Before I continue my story, it is worth mentioning that the next many posts will cover a very short period of time. I learned a lot and a lot changed for me in the span of just four months (October – January) and every second of it is worth remembering. I met so many people and had some really really challenging conversations along the way. I cried a lot, too. I was angry and hurting and I wanted so badly for my questions to be answered.
So, let’s recap. It’s now November and I’ve been going to Plymouth UCC for nearly three months. I was doing my own research on “the Mormons,” and after the General Conference, I resolved that I knew everything I needed to know and could wash my hands of it. But then I met with Dr. L and had a challenging, yet formative, conversation about feminism and religion (specifically Mormonism). She suggested that I meet with the Sister missionaries and for some reason, my mouth started moving, words came out, and I agreed to it.
I e-mailed another student in my department, LL, about her thoughts on being a liberal Mormon. This is what she had to say:
Sometimes it is a difficult and frustrating road, but a lot of what I have learned is that there is a difference between the doctrine of the church, and the cultural traditions that individual members often treat like doctrine. Using my sociological imagination has helped me to understand the church in its historical and political context, and to understand that it is and forever will be an evolving religion.
Here’s the bottom line… I believe that we all have a loving Heavenly Father and Mother and that our lives have purpose and that this life was not the beginning or the end. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, plays a very important role in that plan. My reading of the New Testament has convinced me that Jesus is in fact a feminist. He challenged political and religious authority at every turn. He ate with, walked with, and talked with the marginalized – women, minorities, the sick and disabled, etc., and called the wealthy and elite to give up all that they had (many could not). His approach and teachings were so threatening that those in power sought to destroy his life.
The Book of Mormon, an account of Jesus’ interactions with the people of the Americas, also illustrates some interesting sociological concepts – for example, how throughout history as nations become more wealthy and prosperous it leads to greater inequality, greed, and exploitation, which eventually leads to the downfall of those nations. When Christ comes to those people there is great peace and equality for a long time, but eventually the cycle of accumulation and exploitation returns. There’s so much sociology in the Book of Mormon!
I don’t know if any of this answers your question! In short, I’m a Mormon because I believe the religion is true. I’m a feminist because I believe in equality and social justice. Although there are components of both that frustrate me, fundamentally, I believe the two are perfectly compatible.
She’s so smart! There it was, laid out perfectly for me, with just about zero angst. A very well written and very well thought out “it is what it is because it is what it is.” The most important part of the conversations I had with Dr. L and LL was that I knew these women were intelligent. If these intelligent women could believe all of this, then maybe I didn’t have to be so concerned with being duped or having to compromise my intelligence. I asked Dr. L how she could wrap her head around the Joseph Smith story, about the golden plates, and Moroni. I asked her if she really thought it actually happened. She said to me, “Does it matter? Even if you take Joseph Smith out of it, what we learn in the Book of Mormon is still true. Even if it turns out that all of this was made up, the Book of Mormon is still an amazing road map for our lives.” She then said something that helped me to start thinking differently: “if you choose this, if you learn for yourself that this is true, there’s nothing to lose.” That last part, “there’s nothing to lose,” hit hard. I needed to hear those words. I needed a confirmation from someone I trusted and respected that if I chose to start down this path, I wouldn’t risk losing anything. I wouldn’t have to worry about losing my identity, or my intelligence, or myself.
Okay, I thought, I can do this. I think.
After this conversation with Dr. L, I worked up the nerve to request a meeting with the sister missionaries. The decision to do this also made me barf. Not a good start, I imagine.
The next day, I got a phone call from the sister missionaries. “When would you like to meet?” they asked. My roommate was out of town and would be for a few days. I knew that it would be safe for them to come over, because I wouldn’t have to worry about hiding anything or lying about who or why they were there. I just wanted to meet with them and ask them questions.
“Uh, how about right now?” I said. Sister R was so excited, I could hear her almost jump through the phone. “Yes! We’re on our way!”
The sisters arrived a short time after and I prepared by bringing my Bible and Book of Mormon out of hiding. I had a pen, some paper, and snacks and was ready to go. Ready to go where? I had no freaking idea. Sisters A and R came in and we sat in the living room and they asked me what I knew about the church. I gave them a brief run down of “my story,” which no doubt overwhelmed them. I finally just told them, “listen, I need you to teach me how to read this so I can show the Elders that they are wrong.” The sisters looked at each other as if to say, “is she serious?” They were kind and just responded, “okay, let’s get started!”
They asked me if I would be interested in offering the opening prayer and I enthusiastically said no. I didn’t know how to or why to pray because I thought my prayer was broken (I’ll get to that in a bit). Instead, Sister R prayed that the Spirit would be with us and that I might keep my heart open to learning the things I needed to learn. Ugh. That was not at all what I was interested in.
We started reading from Enos. We read the whole thing out loud and then verse by verse, we broke it down. The sisters taught me what I was reading and what those words in this silly blue book meant. We talked a lot about prayer. We spent nearly 3 hours talking about prayer. I was frustrated, but not in the same way I was frustrated with the Elders when talking about prayer. This time, I secretly wanted to know that God was actually there and was actually aware of me. Sister R kept saying that He was, but I just kept thinking, “you’re a missionary. You’re supposed to say that.”
I wish I could remember our entire conversation, not for the sake of skipping down memory lane, but because that was the first time I put aside my feelings for MoBoy, my thoughts and experiences about religion, my political objections to the LDS church, and other things that made things cloudy and confusing.
That was the first day that I was able to ask a simple and clear question:
What is in this book?
So much love,