A formerly dear friend called me out publicly recently, in the comments of this Huffington blog (since deleted by her) saying that I wasn't a "real" Mormon anymore and that I should stop "pretending" to be one and move on with the rest of my life. I hear variations of this a lot from more orthodox Mormons, some in my own family. I hear this sometimes from leaders of the Mormon church, who say that you can't be a "buffet" Mormon who chooses certain parts of Mormonism, but not all of them. I hear it even from friends who aren't religious at all, who want to know why in the world I am staying a part of Mormonism when I see clearly so many of its flaws. But my identity as a Mormon isn't one I'm planning to give up soon.
Do I consider myself a "real" Mormon? Well, I don't know what a "real" Mormon is. I'm not sure who gets to determine whether or not someone else is a "real" Mormon or not except for those who attend Mormon church services and have not been excommunicated or have not officially resigned from the church. My name continues to be on the membership records of the church. I attend church meetings each week (all three hours of them) and I serve in my calling to the best of my ability.
I was baptized at age eight by my father. I received a "Young Womanhood Award" and medallion when I was seventeen years old. I was married in the Provo temple to my husband at age twenty. My six children were all blessed and baptized in the church, though some of them have left unofficially since then. I listen to all four sessions of Mormon General Conference each spring and each fall (eight hours in total) with my family around me at home while we indulge in our tradition of bagels and donuts.
Have I faced church discipline for speaking out about LGBT suicide and the need to be more inclusive and loving, especially after the policy change in November of last year? No, I have not as of yet. Are my books, including The Bishop's Wife, considered apostate? Not as far as I know, though it is true that the church-owned bookstore Deseret Book chooses not to stock them. Do other members of my ward consider me "out there"? Probably they do, though I tend to keep rather a low profile. I wear black and a rainbow ribbon each week, to indicate my mourning for the LGBT teens who are committing suicide on what seems like a weekly basis, and to mark myself as a safe space to talk for allies and others who are concerned about LGBT Mormons (link).
Do I consider myself a "real" Mormon? Well, after this painful comment was posted last year, I changed my tag line here to read "Mormon in progress," because I am aware that my Mormonism isn't the standard. I've certainly changed my view of God and of the church itself since my faith crisis ten years ago. I don't necessarily think that the Mormon church is "the one true church," though I haven't found another church that I love and feel comfortable in. I believe in many truths that Mormonism teaches, though there are some that I reject and others that I would like to believe in again and that I pray for testimony in on a regular basis.
Isn't a "real" Mormon one who wants the church to be better? Isn't a "real" Mormon one who wants to be better herself, who spends time each day reflecting on her own flaws? Isn't a "real" Mormon one who is willing to listen to those who are mourning their loss of faith and loss of a place within Mormonism? I don't consider myself better than other Mormons. I don't think they are stupid or misled or unenlightened. I don't assume that everyone will follow the path that I am on if they learn "the truth" about the church. I just don't see the world in those kinds of black and white terms anymore.
I have Mormon friends who are lesbian, bisexual, gay, trans, intersex, and asexual. Are they not "real" Mormons? I have Mormon friends who are divorced, remarried, childless, and single. I am dear friends with Mormons who suffer from depression, diabetes, MS, Parkinsons, autism, and cancer. I know Mormons who are American, German, Maori, Russian, and Mexican. These things don't make them less "real" as Mormons. They make them more Mormon because they are able to understand how Mormonism fits into places that I cannot understand on my own.
I've written before about my new prayer practice which includes meditation and a great deal of time expressing gratitude. I've recently added a final portion to this practice, which is me envisioning knocking on the door to Christ's home and waiting for Him to answer the door. So far, He has always invited me in. Sometimes He puts his arms around me and holds me and whispers into my ear that He loves me completely and eternally. Sometimes He invites me in and sits with me as I talk about my fears that I am not "enough." Sometimes He puts His hands on my head and gives me a traditional Mormon blessing of comfort and healing. Sometimes I fall at His feet and He bends down to lift me and to tell me that the world is better with me in it. For now, I'm going to trust His words more than those who are angry at me for pushing the boundaries of Mormonism.