Wednesday, January 24, 2007

New Perspectives

Last Saturday night, J and I were out with a couple of his friends, one of whom is a faithful and believing Catholic. Talk turned to religion and J, who was raised Mormon, asked her, "So, you believe that the Catholic Church is the one true church?" She looked at him as if he had asked her the question in Lithuanian. Then she looked as though the question had never crossed her mind.

Having spent the last year attending a church where no one is invested in whether or not it's the one and only true one, the question seemed odd to me as well. But I also understood that it made perfect sense, as I have sat through many testimony meetings in my life (not to mention Sunday School lessons, priesthood lessons, and sacrament meetings). Belief that the LDS Church is the only true church is integral for Mormons, and for many of us who were Mormon it is hard not to think about religion in other terms. So it is often surprising to realize that many people of faith and spirituality do not think in those terms at all. For our Catholic friend, her faith was not in a church that she considers to be the only true one or the guardian of ultimate truth. Rather it is a vehicle for cultivating spirituality and compassion.

I know many Mormons who are like this as well, to be sure. Indeed, I think the Mormons with whom I always have always felt most comfortable, both when I was a Mormon and since leaving the church, were those who don't seem particularly invested in the idea of a single true church at all. They practice their faith as though the Mormon Church is a right way rather than the only way. But J wasn't like that and even now in the post-Mormon phase of his life he couldn't really understand why anyone would be committed to a church they didn't think was God's True Church. For him it had always been the Mormon Church or no church. Always, that is, until our friend gave him that puzzled look and talked about her faith with us.

The next morning, J and I went with a group from my church in New Jersey to Sunday services at Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan. J had been to services with me in New Jersey before (reluctantly, though he has since admitted that he liked it more than he wanted to), but he seemed to approach this experience with a new found openness. As he let go of the idea that there is or should be a single way or that churches themselves should proclaim such a thing, he seemed to discover that perhaps there were ways for him to connect to his spirituality that he thought he had rejected--that is, sitting at church on Sunday morning. I think it was a remarkable experience for him.

It reminded me of my first visit to Union Congregational, where I felt a sense of divine love and acceptance and connection that had been sorely lacking in my life to that point. I don't want to toss the baby out with the bath water as I move forward with my life. I'm still much more of a Christian-y agnostic than any kind of true believer, but that does not preclude me from embracing the support and meaning I find in church community and the sprituality I find in the beauty of Christian worship. I also am still deeply moved by the compassion and concern for the downtrodden that I find in the teachings of Jesus. The United Church of Christ, to which my congregation belongs, proclaims that God accepts us all where we are. I can't believe in things I don't believe in--and I am grateful to have found a reason and a place to to worship God in a setting where I'm not expected to.


Paul said...

re: last paragraph ... I love the description of your religiious beliefs and your connection to (an organized) church.

TMD said...

Chris: You asked me a question, I wrote an answer, but Taryn cut off comments, I followed the link to you here. (It took a while to write, so I'd like at least to pass it on to you.) It would seem from the post I just read to be perhaps inaposite to your precise situation, but it's the answer to your question as I understood it. Cheers, TMD

Chris: Where we go here is multi-dimensional question, of course. And I can only address some of those places.

But let's talk first about where we are. Your personal belief on one point of church doctrine differs from standard church doctrine. And that piece of church doctrine is significant, but it's not everything. (Which is what Steve was saying, I think, in a backhanded way.) Are you able to compartmentalize it--to say, 'you (plural) and I differ on this, but that's all,' where can we agree? And, second, do you require others' active social affirmation of your choices? Some do--and doing so makes things more difficult, but not necessarily impossible. Loving and respecting without affirming is a difficult business, but not impossible--and accepting such a situation is similarly different. But such things are not impossible--and not restricted to sexual orientation, either. Within the range of my first cousins, there are mormons, catholics, Jehovah Witnesses, fundamentalist protestants, presbyterians, and methodists--we love and respect but we don't really affirm religous choices. Easy? Not always, but it works out, most of the time, so long as people want it to. I think there are the beginnings of a model here, at least at a family level. So, if the first two answers are yes and no, then I think that there is much room for conversation and for accomodation.

Being that you feel you have a spiritual witness of your homosexuality also helps set the ground for the direction I would perhaps suggest for your engagement with church, which might hopefully set an initial ground for a meeting place. Now, I agree it may not be fully satisfying, but from where I sit there are places where engagement is possible here, too.

From where I sit, it starts with whether you have a firm testimony of everything else the church teaches. If yes, then I would say you still belong in a sacrament meeting on sunday, still should be reading your scriptures each night. It would seem to me that because you have a spiritual confirmation that you are what you should be, then you should have faith that everything will be sorted out at the end, so long as you hold to the rod in all other respects. Now, I may not exactly share it, and you have to be prepared to respect the fact that I may not share that belief, and that there are some who may well be silly about it. (People are silly about lots of things. And even the best intentioned people may often be flustered and unsure of how to act.) But I'd be quite surprised if they said you could't attend sacrament meeting or gospel doctrine just because you don't share that belief with the whole community. Church discipline, as I understand it, works not by shunning (prohibitting attendance) but through changes in formal status. If they formally excommunicate, then, I would say keep going. So long as your faith says that your exception to what is now the general rule is valid, you may sometimes feel like a methodist in a presybterian church but remember--they're now in communion. If you can't get a calling, ask to volunteer, taking on humble tasks like setting up chairs or salting the parking lot on icy sunday mornings or helping some widows get to church on sundays. (that in itself would probably help build a lot of bridges) I know it's not everything, it's probably not what you've expected, but it seems to me a starting point. Its true that your convictions will set you appart, in part, from the rest of the community. You will probably be seen as eccentric. But eccentricy might be ok. It's a place where we can converse, we can come to better understand, and, beyond our differences, can advance in following and better understanding our savior.

Will it change church policy? Probably not for now. Ultimately, revelation and inspired council will be necessary for further answers. But that's what's in my mind right now.

Chris said...


Thanks for your response.

As you inferred from this blog entry, homosexuality is one of an array of issues that I have with the LDS Church. I am in a post-Mormon phase of life, so perhaps my relationships will be more like those with members of your family who are not LDS.

I think the distance I feel from Mormons is centered on this issue: I can affirm you in your choice to be Mormon, but as a believing Mormon you can't seem to affirm my choice to live a gay life. And I suppose that's fine. I can live my life without the affirmation of my former faith community. It's too bad that so many of us feel like we can't stay, or that staying would require us to accept a sort of second class status. I think that is the point that Peason is ultimately making with her book. Of course, this discussion is largely academic for me. Were the LDS Church to announce tomorrow a change in policy toward homosexuals that affirms us and approves of committed same-sex relationships, I think I still would not return. I simply no longer believe the LDS Church is what it claims it is.

Master Fob said...

"Rather it is a vehicle for cultivating spirituality and compassion."

I've been trying to view the LDS church from this perspective for the past couple years as I've continued to attend, but the problem is that the LDS church isn't set up in such a way to make this easy if you don't fully subscribe to the One True Church thing. One of the things I love most about the church is the sense of community, but I don't feel like I can really be part of that community so long as I don't share in the dogma. Which is the frustrating thing, really, about dogma.

Do you feel like the United Church of Christ provides that sense of unity without expecting you to believe in any particular dogma? I've considered checking out other churches before, but I've always been a little worried that it would just be another set of beliefs I was expected to adopt.

Chris said...

Master Fob:

The United Church of Christ says that it accepts each of us "where we are" in our journey with God. While it does have certain statements of faith, there is no threshold standard of belief that one must have to affiliate with them. In my congregation there are a range of believers, from those who are neary evangelical to those who are nearly atheist. No one is expected to believe anything in particular. What unites is a common commitment to faith, broadly defined, and community.

Master Fob said...

That sounds nice. I'll have to check out the local congregation sometime.

playasinmar said...

"The task of any religion is to teach us whom we're required to love, not whom we're entitled to hate." - Rabbi Harold Kushner