As promised, here’s the text version of my Instagram Live. I haven’t talked this long and this openly about my faith transition. Maybe it’ll help you articulate your own feelings? Who knows. For more context, you can read part one. In the meantime, I’ve organized my thoughts into major points that are directed towards folks who used to go to church, struggle to go to church, and everything in between.
1. Your relationship with your deity is personal.
My faith crisis came from dealing with other people’s opinions about God and how They felt about me. I’ve since had to learn that if I’m going to worship anyone, I need a strong one-on-one relationship with Them. Our relationship ought to make sense and feel comfortable. This takes a lot of unlearning and hard work but it’s my personal belief that we ought to let everyone do the same thing. We’ve got to stop standing in other people’s ways with our limited scope of understanding.
2. Does religion make you a better person or not?
If you feel like you’re a better person because of your faith, then it makes sense to stay. If you don’t feel like church helps you to do and feel better, then maybe it’s time to step away. Maybe another church or no church at all will help.
I used to feel like it was my responsibility to stay and to encourage others to stay. I thought that was the purpose of “using my voice.” But now I see that using my voice means encouraging positive spirituality. As a Christian, I don’t want to bring people to organized religion—I want to bring them to Christ. Or if they’re not about Jesus, I want to encourage positive spiritual connections. Even as a missionary, I didn’t want to force religion on people who didn’t want it or need it. Even though I believe that the gospel can improve us but that wasn’t my call. I’ve since learned that when people come or go, I don’t need to take it personally. You’re not an antagonist for having different beliefs.
3. If you stay in church, be responsible for the space you take.
We can’t be ignorant about how our church (speaking as a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) has affected folks in the past and in the present. Think about how we used to talk about Black people and how we now talk about LGBT folks. It’s cringey.
I know that my church has a racist past. Sometimes, it makes me sick and I struggle with it. But I struggle even more when people discount bad decisions as a thing of the past. I no longer try to make excuses for comments or decisions that pick and choose who gets spiritual blessings.
I personally choose to stay in my church because I’m constantly told that I’m a leader and I want to use that privilege to help others on their way. I want to normalize this idea of getting out of each other’s ways. This church needs open-minded and empathetic and therapy-positive leaders. Our prophet literally asked for women in the church to speak up more and I am answering that call whether you like the message or not.
4. No matter what you choose, someone will resent you for it.
I can imagine that people resent that I’m still Mormon. I know people resent that I’m Mormon and critique my own church. Someone else put this in a really funny way. I guess there’s a saying that goes like “When you straddle on two sides, folks on either side will kick you in the nuts.” And that’s how it feels sometimes! You feel like you’re on the fringe. You feel alone.
If you feel that way, we can feel that way together. I wish more people raised their hand and admitted that they felt like they didn’t belong so we could see how many people can relate.
In the meantime, there are some folks you can talk religion with and some you can’t. It depends on their emotional availability. I’d encourage you to set boundaries and work with people who also have firm boundaries.
5. I wish we gave ourselves more permission to change our minds about religion—all the time.
For those of us who stay, I wish we didn’t think it was the end of the world to be inactive or leave the church. I wish it wasn’t “do or die.” I wish we didn’t see our activity in the church as a signifier of our worthiness as human beings or children of God. Because my friends have left the church after years of being hurt by other members or the traditions they cling to. And I wish instead of viewing them as dirty, sinful, or unworthy, I wish we asked them how we can help them heal. From where I stand, God has standards but they aren’t as savage as the ones we impose on ourselves.
6. Maybe this permission is just an invitation to trust ourselves.
Let’s trust that we have enough time to figure out what’s good or bad for us.
I often view church culture as “do these things to avoid as many mistakes or problems as possible.” But we still have problems and we still make mistakes. Many of us have shamed ourselves for messing up. People still have children before marriage. People still waste money on college and flunk their classes. People still get sick even though they try to live a healthy lifestyle. We think we have this control but we don’t. And jeez, raise your hand if you still wish you had control to steer clear of every little mess?
Listen, let’s commit today that in whatever community we’re in, we’ll stop being afraid of what other folks will think. I know that’s not very easy but when we all individually commit to that, it makes it easier for the whole group to evolve into something more compassionate. I think we’ll stop worrying about attendance numbers and more about how folks are doing on a personal level.
7. Until we completely rely on our personal intuition, we need each other.
As much as I love being that “brave” and “empathetic” friend, I wish I weren’t in the minority. I wish people were more open and plain about their acceptance of marginalized groups and actively worked to root unintentional biases.
If you’ve felt motivated at all by my message or platform, I would encourage you to ponder about how you can increase the “real talk” online or IRL. I’m confident that you have friends or family members who could use your openness and goodness so they can be more open and good.
Above all, I want to remind my book community that their safety, creativity, and belonging means a lot to me. In my way, I’ve experienced loneliness as an author and as a Mormon. I’ve often wondered “I just want others to be happy and to belong. So why do I feel ostracized for that?” I understand that feeling. If I can alleviate that lonliness in any way, I’m here. I’ll always be here.
Okay, so that’s part two of this conversation! I have a very vague audience here but I hope I said something helpful. I’d love to hear your thoughts and keep this conversation going. Thank you for reading, too! It means a lot.