Forgive me if I step away this week from our regularly scheduled format.
Today—just today–I spoke with three young Mormons facing the exceptional challenge of living their faith and by the leadings of their conscience:
–A young woman who feels led to speak out on the issue of women’s ordination, but who worries that if she does she will get kicked out of BYU and lose her job.
–A young mother in a conservative Utah town whose neighbors are boycotting her home-based business because she is open about her Mormon feminism.
–And a worthy, believing young man (who I will soon profile at my other gig at ReligionDispatches.org) who has been told he cannot serve a mission because he believes his gay brother is equal in the sight of God and deserves all the same blessings and opportunities he enjoys.
We talked for an hour tonight, this young man and me, and he asked me, finally, “Look, I read your bio—and it left me wondering. Why do you stay?”
And I told him that I stay because as a Mormon I have experienced God in ways that I won’t deny. I stay because as a Mormon I belong to a people who—however imperfectly–put their whole lives into their faith. And I stay because I hope my life—however imperfect—has some value to the people who made me.
This week, the following letter arrived in the askmormongirl inbox:
I am a 21 year-old liberal Mormon feminist. I’ve grown up in Utah all my life and spent the last four years attending Southern Utah University. After Proposition 8, I left the church. I have a close relative who is gay and have always felt that our Heavenly Parents love all of their children, no matter their race, gender, or sexual orientation. I was completely outraged at the actions the Church took, but more than that I felt completely alone. When I went to college in 2009, I decided not to affiliate with the church at all. All of my roommates were very orthodox LDS and so were most of my friends. While my little family away from home was wonderful and none of them treated me any different, I couldn’t help but feel lost. Although I was still silently bitter with the church, my heart ached for this religion that had always been a part of me. A few years later I became interested in the church again. I started attending meetings as well as praying and reading my scriptures. Everything felt so right, but I was so afraid that people wouldn’t accept all of my “strange liberal beliefs” that I just couldn’t let go of. I felt complete exhaustion from trying to balance the two sides of me that I loved so much. I randomly stumbled on an interview that you did with NPR one night. I remember feeling hope for the first time in months. I honestly had no idea that there were other people like me out there! I continued to follow you via Twitter and Feminist Mormon Housewives. A few months passed and I marched myself into Barnes & Noble to buy a copy of “The Book of Mormon Girl.” I bawled through the last half of the book and rejoiced after finishing it. I don’t know how to tell you enough, “Thank you. Thank you so much.” You were the voice I needed when I didn’t have the courage to find my own. You have helped me to see that I can be a part of the religion that means so much to me as well as stay true to my own personal beliefs. I gave my sweet born-and-raised, straight-and-narrow, orthodox Mormon mother a copy of the book to read and it has benefited our relationship immensely. We cried together after she read it as she told me, “Now I understand where you’re coming from.” I am eternally grateful for you and for the peace that you have given me. You have helped me so much and I am a happier, stronger, more courageous person because of you.
I don’t share this to celebrate myself. Because my role is accidental. I am just another Mormon with “strange liberal beliefs” who won’t and can’t let go.
I share this to celebrate this very holy Passover-Easter week. Because the lesson of this week and the stories I heard today is that there is great holiness when we crossover into new places. This is the story of the exodus from slavery in Egypt to freedom. And the exodus leads through narrow places—straits, or in the Hebrew, mitzrayim—that are utterly terrifying. We don’t know where we are going. Only that the way must open. Easter tells the same story. There is the tomb, the dead end. But the tomb is not the end of the story. By the power of God, the way opens to the other side.
For a long time, Mormon people who feel torn between the faith they love and their conscience have been silent. We have stayed in narrow places. We have been silent. We have sacrificed people we love. We have been sacrificed.
But there is a new generation of Mormons who are going to face the hard parts of our faith—the mitzrayim—with courage, humility, and openness of heart. They are facing the challenge of living by the leadings of their conscience and with a deep love of their faith. They’re going to show us how to be open with each other so that (in the words of one of my favorite Mormon hymns) “no longer as strangers on earth need we roam” and we can “come home” to each other and whatever God has in store.
When a young woman finds the hope to try and live her faith and her conscience, and her mother can cry with her and say, “Now, I understand where you’re coming from,” we pass through mitzrayim and out the other side of the tomb of silence and come home.
I am grateful to be a witness. And I am grateful for belonging to a faith that prepares people to do hard things because they take their faith—and this life and its challenges–so seriously.
Courage, y’all. Courage.
Chag pesach sameach. Happy Passover. Happy Easter.