Content Warnings for General Conference Talks

Part of being a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not having paid, professional clergy. Every job performed within the Church is done by volunteers. This includes the sermons, lessons, and trainings given during Sunday services. No one is getting paid for the work they do. Sometimes, that means you get to learn from highly trained public speakers in your community at no cost. Other times, it means you listen to people who are terrified of public speaking stumble painfully and publicly through the experience. Both experiences have powerful lessons to teach, for both the speaker and listeners in the congregation.

The closest the Church comes to paid clergy are the full-time leadership who speak in the Church’s twice annual general conference, but the experience of speaking and listening is still the same. Your mileage will vary drastically from speaker to speaker. I’ve had healing, life-changing experiences with general conference talks that brought new meaning and purpose into my life as a disciple of Christ. I’ve also listened to talks that were so bad, I wanted the floor to open up and swallow me so I wouldn’t have to listen anymore. On some occasions I felt secondhand embarrassment on behalf of the speaker and just wanted the talk to end for their sake. But other times, I’ve felt that way because of being openly insulted as a listener. The speaker was completely oblivious to their own biases, their insensitivity, and the limitations of their own experiences. And at a younger stage of my life, I would’ve had a hard time putting it into words exactly what was making me feel that way. The best I could’ve done for a long time is “my life experience is absolutely nothing like theirs, and they just made me feel like there’s something wrong with me because of that.”

Part of what would improve our public discourse substantially in the Church would be the use of content warnings. A content warning is a summary of topics given at the outset so people can determine ahead of time if they’re likely to be hurt or upset by the topics being discussed. Ideally, the person giving the talk would provide their own content warnings, but these warnings can also be affixed at a later time.

To be clear: by making this list of content warnings, I’m not constructing a list of forbidden topics that should never be addressed. Rather, I’m pointing out that these (and other) topics can be so emotionally charged for people, they deserve forewarning so they can remove themselves from the audience if that’s what they need to do for their own peace of mind. Some people might call this a lack of emotional resilience or “coddling.” But living with trauma is an exhausting experience. Not everyone is prepared to participate in every conversation in every moment of every day. By giving people forewarning, we give them the ability to disengage for the sake of their own mental health. It’s an act of love and consideration we should be willing to extend, especially if we don’t understand the importance, because those are typically the situations where well-intentioned people are doing the most unintended harm.

This list has been inspired by the May 2019 conference addresses, but content warnings are not limited to what will appear on this list:

Prescriptive Emotions: any talk or discourse that suggests, proposes, or enforces what someone else’s emotional response should be; especially harmful as it relates to providing unqualified or unlicensed advice related to mental health or mental illness (depression, anxiety, post-traumatic stress, etc.)

Universal Church Experience: the expectation for all members of the Church to engage in the same way because they all have equal and functioning access to the same support as everyone else; harmful to members outside the United States, part-member families, converts, and new members of the Church whose church experience may never be the same as someone else’s because of that lack of support.

Familial Conformity: social or ecclesiastical pressure for those who are active in the Church to impose their will, goals, and desires for active church membership and participation on other people; a blatant disrespect of personal boundaries and agency when these individuals have respectfully declined and made their desires not to participate clearly understood. Any effort to present the nuclear family as an inherently better family structure over singleness, mixed-faith marriages, and blended families of any and all genders.

“The World” is Evil: the assumption or belief that those outside the Church (including worshippers of other faiths) are inherently immoral, unethical, or ignorant about right and wrong because they don’t follow the same moral codes as Latter-day Saints do; also related to the belief that Latter-day Saints are superior in value or importance over other people because of the restored gospel of Jesus Christ.

Abuse: any topic related to physical, emotional, sexual, or ecclesiastical abuse between individuals and family members.  Hearing the violence committed against others can retraumatize and trigger post-traumatic stress reactions in survivors of abuse. Any anecdotes that outline or detail the violence of someone else's situation, past or current, without their express consent is offensive and abusive.

Sexism: any statement that disrespects, devalues, or fails to acknowledge the contributions of any individual or group on the basis of sex or gender; as such, devaluing any contributions made by women outside of parenthood AND ignoring the importance of nurturing from men in the Church are both examples of sexism. Also includes devaluing or negating the gender identities of others.

The Family Proclamation: because some the content of this document targets, attacks, and devalues LGBTQ people, the proclamation itself has become a source or trauma and violence to many people in that community; therefore, a standing warning any time this document will be mentioned, regardless of context, would be appropriate.

Marital Issues: those who experience marital problems aren’t always open to taking in advice or criticism on the events surrounding their marriages and divorces; related warnings may also include divorce, infidelity, remarriage, single parenthood, and custody of children.

Limiting Worship of God to Church Observance: includes the emphasis (and overemphasis) on callings, assignments, and free labor in the Church has the source of God’s approval and favor; also includes disregarding the needs and limitations of others to encourage more uncompensated labor, and valuing certain kinds of labor in the Church over others, such as full-time missionary service and temple attendance.

Cultural Homogeneity: social policing and self-appointed enforcement of rules and standards on others at church, especially as it related to personal appearance and dress; related also to bullying, ostracizing, abuse from church and youth leadership, and the For Strength of Youth pamphlet because of how it has been weaponized inappropriately among the youth.

“Arm of Flesh”: overemphasis of/overconfidence in church leadership, general authorities, and local leadership; the failure to acknowledge their fallibility and potential for human error, especially has it related to current and past policies that have harmed the general membership of the Church.

Disability: any statement or phrasing that presents the experiences of disabled people as undesirable, unwanted, or in need of correction; examples include stories where blindness, deafness, or limitations in mobility become metaphors for a lack of spirituality or divine punishments.

Invalidating Bodily Autonomy: any statement that challenges, devalues, or seeks to impede the legal or medical decision-making of any person; especially toxic as it relates to controlling the reproductive health choices of women through their access to safe abortions, giving unsolicited opinions or medical advice for infertility, and reducing sex/sexuality solely to functions of procreation.

Death: devaluing the grief and pain surrounding death because of the resurrection, the kingdoms of glory, or any other aspect of the Plan of Salvation.

Devaluing Knowledge and Authority Outside of Religion: any attempts to disregard or ignore science, medicine, technology, and the knowledge gained of natural world through heuristic thought processes independent from religious belief.

Racism: any narrative that subjugates, oppresses, or invalidates minority groups based on race, nationality, or colorism; especially where those of white European descent benefit from and obfuscate harm imposed by colonization (including the pioneers) and slavery.

The Nature of God:
misrepresenting God through an overemphasis on punishment, rejection, and causing pain; directly related to the erasure of the feminine qualities of God and the divine feminine/Heavenly Mother.

General conference doesn't exist to do harm. It's a setting where people come together in search of God and ways to improve their lives. This doesn't mean, however, that all general conference talks are automatically free of harmful language by virtue of the setting. The speakers are human, their understanding of various kinds of trauma is incomplete, and they have much to learn from the experience of speaking.

You can choose your intentions, but you don't get to choose the impact of your words on other people. Content warnings are part of recognizing the potential impact of the words we speak, and will hopefully become the front lines of eliminating harmful messaging from our midst.

Confessions of an "Intimidating" Woman at Church

Do you ever get so bombarded with the events and responsibilities of your own life, a really important experience slips through the cracks of your attention? You may not even realize the impact it's having on you until after the dust settles from everything else first. Then you see it, plain as day. That thing a person said or did that remains unmoved, a monument to the hurt in the whirlwind.

For me, it was a conversation I had with a woman from church who invited me to lunch with her. She had recently entered a leadership position, and I assumed I was on her radar because I've chosen to reduce my church attendance. I was upfront with her about this, expressing to her honestly how many responsibilities I had in my life at that time. I was so overwhelmed, I told her I was completely emotionally unavailable. I didn't want assignments. I didn't want callings. I needed time and space to exist in church without anyone wanting or needing anything from me. I made the choice to trust her with that admission of truth, thinking it would save her (and myself) a lot of time with pretenses.

I'm a big believer in honesty, situational awareness, and open communication. Leaders cannot address problems they don't know about. I had too much respect for this woman, her calling, and her responsibilities to lie to her, or string her along by pretending to be something I'm not. So, I told her the truth that was in my heart: that I don't feel like I have a place in the Church anymore. Not one I can comfortably occupy once a week, anyway. I wasn't feeling like an equal there, like my contributions had no value. And if being heard and valued was going to be this much of a struggle, I confessed, I would rather just stay home. It was a relationship of diminishing returns, and I didn't know how to fix it. Part of why I even told her about it was the misplaced hope she would have some ideas.

Instead, I was given a new label I still struggle to affix to myself. "Intimidating." That's what she told me I was. The way I participate in classes. The comments I make. How well-read and well-versed I am in church history and scripture. People have told her that I intimidate them.

You could've knocked me over with a feather in that moment. Me, intimidating? My 5'2" body frame and high-pitched, Minnie Mouse voice? You'll forgive me for being confused, but I still don't see how anyone who has seen me in person could possibly be intimidated by me.

I know I'm not the only one walking around with this label on me, so I thought I would deconstruct it for a while. Doing so will help me, and I hope it will be helpful to others who also find themselves wearing it. Maybe even those who give it to others, not realizing fully what it means.

The "Intimidation" is YoursNot Mine

Intimidation takes two forms: first, when a person causes fear through force, threats, or manipulation. Second, the state of being afraid or overawed because of someone else's abilities and accomplishments. At the foundation of both is fear; either because someone is making you afraid, or because you are choosing to be afraid of them. So, when you call someone intimidating there are only two ways to play it: as an accusation or a confession. Either that person is an aggressive bully who uses their resources to torment and traumatize people, or you're admitting you're afraid of them.

Sharing the experiences I've had as a convert to the Church is not a threat. Drawing upon my knowledge to fully participate in a lesson or conversation about the Church is nothing to be scared of. What I have to offer isn't some mythical power. They're perspectives and talents I've gained through hard work and study I've done over many years. They are the fruits of conscious choices to engage with and listen to all kinds of people. My scriptural literacy, my abilities to distill what I think into clear speech and polished writingI've dedicated my life to those pursuits. Those skills were paramount during my conversion, and have carried me through every subsequent trial I've had since then. I have only done what any person would do if their faith in God and their survival depended on it.

I am unique only in that I am insatiably curious. It is the curiosity of a child who never grew tired of trying to understand the world around me. I care enough to seek, to read, to listen, and to learn. That's it. That's my secret. Anyone who can read and wants to learn can achieve their own version and vision of what I have. I'm not any more special than a person who learns woodcarving, home repair, or gardening. Why should the reaction to the God-given talents I've chosen to cultivate be fear and intimidation?

Why do I have to do less of what I loveto be less of who I ambefore others will see me as a person? Why am I being held responsible for other people's feelings? For their fear?

I just want to be myself. I refuse to be less of who I am because other people choose to be afraid of me for no good reason. The solution here is not for me to hide my talents under a bushel to make others feel better. What is required is for those who pass judgment like this to reflect on their choices. Why do you choose to be afraid of people you don't even know? Is there a better choice you could be making?

If there's harmful manipulation at play here, it's in this: when accomplished, educated, or outspoken women are only acceptable when they are silent, passive, and submissive. When love and acceptance are conditional upon false pretenses, and all friendship and associations turn away from them when they refuse to comply. That is manipulation. That is intimidation.

I am submissive to no one but God. In all my relationships, my associations are absolutely conditional. I am only interested in maintaining relationships that are based in love, tolerance, and respect. I expect to be treated like an equal because that's how I strive to treat others. I expect to receive in return the time and consideration I give. I want relationships that are based in honesty and openness. This is who I am because a lifetime of struggle has taught me this is what I value.

If I can't have those kinds of relationships with people in my ward without them calling me "intimidating," what does that say about the quality of the relationships to be had there? Why are we surprised that people who are treated like this leave us? Why are we confused when they struggle to come back to church, even when they desperately want to?

Overcoming Intimidation

So much of our culture encourages us to invest in others before ourselves. No matter how strong we are, that pattern of total self-sacrifice is unsustainable. We will all make the startling realization that while God is perfect, we are not. His wells never run dry, but ours do. Endless giving without being restored means we all come up empty eventually, having nothing else to give. Emptiness, the sense of internal lacking, produces many emotional responses. In some, the longing for renewed connection and belonging. In others, fear and rejection of the new and unfamiliar.

If you find yourself burdened by feelings of inadequacy and intimidation from others, that is not going to change by expecting them to change for you. They are not the reason your feel that way. No change they will ever make will help you feel more content within yourself. Only recognizing your value, your strengths, and the power of your contributions can do that.

If your association with someone else has made you aware of a lack within your own abilities, why blame that on them? They are giving you the opportunity to fill that emptiness with the perspective they've offered you. So fill your own emptiness! Drink from the well they have chosen to share with you. If you need more, ask them for more. Why are we so afraid of not being perfect, of being vulnerable in our weakness and accepting others who are different, we're willing to let ourselves and other perish from thirst instead?

You wanted a confession from an "intimidating" woman at church, and here it is: I don't want to be feared. I want to belong. I want to be loved, heard, and appreciated just like anyone else. I am a person with needs and feelings, and being labeled inaccurately and unkindly isn't one of them.

So if I may, let me suggest a replacement. Instead of calling me (and others like me) "intimidating," how about embracing me for the intensity of love and devotion I feel for God and those around me? I can appreciate if what I have to offer is too strong or intense for some people. But being recognized for what I have to offer, even if it's not for you, is drastically different from being openly criticized for what I lack.

The consequence of coexisting with every living member of our species on the same planet, all at the same time, means inevitably bumping into ideas that will contradict and challenge how we think and live. This is no threat. It's an opportunity to learn. And imagine how much more we would learn in the Church if we thanked God for our differences, instead of asking him to remove them so we all can be the same. Let's stop giving up that opportunity to the temptation to engage in small-minded behavior like name-calling. Surely as the restored church of Jesus Christ, we have more to offer this world than that.

The Death of Certainty: Embracing Faith and Doubt

You'd be hard pressed to find a person in my church who hasn't heard some variation of the pithy phrase "faith and doubt cannot coexist." You'd be equally hard-pressed to find a saying that bothers me more, because of how much it contradicts what the scriptures teach about faith and doubt. 

I want to explore this today, because it's foundational to understanding what my relationship to Mormonism is like right now. Piecing these thoughts together has carried me through a lot, and I hope it can be helpful to others who need it.

If I had to describe this relationship in my life, I'd say I come by love for my faith honestly. I refuse to lie to myself, or accept bad rationality for unacceptable behavior anymore. But I also don't allow anyone to bully me into hating my religion either. I will keep what is worth keeping, because this represents so much of the good in my life. I will trash what is trash, without apologies to anyone. I am the boss of my own testimony. I have peace co-existing in spheres of faith and doubt, because I have embraced them both. I have no intentions of changing that, for reasons we'll explore momentarily.

Some would call my journey to get to this point a "faith crisis." I disagree. I never had a crisis of faith. That is not an accurate description of what happened to me. I had a crisis of certainty. And to understand the difference, let's take a look at Alma 32.

Faith, Doubt, and Certainty

Alma 32 is one of the most important chapters in holy writ to me. Everything I am, everything I believe, and how I approach God is wrapped up in this chapter. It was the first chapter of the Book of Mormon I ever read seriously. The spiritual experience I had with it is why I got baptized. It was the first time in my life faith as a principle made sense to me, because of how Alma separates it from everything faith is not.

As a background, Alma is serving as a missionary in the land of the Zoramites. He is preaching on the hill Onidah, when he is approached by a multitude of the poor. They want to be believers, but they've been rejected and turned away by everyone, especially the priests. Even though this group builds the houses of worship within this society, they are denied access to them. They are undesirable to allincluding those who claim to know and love God.

The question in their hearts is never spoken, but it's palpable in every word: How do I maintain faith in a God whose people are full of such prejudice, hatred, and blatant hypocrisy?

To answer their question, Alma speaks to the humility they've demonstrated by continuing to seek God in those circumstances. He acknowledges the dignity inherent to who they are, instead of defining their worth in being acceptable to others. Alma assures them it isn't necessary to worship God in a building, thereby dispelling any notion that these people are dependent on their oppressors to have a relationship with him. The priests and ruling classes do not, he argues, have the power or authority to remove God from their lives through compulsion. He then replaces those ideas with how to actually form a relationship with God.

At the forefront of that process are faith, doubt, and certainty. And the interplay between them in this chapter is completely inconsistent with the message that faith and doubt cannot coexist. Rather, Alma makes the argument that faith and certainty cannot coexist.

And now as I said concerning faith—faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen, which are true.
Alma 32:21

Faith, defined in verse 21, rests primarily in uncertainty. To hope for something we have never seen means entering and existing in the space where ambiguity, skepticism, and doubt exist. If we no longer have reason to doubt, it's because we have certainty born of knowledge and personal experience (see verse 18). He goes on to make analogies and allegories, and repeatedly asserts a single truth in every part of this process: if we still possess faith, we do not possess "a perfect knowledge," i.e. certainty.

So when do we finally obtain a perfect knowledge of anything in the gospel of Jesus Christ? When can we finally say, "I know this thing with a perfect knowledge, without any doubts whatsoever" and have it actually be the truth?

He answers that question in verses 42 and 43:

And because of your diligence and your faith and your patience with the word in nourishing it, that it may take root in you, behold, by and by ye shall pluck the fruit thereof, which is most precious, which is sweet above all that is sweet, and which is white above all that is white, yea, and pure above all that is pure; and ye shall feast upon this fruit even until ye are filled, that ye hunger not, neither shall ye thirst.

Then, my brethren, ye shall reap the rewards of your faith, and your diligence, and patience, and long-suffering, waiting for the tree to bring forth fruit unto you.
Alma 32:42-43

When we're dead, resurrected, have come into the presence of God, and have received eternal life. When our lives are complete. When we are finished. That's when we will have a perfect knowledge of anything. Short of that, there is no untouchable, unbreakable certainty that belongs to any person on this planetlet alone in the Church. Doubt belongs to all of us, and we belong to it. It is a necessary part of the mortal experience. 

We talk about "opposition in all things," and here it is. Without doubt, there can be no faith. And I don't mean that generally speakingthat doubt must exist abstractly somewhere, for someone else. If we have never personally experienced real, lasting, prolonged doubt, we cannot say we have mighty, unshakeable faith. Faith is a positive response to real doubt. Faith is not avoiding doubt by denying truth or reality. And it certainly is not pressuring others into silence to make that denial easier.

"Let every man be fully persuaded in his own mind."

So why, then, is so much of our church experience centered on convincing ourselves and others that we have any certainty regarding the foundational tenets of our faith?

Why do we have testimony meetings, where the format exists to assure everyone that we know beyond a shadow of a doubt the Church is "true"? Why do we have temple recommend interviews where we proclaim to know the tenets of our religion to be "true"? Why do we insist on hearing each other assert that we've achieved certainty in our beliefs and discipleship, when that isn't even possible at this stage of our spiritual development? 

If these experiences in the Church are supposed to be based on imperfect faith, not perfect knowledge, how does this change the way we see each other? What does this say about what God really expects from us when we worship together?

When you search for faith and doubt together in the scriptures, a variety of texts emerge where writers have analyzed the relationship between them. But for our purposes, let's examine Romans 14. It provides valuable insights into when faith and doubt were primary concerns to the apostle Paul. Who is strong, and who is weak in Christ? Who gets to decide, and what criteria is on that measuring stick? What obligations do we owe to each other as disciples in Christ? Take a few minutes to read the chapter, if you haven't recently. Some of the answers to these questions may surprise you.

As it turns out, developing a relationship with Christ in a community of other Saints has always worked best when... we mind our own business and don't take it upon ourselves to judge other people and their offerings to God. So much of what we define as discipleship is nothing more than personal preference, interpretation, and opinionwhich Paul acknowledges throughout this chapter. 

Note verse 1 where the very first instruction reads, "Him that is weak in the faith receive ye, but not to doubtful disputations." The person's doubts and hangups, however, are not the problem. The "disputations" are the issue, according to Paul. He compares those differences first to differences in eating habits (meat vs. herbs), then preferences in weather, then in how we choose to spend our time. In none of these things are there right and wrong answersjust differences in opinion and preference. These differences have no lasting value to God one way or the other, and no impact on our salvation.

Let us not therefore judge one another any more: but judge this rather, that no man put a stumblingblock or an occasion to fall in his brother’s way.

I know, and am persuaded by the Lord Jesus, that there is nothing unclean of itself: but to him that esteemeth any thing to be unclean, to him it is unclean.

But if thy brother be grieved with thy meat, now walkest thou not charitably. Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died.
Romans 14:13-15

Jesus Christ left much of what it means to be a disciple up to personal interpretation. Within the context of Mormonism, there are standards associated with receiving ordinances. But even after meeting these obligations, there is so much room for people to decide what discipleship means to them. What is compatible with your personal worship of Jesus Christ? That's a question we each get to decide how to answer. It's not for us to force our answers on others. In the words of Paul, there is no culture of conformity so precious that it is worth harming someone else in order to achieve it.

The gospel of Jesus Christ is not a message that demands for me to have a perfect knowledge of anyone or anything. Not here. Not yet. It is an invitation to have frail, human, imperfect faith in him. It is a message of flawed devotion, played out millions of times throughout my life. It is the hope to present myself inadequately before God, full of contradictions, and to marvel that I am acceptable anywayeach and every time. It is the reality of knowing every person in the pew beside me, no matter who they are, lives on the same hope and hypocrisy that sustains me.

Faith and doubt do not dispel each other. They dispel false pretenses. They forcefully remove the facades we learn to wear while comparing, competing, and reassuring others that everything is "just fine." They call our bluffs in each and every moment we spend trying to be perfect, or forcing others to be in our own sight. In the hands of God, faith and doubt are the great equalizersthe reminder that we are all the same exact distance away from being perfected. We all depend on the matchless love of Christ to get there.

When it Matters

It's one thing to talk about faith, doubt, and certainty in the abstract. It's another to view them personally through deep anguish. When the answers to questions like "Is God real?" and "Is there life after death?" were part of the debris of my former life crashing down around me, "faith and doubt cannot coexist" became all but meaningless to me. I now understand what it means to be dissatisfied with Instagram quote answers to profound questions born of grief.

I found myself asking these questions in the dark, knowing the impossible choices I would face the next morning. My mind was full of anguish, and I craved certainty in that moment. I must know there is life after death, that everything here isn't meaningless suffering amounting to nothing at all.

In the quiet that seeped slowly into my chest like morphine, my mind emptied and went still. An image of a sandy beach coalesced into my consciousness, blue water stretching before me in an endless horizon. I saw myself standing there, gazing at the line fixed between water and sky.

Imagine thinking there is no land anywhere else on earth, just because you can't see it.

Reality is not bound by what I have seen or experienced. I have not seen a corporeal God with my own two eyes. I have never seen the afterlife. There are endless numbers of people, living and dead, who I will never meet. Places I have never seen, and never will. My inability to see and interact with them does not logically turn them into fiction, cardboard cutouts and painted backdrops. A description of places I have never seen, of experiences I've never had, doesn't make them any less real.

There are some in my community who, after having an experience like this one, would infer or imply all kinds of certainty from it. Surely such an interaction was an answer to my questions! I've been given certain knowledge, beyond the shadow of all doubt, that God is real and there is an afterlife! Look more closely. I asked for certainty, and I didn't get it. I received a lesson on faith instead.

I'm realizing that the tendency to affix certainty upon spiritual experiences is a learned behavior on my part. It's what has set me up for so much frustration throughout my church experience. If my spiritual experiences are supposed to be vehicles of certainty, of course it would be wrong to question them. Of course doubt would be an undesirable experience, tarnishing what I already "know" to be true. Of course it would be devastating if the spiritual experiences at the heart of that "certainty" ever turned out to be incomplete or insufficient to bear me through the trials of my life. I can see why discovering the brittleness of certainty would be traumatic, a crisis, in the lives of some. The only reason I've never had a "faith crisis" is because I've never stopped giving myself the right to be fully human in the name of my religion.

I exist in a place where all that is real includes what I cannot see. Believing in the possibility that I may see God is faith. The acknowledgment that I can't/won't always do that is doubt—whether in God, or in people, or in myself, the impact is the same. Beyond my faith and doubt is a growing sense that claiming I will ever exist in any other state, at least here on earth, is the real delusion.

For me, it is the death of certainty. And it's in that place I'm becoming content to stay.

Christian vs. Christ-like: Why I Struggle and Why I Stay in the Church

I have been a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints for thirteen years. Lucky thirteen. Ten years... now add three. And I've had a lot of occasion lately to take stock of where I am, and where I'm going. How I got here, and where I want to be. And since these thoughts proven useful to people in the various places I've scattered them on the internet over the years, I thought I'd take the opportunity to share them here.

Why I Joined the Church

When I discovered the Church, I was already actively attending services at another congregation. I was about fifteen years old. A friend of mine had invited me to start attending services at the church where her father was a pastor, and I agreed to go. My mother's family was Catholic, but I wasn't raised in any particular religion. I had made a habit of always accepting these invitations when they were offered to me. As a result, I'd been to congregations that represent many corners of Christendom. Baptist, Wesleyan, Seventh-day Adventist, even an AME church a couple of times. I don't claim to be an expert on any of them, but I've seen the various kinds of welcome wagons that can be led out for a visitor, at least.

My friend's church was "non-denominational." This is a bit of a misnomer. Some might take this to mean a church that is doctrinally neutral and has no allegiance. What this actually means is it will be aligned to whatever the pastor's beliefs are, and that person is choosing not to make it obvious what they are. In this case, it was some flavor of Baptist.

To make a long story short, I wasn't being fed there. I wasn't satisfied with the answers I was getting to my questions. The people were nice, but were all too willing to throw civility and common sense out the window if the Bible (i.e. their interpretation of the Bible) gave them license to do so.

You're divorced? Bless your heart. You had a baby out of wedlock. We'll pray for you. That baby isn't baptized? Well, then it burns in the fiery depths of hell for all eternity.

Now, I've been told by many Baptists this isn't what they all believe. I am certainly willing to acknowledge that. There's diversity in all denominations, and Baptists are no different. But that doesn't change the fact that I was taught this and it was harmful. And it took me a long time to wrap my mind around it and say, "I just don't believe that." It was a skill I had to develop early in my life.

I was deeply unhappy in that church. I had questions they couldn't answer. I didn't feel like I was getting answers to my prayers. For all the services I attended, I didn't feel like I was getting any closer to God. Just spending a lot of time sticking my hands into the air for no reason. I was spiritually hungry and thirsty, and I realized they just didn't have what would fill me.

I met my first Latter-day Saints at that same time. I made some friends my age who were Mormon (yes, I still say Mormon; I earned that label by being bullied for it all through high school and I see no point in giving it up now). These kids were different. I didn't have to go to adults to get my questions answered. My new friends were literate enough in the scriptures to answer my questions for me. And the more they shared with me, the more it resonated with me. Every time I spoke to them, I left with more questions, but it felt like God wasn't just there listening. He was actually going to answer me. And that was all I ever wanted.

The first time I ever attended Sunday services at my friends' branch, I knew my search was over. I was home. I finally had my "burning bush," come to Jesus, personal experience with God. When I had my first sacred experience with the Book of Mormon, I knew I needed to be baptized. No missionaries, because we didn't have any. No pressure from other people to believe what they believedjust to explore it and know it for myself.

That's why I joined the Church. I had my own divine, personal experiencesindependent of anyone else's influencethat assured me it was the right decision.

Why I Struggle

When I was finally baptized (finally being the operative word because it's actually a struggle to get baptized when you don't have access to missionaries), I had another one of those sacred experiences that I didn't fully appreciate at the time. I had been fighting with everyone for so long to let me be baptized and to "just figure it out," I saw the preparation process as a formality. "Whatever, teach me your little lessons. I know I'm supposed to get baptized, so that's what I'm gonna do," was my attitude. The reality of the permanence, the absolute nature of what I was doing didn't hit me until I was standing at the font.

I was making a binding covenant with God not just to join the Church, but to stay in it. Even if people disappoint me. Even if they do something terrible that will hurt my feelings. No matter what. It isn't about them. I'm making this promise between me and God, and it's my choice whether or not to keep that promise.

That knowledge, that interaction with God, lasted less than a second. But time felt like it slowed down, and I thought about it. Was I willing to make that kind of commitment, especially since I had no idea what was ahead of me? It felt like signing a blank check to God, handing it over to him and saying, "Do whatever you want with this." It scared me, but I understood. I understood the nature of the transaction I was about to make.

It has been thirteen years. And God is still collecting off of that blank check. How? Because the amount he filled it in for was "Everything you've got." And I cannot possibly distill thirteen years of struggle into one blog post. I've been hurt and disappointed by members of my church. I've been insulted and ignored. I've been disrespected and disillusioned. I've been lied to. I've been cheated. I've had experiences that are so hurtful and traumatic, they are worth leaving the Church over. I could tell them to you in full, right now, and there is not a single person who would blame me for walking away and never looking back.

If I had to distill all of those experiences into one criticism, it would be this: we set ourselves apart in this church as being distinct and different from other Christian churches. And we do have our differences in beliefs, doctrine, and policy. But for as long as we are human, we have no right to believe we are, or to present ourselves as, perfect fulfillments of who God commands us to be. We are not finished. And in that human condition, we treat each other as poorly and with much carelessness as any other group. We believe we're special, but in many ways that matter we are no different than anyone else.

We can claim to be Christian, but we are not always Christ-like. Too often, members of the Church fail to understand the difference. We become experts at identifying the harmful behavior in others that we can't see in ourselves.

Because I refuse to conform to a culture that claims to be Christian, but is not always Christ-like, I don't always fit in. My honesty is not always welcome or well-received. And it leads to experiences I don't deserve to have. And based on the conversations I've had with many people on the outskirts of my faith, I know I'm not alone in that experience.

Why I Stay

So if I've had such a bad time of it over my thirteen years of church membership, why on earth would I stay? Why do I tolerate bad behavior when it's directed at me, at members of my family, and people I love? Who in their right mind would do that?

My answer is an ongoing discovery I'm still making. What I'm realizing is staying in the Church doesn't have to mean tolerating bad behavior. That doesn't mean I buy into the foolhardy assertion that "I can fix things." The Church is a big place, and I don't have the kind of institutional influence I would need to "fix things." Thankfully, I don't think anyone does because I certainly wouldn't want them using it on me. In the words of someone I don't like very much at the moment, I can "push back" against the world. I can recognize all the ways and moments the Church is part of the world, and never stop letting them forget it. I can't affect change without the consent of others. But I can draw strength from the importuning widow who never stopped knocking until she received what she knew she deserved, for as long as it was still owed to her.

I am grateful for every person to cross my path who was undeserving of my time, energy, and trust. They've made me wiser in all my relationships. I find it telling the first lesson Eve learns by her own experience in scripture is to be careful with her trust, because not every person has her best interests at heart.

It's one thing to say these things. It's another to live on them. And for a long time, I stopped actively going to church because I couldn't take in any more disappointment. I needed time to heal, to regroup. Like Christ, I had to go up on the mountain to pray. It has taken more than a year for me to come down, and I do so with an answer (emphasis my answer) that is every bit as real as the one I got when I was baptized.

Why do I stay? Because this is where Jesus Christ is. This is the foundation on which all of my knowledge of him rests. I'm still fed here, even if my fellow Saints in the buffet line need to (in the words of my mother) "straighten up and remember how to act right in public."

My testimony isn't based on the infallibility of prophets and apostles, or adherence to cultural homogeneity in the Church, or political stances based in hate and fear. That may pass for Christian among many, but it is not Christ-like to me. And like everything else that isn't Christ-like from the parable of the wise man who built his house upon the rock, it will eventually be blown away.

Sometimes, you find yourself in places that change your life, without fully understanding how you got there. That was my experience when I took a trip with my mom to the Florida panhandle, an area still largely in ruins from Hurricane Michael last year. I went to church while I was there, and I couldn't believe what I was seeing. The pews, the carpet, the ceiling tiles were gone. Panels of drywall were missing. The steeple was on the ground outside. For the first time, I was in a church building that was as battered by life as I felt inside. That sacrament meeting was the best one I had attended in so long. With every other distraction stripped away, their meeting was focused entirely on Jesus Christ and his power to rebuild our lives after devastation. They taught me, in the most literal way, what it means to build your house upon a rock. (Matt. 7:24-27) I left that meeting remembering why I had joined the Church, why it was worth it to me to stay. My foundation is in Christ, and it is strong enough to withstand the storms of life. I saw it in the faith and hearts those people, who helped me to see it again in myself. I was a stranger and a visitor to them, but they were the ward family I needed in that moment. I will always remember them for that. #lds #mormon #850strong #HurricaneMichael #JesusChrist #faith #hope #fixitjesus
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The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is my home. My messy, imperfect home where stuff isn't clean and I swear sometimes. I am not the be all and end all of Christianity, and neither is anyone else. And that's okay. Letting go of all the pressure to live up to a comfortable lie is probably the most Christ-like thing we can all do for each other right now. And it's a gift I'm going to start extending much more widely than I'm accustomed to doing.

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