A particular combination of life circumstances last year lured me back into being a more active blogger than I’d been in a while. However, as the year went on and I started to suspect that my religious dabbling elsewhere might be turning into a serious thing, I found myself grappling more and more with questions about what it meant for me to be blogging on a Mormon blog. When I finally made the decision in November to convert away from Mormonism, I realized I was going to have to address the issue at some point. Should I keep writing about my religious journey and explorations of faith here, I wondered, or would it make more sense to go elsewhere? I don’t feel done with blogging, certainly; there’s still so much that interests me about religion (inside as well as outside of Mormonism), and there are other topics that I’d like to write about as well. But given where I am, I’ve worried about whether it really makes sense to continue to share my thoughts here.
I’ve periodically raised this question with my co-bloggers over the past year, and they’ve always expressed support for my sticking around. Our community is something I value a lot, and I can’t say that I have a great desire to leave. I’ve wondered, though, if I’m just wanting to have my bloggernacle cake and eat it, too. Because in the end, I did choose to leave the church. And while I’m still interested in Mormon topics, things feel different. I’ve thought of attempting to shift to only doing more detached, academic writing. But that doesn’t feel like the best way forward for me; for better and for worse, my blogging has always included a lot of elements from my personal life, and I think taking those out would markedly decrease my energy for writing. If I’m going to keep blogging, I’m likely going to keep talking about what it means to me to have converted elsewhere, and how that transition has impacted my faith and my perspective on religious matters.
A potentially obnoxious element of conversion, I realize, is the tendency to compare everything in your new faith with your old one and explain how much better the new one is. The tendency makes a lot of sense; if you didn’t find the new faith so much more appealing, you wouldn’t have converted. But after years of being annoyed by converts to Mormonism who came to church and gave a lot of airtime to bashing their former churches, I’ve felt some concerns about doing that. I will not deny that I’ve nonetheless made those sorts of comparisons regularly over the past year; sometimes I’ve found myself just really wanting to talk about my experiences and my appreciation for things that are different. I’ve tried to channel at least some of that into conversations with people who are on a similar path and share my enthusiasm, or at the very least not overdo it when talking to active Mormons, but I realize that to some extent everyone in my life has had to hear about it. And of course it’s shown up in my blogging. That’s also something on my mind going forward; I want to be able to write honestly about my experience, but I don’t want my blogging to become an oversimplified reduction of everything to LDS=bad and post-LDS=good.
I’ve taken some comfort in realizing that I’m not alone with these questions. When we started ZD and first got involved in the bloggernacle, all the way back in 2006 (a lifetime ago in internet years), it didn’t seem like a lot of participants in the Mormon blogging world had actually left the church, even if they had real struggles with it. A lot has changed in the past decade. When I find out that old friends have opted out of being LDS, I’m no longer very surprised. The original founders of this blog were all active in the church to some degree when we got things going, and I think that every person we added over the years was at least a somewhat believing (if not necessarily active) member at the time that we added her or him. But people have gone in a lot of different directions since then, and right now our community (of both active and inactive bloggers) includes people in quite a few places. There are active Mormons, there are people who are all the way out of the church, and there are people who are somewhere in between. Some of us go to Mormon church, some of us go to other churches, and some of us don’t go to any church. Our personal beliefs about Mormonism specifically and religion more generally vary quite a bit. There are people who are inactive but open to returning eventually, people who can’t imagine ever going back, and people who never left in the first place.
Given all of this, a number of us had a conversation recently about what holds us together, and where we see ourselves going from here. One thing that came up is our connection to the broader Mormon blogging community, which is something we very much value. We’ve built relationships with so many amazing people over the years. I can certainly say that for me personally, plugging into the online Mormon world was one of best decisions I ever made, because the friendships that have come out of it have meant so much to me. And while I’m a slacker about commenting, I regularly read many of the Mormon blogs that are still alive (especially the Exponent, By Common Consent, and Wheat & Tares), and the questions being discussed on them often influence what I’m thinking about.
In the conversation we had about these issues, and what to do with our Mormon blog that is now populated by people in very different places with Mormonism, we decided that the path forward we want to take is one which acknowledges our common Mormon roots and the interest we still have in Mormonism, but also has space for exploration of the various directions people have gone from there. A couple of inactive bloggers have expressed interest in returning to blogging, and I would certainly be in favor of it if broadening our sense of who we are made that feel more doable. My own expectations for the blog are not that people will necessarily write from the standpoint of belief, but that they will engage issues substantively and thoughtfully. That’s not to say that there won’t be snark and silliness here too at times; that’s a part of who we are as well. But after all these years, my hope is that those readers who’ve stuck around are less concerned with any kind of litmus tests for faithfulness, and more with whether we have anything interesting to say. And while religion will likely continue to be a major topic of interest here, I’m quite open to people blogging about other random topics as well (as we’ve certainly done in the past).
I was at a group in my community that calls itself “Story Church” the other night—it’s not affiliated with any other church, but is a group that meets once a month to sing songs and tell stories and share Communion. It’s usually pretty cool, and I’ve enjoyed attending when I can. The second storyteller this month mentioned that he had been raised Mormon. The LDS church, he said, nearly killed him, and yet there were also ways in which it saved him. That definitely spoke to me. I said hello to him afterward, and mentioned that I too had a Mormon background. We compared which city in Utah we were from and chatted a bit, and then he asked if he could give me a hug. It was a surprisingly sweet moment, and it reminded me that even with my life having taken the turn that it has, my Mormon heritage is still very much a part of me. I find that I still feel a particular connection with others who’ve also spent time in Mormonism—like siblings who grew up in the same household, there really are things that they get that no one else entirely does.
Richard Bushman recently talked about the notion of “radiant Mormonism,” which he described as a kind of goodness grounded in Mormonism reaching out to the world. Notably, he didn’t limit this to active members of the church. “The phrase suggests,” he says, “that these people radiate from Mormonism like rays of light and beams of energy from the sun. They are not official, but a part of each of them originates in the church and in core Mormonism. They are part of a great Mormon sphere of influence that reaches far beyond the church itself.” Much as I respect Dr. Bushman, I probably have a somewhat less glowing view of the LDS faith than he does. However, I nonetheless appreciate his approach to this. I do want to acknowledge that not everyone who leaves feels like they have anything positive to take with them. But I am nonetheless drawn to the possibility that some people can take the aspects of the church that are good, and carry them into the world in all kinds of diverse ways. I don’t know exactly where our blog is going next, but I have hope that we can continue to have worthwhile conversations.