Book Notes: Why I Stay

10.25.2013 | Blair Hodges

While the Church continues to report general growth, President Dieter F. Uchtdorf recently called attention to the tragic losses the Church sustains whenever someone walks away. He not only expressed love for people who leave the Church and affirmed their agency and good faith; he also directly appealed to those who wonder if they should go: “If you are tempted to give up: Stay yet a little longer. There is room for you here.” This plea resonates with the central message of Why I Stay: The Challenges of Discipleship for Contemporary Mormons, a collection of personal essays published by Signature Books. The twenty contributors—9 women and 11 men, an assortment of PhDs, JDs, MBAs, etc.—answer the title’s question in their own way in hopes that their experiences might help others carry on. Despite the tally of academic credentials, most of the essays are apologetic and personal in tone; testimonies.

Robert A. Rees, the collection’s editor, selected essays originally presented at the annual Sunstone Symposium in Salt Lake City, Utah, between 2003 and 2010. Rees’s selections signal the book’s greatest strength: the various perspectives show that there are many reasons people consider leaving and different reasons people stay. For some, leaving has never been a real consideration, while others wrestle with the possibility occasionally or on a regular basis. Each of them, in their own way, both echo and exemplify President Uchtdorf’s call: “Brothers and sisters, dear friends, we need your unique talents and perspectives. The diversity of persons and peoples all around the globe is a strength of this Church.”

William Bradshaw, an emeritus biology professor at Brigham Young University, reflects on his fading certainty: “Now I find myself in the very paradoxical state of being less sure about a whole lot of things, but having greater faith” (29). Former professor of American studies at Columbia University Claudia Bushman insists, “My question is not why I stay in the Church, but why should I leave? I love the Church. I don’t want to leave it” (31). Armand Mauss, emeritus professor of sociology and religious studies at Washington State University reflects “I do not experience these [things] as nagging doubts or problems but rather as challenges. I have come to understand that living indefinitely with ambiguity is a sign of intellectual maturity, not weakness” (41). Acclaimed author Lael Littke writes of her ongoing intention to leave a church which she felt stifled her possibilities as a woman, but “there was always another roadshow to write or fun lesson to teach or party to go to with the delightful friends we met in our various wards” (137). But she’s also realized “the real reason I stay is because of a belief system I am converted to. I love the gospel of Jesus Christ” (139). Editor and author Lavina Fielding Anderson reflects on her ongoing activity in the Church despite being formally excommunicated in 1993. Why continue to attend weekly for decades? “Although I am no longer a Church member, I am still a Mormon. I want to be in the right place when the time comes for our paths to rejoin” (89). May they rejoin soon.

Anderson and her fellow contributors stay because they hope to become better even as the Church becomes better. “If these are your desires,” President Uchtdorf said, “then regardless of your circumstances, your personal history, or the strength of your testimony, there is room for you in this Church. Come, join with us!”