Remember when I wrote to you about not going to church anymore? I mean, I'm sure you do, I just wanted to give some context for this letter. Well, that post went a little unexpectedly crazy. As of the posting of this letter, it has almost 22,000 views. 22,000! Not something I ever expected. But I think that says something about the nature of the sentiments I expressed. A lot of people feel the same way. Relationships with The Church are complicated.
Here's the thing. Everyone I know personally who commented expressed love and support. Even, perhaps a tad surprisingly, certain members of my own family. (I know!) Which is so so great. A lot of people who commented said they felt the same way. There were some commenters, however, who were very quick to jump to the defense of The Church. Now, while I understand that reflex, I also want to tell them to relax. The Church is perfectly capable of defending itself.
What I want to tell them is to take a minute to breathe, and then think, "Hmm. This post seems to be resonating with people. A lot of people seem to be saying they feel the same way. I wonder why that is. I wonder if there are people in my life who feel the same way." And Mom, based on the response I got, I can all but guarantee there are. And then I want them to find those people and listen to them. Really listen. And then I want them to say, "Thank you for sharing that with me," and not offer advice, or solutions, or spiritual guidance, or say, "Sure, but...". And then. Then I want them to go home and think about what they've heard. Do a little reading. Do a little praying. Seek for understanding. They might even return to their friend and say, "I've been thinking about what you said, and I'm having a hard time with it. Tell me more." Then I want them to continue to listen. Then maybe they can say, "I understand that your experience with The Church has been challenging. My own experience hasn't been, so I've been doing some reading/praying/studying. I don't have any answers for you, but here's how I approach/reconcile/deal with A, B, and C. If that's helpful for you, great. If not, I'd love to keep this conversation going and see what we can discover together - regardless of where that discovery takes you." See that last bit there? No. Ulterior. Motive.
What I want is for people to stop assuming that because they've had a positive experience with The Church, everyone else should have as well. That because The Church works for them, that it will work for everyone. That because they feel welcome and supported, and part of the community, that everyone does. That because they "know" something, that everyone else "knows" the same thing - or will "know" the same thing at some point. That they are "right". That because they love the people around them, that those people feel loved. Yeah verily, even stop assuming that the institution of The Church is good at loving all of its people.
I have seen that The Church can be INCREDIBLE when it comes to moments of crisis in people's lives - death, loss, tragedy, suffering. But what does it say about the community of The Church that when people disagree or have doubts or differing opinions or questions or even different experiences, that their first response is to feel anxious about saying anything? Shouldn't a community like The Church be the first place people run in a situation like that? And wouldn't it be great if when they ran to that community, they were embraced with open arms, empathy, compassion, and love, instead of side-long glances, judgment, and fear?
Mostly I want people to check that defensive reflex. It's understandable given our own history with persecution and expulsion, and everything The Church teaches about zealously championing the faith, and being a witness for Christ. Understandable, but not helpful.
Can we all learn to ask more questions and really listen to the answers before we jump right to passionately listing the reasons we're right, or we're not wrong, or #notallmormons or whatever? Still loving, and caring for, and fully supporting people even if in the end they decide to take a different path? It would be pretty great if The Church were that community.
I also recognize that in my own way, I'm getting a little defensive here. I think it's warranted. But I'm also open to discussion because I want to be that person who asks questions, and listens, and breathes, and says, "That hasn't been my experience. Tell me more, and let's see what we can discover together."