Being a Child of God

If you’re like many who grew up in the church, you’ve probably sung “I Am a Child of God”1 from a very young age. You may have even heard talks like “You Are a Child of God”, in which Gordon Hinckley emphasizes that you should obey commandments with exactness because of your identity as a child of God (even pointing out that blessings from a loving God are conditional upon obedience):

If you really know that you are a child of God, you will also know that He expects much of you, His child. He will expect you to follow His teachings and the teachings of His dear Son, Jesus. He will expect you to be generous and kind to others. He will be offended if you swear or use foul language. He will be offended if you are dishonest in any way, if you should cheat or steal in the slightest. He will be happy if you remember the less fortunate in your prayers to Him. He will watch over you and guide you and protect you. He will bless you in your schoolwork and in your Primary. He will bless you in your home, and you will be a better boy or girl, obedient to your parents, quarreling less with your brothers and sisters, helping about the home.2

It can be difficult to imagine anything else serving as such a fundamental part of your identity. For many, the comfort of understanding this identity is worth maintaining a belief system despite contrary evidence. I want to suggest, however, that changing my perspective on my identity has significantly improved my life. It has been one of the most challenging things I have ever done, but it has also been one of the most rewarding in a way I didn’t think was even possible. I’ll talk more about my own identity in 1.2 My Story, but I want to offer some reassurance early.

What Remains?

If this identity were taken away —if it were instantly refuted— who would you be? It would certainly be a shock. It was when my beliefs changed. But there are fundamental truths about your identity that you can hold onto and embrace.

Fundamental Truths

There are several beautiful truths you can always know about your identity.

  • You are part of a long-lasting biological cycle. The atoms that make up your body have always existed and will always exist. Your atoms have made up many things before and will make up many things after your life.
  • You are an intelligent being, even the universe dreaming of itself.
  • You belong to a community of people to which you can contribute meaningfully.
  • You can make life better for the people you love.
  • You are capable of loving life, enjoying your interests, and creating interesting things.

If you are experiencing a faith crisis, I would encourage you to write down more fundamental parts of your identity that remain true, whether or not the church is true.

Your Personality

You have your own personality. It can change over time, but “personality” usually refers to the aspects of yourself that remain constant no matter the situation. While many publications attempt to measure personality empirically3, a subjective look at your personality can help you understand your unique identity.

Your Values

You might be surprised to find that changing your beliefs doesn’t necessarily mean changing your values. I still hold many of the same values I held before I left the church.

For example, I still value:

  • Protecting autonomy and agency
  • Using a surplus to provide for people who need it
  • Protecting health by prioritizing good food and rejecting harmful substances
  • Using speech to encourage and inspire
  • Showing patience and tolerance when I don’t understand something
  • Using privilege to help vulnerable people

If you are beginning to deconstruct your faith, it can be helpful to make a list of your values. If you’re like me, you’ll probably be surprised at how few of the things you value depend on the church.

What Changes?

If you decide to leave the church, you are also leaving behind a community identity. This can be intimidating, but in my experience, it can also be incredibly refreshing. The day we decided to leave the church, I remember telling my wife, “I finally feel like I’m allowed to be a good person.”

Leaving the church can mean you no longer have to defend your identity with an often-unpopular organization. You can be free to form your own opinions and identify with them. For example, I no longer feel like I have to balance belonging to a church that has historically (and to a large extent, currently) oppressed or ignored the LGBT+ community.

Trading Up

As I have worked on deconstructing my beliefs, a saying has resonated with me: Always trade up4. When you make a major faith or identity decision, ask if your decision leaves you better off than you were before you made it. And remember, you are an intelligent being. You get to decide what is better or worse for yourself.

  1. Pettit, M. T. (1957). I Am a Child of God. ↩︎

  2. Hinckley, G. B. (2003, April). You Are a Child of God. General Conference of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, Salt Lake City, UT. ↩︎

  3. Kline, P. (2015). Personality (Psychology Revivals): Measurement and Theory. Routledge. ↩︎

  4. Dehlin, J. P., Johnston, B., & (2010). How to Stay in the Church. Stay LDS / Mormon. ↩︎