“Ye shall know them by their fruits… Even so every good tree bringeth forth good fruit; but a corrupt tree bringeth forth evil fruit. A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Wherefore by their fruits ye shall know them.” – Matthew 7:16-20
I remember in the middle of my faith crisis always turning to this and similar verses of scripture. In my best attempt at doubting my doubts, not doubting my faith, and nearly qualifying for the 2015 FAIR Mormon Mental Gymnastics World Convention, my soul clung on to the spiritual experiences that I had previously had. I looked back on my years and years of primary, mutual, missionary service, and active church attendance. It had only done me good. I was never marginalized or mistreated by the Church in any way I could perceive. I bought in 100% and was committed 100%. The fruit was good to the me. Like a fresh Asian mango.
Unfortunately, this fruit is relative.
When I decided to reveal I no longer wished to be a member of the Church, I was often asked “But what about all the good the Church has done for you? Are you just going to throw it all away?”
Fundamentally, the argument that “the church has only benefited my life, so I know it is true by its fruits” is a selfish one. If you are willing to perpetuate and support an organization that you know has hurt and is hurting other human beings simply because it has brought you good things in your life, that isn’t Christlike – it’s self-serving.
Consider a bi-racial couple in love but they are told by the First Presidency that God wants his races like He wants food dished on his plate – not touching. Or the young girl who is propositioned to become one among the dozens of Brigham Young’s wives (which is different than how God wants His plate dished). Ponderize the ethics of the amount of money Christ’s supposed Church invests in business, property, and other worldly things rather than the poor and needy. Empathize with the psychological damage caused by years of being told homosexuality is a choice and a sin next to murder. Consider the suicides and suicide attempts. Do not forget the all too real damage caused to families when a spouse or child stumbles upon the uncorrelated version of church history. In each of these cases the fruit not only tastes rotten, but can cause life-altering illness.
This is not to say the Church doesn’t do good things – it would be ignorant of me to say otherwise. But simply looking at the “fruits” is subjective, and what is good fruit to one person can just be fruit leather (the apricot one) to another. Some people can thrive within the Church. Others are made completely miserable. It’s just like any other religion – it has an extraordinary capacity for good, coupled with a terrifying ability to do harm. And therein lies the problem – if it is just like any other church, why would I want to be apart of it? Isn’t the reason people are supposed to be Mormon is because the Church is inspired and led by God, and is the only true and living church on the face of the earth? But if an inspired Church is indistinguishable from one in apostasy, then how is one supposed to know which to join?
I don’t think there is such a thing as finding a “true” church. It’s about finding true, long-lasting, authentic, joy and letting others do the same. And that holds true even when their idea of joy is different than yours.
In reality, people should be able to believe and do whatever will make them happy. But that is not the doctrine of the Church, whose prophets teach gems like this:
“Only the gospel will save the world from the calamity of its own self-destruction. Only the gospel will unite men of all races and nationalities in peace. Only the gospel will bring joy, happiness, and salvation to the human family [humanity’s straight families, at least].” – Ezra Taft Benson, commentary by me added in brackets
I truly believe that there are many people who are truly, deeply, happy in the Church. But the Church is quick to tell those that leave that they aren’t really happy. That deep down, they know that the Church is the real way to happiness. We can leave the Church, but the Church can’t leave us alone.
And if it was just me, I couldn’t care less. The Church could say whatever they wanted about me being happy or not, and I could go on my merry way. But the reason I care and am even bothering to write this is because of the many people who are trapped by fear. This fear is instilled by the Church after years and years of stories about giving up your birthright for porridge (I am sure the Jehovah’s Witnesses use this scripture the exact same way). Guess what – sometimes your birthright sucks and the porridge is actually coffee. It is a lie that people who leave the Church cannot ever truly be happy, and they point to the good the Church does as evidence of this fact. The Church does not have a monopoly on happy families, happy careers, happily serving others, happily improving yourself, or making the world a happy place.
There are organizations that are much more charitable than the Church. There are churches that do more than the LDS Church does. Some of the best people I have ever met in my life never were Mormon or are ex-Mormon. Any good fruit in the Church was grafted in, and it grows on plenty of other trees.
The most important fruit in Mormon theology is the fruit of the tree of life. This fruit is personified in Jesus Christ, and it represents the love of God. If we are created in the image of God, then that means loving other people. Or maybe you prefer the secular version: if we are the only humans within the next billion light years, each one of us is a rare and precious life. Everyone of us: Mormons, ex-Mormons, gays, feminists, intellectuals, people with man buns, and Glenn Beck listeners. Each of us has inherit worth and different fruit that makes us happy.
If your hope in life is to make this little plot of earth we have been given in the universe a better place, then you are a good person. If you don’t like the fruit, throw it away. Find new fruit. Or grow your own tree. You don’t need a temple recommend to build humanity a Zion.