Friday, June 14, 2013

Gospel discussions that actually help and inspire

Does this class discussion sound familar to any of you?

Teacher: What can we do to strengthen our ability to keep the commandments? [Or something like that.]
Respondent: Make decisions before you're in the situation. Like, if you know you never want to drink alcohol, decide today that you're never going to drink alcohol. And then when the situation presents itself, you won't have to make a difficult decision, because you already made it.
Another respondent: Yeah, and don't put yourself in situations where you'll be tempted. Like, if you don't want to drink alcohol, don't go to a bar with your friends.


Can someone please tell me, what is the point of talking about alcohol and how to avoid it in a Mormon Relief Society class? Really. Are the ladies in your Relief Society honestly struggling with this? Maybe I've been away from church for too long, but last time I was really involved in this thing, alcohol just wasn't that big of a temptation for most of the ladies who showed up on Sundays.

Here's another one. Have you ever heard the comment that goes a little something like this: "I have a friend (she's not a member of the church) who [insert random "sin" here--it's probably also related to the Word of Wisdom], and it just makes me so sad that she doesn't have the same light and knowledge that we have."

It just seems like we discuss certain topics in the exact same way every time they come up, and that way is usually not terribly helpful or inspiring.  Why are we so afraid to talk about our own weakness and how to avoid our own actual triggers? Because I have a lot of my own weaknesses. For example, I yell at my kids. It would be much more helpful for me to have a discussion about that, how I can arrange my life to minimize yelling triggers and how I might cope in ways other than yelling. Because you know what? I consider yelling at my kids to be a "sin".  I do. And it's one that I struggle with much more than I do with avoiding cigarettes.

But that kind of thing rarely pops up in a church class discussion. I almost never hear people talking about their own temptations and weaknesses at all. It's always about someone else or a theoretical, textbook example of a temptation. How is that helpful?

Also, notice how a lot of our discussions seem to center on the Word of Wisdom. What is that? The gospel is not the Word of Wisdom. The definition of our character does not lie in the Word of Wisdom. Could it be that the black-and-white part of the Word of Wisdom, the part that dictates temple worthiness (alcohol, cigarettes, and coffee), is super easy for Mormons to live and it makes them feel easy righteousness? This hardly seems like the way to improve ourselves. Becoming better is HARD. Focusing on things that are not hard for us will not make us better. Rattling off formulaic answers to formulaic gospel discussion questions will not help us grow.

Look, I'm Agnostic Mormon Mom. Part of my mission is promote raw honesty among Mormons, in their communities and in their classrooms and in their families. Honesty about our weaknesses helps us learn how to cope with them. And I don't know about you, but sometimes I feel really alone in my weaknesses. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only mom who yells at her kids like this. Sometimes I feel like I'm the only wife who is this defensive, the only stay-at-home mom who spends perhaps a little too much time on Facebook. What if there are other people who have the same struggles? Wouldn't it be nice to have some company in your imperfection?

If we could do this, maybe we could offer real solutions for each other, things that have worked for us when we faced similar struggles. And then we might grow individually and as a community. And THAT is what I believe the gospel to be about. THAT is why I am coping as an active Mormon when, technically, I'm agnostic.



  1. I've never read a blog from start to finish but I am truly fascinated by everything you've written. And I'm not even Mormon! I have a weird obsession with Mormons and admit that I probably spend a little too much time lurking on ex-Mormon web sites to try and get the real low-down on the religion and it's true core beliefs because the Mormons we do know (and some are actually relatives) are so secretive and hush-hush about it all that it just makes me want to know more! So I was doing some research on whether or not our family (mainly it's my children I'm concerned about) should attend a Mormon baptism we were invited to this weekend and somehow I stumbled across your site. We are Christian and quite active in our church. We LOVE our church in fact and we desperately want our children to grow up in the church and believing in Jesus Christ and accepting him as their one, true personal savior...blah, blah, blah. But as I'm reading your blog I feel like everything you've said I could have written myself, word for word, and just replaced "Mormon" with "Christian". You say it over and over--you really are an oxymoron. And apparently, so am I! Because the truth is, I WANT to believe there is a God and that there is a heaven where we will all spend eternity and that the pain we have to experience in this life is not for nothing and that we really do have a greater purpose beyond this world. I want to believe that with all of my heart but the reality is, I just don't think I do. And yet I am still drawn to the church and its teachings because I do feel that it makes me a better person to be a Christian and I feel that our family is better off as Christians than the alternative. But not believing wholeheartedly and having so many doubts makes me incredibly sad. I'd honestly rather believe in a lie and live in the comfort of that lie than know the truth and have to live in the darkness and despair of realizing that we it's possible we just live, die and rot in the ground and there's no real purpose to it all. *sigh* But I really just had one question for you. I am assuming that people in your church community are aware of your blog and your agnostic leanings. do they react to that? You are so involved in the church and active in the church community (like with the Mormon Relief Society, for example). If Mormons are as "judgmental" as you say they are and that I've known them to be then how on earth do these meetings go for you and how is the reception from the people at church? I would love to be able to talk to my pastor or some of my friends at church about my own questions and evolving beliefs. But I can just imagine the looks on the faces of all the women at my next MOPS meeting if I were to blurt out, "But can you really be sure there is a God in Heaven? Like really, REALLY?" I am certain I would not be invited back. So how do you go to church and be involved in the church but also be honest about the things you do and do not believe, without being harshly judged and ostracized by people who mistakenly feel that you are rejecting your faith completely if you aren't "all-in"?

    1. Thanks so much for your comment! I love that people in other faiths can relate to these issues.

      So first of all, I totally think you and your family should attend the baptism. Mormon baptisms are very simple and harmless. We baptize by immersion, so the person will stand in the water with the person baptizing them. The "baptizer" will say "[Name], having been commission of Jesus Christ, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen." Then he will dip the "baptizee" in the water, they will exit the water, and that is pretty much it. Prior to that, there will be a couple little talks about baptism, but really nothing that would be offensive or hard for your kids. For what it's worth, I would take my kids to a baptism (or any other ceremony) in pretty much any church, if only for the educational/cultural value of it. :)

      Second, the reaction from most Mormons to my blog and my views has been quite positive, actually. I say Mormons can be judgmental--and they can be--but they can also be incredibly accepting and loving. In fact, they are those things much more often. I'm sorry that the Mormons you have known have been judgmental and secretive. That part seems strange to me. Most Mormons are very eager to share their faith (sometimes annoyingly eager).

      So, like I said, most people have been very supportive. I think their positive reactions are mainly coming from two angles. One, a lot of people can totally relate, and they appreciate my honesty. They want an environment where it's socially okay to talk about doubt. Two, a lot of other people see what I'm doing as sort of a step in the right direction. I get the feeling that they consider my feeble attempts at faith to be better than just not hoping or believing at all. I don't really care for this so much, because I think it's rooted in a huge misunderstanding of what I'm doing , but that's a subject for an entire blog post. Mostly, Mormons are just so welcoming and happy to have me at church--they don't care what crazy things I say when I'm there. :)

      There's also kind of a faith crisis "phenomenon" happening in the LDS church. Check out this article: