A year ago, I wouldn’t have been able to even tell you what a progressive Mormon was. I would have thought it was a Mormon who had liberal political ideas. In an op-end in the Salt Lake Tribune, Julienna-Viegas Haws gives her definition:
Although no official definition exists of what constitutes a progressive Mormon, one could loosely define progressive Mormons as those who are less likely than traditional Mormons to believe in (1) obedience to authority above personal inspiration (2) the LDS Church’s unique restoration claims (3) literal interpretations of scripture (4) strict traditional observances (i.e. Sabbath observance, modesty, tattoos, Word of Wisdom, etc.) and (5) the unquestioned authority of the leaders of the LDS Church.
I consider that a pretty good definition. I would also add that progressive Mormons are much more likely to be accepting of gay marriage. Something else I didn’t know a year ago is that there are many progressive Mormons trying to stay active in their local ward. Most of these people can’t openly admit their true beliefs about the church. How well would this statement go over in a Sunday School gospel doctrine class? “I don’t believe the Book of Mormon to be historically accurate. I agree with some things taught in the Book of Mormon, and there are some I don’t.” Or how about this one? “There is no way polygamy was a commandment from God. I think D&C 132 should absolutely be de-canonized.”
So why do progressive Mormons try to stay if they don’t think the LDS church is true? First of all, they reject the black and white thinking of the “all or nothing” proposition. In their eyes, the LDS church isn’t the one true church, but then there is no one true church. They see both good and bad in the church, just like any church. Progressive Mormons usually have friends and family that they love who believe in the church, and they want to stay close to them. They might enjoy serving other members of their ward. Perhaps they hope they can help others become more open-minded, so that the black and white thinking can begin to change. They might see how the church instilled good values into their lives, and want the same for their kids. Maybe they want to keep a temple recommend so that they can go to the temple weddings of friends and family. They might love the way LDS church does its worship service and feel strange when going to another church, because they’re not used to anything else.
I appreciate all of those things that keep some progressive Mormons going to the LDS church. Everyone has to decide for him or herself what works. For me, the church doesn’t work right now. When I go I very rarely feel uplifted. In sacrament meeting sometimes I feel sad, frustrated, bored or even angry. But very rarely do I feel inspired. I recognize there could be people in the same meeting who feel very uplifted and strengthened, so I’m not blaming anyone for the way I feel. So what are things I don’t currently like about an LDS sacrament meeting?
The talks are often about subjects that don’t inspire me anymore, like missionary work, obedience, food storage, the priesthood restoration, Joseph Smith, traditional families, salvation of the dead, etc. These might be perfectly fine topics for traditionally-believing members, but they are not topics a progressive Mormon wants to hear. So some progressive Mormons will just try to get what they can out of the talks and ignore the parts they don’t agree with. So far I’m not very good at that, and the talks can be painful to listen to. Once in a while I will hear an excellent talk that I’m really grateful for, but that seems to be the exception for me.
I’ve been visiting some other churches lately, and it blows my mind how much I have enjoyed the sermons. They have all been centered on topics like being more like Jesus, being kind and loving to everyone, serving others, and making a difference in the community. I can sometimes hear these topics in an LDS church, but unfortunately it’s not often enough for me. I have particularly enjoyed going to the Bellevue Presbyterian church. The music is upbeat, and the pastor is dynamic and inspiring. I feel like both my faith and my knowledge grow whenever I listen to him.
My favorite part of church has always been the music. But with my faith transition, many of the LDS hymns are now painful to me: songs about praising modern prophets instead of God, like “Praise to the Man”, “We Thank Thee O God For a Prophet”, or hymns that seem to talk about “us vs. them”, like “Hope of Israel”. There’s a whole lot of fighting going on in that hymn! That hymn used to be very dear to my heart, but I no longer like that kind of mentality. We should be looking to work with others, not trying to fight them off. There are still plenty of LDS hymns I love and enjoy singing, but sometimes there are hymns I just don’t want to sing anymore.
As I’ve visited other churches, the music seems more upbeat to me. There are no somber sacrament hymns like what we have in the LDS church. Even though I’m not always familiar with the new songs I’m learning, they inspire me to live a good life and be more like the example of Jesus as we read in the Bible.
My whole life I assumed men had to wear a shirt and tie to church, and women have to wear a dress, no matter what. Not that this is wrong, it’s just one way to do things. Some might feel it shows extra respect for God, and I understand that. But when I visit other churches, no one cares what anyone is wearing. It’s just not important. It gives me more of a “just come as you are” kind of feeling. To me it’s a very refreshing attitude.
Are You Not Entertained?
I don’t expect to be entertained when I go to church, but I do hope to be inspired. If whatever you decide to do for church doesn’t inspire you, why go? As I’ve said before, if the LDS church works for you, please keep going! I’m not inspired when I go to the LDS church right now, so I’m choosing other options. I will continue to love those who enjoy going to the LDS church, and I hope they won’t mind if I choose to worship somewhere else.