I posted this on Facebook the other day, with reference to my recent exploration of the Episcopal tradition, and I thought I’d share it here as well.
I’ve been wanting to express appreciation to my believing Mormon friends in particular who’ve been so supportive of my recent forays into other religious possibilities. It means a lot to me that no one has lectured, or asked me if I just have Word of Wisdom issues, or played the “you’re falling into apostasy” card, and that so many of you even seem excited and happy for me. Because I am in fact excited and happy. This has all been spiritually nourishing and powerful, and because I am still in many ways very Mormon, I have to think that it unquestionably passes the Moroni 7:41 test (“every thing which inviteth to do good, and to persuade to believe in Christ, is sent forth by the power and gift of Christ; wherefore ye may know with a perfect knowledge it is of God.”)
But I also am feeling a need to say that there are perspectives, especially ones which emphasize LDS uniqueness, from which this means some kind of loss (I’m trying to say this as neutrally as I can), from which it is at best a mixed thing. And I do get that. I may not share that perspective, because I have strongly pluralist sensibilities which are only getting more pluralist by the day, but I think I can acknowledge and respect it, and not reduce it to nothing more than unthinking allegiance to an oppressive institution or however else it sometimes gets framed. Don’t get me wrong; I have no interest in hearing calls to repentance, and even an expression of concern that I’m walking away from the fullness of the truth (or however else you might put it) is probably just going to make me defensive and annoyed. Think it all you want; just don’t tell me. 😉 But I do think I can hear it if you mention that your feelings are complicated; of course part of me wants everyone to be unabashedly thrilled at my newfound enthusiasm for a different tradition, but I really can see and accept why that’s not going to be the case, and I am at least in theory committed to the idea that people should get to feel what they feel (and I’m working, always working, on putting that principle into practice in my actual live human interactions). Religion can be so, so fraught, and there are so many dividing lines and bad feelings, and I value being able to co-exist with friends who have very different views from mine.
For what it’s worth, the vision I like the best is of a religious journey in which your different faith experiences each lead you to something real and give you important pieces of truth, rather than narratives in which previously held worldviews are entirely eradicated and dismissed as false and a waste of time when you move on to something new. Of course, some things are inevitably going to get rejected along the way. I do have plenty of critiques of Mormonism, and that’s unlikely to change, regardless of where I’m going to church. At the same time, there is so much in the tradition that I value and that has shaped who I am, and I’m hoping to hold on to that, wherever I go from here.
Even as someone with pluralist leanings, I’ve always been a bit wary of what I call “sloppy pluralism,” or the unthinking idea that all religious beliefs are good and valuable and maybe even can’t ultimately be distinguished—like, when people say in a very well-meaning way: “but don’t all religions teach essentially the same thing?” My response: “no, they don’t.” As other thinkers have pointed out, almost never are assertions like these based on empirical evidence or comparative scholarly research of any kind, let alone actual life experience with multiple traditions, but rather on a philosophical premise about the nature of religion (and an understandable and laudable desire to keep the peace, I suspect, given that religious conflict is hard and scary and has in fact done a lot of damage to our world over the centuries). Anyway, this is a long-winded way of saying that I haven’t entirely come to terms theologically with what I’m currently doing. Can you ultimately fit the LDS and the Episcopal traditions together, even if you really want to? I don’t know. I honestly don’t. I just know that I’m having a powerful experience of God in a new setting, and it’s been life-changing. I don’t know what comes next. My hope, however, is that all of this makes me a better believer, and a better theologian, and a better person. And I’m even going to conclude with a famous quote from none other than Joseph Smith: “One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to receive truth; let it come from where it may.” I’m on board with that endeavor.