Should I Stay or Should I Go?

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I do not understand how any sex positive person would choose to be Mormon. It is a battle.  I am not going to be PC. I just do not get it. You are not going to change Mormonism. Why stay??

This is a question I received on a Facebook feed from a colleague of mine and my subsequent answer:

I guess I don’t know how to answer this in a few sentences on a Facebook feed. My journey within my religion has shifted significantly over the last 25-30 years – especially since I entered the mental health field. Things that made sense to me personally and were useful, were not always so for the people I worked with. My work, especially since I have seen mainly LDS folks throughout my career, forced me to look at my religion through many lenses.

Many stay within religious constructs without necessarily agreeing with all doctrine or literal meaning. There is culture, tradition, family, and spirituality among some of the reasons why I think this is so. And working from within makes for really interesting and rewarding work. I can critique and love my faith and people. I don’t mind answering this question. But I don’t feel a need to explain my religious affiliation either. Sometimes the tone of the question is off putting, especially since I get it a lot.

My religion has profoundly wounded me and others in many ways. Especially sexually. It is also what offered healing balms for me and my family in many situations (i.e. dysfunctional extended family situations, loneliness, anxiety, grief, etc.). My religion both hurts and helps people every day. It is a complicated relationship. Like most. I had a negative experience at the last therapy conference I attended realizing that many people (even professionals at a conference focused on accepting diversity) think it’s okay to berate my religion to my face. And that I’m just supposed to smile, make a joke and take it (at least, that’s been my way of handling those types of situations since I was a kid). So I’m currently in this space of trying to challenge that response since it’s not how I would approach other’s choices around being or not being religious. You all get to see me practice this. 😉
I’m also in this space where I’ve alienated myself from some of my people because I’m too much of an advocate (i.e. LGBTQ+ rights, women and equality, sexuality rights, etc.), yet still count myself as part of them, and do some good work (I hope) helping those that are wounded and need someone culturally competent to understand where they come from. So, I totally own any sensitivity that may be felt from me.

And I get the question a lot. From my own. “If you don’t like it here, why don’t you just leave?” And from those outside, like this thread. “If it’s so harmful, why are you still in?” They are both valid questions. But I still have the belief that I have a right to Mormonism on my own terms. That I have the right to my beliefs and the many ways LDS doctrine is relevant in my life, to the many spiritual experiences I’ve had within this faith, and to the community I have served and been served by since my parents converted when I was five years old — even as I have the right to call out the harm I see and the ways I hope we can improve and change. It’s a journey after all. I have a right to stay or go… and I choose to stay. Please respect my choice, as I respect yours. It’s wearisome and painful otherwise.

I will be posting 2 guest posts in the coming days where they also answer similar questions.  

Natasha Helfer Parker, LCMFT, CST can be reached at natashaparker.org. She authors the Mormon Therapist Blog, hosts the Mormon Mental Health and Mormon Sex Info Podcasts, writes a regular column for Sunstone Magazine and is the current president of the Mormon Mental Health Association. She has 20 years of experience working with primarily an LDS/Mormon clientele.

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