011: Finding our Way Back Home Pt. 2

In part 2 of this interview, we continue our conversation with “Serenity Valley” and “Roasted Tomatoes”–a young LDS couple living in the San Francisco Bay area, and creators of the LDS Blog “Latter-Day Saint Liberation Front“.

In this episode, Serenity and RT discuss her ultimate return to Mormonism, the impact it has had on their marriage and family, and conclude with a very candid and somewhat courageous discussion of their testimonies–some of which can safely be considered “non-mainstream” or alternative within the LDS paradigm.

Click here to listen.

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14 comments for “011: Finding our Way Back Home Pt. 2

  1. November 27, 2005 at 10:30 am

    Let me briefly note that I object to being labelled “non-mainstream” or “alternative.” I’m just a Latter-day Saint, not a special deviant subtype. Whether a majority of people agree with me on specific issues or not is something that I don’t think deserves front-and-center billing. That just serves to divide the body of Christ, something I’m not interested in doing.

    I understand what John’s trying to say here, and I think it’s helpful for people to understand that a diversity of opinions exist on often-polarized subjects. But at the same time, I want to emphasize my desire to be just a Mormon.

  2. Anne Hutchinson
    November 29, 2005 at 5:06 pm

    John, “Serenity”, and “RT”,

    I finished listening to both parts of this podcast and thank you all for taking the time to put this presentation together. I found it heartening to listen to RT and Serenity’s unique Mormon Story. I certainly have never heard anything like it.

    My immediate impression was that it gave me a sense of the range of truly unique experiences that members have … but may not have a safe space to share in conventional LDS circles.

    As for comments / questions, RT and Serenity don’t mention whether they are parents. I would be interested in their perspective on raising children in the LDS church (if they are parents). The question of raising children in the LDS church comes up now and then on other blogs. I would be interested in insights from parents who are doing so …. given the complexities of the LDS churches doctrine and history. Perhaps this would be is a topic for an upcoming podcast.

    In any case, I will add LDS LF to my list of blogs to check out and look forward to listening to additional “Mormon Stories” in the future.

    “Anne”

  3. November 29, 2005 at 10:16 pm

    Anne, thanks for your kind comments! It’s nice to feel accepted.

    Serenity and I have been married for a while, but we don’t have children yet, much to our disappointment. When we do, our plan is to raise them within the LDS church. After all, it’s our church! With respect to complexities of doctrine and history, I think the best thing to do is face them head on. As Joseph Smith might have said, we’ll provide them with all the information that we can and we’ll leave them to govern themselves. But so far it’s all a bit academic.

  4. Saw Skooh
    November 29, 2005 at 10:32 pm

    I enjoyed this Podcast. Serenity’s story especially moved me. I was touched nearly to the point of tears when she told of her experience of finally turning her life over to Christ in part I.

    However, while I greatly enjoyed the personal stories of RT and Serenity, I found myself quite unsettled and puzzled by a couple of their responses to John’s questions at the end of Part II, and I couldn’t sit still without having the opportunity to talk about at least one of them in this forum. When RT was asked about whether he believed the Church is really the “only true and living church” or not, his emphatic answer of NO seemed like a wishy-washy dodge of the real question and frankly, if RT will pardon me, perhaps a bit deceptive. Maybe he is eager not to offend non-LDS people, or something; I’m not sure. I would welcome RT’s and/or Serenity’s comments or clarifications on my comments expressed below.

    This is a transcript of part of RT’s actual answer to the question:

    RT: “Prophets have written different things about whether people will have second or third or fourth chances in the next life, and so on an so forth, so that’s the way of establishing the fact that I am going so say that — NO, I mean, come on, if you manage to get a connection with Jesus, and you do it without ever having heard of ‘The Mormons’, I think you’re gonna be fine.”

    I interpreted that first qualifying statement of RT’s about prophets giving “second or third or fourth chances” as a reference to teachings on work for the dead, posthumous ordinances, etc. (Or does RT not believe in work for the dead, or necessity of ordinances?) So my puzzlement at RT’s answer of “NO” is because these concepts imply an ultimate acceptance of the ordinances, administered by the priesthood. Phrased in this way, does not RT’s granting of salvation to people outside of the LDS church then actually imply their eventual receipt of priesthood ordinances and the attendant covenants in the end? And is not the most basic definition of a “Mormon” simply any person who has received the ordinances of baptism and confirmation by the authority of the Aaronic and/or Melchizedek priesthood? So whether it is in this life, or in the Spirit World, or the Millenium, does it really make a difference when a person becomes a “Mormon”? (That goes for John too, who seems obsessed with the current percentage of people who are “Mormons”, implying that everyone else is doomed – an implication that has never been warranted by LDS doctrine.) That is what I mean when I say that RT’s answer seemed a bit deceptive, because as far as I can tell even the people to whom he is granting salvation outside of Mormonism do in fact, when you get right down to it, receive it in connection with the Church in the end. (According to the revelations, the LDS Church WAS established to ultimately become the Kingdom of God on Earth in the millenium, and therefore the authority under which all millenial temple ordinance will be performed.)

    Finally, someone has to point out that the phrasing “the only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth” is actually a quote from D&C 1:30, a revelation in the voice of Jesus Christ himself. I don’t understand how the whole discussion of this question can have overlooked or gotten around this fact. Serenity’s statement calling this idea a “poor choice of phrasing” and “weird,” to me, is actually a “weird” thing to say in the light of this scripture. It’s as if she doesn’t know what the source of that phrase actually is, or what “true and living” actually means when LDS speakers use it in this context. I think it’s pretty obvious that what is meant by the phrase “the only true and living church” is simply the church which has been given the priesthood authority necessary to offer the covenants and ordinances of salvation prescribed by Christ, as well as continuing revelation. No LDS conference speaker that I am aware of has ever suggested anything other than this interpretation or ever implied that no other organization or “group of people” can bring people to Christ. Of course they can; but in the end, they will all accept the ordinances in His name by the means of His priesthood, of which the LDS church is the current repository — an idea implied, I believe, within RT’s inconsistent answer.

    Also, quick questions for RT: You haven’t ever seen any evidence of Hebrew peoples on the American continent; why will you not consider the BoM itself as evidence? Is it not the greatest evidence there is, once you know that it is true?

  5. November 29, 2005 at 11:23 pm

    Saw Skooh, thanks for your questions and comments.

    One of the things that I think is valuable about this interview format is the ability that it gives us to place things in context. The things we said that made you less comfortable are part of our stories, just as much as the rest of it. I was converted and brought to Christ by the Book of Mormon, so that book is sacred to me. And that’s the whole story, from one point of view. From another, it’s not. But as we talk about the other issues, I’d like to reiterate the context: for me, the ordinances and scriptures of the LDS Church are sacred and divine.

    So, to come to your specific points, I’m not trying to be wishy-washy or deceptive when I say that I don’t think people need to be members of our church to be saved. I do know that I seem to need to be a member to be saved, but I don’t feel that I necessarily know what other people need to do. I do feel confident that anyone who trusts God and does their best will be okay, whether via posthumous ordinances or some other means. And that’s where I’m at on that.

    With respect to Serenity’s comment about the “true and living church” phrasing, I don’t want to speak for her so I’ll just say what I think about that. Language has a life of its own; whatever that phrase may have originally been intended to mean, it has come to be a kind of claim of institutional infallibility — a claim that I think is hard to defend in light of our inspiring but clearly far from perfect institutional history.

    On the question of whether the Book of Mormon is history, I’ll try to be as clear as I can. I was converted to Christ in large part through the Book of Mormon, and so I have a conviction that the doctrine it teaches is sacred. This applies to the doctrine taught in its sermons but also to the doctrine taught in its narrative form. However, God has never given me a witness that the book is accurate history. I rely on the book for theology, for my understanding of God’s nature, for moral questions, etc. I just don’t rely on it as an account of political and military developments in Mesoamerica during the 600 BC to 400 AD period. I absolutely don’t have any kind of firm, unshakeable conviction that it isn’t historically correct; I just haven’t been lead to believe affirmatively that it is.

    On any and all issues of faith and doctrine, other than the existence and redeeming love of Christ, I am the first to acknowledge that I might be totally wrong. So, if these answers are unsatisfactory, please accept them in that light — I’m a really fallible person! But I’m doing my best, this is who I am, and I feel that my Heavenly Father is more or less pleased with my efforts… So that, as they say, is that.

  6. Saw Skooh
    November 30, 2005 at 9:57 pm

    RT,

    Thanks for the reply. But why is it that you feel you can rely on the BoM to confirm the divinity and mission of Christ, but not to confirm its OWN identity? Is the process of revelation not one and the same? If the claims the book makes about itself are false or deceptive, then everything else it says is completely suspect as well, including everything about Christ and doctrine and God’s nature etc.

    I don’t mean any offense, really, and I don’t doubt that your are worthy and faithful saint, but it still seems strangely wishy-washy and non-commital. Why is it that you don’t just trust the divine confirmation you have already received via the doctrinal parts of the book instead of waiting for some kind of external proof about rest? In other words, why can you not say “I know the Book of Mormon is literally true” with the same faith with which you say “I know that Christ’s redeeming love is real”, since your testimony of Christ and his atonement RELIES ON and CAME THROUGH the Book of Mormon? It’s not much of a leap of faith, really; more like an additional and very short step of logic, the leap having already occured when you came to Christ.

    Besides just RT, maybe someone out there can explain how they can consider it to be logically tenable to reject the truth claims made by the Book of Mormon about itself, and still embrace its doctrine and consider it to not be just a fraud or a deception.

  7. Ann
    November 30, 2005 at 10:03 pm

    Saw Skooh, what makes you think anything about religion, which at its essence is an emotional and experiental thing, has to be “logically tenable”?

  8. Saw Skooh
    November 30, 2005 at 10:21 pm

    Religion, and the discussion at hand, is about truth and reality. Whether or not the Book of Mormon is literally what is says it is, or not, is a matter of cold hard fact, in the end. Either there was a guy named Mormon writing on plates somewhere in the Americas 1700 years ago, or there wasn’t. Either Christ atoned for our sins, or he didn’t. These facts are accessed spiritually through avenues of emotion and experience, but truth of any kind, whether about God or something more mundane, is still subject to the laws and principles of reason and logic.

    ALL discourse, whether an explanation for the necessity of the atonement or an argument against the truth of the BoM, depends on logic and reason to proceed, so to declare the logic and reason are divorced from an intellectual discussion about religion is absurd. To follow this point would obliterate the possibility of ANY furthur discourse on this or any other blog.

  9. November 30, 2005 at 11:14 pm

    Saw Skooh said, “Religion, and the discussion at hand, is about truth and reality.”

    Yes, Saw Skooh, it is. But that doesn’t mean it’s about human perceptions of historical truth or reality. God tells me that Christ lived on this earth, died here, and was resurrected here. God tells me that Christ atoned for my sins. God tells me that the Book of Mormon is His word to us. God doesn’t tell me that the Book of Mormon is historically accurate; nor does He tell me that the truth of the Book of Mormon or the reality of the atonement and resurrection are dependent on the Book of Mormon’s historical accuracy. And I can’t see how logic or reason require a historical Book of Mormon in order for God’s word in it to be valid.

    By the way, my conviction that I needed to be saved, and my conviction that Christ has saved me, are not based in logic nor reason, but I cannot deny them. Is my faith somehow illegitimate?

  10. December 1, 2005 at 7:33 am

    Saw,

    Let me add a question or two.

    If steel may not really mean steel, and horse may not really mean horse, and Urim and Thummim may not really mean Urim and Thummim, and polygamy may not really mean polygamy–is it possible that “One True Church” may not mean what you think it means?

    Is it possible that “Great and Abominable” may not apply to who you think it does?

    My feeling is that no matter how tall we build our personal, rational “Towers of Babel”, they are all bound to fall eventually.

    In the end, for me, we’re ALL walking by faith. Even you.

    John

    P.S. Even if “Great and Abominable” one “One True Church” do mean what you think they mean–a wise man once said, “Not all things that are true are useful.” For me, these teachings clearly fall into this category (the not helpful), true or not.

  11. Ann
    December 1, 2005 at 7:52 am

    Intellectual discussion of the experience of God is ALWAYS a waste of time.

    The experience of God is subjective, personal, and not testable by any measurable means. God can’t be known. S/He can only be experienced.

  12. Saw Skooh
    December 1, 2005 at 5:36 pm

    Serenity Valley,

    I have no doubt about the legitimacy of your faith. Faith in Christ, and no other kind of faith, is the prerequisite for redemption. I would never question yours, and I sincerely hope you don’t think that I was attempting to do so. I was actually very moved, nearly to tears, by your conversion story which you shared on John’s podcast. I am actually, sincerely, trying to understand a point of view (not really essential to salvation) that I sincerely don’t get, and that is all. It may be that I just don’t know how to ask it diplomatically without engendering defensiveness. I would like to try and rephrase what I mean one more, and throw it out there to everyone, and end it at that, because I don’t want anyone to think I am undermining their faith in any way.

    My whole point is that I’m NOT talking about human perspectives on historical truth – I mean God’s own stated perspective. What I mean is that I beleive that any person who has received as much witness as you and Roasted Tomatoes (and I) have received about the Book of Mormon, as God’s “word to us” and a witness for Christ, need have no hesitancy in affirming a belief that it is “true,” without any additional qualifications placed on that word. Having come to Christ through the book, it seems to me that one need only trust what He Himself testifies about the book – that it is “true” (D&C 17:6). He does not qualify that term at all, and I just think that one can trust Him when He says that, in just exactly the same way that one trusts what He teaches about His redeeming love. Otherwise, are we to divide every passage in the Book of Mormon into two piles, one for doctrine and another for the rest, and say the Lord’s testimony actually applies to this pile over here, but not necessarily that one over there? I guess that is the part that I don’t really get. Nothing “useful” (as John says) comes of approaching the book in this way.

  13. Saw Skooh
    December 1, 2005 at 5:47 pm

    John,

    Issues like steel and wheat are POSSIBLY (though but not necessarily) linguistic issues of terminology transference – the adjustment of old terminology to new but related objects or categories in a new environment – followed by translation. How a technical linguistic issue like that applies to a universal descriptive phrase like “the one true” is not clear to me. Pushing this idea to its inevitable end would eventually topple Jesus, the atonement, and everything else in the whole entire book, and what would we be left with then?

    Although, I should say that “church” may apply in the case of Nephi’s vision, and I have no problems acknowledging that Nephi’s dicotomy is not necessarily “LDS Church vs. The Rest of the World.” I don’t really think it means what you seem to think I think it means (who’s on first?) In fact, that’s one of my least understood passages in all of scripture. I accept that it may well be a more general issue of Fallen Man vs. Redeemed Man, as expressed by Brother J.F. McConkie.

    However, Christ’s tesimony of the LDS Church (and of the Book of Mormon) expressed very explicitly in the Doctrine and Covenenants (1:30, 115:4) is much more clear than this, and leaves me a lot less room for doubt if I am to place trust in Christ’s words. (I don’t see D&C 1:30 as having an identical meaning with Nephi’s “Two Churches”). You can think of the this as Christ claiming the Church as His, more than the Church claiming Christ as theirs, and why would I argue with Him? It’s wholly unnecessary to feel uncomfortable or ashamed about believing that God created and endowed a single church with the priesthood authority (NOT infallibility!) to perform the ordinances for redeeming fallen man, in preparation for the Millienium.

    And, by the way, it’s inconsistent with the doctrine and teachings of that church to claim that this belief condemns everyone who is not a member of it at this moment in time. I think that this is the interpration that makes you and so many others so nervous about this belief. The doctrines of salvation as revealed to Joseph Smith are actually very liberal – MUCH more so than just about any other Christian system – in extending salvation through Christ to the whole world, both living and dead. In the end only a tiny handful will not be saved (see D&C 76). Every contingency possible seems to have been built into the plan to make sure everyone eventually gets their chance for those ordinances prescibed by Christ himself – missionary work on this world, missionary work in the spirit world, temple work, and then the millenium (a whole thousand extra years to finish it off) to boot. We have a mission to offer Christ’s redeeming love to EVERYONE by bringing his church “out of obscurity and out of darkness” (D&C 1:30). It takes time for this mission to work its course and reach everyone, and right now we are in an intermediate stage of that mission.

    But in the meantime, believing the Lord’s testimony about the LDS Church is not anything that we need to be nervous or hesitant about. In fact, believing it makes the drive for outreach missionary work even MORE urgent, rather than making a person complacent. It seems to me that embracing a more public-friendly, post-modern view of human salvation — believing that not necesarily everyone needs the Church after all — is much more likely to make the saints “complacent” and drive the momentum of the work to a halt.

    And yes, John, of course I have to walk by faith. That is part of what I have been saying here. Having been given a witness of the Book of Mormon as the word of God, for example, I take it on FAITH that what He says in it, and about it, can be “rationally” trusted. That’s what Faith is all about, isn’t it? My testimony is based on faith in these things, and is NOT a “rational Tower of Babel” at all. I imagine that maybe this is all still too “black and white” and not “useful” to you and others. That’s fine, I guess. I believe that some things ARE black and white in certain ways while remaining quite nuanced in others, and D&C 1:30 is one of those. I don’t think anyone in this forum is ever going to change anyone’s mind anyway, but I just want my perspective to be understood. It’s good to have some balance here, though I do feel quite alone.

  14. Todd
    December 1, 2005 at 6:37 pm

    John, RT, and Serenity Valley,

    Thanks for an excellent podcast. And thank you RT and Serenity Valley for sharing your remarkable stories so openly.

    Listening to your experiences was an unexpectedly difficult and bittersweet experience for me, and I’ve spent a lot of time over the past couple of days trying to figure out exactly why your stories have struck such a nerve.

    I spent most of my life as a devout, believing member of the church until a gradual accumulation of vague doubts flowered into full-blown disbelief about two years ago. After discovering the “gaps” between what I’d been taught my whole life and what I now perceive as reality, I went through the typical emotions of anger and betrayal, which I suppose sort of makes me a poster child for John’s “Why People Leave the LDS Church” presentation.

    More recently, however, this anger has faded away and been replaced with a sense of sadness and longing. My life would be so much easier if I could only somehow rediscover my faith and feel comfortable and accepted in the LDS church—despite my unorthodox beliefs—as both of you have apparently done. The LDS church is the only religious community I’ve ever known. My wife, children, and extended family on both sides are all devout, active members. And I live in the heart of Utah County, where so many aspects of daily life are intertwined with the church.

    Your stories have caused me to ask myself why I can’t be like you and others who remain active and faithful on their own terms and in spite of their doubts and somewhat unorthodox views. What is preventing me from finding acceptance and peace in the LDS community, despite the fact that I can no longer bring myself to embrace a “traditional” LDS worldview? If you can do it, why can’t I?

    I think I’ve identified a couple of possible answers to these questions that I’d love to get your (and everyone else’s) thoughts on.

    First, unlike both of you, God has never told me that I belong in the LDS church or given me a spiritual witness of its truthfulness, and believe me, I’ve asked. Sure, I’ve had spiritual experiences in the church, but to be perfectly honest, I’ve had many more outside it. Maybe that’s part of what made listening to your stories so difficult for me. You’ve struggled with many of the same doubts and questions I have. Yet God has given you an answer. Why won’t He do the same for me?

    You also seem to find meaning in LDS meetings and rituals and acceptance within your LDS community. My experience has been quite different. Recently, I stumbled across an address Dallin H. Oaks gave at a FARMS annual dinner a few years ago. During his talk, he quotes from and wholeheartedly endorses a letter to the editor of the Deseret News that says:

    “Certainly God cherishes diversity in almost everything—except his followers’ loyalties and beliefs. The LDS Church exists as evidence of his rejection of diversity in beliefs. A quick survey of the scriptures finds no support for such diversity within the church. Rather there are more than 40 calls to unity, including ‘if ye are not one ye are not mine.’”

    This rejection of “diversity in beliefs” by Elder Oaks overwhelmingly reflects the mindset in my LDS community, especially among my Ward and Stake leaders. I’m not saying it’s doctrine, but I am saying, that in my neck of the woods at least, it’s reality. So why should I devote my time and energy to an organization that views my beliefs as unacceptable in the eyes of God? Why should I spend three hours every week attending services that leave me feeling demoralized and inadequate, rather than valued and uplifted? I know there are Wards where free-thinking members are accepted and welcomed, but mine simply isn’t one of them.

    I guess what it all comes down to is that I would love to find a way, as you have done, to continue to actively participate in and contribute to my LDS community. Your stories make that possibility appear tantalizingly close. But I won’t live a lie. I won’t torture myself. And I won’t dedicate my time, talents, and resources to a community that automatically relegates me to the status of “less than” or “needs to be fixed” in spite of my best efforts to be an honest, loving, and charitable person. As a result, in my circumstances, leaving the church still seems like my only option, as painful and difficult as that will inevitably be.

    Anyway, thanks again for your thought-provoking story, and I apologize for the length of this post.

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