Wednesday, December 19, 2012

It's been awhile since I updated this, because I wasn't going to bother without something to say.

Probably more details in the future, but I want to start adding more stuff to this and some sort of historical bringup is in order.

The last chapter chronicled my joining of a Protestant church and the non-event that was with my leaders.  We were mostly focused on trying to get settled in that church and accordingly scaled back our LDS activity, although we had home teachers and went every few months.

I'll write more about this later, but the executive summary is that our Protestant church had a change in leadership and direction.  One of the new pastors offered the opinion that I wasn't really a Christian unless I could accept some specific doctrinal things, and I really reject that opinion.  I really have no intention of being exposed to an arbitrary inquisition  about my Christianity, so I resigned my membership in this other church, although we still contribute and attend.

After that they closed down the campus we were attending, and the new facility and situation is much less appealing.  Really it was like getting started in a new church, and I'm not sure I have the energy for that again when it seems like we were basically pushed off the ship and provided with a lifeboat with a capacity for ten people with about fifteen in the water.

From a doctrinal standpoint I still hold onto the First Vision story as my model for Mormonism, and believe the BoM to be the best articulation of what I believe doctrinally, even though I don't think it's historical.  So if I have to belong somewhere I guess I may as well accept that I am a jack Mormon and get on with it.

We are back to partial attendance at our ward and I have a home teaching assignment and a calling, although it doesn't involve much.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Epilogue --

  I got a reply back from my stake president, and it looks like I'm not going to a church court after all.

  It would be inappropropriate to quote the letter without permission, but I'll summarize as best I can.  I really disagree with some of his points, which I'll address later.

  He apologizes that my spiritual needs are not being met by the LDS church and that I felt I needed to join another church.  Based on an interview we had a few years ago he expresses understanding that I have concerns.

  Just disagreeing with the leaders or mere loss of belief is not generally a reason for having to hold a church court.  Generally when people decide the church is no longer right for you, the right thing to do is to resign.  He doesn't encourage that, but if I really feel the church is inconsistent with my beliefs and I'm unlikely to return, it's the best thing.  A simple signed letter to my bishop will do the job.

  Remaining a member of the LDS church causes others to need to seek me out.  My baptismal and temple covenants still remain in force.  This may not be what I want, but if I want to keep contact and would welcome attempts to reach out I can keep my membership in the LDS church, regardless of whether or not I am active.

  Church discipline is reserved for situations where members openly defy the LDS church, such as publishing articles against the doctrines or leaders or attempting to lead others to adopt incorrect doctrines or leave the church.  He doesn't feel this is what I'm doing, nor what he expects me to do.

  This situation is my choice and he has no wish to force me, except he would want to keep my fellowship in what he firmly believes to be the church of Jesus Christ in its fullest form.

  Regardless of what I decide, he wants to remain my friend and welcomes any opportunity to discuss my beliefs and spiritual journey. 

  He signs the note,

  "Your brother in Christ,  H____ M______, Stake President"

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Writing My Stake President--

I sent this e-mail this morning:

President M_____,

I just wanted to inform you that I am now a member of Vintage21 Church in downtown Raleigh.

I have no interest in resigning my membership or severing my LDS connections. Mormonism was and is extremely foundational in who I am and how I look at the world, even as an adult convert. I could just as easily take out my liver as remove the “Mormonness” from my worldview.

I am giving you this information because I am aware that the more recent versions of the Church Handbook of Instruction mention joining another church as grounds for excommunication, although I’m told there is a lot of latitude for local leaders to make their own decisions. I have done what I have done, and if you choose to take this to a church court I would rather just get it over with and not have it hanging over my head as some random event to be worried about in the future.

I am informing you directly because my bishop, Bishop A___, is one of the best men I have known in the LDS church. He has enough problems of others to deal with, without having to decide how to handle this and feeling responsible for any negative consequences. As a Melchizedek priesthood holder you have jurisdiction over this anyway, so you are the best person to decide.

To be clear my “issues” are not with Mormonism as I interpret it from the Book of Mormon and much of the Doctrine and Covenants. Nor have we been offended to any great degree by anyone locally. It has more to do with the institutional church and the oversimplification of the gospel, to include the rich history we have as a people and the breadth of the doctrines preached in the standard works. I cannot sustain a church president who largely remains in Salt Lake City and preaches simple Christian ethics to the faithful and seems to mainly go to temple dedications, as opposed to a lion of the Lord who preaches Christ crucified at every opportunity to audiences both hostile and friendly. And much much more.

Accordingly I can never serve a meaningful role again in the LDS faith community, so I have to belong somewhere I can serve without being considered such damaged goods. Honestly, I feel like Vintage21 Church is closer to the spirit of the Book of Mormon than the current LDS church is, which is why I have taken this step.
Enough about my “issues”, I think. I respect your dedication to serving the Saints in our stake. You have always gone the extra mile in everything you have done, and I think you are truly one of the “good guys” here. Despite everything I have said, I think we have some of the best leaders in this area that can be found in any area of the LDS church. I will respect and abide by whatever decision you choose to make in this matter.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Crossing the Rubicon --
Well, I did it.

I've been attending Vintage21 Church for about two years, served, tithed, volunteered, attended the required membership class, met with the pastors, etc.

The final step was filling out the on-line membership covenant.

It was a very different experience. When I joined the LDS church I was baptised in front of new friends by priesthood holders who had met with me in my home for a period of months. Previous missionaries came back from other places to share the day with me. I still remember it well.

The process of joining Vintage21 church was much more 21st century. There was a web form to fill out with my personal information, a tithing pledge, radio buttons to click on indicating that I agreed to certain doctrinal and behavioral norms, and finally, at the bottom of the web form, a button labelled "Submit!". Whether that was intentional irony I have no idea. i.e. "submit the form", "submit to the Lord", or all the above.

Since this affected Sarah I wanted to share this with her, so we sat down at the computer together while I filled out the form, we held hands, and I clicked on the "Submit!" button.

The form rejected my entry because I left out a required field. Apparently the angels were not going to descend in rings of flame at this point.

I corrected the entry, Sarah and I held hands, and once I again I attempted to "Submit!".

This time I was successful, and I am now a member of Vintage21 Church, Raleigh North Carolina, with whatever privileges come with that.

The fork in the road has been taken.

Next up: the letter informing my stake president. Will that lead to some kind of disciplinary action, or just become lost in his in-box? Time will tell.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Gospel Unchained --
I spent about an hour and a half on Wednesday doing scripture study, basically correlating accounts from different gospels, reading scholarly material on their origins, and writing my own notes and thoughts on what I think it all means.

It's just a blessing to be able to think for myself and to not be constrained by "official" interpretations of what it means. Rather than having the chance to just repeat someone else's opinions or be silent, I can weigh the evidence and make the Gospel mine. I can rely on the Holy Spirit as my guide to figure this out and not some long-dead LDS general authority like Bruce R McConkie or Marion G Romney.

I can draw on any author I choose to expand my understanding, whether it be Billy Graham, Bart Ehrman, or Joseph Smith, and I can acknowledge the truth I find, wherever it may be.

It's great to be unleashed.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Why Stay, Part 3 --
I was reflecting on this a lot in church on Sunday.

From the LDS perspective I am damaged goods. I cannot pass a temple recommend interview because there's no way I could sustain the current general authorities as "prophets seers and revelators". I think they're entitled to the same inspiration as anyone else who prays to God with real intent, but I don't see them as the Lord's special witnesses, any different from any other preacher, pastor, or evangelist seeking to humbly spread the truth about Christ.

As such I am really not able to be a full part of the LDS community. Most serious callings are off-limits to me, not that I would really want them anyway. I'm forever in a support role, like the Christmas cookie delivery from December, the second banana carrying the plate supporting someone with more credibility. In the LDS church what matters is serving within the church, either presiding or teaching, and I can do neither. The most I could aspire to would be generally made up jobs serving within the LDS community performed under the watchful eye of someone with more credibility.

I contrast this with the opportunities for service in front of me as a member of the church we attend now.

Before the service on Sunday they showed a video about a Boys Club ministry in downtown Raleigh. There are possibilities in front of me for making up packages of food and supplies for less fortunate students at a downtown elementary school. I may go to a meeting tonight for people putting on a chapel service in a local homeless shelter. I can help teach and encourage fellowship in my community group. As a member I could become a deacon and help lead and organize ministries in the church, for example the parking ministry I'm part of now. I can actually make a difference to the less fortunate outside the church and minister in some way to those in it, even if just a greeter helping people find parking spaces and carrying their babies into the building when their hands are full.

I can do something meaningful and not just take notes at someone else's meeting, accompany someone else to a home teaching appointment that nobody wants to be involved in anyway, or haul furniture for people who already have lots of helpers and could realistically afford to pay movers if they chose to.

I can never make a difference in the LDS context. I can make a huge difference in the church I attend now.

Why would I trade meaningful ministry for marginalized irrelevance?

Friday, January 07, 2011

Why Stay, Part 2 --
I’m part of a community group in the church I’m on trajectory to join.  There are three families in our group, because we are the furthest out geographically from where the church meets and there aren’t many others out that far.  One family was sick, so that left me and the leaders, a young couple with two small kids.  We typically meet weekly.

We read the bible together and talked about the sermon.  One of the couple seemed distant and focused mostly on the kids.  I finally had to ask, “is anybody mad at me?  Am I disrupting something I didn’t know about?”  It turned out that this person was struggling with some personal issues and just needed space.  We’ve discussed some of these issues before, and we prayed together and went our separate ways.

I had to reflect for a minute on how genuine and honest our meeting had been.  We enjoyed each other’s company for the most part.  We shared from the scriptures and other related works.  I asked an honest question about whether I had given offense, and I got an honest answer back.  We prayed together that burdens would be lifted and the pure love of God revealed.

How unlike the similar LDS experience of home teaching this was.  We meet because we choose to.  Nobody is keeping score.  There is no “report” to higher authority.  We share.  There is no facade that the home teacher is somehow the superior in the relationship and has authority to instruct and to demand accountability (i.e. the quiz the home teacher is supposed to administer about family home evening, family prayer, etc).  There isn’t the awkward moment where the home teacher has to give some lesson the family hasn’t had the chance to think about, while the kids either run wild or are forced to sit quietly, meanwhile hoping lightning will strike the home teacher so they can go back to playing normally.  We don’t meet out of a sense of dull obligation, all the while checking our watches and hoping the home teachers will shut up and leave.  No, this is a mutually satisfying relationship.  We meet weekly so we know each other and are honest about our feelings and opinions.  Sometimes we share our frustrations about things at church, but not much.

This is just a warm familiar experience, every week.

I have typically been a big fan of home teaching, but this is better because it’s not done out of obligation.  It’s done out of the pure love of Christian community.

Why would I trade it for the drudgery of most home teaching visits?

I have no idea.