Dysfunctional Families or Church?

Hawkgrrrl Mormon 37 Comments

Exit stories are the tales told when someone leaves the church.  The internet is full of these stories, and in many, there is drama in the family as a result of the person’s decision to leave.  Often the person attributes at least some of that family drama to the church itself as an organization.  Yet, it is also true that there have been people who have left the church without family drama or disagreeable behaviors.  So, is the church environment complicit in fostering “bad” behaviors or is it the families themselves who are prone to these behaviors?  Or both?

http://www.jennifercounseling.com/images/mother-confronting-teen.jpgFirst, let’s differentiate between “bad” or ineffective behaviors that are commonly described and good or acceptable behaviors:

Bad behaviors or responses:

  • Encouraging faithful spouses to leave apostate spouses, even when there has been no infidelity or abuse.
  • Controlling behaviors.  Threats, ultimatums, and coercive actions to try to force someone back into the church.
  • Being manipulative or intrusive.  This could include “love bombing” or trying to smother someone back into the church.  This can also entail crossing personal boundaries, going behind someone’s back, conspiring with local leaders, etc.
  • Emotional outbursts.  Tears and tantrums designed to cast the person leaving as someone who is victimizing the parent, spouse, relative or friend through their departure from the church.
  • Assuming that the departing person has committed a grave sin or simply wants to live a lifestyle free from the restrictive standards.
  • Judgmental comments and other rejecting behaviors; making it clear that love is conditional on one’s being Mormon.

http://www.bhaktivedantacollege.com/images/family_constalation.jpgGood behaviors or responses:

  • Listening with an open mind.
  • Loving unconditionally, regardless of level of belief.  Making it clear that the person is loved as much as before.
  • Sharing one’s own personal doubts that demonstrate acceptance of the person’s struggle and empathy.

Clearly, it’s easy for someone leaving the church to see these “bad behaviors” as being another flaw of the organization they have chosen to leave.  Given that there is so much variety in experience, it seems that there are three things at play:  the family’s traits, the departing individual’s traits, and to a lesser extent, the organizational culture.

Clearly, some of the drama can occur because of how the departing person handles it.  Even absent “bad behaviors” on their part (e.g. yelling, blaming, etc.) there is still some inherent tension whenever someone leaves:

  • Rejection.  When someone leaves the church, they are rejecting something that those family members still embrace.  The reaction is the same whenever you choose to leave an organization or you change your views – you now have one less thing in common, and that’s got to have some impact.  If you like Mac computers, but your spouse is into PCs, that is an area of contention that will result in two separate laptops in  your household.
  • Family traits. Family members often share common traits when it comes to dealing with conflict and even how they view their religion.  IOW, when a person who is leaving the church sees their family’s way of being church members, they may recognize that those are the same behaviors they had as church members and now find those traits irritating.  Criticizing your family is often criticizing yourself.
  • Definition of “bad behaviors.” Some departing individuals may be too sensitive or have too high expectations for the reception their announcement will receive.  It’s probably best for both sides to cut each other more slack.  For example, some of the above “bad behaviors” clearly have some good intentions behind them.  They are just ineffective and can be offensive or lacking in empathy.  But perhaps they are the best way some people know how to respond.

So, what behaviors can be traced to the church as an organization?

  • Leader counsel. There is mixed counsel from leaders when it comes to how to address family members of different faith levels.  Most recent counsel is geared toward inclusion (E. Wirthlin and E. Cook‘s recent talks are good examples of this), but some counsel seems a bit more conditional, focusing on not encouraging sin through acceptance of behavior outside the standards (E. Oaks‘ recent GC talk).  Given that the counsel is mixed, I personally see this as further evidence that parents and family members hear what they want to hear and behave the way they are predisposed to behave, feeling justified based on reinforcement from leaders, even though different leaders have approached this issue different ways.
  • Culture.  Do members typically reject those who have left the church, or do they seek to understand and continue to love them even though they no longer share a faith?  My experience has been very low drama and accepting, both in my own family and in the wards I have been in.  Perhaps that is not typical of other wards or areas of the church as evidenced by these stories.  What are your experiences?
  • Eternal Family Doctrine.  This just ups the ante.  We do view our family units as eternal, so actions of family members have some sort of significance on each other.  Because there is lack of clarity what exactly will happen after this life, family members often fear the worst and “freak out” when someone leaves the church.  Personally, I think this one is just fear overcoming one’s better judgment.

Why does the organization often get blamed for things that are family traits?

  • Too close to home.  It’s a little easier to blame the church (one more step removed from yourself than your family is).  After all, you have chosen to leave the church, but even if you wanted to, you can’t really leave your family.
  • Bigger target.  Organizations are easy scapegoats because they are larger than what we can control; whether it’s your company, the government, or a retail chain, it’s easy to personify an organization and imbue it with the personality traits of a few of its representatives, employees or members.  Especially if you decide that you dislike that organization.
  • Defensiveness.  When family members come out in defense of the church, those who have rejected the church may feel that the family member has chosen the church over them.

So, what do you think?  What bad behaviors have you seen from the faithful when someone leaves the church?  Is that typical or not?  Does the church foster good or bad behaviors with regard to apostate family members?  Are individuals more accountable for those behaviors or is the church?  Discuss.

Comments

comments

Comments 37

  1. There is a lot here and I have only time for one brief comment regarding why the Church gets blamed.

    Like most relationships, when people speak we often respond to what is happening rather than what is said. Therefore people use the Church and its doctrine to inflict hurt rather than responding to the issues that are at the root. Does the Church create a culture that makes this harder? Only in the same way that any strongly held position when rejected by a loved one hurts. My sister-in-law grew up in a family where being a vegetarian was taken as seriously as Mormonism was in mine. If she commits apostasy from this faith then there is the same potential for hurt and rejection as when people leave the Church. The Church’s doctrine does add possibly add to this hurt however in unique ways (because of the issues of eternal families).

  2. I just want to add one other point. Because the Church is (often) such a big part of individuals Life (and world-view) when someone who previously shared those same values then rejects them, this can leave a wide hole that highlights that the relationship needs to be reconfigured and that this is not always possible. The Church can be a glue that ties people together but then it can also be the wedge, it is not the Church per se but it is the chasm that exists in the values and lifestyle (coupled with them changing) that can cause feelings of alienation and distance.

  3. One way of not “allowing” sin is to say that there will be no illicit drugs in my house. My drug-abusing kids are welcome (I have none, this is hypothetical), their drugs are not.

    However, when my real kid (not imaginary, like the drug abusers above) dropped out of Church, we have done all we can to make sure that there is no impression that our love is conditional, also stating it in words (not always a good idea, I realize, since it could sound very insincere, but there was a concrete way of showing it at the same time). It seems now that it was believed, since we are in regular two-way communication, and they spent the Christmas at our place.

    FWIW, there really is no universal “Mormon” culture that would dictate anyone’s reactions. It’s always a mixture of dynamics/culture/personality of local unit/leaders plus personal, family and larger cultural dynamics.

  4. “when someone who previously shared those same values then rejects them”

    Changing values can put stress on a family. A number of people who leave or become disaffected with the church do so for factual reasons, however. The have a ‘finding of fact’ where they disagree with the church’s claims on the Book of Abraham, the Book of Mormon, the creation, the fall, the temple, etc. They recognize the past problems of polygamy and race issues as indications that the church isn’t led by a god. They don’t like the lack of transparency in the church or the authoritarian culture. Their ‘values’ haven’t necessarily changed.

    In these cases, the church does seem to deserve a certain amount of the blame for family stress.

  5. #4 – the problem is that many people know the same things that this hypothetical disaffected person does and still stay. Therefore there is a real change of values (or perhaps more accurately) how those values manifest themselves and also how they are enacted.

  6. #5–“the problem is that many people know the same things that this hypothetical disaffected person does and still stay”

    I’m one of those people. I stay as a courtesy to family. It does get to be annoying sometimes–its like being around a bunch of adults that really still believe in Santa Claus.

    There has been some amount of family stress. Who is to blame? The church or the family that is gullible enough to believe what the church teaches? Its easier to blame the church.

  7. #4: Or they can just hang on until the Church itself changes the claims with with they disagree. They have done this on simple things like men living on the moon or man never going to the moon, or on profound things like polygamy and blacks and the priesthood. Current trends include a slow backing away from the Book of Abraham being a “direct” translation as had been espoused for 150+ years to an “inspiration” due to the papyrii. I could also see the stance on accepting civil gay marriage softening over the next few decades.

  8. #6 – Sorry I meant that some people know the things you do and still believe. I too have experienced the family stress, but from the other end. It is hard all round for a variety of different reasons.

  9. I don’t think that the Church is solely (or even primarily) responsible for bad behavior on the part of parents or other family who respond poorly when someone leaves. I think that those responses are poor communication mechanisms used on the part of individuals when they see someone is leaving a close-knit group. You get the same types of responses in other exclusive cultures or religions.

    However, I do think that teachings focused on the evilness of “apostates” should be toned down in rhetoric, because they do lead to fear of the person leaving the institution. I don’t think fear is a good motivator, and it can drive wedges in relationships.

  10. When I left the church four years ago, my family responded with all of the bad behaviors you list above and has yet to exhibit any of the good behaviors. You could say that my family is unique, but their response was uniform. The uniformity is surprising because my family is rather large and spread over multiple states. I have only had one cousin out of 50 respond with any kindness what so ever. The rest consistently try to pit my wife against me and write “love-bomb” letters. Both of my grandmothers have been very clear in telling me that I am going to hell.

    Now, if the bad behavior was isolated I would blame the people. But such a uniform response, in my experience, must point toward conditioning they receive at Church. Certainly, the last round of conference talks about confronting ex-mos puts my families behavior at the core of Mormon practice, and not at the fringe. The Church’s aggressive tone in the last conference isn’t helping my family out in the least. Until now, I have been nothing but patient and loving. But if the Church continues their aggression, there is going to be rapid change in my response. I’m fed up.

  11. I was going to comment that it’s not the “church,” but people in the church that is at fault. That is until I read the “quijote esq” post, that almost made me change my mind. However, one of the first things you learn in Sociology 101 is that the all too frequent use of the phrase “*Society* is this or does that.” or “Society is this or that, etc.” is not an accurate statement because “society” doesn’t have its own mind or will; there is no such entity (society) in and of itself that can think in and of itself. Society is a collective of many diverse factions, and changes over time. True, there may be some forms of “group think” in various societies, but this is still not representative of anything that is solely one entity for the whole of any particular society.

    Hence, when we say “the church” we cannot be decisive in affirming any particular, absolute behavior or stance. It is always *the people in the church* and not *the church*, and many examples in church history demonstrate this. The “negro” question/policy is one example; H.B. Brown and a few others wanted to change this dastardly practice, but others in authority did not so it persisted. It started with B.Y. who influenced the church, but B.Y. isn’t and never was the church any more than he was or is the Christ who decides eventual eligibility for entrance into the highest heaven whether you are a Mormon or not.

    First of all you are the master of your own ship. And second, although it is true that some ships sail in seas that are more stormy than others, those stormy seas are just some bodies of water at some particular times. There are other seas and all storms do eventually end. I know that when the winds are fiercely blowing and the waves are crashing over the deck and perhaps inflicts some damage (e.g. hurt feelings), I believe it is possible to weather all storms *IF* you have a strong enough built ship.

    But herein lies the rub. Some vessels are just not strong enough to withstand certain storms and so they sink. I have always maintained that to remain a member of LDS church you have to have a “thick skin.” If you are too sensitive, or take things too seriously (fanatics) you will not last.

    Hang in there, quijote esq. Batten down your sails, look at the devil straight on and spit in his eye (with smiles and composure, because he wants you to ‘loose it’ by flying off the handle), and ride out the storm. If you can manage to do this you will see that the storm will blow itself out or move on and leave you to sail in calmer seas.

    Just my thoughts.

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    quijote esq – “Certainly, the last round of conference talks about confronting ex-mos puts my families behavior at the core of Mormon practice, and not at the fringe. The Church’s aggressive tone in the last conference isn’t helping my family out in the least.” This wasn’t my impression of the majority of last GC. Were we listening to the same talks? The only talk that had an aggressive tone, IMO, was Ballard’s BOM talk about those who have rejected it. There were many other talks focused on love and support to family members. Again, this goes to my point that people will hear what they want to hear based on what they already think. Perhaps your family is more attuned to aggressive, judgmental toned rhetoric. People feel self-justified when they hear what they want to hear.

    As to your response to your family – perhaps some boundary redefinition is warranted based on your description.

  13. Hawkgrrl,

    I often like your posts, but I’m noticing a thread. You perpetually ask questions, but rarely like answers that counter the Church. It seems you only want justifications for poor Church behavior instead of the direct answer. I don’t want to fight here, but I was being very genuine and feel that your response was less than.

    Maybe my family is more attuned to “aggressive, judgment[-]toned rhetoric” behavior than other Mormon families, although I doubt it. My family (both sides) spans multiple states and counts about 100 people, including cousins. They are responding to their culture AND to HQ. Also, there were other talks about engaging ex-mos urging confrontation. I believe Monson spoke on the topic. I’ll dig up the quote if you insist.

    You can insist on blaming the individual family members, or my own failure to establish appropriate boundaries (although this seems unwarranted because I haven’t discussed my trials in this regard), but you seem extremely unwilling to put any blame on the Church. Attitude reflects leadership.

    If anything, you’re posts and subsequent comments on this site reflect a need to give softball answers to hardball problems, all the while excusing, justifying or mid-directing any substantive blame away from the Church. I’m not hell-bent on blaming the Church, but I see no other reason for the uniform responses that I and others receive.

  14. I do think that the level of blow back a disaffected person receives from family members has alot to do with the personalities of that particular family. However, I will not deny the influence of the church on the people involved.

    I am speaking from experience here. Not as a disaffected person, but as the believing spouse of a disaffected mormon. My initial response to DH’s change in belief status was not exactly kind, loving, or rational. I would call it hysterical, emotional, and somewhat angry. Now, I am NOT an orthodox, conservative mormon. But, even with all my “liberalism” and “open mindedness”, I still had a violent reaction to my husband’s disaffection. I willingly accept responsibility for my behaviour. However, I refuse to absolve the church for teaching me to fear this most dreaded of circumstances (the apostasy of one’s eternal companion).

    DH and I were able to work through that tough period. (I heart John D.) I no longer live in fear of losing my family. I have accepted that he is on a different spiritual path than me. I really feel like I have come a long way. But, even with all my progress, I still can’t let go completely. I believe in my temple sealing, even though DH does not. I believe that as long as he remains a member, our sealing is valid. For that reason, I have asked him to never leave the church. So, based on what the church has taught me, I have asked him to limit his journey to certain “acceptable to me” (i.e. the church) pathways.

    I guess I WANT to blame it all on myself, because that would shift any blame from the church I love. But, the fact is, I DO hold the church responsible for at least some of my fears and anxieties. The leadership teaches us that the LDS church is God’s kingdom on earth and the only way to return to His presence. If the GA’s would preach that the church is but one of many ways to find and follow God, then I would expect very different reactions from family members when a loved one has a change of belief. But, that is not what is taught. We are constantly led to believe that this is the ONLY way. We are taught that EVERY human must have a chance to hear the gospel. We are told that spirits are being taught the gospel in paradise, and that we need to perform ordinances for them in the temple. If these teachings and practices don’t SCREAM “This is the only true church and those who reject its teachings will lose all chance at eternal progression and their forever families.”, then I don’t know what would.

    Our church teaches some very powerful doctrines. Some of the members have some very powerful personalities. By themselves they may never cause a problem. But when they get mixed, the results can be heartbreaking.

    Its complicated.

  15. quijote esq, I don’t want to speak for Hawkgrrrl, she is far more capable than I in that regard. But I will say that I have found her comments and opinions to be extremely even-keeled. From what you wrote, I would say that your family is behaving badly. I accept that the church can influence us, but in the end, we are responsible for the things we say and do.

    Also, one of the best ways to help a person gain clarity is to challenge them. That’s one of my favorite things about most of thep people on MM. They help me discover what I really believe.

  16. I don’t think that the Church teaches it explicitly, but it is implicit in our teachings. According to our foundational documents, this is the “only” true Church on the face of the earth. We teach that ours is the “only” baptism that is valid because no one else has the proper authority. We teach that the epitome of earth life is the temple, which you can only enter if you follow all of the current recommend questions as defined by the Church, including believing that JS is a true prophet, etc. If we actually accepted other churches as a viable alternative, why do we send missionaries out to them to try to convert them to our way of thinking?

    Therefore, conference talks aside, on a practical basis, the Church essentially sets itself up such that one’s relationship with God is defined in many, many ways by one’s relationship with the Church. It is therefore obvious that for a true believer who accepts all of these, if someone leaves the Church, they are also by definition “leaving God” and putting their entire eternal salvation at risk. This can cause great consternation.

    So, the answers are a bit disingenuous – a bit like saying that “guns don’t kill people, people kill people”. The “Church” cannot actually cause any of these problems, as it is just an organization. However, an unavoidable consequence of the Church’s teachings cause its members to understandably be very alarmed when someone questions or leaves the Church. While it would be nice if this didn’t happen, unless the Church is willing to accept that other churches/paths can also lead back to God, it is unavoidable.

  17. As Mr. Disaffected, I view the church as a Truman Show where *everyone* is a Truman. Most TBMs have no idea that they are part of huge organism. They feed it with their devotion and tithing, and defend it with their testimonies and their lives.

    So to try to distinguish the church from the members is really not possible. They are one and the same.

    Leaving is not like changing from being a PC person to a Mac person; it is more like an amputation. Those closest to the wound (family and ward members) fear the infection that might come from it. They may have become so dependant on the organism that they are sure that it is not possible to survive without it (think testimonies where it is said, “I don’t know where I would be without the church”) Because of these fears, family and friends will say and do horrific things to get the disaffected person back. And that will not change until TBMs break their dependancy on the church, and Truman doesn’t escape the set easily.

  18. There was a previous reference to open mindedness, which I have to comment on. Open mindedness is one of the few things that I still consider sacred, probably because it is so rare but also because it is so inspiring. I think that pinkpatent demonstrates some open mindedness, but much more a yearning to be more tolerant. I think that the bloggernacle is full of curiosity, courage, tolerance, and other admirable qualities, but really not that much open mindedness.

    In an abstract way, perhaps open mindedness is at the heart of the disagreements expressed here. Which is not to say that open mindedness inevitably leads one out of or into the church. However, I am highly suspicious when one claims to be open minded. Open mindedness within certain limitations is definitely not open mindedness. Personally, I have only had brief periods of open mindedness, which have required considerable mental/spiritual/emotional effort which is often unavailable to me because of the many daily cares of life.

    For those leaving and staying in the church, there are many barriers to open mindedness. Hawkgrrrl enumerates a few ways that members can demonstrate open mindedness. Perhaps we could have some suggestions about how those leaving could show open mindedness in order to help them along their spiritual journey (and make navigating family relationships more positive).

  19. About a year ago my husband and I were questioning our beliefs about the church and weren’t quite sure if we even believed in it anymore. We decided to take a few months away from the church in our quest for truth and spirituality. We didn’t really want to mention it to anyone because 1. we knew they would be devastated and would overreact, and 2. I had a feeling my thoughts on the church would change as I did more searching. Unfortunately last Spring my MIL asked us about going to the temple to do some family work and we said we weren’t really interested and she wanted to know why. We spoke with her for about an hour and she was devastated as we had guessed. She really didn’t understand where we were coming from and couldn’t understand how we were feeling.

    Well throughout the year we have gone to church off and on but have continued to stay in the church because we think that overall it provides us a good environment to enhance our spirituality. About two weeks ago we met with our Bishop and had a really good discussion with him. For the first time in a while, I was feeling pretty good about where I was in the church and my faith. A couple days ago we received a package in the mail from my husband’s cousin and his wife along with two letters. The letters explained that they were very saddened to hear that we had decided to leave the church and then gave a testimony. They also gave us a copy of the last General Conference. My husband immediately called his mom and asked her what she had told her sister. They ended up having a really good discussion that night and the next day. I think she is finally coming around to understanding our view on the church more.

    They both attributed this situation to a big misunderstanding. She did not understand our feelings and we never followed up with her about how beliefs had changed throughout the year. The most important thing for any family members to do is to communicate. Talk, talk, and talk. Don’t just talk once about it, keep talking. It is really hard at first but explain to your family how you feel and if they don’t understand, keep trying.

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    shannon j – “She did not understand our feelings and we never followed up with her about how beliefs had changed throughout the year. The most important thing for any family members to do is to communicate. Talk, talk, and talk. Don’t just talk once about it, keep talking. It is really hard at first but explain to your family how you feel and if they don’t understand, keep trying.” I really like this sentiment, although it’s tricky. Some people don’t wish to understand.

    quijote esq – When I suggested boundary redefinition, I was agreeing with your statement “But if the Church continues their aggression, there is going to be rapid change in my response. I’m fed up.” It sounds to me as though things are reaching a boiling point. I wasn’t being dismissive – I was trying to be supportive of your need to regain your footing in some one-sided relationships. I’m sorry if it didn’t come across that way.

    As to the church’s role vs. the role of individuals, I would rather hold individuals accountable. I agree with your statements that anti-family rhetoric is wrong, although I don’t hear a lot of those “aggressive” talks – they are certainly not as common as the other types of talks – but they seem to have sticking power with the hellfire & brimstone lovers. You’ve got a family experience across multiple states with 100 members. So have I. My family has ex-Mos, prodigals, evangelicals, etc., yet the olive branch is always extended to those who’ve left. I’m not sure my family has ALL good behaviors, but they are very unintrusive and accepting, which is the behavior most departing members seem to cherish. Perhaps that’s not good behavior in another way. Someone like Oaks might say our standards are too low.

    I tend to agree with Mike S.’s stated sentiment that the point of my post is more than “people kill people” rather than “guns kill people.” Having said that, I’m no gun fan either! But there’s no practical way to outlaw religion or other organizations that require strong commitment. You can emphasize the need for understanding and love in relationships rather than pulpit pounding us-vs-them speechifying. I cited examples of the more divisive talks above (Oaks’ Law talk at last GC, and Ballard’s BOM talk). But there were many more talks on the topic of tolerance and love. People will just hear what they want to hear. As with the guns vs. people argument, you’re more likely to be shot by a vigilante with a gun than a pacifist. Granting access to guns isn’t going to get me to buy one or have one in my home, but it does enable some aggressive kooks to get their hands on one. In either case, it’s the attitude of the individual that drives the behavior. Aggressive talk isn’t going to convince a pacifist to buy or use a gun. In short, I agree with you that aggressive rhetoric is wrong and only stirs up negative behaviors in people.

    So, to extend this analogy beyond its limits, does the church focus on gun safety or target practice? Some leaders do take aim sometimes. But I hear more gun safety and see more pacifism practiced in my family experience. Your results may (and seem to) vary. I’m not going to dispute that.

  21. To Quijote Esq – After reading your comments, a question formed in my mind which I will pose for your consideration. Do you merely expect people to simply accept your decision to leave the LDS Church, or do you also expect people to follow you out of the LDS Church as a sign of empathy?

    If it’s the former, no problem. I have never criticized an ex-Mormon merely for leaving the Church. I consider that a personal decision, and respect it. But if it’s the latter, then there is a problem – specifically, a problem with consistency. While we who remain certainly incur an obligation to respect your decision to leave the Church, I suggest you also incur an equal obligation to respect our decision to remain members of the Church. Religious freedom applies equally to all. The fact that you disagree with Mormonism simply means it does not meet your spiritual needs – it does not make Mormonism evil.

    You believe the problem lies with the Church rather than the people because of the uniformity of your experience with your family and friends. But unless every ex-Mormon has the same experience and meets with the same degree of rejection, I cannot consider it to be an infrastructural problem. Thus I thought your accusation against Hawkgrrrl for not being “genuine” was unfair; there is no reason for her not to defend the Church when she believes the Church to be justified.

  22. Hawkgrrl, I checked the conference references you gave in post and Wirthlin and Cook spoke generally about being loving, but never specifically discuss families (unless I missed it, somehow), So, their talks are not really on point. Oaks, however DOES discuss how families should treat straying family members. He said, with reference to ‘wayward’ children:

    ” President Thomas S. Monson has called for a loving crusade to rescue our brothers and sisters who are wandering in the wilderness of apathy or ignorance. These teachings require continued loving concern, which surely requires continued loving associations.
    Parents should also remember the Lord’s frequent teaching that “whom the Lord loveth he chasteneth” (Hebrews 12:6).13 In his conference talk on tolerance and love, Elder Russell M. Nelson taught that “real love for the sinner may compel courageous confrontation—not acquiescence! Real love does not support self-destructing behavior.”

    The advice from conference concerning families explicitly is clear. Briefer, keep them around so that you can chasten them, or if you prefer, confront them courageously. Certainly, don’t accept them (“not acquiescence!). It doesn’t even require any clever parsing of words. Confront, chasten, don’t acquiesce (be judgmental, not accepting.) There doesn’t seem to be much wiggle room here.

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    E. Cook: “Our leaders have consistently counseled us “to live with respect and appreciation for those not of our faith. There is so great a need for civility and mutual respect among those of differing beliefs and philosophies.”
    It is equally important that we be loving and kind to members of our own faith, regardless of their level of commitment or activity. The Savior has made it clear that we are not to judge each other.30 This is especially true of members of our own families. Our obligation is to love and teach and never give up.”

    E. Wirthlin: “Tied to this misconception is the erroneous belief that all members of the Church should look, talk, and be alike. The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world. Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony. All of Heavenly Father’s children are different in some degree, yet each has his own beautiful sound that adds depth and richness to the whole. . . if only we had more compassion for those who are different from us, it would lighten many of the problems and sorrows in the world today. It would certainly make our families and the Church a more hallowed and heavenly place.”

    What I see is that leaders tend to take one specific party line. Oaks tends to be a “tough love,” legalistic, conditional love guy. Oaks is pretty consistent with himself. It’s how he interprets the gospel and focuses his talks. I certainly won’t dispute that he does that. But others are the way they are. Some of them are consistently inclusive. Some are consistently exclusive. People tend to align with the ones they like.

  24. “unless every ex-Mormon has the same experience and meets with the same degree of rejection, I cannot consider it to be an infrastructural problem.”

    This is the same argument the tobacco industry uses when they say that smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer. Unless everyone who smokes get lung cancer, you can’t really blame the tobacco.

    “Do you merely expect people to simply accept your decision to leave the LDS Church, or do you also expect people to follow you out of the LDS Church as a sign of empathy?”

    I don’t think anything here implied that this was the case. I think you are jumping to conclusions.

    “My family has ex-Mos, prodigals, evangelicals, etc., yet the olive branch is always extended to those who’ve left.”

    I think some TBMs think that they are being kind and accepting when they have an “you are always welcome to come back” attitude. I think many ex-mormons consider this to be condescending. It implies that whenever you come to your senses, you are welcome to come back to church. I think ex-mormons want to be understood as having chosen a path that is better for them.

  25. “Our obligation is to love and teach and never give up.”

    What does “never give up” mean? Does it mean that you never give up trying to teach your wayward ex-mormon family how wrong they are?

    “All of Heavenly Father’s children are different in some degree, yet each has his own beautiful sound that adds depth and richness to the whole”

    This is good–as long as it is understood that some of these different instruments aren’t going to be following the same conductor or playing the same song. And that these different songs and different conductors aren’t just tolerated, but that they ‘add depth and richness to the whole.’ If everyone can be different, but we all have to fall in line with the leaders of the church like musicians follow a conductor, then this isn’t terribly accepting of ex-mormons.

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    Values: “I think some TBMs think that they are being kind and accepting when they have an “you are always welcome to come back” attitude. I think many ex-mormons consider this to be condescending. It implies that whenever you come to your senses, you are welcome to come back to church. I think ex-mormons want to be understood as having chosen a path that is better for them.” I agree that this can be irritating to ex-Mos. In the case of my family, I just meant that there is no effort to re-proselyte at family gatherings, and people are accepted for themselves, regardless of what religion they belong to or don’t. There’s no effort to change people or confront.

    “What does “never give up” mean? Does it mean that you never give up trying to teach your wayward ex-mormon family how wrong they are?” Like you, I interpret this to mean that a TBM will hold hope that an ex-Mo will eventually return to the church. It’s probably too ambitious to hope that a believer is going to find equal value in an ex-Mo’s new spiritual path that takes them away from the faith the believer cherishes. I think the best one can hope for is that they won’t be unbearable or heavy-handed about it and that they will care more about the person than the difference. But, let’s be realistic.

  27. I think there is a line, difficult to find even in one’s own self, between freely expressing one’s genuine hopes and beliefs and using feelings and hopes to manipulate another person. Manipulation is a subtle form of coercion, ultimately the name for it is dominion – an attempt to circumnavigate another person’s freedom. Manipulating for assumed right reasons is just as coercive as manipulation for completely selfish reasons. Most people are manipulating most of the time – one reason for the lack of the Spirit in our communities. ~

  28. In my experience, there is an “either/or” dynamic in LDS culture that makes it difficult when someone chooses a different path. It’s the Iron Rod thing. You either hold on or let go. Either you believe or you don’t. Either you attend or you don’t. You either believe the prophet is the one person to speak on behalf of God or you don’t believe in the Church. Either you show you love me and are dedicated to our eternal family or you don’t. There is no room for discussion.

    During Priesthood Meeting this past week (yes, the walls are still standing), there was a long discussion about reactivating the wayward souls. There was the assumption that it was all the fault of sin, greed, laziness, and Satan and our job was to bring all these folks back so they could repent. In other words, the Church organization, community, or doctrine have no part it in a person’s decision to distance himself. Tidy, huh? I reminded them of the parable of the woman who lost the silver coin (Luke 15, sandwiched between the Lost Sheep and Prodigal Son parables). It wasn’t the coin’s fault that it got lost. It was the woman who lost it.

  29. I’ve had an up close and personal view of both good and bad behaviours when I left the church. My family exhibited good behaviour. My parents have always been welcoming to me and reaffirm their love as unconditional in actions and words. Some of my siblings had a harder time of it, but that didn’t impact as much. Once my parents laid down a pattern of behaviour, most of the others followed or simply laid low and didn’t voice their opinions if they were to the contrary.

    My partner was not so lucky. Her father threw her out and cut her from the family. They were unable to see her with his knowledge or blessing. After some months her mother arranged to see her secretly, but the damage was done. She was made to feel alone and cast out to force her back to the fold and to church.

    Their behaviour was so extreme it left me with a great deal of anger toward them. These people who were taught to love and revere family just cast her out and used the gospel as their justification. There were reasons for her leaving that added to the issue, but I cannot understand how they could do that to their own child.

    But I didn’t blame the church itself. People will find justification for their behaviour in any way they can. We all know scripture and quotes and rhetoric can be twisted to suit any purpose. We must never absolve people from their choices to behave in a certain way regardless of the ammunition they may use to justify it. Does the church say it is the only true way? Yes. But it also tells members in countless other ways to love and to support and not to judge. Some people simply choose to adopt some teachings and not others to justify their behaviour.

  30. I’m writing a post for my blog on this very experience in my own family, so your post is really timely; thanks.

    I read Elder Oaks’ talk slightly differently. It’s true he allows that correction and confrotation are possibilities, but he also said, “There is no area of parental action that is more needful of heavenly guidance or more likely to receive it than the decisions of parents in raising their children and governing their families. This is the work of eternity.”

    I found his talk to say (to me): I do not need to accept behavior that is unacceptable to me, but how I deal with that in my own home and family is a matter for me to sort out with “heavenly guidance,” or personal revelation.

    I remember Elder Nelson’s Ensign article several years ago on Conditional Love; it was surprising to me at first (because it runs counter to the cliched idea of unconditional love).

    My own experience with my own children who have left the church is that I initally felt great anxienty over their choices. In time I finally came to realize they had made their choices which they were free to make.

    My “bad” behavior initially was my own; it was not taught to me by the church, except that I had a sense of the high stakes involved (from my LDS perspective, of course). I’ve found the counsel to favor a more tolerant and loving approach.

    P

  31. “I guess I WANT to blame it all on myself, because that would shift any blame from the church I love. But, the fact is, I DO hold the church responsible for at least some of my fears and anxieties. The leadership teaches us that the LDS church is God’s kingdom on earth and the only way to return to His presence. If the GA’s would preach that the church is but one of many ways to find and follow God, then I would expect very different reactions from family members when a loved one has a change of belief. But, that is not what is taught. We are constantly led to believe that this is the ONLY way. We are taught that EVERY human must have a chance to hear the gospel. We are told that spirits are being taught the gospel in paradise, and that we need to perform ordinances for them in the temple. If these teachings and practices don’t SCREAM “This is the only true church and those who reject its teachings will lose all chance at eternal progression and their forever families.”, then I don’t know what would.”

    I related most to what pinkpatent said in the above quote. I am not making any judgement of right or wrong, or saying that the church should change, but why not take responsibility for teaching doctrines that tear hearts and families apart? It is what it is, and if it is true than it is justified. The doctrines of the church teach there is only one acceptable path, human nature compels us to want to be understood, respected and loved. The doctrines of the church teach, if indirectly, that members who choose to leave the church can not be understood or respected. This condition will always cause pain and conflict not matter the individuals involved or how much they work to make it otherwise. So I believe.

  32. It appears to me that those who leave Mormonism, because they carefully and honestly read and study the Bible and leave all of Christianity, suffer less trauma, dysfunction and “bad behavior” than those who leave Mormonism just because of Mormonism

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    Fanny A – “The doctrines of the church teach, if indirectly, that members who choose to leave the church can not be understood or respected.” I think this is a valid criticism. OTOH, I think it’s probably true of almost all organizations. For example, if you leave the company I work at and go to a competitor, it’s human nature for the employees who remain with the company to think you made a foolish choice or that you couldn’t make it in our (superior) company. We view the things we prefer, the things with which we affiliate, as superior. If we didn’t, we wouldn’t prefer them. But, having said that, I think the church should be very clear that we are bigger than the borders of our membership rolls.

  34. I’m only 42, but in the years I’ve lived, I’ve come to notice that people tend to be people tend to be people, regardless of what group they are affiliated with. In translation, there will be people of pretty much all types, temperments, opinions, actions, etc. in any group. Therefore, I vote families. Well, not so much families, as individuals. We are each unique and our experiences and choices about those experiences tend to affect how we react to others, no matter what the situation.

  35. quijote esq, I’m sorry your family is behaving that way. This is something I’ve always been taught against in church. Not sure how they are translating the things they are hearing into that. As I said, definitely not how I’ve ever understood what has been taught in church. I still tend to think it’s something that runs in families. There are traits that can follow a family through many generations and spread out…there are some in my family that have nothing to do with religion (many different religions on my mom’s side of the family) but they can be very destructive nonetheless.

    pinkpatent, when my son was in inpatient therapy, one of the things they learned was RET (Rational Emotive Therapy). As families they gave us a shortened version of it, but the idea behind it is that we don’t generally react based on the facts, but based on what we think about or how we interpret the facts. For example, my mom tends to think that when someone forgets to tell her about something that they are deliberately ostracizing her. The majority of the times I’ve seen this happen, the person was tired, busy, or stressed…i.e. not doing it deliberately, but because of the way she interpreted it, she was upset because she felt ostracized. I’m probably rambling (not much sleep last night) but just some things that came to mind when I read your post.

    Mike S, but how people treat each other is a choice and treating someone badly is avoidable.

    shannon j, am curious about what is best to talk about. I know in some cases, it can be awkward if the person who has left the church doesn’t want to hear anything about it. (i.e. awkward if you did something special and can’t share it with them. i.e. someone giving a talk, going to an activity, etc.) I guess what I’m saying is, I don’t want to seem like I’m pushing church on someone just to keep the communication open. Does that make sense?

    agnes, I’d have to go back and reread the talks, but it could also be how one interprets it. For example, I have a son that was into drug addiction. I could’ve accepted the behaviour and let him destroy his life. Or, I could have confronted it. As it is, he had to go into inpatient therapy and got himself clean. He has expressed thankfulness numerous times that he had to go to therapy. It can vary based on a specific situation. In this case, I’d say it was a situation needing the “courageous confrontation” (and yes, courageous fits in this situation as he’d have major blowouts). That’s not to say all situations call for that, just as the sentence implied with the “may”.

    Hawkgrrrl, tough love doesn’t mean conditional love. At least not in my book. Sometimes gentle love is most needed, other times tough love. There have been times in my life where I needed a blunt message to get through to me. 😉 Sometimes I can be pretty darn stubborn. 😉

    Values, I’m not sure what TBM is, but as far as welcoming anyone back to anything, I’m sorry if someone finds it condescending, but that is one’s choice. To welcome anyone anywhere, is considered civility in most situations. At least, that’s how I’ve always interpreted someone welcoming me anywhere. I’d much prefer to be considered welcome than to have a door slammed in my face.

    Thomas Parkin, good points, in my opinion.

    Buck, glad you were there to make that point. 🙂

    dmac, can understand the frustration/anger. There are so many things I can’t understand parents doing to their children. (However, that’s opening a HUGE can of worms that would go completely off topic, so I’ll behave myself and leave it at that.) Good points about justification, by the way.

    Fanny Alger, I actually disagree with the statement, “The doctrines of the church teach, if indirectly, that members who choose to leave the church can not be understood or respected.” I am aware of no doctrine that says we are not to respect others regardless of whether they are in or out of the church. All I’ve ever heard is to love others and treat them as we would want to be treated.

  36. Pingback: Families Can Be Together for Awhile « Course Correction

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