Dear Ask Mormon Girl:
I am professional, working, single mom, in my mid-thirties, and am on a spiritual journey that has led me through liberal Protestantism and Catholicism, marriage and divorce, and single motherhood. Since the birth of my child, I began thinking, once again, more about religion and faith. I have become increasingly curious about the Mormon faith. I have attended sacrament meeting and read many LDS devotionals. I’ve watched the PBS documentary; read books by Fawn Brodie and Robert Millet; browsed apologetics; followed Mormon Matters podcasts; and perused the LDS.org site many times. I’ve read the accounts of the temple rites; I’ve read the issues with the historical account of the Book of Mormon, the issue of polygamy and past racism; I’ve read and heard the testimonies and Mormon responses to these issues of many faithful Latter-day Saints. I have witnessed and admired the strong testimonies of LDS members. I know there are issues (as any religion will have), but I still feel very drawn to Mormonism. I believe in Heavenly Father and the idea of a premortal existence and eternal progression. But I honestly can’t get myself to believe in the Book of Mormon as a real, historical account. I believe Joseph Smith may have had wonderful religious insight and visions into the spiritual realm, but I am not convinced in the reality of the golden plates and the historical truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. I do, however, regard it as a great religious text full of many great spiritual truths. My question is this–is there room for someone like me in the LDS Church? I pray about this often. I think bringing a child along with me into the faith makes my decision all the more important for me to make a wise choice. I don’t want to confuse my child or have my child be ostracized later for my questions. I would love to find a home there, if there is room for me…
A Tentative Investigator
Is there room for you in Mormonism as a non-literal believer? Tentative, you’d be welcome to sit next to me and my kids in Sacrament Meeting anytime.
I love that your path has led you to Mormonism, and that you’ve taken it so seriously. I also love that you’ve demonstrated enough respect for yourself and the Church to research it thoroughly (Fawn Brodie and Robert Millet!) and that you have enough maturity to take the good with the bad, knowing that all religions have their “issues.” So true, so true. . . .
It’s also true that Mormonism has a large proportion of members who profess a literal belief in the totality of Mormon doctrine, including the literal historicity of the Book of Mormon. There are Mormons who will tell you that you are wrong to go about the religion any other way, and they tend to take up most of the airtime in Sunday School. But quiet in the pews around you there are also plenty of good Mormons who have adopted a less conclusive, more open-ended form of faith, for so many reasons: for the love of the beauty and distinctiveness of the Mormon tradition, for all the goodness it holds, for its importance to their families, and for the power they’ve experienced there.
Should all those powerful reasons for affiliating as a Mormon be set aside because one has reservations about the historical truthfulness of the Book of Mormon? For some, the question of the literal historicity of the Book of Mormon serves as a litmus test for faith. But can you imagine if all the Christians who took a non-literal approach to the Bible were kicked out of Christendom? Can you imagine if all the Jews who did not believe in the literal historicity of the Torah were made unwelcome in Judaism? Most synagogues would be e-m-p-t-y.
It is by custom pretty much taboo for Mormons to openly voice questions about the literal historicity of the Book of Mormon at Church on Sunday, and you should think about whether or not you’d find this a nurturing religious environment. (A good local congregation can make all the difference. Mine sure does for me.) But every day I find more and more hopeful signs that Mormons with unorthodox approaches to belief are creating a more solid and supported place in the community for themselves. Given that you’ll rarely hear non-literal approaches on Sunday, blogs like FMH and podcast-communities like Mormon Stories will help you feel less alone and give you the support you’ll need in trying to negotiate Mormonism as a non-literal believer. I’d especially urge you to check out this podcast with Book of Mormon scholar Grant Hardy and his wife Heather Hardy. It’s one of the most encouraging approaches to the Book of Mormon I’ve encountered in a very long time.
I rarely get all scriptural up in the AMG column, but over the last few months, I keep finding myself in Mosiah 18, one of several chapters in the Book of Mormon that are so beautiful to me that when I read them I truly do not care if Lamanites ever actually lived in Guatemala or not. In Mosiah 18: 8 – 10, Alma describes baptism not as an expression of absolute certainty but simply as a willingness and desire to join a community of believers.
So, as you consider whether the next step in your spiritual journey will lead you (and your child) to Mormonism, I would encourage you to ask yourself if you are willing to form a spiritual bond with people who believe differently than you? Are you willing to serve and be served by people who take a more literal approach to the Book of Mormon? Are you willing to sit through Sunday School and keep your mouth shut when others bear fervent testimonies of archeological finds in Central America? Are you willing to set aside any feeling of urgency to correct others on their approach to faith, and adopt an attitude of patient, loving forbearance and dignity when others try to correct you? And, most of all, are you willing to keep striving and searching?
What do you say, dear readers? Is there a place for Tentative in Mormondom? What advice or encouragement might you offer?
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