My Zion Includes Ex-Mormons and Atheists

(and Post-Mormons and Atheists and Catholics and Baptists and Buddhists and Muslims . . . )

Too often, I see lines drawn between Mormons and other Christians, or Mormons and ex-Mormons, or Religious People and Non-Religious People. This is painful to me because I don’t like to see us making enemies of people who could be our friends. I don’t like to play the game of solidifying our group’s boundaries by vilifying the “other” rather than trying for understanding. I also really dislike the kinds of stereotypes that I see on both sides of this, stereotypes I find unfair and demeaning. There is a lot of fear in these attitudes and I think fear isn’t a good way to go about living.

Mormonism encourages us to find truth in everything and to make that truth part of our religion. The Doctrine and Covenants specifically reminds us to seek out the “best books” even if they are books that are written by those who are not of our faith (D&C 88:188). The Prophet Joseph Smith taught that “Mormonism is truth. … The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or … being … prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men.”

The 13th Article of Faith tells us, “If there is anything virtuous, lovely, or of good report or praiseworthy, we seek after these things.” We’re not told to only look for art or knowledge from other Mormons or other Christians. We seek after all truth, all that is lovely or virtuous. This Article of Faith gives us a mandate to seek for truth widely, in unusual places. And The Council of the Twelve encourage in 1847 that Saints seek out “every historical, mathematical, philosophical, geographical, geological, astronomical, scientific, practical, and all other variety of useful and interesting writings, maps” to take with them west, so that the next generation could be taught.

My experience has been that there is a lot of truth to be found among those who have left Mormonism and from other religious traditions. I know that for many Mormons, these truths can feel painful to hear because they are truths that ask us to re-consider our own religion and our place within it. Nonetheless, our Mormon mandate to seek for truth demands that we do this, and that we thank those who teach us even when it may hurt.

Atheists have taught me that religious institutions have done harm in the world, including my own. Rejecting scientific truth because it challenges a current view of God isn’t the way to learn and grow.

Ex-Mormons have taught me about manipulation within the church, including teachings about “families are forever,” which I consider to be a dear and sweet truth of Mormonism. Yet teaching that children who leave the church won’t be in heaven with us, that there will be empty chairs, is a kind of violence perpetrated. Do we believe in free will or not? Do we honor the choices of our children or not? Do we allow ourselves to be taught by those who have chosen another path or do we hunker down and remain where we are?

Post-Mormons have demanded that I reconsider the historicity of the Book of Mormon and what truths I find valuable in it. Post-Mormons have made me look more carefully at the history of Mormonism, of polygamy, of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, and of fundamentalists who have been cut off from the mainstream of Mormonism. I value these lessons that teach me about the problems of obedience and the reality of change. No matter how often I hear Mormons preach that the church is the same, that God never changes, the history teaches that the church has changed radically—and will likely continue to change radically.

Other Christian traditions have demanded that I ask about our worship of Jesus Christ and God the Father. Is our view truly different than the traditional Christian trinity? In what ways does it matter? How attached are we to the idea that God has a body and that the Holy Ghost does not? What about Heavenly Mother? How does she fit into our three-person Godhead? What about grace? How does that fit into the Mormon ideal of baptizing the dead into the Millennium? Do Mormons need to know the answers to every question about God? Do we ever contemplate the glory of God and feel awe in His presence instead of insisting that everything make sense?

Other religious traditions beyond Mormonism have also taught me the importance of giving up my attachment to changing the world. Mormons are often so focused on doing good that sometimes we end up with mental health problems because we can never give ourselves a break. How can we rest if it’s our job to prepare for Christ to come again? What if it’s not our job to change the world, but to change ourselves to become more accepting of both the good and bad that come along in the world? What if we need to stop judging our experiences as good and bad and simply allow them to happen to us?

So when it comes to imagining who belongs in Zion, I hope that all my friends who have taught me truths would be there and would continue to teach me through the eternities. Do I think that they will become converted to Mormonism there? Well, that seems silly to me. Turning them into Mormons would seem to me to take away their capacity to teach me. Instead, I guess my vision of Zion would be that we would all draw closer to a grand truth that would include all of us. But I wouldn’t want them to lose their identities any more than I would want to lose mine. Maybe even in heaven we will continue to learn by opposition, by being exposed to differing ideas and being forced to see our mistakes and shortcomings by the ways that others see the world differently.

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