Family Concerns

guest orthodox 17 Comments

Today’s post is by Wade Nelson.  Apart from a brother who has been inactive for many years, I come from a family whose members have been active and faithful their entire lives. I am something of an oddity (read: black sheep) with my concern and interest in the intellectual side of the gospel.

My siblings evince little if any interest in the things that matter to me about the church. Over the holidays I spoke to one sister about the Delbert Stapley letter to George Romney. While she was not hostile, she believed that his attitude was common for people of his generation. That may be true enough but I doubt that few Americans or members for that matter believed that those who promoted the cause of blacks in America should have feared for their lives.

I would be interested in knowing how others have dealt with their families’ concerns if indeed those concerns exist at all. Have they hidden their interests? Have they ever opened up and expressed any doubts publicly? Or is family treated the way the Stake president is? I.e. only say what you are expected to say.

Given the variety of our backgrounds and families there must be a plethora of stories and ideas. While we are all adults responsible for our own salvation and actions. I can’t help but think that we must at the same time be sensitive to how our parents feel about us and how our actions reflect on them. I would be loath to become the Steve Benson of my family.

While my family is well aware of my inclinations and interests, everyone is trying hard to be careful. I know this all sounds terribly delicate and that I am in the habit of dissembling in front of my family. I am new here and so am unsure about the context.

Comments

comments

Comments 17

  1. Most people just do not have time or mental energy to spend (they might say waste) on issues like those that your sister doesn’t really care about. I find it interesting just how mentally passive most people are, in or out of the Church. It really bothers some Church leaders (e.g. Brigham Young) and doesn’t bother others.

    It is an interesting observation though.

  2. Wade,

    Feel free to be yourself around us. Many of us have been down some of the same roads it sounds like you’ve traveled.

    I have expressed doubts about certain aspects of Church history and doctrine (as I understand them) with my family. I’m sure they still love me. I did the same as a BYU student with some of my more perceptive roommates.

    The Church itself is much like your family. There are those who are considered black sheep, but in my experience, the more grounded of the orthodox have no problem in accepting you for who you are. Stress the aspects of the gospel you do have confidence in when you are around those who feel threatened by searching and questions.

    There is great fear in the Church about questions and doubts because we have often been told by those in authority that these are evil, indeed, that they come from the devil himself! This is utter nonsense, but the fear generated is real.

    You are no Steve Benson, so no worries there!

  3. Wade,

    For me MormonMatters seems a bit more reverent than the old MormonStories. I like to sprinkle some cayenne pepper here and there.

    Feel free to spread your wings around me.

  4. Wade,

    Welcome…please develop your your true self on your spiritual journey. Do not worry what your church leaders think of you. As an anarchist one of the first principles that we live by is that authority must be dismantled if it cannot justify itself. In the case of church leadership…I feel that most of the righteous bravado and rhetoric that surrounds our church leaders is unhealthy and unjustified.

    We encourage your spiritual develop and mental development here. Please feel free to chat with sincerity about things that are intriguing you, weighing you down, bothering you, or even your elations.

    God bless and TJM is right….spread your wings.
    Steve

  5. You need to express yourself since we are all liberal and conservative in some ways. I don’t think most Mormons truly are sanitized in their minds they just like to speak a party line in public so in case uber conservatives come to power they aren’t on the fringes. You can believe most anything and be a Mormon even the GA’s on the top are backing off of forcing orthodoxy. The best way to be with family member’s is yourself also unless you live in the same ward since they can torpedo you in the background. Welcome to the blogsphere.

  6. Wade,

    My wife does not want to hear anything that she says might affect her testimony. So, I can almost never bring up the difficulities that I find in the Church. 99% of the time these things don’t bother my own spiritual journey as I am able to maintain a proper perspective that works for me. I remember when I mentioned the Joseph Smith may have had as many as 30 wives, she said, “Stop, I don’t need to hear this.”

    She is a very faithful person and tries hard to live a Christ-like life. But she just a bit afraid of how these new bits of information may affect her. So, I bite my tongue. Since much of the new information is non-essential to salvation, I think one can put things aside and not deal with it.

    On the other hand, some of us like to wallow in it.

  7. This is an interesting post. If I am not mistaken, you are asking how faithful Latter-day Saints respond to a non-believing, critical, or agnostic member of the family — right? You wonder whether the family is willing to engage in discussion over the Thanksgiving dinner table about the D. Stapley letter to George Romney or whether they turn away from discussing those things.

    My best guess is that most Mormons will shy away from discussing things like the Stapley letter with a non-believing family member, but not out of some kind of malevolence or brainwashing from the Church. I think it’s more that most Mormons, like all people, are generally conflict averse. Also, religion generally occupies a special place in people’s identity and worldview and therefore do not enjoy engaging in discussions that ridicule, mock, or criticize their religion. In other words, it’s just a little practical matter (people often don’t participate in conversations that aren’t enjoyable for them) and not a sinister requirement of the Church.

    John N., although your entire comment is very loaded, I just want to highlight one part of it as, in my opinion, untrue:

    There is great fear in the Church about questions and doubts because we have often been told by those in authority that these are evil, indeed, that they come from the devil himself!

    I do not agree that this is the position of the Church.

  8. john f.,

    He didn’t say it was “the position of the [c]hurch.” He said there is a fear in the church about questions and doubts because church leaders have said such things come from the devil. That’s a factual statement easily supportable by the historical record. I could, but will spare you, run off a litany of quotes from church leaders who have said that doubts and questions about Mormon truth claims come from the devil, and should not be explored.

  9. >>> I could, but will spare you, run off a litany of quotes from church leaders who have said that doubts and questions about Mormon truth claims come from the devil, and should not be explored.

    Actually, for my sake, post them please. Two or three of the best should be fine.

  10. John F.:

    “John N., although your entire comment is very loaded”

    Thanks for the compliment! I am just trying to make Wade feel comfortable being honest on this site. Heck, we don’t even know what his opinions are yet, just that he doesn’t feel comfortable expressing them with active LDS members of his family. I was reminding us all why that is.

    And I agree with you that the Church doesn’t, and shouldn’t, hold the position that doubts and questions come from the devil. It’s bad thinking and bad for PR too. Nonetheless, I stand by my statement that the root of Church members’ aversion to not only doubt, but as Jeff states above, exposure to information which could conceivably lead to doubt, lies in statements made by those in authority. There are others in authority who have made more constructive comments and I applaud those. I think here of Elder Dallin Oaks especially.

    Bruce: N. Eldon Tanner, from the 1973 Ensign’s First Presidency message “Right Answers”, as one example of someone in authority who claims that doubts and questions come from the devil:

    “Anyone who, with an open mind and a prayerful heart, will give as much attention to the teachings of Jesus Christ as to scientific and academic studies will keep his faith. Doubt, skepticism, and unbelief are weapons of the adversary, enemies of righteousness, and barriers that stand in the way of growth and progress. Do not be afraid or ashamed to learn of God and the teachings of Jesus Christ.”

    We can dredge up lots more of these, but as they’re so commonplace, I don’t find it very interesting. As long as questions and doubts are seen as unnatural, i.e. arising from a supernatural force like the devil, the stigma Wade and others feel will continue. In the Church, having questions and doubts is like having sex, everyone’s done it but it’s in bad taste to talk about…

  11. “In the Church, having questions and doubts is like having sex, everyone’s done it but it’s in bad taste to talk about…”

    Now that’s a mouthful. In the same sense, I wonder how many folks’ doubts are even strong enough to be actual disagreement, objection, or heresy that they engage actively in private, and maybe feel uncomfortable or guilty about at church? Similar to folks enjoying an active and perhaps creative sex life in private but feeling like that aspect of themselves would not be acceptable if their Stake President knew.

  12. Clay,

    I was thinking of traditional LDS authors like Jack Weyland who have had fun with this. As I recall, there’s a scene in Charly where the recently married convert Charly mentions in Relief Society, (in the context of a discussion about what they enjoy doing with their spouse) that she loves when she and her husband are intimate…and is ostracized as a result. The same sense of group disapproval is in evidence when someone expresses an honest doubt. I remember vividly the sense of discomfort which washed over me and other class members when a fellow seminary student timidly expressed a doubt over some aspect of the Book of Mormon narrative (horses in the New World or something).

  13. I need to find some modern quotes on this. I’m afraid I don’t see that quote as meaning “if you have doubts they came from the devil.” I saw it more like “the devil will utilize your natural doubts.” Again, a matter of perspective, I suppose. I do see your point, though. I guess the bottom line is that I don’t disagree with what Tanner said here because I read it differently than you do. If I read it as you do, I’d disagree with it.

    It seems like modernly I’ve heard that doubts are okay so long as you use them to drive further seeking, pray, and study, etc. rather than just leaving the doubt to fester or worse to use it as an excuse for something. We do need a more healthy way to deal with people that are having natural doubts. I think doubts are inevitable and even healthy if handled correctly.

  14. I can empathize with Wade. I’m currently in the “keep your stupid mouth shut” stage because I’m confident it won’t be received well by my wonderful family.

    As a response to Bruce:

    I think that your interpretation of Elder Tanner’s comments aren’t terribly different than mine: it’s OK to have doubts as long as they eventually strengthen your testimony. But lingering doubts – doubts that lead one to fundamentally disagree with church doctrine – those doubts come from the devil (or at least make him happy).

    Suppose someone very close (like a child or spouse) confided in you that she has serious unresolved doubts about the church’s truth claims and no longer wishes to fellowship with the church. To what source would you attribute those doubts?

    I’m confident that many of my family members and very close friends would think the devil had me in his grasp. Perhaps it’s nothing more than folk doctrine, but it’s a very popular one and it has a significant impact on relationships between faithful and skeptical mormons.

  15. I don’t have the quotes handy, but GA’s have frequently said that we are judged by our intentions. This I believe.

    After 4 yrs seminary, 4 yrs BYU, a mission, life fell in on me. All the standard answers didn’t work, and Church increasingly became a stressful experience that brought little satisfaction and a lot of frustration. After 4 years of playing at Church I gave up and walked away. Just philosophically I couldn’t continue, my behavior changed little, except on Sunday of course. I did this for 15 years, until I heard the Lord tell me I needed to go to Church. I did for a while, keeping a very low profile. (This was in SLC so that wasn’t difficult.)

    After a while the Lord told me to go talk to the Bp about my questions. So I did. Surprisingly, he was very understanding and said he generally agreed with my concerns (dealing with organized religion). After a 3-4 sessions of that, I got engaged to a fine lady who said she would marry me anywhere I wanted, but would I mind talking 1 more time to the Bp to see what it would take to get a temple marriage. Gulp!!

    Well I did, we talked for more than an hour about the Recommend Q’s, then he said I’m going to go thru the formal Q’s and want you to answer just Yes or No.
    I did, and passed. He said a short prayer, and said that he felt the Lord said yes too. Mind you this was 15 years no church, an occassional drink, and no G’s or tithing. He asked if I could resume tithing and the G’s. I said I’d give it a go.

    All that was 14 years ago. I slowly got myself reactivated and am now mostly enjoying church.

    What kept me going through that whole thing was that I tried at any given time to follow the highest good that I knew, regardless of the church, friends or relatives. And I think that’s all the Lord asks of anybody.

  16. “And I think that’s all the Lord asks of anybody.”

    Indeed, that is what the Church is for. Christ once noted that the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath. The same is true of the Church.

    Heck, I think I may eventually do a post here on Mormon Matters on that subject, as it seems to completely slip people’s minds. Think of that as my highly orthodox contribution to this discussion.

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