Monday, November 16, 2009

(Do) I Belong to the Church of Jesus Christ . . . (?)

There is a feeling of belonging that I, growing up as a military dependent to a decidedly non-pro-military social worker, have only rarely felt. In fact, I think it safe to say that the only time I have ever felt that I belonged somewhere was before I was married when I attended the temple. One place I decidedly do not feel a part of a group is in church on Sunday. Although my current situation exacerbates this feeling, it is nothing new.

Once, when I went to attend Conference just after the Conference Center was built, I did not know that tickets were necessary to attend. I found myself standing awkwardly with a group of strangers on the sidelines, watching the-Ones-with-Tickets file into the doors. As I was shunted up through a side door and to the nosebleeds, I got a taste of what it must have felt like to be a Jew in the early stages of Nazi Germany, a segregated person after the Civil War, one of the Untouchables in Indian society, or one of the ignorant converts in a very closely knit religious society. At the time, I had not felt more obviously different from the rest of Church membership than I did that day. When I hear various interest groups—LDS feminists, intellectuals, non-Utah Mormons, gay/lesbian members, recent converts—talk about wanting to feel a part of the Church, my heart resonates with their desires even though I really belong to none of these sub-groups.

I have thought long and hard on feelings of estrangement throughout my life in the Church. It occurs to me that almost everyone feels outside of the group at one time or another. Whether we are different because of age, background, personality, beliefs, skin color, height, or any other factor, we still feel the sharp, cold sting of being other than those around us. Three things have helped me soften that sting.

First, to realize that my feelings belong to me alone. No one can make me feel anything, nor can anyone change how I feel without my cooperation.

Second, that my differences give me the ability to serve in the Church in ways that others may not be able to serve. That might not be appreciated by others, but it is necessary all the same.

Most importantly, that no matter the circumstance that sets me apart from other members of the Church, there is one unifying factor that makes my differences meaningless; my faith in Christ and His prophets. I believe on Christ and rely on Him. I believe that He is working through the leadership of the Church to bring about His great purposes.

It doesn't matter if other members of the Church see me as strange, or hold me in contempt because I don't understand workings of the Church or the gospel of Christ the way they understand it. I know that my Father and my Savior have bonded me to Them through the Spirit. In the end, I am answerable only to Them. That is why I can happily declare that I belong to the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I know who I am. I know God's plan, and I'll follow Him in faith.


  1. A commendable attitude. You are to be congratulated for sorting out your feelings in this case. But, I would like to add another factor. In my own case, I think I have some valuable information for church members, something that would improve their understanding of the restored gospel, increase their gospel conprehension and augment their testimony. What if you got those negative messages when you tired to teach your fellow Mormons things that you had found invaluable? That makes those small rejections much more difficult. I guess we all have our own cross to bear.

  2. What makes you think that non-Utah LDS don't feel part of the church?

    It's been the policy of the church to "build where you stand" for over half a century and i'm happy to report those of us who live in the "mission field", even *gasp* Europe, feel every bit part of the church as our brothers and sisters in Utah.

  3. Because, DarqueStar, although my family roots are Utah LDS, I'm one of those non-Utah Mormons (hence the "not really" belonging, since I belong in one sense, but not in another). I've lived all over the Western hemisphere (Europe and USA) and I've heard a LOT of grousing in my life about Utah Mormons in certain places of the so-called "mission field". If you are not one of these and have been elected to speak for the majority who feel as you do, then that is great. I'm speaking from my experience to those who DO feel this sense of not-belonging. Neither perspective negates the other, so please rein in your outrage.

    Anthony: One thing I have learned as I have grown in the gospel is that people very rarely appreciate it when someone tries to teach them. Understand others, then love them, and the Spirit you invite will teach them.

  4. Wow, That was honest; Unfortunately I think that many people feel that same alienation or feelings of not belonging at times in their life. At times I feel like a leper also. But when I start feeling that way, I have a favorite scripture that I memorized on my mission that helps me, it is 2 Nephi 31:20 "Wherefore, ye must press forward with a steadfastness in Christ, having a perfect brightness of hope, and a love of God and of all men. Wherefore, if ye shall press forward, feasting upon the word of Christ, and endure to the end, behold, thus saith the Father: Ye shall have eternal life."

    My guess is that you are going to church wanting to feed or be fed by the good word of the gospel; have conversations about real and meaningful things, feel the love and acceptance from fellowship with the saints, (these are reasonable expectations) but unfortunately not always having those needs / expectations met. (perhaps I’m just projecting why I sometimes feel like the leper).

    Like you though; I understand that I have a source of light available to me independent of anyone else. For me I found that if I feed my spirit first, through prayer, feasting in the scriptures every day, and going to the temple often; this helps keep me focused on who I really am, why I am here and why I belong to the church of Jesus Christ.

    Fortunately I have the best job in the church, which is ward missionary (in case you didn’t know what the best job is) that allows me to have those meaningful discussions and relationships on a much deeper basis; I can serve, love and give love freely (which is really only a projecting of Christ’s love for them). Ward missionary is soo much fun! Plus I get to teach gospel principals class where I try to ask a lot of questions that get them thinking and encourage them to participate in the class. I try to make it as much fun as I can make it, I know why I am there, to feed the sheep and encourage them to partake of the living waters. Being a participant in the Lord's great work of redemption makes church/life good for me, the work is so very rewarding. but I understand that not every has that same ability/opportunity/time available to them.
    Unfortunatly I find myself often un-thinking/neglectful of others needs and helping them feel loved and accepted in the ward. But we are all a work in progress, and I am working on it. This post helps me remember that I need to do more. Thanks.

    Someday Christ will come with healing, to all our wounded souls and no one will ever feel left out or alienated.

  5. Hoping you are able to spend thanksgiving surrounded with those you love, and who love you. Happy Thanksgiving.

  6. Being a Mormon teenager in SLC with a smoking, in-active dad I know what you mean about feeling like a leper. Nothing like smelling like smoke while going to the home of the grand-daughter of a GA to watch a movie.

    The thing that helps me integrate is the second point you mentioned: "my differences give me the ability to serve in the Church in ways that others may not be able to serve."

    Being different than the average member (whatever average is)enables me to reach out to people who also feel "different". This has been invaluable to me as I now live in the Northeast US, where there are many converts who feel like lepers as they try to shed old habits and embrace the gospel.

    There is a whispering voice that says different is bad. But really, different is good as long as we cling to the basics of the gospel. We must have courage to be different while we seek for unity.

  7. I stumbled upon your blog last night and since then, have had a hard time leaving your blog, even for necessary things, like sleeping or taking care of children. The things you have written are so profound and well thought out. I look forward to reading it all and re-reading it.

    I am sorry you are going through such a hard time right now. I wish there was something tangible we (those of us who have been blessed by reading your blog) could do for you. If there is....write and let us know.

    I know this might take too much time, but if possible, could you add tags to your entries? As I have been reading them, I keep thinking that I need to remember this thing or that and will want to refer back to something you have written. Tags would help me search your blog for those nuggets of wisdom you beautifully write about.

    Thank you for sharing your life and insights.

  8. Thank you, everyone, for your comments. I think that feelings of estrangement are common no matter the circumstance. Understanding that most people feel that way can help us all band together to welcome.

    Welcome, Joy! I will see what I can do.

  9. Joy: tags have been added to all posts. If you use the search at the top right corner of the nav bar at the top of the page, you should be able to find posts on specific topics.

  10. Thanks for the tags---I'm sure it took a long time!


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