The Quotes That Haunt Me

I openly confess that I am by nature somewhat of a contrarian.  I like to argue just for sport.  Therefore, in a forum such as Mormon Expression, I feel a very strong pull toward playing the apologist role, since my impression is that the majority of followers of ME are non-believers in the LDS Church.  I realize that this attitude is dangerous, as people will call my motives and sincerity into question.  But I hope what I say here will come across in a sincere way.

At times, I have been accused of lacking integrity because my beliefs in the church are nuanced, and I have not just thrown up my hands and said, “it’s all a lie.”  Yet I still want to be understanding, and try my honest best to have an open dialogue with those who do not share my beliefs, whether Mormon, ex-Mormon, or never-Mormon.  While I have many doubts and questions myself, I find value in maintaining as healthy a relationship as possible with the church of my upbringing.  I have done my best to be honest with my family and leaders, and they still consider me a faithful, temple-recommend-worthy, member of the church.
I recognize that there may also be true believers who take everything the church and the scriptures teach as literal truth.  If they were to ask me my honest opinion, I would have to admit that while I find much truth and goodness in the church, I do not have a conviction that the church is “the only true church on the face of the earth,” despite what it says in D&C Section 1 (verse 30).  I’m sure those individuals would accuse me of lacking integrity, as well.

In relation to all of these observations, although I was a little behind the curve, I did finally read “Goodbye, I Love You” by Carol Lynn Pearson.  There was a lot in that book that touched me.  I was in tears most of the last 50 pages.  One of the more beautiful parts of the story, in my view, was the response that Sister Pearson’s ward members had after finding out that her ex-husband Gerald was dying of AIDS.  Despite the fact that most of them probably did not understand or agree with the homosexual lifestyle, they saw a person in need, and they went to work anyway.  As Carol Lynn said in her interview with John Dehlin, Latter-Day Saints are not always good at having empathy or sympathizing with those whom they don’t comprehend, but they are excellent at organizing when someone is in dire need; in a crisis like a natural disaster, or even just when someone is moving in or out of the ward.

While I try to empathize with those who see only hurt and sorrow in relation to their church experience, I see accounts like Carol Lynn’s and I say, “this is why I am Mormon.”  This is the part of the religion that I love dearly.  Heck, even when John Larsen read Sister Pearson’s description of meeting Gerald in heaven, he said that is a vision of heaven he could almost accept. Imagine!

As a second example of what I am attempting to convey, the message of “Goodbye, I Love You” that I outlined is basically the message I gleaned from Dieter Uchtdorf’s Sunday morning message – that we all may have doubts, and may not be certain of our testimony, but we can still be followers of Christ, and we can still serve others, rather than sitting on the sidelines waiting for clarity.  I listen to him talk, and once again, I think, “the Gospel as taught by Dieter is one I can easily embrace.”

Nevertheless (I have to throw a Book of Mormon-ism in there at some point, right?), I know the main response that I probably will get in answer to this attempt of mine to take an even-handed approach to my view of the church.  This is in no small part because of the existence of certain quotes by those in leadership that are thorns in my, and many other individuals’s side.  Every time I hear them, I want to cringe.  It occurred again this weekend at a session of our stake conference, when the mission president stood up and reminded all of us that “If the Book of Mormon isn’t true, then this is all a fraud.  Gordon B. Hinckley said that either Joseph Smith was a prophet, or this work is the greatest fraud ever perpetuated on the human race.”

I sit in my seat in those moments, probably imperceptibly shaking my head.  I love President Hinckley.  But if I could go back in time and change one thing that he said, I would probably go back and tell him, “Don’t make that statement.  It’s not always so black and white.  As prophet, you should be able to conceive how statements like that will drive hundreds if not thousands of honest people out of the church.”

In fact, if I was tied to a rack, and was compelled to choose between “all true” or “fraud,” I almost certainly would go with the latter.  Not because I was ashamed of my testimony of Jesus, but because in all honesty, if those are my only two choices, I have to go with honesty.  But I don’t believe those are my only two choices, and I guess the more resistance I find to trying to live in a shades-of-grey world will ultimately just serve to reinforce my obstinance that I can move and live among black-and-white thinkers, even if I don’t see the world in quite the same, rigid way.

Of course, there are other quotes of a similar nature.  I don’t know if I will ever be able to stomach them.  But I would like to imagine my participation in the church as being an open acknowledgement that the church is not perfect; that it doesn’t have all truth.  And even though the leaders make bold assertions to the contrary, I will cling more to Richard Bushman’s conception of the church – that I don’t stay where I’m at because I have found all truth, but rather because I think overall the church is good, and that it is a vehicle that serves in helping me live Christianity.

I guess if I have humility, it is only because I realize the shortcomings of my position, and I am naturally an insecure person. Yet I find hope in knowing that men and women, with insecurities and weaknesses just like mine, try to do good in the world, even in an imperfect organization, whatever that organization may be.

There.  I’ve opened myself up.  Have at me!