Review: Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye, “Sacred Struggle: Seeking Christ on the Path of Most Resistance”

Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye’s new book, Sacred Struggle: Seeking Christ on the Path of Most Resistance, confirms her status as reigning queen of great subtitles. It also confirms her status as one of our tradition’s most insightful pastoral-ecclesiological thinkers, worthy heir to the great Chieko Okazaki. Melissa has the professional training, the personal background and experience, and most of all the unwavering faith in Zion to raise the most important questions about this precarious moment in the history of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Inouye sees that the global expansion of the Church urgently requires a re-formation of North American Saints’ sense of ingroup identity to take in the full sweep of our tiny-but-worldwide membership. At the same time, the solidarity of the North American Church is being tested as never before by the fracturing effects of politics expanding its salience in all forms of association, including churches. She cogently asks, given global inequality, cultural acrimony, and the aggressive incursion of ideologies, “With such different understandings of how the gospel of Jesus Christ should unfold in everyday life, in a local political and cultural context, what holds us together?” (163). 

The opportunities and challenges of global Mormonism have taken center stage in Mormon Studies of late. What makes Inouye’s treatment different is its framing in Latter-day Saint theology. Melissa places the struggle for Zion in the context of the plan of salvation–our Heavenly Parents’ ongoing intention to teach their children, to instill in them divine qualities to match our divine nature, and finally to bring us into their presence to share in the divine life. Melissa rightly sees this vibrant core of Restoration teaching as the same template by which God will bring about the communal exaltation we know as Zion. And the engine that powers both individual and communal ascent is what she calls “sacred struggle”: the educative friction, frustration, failure, and suffering that characterizes mortality. It is in and through this sacred struggle that we rise together.

“I have learned to trust Christ’s promise in the midst of life’s sacred struggles. His Spirit will be with us, and among us, when we ask Him to consecrate our struggles and make us equal to the privilege of living a life full of life. We receive its bitterness as well as its joy, deepening our capacity for love, wisdom, and the kinds of word Gods do.” (16)

The book’s theology and cultural analysis are enlivened by her personal story of undergoing treatment for recurrent cancer, an experience she reflects on with intelligence and candor and generosity. Like her previous book Crossings, Sacred Struggle is an essay collection that hangs together easily through Melissa’s gift for lively, humorous description. The book comprises three sections, treating broadly: 1) problems arising from physical bodies and agency; 2) the sacredness of divinely ordained “spiritual biodiversity”; and 3) the challenges of building Zion. As always, Inouye delivers incisive analysis together with warm, but never sentimental, description of the immersive quality of Latter-day Saint communal sociality.

Sacred Struggle appeared this month as the third of 2023’s trilogy of standout contributions to LDS women’s theology: Every Needful Thing, edited by Inouye and Kate Holbrook; Both Things Are True, by Holbrook; and finally Sacred Struggle. Taken together, these three books lead the reader through an implicit exploration of the the whole of LDS theology: creation, atonement, and redemption  Every Needful Thing, which gathers together reflections on faith and reason by LDS women scholars across the globe, represents the creation and organization of a new Zion identity and community out of pre-existent human materials. Both Things Are True develops an implicit theology of atonement as the practice of reconciling–or holding in loving co-existence–the contraries that mark the life of discipleship. And Sacred Struggle completes the sweep by exploring the promise of Zion that stands as the joyful telos of Latter-day Saint salvation history. 

Inouye speaks as one who knows the path of most resistance. That these pages were written from infusion centers and hospital beds reveals a rare tenaciousness of life force in the author’s character and an extraordinarily rare love of community at the seat of her soul. Yet, for Inouye, her sufferings are not the worst things. “The worst thing is to live life in a way that requires no transformative struggle from ourselves and that makes no difference for good in the lives of others.” Inouye has walked the best path, on these terms, and her labor will prove profoundly significant in the life of the global Church we are now entering. 

3 comments for “Review: Melissa Wei-Tsing Inouye, “Sacred Struggle: Seeking Christ on the Path of Most Resistance”

  1. I’ve loved all three of these books. And if Melissa Inouye wrote a grocery list, I’d read it. It’d probably be the best shopping list ever put on paper.

  2. I loved the book as well. Along with Both Things Are True. I’ll have to pick up Every Needful Thing.

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