I have been distancing myself from LDS doctrine for several years now. This originated from concerns that had more to do with such things loss of faith in Mormon cosmology and the conflict between generally accepted scientific data and church teachings than anything to do with homosexuality. That can of worms came later.
Because I have committed substantial fractions of my time, income and energy to Church activities for many years, my connection with the Church will always have an effect on my life going forward, no matter my future level of belief or activity. In an honest assessment of what the Church means to me currently, it is important for me to remember the many positive aspects of the doctrine and social structure of Mormonism. Because distancing oneself from the Church can run concurrent with a degree of disillusionment, it is probably a natural reaction for a withdrawing member to focus for some time principally on the problems that one now feels were whitewashed during all of those years of faithfulness. I am still sort of in that phase. However, neglect of the good in the Church would be an oversimplification too. Here are some positives that I find in LDS doctrine and culture:
1. There is a genuine and deep well of love and service in the hearts of many Latter-day Saints. I have met countless wonderful individuals through my affiliation with the Church. In fact, it was the example of acquaintances in high school that led me to investigate the Church in the first place and move towards the decision to be baptized. The Church truly attracts wonderful people to its congregations and helps improve the lives of its members.
2. Many core doctrines of the Church represent foundational principles that help individuals and societies solve problems, find meaning in life, and work towards a common good. These include charity, forgiveness, hard work, sacrifice, cooperation and service. These principles have been impressed strongly on my mind and they are important components of my spirituality. They are the essence of the life that Christ lived and they cut across doctrinal and historical differences.
3. With its emphasis on morality, the Church indirectly promotes the more basic idea that human happiness derives in large part from believing that one’s conscience is in harmony with a higher truth. The specifics of LDS morality may be debatable from scientific, historical or social perspectives, but I think that the general idea that a fulfilling life necessitates a good conscience is a valuable template for making decisions throughout life.
4. The Church promotes self-discipline and self-improvement. These are keys to finding personal happiness and improving our ability to contribute to society. Although LDS approaches to these topics may not be the most balanced at times (and some members turn these elevating principles into self-defeating perfectionism), society will truly be better off if we each have a genuine desire to improve and grow each day.
5. Through the Word of Wisdom and other teachings, the Church teaches that the body is sacred and that maximizing health is important for personal happiness and the ability to serve others.
6. LDS teachings emphasis self-worth. This is very important in today’s world where selfishness, self indulgence, competition and power can be emphasized to destructive degrees.
7. LDS doctrine places great emphasis on the family. While the LDS conception of family is too narrowly construed, and some Church members appear to place allegiance to the Church above charity for God’s children (instances of LDS parents alienating gay children are an excellent example), I believe that it is true that one of the most rewarding aspects of life is the close relationships that we forge with others.
The Church is successful as an organization because it promotes a cohesive social structure filled with many positive teachings. As a good friend once explained, it is a paradigm for making sense of the world that works on many levels for its members. When that paradigm (or model) is stretched to more extreme positions, when the Church fails to support and embrace those perceived as being on the “fringes” of Mormon culture, or when faith and obedience overpower reason and productive inquiry, it will proportionally lose its power over the hearts of its members.