Dear 100 Hour Board,
I am writing regarding Board Question #90363, which posted yesterday.
As you may know, I myself left the church in 2009. I drink, I have a tattoo, and I've cohabitated with a partner in the past. I'm also a gay woman who dates. I've had a lot of uncomfortable experiences with my family, and I basically don't share anything real with any of them, ever. It's very hard to cope with, even years later, even though there is rarely aggressive, open antagonism toward me anymore. I very keenly feel the plight of the asker's sister, as when I left the church I was overwhelmed with thoughts about how my family would be sad my marriage wasn't in the temple should I ever get married. (When I left the church I identified as bisexual. Later, as I started dating more women and realized that I wanted to end up with a woman, I was overwhelmed by thoughts that my family may not attend my wedding at all.)
I therefore appreciated some of the advice that said that these relationships are hard. I agree that there is no easy fix and that no one ever gets to tell someone else how to feel. What I am going to ask about is the opinion from Anne, Certainly and possibly other writers that feeling separated from one's family following a faith crisis is a Godly incentive to return to the church, and that it would be wrong for an active LDS person to try to mitigate this.
If you do believe this, what is the basis for it? I know that there were disclaimers about this belief not necessarily being doctrinal, but they were still published on a website on a BYU server for (potentially vulnerable) people to read, so I'm wondering what the basis for it is. Christ asked us to mourn with those that mourn, and the single greatest mourning I have ever done surrounded my faith crisis. I am still mourning, and I suspect I will mourn until the day I die. If there had been any way for me to stay an active LDS person, I would have. I tried. I could not, however, and I was not met with any support from my family. I was met with platitudes and grandstanding. This is very damaging and it effectively ruined all my familial relationships.
This is especially relevant to me as an LGBTQ person. The suicide rate for young adults in Utah has tripled in the past eightish years, while none of the other normal indicators of suicidality have tripled. This has led many to the conclusion that it has a lot to do with young LGBTQ Mormons feeling that they will surely be rejected by their families and their faith. Feeling emotionally separated from one's family is a big, fat, traumatic deal, so is it okay to feel like being emotionally separate from one's family is just an eternal consequence of leaving the church?
As an LDS person, I was very frequently asked to be humble. To me, this has always meant being willing to assume that I don't know everything, even when I feel very sure about something. People who leave the church generally feel it was the best way forward for them (I certainly do), and that they are happier now than they were when they were in the church. I understand how active LDS people value their testimonies, but is it possible to hold open the door just enough to believe that it isn't the best way for everyone? If not, what does humility mean to you?
If I were to feel sad during my sister's temple wedding, for example, even if I weren't being demonstrative about it, would you feel that was fair to my sister? What if a friend from a Muslim family converted to Mormonism and their family treated them this way? Does any of that feel less comfortable than a Mormon person being sad for their inactive family member?
- The Black Sheep
Dear The Black Sheep,
I think that the responses below are sufficient to answer your actual question. I just have this weird compulsion to point out things that don't make sense to me. I'm sorry if it's totally irrelevant, but I hope that you can sympathize with the need to offer unsolicited comments.
I, like you, have seen people come to the conclusion that the increased suicide rate among young adults in Utah has a lot to do with the way Church members and leadership act toward LGBTQ issues. However, from the data that I have seen presented with respect to that issue, coming to that conclusion is wrong. It isn't impossible that LGBTQ issues are a major (or the major) reason for that rise in suicide rate, but to infer that merely from the fact that suicide has become more frequent in the general population is to assume that straight people aren't allowed to have depression or feel suicidal.
These are important issues to think about and deal with, but let's get some good data before jumping to conclusions.
I wanted to go ahead and respond to this question. It's easier for me to break things down, so I'll do that and hope that I'm reaching the overall matter as well as some of the specific questions you posed about it. (Please note: I've taken pieces of your question to address below, but the bolded text passages do not include your question in its entirety. However, no text is removed within a bolded passage unless indicated by ellipses.)
Out of Order to Address First: "I know that there were disclaimers about this belief not necessarily being doctrinal, but they were still published on a website on a BYU server for (potentially vulnerable) people to read, so I'm wondering what the basis for it is."
I try to be quite careful about disclaiming my personal thoughts as such because of the purpose and audience of the Board and especially because of the BYU aspect. That answer represented my thoughts and opinions (which are fallible) and so will this one. I will try to explain my thoughts so that people can understand my reasoning and consider whether they consider my logic to be sound. Whether my premises are accurate and my conclusions correct is a matter that requires personal evaluation of moral propositions. It's impossible for me to eliminate writing that could have any potential to hurt or affect a reader if I'm going to answer sensitive questions in a meaningful way. However, I hope that I can write in a way that clarifies why I think the way I do so that others can make their own decisions about why they should ignore me, or otherwise react to my writing in a way that's productive for all involved. To the extent that I failed that the first time around: I apologize. Hopefully this answer can clarify my thoughts so that all readers can decide what merit they feel these comments and my previous comments merit (even if that is "none.")
I’m also grateful that we’ve successfully moved to 100hourboard.org away from our former address (though I think we’ll likely experience less traffic, which is too bad.) I think that it makes our unofficial, personal-opinion nature even clearer, because I'll confess to some discomfort at times posting my own opinions on our prior web address given the apparent connection, despite all our attempts at disclaimers.
"What I am going to ask about is the opinion from Anne, Certainly and possibly other writers that feeling separated from one's family following a faith crisis is a Godly incentive to return to the church, and that it would be wrong for an active LDS person to try to mitigate this."
There are two critical aspects to the way you've summarized the idea under discussion. The first is that "feeling separated from one's family following a faith crisis is a Godly incentive to return to the church." I think this might be an accurate statement, depending on what you mean by a "Godly incentive." If you mean that "God will permit us to feel this way as a natural consequence of actions that separate us from Him" and that such a consequence may result in re-evaluation, repentance, and return, then that's probably accurate. I do want to go to the next section of this comment, though, for another (I believe, incorrect) definition of "Godly incentive."
So the second part: "It would be wrong for an active LDS person to try to mitigate this." I don't think this correctly captures the spirit of what I believe (so if this is what I communicated in the previous answer, I hope I can clarify.) This distinction is where most of my comments ongoing will focus: I do believe that God permits us to experience consequences. To my understanding, this is a fairly noncontroversial proposition from a LDS theological standpoint. However, I also believe that circumstances in which mortal individuals are responsible for imposing God’s consequences on others are limited, and we should never presume that we are acting for God in either determining or imposing consequences when we have not in fact been given such responsibility. I personally think it likely that situations where this does occur will often involve stewardships: for example, a parent’s stewardship over their child or a bishop’s stewardship over their ward member.
So, can it be a consequence? Yes. Can it be a consequence that God permits, one result of which may be a decision to change and return unto Him? Yes. Does that mean that anyone will ever be excused for failing to love someone else or for wronging someone else because they decided that it was their job to withhold love? No. To elaborate:
"If you do believe this, what is the basis for it?"
I think that one purpose for consequences is to encourage us to feel Godly sorrow in the hopes that we will repent. My understanding of LDS theology is that God is God because His character is perfectly in line with independently existing righteous values and characteristics. (See The Euthyphro dilemma, which I believe resolved by LDS theology as "loved...because it is pious").
We know that God cannot tolerate sin (to be distinct from "chooses not to.") On the other side, He is bound by the covenants He has made with us regarding what we need to do to qualify for salvation (assuming our obedience to those covenants). If we meet our end of the covenants, which includes repenting when we fail, He cannot fail to give us what He has promised.
I think that means we live in a world where our disobedience to covenants (or our sin) of necessity separates us from God even though He loves us and doesn't want to be apart from us. (I didn't invent this idea, so credit to all my theological influences till now and such). We are then also likely separated from those who are seeking to become as God is, since they presumably will not be able to tolerate sin either once they become fully exalted and are already in the process of becoming intolerant of sin.
"Christ asked us to mourn with those that mourn, and the single greatest mourning I have ever done surrounded my faith crisis. I am still mourning, and I suspect I will mourn until the day I die. If there had been any way for me to stay an active LDS person, I would have. I tried. I could not, however"
Some of the fundamental beliefs I have that underlie my understanding of this are in opposition to what you’ve stated here, so I’m going to comment on those; that being the case, I don't know how any of this applies to you as an individual and it's not my place to guess or judge. It is also absolutely your right to disagree with me.
I do take issue with the implication that it is in certain circumstances impossible to live the Gospel. Your statements were about “stay[ing] an active LDS person,” which is not necessarily the same thing as living the Gospel of Christ in that being “active LDS” might be read to include lots of cultural stuff, as opposed to what we might characterize as “pure religion and undefiled.” So, I can agree that being “active LDS” might be impossible if you define "active LDS" to include non-Gospel cultural expectations. However, I don't think that's how we should define Church activity or our spiritual relationship with God. I think that it is fundamental that living the Gospel is not impossible for anyone, (see, e.g.) because a requirement that some of God's children could not meet with the help of the Savior would destroy His justice, His Church, and His Plan.
"I was not met with any support from my family. I was met with platitudes and grandstanding. This is very damaging and it effectively ruined all my familial relationships."
This is tragic: loss or damage to close relationships is awful. Furthermore, I'm not going to defend the actions of someone who didn't act in love towards you when you were struggling or in pain. I wasn't there and can't evaluate what happened in your relationships, but I'm confident that Christ expects more of us in our behavior towards those who struggle than "platitudes and grandstanding." In my own times of struggle I've been blessed with support from those important to me, and I am sorry that your experience wasn't like that.
"Feeling emotionally separated from one's family is a big, fat, traumatic deal, so is it okay to feel like being emotionally separate from one's family is just an eternal consequence of leaving the church?"
This is one of those questions that goes back to a fundamental truth claim. If the Church is true and the principles it teaches are correct, then it is accurate and probably unavoidable that some level of separation will result when individuals leave the Church while their family members make and keep covenants that will lead them to qualify for specific blessings. It’s not my job to say what that separation will look or feel like but I know it will be consistent with the plan of God, who is perfectly merciful and fair.
However, I want to push back against the word ‘just,’ which seems to imply that because this is a natural consequence it is somehow less tragic. It is absolutely still a “big, fat, traumatic deal.” It is arguably the biggest, fattest, and most traumatic deal because “the family is central to the Creator’s plan” (emph. added). This is a huge part of why the Church spends huge amounts of effort on vicarious temple work and missionary work and member retention and pretty much everything else it does: because separation of loving families is a horrible thing and it's important for everyone to have the opportunity to be with their family forever. God doesn’t want separation from family for anyone, and neither should we.
"People who leave the church generally feel it was the best way forward for them (I certainly do), and that they are happier now than they were when they were in the church. I understand how active LDS people value their testimonies, but is it possible to hold open the door just enough to believe that it isn't the best way for everyone?"
I might be wrong about this, but I don’t really think it is possible to hold the door open that way because the Church doesn’t hold itself out as a “better way” to live life; it is and proclaims to be the only way for us to attain salvation and exaltation. I’ll explain more of my thoughts here in response to your related question:
"If not, what does humility mean to you?"
I think (in a fairly typical LDS view, I believe) that humility requires one to be open to being taught. However, I also believe that there are certain issues on which we have already been taught, and taught by those with direct authority from God and with His instruction on what they should teach. On those issues, while it’s important to remain open to the possibility of continuing revelation from God through His authorized servants, I don’t think it’s necessary or even appropriate to be open to the doubts or disagreements of others in order to be humble. I want to push back against any implication that humility requires us to question everything, because I think that there are some things that are established firmly enough that humility doesn’t require us to retain room for doubt engendered by the opinions of non-prophetic or non-Divine sources. An incredibly basic illustration of what I’m getting at: if Christ in the Book of Mormon (and Bible) instructed us that we are not supposed to lust after someone else’s wife, there’s no room for considering a modern commentator's alternate theories of what standard we’re going to be held to on that issue.
"If I were to feel sad during my sister's temple wedding, for example, even if I weren't being demonstrative about it, would you feel that was fair to my sister? What if a friend from a Muslim family converted to Mormonism and their family treated them this way? Does any of that feel less comfortable than a Mormon person being sad for their inactive family member?"
Would it be fair for you to be non-demonstratively sad about your sister’s temple wedding? That probably depends on why you were feeling sad and also what you mean by “fair.” Honest belief that someone you love has made a mistake with serious, potentially eternal consequences, rationally leads to mourning. Because of my personal position, I’d say that some of these sadnesses are more necessary than others: for example, because I’m a Latter-day Saint rather than a Muslim, I don’t think the Muslim family's concerns are founded on accurate principles. That means that the fear is rational for them to feel, but from my view not necessary. However, their sadness is rational and results from love for the person they see as risking consequences. It is less comfortable when it's someone else's belief system, but that's again pretty unavoidable since LDS theology is monopolistic on access to all truth. The Muslim family (if they have a similar view of having all truth, while others don't) would presumably consider anxieties by Mormons about violations of Mormon commandments as unnecessary.
So: if you were feeling sad about your sister's temple wedding because she was marrying a jerk, or marrying without understanding the commitment she was making, or marrying because she just felt like it was her only chance, that would be totally "fair." She'd be making a choice that could harm her and eventually prevent her from being happy.
Our first commandment is to love God, and our second is to love each other. I can understand that the sadness displayed and felt by active members towards family members or friends who have left the Church could feel presumptuous or hurtful in the face of another's happiness. However, asking others to not feel sadness for our decisions requires one of two things: that they stop caring about what happens to us, or that they stop believing what they believe about the consequences of our decisions, and that is a problem. We should always, always be acting to others out of love, I think you and I just have a different understanding of what sort of behavior that will result in.
If you're interested in discussing this more, shoot me a message on Facebook or at my personal email (having trouble with my board email at the moment.)
Dear Black Sheep,
It seems as though the portion of Anne's answer that you are referencing is the following (and I'm just going to address my answer in terms of this quote, so if I found the wrong one for the purposes of your question, I apologize):
However, I'd like to end on a hopeful note: even negative emotions God allows us to experience can have positive purposes. In this case, the feelings of separation and sadness are a consequence of choices that you understand, based on divine principles, do not bring lasting happiness. God probably doesn't want to eliminate those feelings, because doing so would really eliminate incentives for people to reconsider their choices and return to Him. I'm NOT suggesting that we should ever take joy in the suffering people undergo because of poor choices, but I do suggest that in the grand scheme of things we can have hope because God has set up His plan in such a way that we experience consequences for our choices now, while we still have time in our lives to change who we are and what we do through the Atonement.
The basic message of the quote above this, as I see it, is that no matter the situation, we have cause to hope for the best. Of course, what defines "best" is going to be different from person to person, and I'm not saying that one person's best is going to agree with another's. Still, there's a potential for positivity to arise from negativity. However, just because that potential exists does not imply that we should actively cultivate the negative.
I think it's amazing how good can come out of the darkest of circumstances. To me, Elizabeth Smart is a prime example of this phenomenon: she uses her utterly terrible experience of being kidnapped and held captive to enact positive change, and help other people who have gone through similar torments. Recognizing this presence of good does not mean that what happened to Elizabeth Smart was good. Similarly, good can come out of emotional anguish, but again, that absolutely does not mean we should seek/promote such anguish.
To put this in the context of your question, I think that despite the potential for negative emotions to possibly bring someone back into the Church, people should never try and cultivate such emotions. We should always strive to love, and show love for other people, which definitely includes mourning with those that mourn in every circumstance, like leaving the Church. Unfortunately, we often fall short, and even fail miserably at this, but that doesn't undermine the integrity of the ideal.
That said, God's role is different from our role (and before I go further in this line, note that I am an active member of The Church, and thus will be responding in accordance with my belief system, of which God is a central figure).There are times where it behooves His purposes for His children to suffer. In fact, one of the main points of mortality is that we feel sorrow, pain, anguish—the entire gamut of negative emotions. Thus, I wouldn't be surprised if He does encourage extra sorrow in certain circumstances. But I firmly believe that whenever God does allow such pain to burden our lives, it is always for our good. Being omniscient, He knows exactly what experiences we most need to grow, and has the power to act in accordance with that knowledge. Acknowledging this power of God's is very different from trying to replicate it.
We aren't perfect, we aren't omniscient, or all-loving like God is. Thus, even though we can take comfort in presently bad circumstances giving rise to better situations, we shouldn't try and take on God's role of inspiring sorrow to enact change in another person.
Dear Black Sheep,
I've spent quite a while pondering over your question and Anne and Anathema's answers as well as drafting (and deleting) various responses. I don't think that necessarily makes my answer substantive, but I want you to know that this question is really important to me and that I tried.
I agree that empathy - not a platitude or a grandstanding gesture - is the proper response to another's crisis. That your family reacted the way they did to you feels very wrong to me. I am so sorry. I think people should cherish each other no matter what.
And with regard to humility, I agree that there is room to be humble about how we reason. There are many unknowns, and God's logic may well not be like the logic of most humans. I hope that it isn't. Joseph Smith was quoted as saying: "Our heavenly Father is more liberal in His views, and boundless in His mercies and blessings than we are ready to believe or receive." I think it is justifiable to leave room for the possibility that many people who leave the church are genuinely doing the best that they can.
Dear Black Sheep,
I just want to repeat Sheeb's message of loving all, regardless of their views. My boyfriend, minnow, converted to the Church in his teens but didn't tell his parents until several years later, because he had seen how upset his parents were with his sister when she had converted. When he finally told his parents, they reacted with anger and sadness. They think he betrayed his beliefs and culture, and minnow still feels guilty and upset by the pain he's caused his family.
While minnow and I are understanding towards his parents' reaction, when I tell this story to Mormons, their typical response is anger at his parents' actions and support for minnow following his beliefs. Yet when the story is switched to a Mormon leaving the Church, the same people find excuses for the parents' behavior and believe the child's sadness show that the action was wrong. If you're a good person, you will feel hurt by taking actions against your family's wishes, whether it be in religion, schooling, employment, marriage, etc. because you love them and you want to make them happy. Does that mean your actions are wrong? Not necessarily. Now that minnow and I are starting to think about marriage, I'm feeling guilty about wanting a temple marriage because minnow's parents will not be able to attend, and I know that will break their hearts. Does that make temple marriage wrong? I certainly hope not.
I am grateful to Anne, Certainly and all the other writers for their opinions, and for you, Black Sheep, for pushing back. I think there are far too many things in our LDS/American/human culture that go unsaid that we need to address. Only by speaking out about these things can we start a conversation and begin to understand others' views.
-guppy of doom