In my spiritual life, I talk a lot about Eve and lessons learned from Eden. This is a story that resonates with me powerfully and gives lots of room for my interest in symbolism and my imagination and curiosity to thrive.
The lessons I’ve learned from Eve and Eden have been so important to me.
One of those I touched on in another blog post, when I shared that I admired Eve for choosing to leave Eden, for recognizing that it was time for her to leave so she could progress (you can find that here). One of the reasons this resonates with me so much is that in many ways I feel as though I also left Eden. I fell into my own progression over staying somewhere that felt safe to me, but was limiting.
Image courtesy lds.org
Just under four years ago, a group called Ordain Women was organized. I was introduced to it in an LDS message board group not long after. At the time, I fervently rejected the ideas as decidedly anti-Mormon. As much as any other member of the group, I defended the church against these apostate ideas. In our discussions and disagreements, some of the women shared quotes from the early days of the church which supported their position. I was certain they were taken out of context, and so, making use of the church’s Joseph Smith Papers Project, I went to the source. My motives were not pure; I wanted to prove these women wrong and I was sure that the original source would support that.
I’d been through this before. In my late teens, I was introduced to material and documents not friendly to the church. When I looked for an explanation, I found church sources that helped me decided that these issues were overstated, taken out of context, or twisted. Things I couldn’t explain away, I put on a shelf as I’d been counseled to. I put that shelf in a room, locked the door, and threw away the key. It didn’t help my faith and so I chose to set it aside.
So I expected to find the same: overstated, taken out of context, or twisted. However, I was shocked to find out that the quotes were none of these. Instead, they were reasonably supportive of Ordain Women’s position. I was almost instantly humbled. I carried a lot of pride in my faithfulness to and protection of the church and I was wrong. Not only that, now I had serious questions.
At that point, my attitude changed. I didn’t embrace OW, but I no longer believed it was sinful either. I prayed instead to find truth. I was no longer seeking to be right. I feel like this was a case of be careful what you wish for. God took me at my word and gave me more than I realized I was asking for. Much like I imagine Eve and Adam weren’t at all prepared for what came once they left Eden, I wasn’t ready for life outside of Eden.
Within short order, I was knee deep, then waist, then neck deep in study, both history and doctrine-related. And then the church started releasing the essays. Things I’d been introduced to at 19 were suddenly validated instead of explained away.
When I tried to talk about them, I was told I was angry, anti-Mormon, and dangerous. It was very lonely and isolating.
I was kicked out of groups for asking questions or sharing history, trying to make sense of it. I had a “friend” bully me, warn people against me, and threaten to report me to my church leaders for apostasy. Other friends I had made in traditional LDS groups, friends I had grown to love, decided I couldn’t be in their lives anymore.
I was told I was harming others’ testimonies. I’ve been told that recently. Honestly, I don’t know how many times I’ve been told that in the last four years. A lot. No one who’s said that has ever expressed concern about my testimony, though.
My bishop and stake president had few if any answers for me, although they were kind and gracious. My relief society was, and still is, very unfriendly to “doubters.”
My attempts at discussing my faith with my family have been difficult and awkward, both because of our imperfections and because of language and cultural barriers that have developed. I’m sure it’s been uncomfortable for them.
I also have friends who, like me, were asking questions and growing. Unlike me, they didn’t have empathetic bishops and they were excommunicated for their changed beliefs. That was painful and frightening and further isolating. No matter how many conference talks invite people to come to church despite their doubts, when your friend is excommunicated because they believe differently, it makes it much harder to show up and to be honest.
Truthfully, I was angry. I’ve never been anti-Mormon, but I have been angry. The church I loved took a sledgehammer to a shelf I’d built to preserve my relationship with it and then it walked away and left me to pick up the pieces on my own.
Over the last four years, my faith has changed, shifted, been refocused and refined. I don’t consider it a crisis; I’ve had them, when I was 16 and 19, but this was not a crisis. Rather it was a transition and deep growth. In every step, I’ve approached God, seeking guidance from Heavenly Parents who I believe love me more than I comprehend. I’ve tried hard to do what I believe is right.
In many ways, that seeking has lead me unexpected places. I am absolutely a Mormon heretic. There are things that are traditional Mormon belief that I reject and other traditional beliefs that I interpret differently, both unfathomable to me only a few years ago.
I’ve attended the Community of Christ (formerly RLDS) almost as much as I’ve attended my own LDS ward. Our restoration cousins welcomed me, loved me, and asked nothing from me except my friendship in return. I have developed a deep love for them as we share common desires with very different flavors. I am thankful for the temporary shelter they gave me.
In many ways I am heterodox and heteroprax.
In other ways, my faith is stronger (or at least unchanged). I still believe the Book of Mormon has incredible and important messages for us today. I rely on it as much as I ever have. I’ve studied the Doctrine & Covenants and Bible more than I did before, with beautiful results.
I still have a testimony of the restoration, both the things that have been restored and revealed and things currently being restored. I’m sure there is more to come. I believe in prophets, ancient and modern, and that they include Joseph Smith.
I believe my relationship with my Heavenly Parents is better than it’s ever been. Getting to know my Heavenly Mother has been life changing.
I’ve also become a better person. I’m kinder, more apt and able to forgive. I’ve discovered greater empathy for others. Especially as I’ve healed, I judge others’ path less, although I still feel the sting of being told my path is invalid. I’m still imperfect, but I’m a better Christian than I once was.
During my own journey, I’ve walked with others who have left Eden. I’ve seen friends struggle to find their footing after a faith crisis, to stay active and engaged in the church, and, in some cases, resign or be excommunicated. Some of them are new friends, others I’ve known since high school and before. I wonder what the church will become, if it can embrace people like me or if it will continue to isolate us and itself.
I have hope that it will be the former: that we can find strength through diversity and that divergent saints will be welcomed back in with an embrace instead of with expectations that they conform. I have so many hopes and wishes for the church, for my faith of origin, my family within the gospel and those who have felt disenfranchised by faith crises and transitions. I choose faith and hope and love.
Sometimes I wish I could’ve stayed in Eden. Sometimes I long for it so much, to go back to the simple easiness of looking to someone else to act as an intermediary with God. Sometimes I miss having clear, well formed answers right at my fingertips.
But most of the time, I am glad. It is better to experience sorrow, to learn to know the bitter from the sweet. It is better to retain my agency than to hand it over to an organization, to get confirmation from heaven instead of assume God is micromanaging from on high.
To be clear, because there have been questions and I’m sure that there will be others: I have not and am not leaving the LDS church. I love the church, despite it’s flaws. I’m very attached to my LDS identity and beliefs. I’ve added to them and taken things out of the truth basket that never belonged there in the first place.
I’ve left Eden, a place of safety and innocence, where prophets were infallible and errors were small, where God clearly dictated doctrine that was never interpreted incorrectly by mortal servants, where every General Conference talk and printed church manuals were scripture. Eden was a place of knowledge and certainty, where I could check the boxes and go to heaven.
In doing so I have found pain, yes, but also growth and wisdom and a greater understanding of myself and of God. And joy. Incredible, beautiful joy.
I have no doubt that some of my friends and family will read this and be sad for me. You will see this as an apostate manifesto and shake your head that I’ve been deceived by Satan. I expect some of you will view this as an invitation to preach to me, to attempt to save me. I know that some of you will be hurt. I’ve put off sharing this for so long in part because of that.
I know you don’t understand. I’m sure some of you are afraid for me. I know some of you will see this as pride. Please trust me. Please understand that I meant what I said when I said I took every step to God first. If I’m on the wrong path, I’m going to be very confused when I meet Jesus at the gate. That’s not pride talking. I am genuinely and constantly seeking to do the right thing and genuinely and constantly seeking to not do the wrong thing.
I don’t have it all figured out. I’m still making mistakes and trying to sort out what I’m supposed to be doing, but I believe I’m on a good path, the right one for me. Figuring things out is part of the mortal experience. I believe that God still working with me and guiding me in my journey.
If you want to talk to me about this, I would love to talk to you. I am not interested in being preached to. I don’t need to be saved. But I would love to talk freely about our beliefs. No doubt some of our beliefs will differ; we may even have strong disagreements over certain points. I think we still share many beliefs, though. I won’t try to preach to you or save you either. I may even challenge your faith narrative and ask tough questions, but will respect your path as you respect mine. Again, I would love to talk.
For those of you who are struggling with a faith crisis or transition, please know that I am here. I believe our Heavenly Parents are too. Wherever your path leads, I am here. I have struggled and wrestled with tough topics and beliefs. I’m invested in loving you and supporting your journey.
For those of you who have family or friends experiencing a faith shift, I am here for you too. If you want to know how to help them and love them better, I can help you help them. I’m invested in loving you and supporting your journey.
There are many wonderful resources for you and for your families. I’ve linked a few of my favorites below.
Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt
Navigating Mormon Faith Crisis: A Simple Developmental Map
Healthy Mormon Journeys
Gospel Topics Essays
Joseph Smith Papers