A couple of recent threads have gotten me thinking about the merits of staying in the church and hoping for change (as opposed to staying in the church and trying to accept the way things are, or simply leaving the church). I don’t think it’s unreasonable to hope that the church will change; our ever evolving history provides an obvious basis for such an outlook. It’s because of things like blacks finally getting the priesthood and the temple ceremony getting toned down over the years that I’m able to cling to the hope that the aspects of the church which most bother me aren’t necessarily eternal. Yet I can also see potential problems with this way of thinking.
One question I sometimes wonder about is how realistic my hope is. The fact that the church is constantly changing doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to take the path which I hope it will follow. Am I hoping for things which are in all likelihood never going to happen? It’s also worth remembering that not all change is for the better–I sometimes wonder if I’ve been mistakenly seduced by a kind of Enlightenment view in which the march of history is inevitably one of “progress.” Am I simply setting myself up for years of disappointment?
People might be thinking at this point, just who are you anyway to decide in what direction the church should go? Which is a very good question: to what extent should I be hoping that the church will change? How do I avoid the pitfall of seeing myself as the one person who truly knows How Things Should Be Done? Can I hope for change while maintaining the humility to recognize that what I’d personally like to see happen might not actually be the best way to do things, that my understanding of truth is of course limited and flawed?
And on a related note: what does my commitment to the church mean if it’s marked by some rather fundamental disagreements? I don’t accept the “love it or leave it” mentality– since all human-run organizations are inevitably fallible and riddled with ambiguity, I think our challenge more often than not is to find ways to function within them, rather than fleeing them in search of non-existent utopias, or asserting that membership must be “all or nothing” in character. On the other hand, I think there are real questions about the ethics of staying in a church with which you sharply disagree, as well as times and situations when it’s better to leave than to stay and keep beating your head against the wall.
Which brings me to another point. I’ve been repeatedly told that I shouldn’t focus so much on the negative, on the things that bother me, but instead focus on the parts of the church that I like and find uplifting. I have mixed feelings about that view. I think there are real problems, and simply attempting to have a positive attitude isn’t going to make them go away. However, I also have to admit that I can’t concentrate exclusively for too long at a time on the aspects of the church which I find disturbing, because I’ll start to go a little crazy. There’s definitely something to be said for doing what you can to find peace about the things that are difficult for you. (Though I must confess that sometimes the way I’ve found such peace is by reaching the simple conclusion that something isn’t inspired.) And there are certainly times when I need to simply focus on the good and not think too hard about the rest, because I don’t have the emotional energy to do otherwise.
I don’t have answers to all these questions. Yet I tenaciously hold to a belief that certain things will someday change. It might be naive, or even misguided. But it nonetheless strikes me as better than the alternatives: I don’t want to leave (at least not most of the time!), and I resist any requirement to accept things which I see as deeply wrong. So instead, I continue to hope.
- 23 June 2006