Mormons & Evangelicals: What can I learn from you?

Over several months so I have had a born-again sort of experience of sorts– one of those times in life where perspective shifts dramatically and you feel like you are seeing the world for the first time.  One of the biggest difficulties in experience was recognizing that I had lost faith in the LDS Church. It has been coming for quite a while, and it feels like the core meaning of my life was yanked from me. Losing faith has been very difficult for me even to acknowledge. But for complex reasons, I can’t now honestly claim to believe in the Mormon Church and this reality has stung me hard.  My participation in this blog has been a big part of the process of figuring out where I am and what to do next.

Over the years the blog has been a place for me to vent a lot of the deep thoughts and patent nonsense that bubbled up during this process. (Regulars here will recognize I write far more of the latter than the former.)  But lately I have been thinking about what attracted me to this blog– and how it might help me in the new spiritual life that I face.

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Be afraid. . . be very afraid.

I saw this video the other day, and I have to say that it struck a deep chord. At first it made me very happy that BYU was finally allow some open social outlet for gay students to socialize.  Then it hit me how big a challenge it will be for Mormons and Evangelicals to deal with the fact of homosexuality.

Listening to these kids stories about how they discovered that they were gay in the context of being active, faithful mormons made me realize, perhaps for the first time, how ridiculously awful it would be to be a 12 year old mormon kid discovering that you were gay.  I remember how religious I was at that age, how devoted, finding out that I was gay would have been the ultimate betrayal and would have ended my spirituality or my connection to the Church.  And the nature of the reaction of my friends and family would be the test of whether Christianity was bunk or not. Perhaps the reason that when I was young, I never saw or heard anything like what I hear in the videos. Because it was not in front of me, it was really easy not to realize the crucible that the believing Mormon gay child is in. If I had, it would have been hard to stay Mormon or Christian at all.

Seeing the kids in the video, still very much engaged in Mormonism on a sincere level, It made my heart hurt. I don’t know really how I would be able to deal with it. My brother, who knew gay friends at BYU, and struggles with depression, told me with all sincerity that he would have certainly killed himself if he was gay. The straight majority in the church simply does not recognize the gravity of the situation.   These kids cannot be both gay and Mormon without seriously twisting something that is part of them.

The fact that homosexuality exists as a natural phenomena among those that are close to God within the faith throws a very powerful curve ball at both Mormons and Evangelicals. Unlike with heterosexuality, which is channeled and controlled, homosexuality must be eliminated, or certain deeply held tenants must be abandoned.

When it comes to Evangelicals or Mormons I don’t know who has the bigger problem. For Mormons, being gay shatters the careful conception of what the pinnacle of life on earth is all about (covenants, eternal marriage, pro-creation). In my experience, People don’t talk about being gay in Mormon Church, it is not accepted, most of what is said about it is by the vocal minority who is firmly anti-gay.    Evangelicals might have an easier time.  I think it may be easier to “sin” and talk about it, and even being an active sexual “sinner” and still feel connected to Evangelicals christianity.  Partly because Mormons may kick you out if you are at all open and unrepentant about it.  However Evangelicals seem to play a lot bigger part in anti-gay activism, because of the sheer size of the group in comparison with Mormonism, and the de-centralized nature, there are a lot more vocal bigots in Evangelicalism.

The problem is that both groups can be deeply un-Christian about how they approach the problem.  The black mark this leaves on Mormonism and Evangelicalism, in the eyes a gay person who embraces their sexuality, or to anybody else who holds their sexuality dear is difficult to overstate.   An institutional stance that is anything short of deeply empathetic and loving makes a church seem like a absurd charade of the love that Jesus spoke of.

The reason why homophobia may be intractable is that Mormons and Evangelicals should be afraid on an institutional level.  The fact of natural homosexuality requires institutional change if either group is to remain followers of Jesus.  It’s hard for me to see how either group provides a satisfying answer to the person who feels God in and through their experiences of sexuality AND openly embraces a “alternative lifestyle”.   Which means, no matter how spiritually compelling either Mormonism or Evangelicalism is, they are going to appear to be very limited or broken for anybody who understands that God wants some people to be gay AND close to Him.   Just as they have to tweak their theology to account for the unfathomable size and complexity of the universe, they are going to have to change in order to get in line with this reality.  Of course this very sort of change may cause foundations to crumble.

I never quite saw this fact before this video. Hearing and seeing the human problem is necessary to make non-gay realize it.  My guess is that more open, honest and loving discussions of homosexuality within Mormonism and Evangelicalism will mean dramatic changes within both, or simply a larger exodus from a faith that has lost touch with the real world.

At this point, if my child was gay, I would actively try to de-convert them from both Evangelicalism and Mormonism because, at least to this child, neither seem to be carrying the torch of Christian love and understanding.

Believers, what can be done?

What happens after we die?

This question is generally a fundamental question for believers and non-believers alike, often both groups are pretty certain about what its going to be like.  I am both unsure of a good answer to this question and very skeptical about those who have sure answers both Mormon and Evangelical.

Instead of going through all of the “orthodox” or “official” ideas on the subject, I think it would be profitable to understand what the readers of this blog believe on the subject and why.  I am primarily interested in the basis for the beliefs and the details behind it.

I think there is actually solid scientific evidence for life after death or the life of a spirit outside the body.

I also have solid belief and spiritual experience evidencing God in my life based on numerous experiences as a fully practicing LDS.

However, despite all this, I am very unclear of what is going to happen when we die.  As far as I can see, all we seem to have is a brief and uncertain view of the afterlife, and there are many interpretations.  I base my own concepts on two primary ideas.

  1. God loves us with a love that that is at least similar to what we can understand, e.g. good parental love.
  2. God is just according to a concept of justice similar to what we understand.

Frankly, these two concepts cause me to disbelieve a lot of what is said about the afterlife so I would also be interested to know who believes these principles and  how everybody squares their belief in the afterlife with them.

I am also interested in how primal your belief regarding the afterlife is in the foundation of your faith.  Some become Christians out of fear of hell, others become Christians because Jesus is good and touches them and they never develop any fear of hell. Some are strong LDS because they want to go to the Celestial Kingdom- i.e. the best place, and some want to go to the Celestial Kingdom simply as a by-product of their LDS experiences.

For me this could be a helpful exercise for LDS and Evangelicals, and anybody else, to examine their own personal feelings about this issue while getting new perspectives on this very important area of faith.  Or it could just be a good way to kill some time during the day.

I know I am not offering a lot of my own feelings but I am really at a loss to offer any confident opinions.  I appreciate your thoughts in advance, Thanks for sharing!

Palin, Prayer, Politics and Prophecy

When I saw the media coverage of Sarah Palin’s speech in her church (shown in full here,part 1 and  here part 2) had some observations and questions relevant to this blog.

It has struck me with my limited experience with Evangelical prayer that they generally pray for different things and pray in different ways.

1. Evangelical prayer is more informal, Mormon prayer seems more solemn and formal, very often using old-style english and very formal forms.

2. Praise is a much bigger theme in Evangelical prayers.  Mormons generally don’t have many hymns or prayers of praise like I have seen in evangelical churches, i.e. Mormons don’t really talk a lot about how God is great and awesome and powerful.  Mormons are generally thankful and

3.  It seems that Palin is much more open in praying for certain things to happen in the world, i.e. pipelines, economic development, etc.  Mormons are more subdued in that sort of thing, I generally feel embarrased when people pray for such “political” things (I don’t really know if most mormons are that way or not).  Is this typical of evangelical prayers?

4. I think for many mormons it is an uncomfortable thing to pray for one particular person to obtain public office or that some political event to take place.  Mormons and the Mormon church do tend to be more right-wing than the average person in the U.S.  (not really true outside the US) and socially “conservative” across the board but politics is most often carefully kept out of public worship.   At least in the case of Palin’s pastor, he seems very open about putting Palin in office.    I am sure he believes his prayers had a part in getting her on the Republican ticket.   Despite the claims of prophetic guidance, Mormon leaders are now extremely conservative in making any sort of political prophecy. I think there is a lot of irony here, i.e. that Mormons, in my opinion, are more uncomfortable about such bold prophecy than evangelicals, and generally more skeptical unless the prophecy is very clearly delivered as such from the head of the church.

5. I thought the older pastor’s prayer seemed much more Mormon-like, i.e. it focused on love, gospel, and left out politics.

The questions that remain are:

Are Mormons comfortable (or even excited) about having a national leader who prays like Palin? are Evangelicals?

If you are comfortable or excited about having a national leader make decisions based on prayer, does it make a difference that the leader prays in a “Mormon” or “Evangelical” (or some other) way?

Is there something Mormons can learn from evangelicals prayers and vice versa?  such as: Could Mormons get closer to God by praising more and could Evangelicals get closer by focusing less on political areas and more on interpersonal issues?

Could the fact that evangelicals seem to be very bold in their prophecy on a local level, help them develop more understanding of Mormon’s belief in modern prophecy as authoritative?

Thou Shalt Pray Like This

Have you ever met people who prayed in King James English? It’s kind of funny to me that they think God only listens to a language form that wasn’t invented until 1,000 years after Jesus was born. Clearly Jesus must have been praying the wrong way.

I’m actually fine with people praying in whatever style they are most comfortable with. What really irks me is when people insist that everyone must pray this way. As if this were the true order of prayer. The reason it irks me is that it’s totally false.

We absolutely should have respect and reverence in our hearts as we approach the thrown. But formality is definitely not required. How do I know? Because Jesus said so. Take at look at the Lord’s Prayer in the original language. When Jesus says “Our Father” he uses the word Abba, which is baby talk. It means Daddy.

I’m going to take my cues on how to pray from Jesus over anyone else. If he says we have the privilege to be informal and encourages us to call God “Daddy”, I’m going to take his word for it over any stuffed shirt.

Added To The Temple Prayer Roll

I recently told an LDS friend that I was praying for her as she struggles through a difficult situation. She responded with gratitude and said that she regularly adds my name to the temple prayer rolls.

What exactly are the temple prayer rolls? Do temple workers go through the list and pray for each person individually. Do they pray for specific prayer request? Is this the Mormon equivalent to lighting a candle in Catholic mass?

Pray Boldly

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I learned an important lesson in prayer a couple of years ago. I went on a short term missions trip to a very poor community in the Amazon region of Peru. While we were there we were asked if we could pray for a little girl who had been hurt. She was born with some sort of birth defect that prevented her from walking normally. In addition a large antique sewing machine had fallen over on her. It left her without the ability to walk at all, in addition she was in constant and excruciating pain.

When we visited her, it made us all feel quite somber and hopeless for her. She needed some serious medical attention, but her family had very little money. Even if they were able to scrape together the money, given the amount of pain she was in, there would be no way for her to take the 20 hour bus ride over the Andes mountains to get to Lima.

Her mother insisted on picking her up and holding her so that we could all lay hands on her. When I saw how much pain this caused the girl it caused my stomach to turn. Several people prayed out loud for her. My own prayers were quite weak. I prayed that God would ease her pain and I prayed that somehow the family would be able to get the money to get her to a doctor. I left thinking “what hope is there for this child?”

The next day the little girl woke her mother up standing next to her bed and smiling. Her mom asked what she was doing standing and she matter-of-factly stated “God healed me”. The way the story was communicated it sounded like the little girl said it like “no duh!” And sure enough she could walk again. We found out when she walked across the community to see us. It was a real miracle.

There was no doubt in my mind that God had done this for this little girl. He had performed a miracle and did so despite my own lack of faith. I felt like I had such a small and impotent faith in that moment. I prayed in a way so that I wouldn’t be disappointed. God proved himself to be so much more generous than I could imagine. While we were praying, God was planning a party for this little girl and I was trying to find a way to excuse myself because I didn’t think it was going to be all that great.

I learned an important lesson that day about the need to pray boldly and with confidence. I’m listening to a series of lectures by JP Moreland right now. He made a great point along these lines. We can go about praying in such a way so that we’re never disappointed by God’s lack of answers to our prayers. If we choose to do that we’re trying to protect our own faith. If we pray boldly and seek miraculous answers to prayer He may only grant our request 5 times in 100. But if our prayers are big and specific enough, those 5 times will be far superior to any disappointment we might feel the other 95 times.

Exciting Prayer

Yes, I put those two words together.

This week my church has been participating in some special prayers times concerning the future of our congregation. We have been meeting every morning from 6-7 and every night from 9-10. Last night was the first time I have been able to go. It was the most exciting prayer meeting I’ve ever been a part of.

Typically prayer meetings I have been a part of have looked like a bunch of people hunched over with a lot of murmuring. You quietly pray for an hour on one to three topics and feel drained afterwards. Last night the format was totally different. We stood, we sat, we yelled, we sang. At one point half the room sang a praise song while the other half prayed out loud. It was really powerful. At times we prayed for a topic for no more than 45 seconds, other times we would pray for 10 minutes.

I’ll say something that is typically taboo for Christians to admit. . . But I don’t really like to pray. Honestly there are times when I would look forward to flossing more than I look forward to praying. It’s hard for me. I pray often and daily. But if someone were to say to me, “hey let’s get together and pray for a couple of hours”, you’d probably have to drag me there (or manipulate me with lots and lots of guilt). Last night, really primed my pump. I’m excited to return tonight. Yes I AM EXCITED TO GIVE UP MY FREE TIME AND PRAY.