is a place of mystery, where we find the courage to believe in what we cannot see and the strength to let go of our fear of uncertainty.”

    Brown quotes theologian Richard Rohr: “My scientist friends have come up with things like “principles of uncertainty” and dark holes. They’re willing to live inside imagined hypotheses and theories. But many religious folks insist on answers that are always true. We love closure, resolution and clarity, while thinking that we are people of “faith”! How strange that the very word “faith” has come to mean its exact opposite.”

    I think our church culture is very much one of closure and resolution and clarity–witness such statements as “I know with every fiber of my being that the Church is true.” But what if we could be in a place personally where we could find ourselves comfortable with some unknown answers, either as active members or former members? Not just about whether small and simple things are the medium of change, but bigger questions about how spirituality is reflected in our religion (are all those Buddhist monks really going to the Telestial Kingdom?). I am getting glimpses into the peace that may come with such an attitude. . .

  60. Charles

    Work with the youth, they appreciate new ideas much more. Also you can help break the cycle of ignorance :]

    • Rae

      Yes. Please do this. I pray and have hope that a huge change comes from this.

      Remember that questioning is okay. The current church religion was founded on what happened after a young person questioned.

  61. As someone who has a strong testimony and also knows are the unflattering details of my religion, I admire your answer to this question Joanna.

    Sometimes it’s still hard for me to hear things expressed when my perspective is so different and so my knee jerk reaction is to get defensive. But that would do more harm than good! I don’t want to be defensive, I don’t want to push anyone away, regardless of their feelings and opinions towards a religion I love!

    Your response was accurate and kind and hopeful. I hope in time I can be more like you.

  62. Vici

    Forlorn, I would add my voice to others and say I understand many of your questions. I have asked them myself, and still struggle to find some of the answers. I am a late-twenties, single female who converted to the LDS church at 19. I also finished my doctorate degree last year and just landed my first big job. I see many possible futures ahead of me, some of which include marriage and family and some of which don’t. I have been stared at and pitied and scorned for my singlehood and unorthodox opinions. I have endured many thoughtless remarks from people trying to tear me down and hurtful comments from people trying to “help” me. And almost ironically, I actually do want to be married and have kids. I know though, that Heavenly Father has many things he needs me to do right now, so I have set out to seek after the opportunities the Lord has presented me with a full heart. And you know what? If the opportunity comes for marriage and family, I will pursue that will a full heart. It can all happen.

    Whenever I am really struggling with a question, I stop and ask myself – is this issue about the culture of the church or the doctrine of the church? The lines can sometimes become blurred if you don’t stop and really think about it. I find that most of my issues are with the culture of the church, things men and women have caused to be. I look to the scriptures and prayer and personal revelation to tell me what Christ thinks should be. I think too, that we are kind of like the Israelites in Moses’s day who couldn’t obey the higher law and got the 10 commandments and the Law of Moses instead. We have all the basic doctrines of salvation and the higher law Christ brought with him right now, but we do not live the highest law. We, as a people, are not ready. We can see that in something as simple as the fact that we don’t live the Law of Consecration but pay tithing instead. I have faith, that someday when we have progressed to a point where Heavenly Father can reveal more of His plan to us, we will be pleasantly surprised how it all fit together. And shocked at how long it took us to get there.

    Until then, keep praying and following your heart and the true doctrine of the gospel. Anything that belongs to man can be kicked to curb and forgotten about. It takes all kinds to make the world, and even the church, go around. And I’ll be right there beside you, doing the same.

  63. One simple word…truth. When you find it, embrace it. Look for it under every rock on the earth. Never turn your back on it. We’re here to become beings of light and truth. That’s it.

  64. Katherine

    Forlorn,
    I would look to enrich the experience (as Joanna has suggested) rather than forsake the experience altogether. I highly, highly recommend the essay Carole suggested: Eugene England’s “Why the Church is as True as the Gospel” (http://www.eugeneengland.org/why-the-church-is-as-true-as-the-gospel). Eugene England (the “father” of Mormon literary criticism) had 40+ years of thinking and writing about the same sorts of issues you’ve raised, and he found that sticking with the Church was as rewarding as it was challenging.

    I think one of the problems we (speaking of “progressive” Mormons–I won’t touch the term “intellectual” ;-)) have is that we tend to evaluate the Church (and the gospel) by modern American progressive standards, which are themselves culturally based and may not always completely correspond with eternally true principles. (If not in principle, then in practice. Certainly agency is a vital part of LDS doctrine–but so is, say, the law of chastity, which isn’t particularly championed by modern American progressives, but which would definitely contribute to solving a lot of social problems.) But why attack the Church/gospel, when–while at times it buys into the worst of American culture–the Church/gospel is also at least as strong a tool for critiquing modern American culture as is progressive liberal ideology? And is sometimes better.

    My friend James Goldberg (who says that Mormonism _is_ the revolution: http://blog.mormonletters.org/?p=1769) likes to turn things on their heads a bit and evaluate modern American culture using gospel values that sound very “progressive.” What if, he’s said, everyone in the United States participated in what he calls “anti-Mammon protest days” by refusing to consume one day out of every seven? Or if they refused to mix marriage vows with displays of pomp and circumstance by forming unions in spaces where this commitment is only made between the couple, God, and close family and friends? Or if they willingly chose at least every Sunday to mingle and minister to each other in groups of people with very diverse educational, ethnic, socio-economic, and political backgrounds? Learned to set aside their prejudices and love and serve–and love and serve *with*–people they never would have chosen to because they’ve been thrown together in pursuit of a higher, fundamentally Christian, cause? Imagine the kind of mutual understanding and respect that would foster.

    I would also be careful to judge people harshly based on their “provincial” ideas (lest you become caught–as heaven knows I’ve done–in what Eugene England termed “provincial anti-provincialism”) I’ve been offended by people in my wards who’ve made comments I thought were incredibly insensitive–only to discover after getting to know them in more holistic ways that they were three-dimensional beings with much good to offer the world. People who are much better than I am in many, many ways. I’ve looked at dyed-blonde, marriage-ready girls from upper middle class Utah families and thought “we have nothing in common,” only to hear them make the most profound, vulnerable comments during my RS lessons that caused spirit and sacred to well up in my eyes and seep out the corners. I’ve been shocked by small-town Mormon boys who made homophobic comments, only to see them spend entire days trying to sort out the needs of some very unappealing, fringe characters in my ward. People I had personally avoided. How had I–someone who gives so much lip-service to compassion–missed the redemption written in these people’s souls when it was so evident to these “unrefined” boys I had previously judged? These kinds of experiences happen to me all the time.

    What I know is this: our culture is rich, textured, fascinating. Our doctrine is radical, vibrant, living. Our people are full-hearted, messy, compassionate. There is so much to stay for.

    • I can’t hit the like button enough!!!! (Because there is no like button.) Sorry, this is like my fifth time to reply to someone, but I can’t help myslef because I am so happy for so much growth and respect as the prominent prose of these comments. I am going to have to plead guilty to the “provincial anit- provincial” in my own growth. I have bookmarked the link from England. Thanks Katherine!

  65. Carrie Mook Bridgman

    As a non-Mormon (female Presbyterian pastor) with some of the same issues, I’d advise you to keep your eyes on Christ rather than on his followers. We screw up. That’s why we need grace. And any institution, even a religious institution, is run by human beings who sin. Still, it’s through those institutions that we come to know Christ and to have community in faith. I’m with AMG in her advice to you–but do find a few other sympathetic Mormon types with whom to share struggles and celebrations and prayers. Make contact on line if necessary. And God bless you.

  66. Melissa Wheeler

    Working Mormon Mother Response:
    I hear your desires, turmoil and excitement. 19 is a great age and the Lord made you with that beautiful intellect. I thought I would share my experience thus far at 37. I am a mormon, converted at 9 with my family and have always felt on the fringe of not fitting “in” with my wards. I went to my meetings and as a young teen was never called to serve in a class presidency at church. I graduated from HS and went off to school where there were very few mormons. I married outside the church, knowing that my husband would convert one day if my personal reveleation through the Spirit was true when I prayed and fasted about the decision.

    Today – I’ve got a bachelors, masters, several professional certifications, work as a Director of HR and do very well for myself salary-wise – nearly double what my husband makes. I have 4 children, served as the YW President (youth organization for young women ages 12-18) for 4 years and was then called to Primary President (children ages 18 mos – 11 year).. I’ve just been called back to YW again.

    Embrace who you are. My greatest rewards come from knowing I am a mother. I find my biggest accomplishments there – but still work hard and am an example in my workplace.

    I truly believe that the Lord made me who I am and is pleased with what I done to develop my talents – both in and out of the home. If not, why would he allow Bishop after Bishop to call me into those roles – where I am to serve those young women and be an example. In our ward, our Relief Society President works as well.

    I agree with Joann’s advice – find your mormon home by making it where you can be the example and let your testimony shine.

    Melissa

  67. Anonymous

    Have your read Why the church is as true as the gospel by Eugene England?

    I remember when I was a rather closed minded know it all 19 year old missionary. My journey was to come to recognize what I know is little and what I don’t know is a lot.

    The problem with intellectuals in the church is they always want to know why. Given our fallen nature and limited mortal capacity we often don’t know the why’s. While the church provides many answers it does not provide all the answers to all the why’s in life. Often the church says something is so but do not give the reasons. Even small children want reasons why something is so.

    I would not be so quick to judge the leadership of the church as harsh or misunderstanding to the LGBT or SSA crowd. What you hear over the pulpit is general advice. They would address an individual much differently.

    I remember at one time thinking gay people were unacceptable to God. Perversions and abominations. However, during one Stake Conference I got to sit with a Stake Presidency as a member of the Presidency of the Seventy spoke about these saints. He was not harsh or cruel. He acknowledge the pain and the suffering of these saints and how they deserve our love and compassion. Even he did not know the answers and only vague impressions as to the reasons. Prohibitions on gay lifestyle are nonetheless a reality. These prohibitions are not done lightly or without the overall best interests of individuals from an eternal point of view. If such a lifestyle is in fact incompatible with God’s lifestyle then it would not be loving to condone it. We correct those we love. But there is much we don’t know.

    Some people are callous or provincial but we must not judge. Some people merely sin in ways that we don’t. Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you.

    Often the intellectual looks too hard and makes things too complex. The gospel is simple, the saving truths are simple, children are to be our examples, the gospel is to be proclaimed by the plain and simple, and by small and simple means are great things brought to pass.

    We look forward to your exciting future.

  68. Molly

    I find it troubling that so many of these responses/comments are encouraging her to stay rather than to follow her heart and seek the path that is right for her. This is one of the facets of Mormon culture that bothers me the most. Why do we not think that people can leave the church and be happy? Why do we think that the path we have chosen as faithful believers is the right path for everyone? If you think you have dissonance and conflict as a single 19 year old woman, wait until you are single in your mid-30s. It’s not as easy as people make it seem. The church is an incredibly difficult culture for a single, childless woman. We are raised to believe that our divine purpose is to bear and raise children. And if we are not doing that, over time, it’s hard not to doubt your worth as a woman. Also, being single and LDS requires some pretty big sacrifices, if you get what I’m saying. We should embrace this woman’s quest for happiness and authenticity, no matter where that leads her. To say that she can find a place in the church if she just prays hard enough or reads the scriptures faithfully shows a real lack of empathy.

    • Sarah

      There is a place for everyone in the church. For some the opportunity to marry and have children may not come in this life, but this does not mean the contributions these give do not mean anything or are not recognized by others. Look at some of the examples set by other single sisters in the past. Sister Barbara Thompson for one though she has never married nor had children, yet she has been a great influence for good for those around her.

      I have no living children. Are their times I feel a little awkward around others? Yes. Sometimes of my own making and other times due by what others say and do, but these things said and done are by both members of the church and those who are not.

      As a society whether inside of the church or out it often seems that we as people concern ourselves with things we don’t have rather than what we do have and compare our worst traits to another’s best.

      Whatever opportunities lay ahead for each one of us, enjoy the journey.

      Among my favorite scriptures about gaining education include:
      Proverbs 4, Doctrine and Covenants 109:14-15.

      Best Wishes.

  69. Shari

    Dear Progressive Mormon Woman:
    I loved what you shared. As a social worker, I have had some similar experiences, but not internationally. I have had similar thoughts as I cross the bridge back and forth between my upper middle class life and the life of my clients, all of whom have multiple problems and many levels of despair. Sometimes, when the topic of discussion among my friends is our next trip to Hawaii or spa treatments, I wanted to scream. Straddling both worlds was becoming very difficult.

    I consider this a privilege to go into worlds, not mine, as it opens the path for me to have a broader and deeper understanding than I had before. I also have a gay son, and again, that has given me an opportunity to move from off the fence and see clearly that I love my son, and I know God loves my son, and it has blessed me, I feel, with a chance to come down on the side of love and acceptance on this issue. This has all come from my experience, many experiences which my friends/ward members have not had. At the same time, they have had many experiences I have not had. I have found a very comfortable place within me when I realize we are all fellow travelers in this life. That has allowed me to stand among, rather than apart, from clients, those who think differently (sometimes in ways that are very difficult for me), friends, ward members, etc. Vaya Con Dios!

  70. ContactMe

    Progressive Mormon girl – contact me. I am a single Mormon woman almost 30, Global Health PhD and masters in international development, lived in Africa for over 2 years (including Ghana). Going back this summer. A friend of mine posted your article on my Facebook page and suggested we get in contact. I have found some wonderful friends with similar ideals within the church but have sometimes felt the way you feel now in the past.

  71. Sarah

    Forlorn:

    Follow the example given by the Prophet Joseph Smith after pondering James 1:5-6. The restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon were both the result of answered prayers. Prophets of the Book of Mormon prayed for its preservation and eventual coming forth and every revelation regarding the organization of the church was given in answer to Joseph Smith’s prayers and the prayers of prophets on through to our day.

    “Counsel with the Lord in all thy doings and he will direct thee for good.” Alma 37:37.

    Obtain from God which no man or woman can give, nor take away. Turn to Heavenly Father and he will not fail you.

    Best wishes.

    • Sarah

      As a side note and I don’t know if it helps, but Joseph Smith was around 14 when he prayed and was visited by Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ and around 17 when he prayed and was visited by Moroni.

      • SLG

        What would you say if she prayed and felt that God was telling her to leave the LDS church? What if her answer from God was that the LDS church wasn’t true? My experience with many LDS people is that they tell you to pray to God and ask for truth … but only believe it is genuine if you “receive” the answer that THEY believe. I encourage you to think beyond what you were taught and the simple idea that if you have doubts all you need to do is pray about it.

  72. David Smith

    Sarah,

    I was there. I care. I left. It helped.

    dave

  73. Angela

    Forlorn,
    You sound as if you are in quite a quandary. I’ve no doubt you’re going to travel the world and serve in wonderful ways. I have a story and a suggestion that may help you while you are here, however. Let me tell you about my mother-in-law. She’s from South America, particular country to remain nameless. Every Asian person in the world, to her, is a chino. Every Middle Eastern person, to her, is a turco (Turkish). Every Islamic person is a terrorist. When she first came, to visit with her first grandchild, I had brought home a book from the library that had a song by a black (or African-American, if you prefer) person and to go with it, cute pictures of little Asian, Latino, black, and maybe one white baby in it. She brought it to me one day to tell me that my two-year-old daughter “really didn’t like that book.” One day, she sat at my kitchen table looking at my daughter and saying, “You whiter than cousin so-and-so, you’re whiter than cousin so-and-so . . .” I sat there listening to those fingernails screech across that blackboard until my husband finally shouted, “Shut up, Mom! Here I’m the first to fall!” Actually, my daughter is the first to fall, because she is definitely not whiter than her American Scandinavian-looking cousins and her American-French Canadian-Scottish cousins, and her American-English-Scottish-Irish cousins, who are the only ones she knows. She’s not even as white as her brothers, because more whiteness apparently sits on my husband’s Y chromosome than it does on his X chromosome, and that X chromosome came from . . . well, her grandmother. It’s called colorism, I’ve learned. When my brother married a divorced woman, she was shocked and felt very sorry for him. (To those of you who are stressing about what I think of all Latin Americans, don’t worry. I speak fluent Spanish and have a lot more experience than just with her.)

    The first two times she came to stay for a few months were difficult. The second time was particularly difficult. I seriously considered divorce. The third time was better, but I was still glad when she left.

    This time, when she comes, she’s not leaving. She has no other children; she’s never had a husband. She’s old, and it’s up to us to take care of her. And this time, when she comes, she’ll learn that her son has become an atheist and that my brother is gay. My guess is she’ll be less worried about the second one, but I’m not holding my breath for her response.

    Now, I’m no innocent victim here. I’m too old and hard for that. But I have learned something about walking the path of discipleship: if you truly believe in Christ, one of the things you have to learn is to love and serve those people whose ideas and actions you may find repugnant.

    During some of my most difficult moments with her, the answer I truly felt in my heart–the thing that Heavenly Father was saying to me–was “You know better than she does. You are more educated. You are more thoughtful. You have the responsibility here to love and serve her.”

    He was not promising me she would change. She’s a little old for that. He was telling me to listen to her every morning, to learn her recipes, to let her interact as much as she could with my children, to find out every story she had and write it down, to make sure she felt dignified, and for heaven’s sake, fight less with my husband. He was asking this so that towards the end, He can ask me to bathe her aged limbs and administer her medication and make sure she eats. Then, perhaps, I will have earned the right to help dress her one last time in her temple clothes and send her body into the earth while her spirit rises to heaven.

    Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not sure He expects me to do it all really well. That might be asking too much.

    But this is my advice to you, while you are here: in your Church community, on Sundays, in your calling, doing visiting teaching, try to pivot away from all your questions and concerns. Don’t worry. They won’t just disappear. But make it your spiritual practice to clear your mind, leave them behind, and focus on service. Find ways to serve and appreciate that woman who seems to know Glen Beck and Rush Limbaugh better than she does the scriptures. Go take some cookies to the one who finds that Chicken Soup for the Soul really saves her sanity. Greet Brother Send-all-homosexuals-into-the-sea with a smile if he’s looking down that Sunday.

    I don’t think God expects you to do this all really well. But try to make it your practice.

    You do not know, you cannot know, what influence you may have. But it will be a lot more than if you, as you’ve so poignantly pointed out in your letter, keep going over these things again and again in your mind without any respite. Learn to let go for a while, and serve, just as you would in an orphanage where none of these issues really seem to matter because simple survival is so hard.

    You may find that one day, one of those most conservative of women who you find so provincial now, if you are willing to abide her faults, will write you a letter that says, “My daughter just came out to me. Help.” You may also find a humbler, deeper, more loving you, one that will serve you very well in your travels.

    Now, just to let you know, I’m not a progressive feminist. I won’t repudiate President Packer. I’m with Kendall Wilcox and my brother on this one, that his comments in general conference were the anguished cry of a man who has thought long and deeply on this subject and who cannot find how to reconcile the loving God he knows with such a burden as homosexuals face in the Church. I honor and appreciate the twelve and the prophet. I do believe this is the one true church. I love the Book of Mormon. I also will not repudiate my brother, not even if he goes and finds a husband. He, and, if he chooses so, his partner, will always be welcome in my home.

    I feel deeply the contradictions and struggles of this imperfect world, including this imperfect church and the imperfect people in it. I won’t try to tell you what to do about your membership in the Church, but I do know, in dealing with people, the best thing you can do to follow Christ is clear a space and serve.

    I hope you find this helpful.

  74. phydroxide

    Build upon the testimony you have, and strengthen it. That is the whole point of the gospel, the church, and this mortality.

  75. annegb5298

    Redefine “active.” The things you believe are pretty powerful and your doubts are valid. Only the truly believing have the courage to face their doubts, so your frustrations are in fact evidence of your devotion. But you get to choose how to reflect your faith. One of the biggest paradigm shifts I’ve had is that we box ourselves in by thinking we have to teach Primary or be a YW leader and put ourselves “out there” insofar as activity goes. But you can be active in your heart without compromising yourself and many of those who appear to be busy doing (we’re so about the task) have no clue what the gospel is really about and instead of having a testimony, they are simply enjoying being part of a great social project. God bless you.

  76. Brian

    What a beautiful post and reply. You go!
    As context, I’m the son of an amazing, loving man (and equally amazing woman!) who’s a BYU professor, and was a stake president when I chose to leave the church at 18. I’ve spent much of the twenty-odd years since then grappling with that decision, with the goal of finding a way to bridge a seemingly impossible gap with my wonderful, very loving family, and to heal the pain and shame I experienced in leaving “The Church.” The journey hasn’t been easy, but it’s been worth it (and much to my amazement, it’s been surprisingly successful).

    Forlorn, given your self-evident intellect, compassion, and consciousness, here are two questions I’d invite you to “chew on” – I think they’ll support you in finding the answers, peace and growth you seek, whichever spiritual path you choose to follow.
    1. What does it mean to have faith?
    2. What does it mean to evolve spiritually?
    As a starting point for #1, you might check out Huston Smith’s “The World’s Religions” and follow it up with James Fowler’s “Stages of Faith.” The last seven pages of TWR are among the most powerful words I’ve read. With Fowler, you might pay attention to the crucial role that questioning plays in the process of developing a mature faith…some of the most interesting conversations I’ve had with my father have been around exploring the very different paths and nature of our questioning…yet how they’ve led to very similar places / ways of being / types of faith.
    Then with the question of spiritual evolution, you might look at Ken Wilber’s “integral Psychology” (it’s rather heady, but contains a remarkable level of insight) and David Hawkins “Transcending the Levels of Consciousness” (if you ignore the stuff about kinesiology, the actual descriptions are spot on.) I’d suggest really digging into the first question though, before starting on the second.
    These are just suggestions…you’re clearly very connected to your own intuition / spiritual guidance / Holy Ghost./ still small voice..that will be your truest guide.
    Love and light,
    Brian
    P.S. The favorite definition for faith I’ve found (a word that deeply troubled me for many years) is “the practice of leaping and being caught.”

  77. melissa wheeler

    Working Mormon Mom
    I converted to the church when I was 10. I grew up not totally fitting in with the people, but had a testimony. As a adult – here is where I’m at:
    -4 children – 10, 6, 5, 2/5
    – Masters, Bachelors and several professional certifications
    -Temple recommend holder
    I use my experience only as a point of reference for my opinion. The world is a beautiful place that has opportunities for us all. There are so many things you can do to serve the Lord and let your testimony grow. Focus on the truth of the gospel and not the “church is true.”

    I think being a woman in the church is an incredibly tough challenge. My experience has always been puzzling. I’ve seen great woman leaders that have worked outside the home and great that work inside the home only. I’m constantly smurking at the idea that I was called as Young Women’s President and served for 4 years – while working and having young kids. When I was finally released….I was called to be Primary President. Interesting that inspiration received for callings to serve young children and young women would guide them to me – a working mother. I finally had to asked to be released to be able to spend more time on priorities…. and they called me back to YW to advisor. I think the Lord must be ok with the balance I strive to maintain in helping to provide for my family, feed my intellect and raise righteous children. Just my experience.

    Only you allow others to dictate how you feel. When I became attuned to managing my own emotions, I’ve grown spiritually. I have never backed away from the tough questions – just as I have never stopped doing the things that I know are right while seeking the answers. I suspect this is what led our blogger to her place of comfort and will one day lead you there.

  78. Dear Forlorn,

    I assure you, you are not alone. Many of us are progressive and face similar cultural challenges. You received some fantastic advice from the highlighted response. Go outside America and live the gospel. We have deep rooted history here that inevitably eschews many gospel
    principals, in such a way that one may get confused separating out what divinity is saying to us vs. what people are saying to us.
    The most important thing to do is keep your life and your heart close to the spirit. There is nothing wrong with being intellectual, so long as it doesn’t outweigh your ability to discern spiritually.
    Fortunately, the church community is involved in the, ‘It Gets Better’ campaign In effort to do away with the traditional bigotry that has been socially acceptable with the social walls
    of the church. I know Boyd K. Packard had his words a few sessions back and I still can barely make sense of why that talk was given in the manner it was. My only guess is that it was right during the tumultuous Prop 8 battle going on in California where they were aiming to change the definition of marriage. Not just make gay marriage legal, but change the definition. There are many legal implications here that may have caused more problems than it solved. In the realm of psychology they are finding that in a single-parent home, children’s brains are less active and do not develop tohuge same potential as someone living in a home with both genders. Single-parent raised kids are considered to have a mental and emotional
    handicap. Because gay/lesbians would only be offering a one-sided gender home, the psychologists explain this is no different than being raised a single home, for the child’s brain development.
    I was raided in a single home and then my Mom came out of the closet when I was sixteen. Right around the same time I was studying the Christian religions on my own. Those few years were tumultuous for us, but I can tell you now that we have found a peaceful, happy middle-ground where neither of us are judging or looking down on the other. However, and not that I’m happy or proud to reveal, but I absolutely have an emotional and mental
    handicap. The spirit of Christ has miraculously filled in the holes…but it’s true that I have a laundry list of struggles that many of my close friends and comrades within and without the church do not struggle from-assuming they were raised with both parents in their lives.

    With that said, please done leave the church over a struggling testimony. Your first concern was about the severe struggling that people go through…but remember the two gifts we were given; a body and a choice. Each misfortune is a manifestation of someone’s choice. Our actions and choices affect others. There are several complex facets to the problems in Africa and they can all be lead back to a choice-of either a leader, past invasions, or the ignorance and idealism that more children makes you more important-your own importance at what cost? (What other culture do we see this in? Though the fallen chips aren’t as easily seen because of our affluency

  79. ******I accidentally hit post comment before I even looked back for typos or grammar!) So hopefully I was somewhat coherent-I tend to type fast on this little phone-so I’m sure it’s chalked full of typos!!*******

    At any rate, people are right when they say progressive is just around the corner. You would be surprised how progressive many of our leaders and brethren are. But the people aren’t ready for that, and maybe even some leadership are not ready for that. The spirit is clear that we need to love and accept those despite their decisions, actions and those born with strong tendencies. It’s not our place to judge, thankfully we are asked to leave that all
    to a just and merciful God. (I have a suspicion that those that created misery and judgement in the lives of the gay/lesbian community might have harsher judgement than those possessing the challenge)
    I agree that their is more than the domestic sphere for women and their potential. But now, as a mother…I have my own testimony of the divinity of this calling. Yes, I still have a separate identity and passion outside the home (singer-songwriter/recording artist), but no other responsibility, experience or calling has stationed me closer to divinity. Not that I think I’m divine-but the calling-heck yes-and the need for divinity at every minute-crucial. Severely crucial. So even though it gets a bad rep and women somehow think they are repressed in this role-I firmly disagree and see motherhood as one of the surest way to truly know who God is.
    You have more than a mustard seed my friend. Do not rely on the actions of others or your active intellect to convince you otherwise. You understand and believe in the Atonement, and you can feel the whisperings of the spirit. Because of this, you know the difference between the good and the mislead. You are not alone in your confusion caused bu others. Bless their hearts because American and namely Utahan Mormons have fantastic intentions. However, their bubble and sphere are quite limited anthhawhatever more do they have to challenge themselves otherwise. The gospel is the same everywhere-but not necessarily the cultural interpretation. I’m glad we have sense enough not to go in and change people’s cultures! What is more beautiful that seeing the same thing from different angles?

    I say take your courage and your bravery and make a difference in this world. Be a representative of Christ the best way you know how. People will quickly and more readily see the light of truth through someone that is open and confident in what they know. You have just started your way out of the nest, I would advise you not to allow a few experiences to define your testimony. However, each experience in your bright future can/will shape, challenge and bring you to a new level of growth in your relationship to Christ. Continue to ponder and ask and pray…those things cannot hinder your spiritual growth…they will only aid in it.
    Go get ‘em Tiger-and when you have new revelations-share them, be a voice for those of
    us feeling the same, but without the eloquency. You are starting down an amazing path, don’t stop now!

    Rachel

  80. stephanie454

    I am relieved to know that I am not the only one who has feelings like this. I am 27, born and raised in the church, and I have had so many conflicts with church practices. I, much like this brave young woman, believe in the gospel and have a love for my heavenly father and Jesus Christ, but there are many things that do not sit right with me in the church. In regards to the homosexual community, I have come completely full circle. I use to believe what many members did, that these people are evil, sinful, and need to be “fixed.” Speaking to people though, who have this lifestyle, and seeing their pain, I have completely become thier advocate and I believe that no person should tell them they are wrong and perhaps God did indeed make them the way they are, just to see if we could handle it correctly and accept it. I also believe that those who say the prophets lead us and we should never question them is a completely ignorant statement. Joseph Smith himself restored the church because he asked questions! So why on earth should we not do the same? We should always go pray about things heard at conference and church, it is the only true way to know what is right. And finally, in regards to women in the home and never working, and saying that women who want a career or to make something of themselves is “worldly” is so far fetched and rude. Men get to be father figures as well as live out dreams of jobs and providing, and it is ok for a woman to do it too. I have one child, who was never in daycare because my husband and I worked out a system of one of us always being home with her, and I will not have anymore because unfortunately my body is not able to have anymore. I can’t tell you how many times I get women at church asking me why on earth I don’t have anymore kids and it hurts so badly. However, I also know that I was not just meant to have children and be a homemaker. My patriarchal blessing states that I will teach children to develop their talents and I will continue to develop my own and do great things with them. I am now an art teaching, doing exactly what it says and furthering my career and education because I know it is what I am suppose to do. So please do not ever say that a woman should only be a mother in the home, because we are all meant for different things and it isn’t up to any person on earth to tell you what those things are.

  81. Part of the struggle is that the church cannot be any more perfect than the majority of its members can tolerate. That may be part of the reason for the former restriction of blacks in the priesthood, and gay marriage, and maybe even women in the priesthood. We were told explicitly that that is why the United Order was short lived.

    Feel free to come to our ward. We have at least 2 outspoken feminists and several other quieter ones. We also have managed to discuss things like gay marriage without getting explosive, or anyone losing their testimony (as far as I know).

    I agree with AMG about Utah, though. Don’t move there. :-)

  82. Natsy

    You are so not alone. I’ve been having some serious questions about everything lately. I was born and raised in Utah and I loved my growing up years in the Church but I have been questioning things lately. (I’m 27.) I’ve decided that it’s between me and God and that I can’t turn my back on all that I love because I question things. Also, my parents are fairly “progressive” and so it’s easy to talk with them about doubts. I’m currently in the process of following AMG advice to you:

    “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.”

    I loved how that was worded. I’m about done with my master’s degree and then I’m applying for doctorate programs and my only qualification is that it’s NOT in Utah. :) I’ve lived outside of Utah before, and don’t get me wrong, I love it here and I love the people and I love being my family, but I need some space to breathe.

    Don’t be ashamed of questioning. That’s what I’m just learning. I’m a little jealous that you’re already learning that at 19. I feel behind. :)

  83. neeneigh

    Just wanted to add myself to the list of progressive Mormon women on here. To make things even more fun in my case, I’m a convert and my (liberal) family thinks I’m crazy. I suppose I do too at times :oP Anyway, just wanted to say, hang in there; you are not alone.

  84. Schmancy

    OK, I’m from Utah and I’ve seen a lot of people have issues with the church here, but I’ve done some of my greatest growing and learning of loving of the church here. Done at a singles ward in Provo way off campus. It was the best RS group I’ve ever been a part of. So many return missionary strong women who were making there own way, had their own minds, and weren’t overly concerned with fitting in the cookie cutter mold. You are not alone in that feeling that you have. I’ve been there done that. But for sure, Utah isn’t “the promised land”. The biggest thing I can suggest when you hear those canned testimonies in RS about their great grandkids or how a casserole was given just at the right time, share your testimony. Tell them how the topic fit in with your life. If you can’t think of how it does, spend the week milling over the topic. Eventually you will be able to see and share how God is involved in your life in all things. When you share your testimony that way, the Spirit will be with you and it will touch the other sisters and they will feed off of that and share their experiences and you will feed off of that. That is how RS and Sunday School are suppose to be like.
    Eventuality you will like it more if you participate, if not for anything else to stir up the pot. LOL! Keep studying those scriptures, I think you would be a kickin’ sister missionary in 2 years!!!

  85. Kali

    I am touched by Forlorn’s dilemma and heart-felt questioning. It may well be that the answers she seeks lie outside the bounds of prefabricated cosmologies. I do believe her current state is simply her awakening to who and what she truly is. I would like to share the following since it so well articulates what I have found to be true:

    Q: If there were a message or lesson from your Near Death Experience that you wish everyone could know or understand, something that you wish you could shout out from the rooftops, what would that be?

    A: I would want you to know that every part of you is magnificent—your ego, intellect, body, and spirit. It’s who you are—a beautiful child of this Universe’s creation. Every aspect of you is perfect. There’s nothing to let go, nothing to forgive, nothing to attain. You already are everything you need to be. It can seem so complicated, but it’s not.
    If a religion makes you feel lesser than its deities, then you’ve either misinterpreted it or it’s not doing a good job of teaching you the truth. If a guru, teacher, or master makes you feel that you aren’t “yet” enlightened and still have more to “learn,” “release,” or “let go of” before getting there, then they’re not doing a good job of teaching you who you truly are, or you’re misunderstanding them.
    Remind everyone close to you to be themselves, and tell them that you love them just the way they are! They’re perfect and so are you. There’s nothing not to love. Most suffering stems from feeling “less than.” You aren’t less than anything or anyone! You are complete. The only thing you need to learn is that you already are what you’re seeking to attain. Just express your uniqueness fearlessly, with abandon! That’s why you’re made the way you are, and that’s why you’re here in the physical world.

    Moorjani, Anita. Dying to Be Me: My Journey from Cancer, to Near Death, to True Healing (p. 183). Hay House. Kindle Edition.

  86. Martha

    I am a 65-year-old and I have some of the same questions that this young woman has. I am a convert of about 23 years, no children (one died at birth) and a non-member husband. I feel that I have no niche whatsoever – not married in the temple, sit alone at church often, not single, etc.

    One thing I thought about refers to this statement – “I’m not particularly invested in the whole Mormonism-is-the-one-true-way approach.” I distinctly recall President Hinckley say that all religions have truth. We may think we have more, but that doesn’t automatically make us the ONLY one. I hear this statement from the front of the chapel or the room and I cringe. Talk about self-righteous….

    I hear you also about the terrible statements that people make about gay people. I recall my first Relief Society president and my first mentor in the church say that I shouldn’t judge the church by the members. This seemed very weird and even inappropriate at the time. But now I see that she meant that I should follow my knowledge, faith and righteous revelation, and not think that because members of the church say or do certain things, that it is gospel or even correct.

    I have never lived in Utah, and I’m very glad. I think the Mormon “culture” is often very different than the gospel. Keep that in mind! Our Heavenly Parents want us to think for ourselves. Guided by scriptures and ordinances, we will get there! We have to remember that all church members are humans and flawed. I know one of my challenges in this life is to try to forgive those with whom I disagree!

  87. I really needed this. I feel a lot like the girl in the letter, and your response was refreshing. Thank you.

  88. 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.”

    Forlorn,
    Sadly, those that struggle with the church and only remain because of the two reasons that were stated in your letter are not staying for the right reasons. like Mark 2:27 that says “The sabbath was made for man, and not man for the sabbath”. The church was made for our benefit, not for our frustration. Neither were we made to “fix” the church. We definitely should serve others and actively participate in our callings but when we get caught up in everything that’s wrong with the way the church runs, we won’t be able to enjoy the good things about the gospel. There will be insensitive comments in lessons and talks that we have to ignore and forget. And if we’re there for the right reasons, then we’ll be able to.

    How interesting it would be to take an anonymous poll at church – during sunday school. We would ask the question: “Why do you come to church?” Then pass out slips of paper for everyone to write their response on and place in a basket on their way out. I have not been able to do this yet, but what an array of answers I might receive!

    I think your reasons for staying are good and on the right track. I would hope that many of the responses I’d receive to my poll would be: “because I love the gospel” or “because I love the Lord” but I somehow doubt it.

  89. Luana Maria

    I live in Brazil and my english is not very good, but I really wanted to say a few things. His account seems a bit like mine. I’m 18, I am a member of the Church since 2009, I teach at the seminary and in the primary. I’m at university studying languages ​​and literature, but one day I want to study journalism. I enjoy reading, love music, especially rock. I have gay friends and am in favor of LGBT causes. I hope one day to get married in the temple, but also intend to study, to have a career. Interested in fashion, photography, music and I like tattoos (although no one). Most of my friends in the Church have ideas different from mine. Sometimes even surprised with my different ideas. A few weeks ago I was feeling sad about it and wondering if I was worth being in the Church, having so many different thoughts. But these days I had the opportunity to go to the Temple, and there I thought a lot in my life. Actually, it’s great to have ideas like that, means I have his own opinion. In the Church we are not all alike, as well as anywhere you go, people are more conservative and others liberal. That does not mean one is more appropriate than another. My ideas are part of who I am and Heavenly Father loves me. As for others who are different, I can not force them to have the same views as me, but I can respect them and demand that they respect mine. As far as my witness, I always try to nourish it, studying the scriptures, praying, smiling and being happy. I hope I’ve expressed myself correctly. :)

  90. Ken

    The Gospel is the Gospel. It can be lived by conservatives or progressives. View the Gospel as politically neutral. Currently there is a conservative culture that surrounds the Gospel in the LDS Church. Take Joanna’s advice and remove yourself from that conservative culture. Live and grow strong in the Gospel in an environment that allows you to develop your strengths and be progressive. Once you have developed your progressive muscles, then you can make a difference in the conservative culture.

  91. Ronda

    I feel like I have had an answer to my prayers. I have ALWAYS felt like I didn’t fit in the church. I joined the church as an unwed mother, then was a working mother, then a mother of a daughter who left the church, etc. I raised 3 daughters who I have taught to be independent and progressive thinkers. They have many friends of all minorites and sexual orientation. I work in the field of social services; most of my friends and associates are not LDS. I have always been the sister in church who called people on their racist or “us/them” remarks, and have a reputation in my ward for being very liberal and unorthodox. It was just recently that I have had a diffcult time reconciling my beliefs with the members and any lack of any connection to the point of wondering if I could continue attending, or could just spend all 3 hours in the library. My husband is understanding but my cousin and best friend have “cautioned” me about becoming too opinonated and searching for answers to questions about certain policies and practices of the church. I started searching for something on the internet that I could relate to, except most of it seemed too negative against the church. (yes, I know some of you are thinking that I sound negative myself). I believe in the doctrines of the church and do love and appreciate so much about the Gospel. I came across Mormon Stories, which seemed to help, but only for a short while. I then came across the book “The Book of Mormon Girl” which led me to this blog. I instantly felt like I had friends who understood and agreed with my passions and frustrations. I loved the first letter from the young girl, it could have been written by one of my daughters or myself, and I LOVED Joanna’s response, and many of the other responses. I echo the comments made to this young woman to find a way to make a difference in the church. The Gospel and the LDS church needs young, progressive, compassionate, open minded people to make changes while still staying a part of this wonderful church, which has so much to offer. Joanne, thank you!!! for your blog. I feel like I finally have a place to share my thoughts and opinions.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s