Missionary Work. And Faith. And Crisis. Sort of.

Our lesson today in Relief Society was about Missionary Work. I sort of cringe when this is the topic of anything at church. And cringe because I don't like what mostly comes to the mind of members of the LDS church when "missionary work" comes up. To those outside of the LDS church, you've probably seen/heard of/shared a joke or two about Mormon missionaries knocking on your door, etc. Tens of thousands of LDS people are serving missions around the world. Ultimately, their goal is to share the gospel and bring people into the church. So when missionary work comes up, that's the idea that goes along with it.

Why do I take issue? I think there's a lot of confusion when it comes to what it means to share the "gospel" and what it means to share the "church." Many Mormons tie the "church" and the "gospel" together and use them interchangeably. They are not the same thing. We've been reminded of that in recent general conference talks, but the disconnect hasn't happened entirely, and it is most clear that they're still lumped together when "Missionary Work" is discussed. Part of a lesson on MW always includes how scary it is to reach out and talk about "the gospel," but I think the real fear isn't in talking about the gospel, it's talking about "the church."

I especially appreciated two comments. The first was from a woman who had started opening up and sharing various points of doctrine with a friend who isn't Mormon. As the discussion furthered, this woman invited her friend to speak with the missionaries. Her friend accepted the invitation. After a few visits, her friend didn't want to have the missionaries involved in their conversations any longer, so that stopped. At the conclusion of the missionaries' involvement, the woman in our church felt that even though her friend didn't want to join the church, she was glad to have a friend outside the church with whom she could discuss things of a spiritual nature. Her friend felt the same, and their conversations continue. I feel like this story began as something of a dream in terms of the LDS perception of "missionary work." The friend accepted the invitation to dive deeper into what Mormons believe by talking with the missionaries, and in the end, it might feel disappointing, that for whatever reason, this person wasn't completely sold on Mormonism. But rather than disappointment, there was an evolved response - a recognition that the relationship didn't hinge on the fact that one friend had this wonderful glorious news to share, and the other friend rejected it. It is a story of mutual growth and understanding. Both women have something important to say - both can teach and learn from the other.

The next comment involved praying for missionary opportunities. We're often told to pray for missionary opportunities, but this woman said she never prays for missionary opportunities, but rather to be able to engage in good conversations with others, and that she might be a blessing to someone. She says her prayers with the understanding that good conversations are made up of give and take. She'll spend just as much time, collectively, learning and growing as she spends helping others do the same. And the way she can be a blessing to someone doesn't mean directly having them join the church. She can bless them with love and kindness and service, by living a life that reflects her commitment to following Christ's example. [On a side note, if these are the things this woman prays for, I know her prayers have been answered many times over for all of the good conversations I've shared with her, and for the way she continually blesses my life.]

Maybe I feel there should be a distinction between "missionary work" as defined by the what pops into most Mormon's heads - working toward having people join the church, and "discipleship" - trying one's best to live in a way that reflects the life of Jesus Christ (and not making a distinction between what we're sharing naturally because it's part of our lives and something we feel we must do because someone says so).

I've been working at [re]mustering the courage to publicly share what I feel about the church. Very honestly, I think the main reason why I cringe so much when the topic is "missionary work" is because I'm in a place where I have absolutely no desire to share anything about the Mormon church. I've discussed my feelings over the last few years with a close few, mostly members of the LDS church who have gone through/are in the middle of their own personal faith crisis. For some, a crisis of faith is a questioning of everything they've ever believed - one part of their belief system is knocked out from under them, and then they begin to question everything from the church's validity to whether or not they believe in the existence of God. My faith crisis was not one of personal faith - it is not one of personal faith. My faith crisis is one of my faith community.

Certainly, learning some not too often mentioned historical facts of the church, like the extent of Joseph Smith's involvement in polygamy, the fact that men of African decent held the priesthood before a priesthood ban was put in place, and painful, inaccurate things LDS prophets have said throughout the history of the church that continue to create cultural havoc have been hard to hear.  But not any one of these things has been enough for me to say, "I give up on you, Mormonism." Not at all. I understand that the Mormon church is relatively new in the scheme of things. And I give it room to make mistakes and have growing pains, but I feel like so many of the mistakes and ugliness that I work hard to see beyond, are continually repeated in one way or another. With that being said, I don't think any church is perfect, and that's been hard to say because I used to place the Mormon Church on a pedestal.

So I'll go back to the last few years of questioning, of time spent trying to dust the church off and return it to the place it occupied for so long in my life and mind - What I've discovered through this period of time is that I've been learning so much more about the "gospel" outside of the "church" than within it. And I want to belong and be part of it, but I'm disaffected by so many things, it's hard to keep even the tiniest flame going. Part of my inner turmoil has been because of my own struggle with separating the gospel from the church. A feeling that I'm not living the gospel right if I have so many issues with the church - that something is wrong with me. Luckily, I've recently been brave enough to say nothing is wrong with me. As I've learned more and more about who Jesus Christ is, about how he loved and cared and lived for others, I've felt gap grow between how I want to live my life with what I know about Christ's gospel, and how I can live my life in the Mormon church with some of its commonly held beliefs (some cultural, some not).

In Mormonism, there's so much talk about the straight and narrow, and for the most part, there is an expected level of understanding that everyone be on - even our own language of sorts. If one falls outside of this cultural norm, the biggest opposition they face is from members of the church. My other very honest omission, is that people within my faith community have been the least understanding. Someone dealing with a faith crisis is treated like damaged goods - something is wrong with them, they must not be living their lives right if they're struggling with the church. This has been heartbreaking to me, not just in a personal way, but in the way I've seen how it has hurt so many of my friends and some of my family. I know it has everything to do with taking criticism of the church personally. If the church and the gospel are the same to so many, then one cannot help but be offended when others don't see eye to eye on something so personal. Mormons could be way better at lifting one another up, especially when they don't understand the whys and hows of the struggle. Mormons are great at meeting physical needs. You need help moving? No problem. You need a meal? You get a week's worth. But if you need a safe place to fall a part, make sure it isn't in Sunday School.

I grew up believing that the Mormon church was the only true church on the earth. It's a sentiment to which many still cling. Part of my faith crisis has been letting go of the only part of that statement. The Mormon church doesn't have the market cornered on truth, nor is it the only place where one can grow closer to God and Jesus Christ. God doesn't love Mormons more than anyone else. Churches that are actively seeking out and trying to do God's will are just as true.

Churches are an avenue to the Gospel of Christ. Mormonism presents its take on it. Lutherans do the same, and so does the United Church of Christ, etc. We often tether ourselves to whichever one makes the path toward discipleship make the most sense to us. Or we follow the tradition of our families. Mormonism is the tradition of my family. Mormonism makes me feel connected to them. Mormonism has also shaped my belief system, even though I have been on a journey of unknowing to know.

Last year, our church service began at 2PM, so I took advantage of the later time to go and visit other churches (something I LOVE doing). I spent several Sundays at the Unitarian church. Unitarians are special to me - not only for their unitarian beliefs - that God is God, and Jesus is Jesus, not God (a rejection of the trinity). I also love them for their universalist beliefs - all people will be reconciled with God (all people will be saved.) I also enjoyed the fact that I was visiting over summer when their paid clergy is off, so all of their services were organized by members of the congregation. I think these beliefs resonated with me so much because they are in line with the doctrines of the Mormon church that keep me tethered (though in the Mormon church it is always lay clergy). Mormons believe in a "Godhead" rather than a "Trinity." That God the Father could be standing next to his son, Jesus Christ - that they are distinct beings, and that the Holy Ghost is also separate from God and Jesus. Mormons also believe that anyone who has ever lived on the earth, and who will ever live on the earth, is saved. That Christ's atonement saved everyone and his resurrection made it possible for all to have eternal life. In a nutshell, Mormons believe that there will be varying degrees of glory for everyone who ever lived on the earth - that Hell doesn't exist for anyone who has taken part in this life. I love these teachings.

Other things I love about Mormonism -
- The emphasis on the family and its role as the most important organization in society, but I loathe the very narrow definition of what kind of family is acceptable.
- The sealing power in the temple - but not exactly in the eternal marriage/family kind of way. I love the idea of working towards uniting all people with one another.
- The teachings on Provident Living (which is why we're so good at taking care of physical needs) - as long as it doesn't paint needs and those who have and those who have not as black and white (which sometimes happens).
- The Word of Wisdom (but not as a tool of condemnation for those who don't follow it).
- That so many of my ancestors lived and worked and bled and died for their faith in this church.

When I look at Mormonism as a faith tradition, I want to be part of it, I want my children to be part of the tradition of their ancestors. When I look at it as a church, there are others where I feel more connected to how they conduct their worship services and what they have going on between Sundays. I also know that there are many who aren't Mormon who would find a great connection with the things in the Mormon church that I struggle with. Today at church, we discussed Tithing and Missionary Work. I know it varies by congregation, but I would much rather talk about Jesus Christ. We don't do it enough. I'm starving for it. For true worship together as a faith community - not a constant laundry list of things that need to be happening in the church. I appreciate when messages of Christ do happen, I hang on every word.

In the times I almost feel certain I'd be better off outside of the Mormon church, I think I know I'm not afraid of acknowledging the difference between the church and the gospel. The gospel exists outside of the church (many Mormons would argue that the "fullness" of the gospel doesn't exist outside the church). Then there are times when I almost feel certain I belong to this tradition. That I have just as much claim to this church as any other member, and that it doesn't have to be so uncomfortably exclusive, and I can help with its inclusivity. But it's hard when I feel, over and over, that my growth in the gospel is stunted by the church. And there's also a part of me that knows many are happy with the church just as it is, and why should they have to worry about someone else shaking things up. In or out, I know who I am and who I belong to. My life is dedicated to following Christ's example in the ways I am led and am continually learning to understand.

The Mormon church is full of wonderful people, just like many other churches. I wish there was a place for everyone inside, and especially right now, a place for Mormons who feel like there isn't a place for them in the church. One of my friends who has left the church confided in me that she stuck it out in the church for years because she wanted Mormonism to be a viable option for her children, and how could it be if it was the church their mother left? I feel the same way. Not only for my children, but for friends and family. And not only for my children and my friends and my family, I want it to remain a viable option for me.


  1. I hear what you're saying and totally feel the same way about my religion (not Mormon). I stay because I feel like there need to be people within who fight for change and offer that differing voice, "progressives," I guess, but I hate that label. I also stay because I need to know that the church is a place for everyone along the journey, including those who doubt and waver. While I often feel closer to G-d in religious services and have a great pastor, I am well aware that the church is not perfect, no congregation is, and I have gone through many a "dry spell" where I didn't feel G-d. I love the (Buddhist?) saying that "The finger pointing to the moon is not the moon." All religions point us to G-d. We can't get so caught up in the religious practices and rituals, as beautiful and meaningful as they may be, that we forget that they are meant to point us to a greater truth. I strive to practice my faith well, but I try really hard to remember that the point of the practice is something much greater. Or the image of stained glass, that G-d is the light on the other side of the stained glass. We are inside, and the religion is the glass itself. It's so easy to get lost and think that G-d is the glass itself, not the light behind it. I think what you're also describing is a personalization of your religion, which I think comes with most believers of any kind as they struggle to apply the teachings of their faith when they come of age - going beyond theology and rhetoric and making it something of the heart that can jive with all the challenges of real life. And, my last point, is that G-d is love, and G-d will meet you wherever you are. Keep on spreading your love and light, dear one.

    1. Your comment has caused me to do a lot of thinking. Thank you for that. I'm actually working on another post from my musings over points from your comment. The part that especially caused me to pause was your sentence about me describing a personalization of my religion - yes, I think that is very much so.



Powered by Blogger.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Back to Top