Back to the story, friends.
It’s October in my story and I’m still reeling from the lessons learned from General Conference. On the one hand, my heart was softened by the words of Elders Uchtdorf, Cook, and Holland. On the other hand, Elder Packer’s talk upset me beyond words can possibly express. I was looking for answers, but I was still very unsure of my question(s). Even though I couldn’t clearly define my questions, I knew what answer I was looking for: LadyMo, you’re right. You’ve always been right. You’ll always be right.
Now (rubs hands together)… where to start?
I began my research of the United Church of Christ. Everything I read was so appealing and so engaging. It felt like a safe place to learn about religion without having to immediately reconcile my relationship with God. I felt like if this church could meet all of my conditions, then maybe I could believe in God. It seems a bit backwards, this practice of faith, mostly because it wasn’t faith at all. I was looking for empirical evidence and I wanted it all laid out before me. Once I could see everything, then I could believe. I wasn’t going to make a decision about religion until I was presented with and liked every answer.
Through the United Church of Christ, I learned about liberation theology and feminist christianity. For those of you playing along at home, Wikipedia does a better job of explaining it than I do. So does Nat Kelly over at Feminist Mormon Housewives (Hey, Nat! I have a giant blog crush on you!). Basically, the principle of Christian feminism is that the contributions of women (among other marginalized groups) are essential in gaining a complete understanding of Christianity. This reminded me very strongly of the disability rights activists’ chant: NOTHING ABOUT US WITHOUT US.
So here I was reading about liberation theology and feminist christianity and it felt weirdly good. I felt needed, not forgotten; I felt worthy, not disregarded; I felt powerful, not oppressed. I was starting to feel like I needed this place, that maybe it could help me heal some really deep wounds. Still, I didn’t know where I wanted to end up, so I wasn’t sure how to get there. AGGHH, ANGST! When I had these conversations with myself (the ones that led to AAGGHH! ANGST!) I would tend to just throw up my hands and crawl back into the safe space of sociology. I could find answers there and it just made so much more sense to me.
In any case, I learned about things that appealed to me. I was reading about things that seemed to be the better, more correct version of what I was learning about the Mormon church. While I wasn’t quite ready to jump on board the “I BELIEVE!” wagon, I was very willing to shove it in the missionaries’ faces: “You want truth? Here’s truth.” I admit, I was not very nice.
Here’s a laundry list of the thing I learned (do lists make me lazy?):
1. “No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey, you are welcome here.” This sounded good enough for me. I was pissed off at who I thought God was, but this place seemed to not care if I loved, hated, or even believed in God. I also knew that they loved my family. Plymouth became a safe place for me to be angsty. And boy, oh boy, angsty I was.
2. United Church of Christ History: The history of the UCC was inviting. They are a church of firsts and they were firsts that I believed in, even if I didn’t believe in the things they were firsting. Yes, I made that word up. The UCC was the first church to ordain African-Americans, women, and gay ministers. The UCC was also the first church to be open and affirming, and to marry gay members of their congregation. GO, TEAM GO! This church is a leader in social activism and bringing justice to oppressed populations and I could dedicate a whole post to the many ways in which it celebrates the diverse colors and textures of the fabric of humanity. Sometimes it’s hard to understand why I even considered any other church.
3. Intersection of Intelligence and Religion: It seemed to be filled with people I would want to get to know, even if I still thought religious people were out of their minds. Learning about the UCC helped me rethink the intersections of religion, feminism, and intelligence. Maybe, just maybe, people of faith could also be people of intellect? I was skeptical, but willing to consider the possibility. Sociology taught me it was impossible. Marx taught us that “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people.” I had questions and wanted answers, but I also thought that if I found answers in religion, it would mean I wasn’t actually intelligent and that I could easily be duped. I resolved that if I had to make any clear decisions, I was too smart for religion. God was dumb.
4. The Priesthood of All Believers: Eat that, Elders! The missionaries spent a lot of time trying to explain the priesthood to me. I can’t tell you how many times I asked, “So what is the difference between you and a real priest?” In the UCC, they assert the priesthood power of all believers. I’m just going to go ahead and steal this from the UCC website, because they do it better.
All members of the United Church of Christ are called to minister to others and to participate as equals in the common worship of God, each with direct access to the mercies of God through personal prayer and devotion.
This was appealing. In the Mormon church, only men can hold the priesthood. Only men have the authority to act in God’s name. Only men are able to administer blessings. This was (and admittedly, still is) troubling for me. Anything that begins with “Only men have the authority/right/privilege to….” is a red flag for me. I don’t like and can’t understand that I can’t do something or be someone because I am a woman. I assure you, there was a lot of eye rolling around the missionaries.
Anyway, the priesthood of all believers was attractive, even if I didn’t believe. What mattered to me was that I had access to that, if and when I decided to. I was not limited in my ability to work in God’s name because I am a woman.
5. In essentials unity, in non-essentials diversity, in all things charity: This made so much sense to me. As far as religion was concerned, there were a few things I could get on board with. For the most part though, I still really didn’t think I needed any of it. At the very least, it gave me a safe starting point.
I want it to be known that I still hugely believe in the work and theology of the United Church of Christ. I believe that it is a true and inspired church and that their work is the work of God and exactly Christlike. I still listen to Peter’s sermons every week online and often quote his words here.
So, what’s the point of this post? The UCC served a few purposes: I got to learn stuff even though I didn’t have clearly defined questions; I got to use religion to piss off the religious (ha, take that!); and most importantly, I got to splash around in the shallow end of religiosity without compromising my intelligence. Not only did I get to be right, but I got to be righter than the missionaries. Score.
The most important thing the UCC did for me was to give me the opportunity to be curious about religion. It gave me the desire to want to desire to learn about God on new, more loving terms.
More on the story later 🙂
So much love,