When all the wrestling over challenges to traditional faith is finished, it's the feeling of Mormon community and belief that keeps people tied to the church.
That was the recurring theme of a panel Friday at the 2008 Salt Lake Sunstone Symposium.
Panel members were Gregory A. Prince, co-author of "David O. McKay and the Rise of Modern Mormonism," president and CEO of a medical research company in Rockville, Md., and member of the Dialogue Foundation board of directors; Lavina Fielding Anderson, president of Editing Inc. and outgoing editor of Journal of Mormon History; Morris Thurston, recently retired attorney, adviser on the Joseph Smith Papers Project and co-author of "Breathe Life Into Your Life Story"; Claudia L. Bushman, historian and author or co-author of books, including "A History of Mormons in America"; and D. Jeff Burton, environmental engineer, author of "For Those Who Wonder: Managing Religious Questions and Doubts" and Sunstone columnist who writes "Braving the Borderlands."
Each of the panel members listed reasons why he or she has chosen to stay a part of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints despite challenges with church practices.
Prince, who comes from five generations of Mormons, said, "The church works for me." Although biology is a science that can pose a threat to faith, he said it "gave me the tools to examine my faith ... and embrace it."
Anderson told the audience she was excommunicated 15 years ago, "but I show up on Sunday for the three-hour marathon." She stays because the church means everything to her parents and she didn't want the church to come between her and her husband. She also said she loves Mormonism, Mormon theology and the Mormon community. She feels "loved by Heavenly Father, Heavenly Mother ... and Jesus" and said the promises she made at baptism and in the temple mean a lot to her.
Thurston said that to stay somewhere, you have to be somewhere and that bad experiences have been an opportunity for growth. His mission experience in Norway is the main reason he stays in the church, he said.
Through the years, he came to accept that church leaders are human beings. Although cynical by nature, he said, many of life's best experiences have come as a result of his membership in the church. He cited the caring service by leaders, who "aren't in it for the money."
His ancestors refused to let discouragement drive them out of the church, he said, and he doesn't plan to be any different.
Bushman told the audience she could talk about many bad experiences in the church, but the people she knows who have left are no happier or better off without it. Her parents and grandparents stayed faithful, and she doesn't want to compromise their faithfulness, she said.
She said one of the most important reasons she stays is that "the church needs me. I speak the language of someone who has lived outside of Utah for many years." Also, the church needs women who aren't afraid to speak out, she said.
"This is my church, this is my life," she said. "Why would I even think of leaving? I just hope the church doesn't decide to leave me."
Burton said it's interesting that intellectuals have to ask why they stay. He said some people who have left the church noted they couldn't handle the history the Joseph Smith story and the Book of Mormon. But church history can't be changed.
Among his reasons for staying include wanting to be part of his ward and be a follower of Jesus. Despite the anger and frustration he sometimes feels, "I want to change things," he said.So is staying in the church worth it? "Looking at everything, yes," he said. "It's still good for me."
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For additional stories from last weekend's Sunstone Symposium, go online to Mormon
Times.com and click on the Doctrine and Beliefs section. Stories include:
• Speaker says Mormons don't seek as much for something else
• Scholars discuss Mormon bids for presidency
• Community of Christ preaches peace