First, friends, before we get to this week’s query, an update: one of the women who wrote in last week asking if there were a place for “liberal female converts” in Mormonism has committed to getting baptized on December 15, and she’s inviting all of us to participate with her on that day by praying for and with her. She sends her thanks for your beautiful responses and encouragements. As do I. And really, since I ran that post, I’ve heard from at least five other self-identified liberal women who are feeling spiritually led to Mormonism, fully aware of their own deep misgivings about some Church positions on LGBT issues and gender. And I’m stunned. All I gotta say is, born-and-raised Mormons, get ready–this religious movement is still moving.
Second, a call for your input and maybe help. A public suicide by a junior high school student in Utah who reportedly had been subjected to homophobic bullying has me feeling fervent about the life-saving work of the Family Acceptance Project at San Francisco State University. Professor Caitlin Ryan studies how family response to LGBT young people shapes their health outcomes–and she has produced an amazing research-based guide for Mormon families who are trying to live the faith and respond in healthful ways when their kids come out of the closet. (Is there someone you know who could use this wonderful guide?) Here’s the thing that blows my mind: Professor Ryan is an adjunct faculty member who has to raise all the funds required to keep the Family Acceptance Project alive. She’s saving lives, and she deserves our support. What can we do? I’m thinking about putting together an Ask Mormon Girl Family Acceptance Project Chrismukkah Raffle. (It will need a snappier name, of course.) I’m putting together a raffle package with autographed copies of the *now out-of-print* self-published first edition Book of Mormon Girl, as well as the updated and expanded Simon & Schuster edition, two never-before published essays, a “Keep Mormonism Weird” bumper sticker, and a pound of my own secret-recipe homemade Christmas English toffee. Are you a crafter? Writer? Artist? Would you like to contribute something to the Ask Mormon Girl Family Acceptance Project Chrismukkah raffle? Let me know this week by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, and if there’s enough interest, I’ll launch the raffle next week so we can raise some money to keep all members of our community healthy, safe and loved.
And without further delay, here is this week’s question–on a subject of perennial concern to unorthodox and nontraditional Mormons. And readers, I know you’ll have words of wisdom, so I’m gonna let you answer the whole thing yourselves:
I’ve been a member all my life, married in the temple, actively involved and now going through a tough period trying to figure out exactly what I believe. My oldest daughter married in the temple which was wonderful and I have a son that will probably do so in the next year or so as well as two younger children. My recommend has expired and I have recently been seriously trying to figure out how I feel about some of the temple questions and whether I can honestly say yes to them as of course I want to be able to attend my son’s wedding when this happens but I also am determined to be fully honest to myself and the Bishop. Here are the questions which I’m confused/struggling with.
#1 Do you have faith in and a testimony of God the Eternal Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost? If God restored the church through Joseph Smith and we believe he’s a prophet he must be pretty hands off with our prophets and general authorities since they have said/done things that seem to contradict each other over time (polygamy, birth control, blacks and the priesthood, etc.) I recognize that some of this is cultural and has to do with the time period they live in but how does that also fit and include God whose directing them? I’ve always been taught and understood that God is more actively involved in directing the prophet and church. As I get older I’m wondering whether that is actually the case as it seems more likely to me that the brethren honestly try to talk through issues, weigh things and decide as a group what they feel is the best course of action. Are they getting their answers the same way we are through various spiritual feelings and not a more direct revelatory experience that I had assumed was happening with the prophet? That’s ok if that’s the way it’s happening but it’s not what I have been taught or lead to believe growing up in the church. That raises the concern then about how we would know what things actually are coming from God as his will and what things are the decisions that the brethren have agreed upon. How do we know what we should accept and support believing it’s God’s will and a requirement he expects of us? If that’s how things work with the prophet and brethren and always has since the restoration then I don’t understand that since we are taught he is our Father. Why would he be so hands off with his own prophet when in the Bible and BOM it clearly demonstrates he was quite active in guiding those prophets? It just doesn’t compute with how I feel as a mother to my children and how I handle helping, teaching, guiding them as their parent. Why set up a system which is so vague that you have so many different religious groups honestly struggling to find the answers and find out the truth as well as people in the restored church itself? If spiritual feelings/experiences are guiding and directing our brethren just like in our own lives then how do we trust that their spiritual experiences carry any more weight than other religious leaders? How can we really know what the truth is?
#3. Do you have a testimony of the restoration of the gospel in these the latter days? – I think this means do I believe that Joseph Smith actually had the first vision, received the keys to claim that he’s a prophet and the authority to organize the church with the necessary ordinances and teachings needed for salvation. Does that mean I can still have doubts about other things that he did and disagree with some things that he did? It’s confusing because we are taught that the current prophet won’t lead the church astray and yet Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy is very difficult for me to understand. Would God allow a prophet to handle that the way Joseph did? There was definite deception about it not only to Emma but the public. When I look up on lds.org this is what the official church site quotes from President Hinckley: ” Our entire case as members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints rests on the validity of this glorious First Vision. It was the parting of the curtain to open this, the dispensation of the fulness of times. Nothing on which we base our doctrine, nothing we teach, nothing we live by is of greater importance than this initial declaration. I submit that if Joseph Smith talked with God the Father and His Beloved Son, then all else of which he spoke is true. This is the hinge on which turns the gate that leads to the path of salvation and eternal life.” So he clearly says that if the first vision actually happened then all other things he said were true. That seems to mean I would have to accept/believe that what he said and did regarding polygamy was what God wanted. This is hard for me to believe so where does that leave me?
#4 Do you sustain the President of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints as the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator and as the only person on the earth who possesses and is authorized to exercise all priesthood keys? Do you sustain members of the First Presidency and the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles as prophets, seers, and revelators? Do you sustain the other General Authorities and local authorities of the Church? According to lds.org it says under the topic of prophets: “We can always trust the living prophets. Their teachings reflect the will of the Lord, who declared: “What I the Lord have spoken, I have spoken, and I excuse not myself; and though the heavens and the earth pass away, my word shall not pass away, but shall all be fulfilled, whether by mine own voice or by the voice of my servants, it is the same” (D&C 1:38). Our greatest safety lies in strictly following the word of the Lord given through His prophets, particularly the current President of the Church.” Here again it leaves me confused – it doesn’t ask me do I agree with the President of the church as the prophet, seer and Revelator as well as sustaining the other general authorities and local leaders? Is asks if I sustain them. What exactly does sustain mean? The dictionary says it means “to support, hold, or bear up from below; bear the weight of, as a structure.” If I support someone do I have to agree with everything they say/do? It’s so vague that I can’t figure out exactly what they are asking??
#7 Do you support, affiliate with, or agree with any group or individual whose teachings or practices are contrary to or oppose those accepted by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints? I don’t agree with the church’s practice toward LGBT people or its support of Prop 8. My oldest brother is gay and has been in a committed relationship for 15 years. I don’t think it’s healthy the way we teach about sexuality in the church or it’s affect on LGBT youth/adults. So where does that leave me with this question? Obviously I agree with those that oppose the church’s opinion on this and support their efforts for marriage equality. So how would I be able to say “yes” to this question?
I respect the advice/opinions of the people who read and post on this blog and have so enjoyed feeling the community of people who I feel are honestly trying to grapple with these various things while holding onto the wonderful experiences and feelings they have about the church. I so need help in understanding how you are dealing and handling these various questions as I feel so conflicted.
Readers, thank you for being the kind of people the author of this letter wants to turn to. Now, let’s honor her trust. Comment away. I am grateful for your insightful, thoughtful contributions. They do touch lives. My soul is a witness.
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