An Overdue Conversation on Church Vs. Religion

What would it take for you to leave the Mormon Church featured by popular lifestyle blogger, Design Mom

What would it take for you to leave the Mormon Church featured by popular lifestyle blogger, Design Mom

A couple of months ago, a long-time reader named Cynthia asked a question in the comments of a Friday blog post: What would it take for you to leave the Mormon church?

I found myself surprised by the question. I interpreted it as very heavy and personal and wasn’t sure what to make of it being posed so casually. I tried to give a thoughtful, brief response, but she was not happy with what I wrote and commented angrily. I was upset by the angry response, and took it down before people started fighting with her. I emailed her explaining why, then I got on a plane.

When I got off the plane, the conversation had continued without me and the new comments (several were very wise!) gave me a different perspective. I realized that Cynthia and I had been talking past each other. Her question wasn’t intended to be personal or intrusive, and my response to her wasn’t intended to provoke anger. I concluded we were talking about two different things.

She was talking about church, and I was talking about religion.

I didn’t feel good about how that comment exchange went down, and ever since, I’ve been thinking about the different ways people approach church and religion. I’d love to discuss the topic with you.

This is where my thinking is right now:

– When I think of Major World Religions with a capital R, I’m thinking of Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and Christianity. But I don’t think of those Religions as a monolith. I realize each one is made up of sub-set religions, sects, and churches. In this discussion, I’m focusing on Christianity.

– Those sub-set religions can be wildly different from one another, with a few common threads keeping them under the same Major World Religion umbrella. For example, you might have a very progressive church (both politically and socially), and a very conservative church (both politically and socially) that both classify as part of Christianity, but don’t have anything in common except a belief in Jesus Christ.

– Beyond doctrine, among the subset religions within Christianity, there’s quite a bit of variety in how they function. There are massive organizations (like the Catholic Church), and there are completely independent groups (like a congregation of 15 that meets in the living room of a self-proclaimed pastor’s apartment), that have no official ties to other religious groups or a larger religious organization in any way.

– There are some large organizations, like Mormons and Catholics, who generally run their congregations in a standardized way. Which means you can go from city to city across the country, or across the world, and find a Catholic or Mormon church and know just what to expect from the Sunday worship — down to the clothes, the sacrament prayers, and the songs.

– But that’s not always the case. Within some of the larger organizations, there can be congregations that run in very different ways. And there are dozens (hundreds?) of smaller organizations made of multiple congregations, and thousands of one-off independent congregations too.

– There are many people who grow up within Christianity, and experience their family “shopping around for a church.” They might move to a new town and try out a few different options before settling down with a particular congregation. Or they might attend one church for many years and then feel the push to try something new when a different pastor comes to town.

While looking around, they may be seeking for a particular feeling they want to experience at church, or they may be looking for social opportunities, or they may be searching for a group that has a specific stance or policy on a topic that is important to them.

– Other people may shop around for a church but keep their search within one of the larger organizations. They may identify as Baptist and feel committed to choosing from among the Baptist congregations in town.

– For Mormons, this works differently. Mormons are assigned a congregation based on their home address. There’s no shopping around or choosing (unless you visit congregations before you pick your apartment or house). There are occasional exceptions to the home address rule, but they are very rare. Mormons attend where they are assigned.

Additionally, Mormon congregations are organized in very planned predictable ways. The Sunday School lessons being taught on a given Sunday in one Mormon congregation, are being taught in every other Mormon congregation too. And we all use the same manuals and lesson plans. Sure there’s room for interpretation and the conversations and discussion might go in different directions depending on who is teaching, but it’s fair to say any Mormon could attend any Mormon congregation, and know what exactly to expect.

– So if I as a Mormon, was “shopping around for a church,” there’s really nowhere for me to shop except outside of Mormonism. Because it’s not okay for me to choose another Mormon congregation that I’m not assigned to, and even if I did, the people might change, but the lessons and teachings would essentially remain the same.

– Which brings me back to Cynthia’s question: What would it take for you to leave the Mormon church?

I could definitely look outside of Mormonism for another church. I’m sure I could find several churches that align perfectly with my political beliefs, and I know there are many churches that have some religious beliefs in common with me — like a belief in God, and Jesus Christ and the scriptures. The problem I would face, is that Mormons have a good chunk of unusual, particular doctrines (in addition to the more in-common stuff), and another church isn’t likely to align on those doctrines at all. How important are those uniquely Mormon doctrines? Well, to me, they’re really important.

– Because of this, I think of Mormonism as a religion, and not a church. I don’t know if I’m doing a very good job explaining what I think the difference is. I guess I think of churches as having a small set of core beliefs — God, Jesus Christ, and the Bible — that are fairly universal. Beyond those universal beliefs, one church might differentiate itself from another church based on who attends, who preaches, what the location is, what kind of community service is provided, who runs the music — that sort of thing. On the other hand, I think of religions as larger organizations, with a much more detailed set of doctrines, beliefs and ceremonies, that include a lifestyle and culture that goes beyond basic Sunday services. (Does that even make sense? I don’t know, maybe it doesn’t even really matter for this conversation. Hah!)

– As a general rule, Mormons who leave Mormonism, have concluded they don’t believe Mormon doctrines. Perhaps they don’t believe in the uniquely Mormon stuff, but they still believe in God and Jesus Christ and the Bible. In that case, there are any number of churches that could potentially be a good fit — both independent churches, and other churches that are part of a bigger religious organization. If a Mormon leaves Mormonism and no longer believes any of it (the Mormon stuff or the Bible or God), they tend to not choose another religion at all, and continue on with a non-religious (though still moral!) life.

– In my case, yes, I get very angry at some of the Mormon church’s stances, and I have no problem being vocal about things I want to see change in the Mormon church. But the idea of simply choosing another church instead is hard for me to wrap my head around. For me to leave the Mormon church, I suppose I would have to reject or no longer believe any of the doctrines, beliefs or practices as a whole. And if that was the case, I can’t picture choosing another religion. I suppose I would abandon religion altogether. Which I currently have no interest in doing.

– In addition, because I’ve grown up as a Mormon and lived my whole life as a Mormon, there’s a cultural aspect that’s hard to explain. Even if I left the Mormon church, I would still be Mormon by culture. The way I think, and the way I approach life, would still be heavily influenced by my Mormon upbringing. My friend Susan has been out of the Mormon Church since we were in college together, and still today, if someone hears she’s from Utah and asks if she’s Mormon, she says, “Yes, I’m a Mormon, but I’m no longer practicing.”

No doubt other people who have left the Mormon church would respond differently than Susan, but I totally get where she’s coming from. You can reject Mormonism, and want to disassociate with it, but if you grew up Mormon, there’s probably still a lot of Mormon in you whether you recognize it or not.

The closest thing I can compare it to is maybe nationality. It’s conceivable that I would move to another country, and perhaps even apply for citizenship there, but I can’t imagine not being American. Even if I no longer had an American passport, my experience growing up here would influence every part of my life. You know?

– So, when Cynthia asked me what would make me leave the Mormon church, my brain could not quite comprehend what she was asking. One of the commenters on the original conversation said, “In her first comment Gabrielle mentioned how hard this question is to answer. I see it less as a God/Church thing and would almost rephrase your question as “what would it finally take for you to abandon your mother tongue and family?”

I appreciated that comment so much. It did a much better job of trying to communicate what was going through my head. I understand that for many church-going people, their church doesn’t end up necessarily being like a native tongue. But for Mormons, our religion is a whole lifestyle — a lifestyle which includes church attendance, but isn’t solely church attendance at all.

– Before I conclude, I want to mention that I know someone is going to want to ask, “What Mormon doctrines are so important to you that you can’t reject them?” Totally a fair question, and I’ve jotted down some notes that may turn into another post, because it’s a whole other topic. On this post, I’m hoping the conversation is more focused on the idea of religion versus church, instead of delving into Mormon doctrine details. : )

Now it’s your turn. What’s your take on this topic? Do you consider yourself to be religious? Did you grow up in one religion but switch in adulthood? Would you say you belong more to a church or to a religion?

I’m especially curious to hear from anyone who has shopped around for a congregation or church. Is there something in particular you were looking for? Parameters that you searched within? And did you find something you like? Is it an independent group, or is it part of a larger organization?

Have you found a church or religion that feels like a perfect fit? Or are there things you disagree with and want to change? If you do belong to a religion, and someone posed the question at top to you, what would you answer? I’d love to hear.

P.S. — If you are in a position where you feel like you can shop for a church, here’s a website that scores churches on how clear their LGTBQ policies are. 

202 thoughts on “An Overdue Conversation on Church Vs. Religion”

  1. Hi Gabrielle, as a person who was brought up with no set of religious beliefs (mom’s background was Jewish, dad’s was Catholic) I find this conversation fascinating and baffling at the same time. Add to that I was born in Paraguay to an Argentine mom and an American dad, but have lived in the US most of my life. I had a conversation several years ago, with my son, about the Catholic Church’s abuses. I said to him if I identified as Catholic and this is what my church did then I could not call myself a Catholic any longer. I see Israel and think what was done to the Jews was abhorrent, and I think that now what the Jews are doing to the Palestinians is abhorrent and so I can not call myself a Jew. I see what the Republican Party is supporting, and endorsing and I say if that kind of ugly evil was happening in the Democratic Party I would no longer be a Democrat. I see what my country, America, is doing to immigrants, refugees, women, minorities, LGBTQ, our planet and I can no longer stand for the pledge and really no longer identify as an American. So for me, my view of myself as a member of the human race, a daughter, a wife, a mother, a grandmother, a friend are all the labels and associations I need. Thanks for letting me share what have been merely thoughts and feelings in my heart and head in a more concrete way. Wishing you peace Gabrielle xo

    1. Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Charmaine. Though the idea of identifying primarily as a member of the human race is really appealing to me, and I would love to move in that direction, I feel like practical everyday realities, like renewing a passport and registering to vote and paying taxes, keep certain identities of mine firmly in place. Maybe I need to think about it differently.

      Regarding your comment that you would no longer identify as Catholic or Jewish, etc., I get the thinking, and admire it, but it seems like it’s something that it would be easier for someone to say who has not identified deeply as a Catholic or a Jew. Who knows. Obviously, religion is personal and holds different meaning and weight (or non-weight) for different people. I honestly don’t know what I would do or feel if I was deeply Jewish and watching news about Israel and Palestine.

      1. This post was really interesting, and I admire your decision to delve into the topic. Most people would have not taken the time past their initial angry knee jerk reaction, and I loved that you did.

        I’m Jewish. But unlike most of American Jewry which are affiliated with the more liberal movements of Reform Judaism, Conservative Judaism, and Reconstructionist Judaism, I’m Orthodox (and within Orthodoxy identify as Modern Orthodox). Like you, being a Jew is such an intrinsic part of my identity that even if I were to be non-practicing (we call it being “off the derech” derech=hebrew for path) I would never not say I am Jewish.

        This is for many reasons, but a big one is that being Jewish is not just simply a religion, it is a peoplehood, comprised of people who share not only a religion but a national identity of being members of “bnei Yisrael” (the children of Israel), which is why there are heavy cultural aspects that have nothing to do with dogma or belief in G-d or whatever. From reading your post it seems that people who are Mormon seem to share this-having a culture that truly is a lifetstyle. There is also this aspect of Judaism that is very much “once a Jew always a Jew”, with a passage of the Talmud even stating that if a person converts to Judaism and then goes back to worshipping idols they are still Jewish. Which is probably why your grandmother saw herself as Jewish but non-practicing, instead of seeing herself as no longer Jewish.

        Unlike Mormonism or the Catholic Church we do not have an overarching governing body, and so you have different groups. The Reform Jews for example, have chosen to declare they do not accept Halacha-Jewish law-as binding. That is their doctrine. However, even within Orthodoxy, and this is what I’m going to talk about here because it’s what I’m most familiar with, there is a huge degree of pluralism. Without getting too into it, there is overarching adherence to Jewish law that binds all Orthodox Jews together, but within that framework, you have different groups that hold by different poskim (halachic decisors) who may rule differently on different areas of Jewish law, although they agree on the big stuff, such as how one should keep Shabbat or the laws of Kashrut, like how many hours you should wait between milk and meat, what are the permissible ways a married woman should cover her hair, or whether or not you are allowed to ride a bicycle on Shabbat. The differences mostly follow ethnic lines (Sephardim-people whose ancestors are from the Iberian peninsula pre-Inquisition-following one rabbi or text and Ashkenazim-people whose ancestors are from Eastern Europe, and what most American Jews are- following a different one), but also communities, like the Modern Orthodox, the Hasidim, and Litvish, etc all having different stances on issues of Jewish law and falling on a spectrum of liberal to conservative but all under the umbrella of Orthodoxy.

        As for feelings about Israel and Palestine, I think I can speak to that a bit. I am originally American, but two years ago made immigrated to Israel.I see how hard it is for people, especially people like my in-laws who consider themselves left-wing and completely against the occupation (I consider myself left wing on social and fiscal issues, but right wing when it comes to the occupation. Choosing a party to vote for next election will be complicated for me, to say the least). However, my in laws are huge Zionists, immigrating from Europe themselves, and while they do not agree with the government they feel like this is their home because they are Jews and feel compelled to stay here and “fight the good fight” so to speak. Although they may loathe the conflict and the ways it has manifested in Israeli society they aren’t about to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

        I mean, just because as an American I am deeply against Trump and all of our society’s ills he seems to represent (isolationism, misogyiny, bigotry, etc etc) I still love my country. I think you can disagree with your country’s government and still love your country, and that doesn’t mean you condone the things that they are doing. Although for some people it does I suppose. One of my friend’s fathers left South Africa during the years of apartheid and burned his South African passport, and obviously he felt differently.

        1. Thank you so much for sharing your opionion on this matter. I love it and I love how much I have learned about your religion. I especially liked your last comment that said, ” I think you can diagree with your country’s government and still love your country, and that doesn’t mean you condone the things that they are doing.” I would also add to that you can still love your religion but not condone all the pracices. I think a major factor in saying this to be true is that we are humans and humans make mistakes. So while I believe my religion is perfect, the humans are not. Once again, I enjoyed reading your response.

    2. Having been a stay at home mom for decade now I have thought about identity too! Do I still call myself a teacher because I’m passionate about education but haven’t taught school for 10 years? Should I give up on teaching and my love for teaching because there are some terrible teachers that I don’t want to be identified with? Of course not. I can be the teacher who gives teaching a good name. In the context of religious or national identity we can be the same. We cannot let others define these identities for us. They are the minority! Even the label as a human has been tainted by some very bad humans, but humans have done some amazing things too!
      In much the same way, I think having been a teacher had changed me, my interactions with children, other parents and my kids’ teachers, even my interactions with my husband occasionally. Though I’ve been out of the profession it still shapes who I am.

      1. ****They can disagree on the little stuff like how many hours you should wait between milk and meat, what are the permissible ways a married woman should cover her hair, or whether or not you are allowed to ride a bicycle on Shabbat.

        Sorry for the typo!

    1. Yes. I’ve definitely seen that. My grandmother was Jewish but not practicing. I think Mormonism will get there at some point, but I don’t think it’s there yet. It’s still a very young religion.

      1. I was just going to comment about the fact that the real issue here is that Mormonism is such a young religion. I’d argue that Mormonism needs the equivalent of reform Judaism. I think you’ll get there… and probably in less than thousands of years.

          1. I suppose I’m thinking of the long histories of our world religions. We can look back and see trends and schisms and changes and offshoots — but they happened over hundreds or thousands of years. Mormonism is so young. It doesn’t have centuries and centuries of history yet.

  2. Thanks for this post Gabrielle. I am growing more fascinated with social psychology and the growing evidence that points to the fact that our religious beliefs are largely based on our social identity. If you grow up Hindu, you BELIEVE your religious life is more than just a way to live. Same for Muslims, Buddhists, Mormons, the list goes on and on. We are shaped by our culture and the people we surround ourselves with. And without realizing it, our brains do funny filtering things to protect these beliefs for us. As much as we are all trying to be open-minded and objective to really understanding the truth, it’s just hard, because we are products of our environments. Not that we can’t seek truth and attempt rationality about faith…but sadly, us humans are not entirely rational. On the flip side, knowing all this gives me great compassion and empathy for those that believe different things than me. And I also try to recognize that often religious systems and communities really work for people…giving them meaning, and structure and rhythms of life that work for them. And belonging. It is a powerful thing to belong to a group that loves us for who we are. And so even though I am not Mormon myself, I’ve always appreciated your views and thoughts and admired your committment to it, while at the same time attempting reform and progress. We are all such complicated people! Who can ever really put into words why we fully believe what we do, it’s that weird mix of rationality mixed with intuition and gut instinct. Anyways, not that you should have to justify your beliefs, but thanks anyways for sharing your thoughts. By the way, Jonathan Haidt is a fascinating social psychologist if you want to give him a whirl….

    1. I love this comment! There is definitely a part of my brain that is totally fine with the thought of no god, no religion, no faith — and it never stresses me out if a friend or relative no longer wants or needs religion or God or faith in their life. I feel like I truly understand the rationale. And there are things about it that are really appealing to me. But I also know that when I use that part of my brain and approach life without a God (something I’ve done for good stretches of time throughout my life) that life isn’t as beautiful or interesting or meaningful to me. AND I’M NOT SAYING THAT’S HOW IT WORKS FOR EVERYONE. I just know that’s how it works for me.

      I also really appreciate what you said here: “And I also try to recognize that often religious systems and communities really work for people…giving them meaning, and structure and rhythms of life that work for them.” I think that’s very true.

      Lastly, thanks for linking to the Jonathon Haidt program. I’ve totally heard it, because funnily enough, it seems to be a popular program with people who have left the Mormon church and are examining how they want to approach morality. : )

  3. I am a member of the Mormon religion. That said, I find myself at odds with a lot of the members (church), and some of the doctrine (religion), but for me, it works better than any other philosophy I have studied, and unlike a lot of other religions, most of the doctrine makes logical sense. Mormon doctrine isn’t at odds with science, we believe in a Mother God, we also believe in personal revelation, and that there is still scripture yet to be revealed – which gives me a lot of hope for things I cannot yet understand.

    One of my favourite doctrines is within the “13 Articles of Faith”, namely the 11th, which states we allow others to follow their own dictates, that it’s fine if others choose to believe otherwise; unfortunately I think their are many members who forget this doctrine and fear others who are not LDS/Mormon. (a lot of this is just plain human nature fearing the unknown or different, but it goes against the doctrine) You wanna worship Buddha, be a Muslim, follow Sikhism, or worship trees, or nothing at all… LDS doctrine states it’s all good. We believe we have the fullness of the Gospel, but hey, there are many ways to Christ, God, and eternal life. We believe that everyone, good, bad, or indifferent will be saved… not just the good Christian believers. That works for me and seems very logical.

    Another is the complete chapter of Moroni 4, which is why I choose to be more liberal than I feel most Mormons are. Yes there are certain things I do not understand, yet, and therefor I disagree, however over my years of experience I have seen some things evolve, some things change, and others *I* feel are on the horizon of evolution or change… I have learned that I don’t know everything about everything and that I cannot know all in my short time on earth, so I allow God to be the wiser and although I may not agree 100% all of the time on every jot and tittle of the doctrine, 99.99% still does work for me.

    “Church” is a body of weak sinful people trying their best to get by. “Religion” is the method they choose to assist them in their goals towards perfection. For me, being LDS/Mormon is a better fit than anything else I’ve researched, it continues to motivate me to be a better person, and allows me to be imperfect while I try. But it’s cool by me if you find a better system that helps you in your personal progression.

    1. I love everything about this comment. I’m also Mormon and you have explained my thoughts and views on how I live my religion perfectly.

      I too love the idea of continuing revelation to get me through some of the things I struggle with. I once heard a poem (quote?) by Carol Lynn Pearson that has stuck with me for years, “I only know as much of God and the world as a creature with two eyes must. What I do understand, I love. What I don’t understand, I trust.”

    2. I think that 11th Article of Faith (also my favorite) is often used to refer to other religions, in almost an us-versus-them way. But the language–specifically “according to the dictates of our own conscience; and allow all men the same privilege”–is making the claim personal and allowing others, even those of the same religion, to “worship how, where or what they may.” Its broad interpretation should not overtake the personal one–that we should extend tolerance and differences in belief to all–whether they be of a different faith entirely or they’re sharing our pew on Sunday. Each Mormon will have a slightly different testimony and understanding and I think that’s how it should be.

      1. A few years ago my bishop gave the mostly beautiful talk about the 11 article of faith. I wish it could be read from every pulpit all over the world.

    3. It seems there are a few of us that agree with you. I am a fairly liberal Mormon as well. My husband is not a member and he often asks me why I feel I need to go to church. We have a close friend that is non-practicing from Utah that identifies with the culture and loves studying the history. My husband wishes me to be like that. I however cannot walk away from what I know. What I believe, even if I question some of it now as an adult. It is my identity. i feel more at odds with my religion than ever before because of my liberal leanings however I still feel such a spiritual draw to be in church and raise my kids with that foundation. I truly appreciate this post and conversation for reaffirming I am not alone in my thinking.

  4. I’ll admit, Cynthia’s question has crossed my mind too. Mainly because I see you as a strong Feminist woman, and from what I know (perhaps little) of the faith is that it’s very anti-feminism. But I get everything you said about it being a culture and way of being. But to many of us non Mormons it just seems to promote a very 19th century family life (especially for girls) and you and your family are anything but! So progressive, tolerant, and just plain cool and always pushing the envelop.

    1. In some ways, yes, Mormon culture can seem old fashioned. There are pros and cons to that. (How many of us wish to go “back” to simpler times?)
      An interesting tidbit is that Utah had to revoke the right for women to vote so it could join the Union. And then give it right back once they were given statehood. So progressive in some ways, quaint in others.

    2. I’m Mormon and would say that we are definitely not anti-feminist. We do revere and value motherhood, which to some may seem anti-feminist. We believe family life is central to our purpose here on earth but not to the exclusion of careers, education and other pursuits for girls and women. I think if you met more Mormon women you’d find Gabby not so much of an outlier.

    3. Tina while yes the Mormon church does not have woman bishops and a strong male leadership, I find the perception of the church anti-feminism to be false; however, feminism means many things to different people. I find I can be a fiminist and still be a mormon. The church does not tell me whether I can work or not work. It does not tell me how I should vote though many do aline with the Republican party. It does not tell me how many children I should have and if I can or cannot take birth control pills. I have never been told my opinion was not valued and that I could not speak my opinion. I serve in many ways in my congregation and do not feel less than. The message that I do hear is husbands respect and love your wives and wives respect and love your husbands. I have heard men in our church being told that if they are dominating and controling over their wives they are being unrighteous. I know some woman in the church do not feel the same, but mostly I feel this is more of a human issue in regards to a particular person using their power in a manner that is not condoned by the church. Humans are imperfect and therefore make mistakes. The core of Mormonism is Jesus is the Christ and that we have a loving Heavenly Father who desires nothing but for us to be happy. We are taught to love one another, and that our families are the most important thing here on this earth.

    4. I somewhat disagree with other comments… From my experiences living all over this country girls in the LDS faith do not see enough strong successful working women and examples or lack of them have powerful effects. I also think of my own time at BYU, and how certain norms on that campus shaped decisions that I now regret. And what about certain lines from the temple ceremony…? I even had a dear friend say to me just a few weeks ago something to the effect that where my daughter ends up will largely depend on her husband. (Implying he will be the breadwinner and she will be the mom.) But please don’t mistaken my comments, few people(if any) are preaching girls at home men to work…but that mentality is there in many small ways, left over from times when those ideas were spoken from pulpits.

      1. Thank you for bringing up a more expanded viewpoint Erin. I am very interested in this conversation, and will try my best to be open minded and keep my ears open. While I am hearing that there is nothing in LDS that dictates what women can and cannot do in their life on Earth, your statement about where your daughter ends up depending on her husband reminded me of something I read regarding the concept of the afterlife in Mormonism. Perhaps one of you could explain it better to me. My recollection is that where women end up in the afterlife is tied to the men in their family (a wife goes with her husband, unmarried daughters with their fathers). Therefore, it would seem that while women may have some personal agency in their life on Earth, the do not in terms of their salvation, except to pick a man they feel will help get them to where they want to go. So while I get the ideas of families staying together (and families wanting to stay together) in an afterlife, I’m unclear how tying where everyone ends up to the patriarch would not have influence over a woman’s personal agency on Earth. Thank you for any clarifications.

        1. There is no doctrine that I know of in our church that says this. I’ve been a Mormon my whole life and never heard this or read it anywhere in church manuals or scriptures. Agency for individuals (even within marriage) is one of the most important parts of our religion.
          Sometimes an individual’s theory or idea about an unknown aspect of spiritual things can be passed around as truth. I have heard other things growing up, that I later learned were not doctrine either, just someone’s idea. And I have my OWN ideas/interpretations that go beyond what I could back up with Mormon doctrine. It’s important to distinguish between the two. :)

        2. AC, there’s a response from Miggy below that you might find helpful. Essentially she writes that some Mormons talk really confidently about what happens with relationships and families after death, but in reality, we really don’t know that much about the topic, and a lot of what’s passed around as “gospel truth” is just one person’s personal take or interpretation.

          That said, there’s no question that Mormonism, like other religions (and what feels like the entire U.S.A.), is currently deeply patriarchal, and many people (both women and men) are working to make changes. On the upside, Mormons believe doctrine can change (sometimes overnight!) and that revelation from God is ongoing. So some people continue to hold hope for better things to come.

          1. Thank you so much for clarifying. It can definitely be confusing to parse out doctrine from interpretations that people may just think are the gospel truth. I’ve definitely seen that happen in many places.

            As for the patriarchy, you are right on that that is everywhere. I think that’s why it is so important to separate spirituality and faith from organized religion. That’s not to say people shouldn’t engage in the organized religion of their choosing (though it is not necessary to be part of an organized religion to have spirituality). But we should not always blame the religions with the faults of the organizations (and the people) that house them. We are all fallible. Maybe that gets more to the point of the original question you were asked. But at the same time I can understand wanting to stay in something imperfect, to try and be a part of what makes it better.

  5. This is a fascinating post and the replies equally so. My background is Catholic and one of my earliest memories is sitting in my grade one class with the children’s catechism which had an image of Jesus on the front with a benevolent look and shining heart. As I looked at the image and the story my teacher (a nun – Sister Mary Margaret Mary) was telling about something Jesus had done, I clearly remember thinking to myself this is not true, it is just a story to make me think in a certain way. That was the beginning of me becoming an aethiest. I am sickened by the impact organised religion has in our world and the protections offered to the ‘church’. The ethnic cleansing now underway in Burma has religion at its heart, the rampant sexual abuse within the Catholic and Anglican churches, the rise of ISIS, I could go on and on. In my country (Australia) we are currently having a non-binding vote on whether to allow same-sex marriage and the rubbish that is being peddled by the Christian based lobby is outrageous and not at all in the spirit of Christ. The hypocrisy is mind boggling. Having said all that, people with strong faith fascinate me. Rational thinkers with seemingly irrational beliefs (eg the virgin birth) underlines the human need to make sense of the big question about how and why we are here on earth, and for me the answers are in science not divinity. This a great conversation, thanks for posting it Gabi.

    1. I was raised Lutheran and had a very similar experience in grade school. I can remember sitting in a classroom (maybe 2nd grade?) looking forward to being a “grown up” so I wouldn’t have to play along anymore.

  6. Being a lifelong Mormon with that deep cultural heritage going back generations, it’s also hard for me to imagine another tribe or way of life. I love how you made the church/religion distinction explicit here–and I wish we did a better job within our faith of saying that we believe the religion (beliefs, doctrines, gospel, covenants) to be true, not the church (structure, policies, people, programs which change). For your follow up post, or for interested readers, here’s what I find uniquely Mormon and immensely valuable personally: our concept of eternal life (stretching before birth and after death) into relationships that are bound together after death (through work in our temples); the uplifting teachings in the Book of Mormon that help me daily; encouragement to develop a personal relationship with deity and inspiration through his spirit (prayer, patriarchal blessings); and the centrality of Jesus Christ’s life, ministry, sacrifice, and death in saving us all. For my friends and family who have left the LDS church, those are the aspects of its religion that I can’t imagine life without, and wonder if they miss them in other faith homes.

  7. Comparing it to a nationality resonates deeply with me. I am Catholic, born and raised. I left the church for a ten year period. The reasons were all based on social issues; I couldn’t stomach the way the church handled the sexual abuse scandals, I resented the all male hierarchy, I disagreed with the pro-life and anti-homosexual positions. Basically, I couldn’t justify a religion that didn’t align with my political and personal beliefs. But as hard as I tried to find a replacement, no other denomination of Christianity felt right to me. I was Catholic in the same way I am female or Hispanic. It was who I was. Pope Francis came along, the church evolved. Mostly, though, I realized I wanted religion back and Catholicism was religion to me. Now my daughters go to Catholic school. We talk openly about the problems of the Church, problems that stem from the organization, not the religion. I have no problem teaching my children that the Church is faliable and believers do not have to be non-questioning. That’s the peace I’ve made with my faith. I have faith in God and God, for me, is wrapped up in Catholicism.

    1. This is exactly how I feel, though it took some time to get here.

      For a while, I felt that I hadn’t given up anything truly important by attending a Protestant church. But then we had our son, and it came time to baptize him and I had another crisis of faith. I realized that I just am Catholic, that Catholic doctrine and theology are deeply, deeply important to me. I hadn’t been attending a Catholic church, but I never stopped being Catholic.

      There are many things I want to see the church change, but change will never come if all those in favor of reform leave.

  8. I, too, find this conversation so interesting. I was raised Catholic, taught in Catholic schools, and was regularly going to Catholic Church with my husband and small children. Once our children reached the preschool age, however, we just couldn’t reconcile our feelings about the sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, the patriarchy, and many other social Issues including those pertaining to the LGBTQ community and women’s rights . We did shop around for churches and ended up choosing another Christian religion altogether. We looked for a place that was inclusive, Where men and women held the same leadership roles, where children were welcome and valued, and where social justice issues were openly discussed. We found the place that is just right for us, and though it took some adjusting, We really did get used to a totally different way of celebrating and praying.

    1. “We found the place that is just right for us, and though it took some adjusting, We really did get used to a totally different way of celebrating and praying.”

      I think that’s really beautiful. And I’m so glad you’ve found a new religious home that makes you happier.

  9. For me this post is confusingZ I get “being something, and the “brain washing” of religion ( and general upbringing) I don’t mean to be rude in saying that .. but how we are raised (church or otherwise) sticks with us, and our family morals often turn into OUR family morals later in life.

    I am curious if someone like a family memeber steps out of the church (regarless of which church) what does that mean for you? And your family? Do you disown.. or accept their new* beliefs .. or do you see it as a Trail? So curious … sorry if I sound ignorant or rude .. it isn’t my intention, but growing up in a house of an agnostic family .. I always curious …

    1. I’ve had many friends and family members step out of the church. The first time I remember it happening, I think I was in my early twenties, and I worried it would affect our relationship — that I wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing my religious thoughts with them any more.

      But that didn’t happen. It hasn’t really changed any of my relationships. if the person was a good person while they were a Mormon, they’re still a good person when they’re not a Mormon anymore. And if the person was a jerk when they were a Mormon, they’re still a jerk after Mormonism too.

      It has been easy for me to accept their new beliefs (or non beliefs). I know everyone is just trying to get through life in the best way they can manage. But not all Mormons feel like I do. For some families, having a family member leave the church can break the family apart.

      1. I love your view on accepting a friends new beliefs or non beliefs. I wish more people had that type of attitude. When I lived in the Midwest there were so many different religions and people were accepting of them. When I moved to the Sourh people seemed very opposed if you were not their type of Christian. The type of Christians down here frowned upon me when I said I was raised Catholic. They frown upon Mormons and are very against same sex marriages. I find religion in the Bible belt very stifling. I’m hoping that it is just limited to my area and not widespread because that is so sad to me the lack of acceptance here.

      2. I am curious about excommunication. It seems from your comments that it is possible to leave the church without being excommunicated. How does that work? Is excommunication by choice? Or is it as a result of some immoral action? For example, if you have a friend who leaves Mormonism and then lives with someone without being married (or some other immoral life choice), would they be excommunicated? If so, are you forbidden from speaking with them?

        I am not asking to be critical – just curious. I was raised in a religion that practices something similar to excommunication and when I left I was shunned by my family. From your comments, though, it sounds as though there is a bit more wiggle room in Mormonism.

    2. You will find I think in every religion a broad range of reactions. I’m LDS and my uncle left the church when I was young. My grandparents recently celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary and my mom and all of her siblings took some time at the celebration to talk about my grandparents and the example they had been for them. When it was my uncles turn to speak he talked about the love he had always felt not only from my grandparents but from his brothers and sisters. He expressed gratitude that no one had ever shunned him or not let him around their children. I think the Christlike thing is always LOVE. There are so many examples in the Bible of Christ interacting with lepers, adulterers, publicans, all manner of society. That being said I don’t think that it is an easy thing for a lot of us. There was an article in LDS Living about Todd Christofferson (who is gay) and I loved this quote “The metric of success for parents is not whether their kid is active or went on a mission or got married in the temple. It’s that our family is unified in love— that we can walk together with everyone, wherever the journey is going to take each one. We don’t do it so that they will come back to church. We do it because we wholly love them and want to be a part of all the joys and sorrows of their lives.”

  10. Thank you for this thoughtful post, Gabrielle! I really can’t add anything except my experience. I am a (socially and politically liberal) member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. I am also a convert, and grew up “church hopping” from one denomination to another, and to and from “nondenominational” Christian churches as well. It’s hard for me to remember, even though it was less than 10 years ago, when I really didn’t know very much at all about the Mormons. I feel like I am able to see both sides of the initial confusion, but I still do see it as a valid question (not that you said it wasn’t valid; just that even understanding how the LDS church/faith/religion works, with the growing schism between what I believe politically and what the church supports, I have asked myself if there would be a point at which I would feel I had to leave…) I have friends who have “fallen away,” to use the Church’s vernacular, and still say things like “I know the gospel is true, but the people who make up the Church can make mistakes.” I don’t think that’s something you really ever hear anywhere else. The closest thing I can think of is when Roman Catholics in the United States disregard on a personal level certain teachings about, for example, birth control. They can sort of ignore, if you will, what they don’t like because there aren’t things like Temple Recommends and “inactivity” to deal with. Does that make sense? (Probably only to people who are Mormon or who know a lot about LDS church culture…) Anyway, I just want to say how much I appreciate all of your posts on every single subject. You might not always post things that “seem veey Mormon” but there is room in our church, I believe, for differing opinions on political matters and it is through open dialogue with a desire to really listen to another’s view that we are all able to decide if what we think we believe is actually what we want to support. On a personal level, when I have struggled culturally in the Church and have had feelings that maybe I just don’t belong, I think of you and remember I can be here, too, that there is room for me at the table. Thank you so very much for just being you.

  11. What a thoughtful discussion! I was raised Lutheran, but am now atheist, as are both my siblings. I consider myself a cultural Christian. I care deeply about some of the Christian rituals and stories and they are an important part of my identity, but I ultimately don’t believe in a god or that the Bible is truth.

    Sometimes I long for the community of a church and the ritual of a weekly time of reflection. I have deep respect for religious people, but am just not one of them.

    1. I like hearing from people that identify as culturally Christian. I know this is kind of silly, but I remember thinking it would be hard for someone who was raised with Christmas, but then became an atheist, to discard a holiday that probably holds a lot of meaningful memories.

      I like the idea of people feeling free to keep any parts of their old religion that were useful to them.

      1. It is so hard to give up the big holidays, even if you want to!

        I was raised by a Christian mother and a non-practicing Catholic father, but I have been an atheist for as long as I can remember. I live in Canada and I find that it is impossible to escape the big holidays – specifically Easter and Christmas. Because they are so pervasive! They are in all the shops, in the public schools, and in every level of politics (though they’re a little better at acknowledging all religious holidays). My daughter had no knowledge of Easter until she started public school. We do celebrate Santa Claus and gift giving in December, I suggested once that we not and was met with considerable resistance (including from my atheist husband).

        1. I so identify here! I was raised and confirmed in the Episcopal church, and it was a significant part of my upbringing. The Episcopal church split when I was in high school over matters related to women as clergy and acceptance of homosexuality. I wasn’t quite old enough to totally understand why at that point, but I do remember it making me SO uncomfortable and was very off-putting. Now, as a women in her early thirties with a liberal political view, I absolutely see why and am sometime ashamed I was ever involved in such a group.

          We celebrate Christmas, certainly, albeit culturally, not really religiously. Though I do sometimes crave going to midnight mass or a wonderful service with beautiful church music. I suppose I shouldn’t let my lack of adherance to any religion stop me, but it seems somehow not right.

          My mother-in-law, atheist, makes a HUGE deal out of the holidays, particularly Easter, and it always throws me off a bit. Christmas I can absolutely understand wanting to celebrate, religious or not, but Easter? So confusing. We don’t have kids yet, but I don’t really see us doing anything beyond the Easter Bunny.

          Love this whole conversation, Gabrielle. Thanks for getting it going.

          1. I was also raised in the Episcopal church, but I consider myself agnostic and culturally Christian. For a while it bothered my daughter (now 16) that we weren’t “anything” so she would just say Christian.

            While I love the liturgy of the church service and I do miss the pageantry of Midnight Mass, I don’t find a lot of meaning in the idea of religion. I’m more invested in being a good person outside of an organized religion.

            I absolutely agree with the many comments along the line of – everyone’s just trying to do the best they can and if there is a religion/church that helps them get where they need to be, that’s all good.

    2. Emily – I’m so glad you commented. This describes my view perfectly, although I was raised Catholic.

      I think one of the hardest things I’ve had to deal with as an adult is watching my parents (still deeply devoted Catholics) deal with my and my siblings leaving the church and becoming atheists.

    3. Thank you Emily for putting into words what I’ve felt and just couldn’t place. My husband is atheist (raised Catholic), and I was raised Lutheran and am agnostic. I still enjoy some of those cultural aspects of Christianity, but just cannot bear the hypocrisy and judgement. I do wish I could find a place of community like those that go to church get, without the religious aspect. My family just moved to a midwest town and I feel like EVERYONE I have met is religious, almost to an extreme, and I am struggling with how to handle this. There are 7 different Christian-based churches just on one mile stretch of one single road near our home. My husband and I both are trying to find ways to have discussions with the overtly religious people we have met here, with grace and respect. Thank you all for this discussion!

  12. Well said. A year and a half ago my husband told me he no longer believed in the lds church. This was devistating to me since up until that point we both were multi generational members who were very active. What he was saying and doing made absolutely no sense to me. It took a long time for me to be able to look at things through a new lense. I think you describe the lense closely to how I have learned to view my Mormonism. This has really helped me to also (finally) get to a place where I could authentically honor his journey and the path he is on, Though it is now different than mine. I feel a much keener sense of ownership in my Mormonism than I ever have. Sometimes learning the ugly parts of a thing help. Being part of an imperfect tribe gives me something to help out with. It gives me a reason to to think for myself and be comfortable when my opinions don’t match my group. I have been able to find that I (and even my husband) are not so different than I thought. There are a lot of fringy mormons like me, and there are a lot of post mormons like him.

    1. Gosh, I would love to talk to you Sarah. I’m right in the middle of the same thing, and it has been devastating and oh-so lonely. It has rocked my life in every way, and iIt’s nice to know someone else has gone through something similar (and survived!)

      1. Shannon, email me! There is actually a facebook support group for the spouse of disaffected members of the Mormon Church. It’s an amazing group of men and women. My email: big belly english (at) yahoo. com

    2. I really appreciate your comment and your support of your husband. In my marriage, I was the one to leave the LDS church. It almost resulted in divorce. It was so incredibly hard for me. My whole world turned upside down. Everything I thought I knew was now in question. It was incredibly lonely since both families and all friends are LDS. I tried so very hard to believe but I just could not. We went to marriage counselling and things are better. I learned to recognize how lonely it was for him as well. I learned that he needed to grieve and that I had changed his vision for his life and family without his choice in the matter. Mixed faith marriages are hard, especially in high demand faiths like Mormonism, but I believe they can work if both parties recognize and respect the individual journeys of their partners.

  13. I really liked this post. For years I’ve wondered how your religion and your views on social justice align and this explains it so nicely.

    I was raised with no church in a nominally Catholic family. God, Jesus Christ, and the Bible were not part of my upbringing in any way. I was vaguely aware of the stories, but never believed them to be anything more then stories. As an adult the same holds true for me and I’ve come to believe that faith is extremely hard to gain later in life. I’m sure some people can, but most people can’t wrap their heads around it, including me.

    That said I am deeply fascinated by and interested in both Mormonism and Judaism. The idea of a set of ideals for how to live your life that it creates an entire culture of its own seems comforting and safe and cozy and appealing. I have often wished there was a way for me to become culturally Jewish or Mormon without having to believe in God. I realize that he’s sort of the sticking point though. The values found in these religions align with many of my own, I just can’t get the hang of faith.

    1. “I’ve come to believe that faith is extremely hard to gain later in life.”

      I don’t think I’ve ever heard that expressed before, but it totally resonates with me. It reminds me of learning a foreign language — which we’re gets harder as you get older. Perhaps faith has similarities to other kinds of language we learn, like music or math. Maybe it’s a certain way our brain works.

    2. It’s a trifle unusual, but my agnostic husband attends Mormon church services for the social aspects. He likes the warm feeling of belonging, and he appreciates the good he sees there. He’s been very open about his doubt in the existence of God, but most people don’t bug him about it. Quite the opposite – he’s found Mormons who also have doubts about this or that. Maybe try taking your doubts to a meeting or two – and talking with some of the people there – and see if it might be a good fit for you anyway!

    3. I so agree with you on it being more difficult to find religion as an adult. I wasn’t raised in any type of religion, although I guess I’m culturally Christian as we always celebrated Christmas and Easter. When I started college I became really interested in the community that was offered through church and started attending services with a boyfriend. But after a year or so I just really wasn’t buying into any of it. The morality and the love parts I got, but I couldn’t get myself to believe the Bible was anything more than stories.

      I also never found that sense of community I had been searching for. I found it difficult to make friends and didn’t feel very welcomed, even after visiting a few different churches. After my ex and I broke up I stopped going altogether.

      It’s been about 6 years since then and while I still love some of the ideas that stem from Christianity, I have too much trouble separating the church from it’s religion.

  14. Great discussion. I left the Mormon church a few years ago and have had, and am having a very meaningful experience finding and defining what I believe. I agree with what you said about religion being almost like a nationality. Although I have stopped believing in Mormonism’s truth claims, i recognize that so much of who I am and what I do everyday comes from my heritage, and I gratefully take with me a beautiful perspective of families and eternal relationships, and purpose, and probably a thousand more things that shape me and my life view.

    1. Many comments echo Miriam’s ” i recognize that so much of who I am and what I do everyday comes from my heritage”. I am very curious about what it means to be culturally Mormon? I grew up a Jehovah’s Witness, which has a similar structure to Mormons, but left when I turned 30, and am an agnostic who does not consider myself culturally Jehovah’s Witnesses, despite the fact that I went so far up in the heirarchy as to have lived and worked at the World Headquarters in Brooklyn, NY. I found the religion’s doctrine and culture stifling, and though the cost of leaving was very high (I lost my family) it was worth the intellectual freedom. I recently watched “One of Us” on Netflix, about leaving Hasidism and it was very resonant for me in how it felt to leave my religion.

      1. I don’t know if this is a simplified version of being a Cultural Mormon, but I personally think of it as a list of dos and don’ts that shape daily life. Don’t drink coffee or alcohol or smoke, shop on Sunday. Wear modest clothing, don’t get tattoos, bring meals to neighbors after babies, surgeries and illness, find ways to serve those in your community often. Pay tithing. Serve a church mission for 2 years. But then there’s Mormon culture that chafes a little more, like the patriarchy, gender roles, attitudes about sexuality, and involvement in politics. So when I think of church culture I think a code of conduct or lifestyle but I also use the term “mormon culture” when I’m taking about something I don’t like, for example heavily prescribed gender roles. Jesus never talked about gender roles so that’s just Mormon culture talking, I’ll say.

  15. What a great discussion. My husband and I did shop around once we were married. He grew up in and fundamentalist Christian household and I grew up in a mostly secular but somewhat religious household if that makes sense. I wanted nothing to do with the fundamentalist religiosity that my husband had been raised with and he didn’t necessarily want something as liberal as I was raised with. We ended up after many years s finding a great Presbyterian church in NYC. It was a great fit and the scholarly nature of the sermons was what we both had hungered for. Now we live in Ohio and have fallen into another Presbyterian congregation where we feel like it’s a good fit. I am culturally and politically a little more liberal than maybe most of the people in our church community but I don’t ever feel judged for my opinions or views. To answer your question what would my response be to the question that was posed to you…it would be difficult for me to abandon Christianity…I was an a agnostic when I met my husband. It was not something I went into lightly or without consideration. I am a cynic by nature but I have had things happen in my life that point me no other direction but to Christ. So I would essentially have to unlive or explain away the things that I don’t think have any other explanation. I have grown into a faith that it would be difficult to separate from my own person. Now this doesn’t mean I don’t have utter disgust when I see people use Christianity to further their own twisted agendas but it does mean that I know that what I believe might not always be what is reflected to me on a larger scale.

  16. I was raised Mormon from birth till about 16 when I left because the church’s views on gays in the military (the LDS church was actively fighting against their inclusion) as well as the whole patriarchal structure. But there is beauty and wonderful things about that church (support of the family, unpaid church leaders) that will always be a part of me. Even though I consider myself atheist and am not raising my children with any religion at all, I did certainly benefit in so many ways from my start in the LDS church. And FWIW when I asked to stop receiving the mailings I was told I would have to be excommunicated–but I couldn’t do it. So I could still be on the rolls…..

  17. Wow, what a fascinating conversation! I should have been in bed but I couldn’t help but pore over all the comments. It’s midnight now, but I wanted to share my perspective briefly:

    -I was raised in evangelical Christianity and continue in that faith today. Gabby’s response above about how maybe faith is easier to come to as a child or young person, almost like learning a foreign language, is thought provoking. There are certainly Scriptures that align with that (Let the little children come to me, etc) and I think that’s why so many churches in Christianity put an emphasis on children’s programs, whereas I don’t know if that’s the same in other religions.
    -I’m a high school social studies teacher, and religion is a unit in world history. We discuss how every faith system in the world is trying to answer the questions 1) How did we get here? 2) What’s the point of life? and 3) What happens after death?. It’s interesting that in all the differences, those essentials are the driving force behind every faith system, religion, church, and lifestyle (even if people aren’t always conscious of it!)
    -Which brings me to my own experience: I’m a supremely logical and practical person, and I feel like Christianity/ the Bible answers those questions in the most satisfactory way. For me it’s totally about the veracity of the truth claims, which is why it’s hard to wrap my head around the comments above that it doesn’t bother some people when someone they love leaves the Mormon church or faith altogether. I think both by the teachings I was raised with, and my logical mind, I can’t help but see any belief system in terms of truth claims. So leaving the faith means abandoning the truth claims, with real and tangible consequences for life after death, which makes it a giant deal. I feel like the truth aspect is all that ties me to both my religion and my church, because I am saddened and angered by a lot of aspects of social and political Christianity. But I can’t fathom leaving… because I’m essentially gambling, in a lifelong form, that there is only one right answer to the 3 questions mentioned above and Christianity has it. That’s unsettling and comforting to me in equal measure.

    1. Amen, Margaret, I love how you put that. For me as a Mormon, those who leave the LDS church are also abandoning their eternal salvation (from our truth claims), which makes it more than just a social change. When my friends and family leave, my heart hurts for them.

      1. Margaret and ACW–

        As a lifelong and still practicing (but socially liberal and Feminist) Mormon, here is how I view this.

        One thing that has always resonated with me about the church is the idea that we continue to progress. While we may claim to “have the fullness of the Gospel” that never really makes sense to me in that we believe there is scripture we have not yet received (the bound part of the BOM), continuing revelation, etc. So I think that people take this idea of “the fullness of the gospel” to mean WE KNOW IT ALL AND EXACTLY HOW IT’S ALL GOING TO PLAY OUT.

        We don’t. Even though we talk about “families being together forever” what does that even mean? Like we all live together? We’re in close proximity? If I’m supposed to be with my family does that mean my kids too? Well what about the people they marry? Will they be more with them? Or is it just like “we’ll be together” like we’re all in heaven? If so, then why do we have to bother getting sealed? That’s just one example of a question we claim to have an answer to, but the details and logistics are not explained beyond a simple statement.

        To me the idea that if someone leaves the church they have forfeited all rights to Heaven is not what I believe, and frankly I don’t see support for the idea in the doctrine. Are there Mormons who sit in church week after week, do all the stuff they’re “supposed” to do, go to the temple ect, yet are still huge douchbags who treat other people really poorly? Yes. So they’ll go to Heaven simply because they stayed? I don’t think that’s how it works.

        God works with us where we’re at. Not to mention it’s all about the heart. I have friends who have left the church who have the most amazing hearts–the best people I know. I know people in the church who aren’t such great people. It’s so much more than a membership and a proclaimation of faith. At least that’s how I view it as a practicing and believing Mormon. (Please of course realize that I could expound and I’m sure we could have a great discussion, but since I need to finish this comment this is all I’ve got!)

        1. While I’m coming from a Jewish/Catholic/Agnostic background, I feel the same way. That’s why on the Christian spectrum I could never favor Protestantism over Catholicism. At least Catholicism puts good works into the mix. The idea of faith alone (or faith and completing whatever rules or dogmas said religion requires) never worked for me because it means that people who have led lives that caused others pain could be forgiven just for believing. And what about all the people in the world who are never exposed to whatever religious idea anyone thinks is the right one? They’re all screwed? So here’s hoping there is some sort of afterlife where we are sentient as the people we were on Earth, get to be with the people we love, and getting in is based on living a good, humanistic, altruistic life.

  18. Hi! I would have probably thought of her comment to be offensive too even if it wasn’t intended too. I mean I would never say to someone what would it take for you to leave the Catholic church, the Jewish faith, or Muslim faith. Religion is personal and how it should be or not be practised as you stated there are many paths. I was born to a Mormon mother and a Catholic father though neither were really practicing while I was growing up. My mother had me baptized at 6 months a Catholic after my father’s family kept pushing me to be baptized. I was Catholic up until the age of eleven. I went to a Catholic private school until 10 because the California school system in LA was horrible. We moved to Alaska just before my 11 birthday and I transfered to a public school. The thing was I never really aligned myself with the Catholic church. There were too many questions left unanswered. I am not sure why but one Sunday my mother went to the Mormon church and the minute we walked in the door I knew I was home. I was baptized 3 months later. My mother took another 25 years before she returned to the church. While, I too struggle with some of the church policies overall they are not enough for me to leave the church. I find being human we make mistakes and I believe our leaders are capable of making mistakes too. Being Mormon isn’t always easy and I have tried not being Mormon, but overall I am a Mormon, and I am raising my children in the faith though my oldest has kind of left the church. He is funny. He is so Mormon but at 18 just doesn’t realize it. I would be interested in reading what holds you to the church. Thank you for the thought provoking discussion.

  19. This is such a great discussion!

    I grew up an atheist Jew. It is a huge part of my identity and my half Asian/half Jewish kiddos are so proud to be Jewish. We love to learn about World religions but in our family they are treated similar to highly revered myths or fables. I would probably classify my family as agnostic now.

    I grew up in Belmont, MA (just a few miles from the Romneys) and in high school many (MANY) of my best friends were Mormon. It is funny, because my husband’s first girlfriend was/is Mormon. I’ve often thought about the fact that our belief in family, kindness, and community mirrors the Mormon church. While they didn’t have any religious pull on me, my old friends certainly influenced and mirrored my values.

    Throughout my life I’ve seen what religious communities do for people in the most positive way and have felt envious. I also see the hypocrisy mentioned by some earlier comments, the wars religion spurs, and the divisions it creates. It is fascinating and complex!

    One of my memories from a while back is of my Mormon best friend in high school having to back up his conservative beliefs to friends and classmates in high school and then going to college in Utah and feeling like he was one of the most liberal people there.

    1. I totally relate to your last paragraph. When I was a kid and my family lived in California, I don’t remember thinking my father was particularly liberal. But then we moved to St. George, Utah, and my dad was 1 of 7 registered Democrats in town. Suddenly, he seemed VERY liberal.

  20. This post resonates with me so much! While I (am ashamed to say) know very little about Mormonism, your overall philosophy regarding religion/faith/culture is quite similar to mine. I am an Orthodox Christian and have been so since I was 6. Our faith is very traditional and–similarly to how you portray various Mormon churches–the way it is practiced is the same at every Church you would attend on any given Sunday. We have the same Liturgy, and while the priest may give a different homily or the people might look different, the essence is the same. Like you, I also have no desire to leave my Church, and if that were ever to change it would be like removing a part of myself. Thank you so much for sharing about this! I loved reading your thoughts (and learning a little bit more about the Mormon faith!). I would love for you to write more about this.

  21. I have, for a long time, considered myself ethnically/secular Catholic. I was raised going to mass, I attended Catholic school for time, and made my first communion. I like the ceremony and the tradition, but I’ve never been a believer and I chose not to be confirmed because even as a young teenager it felt disingenuous.
    I’ve shopped around for a church home numerous times in my life, longing for the sense of community it brings, but regardless of the political stances of each type of religion I’ve encountered, the same problem occurred each time, I simply don’t believe. So I can imagine the flip side, believing and being in disagreement politically/socially with the hierarchy of the organization.
    We attend a UU church now (all are worthy, all are welcome), which fills my need for community and togetherness and a modest amount of ritual, without a focus on dieties as a literal construct. More of Bill and Ted’s “be excellent to each other…”

    1. I’ve been reading through the comments to see when the UU church would come up! I also have had periods of my life where I have longed for the sense of community and the ritual that a church could bring. My search also led me to the UU “faith”. I found that I very much enjoyed the ritual and the opportunities for self-reflection. Many of the sermons spoke to my soul. The UU community in my area, however, also focuses very heavily on activism and social justice and I found that too often I left church feeling guilty that I wasn’t doing more. I’ve learned that I am my best self when I live my life with integrity and make small choices that match my values (where I shop, what clubs I join, etc). Organizing marches or boycotts is outside of my skill set and I ended up leaving my local UU community. I still hope that someday it will feel like the right faith “home” for me.

  22. I don’t know how you do it but you have a way of asking questions that don’t divide people but bring them together. All the comments give me hope for the future that people with very different beliefs can be excepting, loving and maybe even find commonality with each other. I am a Mormon who loves her religion and is constantly trying to understand other peoples views and this post has helped.

  23. I was raised agnostic by an atheist mom and an ex-Mormon Dad. He was excommunicated for questioning the social policies of the church. My father’s entire side of the family is Mormon and my husband’s family is Catholic (he left the church at 18). The initial question of “What would it take for you to leave the church?” is one that often crosses my mind when I meet progressive members of the more conservative religions. My mother-in-law is devoutly Catholic, yet is for women in the clergy and gay marriage. If the Pope’s teachings are the word of God, doesn’t a belief that any of those teachings is not the truth negate all of the teachings? If the LDS President is believed to speak the word of God but that part of that word is something that you believe to be morally wrong, how are you able to maintain your belief in any of the teachings? I hope that question doesn’t come across wrong! I am truly curious but have never had a chance to ask. Thank you for opening up what must be a difficult and complicated discussion for you!

    1. I forgot to add my other big question surrounding this issue, particularly in the Mormon religion. I can kind of understand sticking around despite not believing some important policies because it is a comfortable place that feels like home, but some faiths– especially LDS– make prosthelytizing a priority. It is one thing to ignore a teaching regarding something that impacts the fundamental rights and happiness of others, like gay rights, but how do members of those religions reconcile their children heading out on missions to convince others to believe all of the parts of that religion, not just the parts that you agree with? Not a criticism, just a desire to better understand!

      1. Another commenter above (named Caroline) wrote: “And I also try to recognize that often religious systems and communities really work for people…giving them meaning, and structure and rhythms of life that work for them.”

        That thinking relates to my own thinking on proselytizing. There are some people that really benefit from and find joy in religious life and religious community. My hope is that missionaries will find those people (and leave people that are already quite happy alone).

        But I know that’s not always how it works.

        If I was in charge, I would have the Mormon church discontinue proselytizing in any formal way, and change the whole missionary program to be a service-only program.

        Instead of proselytizing, I would prefer if Mormons just lived their lives and served their communities. Then, if people were interested in learning more about Mormonism, they could approach Mormons with questions.

      2. As a Mormon myself, but not having grown up in the church maybe I can also offer a different perspective. Prosthelytizing doesn’t convince anyone to become a Mormon. If one becomes Mormon from hearing the missionaries message, then it is because something they said rings true to you. Many different reasons for many different people. I have heard a gazillion testimonies, and everyone has a different reason for joining the church, and most usually center of that is a testimony of Jesus Christ. Missionaries are there just to provide the opportunity to hear the message. Second, I find it possible to still believe in the church as a whole, but not necessarily agree with all policies. Maybe not different than for example as ones believe in a political party. One may align themselves with a particular party, but not always agree on all the points it represents. I also believe that Prophets or a Pope for example are just men. They are imperfect as they are men! Humans makes mistakes yet still overall the church community an what it respresents is good. Does that make sense. As for me, my tribe is the LDS community, but for others it may be the Jewish community, Catholic, Muslim, or no religion at all. There are good in bad things probably in all communites. One thing that is positive for me is that we believe in continual revelation and personal revelation. While I cannot say for one hundred precent my feeling is the church will move closer to greater acceptance of the homosexuality. My personal opinion is that we also need to put everything too in a historical context. 30 years ago homosexuality was a dirty word, no one understood, and lots of fear was spread. Today there is much greater understanding. While I wish the church would move faster in regards to this issue, it is not a deal breaker for me because there is so much otherwise good. I believe God will make all things right if the church has gotten it wrong on this issue. So complicated and maybe naive of me! I don’t know. I just know the scriptures teach us to love everyone and so I will and I will be kind.

  24. I was raised Catholic but only ever went along with it since I was a child and did what I was supposed to do. When I went to college I was allowed to not go to mass when at home. I stopped going and haven’t been back since. I didn’t hate it but saw no point. It was boring and I didn’t think it was that great. We are not raising our children in any church or religion. They are young and the topic of religion or God hasn’t come up, but I’m sure will any day. I’m not sure what I’ll say

  25. I am so impressed with this open conversation. Religion can be difficult because it comes with so many deep feelings and beliefs and those deep feelings often create an overall culture in a church. I am hoping that as people realize and celebrate the unique attributes of individuals that we can also respect and find common ground in our own beliefs in deity. We can always find similarities in each other, but no two people are alike and neither should your faith be the exact same even within the same congregation. I think sometimes we want everything to feel the same because it is comfortable. However, discomfort can lead to such personal growth.

  26. Both of my parents were raised Catholic, attending church and confession regularly as children. My father was an altar boy as a child and attended Catholic school, where he learned to speak fluent Latin and his Mass was conducted in Latin. Though they grew up on opposite ends of the East coast (Utica, NY and Miami, FL), my parents’ experiences of Catholicism are remarkably similar, as you noted. They divorced when I was very young, and as a result of them both needing to work multiple jobs, my grandmothers cultivated most of my religious upbringing. My memories of their style of teaching are quite different. One grandmother, who was a teacher, opted to focus on the rituals like saying “Our Father” and “Hail Mary” prayers before bed. The other grandmother brought me to church with her but never fully explained anything that was going on. At Sunday school I spent most of my time in the corner for asking too many questions, such as why unbaptized babies had to go to Limbo instead of Heaven (apparently this is no longer their stance). There were so many unanswered questions!
    By the time I was a young adult, neither of my parents or their collective 9 siblings attended church, but there are many ways they have stayed Catholic. I remember once putting together potato salad with my aunt, who told me as she was opening a jar of Miracle Whip how much she hated the taste. I asked her why she used it then, and she replied that it was because it could sit out at a picnic because there was no egg in it (p.s. this is not true). When I pressed her for an explanation that made any sense, she blurted, “Catholics use Miracle Whip!” I chuckled remembering this story when you discussed the cultural aspect of religious groups.
    Now that I have children of my own, we have chosen to attend a Unitarian Universalist church. We love its music program and the fact that we join together based on our values rather than religious creed or dogma. The church welcomes diversity and is committed to social justice. Our church is made up of approximately equal backgrounds Christian, Jewish, Buddhist, Humanist, and Atheist. I also love that they offer Our Whole Lives (OWL), a lifespan sexuality education curriculum for 5th/6th and 8th graders that goes beyond what is addressed in public school and uses the series of books by Robie Harris (in particular, “It’s Perfectly Normal”).

  27. Such an interesting topic with great comments. I’m eager to read them all when I have a chance.

    In case it hasn’t come up yet, I wanted to mention that one argument for staying within your church despite its flaws is that the church needs people like you to stay in order to change! I first heard an interviewee on On Being mention this regarding the Catholic Church, I believe, and I thought it was a good point. (By the way, if you haven’t listened to On Being–it’s awesome–there is a really interesting interview with Mormon Girl from a few years ago).

    This is similar to how I feel about being a “prolife democrat.” I could abandon the party because I don’t 100% agree with their stance on abortion, but I don’t believe that any good, “Whole life” changes are going to come about without a bipartisan effort. In the meantime I’ll do my part to support pro life democratic candidates and the “big tent” movement, as Democrats for Life call it.

    As for my own religious identity, my feelings are perhaps opposite from Gabby’s in that I identify as a Christian, but the other “stuff” (doctrine) is not important to me at all. I could be Catholic or Episcopal or Lutheran or any Christian denomination (I attend church with my husband, who is Catholic), but I don’t care at all about the details that separate those churches. It’s not that I DON’T believe in infant baptism or transubstantiation or whatever it may be–it’s that I just don’t KNOW and I know I never will, and I don’t think God cares either. It’s taken me a long time to be comfortable still saying that I’m Christian because everyone wants you to have a denomination or set of well-defined beliefs that accompany that declaration, and I just don’t. I don’t think that means “anything goes,” but it’s also liberating to know that I can always just choose what I want to believe and not feel guilty about it (as I have previously when I did have a specific denomination).

  28. Grew up Catholic in a very Evangelical town, so religious questions were always at forefront. Loved/hated cultural Catholicism—belonging to the team was great, but the team often went in a direction I couldn’t reconcile… and those issues became a sticking point I couldn’t accept. After ignoring religious practice for a while, I realized I needed to accept that spirituality was a legit part of my life. I actually missed honoring it. So searched a bit and realized nothing would be perfect, but found a place I felt both nurtured and challenged with the Episcopalians. Still identify as culturally Catholic with a weird amount of knowledge about Evangelical culture. The most important thing (for me) was the recognition of the value of spiritual practice/community.

  29. I feel like saying this and maybe it’s not the response you are looking for…

    I stay in the Mormon church even though I don’t believe a lot of things any more, or think I need to follow all the rules (and sometimes that makes me feel like a hypocrite). When I first came to the realization that I fundamentally had issues with aspects of the church and even doctrines my knee jerk reaction was to leave and never come back. But the more I thought about how much of me is and will always be Mormon, I decided to find a middle ground. It is a hard road to walk in the Mormon church because it feels like you have to be 100% in or you’re out. I long for the day when we don’t care how fully committed people are to the rules or norms, and are instead just glad to have them in the community of church, taking part. (Maybe some congregations are already like this, but those I have been in are not.) There is no guidebook for this path, and sometimes that’s hard for me. (I’m a planner and I like knowing where I am headed.) But I have grown so much from having to think more for myself, and I really do believe that I am on a path that is good for me, as hard as that is at times. I don’t for a second believe the choice I have currently made for myself would work for someone else. Choosing to stay or go in a church or religion looks different for everyone. My current overwhelming thought is this: maybe it is time to stop worrying about everyone else’s salvation, and just worry about our own. So many factors influence who we become; it’s hard for me to imagine that it is so clear cut, right versus wrong. We are individuals after all and if God is all-knowing he understands this on a level we probably can’t even comprehend.

  30. I am Catholic. I grew up in a very Catholic country, where the Church and state is quite blurred. As a result, there is no divorce (!) and it is hard to find birth control advice and contraception in certain parts of the country. I spent my entire education enrolled at Catholic schools, but I think what saved my faith was going to a Jesuit university. Their thoughtful view of the world, habit of constant inquiry and record of service to others made me see Catholicism beyond the antiquated rules and blatant sexism.

    I now live in a mostly Christian country, but it is very secular and much more diverse. My husband is technically Catholic but does not believe in God. We do not go to church often, and I am not sure how to teach Catholicism to my kids (who are both baptised). I believe in God but I think I cling on to it more because don’t know how else to see the world.

    I must say though I take great comfort in the sameness of a church service everywhere in the world, and find myself randomly talking to God during the day. So: I believe in God; the Church not so much.

    1. “I must say though I take great comfort in the sameness of a church service everywhere in the world, and find myself randomly talking to God during the day. So: I believe in God; the Church not so much.”

      That made me smile.

  31. I really appreciate this post. I have always been a “true blue” Mormon, but the past couple of years as those closest to me have left or taken a step back and things in the Church have started to bother me more, I have struggled a bit. I don’t feel like I could ever leave, because, like you, there are fundamental doctrines unique to Mormonism that I still wholeheartedly believe. However, there are other things that can really get to me. When it sometimes feels like ‘everyone else’ is leaving, I wonder if I’m kidding myself or at least feel a bit lonely as it seems most people in my congregation who stay aren’t bothered by the same things I am. I view myself as a bit of a progressive Mormon, and there aren’t many of those in my congregation (at least of whom I’m aware). It is helpful to see someone (you) who is progressive and seems to align with my beliefs politically/socially, but who still sees a place for herself in the Church. Thanks for being brave in sharing a delicate part of yourself so publicly.

    1. Yes to all of this. Know you aren’t alone, although it feels like we’re in the shadows. I appreciate the light Gabby shines on these issues.

  32. Thank you for starting such a thoughtful conversation in a kind and inclusive way. As an atheist, i never go church shopping, but this conversation has made me reflect on how much religion and personal identity are intertwined in many people. It’s something that i don’t see in myself, but it reminds me to remember that everyone is on there own path in this world and i should not ever judge that path.

  33. I think this is a great conversation. And there are parallels between this conversation and this past election. During the election, my husband kept asking his Republican friends what Trump would have to do for them not to vote for him. Many of them said there was nothing he could do for that to happen. They could never separate themselves from the issue of abortion/marriage/etc, for example. Obviously there are differences, but I think the original poster was thinking along the same lines. Also, there have been so many historical examples of the Christian church separating over specific differences that it’s hard for those of us who grew up Christian (non Mormon) to understand why a Mormon would continue to stay with the religion when there are potentially many key problems. It would also be hard for me to stay with a religion where other people felt unwelcome or even judged, but I appreciate hearing your perspective.

  34. This is such an interesting question, because I’ve been there.

    I have shopped around for a church, back in my agnostic days.
    I grew up Catholic, but more culturally Catholic (growing up in Latin America, Catholicism is THE religion). I did all the sacraments but once I was left to my own devices, I became agnostic. I understood and accepted that there is a creator,a first mover per se, and that’s what we call God. But I wasn’t really adhering to any religion.

    I was living the life for 10 years!!
    I had a wonderful equally agnostic husband, 2 kids, a great job, a home and
    lived a very comfortable life. I did end up baptizing both of my children in the Catholic church during these years, but again, it was more
    of a cultural thing.

    But something was missing and I became anxious. It was so strong that my anxiety kept me up at night.
    I thought maybe I needed to have another baby because truly it was as if I was missing something in my life.

    In this anxiousness about “something” I couldn’t really put my finger on, I eventually started finding peace the closer I inched towards talking to God (praying).
    And to make a very long story short, in a whirlwind of events that followed after I started this conversation over several months, I was led back to Catholicism
    (even after considering multiple other options).
    See, instead of me searching for a Church to fit “my” needs, I let God lead me.

    The peace that overcame me was so strong it seemed unreal. The questions I had towards Catholicism and so many other religions I was shopping for, were answered/explained in a logical way and I’m grateful for
    the internet, friends and so many blogs that has answered these questions.

    But looking from the outside in, people may say, well she just went back to her childhood religion. And that’s so true. I did. And there is a comfort that was ingrained in me
    from when I was so young that brings me peace. Sort of a safety blanket.

    And I can’t help but wonder that regardless of what religion I grew up in, would I have been led back to the faith of my childhood?

    One of the key moments at the start of my “reversion” was reading a book called “Devotion” by Dani Shapiro. I read this book in my agnostic days for a book club that I had joined.
    She grew up Jewish, walked away from her faith in her adult life and eventually, once she settled down from a very
    hard time of her life, she came back to Judaism. And she explains it much more eloquantly than I, that there were so many things that she overlooked of her faith
    while growing up and once an adult, she saw Judaism in a totally different light but with a sense of identity that led her back.

    Very interesting questions and great blog. I’ve followed you on Instagram because I love your design ideas, but this made me comment for the first time :)

  35. This was wonderful – and I think about this topic all the time. When I was in college, I had the unique opportunity to experience my church leaving our denomination. At the time we were in a more mainstream interpretation of our denomination and realized that the doctrine we held dear was being (in our minds) misinterpreted in a way that necessitated a radical change. There was voting and discussion – and eventually our church body of 500+ decided it was time to find a new denominational home. It was fascinating to witness. In a sense, our church left “the church” but still held strong to our religious roots.

    And while we stayed within our denomination (deciding to join another interpretation), it left me with some mistrust over the church aspect of religion. I saw a lot of human-ness in that process – greed, anger, resentment, retribution, etc. – and not a lot of what grounds me as a Christian. When I moved to a new city and began to church shop, I was intentional about not looking for a new place to worship through the lens of denomination. But, interestingly enough, the church I’ve chosen is within the new denomination that my childhood church joined. I realized that the culture of the church – an academic approach to theology, the rituals, the hymns – deeply resonated, and somewhat subconsciously, with my faith core.

    1. Woah. What an experience. To watch your whole church leave.

      I sometimes wonder if there will be a giant schism in Mormonism. There are dozens of splinter groups that have separated from the main body of Mormonism over the years, but there’s never been a huge split.

      I can’t even fathom what that would be like.

  36. This is very close to the debate I have with myself a lot. There are MANY things the Catholic church does, is and even believes that I don’t agree with. That said, I identify so closely with it as part of who I am, my culture, community, and self that even when horrible things are uncovered I remain intrinsically Catholic. My siblings and I toy with becoming Episcopalian as we would welcome female priests, married priests, their views on homosexuality, and general kinder, gentler approach. But when I think of my children not being able to take communion in the Catholic church I ended up sobbing So far, we’ve remained for a variety of reasons. Part of it is very much what you said, and part of it is little things like my father being dead and feeling closer to him in Mass than anywhere else. Being part of a global faith community has helped me so much as that ability to walk into a church anywhere and be “home” has enriched and strengthened my world experience. I don’t think Catholicism is as uniform as Mormonism and we definitely can pick among Catholic churches in a given town, but there are some parallels. In short, I see what you’re saying.

    1. I loved reading this so incredibly much! Thank you for posting this link. England’s understanding and expression of this idea are transformative. He has a great gift. I have found joy in accepting rather than denouncing the strange paradoxes in life, religion, church, family. A decade ago, unable to reconcile the “cognitive dissonance” that I felt within the doctrines, history, and practices of the Mormon church, I felt I was on a precipice of belief and shame. Having chosen belief and thereafter a slow crawl back to (what now feels like) a rich spiritual life, I find that the paradoxes are where the Spirit and God reside for me. He is the one who justifies all of the inexplicable, but I had to accept that first before I could see His hand in all of it. This article resonated with me. Thank you!

  37. Gah, such an interesting conversation! Thanks, Gabi.

    As for me, I grew up in a very strong Evangelical Christian Church and culture. Like others have already spoken here, there are things that I now reject as an adult (certain political affiliations), others that I struggle with (some teachings about sexuality and women), and some that I have deeply internalized (an identification with and love for Jesus as my savior).

    I love to read spiritual memoirs, as it’s given a voice and a story to many of my own experiences. I have loved Donald Miller (my favorite is A Million Miles in a Thousand Years), Lauren Winner (anything!) and Shauna Niequist (Cold Tangerines and Bread and Wine). That is also what I find so intriguing and refreshing about a post and a conversation like this one—how our stories intersect and overlap I’m so many ways.

    But perhaps one of the most influential things I’ve ever read is a little book called The Critical Journey (by Hagberg and Guelich), which describes a framework of the stages of a faith journey. It has given me SO much perspective on what it means to become an adult in my faith, how faith moves beyond black and white thinking, what happens when being really active in a church begins to feel hollow, how to go through and emerge from a “dark night of the soul,” and the possibility of a deep and transformed faith in the other side. While certainly applicable to people of Judeo-Christian faiths, I believe the framework would work for many different churches and religions. Has anyone else picked up this book??? What other spiritual memoirs and stories have you loved?

  38. This discussion touches my life so deeply that I feel compelled to respond. I grew up Eastern-rite Catholic. There was and is a heavy overlap between the concept of “family” and “church”. I didn’t know anyone outside of our family who belonged to our religion, and any family celebration also involved church. It was more than religion, it was the link to our cultural heritage and language.

    I’m also gay. Before I could fully articulate that word, I started having a really hard time in church. I would feel faint, dizzy, my heart would race, my hands would go numb, I would feel like I was dying. I didn’t tell anyone about these panic attacks, probably because I knew they would ask follow-up questions that I couldn’t answer.

    Over the years, the internal pressure continued to build until finally I made the decision to save my own life. I came out to my parents, knowing that I was potentially losing my family. My parents were surprised but open, and over the years went through the hard work of moving through acceptance to advocating for me.

    I lost the church. I lost the formal practice of faith. All I had left was the deep knowledge that this was the path that God had chosen for me.

    Many many years later, my then-girlfriend and I were “church shopping” for somewhere to hold our wedding ceremony. We walked into an Episcopal church and by the end of the service our faces were wet with tears. This was it. We both formally joined the church. Our liberal friends were politely shocked.

    I feel both joy and loss. My relationship to God feels more authentic, personal and fulfilling than ever before. At the same time, my heart will always be a little broken. I can still go to family church celebrations and let the intricate, beautiful melodies of my entire family singing in harmony wash over me. That’s a gift, and I’m grateful. But I will never belong.

    For those who choose to stay, please keep fighting for us. Some of us can’t stay, and it breaks our hearts.

  39. I would add that I don’t expect more perfection from my faith community than I can see in my own nature. I’m Catholic and know that the Church is made up of people just like me, inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit. The Church has never been perfect, even in its founding hours. Peter denies Jesus three times, yet Peter is still chosen as the human and flawed head of the Church.

    That also allows me to shift my focus on what I can control–which is being a better follower of Christ. In that, the Church is a rich source of inspiration through liturgy and service and the lives of believers today and yesterday (why we emphasize saints so much–broadening our role models back through history). I feel a real affinity to the scriptures where many followers left Jesus after He proclaimed a hard teaching and Jesus asks Peter if he will leave, too. “Where would we go, Teacher? You have the words of eternal life.”

  40. Such an important discussion, and thank you for your thoughts and explanations. I love the comparison of nationality to religion: I am an American 10+ years gone from living in the US. I have a second passport and a green card for a third country. Yet my American-ness is part of my very fabric.

    Even if surrendered my passport today, my American self would persist. It’s my very makeup, my history. Had never thought of religion in the same way, but it’s very relevant to do so.

    Thank you for your thoughts, and for starting a conversation.

  41. There are so many comments here (great ones!) that I’m not sure I have much to add to the conversation that hasn’t been said. I grew up Catholic. My entire family on my mother’s side is very Catholic, and most of my family–including my mom and her siblings–went to Catholic school for most of their lives. I grew up steeped in Catholicism, and consider it part of my culture. I, too, use the phrasing “non-practicing Catholic” to describe myself. That said, I disassociated myself with the church fairly early on (probably sometime in high school), due to difficulties I had with the teachings of the church. I believe in equality for LGBTQ people, in a woman’s right to choose, and other ideas that were firmly against what the church taught to be “right.” These beliefs were stronger than my tie to the church, so it felt right to let go. My mom did the same later, exploring many other religions as she got older. I think this is why it’s difficult for me at times to understand continuing to stay with, identify, and practice with a church or religion whose teachings and beliefs differ so widely on (what I consider to be) extremely important social topics. That said, I doubt I was as connected to my church as it sounds like you are. It’s not my place to judge, and I love reading pieces like this that may help me to better understand the position of others such as yourself.

    I do consider myself to be spiritual, and I do believe in God (or whatever higher power/energy best encapsulates that idea for other believing individuals). Recently I realized I missed the community and the passed-along values that came from belonging to a church. I eventually found a wonderful organization called WAYFinding, in which small groups of people meet weekly to discuss readings (or videos) on a specific topic related to spirituality. It delves into the human experience, and is non-denominational but still spiritual.

    I’ve learned as I get older that we all have so much to learn about one another. Each person’s experience is different, and no one will approach a subject like this in the same way. It’s best to treat one another as teachers–to listen and accept differences, rather than to judge.

  42. I find this so interesting because while I am fairly agnostic, as I get older I look at my friends who belong to a church and want the community they have. I think I’m too liberal and too agnostic to belong to a church, but if they had one that wasn’t God focused but instead community focused, with talks about morality and being a good person, I’d be there every week. The sense of belonging and family really resonates with me.

    1. Kristen – I totally agree! I love the idea of community, but the whole god thing is just silly to me. I feel like a co-op might be good – veggies I can get behind. ;)

    2. I love this idea! I’m so curious as to what it would look like – would there still be a sermon of sorts? A talk about just being good and kind and helpful to others? I am off to google to see if there is such a thing in my area – surely it must exist!

      1. I guess that’s the biggest obstacle. With God, there is o ultimate truth, there is no ultimate good. Everything becomes subjective. How does one determine whose definition of moral is more correct. As an example, vegetarians might say it is wrong to kill animals, while others feel it’s fine to kill them to eat. How can both be objectively moral at the same time? The nazi Germans during the Second World War were exceptionally kind to animals, however that kindness did not transfer to humans. It all becomes too subjective when only humans are involved.

  43. Thank you, Gabrielle, for such a thoughtful post on what can be such a divisive subject.

    It’s funny, because just this weekend my friend and I were discussing a coworker who is so likable and smart and also a Mormon. I’ll be honest – I didn’t know likable (or smart, if I’m being honest) Mormons existed until I found your blog. Anyway, we discussed how nice the Mormons we know are and how wonderful it would be to have the people (and therefore some of the culture) without the religion attached to it. I know you might say the religion is what makes the people, but….as a nonbeliever, I would hope family time, morals, and whatever else (crafts? :P) could be achieved anyway.

  44. Can’t wait to read all the comments, but I believe when you are talking about “Mormonism” as a “religion,” what you mean to say is “denomination” or a branch of Christianity. For example, I raised in the Congregational denomination of Christianity, but no longer worship in a “Congregational” church. Nonetheless, my life is still shaped by one being raised Christian and two Congregational.

    However, there may a difference with Mormonism because many of the mainline denominations do not consider Mormons to be Christian. It’s Mormonism. It may share certain historical lines with Christianity, but it is still a different religion. Just like Muslims, Jews, and Christians share certain histories, they are still different religions. Just like you’d never call a Muslim a Christian, to many, you’d never a call a Mormon a Christian. I.E. You identify first as a Mormon.

    1. Every Mormon I know wishes that the general umbrella of Christians saw us as Christians too. Everything we believe is based on Jesus and the atonement and the resurrection, so it’s difficult for us to see ourselves as a denomination outside of Christianity.

      1. But every Christian I know who has an even passing interest in theology wishes that Mormons would just own up to the fact that they don’t believe what Christians have traditionally taught and believed. Christians admire Judaism, but Christians are not Jews. Muslims believe that Jesus was a prophet, but Muslims are not Christians.

        1. But Mormons don’t simply admire Christians or view Jesus as a prophet. We believe that salvation comes through Him and in no other way. Yes, there are some differences between our beliefs and the beliefs of other Christians. However, salvation through Jesus Christ is at the center of all we teach and believe.

          1. Christians don’t believe that we become gods after we die. Christians don’t believe that there is also a Mother God. Christians don’t believe that Jesus came to America after His Resurrection. Ad infinitum…

            So, why not just embrace your Mormon title? It’s not as though Christians insist that they are also Jewish because they use Jewish scriptures. Your beliefs vary so widely from any definition of Christianity to make you your own religion. Own that.

          2. Andrea, it’s true some Mormon beliefs vary widely from other Christian faiths. I think Mormons do “own that.” At least I don’t know any who don’t.

            But wouldn’t you say that beliefs also vary widely among denominations that you consider to be under the Christian umbrella? I’m thinking of beliefs related to female ordination, Adam & Eve, birth control, divorce, line of priesthood authority, grace versus works, homosexuality, sainthood, Mary, family size, politics…

            What do they all have in common? From what I understand, they all consider Jesus Christ to be the Savior, and desire to follow his teachings.

            If that’s the commonality, then Mormons would also be considered Christian.

          3. After leaving the Jehovah’s Witness religion I came to the understanding that I didn’t believe they were “Christian”. They don’t have the same belief about who Jesus was (they do not believe Jesus is God.. but the son of God), they do not have the same understanding about the after-life, they also are not “culturally Christian” so even though I was told “we are Christian’s” I can see an argument for their inclusion under the umbrella of Christianity as well as their exclusion.

            I really appreciate that Mormonism seems to be open to dissent and doubt, and appears to have room for more liberal views within what has been a historically conservative environment. This makes me feel like it is a successful religion (it has alot going for it!) Had I expressed some of my disagreements with Jehovah’s Witness culture or doctrine in a public forum I would have been ex-communicated (complete shunning).

            As far as missing some of the cultural aspects post Christian (holiday). I don’t see Christmas as an exclusively Christian holiday. There are many non-Christian countries who have adopted Christmas (Japan, Phillipines) and there are many secular people who don’t celebrate it in a religious way. I was actually Ex-Communicated for celebrating Christmas because it was considered an “apostate act” because of its pre-Christian pagan roots. I chose to celebrate it to be part of mainstream American culture, for my children not for religious reasons. I do know that for lots of people it is a religious holiday but for lots of people it isn’t.

            Thank you so much for this conversation . It is very healing for me to read the perspectives of others because religion it has been interesting to see that many people share the identity struggle with retaining aspects of the religion that may be at odds with other aspects of their belief system. Choosing a new identity and culture has been the defining act of my life so I have read every comment trying to see my experience through new eyes.

      2. I find this comment so fascinating. In my life experience (as a Mormon), I’ve found that there are a lot of “Christians” who believe they own the exclusive rights to grade and score the Christian litmus test. Perhaps because they believe in the Nicene Creed? I don’t believe in the Nicene Creed…. But I’m completely comfortable with people self-identifying and I don’t see any value in telling people they don’t “categorically” belong to the group they personally identify with.

        As a child I had friends of all faiths and nonbelievers. As I became a teenager, my “Christian” friends suddenly started to claim that I wasn’t Christian and that I was “in fact going to hell.” This was what my Christian friends were being taught at a number of the churches around town. I was utterly rejected, as were my Catholic, Jewish, Muslim, Seventh Day Adventists, Buddhist and non-believing friends. It was a rather repulsive experience and from that point on, I wasn’t really interested in being associated with mainstream Christianity. I’m more comfortable with the outcasts.

        I believe in Jesus as my personal Savior and Redeemer, but if rejecting my identity as a Christian allows you live your life more fully as a disciple of Christ, by all means, do what you feel compelled to do. But know that your acceptance isn’t necessary. I’m only interested in what Jesus thinks of me.

  45. First, let me say that I agree with the comment that said you have an amazing way of presenting difficult conversations in a manner that actually brings people together. I am awed by this.

    Second, I am a Jew. Being Jewish is my heritage, people-hood, and ethnicity. It is as core to my being as the fact that I am American, female, a daughter, a mother and a wife. I am also an atheist. And I am a very spiritual person. I love going to synagogue, placing a prayer shawl around my shoulders and singing the prayers that many, many generations of my family have sung. I am a Conservative Jew – and belong to a Conservative synagogue so most of the prayers are said in Hebrew. While I can read Hebrew and know most of the prayers by heart, I do not understand what I am reading –which is good because I do not believe in or like some of what the prayers mean. For me, hearing the words, and the tunes is very centering and moving. In fact, I do not take kindly to the introduction of new tunes for the prayers! The synagogue I attend is liberal and progressive so I find the Rabbi’s sermons usually speak a “truth” that resonates with me.

    I can’t imagine not being a Jew. It would be like someone born in Italy no longing thinking of themselves as Italian. But, I can certainly imagine finding myself at odds with a Jewish tradition or practice. And I would simply stop engaging in that practice. Fortunately, there are so many branches of Judaism and each synagogue has its own personality, so I feel confident I could always find a synagogue I was comfortable with.

  46. What a wonderful, thoughtful discussion! I was born into a very Catholic family. I say ‘very’ because both my parents were involved in the church – my Dad was a deacon and in addition to those (unpaid) duties, became a youth minister, as well. My Mom was also involved in all sorts of activities at the church – women’s prayer groups, peaceful protests, etc. Needless to say, my 3 sisters and I all attended 12 years of Catholic school.

    Everyone in my family still practices Catholicism, to varying degrees. But when I was in 11th grade, I took a Philosophy class at my (liberal) school and realized that I didn’t ‘have’ to follow the same path – and in fact, discovered that I didn’t believe in God. (By the way, one of my older sisters took the same class and found that it strengthened her faith) My Dad was incredibly upset and forced me to continue attending Sunday mass – ‘as long as I was living under his roof’ were his words. My Mom understood my struggle and respected my decision.

    I’m 47 and just realized that that means I haven’t considered myself a Catholic for 30 years. But when people ask about my religion, I always say I was raised Catholic – and then depending on my audience (or my mood), either follow up with a ‘but I’m a recovering Catholic’ (to make a joke) or be completely honest and tell them that I don’t believe in anything. I have found that some people are uncomfortable with my having no religion or faith so I don’t usually explicitly state that I’m an atheist. But when pressed – or if I feel comfortable – I will be honest.

    Even tho I don’t associate myself with the Catholic church, it’s still a part of my life through my family members. I still attend Catholic weddings, funerals, baptisms, etc – and was even made a godmother by my sister, although she knows of my lack of faith. I would definitely say it’s part of my culture. And in spite all the things I disagree about the Catholic church – the sense of community and belonging, in addition to the comfort it provides the dying are the things that I miss and in some ways, mourn for.

  47. As a very active Mormon, wife and mom, interior designer, PTO board member, American, etc I don’t think there is a single group that I belong to that I agree with whole heartedly. That’s the biggest surprise of adulthood for me. The fact that things change so much and that there are very few singular truths that I can hold to. I expect and hope that some of those tenets are what make me cherish my Mormon/Christian faith. I feel like I’ve changed so much in my 38 years and I hope to continue to change and grow, but now I know better how much blood, sweat, and tears that growth costs.

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