Why They StayBy: Mormon Heretic
Sunstone has had a recurring theme over the past 25 years or so titled Why I Stay. Robert Rees collected essays from 20 people that have answered this question over the years. As I thought of the question, I think my answer would mirror Claudia Bushman. From page 31,
I don’t want to explore why I stay in the Church. I just don’t like that question. Of course I have some pretty horrific experiences that would have persuaded many to leave. I could give a very salty talk about putdowns I have experienced and insults I have borne. I have been publicly and privately humiliated on several occasions….But I have forgiven those perpetrators. I cannot say that I have forgiven the slights. Instead I have adopted the style of various Church leaders I have known. They may forgive, but they never forget.
Armaund Mauss says on page 39,
I find the question of why I stay with the Church to be peculiar. No one asks me why I stay with my family or with my nation, both of which are periodically stressful and no less voluntary than my relationship to the church.
There are some fantastic stories in this book. Greg Prince says that the data is there for him to stay, and he shared some interesting perspectives: sometimes “Revelation Flows Up.” From page 97,
Trickle-up revelation is arguably the most important force of revelation shaping the day-to-day church in which we live. If you doubt that statement, consider the Relief Society, Mutual Improvement, Sunday School, Primary, Welfare, Genealogy (Family History), and Young Adult programs all began as grass-roots initiatives on the part of Church members, and were then embraced by the central Church. This means that phrases such as “magnifying one’s calling”, “Men should be anxiously engaged in a good cause and do many things of their own free will, and bring to pass much righteousness”, and “be not weary in well-doing, for ye are laying the foundation of a good work. And out of small things proceedeth forth that which is great”, are not platitudes, but a real call to action. I have been a first-hand witness and participant in the birth of the Young Adult program in Southern California in the mid-1970’s and a first-hand witness of Lester Bush’s landmark on blacks and the priesthood in the mid-1970s. A Church that not only allows, but expects its members to assist in continual transformation by placing their unique gifts at the altar has my vote.
Speaking of “trickle-up revelation”, I really enjoyed the only non-LDS essay in the book by William Russell, titled “Staying in the Community of Christ.” From page 119,
In 1970, five of us at Graceland [University] began publishing a quarterly journal titled Courage: A Journal of History, Thought, and Action which was consciously modeled after Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. I wrote an editorial in Saints’ Herald when the first issue of Dialogue came out, praising it and especially applauding an article by Francis Lee Menlove called “The Challenge of Honesty.” In Courage we took positions which seemed radical at the time but later became the positions of the Church. In 1970 Courage endorsed the ordination of women, a position the Church adopted in 1984. In 1971 we endorsed open communion, which the Church adopted in 1994. We criticized our method of succession in the presidency, arguing that our lineal succession was as bad as the LDS tradition wherein the senior apostle becomes prophet. In the 1996 World Conference, Wallace B. Smith called W. Grant McMurray to lead the Church and thus ended our lineal descent in the office of Church president.
Russell seems to have been quite a radical. While LDS members may remember that Ezra Taft Benson believed the Civil Rights Movement was a Communist conspiracy, many in the RLDS Church held similar views. Following editorials in the Kansas City Star and Independence Examiner, (from page 117)
I was picketed for three days at our Herald House editorial offices and our 1966 World Conference. The signs read, “The commies just love Wm. D. Russell.” My pastor was equally convinced that I was a Communist…..(page 117) About that time I learned from a reliable source that President Smith had compared me to the Reverend Martin Luther King, which I thought put me in good company! But he thought we were Communists.”
Over the years, the Community of Christ has changed, making it more comfortable for Russell. He finishes the essay with this gem.
“Therefore, I suspect I will remain in the Community of Christ until the undertaker arrives. At my funeral, please don’t assign me to heaven. I have no idea whether such a nice fuzzy place exists. I just hope I can muddle through this place without screwing up too much. I leave the rest in God’s hands.”
Finally, I wanted to share the story of Lavinia Fielding Anderson. She is a real enigma to me. She is one of the September Six excommunicated in 1993. Despite this, she has continued to attend her ward faithfully every week. She shares a unique perspective of “Why I Stay”. From pages 84-91,
In spite of being excommunicated, there are six reasons why I keep going to ward meetings month after month, year after year. The first is for my family. The gospel was everything to my parents…they both served missions…my father served as bishop in two wards…I’m proud of that heritage and one reason I kept going was that I wanted our son Christian to be proud of it….
The second reason I stay connected to the Church is that Paul and I met, courted, married, and have lived as Mormons. I didn’t want my relationship with the Church to come between us and our marriage. Our temple sealing and the covenants we made at marriage are significant to us. Paul wanted a Mormon wife, and I felt that he deserved one, just as I wanted and felt I deserved a Mormon husband…
The third reason I stay is that I love Mormonism. I was moved by the Book of Mormon and gained a testimony of it before I knew what to think about Joseph Smith. The Book of Mormon has continued to speak to me as scripture….
Fourth, I love Mormon theology. I love its emphasis on grace and works. I love its open canon. I love the presence of a Mother in Heaven even though we aren’t supposed to talk about her at present…
Fifth, I love the Mormon community….we can count on the Primary kids to sing for special programs with enthusiasm if not tunefulness, and that the bishop will wear a funny tie at least a couple of times a month.
Parts of it aren’t always comfortable. I am not happy with the fact that sacrament speakers, including visiting high counselors, are now asked to base their talks on a general conference talk from the Ensign magazine. Usually Paul sits on the aisle so he can take the sacrament and then indicate to the deacon to go on so that I don’t have to personally refuse it. A few weeks ago when I was sitting on the aisle, an elderly high priest made a big deal of stretching way past me to hand the tray of bread to Paul. Maybe he was just being tactful. Maybe he thought I’d contaminate the tray if I touched it. But when he came around with the water, I grabbed it from him, glared, and passed it to Paul, then back to him. Then I got the giggles….
I need to say that the sixth most important reason for me to stay in the Church is that I not only love the Church, but in some ways it loves me back. I feel loved within the Church—not by the stake president and various officials, particularly, but by my Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother and truly by Jesus. I can’t help loving them in return. I want to love them more deeply, in part by keeping the promises I made at baptism and in the temple. Those promises are important to me.
I have to say that I really loved this book. I’ve given excerpts from just 5 of the 20 contributors. I loved Lavinia’s testimony—she is a remarkable woman. I loved Greg’s “trickle up revelation.” I loved the personal accounts. Finally, I want to ask, “Why do you stay?”