At the recent Interfaith Friendship Walk in Oxford, my wife and I visited the Central Mosque. We were shown round by a delightful and humble member of the Muslim community. After we had asked him many questions he confessed “I am not a very religious person but I do know how to pray.”
This moved both of us and got me thinking about my relationship with my own faith group.
Last week many Mormons were shaken by the revelation in the American press that moves to discipline two prominent members of the Church had been started. This may lead to their excommunication. One is the founder of the Ordain Women movement and the other has a blog that questions some of the basics beliefs of the Church.
Some members have asked if these individuals reject some of the basic teachings of the Church, why they wish to remain in it. I think this question fails to recognise that membership of a religious group is not just about belief; it is also about belonging. Like the two individuals involved in these Church disciplinary cases, I have doubts about some of the doctrines of Mormonism. I also have beliefs that are not currently part of mainstream Mormon theology. I am not what is referred to in the Mormon blogosphere as a True Believing Mormon or TBM.
However, I would never consider resigning from the Church and would be devastated if action were taken to remove my membership. Why am I so committed to the Church when I have differences with official Mormon doctrine? It is because being a Mormon for me is about who I am. It’s about my identity. It’s about being; not simply about belief.
Brian Mountford captured some of this in his book Christian Atheist: Belonging without Believing. I am certainly not a Mormon Atheist but I can understand the desire to identify with a religious group even if one can’t feel able to fully accept all its doctrines.
The Mormon philosopher and former US Commissioner for Education, Sterling McMurrin was himself a sceptic about many Church doctrines but he rejected the charge of apostasy, rather claiming the title heretic. The difference, as he saw it, was that apostates leave and oppose the Church whilst heretics have unorthodox beliefs but generally support the Church. There is probably no place in a religious organisation for apostates. However, the presence of heretics can only strengthen it. Either the heretics’ view will in time become seen to be stronger and will become the new orthodoxy or else their beliefs will be shown to be weaker than the existing belief and be rejected. As Dieter F Uchtdorf, stated at a recent Church conference, “We need [the] unique talents and perspectives” of all who desire to belong (Ensign, Nov 2013, p.23).
Compared with Abraham, Christ, Mohammed, Baha’u’llah and other great leaders none of us are very religious but hopefully we know how to pray.
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