From a Mormon seeker
A reader writes:
I apologize at the outset for the length of this email. I admire your work tremendously, and would be honored to hear (read) your thoughts on my experiences.
a few months ago, after hearing about you in the news and around the blogosphere, I picked up A New Kind of Christianity at my local library. I enjoyed it so much I ended up buying it. After years of being something of an agnostic Mormon, your book made me thrill at the thought of having God operating not just in my life, but in the world again.
Mormonism teaches the 6-line narrative you use throughout the book (with some modifications). I found this, in light of what I knew about biblical criticism (Richard Friedman, Bart Ehrman) impossible to believe. And there are all sorts of other issues in Mormonism that made it difficult for me to accept - the historical issues, theological issues I have, and issues with the LDS Church's ultra-conservative stance on a number of political issues. In addition to all these issues, I generally find LDS Church services dull and stultifying. Rather than holding "worship services," our weekly meeting is simply called "sacrament meeting" (as in "Sacrament of the Lord's Supper"). That might give you a sense of the highly corporatized feel of Mormonism. In addition, if I'm using these terms correctly, unorthodoxy tends to be seen as a bigger threat to salvation than unorthopraxy, which is strange for such an orthropraxic, unorthodox faith.
In any event, reading A New Kind of Christianity prompted me to read some of the books you mentioned in your footnotes. I read in fairly quick succession A Generous Orthodoxy, Borg's Jesus and The Heart of Christianity and I'm currently reading Tony Jones' The New Christians and The Sacred Way. I'm also working my way through Diarmaid MacCulloch's Christianity: The First Three Thousand Years. All have been fascinating intellectually and spiritually.
As a result of these readings, including re-reading the New Testament in a modern translation (the LDS church exclusively uses the King James), I've found myself drawn to this figure of Jesus in a new and unexpected way. As a lifelong member of a non-trinitarian church, I found the concept of the Trinity at first bewildering but now thrilling - what a powerful expression of God's love that he himself would take up the flesh!
So, my wife (who is a faithful Mormon and quite satisfied with the LDS Church but supportive of my spiritual journey) and two young daughters (2 and a half and 9 months) have attended some United Methodist services at one of our local UMC congregations.
I have felt God's love in my life as a result of my search - in my studies and in UMC services - moreso than I have previously in my life. I am drawn to expressions of Christianity outside of Mormonism.
Thus, I found your post today, "Q&R: Where are my friends?" interesting. In it, you wrote:
I'm a firm believer in people staying in their churches and denominations whenever possible. And if people feel they must leave a particular church or denomination, I hope they will find another to participate in.
So my question to you is, what would you recommend to a Mormon searcher like me? Obviously, with my wife's general satisfaction with Mormonism this is not the simplest dilemma. It's further compounded by my and my wife's families' commitment to the LDS Church.
I'd appreciate any thoughts and reflection you can offer.
Here's the R:
Thanks for your email - and wow, you are a voracious reader! It sounds like your spiritual hunger and thirst are being addressed in a Methodist church - and so I'm really glad you have found that place to grow. Yet you have the important responsibility of not causing needless disharmony in your family ... I wonder, in the short run, if you can continue to be part of the Methodist congregation for your own spiritual growth, while not severing connections with your Mormon heritage. Some of this will depend on your attitude, and some will depend on the posture of your Mormon friends and relatives. Paul's words (Romans 12) come to mind: as far as it is possible with you, be at peace with everyone.
A few years ago, I talked to some Mormon leaders (I forget the title) who had been influenced by my book Secret Message of Jesus. I was struck in that dialogue - as I am when I am in dialogue with Jewish and Muslim friends - how differently things go when we make Jesus the center of the conversation - not Christianity or any other religious system. When we keep drawing our and others' attention to the life and teachings of Jesus in the Gospels, we're all challenged, and none of us is in the position of "having it together." We're all (as I put it in New Kind of Christianity) on the quest. Thanks again for writing.