For people of faith, our religious beliefs constitute a fundamental part of who we are. They shape how we view the world, how we respond to challenges, and they give us a framework to base our lives on. People going through a faith crisis or losing their faith altogether often feel lost, disconnected from a culture and an institution they once called home, and unsure of how to orient themselves without the beliefs that were such an important part of their identity. For these reasons, I have consistently sought understanding between those who leave their faith (or those who question fundamental aspects of it) and those who don’t, and I’ve stressed the importance of allowing other people to make their decisions free of judgment, disdain, or social rejection.
That being said, Kate Kelly (whose excommunication I opposed) recently wrote “If the church does not “spark joy” in you, leave with your head held high” – and I think that this advice runs contrary to how faith and religious belief work. Our responsibility in this life is to seek out truth, to find it, and to live it the best that we can. Our faith isn’t meant to be an easy thing – it’s not meant to provide us with constant happiness, joy, and comfort. Our faith is meant to try us, to challenge us, to demand that we give up parts of ourselves that we value in order to become something better. For millennia, people have been persecuted, hunted, and killed for their faith. Christians were killed in public spectacles; Pilgrims traveled to a new continent for their faith; Jews have been killed in every country and in every century; Mormon pioneers were hunted from state to state until they crossed the plains, burying their children along the way. These are people whose trials and sacrifices for their faith make anything that we go through seem puny by comparison. These are people who understood that their faith was supposed to try them, to refine them, and to shape them into better versions of themselves. Their faith didn’t “spark joy” – rather it gave them the courage to move forward despite their sadness and tribulations, confident that they were becoming what God intended them to be.
I recognize that I’m relatively lucky. I don’t share the concerns and the problems that cause so many to question and to leave their faith, and I won’t presume to tell someone that their reasons for leaving aren’t good enough. But I will tell you that if you refuse to stay with a faith that doesn’t always “spark joy” – you will find yourself constantly on the move, constantly jumping from idea to idea and faith to faith. The grass will always be greener. Some philosophy or religion will always seem to offer more happiness or seem to spark more joy initially. But soon, that spark will fade and you’ll be left wondering where you can find it again. So don’t look for constant sparks of joy – but instead look for truth. If you don’t find truth, then move on until you do – but don’t forget that true faith requires commitment, self-abnegation, and honest querying, and it it offers much more than just sparks of joy.
My feelings on those who leave haven’t changed. I still love and respect anyone who chooses to leave. I still refuse to judge anyone’s reasons for leaving. I still think that our community should strengthen the wavering and make sure that those who have left know that our love and our fellowship for them isn’t predicated on their membership in the faith. But it was important to me to share this.