This post is based on a something John Dehlin did on what he still believes in the church. I’ll use it as a guide. If I agreed completely and couldn’t say it any better, I left it in his words, in italics.
God – I definitely struggle these days to accurately put into words what exactly I believe about God. But I still feel there is purpose to the universe and my life, and that I have felt power and influence from beyond myself which might rightly be attributed to the divine, and which for now I feel comfortable calling “God”. There are still times when I doubt, but I can say that I do hope and have faith that God is there. I still struggle with the problem of evil, and with a belief in a ‘hands on’ type of God – especially with belief in a “God of lost keys” (thanks Jared Anderson) – i.e. one who would answer my prayer to help me find my keys, yet ignore the pleading of a child suffering years of physical/sexual abuse. I fully acknowledge that I could be wrong about all this, that there could be no “God,” and that this life could be the only life we get. Consequently, I remain determined to make the most of my life on earth — whether or not there is an afterlife.
Christ. I believe very strongly in Christ’s central teachings, which for me center around charity, compassion, faith, service, love, humility, kindness, repentance, honesty, responsibility, etc. (e.g. the golden rule). As Moroni 7:46-47 reads:
46 Wherefore, my beloved brethren, if ye have not charity, ye are nothing, for charity never faileth. Wherefore, cleave unto charity, which is the greatest of all, for all things must fail— 47 But charity is the pure love of Christ, and it endureth forever; and whoso is found possessed of it at the last day, it shall be well with him.
Regarding the historical Jesus, I tend to believe that a person named Jesus Christ did exist during the Biblical time period, and that he was likely killed for his teachings — and so in that sense, I am happy to believe that Christ “died for me/us.” Many other teaching about Christ, I am less sure about. I can say that I do not understand the atonement as currently taught in the church, or the need for Christ to have paid for my sins. Belief about a literal resurrection and Christ’s divinity, etc remain matters of hope/faith for me — not certainty.
The LDS Restoration. To the extent that God exists and influences this world (see “God” above), I am happy to support the notion that God has, at times, inspired the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in various ways. That said, I am not a strong believer in the idea of a “one true church,” nor that all other non-LDS churches are of necessity in some way inferior/illegitimate. I no longer believe in the historical “Great Apostasy” I spent two years teaching about on my mission, in order to teach the need for a restoration. I’m not sure I even know what it means for the church to be “true, (can I know that Congress is true/false, or that Harvard is true/false?) While I believe that Thomas S. Monson has the ecclesiastical authority to lead the LDS Church, I do not believe that any LDS prophet necessarily has privileged access to the divine. Instead, I believe that if God exists, she/he would speak to anyone willing to listen. So….can Thomas S. Monson receive inspiration from God? Possibly. But does God speak to Thomas S. Monson in some way that he/she cannot speak to others? I don’t believe so.
Book of Mormon. The Book of Mormon has deeply inspired me in my lifetime, especially during my adolescent and early adult years. I do believe that it contains many uplifting and inspiring truths. However, my studies of the Book of Mormon (specifically around anachronistic concerns) have led me to conclude that the book is most likely a work of 19th century fiction — and not a translation of an ancient record. I find difficulty in reconciling many teachings in the book of mormon with current and past teachings of the Church, and find that the teachings therein represent Joseph Smith’s understanding of the gospel at the time of translation (Trinitarian view of God, Heaven&Hell vs 3 Kingdoms, etc). Finally, I openly reject certain teachings within the book of mormon, including the racist narrative in the Book of Mormon which claims that God cursed Native Americans with dark skin due to their wickedness, as well as other unethical behaviors attributed to God (Nephi prompted to kill Laban).
Book of Abraham. Based on my study of the history surrounding the book of Abraham, and the opinions of Egyptologists, I do not see any evidence that the Book of Abraham is a translation of the papyrus that Joseph Smith purchased while he was in Kirtland. This fact has been difficult for me to deal with. I think that Joseph believed he was indeed translating an autographical text written by Abraham himself. The Catalyst theory of translation does hold some weight for me, but forces a radical change in the way I look at prophets, revelation, and scripture. My combined difficulties with the Book of Abraham and Book of Mormon, coupled with the Kinderhook plates, raise serious concerns about Joseph’s abilities and even his calling. However, some doctrines in the Book of Abraham resonate with me, i.e. the eternal and self-existant nature of mankind in the pre-earth life.
Word of Wisdom. I still observe the Word of Wisdom largely out of cultural habit and familial expectations. Due to health reasons, I do not smoke. I feel the dietary advise is largely a result of a popular health/temperance movement occurring at the time the revelation was received, and don’t believe it was ever intended to be used as a measure of righteousness. It is of questionable value as guide to healthy eating in the 21st century. I do not believe that a person’s worth and value should be judged based on their consumption of tea, coffee, tobacco, beer, wine, marijuana, etc. If the prophet were to eliminate the WoW tomorrow, I think the only thing that would change in my life is I’d probably try some alcohol occasionally at special occasions or social functions (that and I wouldn’t feel a need to justify myself with others about cooking with wine).
Law of Chastity. I believe that sex is sacred. I believe that sex is a wonderful thing to be shared between two loving, committed people. I believe in fidelity to one’s spouse, and that spousal infidelity often leads to tremendous sadness and heartbreak. I believe that the Church has done a disservice to its members in its treatment of sexuality issues. While I believe that ideal intimacy is most likely to occur within a committed marital relationship, I do not believe that consensual sex among responsible committed partners is inherently sinful. I believe that masturbation is a normal behavior and healthy way for youth, singles, and even married, widowed, or divorced members to explore and express their sexuality in a safe and healthy way. I believe that our teachings on modesty are misogynistic and demonstrably harmful, and place too much burden on women for the thoughts and behavior of men. I also find these teaching belittling of me as a man. I believe that our shame-based teachings on these subjects has caused significant harm in the emotional and sexual health of many members, and that we can do much better. I also believe very strongly that Bishops and Stake Presidents should never ask teenage girls or boys about their sexual history or behaviors when alone, behind a closed door (or any other place really). I believe that to the extent that confession is a useful step on the road to improvement and repentance, this confession must be voluntary to be useful, and that such probing interviews serve no legitimate function. I believe that most priesthood leaders act in good faith, but lack the training and the oversight to address such matters appropriately and safely, and I refuse to put my children in harms way due to this issue.
Polygamy. I reject Doctrine and Covenants Section 132, which states that polygamy is a commandment from God. From everything that I have read about Joseph Smith’s practice of polygamy/polyandry, I believe that it was a practice that almost always led to disastrous consequences (including Joseph’s eventual assassination). While I find the practice one which is quite difficult to accept in and of itself, I cannot believe in a God that would implement this practice in this way. I am most bothered by the the secrecy, polyandry, and the young ages of several of the wives, with inappropriate marriage proposals accompanied by guilt inducing promises of exaltation for the young ladies’ families, or with threats of destruction if Emma rejected the practice. I find it impossible to see Joseph’s behavior as being divinely inspired, especially as his own behavior so contradicted even the revelation he received on the subject (D&C 132).
Scientific Issues. I believe that many LDS scriptural stories and claims (e.g., 6,000 year old earth, literal Adam/Eve, Noah’s flood, Tower of Babel, Native Americans as descendants of Semitic Hebrew-speaking people) have been soundly falsified by empirical evidence. Instead, I have found the scientific method to be significantly more reliable for explaining our natural world than what can be found in LDS scripture, or in LDS prophetic utterances. Historically, I believe that virtually every time LDS church scripture or leadership have clashed with science (e.g., age of the earth, dinosaurs, Lamanite DNA) — science eventually won out, and the LDS church retreated. Based on the changes to my understanding of scripture and revelation (due to issues surrounding the Book of Mormon and Book of Abraham translations), I believe that looking at the Bible or other scripture for answers to scientific or historical questions is to misunderstand what scripture is, and set us up for disappointment. By doing that, we may miss out on what it can actually teach us.
Same-Sex Marriage/LGBT Issues/Proclamation on the Family: I do not believe that sexual orientation is a choice for homosexuals any more than it was for me or the many heterosexuals I have discussed this issue with. (There was never a time in my life when I consciously decided to be attracted to females.) I believe that any teachings to that effect, or attempts to get LGBT individuals to choose differently are likely to result in devastating consequences to the recipients of those messages. I believe that LGBT men and women should be able to marry whomever they feel the desire to marry, and that sexual relations within these marriages are as legitimate, essential, and sacred as sexual relations between heterosexual couples. I believe that in general, LGBT individuals are happiest and healthiest when in loving, committed relationships — and whenever they are supported by their loved ones and communities. I believe it to be a tragic reality that many LGBT Mormons do not feel as though there is a place for them in the current LDS church, and I believe that we are collectively responsible for the epidemic of suicides and depression that occur with LDS LGBT youth and adults.
Female Priesthood Ordination. I do not believe that female ordination is a necessity, but that it would be the simplest and most reasonable way of effecting positive changes to bring equality into the church. I think it would provide benefits to both men and women, in and out of the church. I think there are other options to try and accomplish this, but these would be even more disruptive to the system as a whole.
Mormon Ordinances Required for Salvation. I love the idea of religious ordinances like baptism, confirmation, endowments, temple marriage, etc. — and deeply value my past participation in them (I actually still hold them as sacred). But I am not convinced that these LDS ordinances are required for salvation in heaven. I simply do not believe in the notion that LDS rituals are uniquely legitimate in God’s eyes, while Catholic, Baptist, Muslim, Buddhist, or Jewish rituals are illegitimate or invalid in God’s eyes. And while I acknowledge the beauty and goodness that is experienced by LDS temple workers and participants, I grieve at what I perceive to be the significant expenditure of time, money, and resources involved in performing proxy ordinance work for dead people, while such considerable pain, suffering, disease, and illiteracy persists in the world today.
Only Mormon Families Get to Stay Together in Heaven. I have somewhat mixed feelings on this subject, because of my complete lack of certainty about what life will really be like in the afterlife. I think that even the prophets have been (at least over the last 80 yrs) quite modest about our knowledge about what exactly exaltation even means. I believe that the process of exaltation is largely a matter of becoming more and more like God, of truly becoming “one with Him”. But as we all become One, in knowledge, power, goodness, etc, what exactly becomes of marital or familial intimacy that is separate from this Oneness with God, Christ, and all the others that achieve this same Oneness? So, if there is some unique familial relationship which persists into exaltation, then I reject the idea that this blessing would be withheld from His children, based on peoples’ religious beliefs or past behavior. All this being said, I do believe that family is of central importance in this life. My marriage is the source of my greatest meaning and satisfaction in my life. I am devoted to making my marriage as good as it can be, and to becoming the husband my wife deserves. I believe it is my duty to work hard to be a good father and provide a nurturing environment for my children.
Church Finances. I believe very strongly that the LDS Church should be transparent with its finances, and that the Christ who overturned the money changers’ tables in the temple would likely not support the use of tithing funds to finance or secure commercial shopping malls and residential real estate, while allocating a relative small amount of money to supporting real humanitarian aid. I am also upset by the fact that the leaders of the Church are receiving “stipends” and yet no accountability is offered to the members. Joseph Smith once asked for an inordinate salary, and was granted it, only to have it overturned when the church became aware of it. If Joseph could do so, so could our current day leaders. The difference is that in Joseph’s day, the members were in-the-know. This needs to change.