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Still Here. Still Mormon. Not Going Anywhere.

I welcome discussion on my blog. People who disagree with my posts sometimes comment about them, and that’s terrific. A blog is supposed to be a springboard for conversation, not a bully pulpit for the views of one person. I’m always especially happy when people can disagree while following basic rules of civility, and when they back up their opinions with actual evidence rather than mere bluster.

But there is one comment that I get fairly frequently and simply don’t understand. It’s “If you’re unhappy, why don’t you just leave?”

So for the record, I am not a bit unhappy. And here are the four main reasons why I am still here. Still Mormon. Not going anywhere.

  1. I believe in the fundamental tenets of the restored gospel. In Mormon lingo, I would say I have a strong testimony of Jesus Christ and his atonement. I believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet. My soul has delighted in the teachings of the Book of Mormon just as it has in the teachings of the Bible. We might ask those who are so quick to forever banish the people with whom they disagree: Where are those Mormons to go? Where, exactly, might Mormons who agree with the core doctrines but not the cultural policies of the LDS Church find their faith community?
  2. I was called by God to be here. When I converted to Mormonism in my 20s (at some personal cost), I did so because I knew in my bones that I was called to do so. I kept trying to ignore that nagging sense that God had a plan for me in this faith tradition despite the fact that so many of its policies disturbed me. If you want to read more about my conversion, you can do so here and here. For the purposes of this post all I can say is that I have a firm knowledge of my place in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, confirmed many times by answers to prayer and also by the promises in my patriarchal blessing.
  3. The LDS Church is a family, not a club. News flash: we don’t get to choose the people in our families. There are likely some folks we feel we could jolly well get along without, or people whose views make us uncomfortable. But even if we don’t understand each other—even if we can’t stand each other—that doesn’t alter the bedrock relationship that exists between us. We are family, period. I’m fine playing the role of the grumpy aunt at the family reunion who points out that the potato salad has been sitting in the sun too long or that we need to stop living in the past. You don’t have to listen to me. But you don’t get to kick me out of the family.
  4. The Church is a training ground for the kingdom, the body of Christ. This, in the end, is the most important reason of all. We don’t get to exile other people from the body of Christ any more than we would amputate our own limbs or pluck out our eyes. I once taught a Gospel Doctrine lesson where we were discussing Paul’s powerful metaphor of the body of Christ. It bears quoting at length:

21 And the eye cannot say unto the hand, I have no need of thee: nor again the head to the feet, I have no need of you.
22 Nay, much more those members of the body, which seem to be more feeble, are necessary:
23 And those members of the body, which we think to be less honourable, upon these we bestow more abundant honour; and our uncomely parts have more abundant comeliness.
24 For our comely parts have no need: but God hath tempered the body together, having given more abundant honour to that part which lacked.
25 That there should be no schism in the body; but that the members should have the same care one for another.
26 And whether one member suffer, all the members suffer with it; or one member be honoured, all the members rejoice with it.

After briefly discussing the passage in the abstract, we spent the rest of the time playing a kind of “Positive Bombardment” where class members built one another up in the Spirit. We highlighted each person individually as I drew the various parts of a body on the chalkboard. They told uplifting stories about each other’s acts of service through the years. One woman, I found out, had for decades remembered all the birthdays of people in the ward, and would show up at their doors with a card and a hug. She got a hand. Someone else had given money to a family when they had nothing and it seemed they had no way out. He got a foot. On and on the stories went: head, heart, eyes, ears.

At the end we had a body, a perfect body that had been forged by imperfect people. That is the Church. It took all of us, every last brother and sister, to train to be the body of Christ.

 


P.S. I stole the “still here, not going anywhere” tagline from my friend Donna Freitas, who used to have an online column called “The Stubborn Catholic” at the Washington Post. Thanks, Donna! And the image of community is used with permission of Shutterstock.com.

Topics: Faith, Doctrine & Practice
Beliefs: Mormon
Tags: body of christ, ex-mormon, faithful mormon, flunking sainthood, jana riess, leaving mormonism, mormonism, why i am a mormon

Comments

  1. Well said! I am a Mormon too, and I vouch for the accuracy of what she’s said about our religion. I further invite people in the audience to get information about Mormons from lds.org, mormon.org, or mormonnewsroom.org. Whether to fact-check media articles or for your own enlightenment, I think you’ll find that by understanding the Mormons a little more you’ll appreciate them a little more. People of faith across the world in many different religions can find more common ground with each other than differences, and it is time we took the time to understand and respect each other.
    Thanks for listening.
    http://www.conservativemormonmom.blogspot.com

  2. Jana, thank you for articulating so well a position many of us have taken as to ourselves and others.  Two weeks ago in my HP group, the lesson was on “sustaining” church leaders.  What I heard, as usual, was we must say “yes” and obey our leaders without complaint or dissent.  I mentioned the story of King Lear.  He had three daughters, Regan, Goneril and Cordelia.  I commented if you can tell which of the three daughters “sustained” their father the best then we can have a real discussion as to what sustain means as well as what it means to be loyal to one’s family no matter the differences.  I ain’t going anywhere (this is my family) and I have zero inclination to ask anyone to leave anymore then I would my children.  Our church leaders hopefully will expand their embrace and not make the same mistake King Lear and his daughter made in reference to Cordelia—whether Cordelia is proven right or wrong she is still the King daugther.  Thanks again for your contribution to this timely matter.

  3. Thanks for your essay.  As a professionally confused person, many are the trials of attempting to be spiritual.  If I carry a book about…“Why are you reading the Koran, are you going to convert?”  If I get out my Christian Prayer book…“Why are you praying the Liturgy of the Hours, are you Catholic?”  And heaven forbid I should quote Michael Ramsay in my HP group.  (And, yes, I think the South Park satires are hilarious—if LDS can’t laugh at themselves, they deserve to be assaulted by irreverent comedians.)  Which is why I am grateful for you, and for the reference President Monson made a while back to an article written by an Orthodox Rabbi.  (And, “the correct answer is ‘The Mormons’.)

  4. Jana: as we Mormons say, I love your spirit.  And I love you.

    My Great-great-grandfather was in the Nauvoo jail with the Prophet Joseph when Smith was killed in that gunfight, defending himself against the (true) allegations that he had engaged in sexual misconduct.

    My question: have you READ the REAL history of Smith?  If so, how can you believe he was a “prophet of god,” rather than a gold-digger, charlatan, liar, sexual philanderer, and charismatic megalomaniac?  (I overstate *slightly,* but he was clearly a genius of unsavory character).

  5. Henry:  The members of the Carthage Grays militia who murdered Joseph and Hyrum smith, and wounded John Taylor,  were not defending soiled womanhood, but trying to suppress a growing body of voters who would, in the course of time, have formed an unassailable new majority that would have held political power in Hancock County and western Illinois.  The most authoritative and complete biography of Smith, Professor Richard Bushman’s “Rough Stone Rolling”, establishes that Smith was a sincere character who really believed in his religious experiences, who surrendered peacefully to arrest rather than call out the thousands of Mormon militia members who would have been glad to defend him, and took with him for comfort in the jail a copy of the Book of Mormon, not the action of a man who thought it was a fiction. 

    Smith’s personal journals and his intimate correspondence is being posted online where it can be examined by scholars and others interested in what made him tick.  The picture that emerges is one of a man who was acting with integrity.

    If Smith had wanted to be rich through religion, he could have followed the classic path of American clergymen in his day, gathering supporters and wealth in the context of conventional religion without the threats to his life and livelihood that resulted from the radical teachings he offered, which made him an enemy for every follower.  Smith was repeatedly arrested on false charges, in the pattern of Jesus and the apostles, and did not have a real home of his own until the last few years of his short life.  Even then, he shared it in hospitality with many others. 

    One of the distinctive facts of Smith’s visionary experiences is that many of them were shared with one or more other people.  There were eleven men who signed the affidavits in the front of every copy of the Book of Mormon, attesting they had seen the metal plates on which the original record was written.  Oliver Cowdery was with him in experiencing the physical ordination by John the Baptist, Peter the ancient apostle, Moses, and Elijah.  Sydney Rigdon shared with him, in the presence of a dozen others, the vision of heaven that is in Doctrine & Covenants Section 76.  These witnesses were not necessary for a charlatan.  For that matter, the entire massive effort of producing the Book of Mormon was not necessary if all he wanted to do was start a church.  No other religious reformer of his day had gone to that much trouble.  He could have simply claimed that the text was purely the product of a spiritual voice in his ear.  Instead, he asserted that there was a tangible original of the 500 page record, and had 11 men stand by him, to their dying day (mostly long after his own death), affirming the reality of that strange object.

  6. Jana, the Church is a lot more interesting with you around.  Thanks for your perspective.  We need a good dialogue to blow the chaff of cultural assumptions off the wheat of real gospel doctrine.

  7. Henry James:  I don’t know whether to laugh or to cry at your comment.  Do you really believe the non-historical ideas about Joseph Smith that you imply?  Having been a student of LDS history since 1968, I can categorically tell you that your caricature of Joseph is patently incorrect.  Perhaps you should broaden your sources and read some history from scholarly publications.

  8. I have studied the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for 40 years. Only those who have put that kind of time and effort into it can know the character of Joseph Smith. The spiritual insights he taught justify the respect in which he is held by the millions of “Mormons” who belong to the church he founded. He, more than any other person, taught me who Jesus Christ is and why I should love Him.

  9. True believers will, indeed, be true believers.

    There are hundreds of inconsistencies in Smith’s various stories, starting with his first vision.  And according to numerous objective biographers, his background was notably shady. 
    God and Jesus appeared to me too, so that part of his story I accept.  Beyond that, have you, as Mark Twain did, READ the Book of Mormon?

  10. Hi Jana.  Really appreciate you sharing as you do.  As an evangelical christian who is sensitive to colonialism and fundamentalism, i am interested in these kinds of inter-religious dialogues.  In particular i am interested in the defense of the meaning of mormonism for participants. 
    Your first category is predicated on “belief” and the second category—that you were “called” are not convincing arguments.  Especially because of the difficulty of Mormonism’s historical claims.  From my context a mormon would need to provide stronger evidential material for their historical claims. 
    I think point 3 and 4 are stronger because they demonstrate the existential value of the mormon religion.  (And i suppose 1 and 2 are mostly existential claims too)  I think an more interesting starting point would be to describe how Mormons view Jesus and then there can be some interesting comparisons or dialogue about how this mormon picture of Jesus compares to other groups.  Just a thought.

  11. My people, the Mormons, make what are. literally, INCREDIBLE CLAIMS, beginning with Smith’s contradictory and dilatory stories (multiple) about his “first vision.”  Then leading into their doctrines, their “revelations,” their racist and sexist history, and their eschatology.  If one uses none of one’s reasoning capabilities, one can bring oneself to swallow the whole story.  If not, one shakes one’s head at the credulity of fellow intelligent humans.

  12. Jana is an example of a very intelligent and well read Mormon who has a breathtakingly broad knowledge of many religious traditions.  I think she is the picture of someone who is not credulous in the sense of ready to believe anything that comes down the pike from Salt Lake City.  You can find whole books and scholarly journals full of Mormon scholarship at Maxwellinstitute.byu.edu, available to read at no cost.  Specific apologetic defense of Mormonism, its beliefs and its prophets can be read at the web site fairlds.org, an informal private site not officially sponsored by the LDS Church.  Mormonscholarstestify.org is a place where you can consider the beliefs of people with credentialed intellects in many fields. 

    I am reminded of the statement of Arthur Henry King, a distinguished professor of literary analysis who joined the Mormon Church late in life and taught at BYU.  He related that when he read Joseph Smith’s account of his first visionary experience, he was impressed that Joseph was not trying to impress anyone by his mode of speech, but rather, uncharacteristically for his time, he wrote a straightforward and simple account of his experience, without embellishment.  The other recorded accounts of that experience vary in exactly the same way that anyone has varying emphases when relating a personal experience, relating to questions asked by an audience and the speaker’s own understanding of the experience in retrospect.  Again, with some of his later visionary experiences we have the perspective offered by those who shared the experience with him. 

    What especially rings true to me is that Joseph’s statement—that despite the ridicule of a minister, he knew that it was true and would be held accountable to God for telling the truth—was exactly how he lived, including on the last day of his life when he peacefully surrendered to Governor Ford of Illinois, knowing that he was likely to be killed before 24 hours passed.

  13. Thank you for a very thoughtful and well-written essay!

    I feel inclined to join the Joseph Smith fray, but that’s not really what the essay is about.  Besides, coltakashi and others have already offered eloquent rebuttals to HenryJames’s criticisms. 

    I do take objection to Henry James referring to members of the Church as “my people.” Mormonism isn’t a “people”, not in any significant cultural sense.  Being a son or daughter of the Utah pioneers, or having a great-great grandfather who practiced polygamy in the colonias, or even being baptized at age eight doesn’t make you “Mormon”, any more than having played little league football makes me Peyton Manning.

    Embracing the core concepts—that Jesus Christ is the Savior, the sole means by which salvation is accomplished, that Joseph Smith was a prophet, that Book of Mormon is the Word of God, that essential ordinances, administered through Christ’s priesthood, are available today—and earnestly striving to live in accordance with those concepts, is what makes a “Mormon.”  If you reject those things, you aren’t Mormon, no matter your parentage.

    The only objection I have to Jan’s comments is the use of the term family.  Every time I hear someone refer to a “ward family” or a “stake family,” I cringe.  Wards and stakes are communities, fellowships, associations.  They are not family.  I don’t go to the temple to be sealed to my High Priest Group Leader.  Surely there is a demand for ward members to treat one another with love and respect, for us to show tolerance for one another, to like the unlikable: that doesn’t mean we’re a family.

    I know that’s a picayune thing to harp on, but there are two wards in our stake that have adopted the motto, “A Ward By Boundary, A Family By Choice.”  It makes me nauseous every time I hear it.  First of all, you don’t get to choose your family.  Second, I worry that some people will choose to treat Church members as family, even as they act horribly toward their blood relations…

  14. This post has important insights. One of them is fully applicable to one of the Left’s criticisms of Mitt Romney. Specifically, he was a Mormon before the ban on blacks in the priesthood was lifted in 1978 (Romney was 31 years old in 1978). The Left argues that Romney should have quit the Church because of the priesthood ban. Never mind his testimony and that of the prior five generations of his family. (Including his father, who supported Civil Rights when it was not nearly so clear-cut as today.)

    What???!!! One does not remain in the Church because one agrees with the Church. One remains in the Church because the Church is true. I am a convert. I did not join the Church because I liked the Church. I joined the Church because it is true.

    Sister Riess, you might have some credibility with Democrats and the Left generally. At least some of them are your friends. Why don’t you take them on with respect to Mitt Romney, the priesthood ban and the current election?

  15. @ Henry James:

    Henry, “your” people?  Really?

    You may very well indeed be a blood ancestor of one of the heros in the Carthage jail, but by your own words you have CLEARLY indicated you know nothing at all about what makes members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (the ‘Mormons’) tick, do not include them in YOUR circle of emotional friends and therefore we (yes, I am indeed a devout, practicing Mormon) cannot include you in ours.

    Now, to the un-knowing around here, I say “emotional” friends above because I want to differentiate between people that you can be friendly with/towards and those that you truly connect with on an emotional and spiritual level.  We can be “friendly” (ie, “kind”) with anyone.  Indeed, Jesus Christ himself commands all mankind, LDS and non-LDS alike to be kind to everyone but just because you practice kindness to someone does NOT mean that that friendship, that “one-ness” will be achieved.  To achieve that spiritual one-ness/unity requires the mutual agreement of and belief in a common goal and common values. Hence, even if Latter-day Saints tried to “be one” with you, or as you say, to be “your” people, we cannot. Not because we reject you, but because you literally reject us.

    And, yes, BTW, I have in fact read the Book of Mormon.  Probably 15 times.  Every single word on all 531 pages.  And I’ve prayed about it, too. Ridicule me if you wish, I don’t care.  But I believe what God told me about the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon has more clout than your opinion.

    I literally thank God I know what is true and what is true is in absolute disagreement with your posts.

  16. Jana, thanks for sharing this.

  17. Dear Darling Dan Maloy,

    When I said “my people,” I certainly was not including you.  I was including Mormons of good will and generosity and love for all of their fellow human beings, not just their fellow Mormons.
    Love
    Henry

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