Deseret Community: Encouraging Healthy Spiritual Exploration Through a Mormon Lens

Many Mormons over the years had hoped to make the LDS church a place for “big tent Mormonism”. That is to say, if you don’t fit the cookie cutter you would still have a place in the community. However, the past several decades or so have rocked the world of religion. Issues such as sexism, LGBT exclusion, unorthodox belief, historical white washing, and sex abuse scandals have caused many people to question their traditional religious institutions, and Mormons are no exception. A couple recent and notable Mormon examples of people who fought against these things are Kate Kelly, John Dehlin, Bill Reel, Jeremy Runnells, and Sam Young. These people were symbols of progress for many different types of Mormons. However, they all share one thing in common: they were all punished by the LDS church because of what they wanted to see changed in their community. The LDS church drew a line in the sand that only adherence to a lifestyle that they prescribe and your complacency in mistreatment or downright abuse would be tolerated. “Big tent Mormonism” within the LDS church has become a pipe dream.

If spiritual organizations are going to survive moving forward, they have to cater to the spiritual needs of the people living today. Many of the Mormons leaving the LDS church today just want to be free to explore their spirituality in a safe community that encourages self-exploration through a Mormon lens. When I left the LDS church 4 years ago there were very few places to do this, and most of them required a belief in Christianity. These groups almost felt like they were “poaching” people who were leaving the LDS church. I decided to shy away from these because I felt distraught and traumatized and wasn’t interested in what they had to offer.

I became an Atheist for about a year while I sorted through the trauma of leaving the LDS church. I came to a point where I wanted to explore my spirituality once again, and Atheism wasn’t providing the fulfillment I needed. I studied a lot of religions and spiritual traditions, and eventually found that Buddhism fit my needs pretty well. I ended up taking a ministry course so that I could surround myself with spirituality once again. This 2 year ministry course brought me a lot of insights about myself, others, and the world I live in. It helped me let go of a lot of the religious trauma I had experienced, and I could see how fulfilling spirituality could truly be.

I have a close ex-LDS friend who had a very similar story to mine. He became disenfranchised with the LDS church, became an Atheist for a time, felt the draw towards spiritual fulfillment once again, and decided to explore how he could achieve that through Christianity. He feels exceptionally spiritually fulfilled and has also overcome the difficulties that leave the LDS church can bring upon someone.

My friend and I have coffee at least once a month and love talking about spiritual topics. When we first started having our discussions, we set some ground rules. We weren’t going to convert each other to our particular belief, because we felt like we wouldn’t open up unless we felt like we would be safe to express our beliefs. We agreed that instead we would come from a place of encouraging each other to find their own path. We agreed to try to and learn from the lessons that the other had learned on their path. These ground rules allowed us to be able to have heartfelt conversations that gave us some great insights that we wouldn’t have been able to otherwise have. He is someone I consider to be one of my spiritual teachers, despite spiritual differences.

When I became a Buddhist minister, one of the vows I took was to help those who felt the draw towards spiritual fulfillment that I had also felt. I felt sad that there was no place for ex-LDS Mormons to feel safe to explore their spirituality in a community that encourages self-exploration through a Mormon lens. I told my friend about how I wish there was such a place, and he confessed that he also wished there was such a place. I told him my fears about how such a group would function and how it would look. We took a step back and realized that he and I had already created such a place, but it was just him and me. We wanted to expand upon our little spiritual coffee meetups to include other people with points of view that we simply didn’t have. We wanted to learn from them.

In short, we want to create the big tent Mormonism that many of us have dreamed of.

We, as Mormons, were taught to think in our uniquely Mormon ways. Many feel that when they lose faith in the LDS church they no longer have a claim or want their Mormon ways. However, if we were to give ourselves the space to explore our Mormon spirituality without the threat of punishment, we may find a lot of catharsis and fulfillment. Instead of seeing our spirituality being inherently in conflict with our human nature, we can allow it to come into harmony with who we truly are. Instead of believing that you have the ultimate truth, you could find wisdom from people who have experienced a life different from your own. You could gain wisdom from women, Buddhists, LGBT, Christians, people of color, Atheists, Wiccans, and everyone else the world has to offer. We can take the best, and leave the rest. We would all grow stronger because of our spiritual diversity. Best of all, we would allow people to call themselves whatever they want, which may or may not include “Mormon”. Joseph Smith, for all of his deep flaws, got it right when he said “One of the grand fundamental principles of Mormonism is to receive truth, let it come from whence it may.” My dear friend and I were in awe at the idea of expanding the space that he and I had created for ourselves. We could create a space that helps redefine what it means to be Mormon.

He and I discussed some basic framework and ground rules to allow people with a Mormon background to understand how everyone has different ideas about spirituality. To do this, we thought it would be best to reclaim and reframe terms our Mormon background. We decided to call this framework “the gospel”. The gospel would need to include things that are present in every spiritual tradition, including the Mormon tradition. After some discussion and meditating on the subject, we found that there were 6 sides to the gospel. There are some who may see little use in some of them, but still contribute meaningfully to the Mormon dialog. The important part is to allow people their own journey. These 6 sides include: personal revelation, teachers, community, scriptures, tools, and rituals.

Here is a brief (and non-comprehensive) list of such possible reworks:

Personal Revelation: Personal revelation, at its core, is simply discovering for yourself. Learn as much as you can and make a determination based on the evidence that you’ve found. Finding truth is arguably the most important part of the gospel, because it emphasizes your personal responsibility for discovery and growth. There may come a time when you receive further light and knowledge and you get a personal revelation that contradicts something that you believed previously. This is completely ok because life is about growing and changing.

Teachers: life is a very difficult journey, and trying to navigate on your own is even more difficult. Going to someone that you trust for guidance makes it so much easier. These people that you go to can have many different titles among other things they can include parents, friends, or spiritual leaders.

Community: To grow, it is necessary to learn more. You learn more by talking with others. A community dedicated to the growth of spiritual development would be one where you discuss what you have discovered in life that others have not. It would be a place where you are challenged to grow and supported in that growth.

Scriptures: Scriptures could be non-fiction or fiction, but at their core scriptures convey a valuable lesson. People have different scriptures because the lesson that is taught in one scripture may resonate well with one person, but not another. It is helpful finding what is scripture to you and why, and learning what is scripture to others and why.

Tools: Physical tools aren’t often associated with Mormons. More are associating seer stones with the origins of Mormonism, but you need look no further than the simple oil vial. This tiny metal vial is seen as a tool to help the sick, even if what is administered is just a placebo. It can bring comfort to some by even just seeing the vial.

Rituals: Blessings often just come down to a ritualized giving of advice or comfort. Healing oils are a spiritual tool that is a placebo, but nonetheless still help people feel better. Rituals such as baptism, blessings, sacrament, dusting off shoes, and ordinations in general mark and convey a desire for things to change or milestones in life. There doesn’t need to be any sort of dedication to deity. One such American ritual would be blowing out birthday candles. However, choosing not to have rituals on your path to spiritual fulfillment is perfectly fine.

In light of this, I have started a FB page and group called “Deseret Community”. The page will act as a way to join the group. Simply go to the page, click on the groups tab, ask to join, and you will be added. Feel free to like the page or not. We want the group to be a place where people are free to explore their spirituality in a safe community that encourages self-exploration through a Mormon lens. We will also plan in-person meetups to chat about spiritual topics. The group is set to closed, which means no one will be shown as a part of this group in any way to the public, but people can find the group and ask to join it. I recognize that there are many in positions where they can’t publicly express any sort of unorthodox Mormon beliefs, and this should allow them to explore but keep their fragile relationships intact.

I’m excited to grow spirituality in a healthy and familiar way with a community 🙂