It’s been over 16 months and 40+ posts since Hawk invited me to try my hand writing a guest post for Wheat and Tares, and I’m still plugging along. With some of the recent posts and comments, it made me step back and wonder – why do I keep doing this? This site has been accused of having a majority of “non-believers” (although that is a sophomoric misinterpretation of statistics, likely to make a pithy headline). My mother reads some of these posts, and I’m sure she bats her head wondering where she “went wrong”. People disagree with things I write and question my assumptions. It can be messy. So, why continue doing it?
There are several reasons, some of which I alluded to in a comment on hawk’s recent post. These include a need for a “middle ground”, providing support for others who might otherwise feel alone, and to examine my own faith.
1) Need for a middle ground
People have a wide range of relationships with the Mormon faith, and various Mormon-themed blogs have different roles in this. On one end of the spectrum are those people who are completely “out” of the church. They have found fulfillment in something else – be it another religion, a community group, meditation, whatever. They don’t really have much interest in the LDS faith one way or another, and likely never seek out any site like Wheat and Tares, or any other Mormon-themed site.
There is another group of people who are also “out” of the Church but who are still coming to terms with what that means. For nearly all people, leaving or changing a religion can be a very disruptive thing. We actually celebrate and encourage this changing of religion, even if it leads to being “disowned” by family and friends, as long as it is TO the Mormon faith. This is the basis of our missionary program. If someone is converting FROM the Mormon faith, however, support can be lacking and pejorative terms are often used such as “anti-Mormon”, “ex-Mormon” or “apostate”. Change like this can be difficult, especially when there is little support from friends and family, so it seems normal that gathering with other people in a similar situation can be healing and beneficial – hence sites for people going through this. Personally, I‘m not in that situation so don’t frequent those sites, but I don’t begrudge them either and don’t feel “threatened” by them. Regarding Wheat and Tares, folks from this group occasionally drop by. They are very welcome as long as they respect the other visitors. I don’t really know if things I might write really appeal to them, and that’s perfectly fine with me as I don’t expect to.
On the other end of the spectrum are fully engaged members who don’t really need or want to discuss more problematic aspects of their faith. They generally read only Church-published or Church-approved materials. There is counsel that supports this attitude, such as “when the prophet speaks, the thinking is done”, etc. Because much of what the people in this group need is available on Sundays and/or in the manuals, many don’t necessarily see a need to regularly visit any internet site. If they do, the sites they visit tend to be fairly heavily filtered. Positive posts are the rule and comments are moderated to avoid any discord or potential controversy. In reality, I think there is a lot of benefit for many people to have a “faith-promoting” place to hangout and discuss things. At the same time, I don’t really visit these sites much either. They don’t tend to stray far from what I have heard in Church for the past 40+ years (although admittedly I can always work on those things). Regarding Wheat & Tares, some people from this group might also occasionally drop by. They are also very welcome, but some of them might feel uncomfortable with some of the topics discussed here – ie. the wolf in sheep’s clothing analogy. That’s completely understandable and is fine too.
I don’t know if it’s my makeup or something in my psyche, but I personally feel most comfortable somewhere in the middle. But while I may be “in the middle regarding things about which I think, I would probably be indistinguishable from anyone sitting next to you in church. I have always been active; I hold callings and leadership positions; I went on a mission; I have always paid tithing and held a temple recommend; I have children involved in scouting and YW and Primary; I teach children and youth and adults; I give the standard and expected answers to questions on Sunday; I’m a perfectly average active Mormon living in Salt Lake City.
However, for me and many others, there are things worth exploring as a Mormon without an “official” forum to do so. Before explaining why Wheat and Tares is such a place, I want to mention what it is NOT. In my time here, I have never seen a post suggesting Joseph Smith was a con man, a charlatan, someone out to mislead or deceive, or anything of the like. I have not seen any posts suggesting that he was anything other than what he claimed to be. I have not seen posts suggesting that the General Authorities or other church leaders are anything other than good and honorable men and women sincerely trying to fulfill their sacred callings. I have not seen any posts suggesting that there is no God or Christ, that the Book of Mormon is a fraud, or anything “anti” Mormon. And the few times a commenter has drifted into these areas, they have fairly quickly been shut down by the community.
So if that is what Wheat and Tares is NOT, what does it mean to me? What attracts me to this place enough to write from time to time? From my viewpoint, most of the posts here seem to talk more about the INSTITUTION of the Church as opposed to the core of the gospel. Examples: What are implications of the Church’s statements on gay marriage, and how has its approach changed over the past few years? Why do some people in the Church make a big deal about the number of earrings or tattoos someone has? If there are practical struggles with wearing garments, can we continue to modify them as we’ve done over the past century, yet still retain their significance? Does it make sense for a religious organization to spend billions of dollars on malls and commercial enterprises? Are there scientific explanations for angels appearing “out of nowhere”? Why the ban on blacks and the priesthood, and if absolute statements by Church leaders about the topic in the past were wrong, what does that mean for current statements? If Christ and Joseph Smith and the Nephites and Brigham Young all drank wine, how does that play into the role of the Word of Wisdom today? Etc.
In reality, there really isn’t anywhere else to discuss these things besides sites like Wheat and Tares. They aren’t appropriate topics for Sunday meetings. They won’t be discussed by the institutional Church. Some people are content to just put these things on a shelf and ignore them.. For me and many others, however, there is an “itch”. There is a need to at least talk about and question random topics like these. Some members feel questioning these topics is questioning our leaders and should be avoided. Perhaps they are right, but in reality, our entire Church was built up through questioning – starting with Joseph Smith asking which church to join. Policy and doctrinal changes have all come through people questioning the status quo. Admittedly, it can be a fine line between questioning policies of the Church and criticizing specific Church leaders, and perhaps someone might drift back and forth across that line. But the alternative is to simply ignore problematic thing like an ostrich, and that doesn’t work for me.
So, I post at Wheat and Tares. These topics aren’t necessarily welcome on the “purely faithful” sites, yet because they come from an active member, there aren’t necessarily appropriate on a site for people who have decided to leave the Church either. I appreciate the chance to explore these ideas here. I appreciate the input that visitors have contributed. I appreciate what this site can (hopefully) accomplish..
2) Support for others
At first, I felt my posts were really just written for me – so the analogy some have made of a soap-box is correct in some ways. However, as time has gone on, I have had a number of people comment both publically and privately that they appreciate what we are trying to achieve. For example, here is part of an email I received regarding a post on Changing Garments (with no identifying information to protect the sender):
I loved the ‘If I were In Charge’ series. You don’t know how much it helped my wife when she read your article about making garment wearing easier. She does not read any blogs, but I showed her your article she felt a burden being lifted from her. You see, she thought she was all alone with this ‘burden’ and the only one with issues with wearing garments. I mean, who could she talk to? Why was it so hard and what’s the true reasoning behind it? The Stake Presidency didn’t know and could not understand why she was so upset about it. To know that she was not alone and that others have struggled and thought this through really helped her. She still struggles over it, but she knows she’s not alone.
BTW – after reading your article, did you know that when she started talking to other sisters about this, she finds that many others struggle too? How many more members are silently struggling over this? It is just so sad, when we could make the burden so much lighter.
So thank you, Mike, for doing the series. I know you’ve taken a bit of a beating over it, but keep at it. There are silent voices out there cheering you on
Messages like this have come from saints around the world. There are many people who struggle with various issues. They are faithful saints, contributing time, talents and money to the Church. But they, too, have the same issues. No one wants to talk about them in a normal “Church setting”, because we all want to have the stiff upper lip and say all the right things. So we struggle silently.
If, in writing these posts, I can help just a handful of people feel they are “not alone” with whatever they are struggling with, it is absolutely worth it to me. For some people, it might be garments. For others, it might be wine. For some, it might be Proposition 8. For some, it might be billion dollar malls. I would rather provide a place for people to talk about these things in a constructive way then see them throw up their hands and leave. It seems that these practical topics will never be addressed by the “official” channels of the Church, so these discussions will necessarily be on sites like Wheat and Tares. So I’ll continue to write here to hopefully offer support for other people who wonder about the same things I do.
3) Examination of faith
And finally, I go back in time to Socrates. He said that “the unexamined life is not worth living”. He taught that the purpose of human life was personal and spiritual growth, and that we were unable to grow toward greater understanding of our true nature unless we take the time to examine and reflect upon our life.
Faith is important. We teach it as the first principle of the gospel. We read that without faith, nothing is possible. Even a non-Christian like Buddha taught that “faith is the beginning of all good things.” To develop our faith, we need to explore it. Some people only explore the positive side of things, which is encouraged by people like Elder Packer when he said: “There is a temptation for the writer or the teacher of Church history to want to tell everything, whether it is worthy or faith promoting or not. Some things that are true are not very useful.”
While I understand the sentiment of this idea, I feel that truth is powerful and can be scrutinized. If something is true, there is nothing to fear. If I want to fully develop faith in God and in Christ and in our eternal potential, I should be able to examine the good, bad and the ugly and it should still be true at the end of it all.
I’ll end with a quote from a Buddhist teacher who perhaps exemplifies my attitude towards faith, and why I wrote here at Wheat and Tares:
“To develop a verified faith we need to open to the messiness, the discordance, the ambivalence, and, above all, the vital life-force of questioning. If we don’t, our faith can wither. If we don’t, our faith will always remain in the hands of someone else, as something we borrow or abjure, but not as something we claim fully as our own.”
I don’t want to believe in something because of someone else, but want my faith to be my own. I’m willing to question, to be open to the messiness, and to accept the discordance, and that’s why I write for Wheat and Tares. I hope that I can help provide a place where we can discuss “non-Sunday School” topics. I hope that I can help provide support to people who also have concern about these same issues. And I hope that I can develop a verified faith as we work through these ideas together.
Any comments? Does this work for you? Feel free to share, even if you’ve never commented before.
Also, like when I started, if you have an idea for a guest post, drop us a line.