Maggie asked me:
“I believe in a similar fashion and lately I have been unable to call myself a Mormon because of it. Is one a “true” Mormon if they do not take everything in the rigid literal? I started to feel I couldn’t be much like I can’t call myself a vegetarian if I eat meat. But now I’m not so sure. Isn’t this what Mormonism is at its core, its base?”
I’ve also read similar sentiments – e.g.
“I [have x-y-z different opinion on this-or-that facet of Mormonism, yet still identify in some degree as “Mormon”]. As a result, when I speak to others [and] I say, “I am a Mormon.” Am I being deceptive if I don’t reveal what that phrase means to me upfront?”
This represents my ~4500 word response to that.
The religious experience of the gospel of Jesus Christ — at its core, its base — is the subjective and transcendent experience of God:
I was once told in conversation that:
“Mormons just don’t drink alcohol – that is the least that is expected of them.”
And I thought – really, that’s the least that’s being LDS means – abstaining from alcoholic drinks? I’m sure if we are talking about LDS youth, then that person would probably say that the “least” is something related to body modesty or not having sex. But again – that’s our least?
For a religion proclaiming Jesus Christ – the “least” ought to be pretty straightforward. Jesus called people to consider themselves the servants of all – and act accordingly. Having the same mind in you that was in Him: who did empty himself and take the form of a servant [Philippians 2:5-8]. That’s it.
The gospel of Jesus Christ is fluid. It’s meant to be lived by every human who’s ever lived on the whole earth. As such, it is flexible, adaptable to the variety of conditions that exist among people. What makes nature so beautiful and awe-inspiring is its diversity. Even though nature follows certain patterns, it is ever-new and always creating – never boring or monotonous. [see, Going from Concrete to Flowers]
However, a “hardened” religious tradition cannot tolerate subjectivity and diversity. So, when one’s mind is informed by such a belief system, God ceases to be the experience of the Supreme Being – and becomes instead This-Thing who sits Up-There in the sky ruling over nature and who must be related to according to in That-Way [see, Making an Image out of God].
The fundamental aspect of the gospel is people having a transcendent experience of God – one that experiences God as a continuous happening that we are all a part of. It’s that experience of Joy that all our myths, stories, and rituals are telling about and pointing to – so that we may come to that same place where we too relate to God with an I-Thou relationship framed in terms of family and covenant [see, Taking our Myths Literally].
That relative experience is expressed outwardly in a material sense in various ways:
Now – the gospel does manifest itself outwardly as a physical space-and-time institution according to the doctrine of expediency. Suiting itself to the conditions found among the people at that time and place [see, There are no “higher” or “lower” laws; there are only expedient laws and D&C 46:15].
But the base-layer, the common experience is always about coming to relate to the Power of the created universe in terms that break-down the left-brain sense of separateness and open-up the right-brain sense of complete continuousness and connectivity.
There may be behavioral or moral implications of a covenant with God – but it is not the jurisdiction of the gospel to lay down specific “hither thou shalt come and no further” fence-posts for human behavior that have a universal application across space-and-time.
So, within Mormonism, there is a wide range of possibility for diversity in belief and practice that can be characterized by having different people fill in the following blanks:
- A Mormon is known for at least always ___________.
- A Mormon is known for at least never ____________.
We should not be ashamed to display a bit of a bell-curve variability with respect to what a Mormon looks like, especially considering the subjective morality and the generally ambiguous nature of the standard works [see, Methods of Scriptural Interpretation].
But institutions patterned after the doctrines and commandments of men [such as corporations] generally dislike such variation — seeking instead to streamline and control naturally variable situations. So, in Mormonism we see things like correlation, the CHI, etc. But that’s a different matter entirely.
Specific manifestations of a common subjective experience express natural diversity:
The point is – [to go back to Maggie’s vegetarian who eats meat example] is there nuance within vegetarianism? Certainly.
Is it animal meat only? What about organs, or fish, or mollusks, or crustaceans, or dairy, or eggs – or is it all animal products altogether? Is it only about the eating, or is it also about using them too? Or is it really about a protest against the industrialized rearing conditions of the modern food system? Or is it about choosing to only eat plants? I’ve known vegetarians who could go a whole day and not eat a single vegetable – what with soy burgers, breaded tofu nuggets, and pizza.
There’s variation among a community that is informed by a common impulse – i.e. something is wrong with our current way of relating to the Life that we eat.
Fundamentally, all that matters is if you experience the miraculous works of the Father or not:
Being of this-or-that religion, practicing this-or-that model of worship, conforming to this-or-that belief system – none of that gives any indication about whether a person has experienced Jesus or not. And therefore doesn’t matter. The only standard for determining that a person is a true believer in Christ is the presence of the miraculous works of the Father, or signs that follow them that believe [D&C 84:64-72], in their life. Anything else is not a righteous judgment [John 7:24] – but is a judgment based on the outward appearance or the works of men.
Telling me you read the scriptures, participate in the rituals, are active in the church, etc. – tells me nothing about the experiences you’ve had with Jesus. Those things are just the retelling or reenactment of someone else’s story. It is all pointless and vain unless it is pursuant to you having the same experience — seeing eye-to-eye with the seers who have laid down those stories before you. Their stories will not save you. Reenacting events from their stories as a ritual will not generate Joy in you. Such things are meant to motivate you to get on the same pathway, to receive a similar connection with God, and to see eye-to-eye with them [see, The role of angels in Nephite preaching and How to receive what you ask for].
I don’t want to hear anything about what system of stories a person believes in their brain to be “true”. Whether those stories “happened” or not is completely irrelevant to me – because what matters is what “happens”, right now – in you. I don’t care if you believe in the stories about Adam or Abraham or Moses or Lehi or Joseph Smith having real experiences with the Father – I care if you’ve had them.
The only thing that discerns a good thing from a bad thing is its relationship to the thing that Alma termed the ever-good seed [Alma 32:28]:
the Son of God
that he will come to redeem his people
and that he shall suffer
and die to atone for their sins
and that he shall rise again from the dead
which shall bring to pass the resurrection
that all men shall stand before him
to be judged at the last and judgment day
according to their works.
Anything that persuades you to believe in and plant this ever-good seed into your right-brain-heart is itself a good seed. While anything that persuades you not to believe and plant this ever-good seed is not a good seed.
Nothing in the gospel is based on the merits and works of men. Righteous judgment has nothing to do with having mainstream LDS beliefs. All things are judged to be good or evil with respect to how they measure up to the ever-good seed and whether they point people towards, or away from, it [Moroni 7:13-19].
Everything in the gospel is based on the merits of Christ and whether we harden or soften our hearts in response to the experience of His love.
The presence of miraculous works should be our only concern:
What should characterize LDS and be our over-riding passion is the experience and the celebration of the stories of people who’ve experienced faith as a principle of power, instead of action [see, The seeds of the powers of godliness] – which are the examples of the miraculous works of the Father being manifested.
The scriptures are our collective stories of such events. But we should be celebrating the experience [nothing more, nothing less] – and with an emphasis on the newest miraculous experiences. Because a proper celebration of the spiritual works of God invites others to receive the same experiences for themselves – so there would be no need to hold on to the stories of a by-gone generation. Every country, culture, and local group needs to have their own body of miraculous works of the Father among themselves to celebrate.
It is dangerous to celebrate non-miraculous works [the works of men] and call that “faith.” All it does is encourage drudgery, or the non-miraculous works of men. There are plenty of people of all religions who sacrifice for their beliefs and religions, but who have no works of the Father in their lives.
I’ve met people who receive multiple visions or prophecies, who’ve spoken in unknown tongues on demand, and who’ve been ministered to by angels. On the other hand, I’ve also met people who’ve never received a revelation in their entire life. In either case, every one of those people professed to believe in Jesus and came from different churches and belief systems. The only substantial difference between the two groups is that the former manifested the works of the Father – while the latter manifested the works of men.
Someone who has denied their Self, experienced the transcendent joy of the Supreme Being, and received Christ will be totally obsessed with Jesus. And only the truly obsessed have faith – and only those with faith demonstrate the manifestations of the fruits of the Spirit in their life.
Being a “good Mormon” or Christian, Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Wiccan – or any “faithful” [add-Religion-here] only tells me whether a person adheres to the creeds of their respective belief system. That says nothing about whether they have faith in Christ or not.
We should only be concerned with having faith in Christ and experiencing the miraculous works of the Father. Unless one has communed with God, been ministered to by angels, seen visions, received prophecies and revelations, etc. – all incessant talk that professes belief in Christ is just mental masturbation, feeling good but not producing any fruit.
The all-important, saving faith in Jesus Christ that we should be obsessed with is centered in Jesus only:
With sufficient faith, a believer can come to know the truth of all things [Moroni 10:5]. But faith in this-or-that true doctrine does not blossom into experiencing the miraculous works of the Father. If faith is ever transferred from Christ to true things about Christ – then even though what’s spoken may be true, there is no faith there.
Mormons have much truth – but they have essentially transferred all faith to the truths, and thus none of it is on Jesus.
The vast majority of our conversations at church are centered on prophets and apostles, obedience to leaders and commandments, blessings of paying tithing, attending church and the temple, and every other conceivable topic that has nothing, whatsoever, to do with Jesus Christ’s suffering, death, resurrection and judgment upon all mankind.
In fact – a good test is to ask how much of our religious conversations are devoted to the relative, periphery matters and how much is devoted to the experience of God’s love. How comfortable are we in talking about this-or-that issue of the day in light of Mormonism – and how comfortable are we talking about our spiritual contacts with Jesus Christ. With the latter, I’ve found we stumble, are vague, express doubt, and likely just say nothing at all because most people have nothing to say.
Any church not based on the miraculous work of the Father may potentially be a true church, but will be a dead and blind church:
We may have true stories and properly authorized rituals – but they are not enlivened with the Spirit of God because none of them are experienced eye-to-eye as shared experiences. Our standard for judgment is informed by outward appearances instead of by the light of righteous judgments informed by the fruits of the Spirit. [see, What does the phrase “only true and living church” mean?]
This has made the LDS successful in being exactly like the rest of Christianity. There may be true doctrines, disciplines, and rituals – but such things have been made into absolutes and pedestalized as ends unto themselves – instead of being the means to an end – which is obtaining the experience of the miraculous works of the Father.
To convert a bona-fide revelatory experience with God into a prescribed system of creeds and approved practices dodges the real issue. It’s easier to tell ourselves that the important thing is keeping certain rules and believing certain doctrines – instead of turning ourselves over to the transcendent idea that the fundamental nature of Reality [God] reaches into human history to covenant with humans and gather them into a family.
The basic purpose of what we call “the church” is to take unrelated believers in Christ and knit them together by covenant into a single body or family:
When people see a problem with their group worship dynamic – the temptation is always to get together with some like-minded and “do church” more scripturally. However, this often will just create a slightly smaller, less-controlled replication of the same dynamic they were trying to get away from.
The problem lies in the fundamental way we feel towards God, towards the earth, and towards ourselves. It is a model based on the underlying concept of separateness [see, Split-Brain Model of the Gospel: The Fall of Man]:
- God as the male-figure seated on a throne exerting control over nature,
- relating only to a certain in-group by virtue of their religious behavior towards Him,
- living as separate islands of skin-encapsulated centers of will that are plopped onto a earth of otherwise disorganized, inherently-flawed stuff.
The very ideas that are informing our relationship with the world and with other people has to change – the pattern or model of a hierarchy of religious rulers and approved ways of thinking is [itself] broken.
Putting different people in power can’t change a problem that exists because there are people in power. Power must instead be pulled down [Alma 60:36].
You can’t have meetings with an instituted body of the like-minded become “more scriptural” – when the gospel is tribal in nature and meant to be experienced by a group of kin who naturally meets.
One can use religion to serve their Self or to serve God. If you believe that only your collection of stories is the One, True Way of experiencing God – then you are using it to serve your Self. This is the hardened or atrophied religare that creates feelings of superiority and maintains a sense of separation and conflict with others.
On the other hand, when in the service of God, a fluid religare is just the stories left behind by men and women who have had miraculous experiences with the governing Power of the universe that direct the community to receiving that experience for their selves, eye-to-eye.
Effectively, what we call the “Great Apostasy” represented a hedge that had been built up around an individual person and the experience of God. The whole essence of a religious life was reduced to a commodity that needed to be brokered by a male-dominated priestly class. And the “Restoration” was about taking scattered and disconnected people and gathering them – not by virtue of what they believe in the mind or confess with the mouth – but by covenant into a family.
But instead of having a passion for this tribal notion of a separate people-group bound by covenants, gathered out from their scattered state among the tribes of the earth – leadership patterned after the works of men care more about uniformity of thought than about making actual tribal connections between individuals.
Focusing on these outward appearances [which include prescribing behavioral standards and acceptable doctrines] is a manifestation of the current state of the church being guided by the doctrines and commandments of men. While the gospel could be said to prescribe a certain approach to human problems and decisions – any ethical component is but a consequence of a person’s genuine relationship with God – not the basis for receiving one.
The mission of the church of God is to be the ministerial support for individual members becoming Kings and Priests, Queens and Priestesses in their own right – to teach them the word of God, explain and offer the covenants of the gospel, and then allow them to organize themselves accordingly as their local circumstances dictate – helping them as they go from an unrelated body of like-minded and knit them together into a bona-fide family.
As long as a part remains in the body – it is the body:
Most LDS speak about and relate to “the church” as this entity that exists outside of them or separate from their selves. But there is no such thing as a group without the context of the individual people. You cannot have a body without all the components that make it up all together. A group is the sum-total of the individual units that make up that group. The whole is the parts as they are arranged.
Thus, each person is the church. You are the church – and so long as you remain in the church, your views are representative of what the church believes. You are Mormonism — as it is lived out or as it is taken literally by you. The only time that ceases to be true is when you cease to identify as a member of the church.
That’s why I would never advocate someone leaving the church. The group is [hands-down] always better served if everyone who’s ever left over this-or-that doctrinal/history/etc. issue didn’t leave – but rather stayed and lived out their own story in the community.
By most estimates, there are at least as many, if not more, of them than there are of the toe-the-line, mainstream Mormons. So, at this point, if they’d all stayed — they could potentially outnumber the rest, and we’d have an entirely different dynamic in the church.
You represent you – and that is representative of what it means to be Mormon – if it happens to be that you are Mormon.
Now, the Church [as it is organized currently as a corporate entity] is something altogether different. None of us are their representative for what that group is or believes. For that purpose, the Church has official Church spokesmen. You can identify them by the corporate logo they wear on their name-tags. If we all were official representatives of that corporate entity and what it says, then there would be no need to have a group of specially-called official representatives, now would there?
But when people tell me that they no longer find any value in the Mormon experience and want to leave – I get it. I see in many respects how the church is laden with the doctrines and commandments of men, leader-worship, female repression, etc. I truly empathize with people who feel disaffected with church because they’ve increasingly found the three-hour Sunday block [and all that comes with active participation] to be more of an obstacle, instead of a vehicle, for them experiencing the Lord.
I get why they don’t speak up to church leaders in an attempt to change things too. There is no real platform for open and honest discussion among members without getting the: “Well this is the way that the brethren have approved — so like it or leave it”-rhetoric. I wouldn’t expect open and honest disclosure from people who feel put-out [even though I admit it would be better if they all did speak-up].
The environment provided by leaders at church leaves them with no voice and no room to have non-mainstream opinions [at least in some open and honest capacity] – so many don’t see how speaking-up matters. They’ll just be told:
“Look here, if you do not want to subscribe to our form of worship of the Savior, then there are many other Churches to try out until one finds the one that provides that appropriate outlet or none may suffice.”
So they throw-up their hands and leave. I get that.
Imagine a marriage relationship in which every time the wife brings up a certain issue she has with her husband, he gets defensive, he belittles her and yells, etc. — and nothing ever changes.
Now, the husband is doing that particular behavior one day and the wife has that look that women get when you know something’s wrong — she’s obviously bothered. So he asks, “Honey, what’s wrong?” And if you’re married, then you know her answer is, “Nothing.”
Now — it’s not nothing, it’s most definitely something. Why does she say “nothing”?
- Because she’s a liar who doesn’t care about getting the marital issue resolved.
- Because of her experience with her husband, she knows that bringing the issue up will only result in a fight and nothing will be resolved.
Are their marital problems her fault because she won’t be forthcoming about what’s wrong when asked? Or are they his fault because he has failed to provide an environment where his wife feels comfortable talking about her issues in emotional-safety?
The key for me is that the church doesn’t belong to such people. It belongs to Jesus – and He says you have a place in it:
To make that distinction further – each member was baptized into the church of God, not the Church. None of us are listed on the corporate charter of that agency, and are therefore not their agent. The scriptures only describe us as agents “unto ourselves”. As believers in Christ – we ought to also consider ourselves to be agents “unto Him” – and act accordingly.
But our fundamental allegiance is to Christ and to the word of God – thus there is very little concern for whether this-or-that aspect is considered contrary to “general Church-approved practices”, the “long-standing traditions”, etc.
The assumed state of things in the church is to trust no one until you know them well enough to open-up and share your story with them:
Now, I’ve acknowledged that the leaders do not provide a platform for open and honest discussion among members – and there’s no outlet for the disaffected to express their nuance of opinion or their concerns about certain issues. As such, church leaders cannot reasonably expect open and honest disclosure from people who are feeling on the outs.
In fact, in my experience, leaders are often witch-hunters [taking the "judge in Israel" thing to the extreme], always looking for someone to judge as unfaithful, apostate, etc. The only valid reason, in their minds, for “contrary” points-of-view or “unapproved” behavior is worthiness issues. And so although the scriptural law is innocent until proven guilty – according to my experience, when leaders see dissension, they take a guilty until proven innocent stance.
Which is why I’ve taken Alma’s admonition to “trust no one…” [Mosiah 23:14] to be my marching orders and usually keep my mouth shut. I’ve seen that those who implicitly trust the leadership [not living Alma’s admonition to “trust no one” unless you know beyond a reasonable doubt that they are men of God], will often say more than is expedient to say and quickly get into trouble.
I’ve been protected by a revelation I received some years ago that the word of the day for me is, “Shhh” — or that it is always best to be silent, to say nothing, to openly answer no questions to church leadership — sticking with “Yea” for yea and “Nay” for nay if I am ever asked.
But whether you choose to remain in the church and identify yourself as “Mormon” has nothing to do with what the approved practices and long-standing policies of the corporation that runs the church:
“Mormon” is a lot like the term “Christian” — it is more about what the person professes to believe. It is not a term that can be brokered by a particular class of rulers “in charge” of the word.
For example, LDS insist that we are Christian just like everybody else, based on our professed belief in Christ. Others would claim that our more nuanced understanding of Christ, the Godhead, etc. are beyond the leeway allowed for by orthodoxy. But since we profess to believe in Christ – we generally call ourselves “Christian”.
Likewise, the Church has a hard time with professed Mormons who practice polygamy – thinking the term “Mormon” belongs to the corporation. However, polygamist Mormons are Mormons. The Community of Christ are Mormons. Everyone has a professed belief in the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. We may have more nuanced approaches to certain things [polygamy being the key example], but [like "Christian"] the term is general and correctly identifies all of us [in a general sense].
A person that hears me identify as “Mormon” starts viewing my actions and words as representative of the church. This is why the Church – as a corporate entity – is big on the members considering themselves walking “advertisements” for the Corporation, carefully monitoring the public image that the members “sell”, etc.
But I am not their spokesperson. I am not a broker for their religious product. I am Me.
People do not exist as Platonic Ideas — pure representations of terms or concepts. Being Me means that I represent the unique symphony that is the arrangement of my Life. I can’t pour the entirety of Me into your brain all at once. Each human being is a storytale that has to be shared in order to be known.
We come to know people as we interact with each other. The “whole truth” doesn’t come by “telling” – but by coming to know the real You through experiencing. It cannot be shown all at once – but people do come to see it.
So I’d say, “I’m Mormon” is generally not a bad start for me. Granted, my family does understand certain things differently and holds a bit more of a nuanced opinion on things like what church authority means, what the role of the church with respect to our family is, the priesthood keys and common consent, marriage and family relations, etc. But those views aren’t applicable to every relationship we have with every other church member — just like my entire set of views on things like politics, diet, marijuana, vaccination, homeschooling, etc. don’t need to be put all out on the table every time I meet someone new.
Should the particulars come up, I don’t hide or obscure them — but I don’t hand them out like business cards either.
We should treat our religious identification like we would any other interpersonal interaction – we start basic and progress towards the more specific/personal as [or if] the relationship goes that way. To attempt to disclose the whole picture of the entirety of the specific nuances and peculiarities all at once at a first meeting or in casual interactions is both impractical and unhelpful.
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