In a recent New York Times article entitled "Spiritual Issues Lead Many to the Net," writer Mindy Sink looks at several websites where people who are struggling with their beliefs can talk about leaving their faith. A couple sites for former Amish or Seventh Day Adventists are mentioned, but the predominant emphasis is on Mormons who need support as they find "the strength to leave the church."

The article quotes Steven Waldman, editor in chief of Beliefnet.com, as saying "The Internet allows for both--people to strengthen their faith and to explore others faiths. The number of message boards about leaving your faith are tiny in comparison to those for people staying in their faith."

I wish that had been the opening line of the article, instead of the final one. The article implies that former Latter-day Saints, more than others, crave validation in their choice to leave the church. I grieve that those who face "turmoil in their spiritual lives" have been treated like "traitors to their faith." I also grieve that many find leaving the only option if they find themselves struggling.

As a Beliefnet columnist and committed Latter-day Saint Christian, I want to make my purpose clear. I want to be a support to people in my church. That means being a support to those who are happy as clams and to those who may struggle with their membership. I want to be a testament that one can struggle and still "feel to sing the song of redeeming love" (See Alma 5 in the Book of Mormon). One can feel simultaneously connected and uncomfortable. One can participate fully and joyfully and chafe at an array of practices, patterns or pronouncements. One can still stay. Any call to spiritual life is not for the faint of heart. Paradox is an important principle.

The "happy as clams" Mormons can be a great bunch, a great collective breath of fresh air. To borrow a phrase from Nancy Griffith’s song "Ford Econoline," there are many out there who are the "salt of the earth, straight from the bosom of the Mormon Church." Blessings on their obedient heads. Day after day there are casseroles delivered, floods sandbagged, prayers sent aloft, service rendered, good will spread abroad through out the land. You go, Saints!

Other Latter-day Saints approach their faith differently (while still delivering casseroles, etc.). Some wrestle, grapple, explore, ask, seek, press, search in ways that the contented folks may find disquieting. This was exactly the kind of soul searching I went through before I became a Mormon. (As I recall, this was Joseph Smith’s process as well.) This was not a fast or easy task for me. Should I give up these gifts of grappling and seeking now that I’m in the Church? I think that would be disrespectful to the God who bestowed them on me. These are among the offerings I give to God.

A Jewish friend of mine told me that "Israel" – the name given to Jacob after his wilderness encounter with the angel of the Lord – means "He who wrestles with God." I love that image. I love the robustness, the physicality, the vigorous embrace of that kind of connection with Deity. My life of faith as a Mormon Christian, as a "daughter of Israel", affords me that kind of exercise.

I understand well that some people have chosen to separate themselves from the church. People in every faith tradition can find things not to their liking. The Mormon church is no exception. However, in my own life, since I have experienced the truth chip: the throbbing white light glimmering beneath the disturbing rhetoric, the dicey history, the contemporary conservative American imprint; the pulse that says "Alive!" There is no way I can leave. It is as though my brain stem has changed or my blood type is different. Despite ineffable aches that some experience (and I don’t mean hard-core sinners), God can still want them to stay. He has told me as much. Imagine that. Despite what is sometimes a difficult journey, "joy, joy, God’s great joy" bolsters me along the way. I, for one, want others who struggle to stay, too. I need their company.

So what is my reaction to those who decide to leave? It’s the same as my reaction is to those who stay. "As I have loved you, love one another." That’s Christ’s assignment for me. My job is not to condemn. Nor is it to condone. It is to love. That’s Christ’s message.

And so I learn to love. I love my membership in this Church. I love the covenants I have made. I love being part of the community of Saints. I love the intimacy I have in my relationship with God. I love the scriptures. I love mourning with those that mourn and comforting those who stand in need of comfort--including those who no longer find a spiritual home in the LDS church and those whose loved ones have left. I love that for all my faults and failings--and for all the faults and failings of our Divinely founded, humanly staffed Church--we can "come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." (Hebrews 4:16) I love standing as a witness of God at all times and in all places--even on the Internet.

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