Talking to an ex-Mormon recently, she asked me how I could maintain my membership in an organization where so many people are doing so many embarrassing things. She pointed out that just because my own home ward is a safe place, or just because I live in a liberal Mecca (I don’t), that doesn’t mean that I can ignore what Mormonism as a whole means. To her, Mormonism has become a symbol of racial, gender, and sexuality prejudice. It has become synonymous with backward thinking, with anti-science, with cognitive dissonance, with excommunication of the best and the brightest. I might argue that Mormonism is also about healthy living, service, about fair treatment for immigrants, and about helping refugees. But sometimes Mormonism and other Mormons aren’t always what I wish they were.
It might surprise you to learn that I am a registered Republican. This is partly because I live in what is a de-facto one-party state (Utah) where the Republican party requires I must be a registered Republican to have a voice in primaries, while the Democratic party allows me to vote in their primary no matter what. I have thought about resigning as a Republican, and I haven’t done it yet. I may yet do it, but I’ve happily voted Democrat for several national elections without feeling the need to change my party affiliation locally. I certainly understand those who have resigned their membership in the Republican party because of Trump. I understand, as well, Mormons who feel they cannot stay members of a church that they disagree with on a fundamental level.
But here is my question in return to those who think that I must resign or risk being called a hypocrite: Am I allowed to be part of no organization if any persons in that organization have any embarrassing behavior? This would surely mean that I could not belong to any organizations period. So, if it is a given that any organization is going to embarrass me at some point, how many Mormons have to be doing what I agree with in order for me to maintain my membership without being called a hypocrite (a word I daresay no human is ever immune from, no matter how honest and authentic)?
I have written about the times when I see the Mormon church as an institution setting policies which I find offensive or backward. Many times, people who have read my essays here on Huffington or my Linda Wallheim series of mystery novels ask when I left the Mormon church, expecting to hear a narrative about my resignation or disaffection from the church. They are always surprised to hear that I am still a practicing Mormon who attends weekly meetings, does her monthly visiting teaching, and has a daughter recently returned from serving a mission.
Am I embarrassed by some Mormons I know? Yes, I am. I see Cliven Bundy, who seems a ridiculous figure, not disciplined by the church, and Orrin Hatch who is calling for Mormons to support Donald Trump. I’ve watched Mormons in politics here in Utah take bribes, and I’ve seen Mormons who have been convicted of crimes from child abuse to fraud. I cringe when I personally hear some Mormons insisting that evolution is a “trap” by Satan, or who argue that all science is wrong and that truth from God comes completely differently. I feel obliged to remind people about our imperative to love when I hear some speak in fear or disgust in church about other races or groups. I even have family members whose relationship have become strained of late.
But walking away also doesn’t seem an answer to me. Do all the problems disappear if I have my name removed? Are gay children who are trying to figure out who they are better served by those allies who are outside the church or those allies who are in the pews each Sunday? Are Mormons more likely to listen to those who point out the real history of the church from outsiders branded as “anti-Mormon” or those who have educated themselves well and who are helping their fellow Mormons move on Saturday or filling the local cannery assignment?
I guess I feel that I am living the life I believe in as openly and honestly and authentically as I possibly can. I think no one can accuse me of hiding my problems with the Mormon church. But I also think that it is worth my effort. I made a covenant to the church and I will try to honor it as far as I can. This covenant is to mourn with those that mourn, to comfort those who stand in need of comfort, and to honor Christ’s name in the way that I live. I think that I can do this on my own terms, following my conscience, without rejecting everything that is Mormon.
And also, the truth is that I am who I am because I am Mormon. Mormonism has brought me here, and I owe both good and bad in myself in part to the Mormon church and to my Mormon family. The belief that God speaks to each of us individually comes from Mormonism. My courage to speak my truth comes in part from my Mormonism. My love for family and my belief that love extends to friend-family, as well, is rooted in my Mormonism. My trust that there is hope in the future and that the world is getting better, not worse, is part of Mormonism’s inherent optimistic view. My own fierce dedication to keeping body and mind healthy and whole is from Mormonism. I am not anxious to throw out all of this at once, so here I am, and here I stay.