Thursday, June 12, 2014

For Those Who Don't Know What It's Like to Be a Doubter

     With the recent news of Kate Kelly and John Dehlin facing possible excommunication from the Church, I have experienced a mix of emotions myself, and observed mixed reactions from believers and doubters alike on social media. I was heartbroken, especially because of the value I found in John Dehlin's Mormon Stories Podcast when I was struggling most with my doubts. I treasured having a source of information that was totally honest, without any ill-will toward the Church. As I have been weighed down by the sadness of the news, I've also been tempted to respond with anger towards those who don't understand my perspective. I've seen a lot of comments, especially in reference to Kate Kelly, along the lines of "She just wants attention!", "If she doesn't like how the Church is, why doesn't she just leave?" and, "So silly. Doesn't she know anything about the gospel?"

     I exercised a great deal of self-control and decided not to comment on such threads as I knew it wouldn't get anywhere. But I felt I should clarify a few things for those who find themselves more in line with those kinds of comments. I've probably said similar things myself at another time in my life. The main issue I want to address is why people don't "just leave the Church". Because that must be so easy, right? "Just leave." As someone who has stepped away from my activity in the Church, let me express a little of what that is like.

     Growing up in the Church is kind of like growing up in a small country with a rich history and culture. You grow up accustomed to a certain cuisine, language, music, an entire shared sense of spirituality with all the same stories to tie you together as a community. When you are young, you are nurtured with love not only by your family, but by your neighbors and even community leaders. You are flooded with love for your country and proudly wear its colors, and you are praised mightily for this, strengthening the bond. You are taught that your country is better than all other countries and that it is the only country that takes such good care of its people. But as you grow older, you find out that there are more kinds of people than one. You find out that things are not so simple. You find out that certain kinds of people aren't allowed in. And you find out that entire groups of citizens are quietly suffering, and that although the tight government control makes for a very unified and seemingly peaceful country, there is also little freedom.

     In time, you may discover enough uncomfortable information that you begin to feel deeply that the way things are run goes directly against all the core principles you were taught growing up as a citizen of this place. This conflict, and your love for your home, causes you to want to bring integrity back to your country. You need some way to reconcile the conflict between your government's principles and its behavior. You reach a point where you have to decide whether to leave it altogether, or to stay, and through your patriotism try to make it the country you always believed it was and know it could be. The idea of moving to a new country is terrifying and lonely. Everyone you have ever loved is in this place and all that you know is here. You are still loyal to the principles you thought it stood for. What should you do?

     It's not an easy position to be in. It's not as if doubters wake up one day and say, "You know, I really hate the Church. I should just get out of here." Those who leave must learn how to live in a whole new "country", which is disorienting and difficult at times. Those who stay must find a way to carve out enough space to be themselves and stand up for what they believe. Whether we stay or leave, the Church is still who we are; we can't just pluck it out of us, just as you can't snap your fingers and make your family's influence on your identity disappear (nor would you want to, even in times of conflict). We struggle between our loyalty to our principles and our loyalty to the Church. We want everyone to be able to stay with their integrity and dignity intact. We want the Church to be a place where people are actually free to listen to their minds and their hearts; where personal revelation isn't just a nice idea, but a functioning reality for every Saint.

     I'm fine with the Church saying, "This is our doctrine on the Priesthood, period." But to excommunicate those who express different beliefs is to say that you're not allowed a voice unless you conform, now. Whether you're a government or a Church, I don't believe exclusivity helps anyone or makes the world a better place. I don't expect those in the main stream of the Church to agree with Kate Kelly and John Dehlin. I just hoped people would respond with a little more compassion; to at least recognize that this isn't just an opportunity to put others down to make yourself feel right, or more righteous. It's an opportunity to mourn with those that mourn and recognize that this isn't easy for anybody. 



  1. Excellent post. I remember a time when leaving was a very difficult decision. There is a lot at stake that people may not consider until the critical moments of decision arrive. It can be a very difficult decision to make. Many members feel torn about losing their families, friends, and culture. It is something that was hardly a product of their own making. It is a very human issue.

  2. I agree with many things you say. Thank you for sharing your feelings. But I feel the last part of your post is inaccurate. Neither Kate nor John were excommunicated for expressing different beliefs. They were excommunicated for doing things deliberately against the LDS church that they were asked, with dignity and respect, not to do.