It should come as no surprise to long-term readers or friends that I struggle with my identity as a Mormon. I've written about things I no longer believe, things that frustrate me, as well as the things that I love about Mormonism, despite how those things occasionally conflict (but sometimes interact quite beautifully,) with the things I love about other things: feminism, equality, how good a sincerely spoken "damn" feels in moments of annoyance...
I've shared these frustrations in a very public place, and since the very beginning, mixed in with praise and support, the same comment reappears: spoken by different people, but using almost the exact same words. Statements along the lines of " you are giving the Church a bad name," "what if a non-member wants to join the church, and on the day of her baptism, finds your blog and decides not to! Her salvation will be on your head!*" My favorite comment, from a person known only as "Julie"** came in response to my post on Mormon Douchebags-
"Not to be rude but I think that this was very unnecessary and uncalled for. Yes Bentley is an idiot, as are a lot of people out there. But you gave the LDS Church as bad of a name as he did."
I need to write this down so I stop forgetting it: if one starts out a mean comment by saying "Not to be rude," or "No offense," it is guaranteed to be rude. However, it is apparently seen as a socially acceptable way to be rude. Excellent resource for when I'm feeling nasty, but don't want to get kicked out of the Celestial Kingdom.
Either way, to many people, expressing questions, criticisms, or doubts about Mormonism,or a Mormon, means that I am not acting as "An example of the believers." (Timothy 4:12.)
According to some, a true believer is someone who does not question, speak, or wonder out loud about things that do not seem right to them. Even if something seems wrong, a true believer does not do or say anything about it. A true believer pretends that all is right in the church "world," so that other people will believe the same thing they do. A Mormon can go on national television and treat others unkindly, but if another Mormon comments on it, her words, not his actions are what gives the church "a bad name."
But if we return to Timothy, the scriptures tell us something different: "Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity."
I've wondered often about the phrase "Let no man despise thy youth." Especially since it is separated by a semi-colon to the phrase "Be thou an example of the believers." The semi-colon suggests that the ideas are related, but can also stand as independent ideas. What does it mean to despise thy youth?
Looking back at my yearbooks, photos, and even some old journal entries, I can honestly say that moments exist where I "despise" my youth. Truthfully, there are moments from last month in which I despise my youth. I see the mistakes, the lapses in judgement, the stubborn devotion to ideals that no longer ring true.
But in my youth, and hopefully still, I yearned for something better. I believed in an innate potential inside me. Despite all my questions about the LDS church, I still very much believe that someday I can "Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father (and Mother,) which is in heaven is perfect."*** (Matthew 5:48)
The LDS church is also, a "young" church. Consisting of, and led by people still in the "youth" of our full potential. I hope that someday our church can perfectly mirror the gospel of Christ, but I do not think we are there yet. I am not there yet.
Thus Paul, speaking to Timothy, tells us we should not despise our youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.
For me, being an example of the believers stems from being honest: in word and conversation, about the things we may "despise" about of youthful indiscretions as a church and a people. Not to despise ourselves, but our errors.
A true believer has charity, the ability to love those who disagree with us, or whose journey through the gospel differs from ours.
A true believer maintains the spirit and faith required to say the things which are difficult, in hopes to make us more pure.
It is true that I am sometimes not the most perfect example of the Believers. Sometimes I am too angry, hurt, or cynical to act in a manner of faith.
However, I am not always an example of the believers because I question, but because I fear the answers with the potential to change how I think. Patricia T. Holland states "We must have the courage to be imperfect while striving for perfection." (“One Thing Needful: Becoming Women of Greater Faith in Christ.” Ensign, October 1987)
Sometimes I fear the imperfect: in myself, in my church, in the culture I find myself immersed in. It takes courage to be imperfect, but I do not believe the way to alleviate imperfection is to pretend it doesn't exist. The Emperor has no clothes, and pretending otherwise doesn't change it. It does, however, provide a very good recipe for Kool-Aid and Nike shoes.
So let no man despise thy youth, or my youth. After all, "It takes courage to grow up and turn out to be who you really are." (e.e. cummings.)
** Truly anonymous Julie, not one of my many friends by the same name.
***Feminist addition mine, not King James'.