A few weeks ago I was on a plane to India, visiting the subcontinent for the first time, excited for this grand adventure but a bit anxious about the success of our business meeting and the possibility of acquiring a nasty bout of Delhi belly. Arriving in Paris Charles De Gaulle airport, I turned on my phone and saw a text message from my daughter saying that my wife, Lilian, had been struck by a drunk driver, sending her car spinning down the interstate.
Before continuing, let me explain that for several months I haven’t felt like blogging (I know–there was much rejoicing), my feelings too raw from Kate Kelly’s excommunication and its implications for members like me. Frankly, I just haven’t been able to bring myself to care as much anymore about the Church and my relationship to it. Deep inside me something has been broken, like the shattering of an intricate vase whose rebuilding completely confounds me, and my hope that the institution will repent and evolve–becoming something that is less hurtful to some (e.g., women, LGBT, singles, people of color, non-Americans) and more welcoming to all–sometimes feels like a foolish dream.
But I still sit in the well-worn pews, I still invite my home teaching families over for Thanksgiving dinner, I still love Mormon notions of Jesus, eternal progression, community, and connected families. I was even called as choir director despite having a singing voice like Adam Sandler’s, perhaps in the hope that in such a calling my heterodox beliefs would have a lessened scope for causing damage. (Maybe they will change their mind when we start performing numbers from Book of Mormon the Musical.)
So as long as I am engaged with my religious community, I would like to have a voice, in my small way trying to make things better for someone, even if just for me. Thus I blog on.
But I wonder: Is the Church big enough for a member like me?
We claim that the Church is for all, that the good news will roll forth to fill the entire earth. We preach that the gospel is meant for all of God’s family, black and white, bond and free, male and female, the heathen, the Jew, the Gentile–none is denied.
But does the Church have room enough for non-believers? Or in my case, for those who believe differently?
I would like to think so, but at times the institution overwhelms me with its corporate unrepentance for past mistakes, it presses on me with its resistance to ecclesiastical and financial transparency. I hope it has room for me, but its correlated policies and culture that push towards lockstep belief and its stubborn adherence to the status quo in the face of suffering, especially the suffering of its most vulnerable members, causes me to wonder.
And yet I am given reasons to hope.
When I spoke with Lilian from the Paris airport, I learned that she was being enveloped in the embrace of our ward family. A friend drove across town late at night to pick her up from the police station. Other friends brought over a minivan (what else?!) for us to use until we could make other arrangements. Another friend prayed for Lilian in sacrament meeting, telling us that anything we needed, he would be there. Meals started piling up, so much so that we had to park the baked ziti (a favorite of this blog!) and the minestrone soup in the freezer until we could get to them.
My flawed church deserves credit, I believe, for creating this community of saints that has learned to practice true religion in caring for those in need. Though many non-Mormon friends helped us as well, I was overwhelmed by the outpouring of love from our ward family.
So I don’t know the answer to my question. The same church that creates this wonderful community also implicitly teaches it to be wary of the Other (the world!), providing no genuine place for LGBT members, sometimes excommunicating or marginalizing those who believe differently, no matter how exemplary their lives may be. It appears that we have room for the smoker, the neglectful father, the unscrupulous business man, the sinners who are striving, but little room for the doubter.
Perhaps it is this exclusionary approach to belief that creates our robust and tightly-knit tribe. Perhaps we are strong because we are a peculiar people that must stick together, warding off those whose beliefs seem threatening, embracing those in our wards who believe as we do. Perhaps that is why I feel immediately welcomed and connected when I attend a Mormon church halfway around the world–beliefs have been pre-vetted so that we are all of one accord.
But I don’t want to believe that our strength comes from our remarkable tribalism. I want to believe that our strength as a church comes from our deep and persistent commitment to seeking after that Jesus of whom the prophets and apostles have written, that the grace of God may abide with us.
And that Jesus, in my experience, would welcome all into His church, even those like me who may never be able to believe as most Mormons do.