For the question of what makes someone Mormon is more complicated than folks with a black-and-white, all-or-nothing, in-or-out worldview like to acknowledge. Most agree that membership and activity in the institutional Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints make you Mormon. But what about people raised Mormon, who continue to pray, sing, talk, and eat Mormon, who have Mormon ancestry, but who for their own carefully considered reasons at one time or another in their lives find themselves outside conventional activity in the LDS Church? Is Mormonism defined as and by the contemporary Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, or is Mormonism the long and multi-stranded story of all the people who have called themselves Mormons, their thoughts, hopes, fears, failings, wanderings, and aspirations? Personally, I think of Mormonism as a complex religious tradition -- an ethnicity for some, but also a culture, and a theological and intellectual tradition with multiple and competing interpretations. I know entire tribes of Mormons for whom the contemporary institutional Church isn't a perfect fit and yet who cherish all the good that they have experienced in Mormonism and continue to identify as Mormons. Do I count them as my brothers and sisters? You bet, just as much as I count fundamentalist LDS and Community of Christ (RLDS) people as my cousins.

I love that you ask about the "realistic stakes" of your discerned path to Quakerism. Can there be interfaith people? As the mother of interfaith Jewish-Mormon children, your question really strikes home for me. I've told my kids that being raised with both Judaism and Mormonism means that their path will not be easy, that while most kids are responsible for learning only one set of sacred texts and stories and teachings, they must learn two. They may encounter people along the way who tell them they count as neither, or that they've done it all wrong. They will have to trust in a merciful God who sees beyond denominations. And they will have to make choices -- as all people of faith must -- about how to implement what their parents are teaching them in their own lives and their own households. As I've written in another essay, I tell them:  "You are not half. You are what we all become someday: the sum of a series of accidents and choices. A lovely mess, that's you. Sanctify yourself with righteous words and deeds, and you will have nothing to worry about."

Same goes for you, Sister-Friend. I don't speak for the Church. I speak only for my own wayward and incorrigibly Mormon heart. And I say,  as long as you are willing to call yourself a Mormon, and to love this heartbreaking, demanding, and gorgeous religion of ours, I claim you. As long as you dream of Zion, and are willing to pull your own handcart there, even if your path is unorthodox, I claim you. If you hunger Mormon, dream Mormon, cry Mormon, and pray Mormon, I claim you. And I'm keeping a seat warm for you on the tabernacle pew next to me. Because I'm looking forward to the day you come back -- sooner or later, shorter or longer, this life or the next, bringing all that you've learned from those fine people, the Quakers -- so we can sing an old pioneer hymn and feel the incomparable feeling Mormons share when we come home to one another.

What about you, readers, be you Friends or friends, brothers and sisters, or cousins? Have you walked an unorthodox path? Any words of wisdom for Sister-Friend?

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11/30/2010 5:00:00 AM
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  • Joanna Brooks
    About Joanna Brooks
    Send your query to, follow askmormongirl on Twitter, or visit the Ask Mormon Girl Facebook page. Joanna Brooks is an award-winning writer, religion scholar, and university professor. She lives in San Diego and writes the weekly Ask Mormon Girl column.