Another one of the presentations I attended at the Sunstone Symposium last month was called “Why We Stay”. (For background, see my previous post.) “Why We Stay” was advertised as featuring “the stories of those who have chosen to remain active, dedicated Latter-day Saints even in the face of many difficult challenges to traditional faith.”
The panel featured five individuals representing different genders and generations. My interest was in discovering the kinds of “glue” that keep people attached to Mormonism even though they reject core Latter-day Saint truth claims and the organizational goals and concerns of the LDS Church.
One “glue” is a sense of tradition and heritage. Panelists expressed that Mormonism is their “tribe”, their spiritual community. One said that she would feel orphaned without it. Another spoke of allegiances built through family history and the inspiring events of the Mormon past, including respect for the sacrifices made by her forbears. One said that his emotional and spiritual wiring had been set by his family experience as a Mormon, leaving him with an identity and worldview that are fundamentally and inescapably Mormon.
Another panelist identified principles of Mormonism that provide a “glue”: the idea that choices count, the role of spiritual experiences, the idea that personal revelation is available to all, and the emphasis on doing good. Another mentioned feeling drawn to central precepts like “The glory of God is intelligence” and “Men are that they might have joy”. Others spoke highly of Mormonism as a forum for self-actualization and service and a place for spiritual expression. The general idea was to “cherry pick the doctrines that work for me” – as one panelist put it – and reject the rest.
More than one mentioned the strong sense of community, including the influence of good people in her children’s lives. This “glue” includes cherished friendships and the richness of a community of shared values, along with the experience of tremendous caring and support from others.
There is no way to know how representative these stories are. But my sense is that many Latter-day Saints stay in the LDS Church for similar reasons. It seems that for many, their allegiance to Mormonism is not based on doctrinal beliefs.
This has clear implications for how we share our faith witness with Latter-day Saints. I know a number of former Mormons who were convinced by a comparison of biblical vs. Mormon doctrine. But for people represented by this panel, that approach would miss the mark. They aren’t LDS because of the doctrine, so they won’t be convinced to adopt a traditional Christian belief by appeals to doctrine.
It would seem that if this type of Mormon is to consider the traditional, biblical Christian faith, they would have to see a vibrant faith community that provides for its people. They would have to understand their identity in terms of a larger, grander story than the sacrifices of their forebears. They would have to believe that traditional Christianity can offer a rich environment for service and spiritual expression.
Of course, all of this is true. But how can we help Latter-day Saints see it?