by Elizabeth Siler Moore
It’s been a hard couple years to be a progressive Mormon.
It’s entirely possible it’s because I’ve been paying more attention, but really, the number of things that have happened in the last year and a half or so have been difficult to deal with. The excommunications. The lies about the Ordain Women movement. Millions of tithing dollars spent fighting marriage equality. Elder Oaks claiming the church doesn’t apologize for anything. Threatening to leave the Boy Scouts of America over the decision to allow gay leaders. Elder Ballard saying that women shouldn’t talk too much in ward councils. Elder Perry calling some families “counterfeit.” Planning on building a city in Florida. Gospel topic essays that – while admitting to many important facts – obscure and twist the truth.
As a result of all of this, I find myself standing in the doorway, toeing the threshold, and wondering if this is even the place for me anymore. I’ve never had testimony issues – I’ve generally liked the temple, I value the Book of Mormon, and I believe Joseph Smith, while hardly perfect, was divinely inspired. I’d like to believe there was some inspiration in calling the apostles and other leaders of the church, too, but the events of the last couple years have me wondering. How much inspiration is really involved, and how much of it is just business sense and trying to do what they believe to be right?
I’ve been labelled apostate for my beliefs before. I’ve had very concerned people counsel me not to lose my testimony as I stress over all these “little” details. But though it might not look like it, my testimony is still there in some form. On the days when I struggle most, I’ve lamented that I wish I could stop believing so I could move on, because this middle place is so hard to live in. On one hand, I feel attached to these quirky Mormon beliefs you can’t find anywhere else, and feel a niggling sense of “you can’t leave The True Church behind!” On the other hand, I feel as though I can’t continue to support an organization that behaves in this manner, with either my time or my resources.
I was reading the Book of Mormon the other day, and I came to the well-known chapter where Alma is upbraiding his son, Corianton, for running off with a harlot instead of tending to his mission work. The standard interpretation of this chapter being that sexual sin is second only to murder. Reading more closely though, I’m not so sure this is the case. In verse 4, Alma is not focusing on the sexual sin of his son; rather, he’s upset because Corianton “should have tended to the ministry wherewith [he] was entrusted.” He goes on to tell his son that he brought iniquity to the Zoramites, because “when they saw [Corianton’s] conduct, they would not believe in [Alma’s] words” (Alma 39:11). The Holy Spirit told Alma to teach his sons to behave “lest they lead away the hearts of many people to destruction” (Alma 39:12).
Alma isn’t focusing on sexual sin at all. Corianton’s poor conduct was the catalyst for Alma’s remarks. Alma didn’t expound on the power of creation, God controlling who goes into and out of the world, or any of the other justifications we have for the doctrine of sexual sin. Corianton’s sin could be replaced with any other sin and the passage would still make sense. Could it be that “the sin second to murder” is leading people away from Christ?
While this seems a favorite accusation to lob at progressive Mormons, I’m not sure it accurately fits us. In the book of Alma, we see both Nehor and Korihor causing troubles for the nascent church; Nehor from within and Korihor from without. Alma condemned Nehor’s priestcraft and Korihor’s atheism, of course, but they were not told that their actions and teachings were “most abominable above all sins save it be the shedding of innocent blood or denying the Holy Ghost” (Alma 39:5). The difference with Corianton, then, is that he is an official representative of the Church. When the Zoramites saw an official representative behaving as he did, they didn’t want to be associated with such a church.
General Authorities may be inspired, but at the same time they are also very human and make mistakes. Brigham Young introduced wild new doctrines we disavow today. Apostle Amasa Lyman was excommunicated for his adulterous conduct. Paul H. Dunn fabricated numerous stories in his Conference talks. In the recent Race and the Priesthood essay, the church essentially admits banning blacks from the temple and the priesthood was a mistake based on Brigham Young’s racism. Despite all the “follow the prophet, don’t go astray” talk, President Uchtdorf admitted, “there have been times when members or leaders of the Church have made mistakes” (“Come Join With Us”, October 2013).
The current church line is that if you follow the prophet, “if he ever tells you to do anything, and it is wrong, and you do it, the Lord will bless you for it” (Conference Report, October 1960, p. 78). We’re told we need to stay in the Church no matter what. Realistically, though, there are many cases when leaving the Church is simply better for one’s mental health. While I haven’t left entirely, I have taken a step back because I’m tired. I’m tired of crying over the stressful things that filter down from the top.
I am done feeling guilty though. Based on my reading of Alma, I feel the guilt is on the heads of Church leaders for making harmful, non-doctrinal decisions; not mine. Indeed, in the New Testament Jesus Christ Himself even says, “If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matthew 18:6, NIV).
I’m not accusing the leaders of the Church of apostasy – I don’t feel that’s a claim I can make. However, I can point to plenty of examples beyond my own personal experience where Church leaders’ arrogant words have caused pain for believing members. Elder Bednar tells us that “to be offended is a choice we make” (“And Nothing Shall Offend Them,” October 2006), but this shifts the blame to the victim, allowing for no accountability from those who lead us. Like Corianton, their behavior is “lead[ing] the hearts of many people to destruction” while they operate under the belief that they are infallible and cannot lead the Church astray.
We’ve all seen many people step away from the Church. If you have friends or family who have done so and have been worried for them, or if you are considering it for your own sanity but have been hesitant to follow through, take a deep breath. The sin is not upon the one who forsakes the Church in order to find Christ, but upon the leadership that led the one to believe Christ was no longer to be found in their institution.