I’ve been thinking about vulnerability again. I think about this topic a lot. And most days, I want to shout about it from the rooftops of Mormondom. Because in Mormondom, people have been socialized against being vulnerable. In Mormondom, people are immersed in a culture of perfectionism, a culture that tells us that “letting your light so shine” means hiding your shadows from view, a culture that sometimes misunderstands the gospel of vulnerability it’s built on. Christ asks us to come to Him with our whole selves, with our weaknesses, our mistakes and our questions all open wide. Only then can He help us and only then can we be useful to Him. We fail again and again to see how that philosophy translates to other things, like church history, like missionary work, like our own daily lives.
It causes problems, guys. Big problems. Like shame and addiction and terrible, horrible, no good, very bad loneliness. Because when you make a mistake or feel depressed or see a problem or think, feel, do or see anything that you’re not supposed to, you start to believe that you’re somehow inferior at your core. And as much as our parents and leaders don’t want this for us, this is the water we’re swimming in.
It also causes problems for the church as a whole. It’s bigger than we’d like to admit. I’ve seen an article circulating lately, a blog post that essentially says that by speaking openly about the imperfections of our Mormon world, we alienate the world at large. It says that by talking about the flaws on the inside, we’re discouraging outsiders from partaking of Mormonism’s goodness. And oh, there is so much goodness. But when I take that idea in and swish it around a little, my urge is to spit it out like a mouthful of spoiled milk I just chugged from the carton without thinking. Because no. Like NO. That’s not how light and truth work. That explanation is missing the one thing that really, truly connects us—to God and to each other—and that is, you guessed it, vulnerability.
I believe that bearing a powerful testimony of what you believe can and does prick hearts and open minds and draw people to the gospel. But I also believe that acknowledging imperfections—in ourselves, in our communities, in our histories, in our institutions—makes people want to listen. I’ve had more positive conversations with non-member friends about the church because I’ve been willing to acknowledge its weaknesses. Many more positive conversations. Like so many more that I’ve begun to believe that it’s resisting openness that’s making people turn away, so many more that I’ve begun to wonder if people saying otherwise are conversing with outsiders at all. I believe, oh with all of my heart I believe, that honesty and humility and vulnerability will attract people to us more, oh so much more, than putting up a front of perfection. Because the truth begets truth. And light begets light. And openness begets openness.
I realize the author of that blog post was mostly talking about how she thinks Ordain Women specifically has done more harm than good. And to be honest, I’ve been disappointed by the tone of that movement. I personally know people who are a part of Ordain Women. I admire and love them. I think they really, truly wanted to champion vulnerability in their efforts, but somehow in the process as a whole, I felt humble seeking get lost. I can’t say no good has come from their efforts, nor do I want to. I sat through a Relief Society lesson last Sunday in which it was clear to me that the women in that room had been pondering, studying and praying about the priesthood with new depth and enthusiasm. If it weren’t for Ordain Women, that wouldn’t have come to pass. But I’m not sure no harm has come from them either.
I guess what I’m saying is please, please, please don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Seeing how quickly that blog post circulated makes me afraid that’s exactly what’s happening. Don’t let the pendulum swing from Ordain Women to a reactionary state of Mormonism that ignores the power of transparency and vulnerability to knit hearts and change minds.