Bonus: How & Why We Stay

Friday, September 11, 2020


Taking some time to answer one of your most frequently asked questions: How and why do we stay in the church?

This is an unscripted and straight-from-the-heart episode. We hope it provides comfort, reassurance, and peace to say that you are not alone in the struggle.

Transcribed by Maddie Daetwyler of @lightenprint

C: Hi, I'm Channing. 

E: And I’m Elise.

C: And this is The Faithful Feminists podcast. 

E: Welcome to our bonus episode. We are so excited to be releasing this bonus episode. And in this episode, we're going to be responding to a really powerful DM that we received, and it's one that we've received multiple times. So we just thought, you know what, let's make a static episode so that people can continue to refer to it.

C: This format of answering DMS isn't going to go for every DM. But we've got plenty of questions about this same topic. Just like Elise said, it's time for us to answer it for everyone to see, so that if we get more DMs, we can just point you to listen to this episode because it's awesome and amazing. So this is totally live, unscripted. It's just Elise and I talking to each other, so hope y'all enjoy, because I will.

C: Okay, so the DM reads, “Can I ask a personal question? You don't need to answer if you aren't comfortable, but do either of you ever question if this is the one and true church? Your confidence and testimonies are inspiring, and you seem to have found strength and peace with your faith journeys. I'm struggling to find how to stay with so many struggles. It sometimes feels like by staying, I'm supporting multiple issues in my religious practice that I stand against in my personal life. I feel like a hypocrite and it might be a lot to ask, but I’d love an episode where you discuss how and why you stay.” First of all, I think it was really brave for anyone who sent us this question to just kind of say, “I am struggling, and I would love some advice or at least some perspective on how you make this work.” And I don't know about you, Elise, but I get this question a lot, even just personally, and my answer is always a little bit different every time. But it has a lot of the same continuing things. 

E: And so maybe to answer the first part of the question, do either of us ever question if this is the one true church, I would say I am far less concerned about if the church or the gospel or the doctrine is capital T, end all be all, factual, accurate, 100% correct truth. I don't really care about that. What I care about in my own personal faith journey right now is the church or the gospel or the doctrine, are there pieces of it that I feel are truthful or lowercase T truth? something that is meaningful and inspiring or impactful. And I don't think that the church is the only way to find meaningful truth. Right? I think art is true. I think poetry is true because it gives meaning to my life. What do you think? 

C: Um, I think -- I think I have never really cared, I know that that sounds harsh, but I really haven't -- I've never really cared about this being the one and only true church, because I've, same as you, found so much goodness and so much lowercase T truth in other places. Yoga for me is truth. My own body is truth. The earth is truth. And so, I see goodness in other faith traditions and other religions, and I've never felt super confident and never felt really comfortable in saying, “Well, you guys have like 75% of the truth, but I have 100%.” Because I always ended up learning something from them. And so I think I've always felt uncomfortable because it's felt ignorant to say like, “Nope, I am part of the one true church.” And then to find out later, not that the church isn't true, but that it's not the only truth. And I think also too, it's kind of the same for me for the scriptures. I don't necessarily care if the stories in the Bible or the Book of Mormon actually happened. If someone came to me tomorrow with archeological evidence, undeniable archeological evidence, that the Book of Mormon is true and everything in it actually happened, I'd be like, great. My opinion on the books still hasn't changed. And if someone came to me tomorrow with archeological evidence that proved that it wasn't true, I'd be like, that's also fine, too. I don't think that it changes because I still find value and morality and really insightful lessons in the text that I think are applicable no matter if they're factually true or not. So that's kind of just how I treat the church. It's okay for truth to be truth. And it's also okay for people's experiences to be truth for them, but I don't necessarily need a church to claim to be the one and only one, the best of them all, for me to feel like it's a valuable community for me to be a part of. Yeah. So I think that does answer the question. Do we ever question if this is the one and true church? I think at one point we did, but now we just don't care. I don't know. 

E: Yeah. That I will continue to question. I will. For me, questioning is an important part of my faith. And so I feel comfortable saying I will continue to question if this is the true church, but to say that our church has the corner market on truth I think closes us off to all of the truth that we can find elsewhere. All of the grandeur in goodness of God that we can find elsewhere, not even in the church. 

C: Right. Well, and the 13th article of faith is a good demonstration of that. We seek after these things that are good and lovely and -- I forgot the whole thing. I haven't been in primary for a couple of years. 

E: But verbs like to seek, I feel, is even a great visual suggestion of a constant that's going to be filled with challenges and hardships and darkness and brightness, and we're continually seeking. I don't feel like I will ever arrive at a place where I can firmly say, “Yep, this is the one true church.” I feel like if I did that, my faith would be at a standstill, right? And I'm not concerned about trying to prove if this is a factual, 100% accurate church or gospel. I am more swept up in the wondrous seeking on the journey.

C: Yeah. I totally agree. And I think this is a good transition to the next portion of her question. She says, “I'm struggling to find how to stay with so many struggles. It sometimes feels like by staying, I'm supporting multiple issues in my religious practice that I stand against in my personal life.” And I have feelings on this, right? And I would love to hear what you think, too, Elise, but I think, yeah, it is a struggle to stay. But it's also a struggle to leave. You can decide, this is what I tell myself, right? If I leave then I'm still responsible for anti-racism work, right? If I leave, then I'm still responsible for anti-sexism work. If I leave, then I'm still responsible for anti-colonialism, for anti-capitalism, for all of the things that I stand for and believe in, I'm still responsible for those, whether or not I'm part of the LDS religious community. And so then the question for me isn't, should I stay or should I go, but it's what is the value of making one of those choices? And for me, the value of staying in this community is great. This is my heritage. LDS is part of my family tradition, it’s the church that I grew up in. It's the language that I have to talk about my spirituality, it's the religious community that I'm comfortable in and that I know best how to navigate. And so, it feels a little bit like home and I am not ready to leave home. I don't know if I ever will want to leave home, but I recognize that home is also a place for me to show up as my full self. And so that's why I'm doing the podcast. That's why I am that person in Sunday school who's always talking about the stuff that no one wants to talk about, because this is my home and I care about it so much. And if I'm changing and trying to move more toward a Christ-like understanding of the gospel, I want to bring my home and I want to bring my community with me. And for me, even if it's dragging dead weight behind me, that's what I feel called to do, is to bring that community with me closer to what I feel is a more Christ-like understanding of the gospel, because I love those people and I love this church and I love everything that I stand for, even if it's flawed. Because even if I leave the society around me is flawed, too, there's humans. Everywhere we go. there's hardship. And so I feel like leaving the church isn't the answer to not feeling like a hypocrite. And I don't feel like leaving the church is the answer to feeling more comfortable in my own spirituality, because I personally feel that spirituality is supposed to challenge us because that's where the growth happens. But this is the thing too. I don't want to give a prescription because I know that for some people leaving the church is absolutely necessary for their mental and emotional and spiritual health. And I'm to the point now, where I've seen plenty of people leave and their lives have improved, that I'm to the point where, when people tell me that they're leaving the church, I'm like, good for you. That decision must have been so hard. And I'm so glad that you've arrived at the place where you feel confident and comfortable and mature enough to trust your own self and trust your own experience that you know that this is what you need to do for you. It's not a sad thing for me, because they're doing what they feel called to do. And so I think it always strikes people weird that I'm like, No, I'm staying, because this is where I feel called to be. Even though it's in this weird tension point, right? It's in this weird place of, I'm not, if I'm totally offensive guys, we'll admit it a hundred percent, I'm not all in. And I am not all out. I am just… here. On the margins.

E: I think you bring up a really important piece. I think that sometimes we can think about our membership like we have to be a hundred percent certain on all of the issues that the church claims, but for me, I've found that to be an incredibly hard thing to do, and it doesn't feel like I can bring my whole self that way because I'm not a hundred percent on all of the things that the church does, or the stances that the church takes. So just echoing the point that you said about being able to bring your whole self, you can both celebrate the things that you love about the church while you are simultaneously challenging, critiquing, and trying to make big change in the church. You don't have to choose one or the other. You can do both.

C: Right. Well, and I think too, this is where the example of Jesus comes in super strong. Jesus was a part of the church, but He literally spent His entire ministry calling it out and challenging it to level up, right? And not that I view me or you or anyone else who is involved in this work as Jesus. But I do think this is how I follow Him, and this is how I try to honor my covenant, to be like Him and to stand as an example, and that's going to look different for everyone. But for me personally, Jesus Christ is what my testimony is based on. And the Christ that I experienced in the new Testament and in Third Nephi, which I'm so excited that we get to talk about soon, He is radical. And He’s not just this nice, soft, gentle guy who is just kind to everyone and does all the miracles. He is that, but He's also like, I'm gonna flip these tables over in the temple and I'm going to tell you that you can't get to heaven unless you're a camel going through the eye of a needle. You know what I mean? That's the Jesus that I'm obsessed with. And so that's the Jesus that leads me in my faith journey, in my faith community. And that's the Jesus that defines my testimony. 

C: So we want to just wrap up this episode with a couple of questions. So Elise, I don't think I've ever -- maybe I have, but it's been awhile so maybe your answer has changed -- but why do you stay? 

E: I think, well, a few thoughts. One, I think, like you, I don't hold staying in the church to be the better thing to do. So just because I am here doesn't mean that I'm staying here, and doesn't mean that I am stalwart and that I've dug my heels in no matter what. But I choose to continue to participate in this faith tradition because it's the tradition that gave me language to understand God, that has given me a beautiful framework to understand what divinity is like. One of my favorite pieces of the gospel is realizing that faith and doubt can co-exist. And also that we're able to see the image of God in the face of the stranger. And I feel like the LDS church calls me to practice radical hospitality and radical welcoming, and those are pieces of the church that I find so meaningful to me, personally. And I also feel like, look, I love the tradition so much that I want it to change, in that I want it to be better and welcoming for everyone. But what about you? Why do you stay? 

E: I think my first answer would be that one of the best pieces of advice that I received about social justice work or about trying to make changes in the world is to align yourself with an organization that is already doing the work, instead of trying to create something new and something better and trying to get support for that, but to join with an organization that's already making a difference and already trying. And I had the privilege of growing up in an organization that I feel is service-oriented and that I feel, for all of its flaws and faults, is doing the best that it can to make a change in the world. And, yeah, same as you, I love the tradition so much and I feel like it's already doing good and its potential for even more good is so great that I want to push it to do more. I want to push it to be more inclusive. I want to push it to be radically welcoming and opening, just like the Christ that it claims to follow. And so that's why I stay because that's what I want my legacy to be. I want to be part of what made this church even better because it has the potential to be, and it would be a really sad thing to see that be lost. You know what I mean? 

E: So, in that same way, too, I feel like for me, I do feel a sense of responsibility that the work is unfinished. And if I am able to see the structure for all of its flaws, then I have a responsibility to try and create a new structure that's even better. And I don't know if I'll always feel that way. I don't think that my faith is stable or stagnant. I think it's going to change as I change and as my experience grows. So, I'm looking forward to the new ways that God can show up for me. And the new ways that my LDS faith community and tradition continues to enrich my life. But that doesn't mean that I think it's going to be smooth sailing. It's hard work, right? 

C: Yeah. I agree with you. And I'm at the point in my own faith journey where I no longer rely on just an LDS context or just LDS framework to feed my faith. I find a lot of enjoyment from pulling from a bunch of different traditions and a bunch of different things. So, I can't even claim that my LDS faith is a pure right in that I pull a lot from yoga and I pull a lot from Paganism and Witchcraft and I pull a lot from Evangelical Christianity. And I pull from everywhere because I find God everywhere. And so I've gotten to the point now where I feel comfortable enough to say that is part of my spirituality. And it's where I feel most comfortable and most connected to God, and stopped feeling shame about it. And that's helped a lot. It's helped so much to be able to recognize that I don't have to be all in to still consider myself to be LDS or to still consider myself to be Mormon. In fact, there is a girl on Instagram, her name is Sarah Hanks and she's not Mormon anymore, but she still claims Mormonism as her heritage. And I love that because she can still talk about all of the cultural things and all of the beliefs and understandings that have shaped her and her beliefs up into this point. And it's not a sad thing and she doesn't have to disown it just because it no longer fulfills her anymore, but she can recognize that as an important, invaluable part of her journey. So I learned a lot from her and I'm really grateful for that peace. Because it’s just brought me personally a lot of peace as well.

E: So there, you have it, a short, casual conversation about just kind of where we are with the church and why we stay and what our faith looks like right now. So we hope that this episode provides peace and perspective and comfort in letting you know that there are other people out here who are doing the same type of work as you, who are having the same type of struggles. Just because Channing and I have this podcast doesn't mean that we have no struggles and that our faith is perfect. I think it's far from that, but we're learning to be at peace in the messiness. 

C: Yeah, Elise, I think that you speak to a lot of truth there because there's a lot that goes on behind the scenes of the podcast. There have been weeks where we've come to a section in the text where one of us has really, really struggled with it because it brushes up against the topic that we struggle with in our testimonies. And I often find us apologizing to each other. “Oh no, I'm sorry that this is coming up in the scriptures now. I know this is a tough point for you.” So yeah, please know that we don’t know everything, because there are some times where you don't always get to hear it because we edit it out, but there are some I remember crying or being very angry at the text in the episode because it's bringing up stuff for us. And so just because we're cool and calm and collected 90% of the time doesn't mean that that's how we always arrive from the text and Channing, me, personally, I have to read the text five or six times before I stopped being mad at it every week. Every freaking week, except for Jacob and probably Jesus. Every other time I just have to take a little bit of a chill pill before I feel like I can come to this episode balanced. 

E: So, like everything we say, our experiences and our perspectives are just one way that you might find a place in the church or even outside of the church, but they're not the only way. If your faith journey and experience looks totally different than ours, that’s amazing. We are still saving you a seat on the soft chairs, even if it's  soft chairs not in the church building, you're still welcome here.

C: Yep, exactly.. And just like you said, Elise, we really hope that this episode lands as some advice or perspective or even an option. Sometimes it just helps to know that you're not alone. If you feel like you're a fence sitter, too, welcome. Just like we said in last week's episode, welcome. We're so glad you're here. And there are more options than just being all in or all out. You can be 75/25 or 40/60, it's okay. And it's okay for that to change every week or every month, or if in two years from now, if one of us decides to leave the church, okay. Or you decide to leave the church, it's okay. We're going to all figure it out together. But there are options and you're not alone. And that's the whole purpose of this episode, is to just be open and be vulnerable and say, look, we're not perfect either, but this is how we're managing. And hopefully you can find comfort and community here, too. 

E: So, thank you so much for listening to the bonus episode. We hope that you would cherish it as much as we've enjoyed sharing it with you. We love you all so much and we'll see you soon. Bye!

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