This one is right in line with my earlier post, “I don’t need to listen. I’m right.”
I have watched the same phenomenon of some Mormons who take great pleasure in telling questioning, or doubting members to leave the church, and it’s always puzzled me. After all, the mission of the church is to invite people to “come unto Christ, and be perfected in Him” (Moroni 10:32), not to weed out undesirables. Unfortunately, some people have taken it upon themselves to decide who gets to stay and who must leave. I never have understood this drive to divide the body of Christ, but I think the writer gets at some of the reasons behind it:
In a way, I can understand this impulse. Mormons sacrifice a lot for their faith. We live moral standards most people are baffled by. We attend hours of church meetings every week. As young adults, we even give up eighteen months to two years of our lives, asking people every day to learn more about Christ and come unto Him. When you have done these things for God’s church, to have someone come along and question it feels like a slap in the face–especially when that questioner is not some ignorant outsider but another member who has made these sacrifices too. It is painful and sometimes scary to see people so similar to me find fault with something I love so much.
I would, however, caution against labeling all questioning and doubt as “find[ing] fault” with the church, but I that’s a minor quibble. As I wrote earlier, it’s quite easy to take offense when someone criticizes what we hold dear or sacred, and our natural “fight or flight” response is to become defensive and hostile. That’s just part of being human.
The same is true of those who have left. We feel as strongly about our reasons for leaving as Mormons feel about their reasons for belief. When members react with hostility to us and our beliefs, we can be equally as defensive and angry, and that just leads to more misunderstanding and animosity.
But most of the time what I have seen isn’t Mormons being “mean” but rather well-meaning family and friends being at a loss as to how to deal with loved ones who have rejected what Mormons hold sacred. They may ask themselves, How could someone walk away from something so beautiful and uplifting? How can they not see what I see in the church and its teachings? How can I stop them from making such a terrible mistake?
Because most Mormons have no experience dealing with the “apostasy” of a loved one, they may say or do things that seem hurtful, although they are well-intentioned. We who have left–again, speaking solely of my own experience–are extremely sensitive to criticism of our choices because we understand how painful and gut-wrenching it has been to arrive at them. We start out in a defensive position, and we may react badly, and the cycle continues. Love is the key for us, too.
What we are talking about are deeply held, highly personal beliefs that govern how we live our lives. Even the attempt to convince someone to change the way they look at life is going to be fraught with opportunities for misunderstanding and hurt. It should be obvious that starting out with hostility and rejection on either side is the wrong way to have that conversation. Love may not bring the unbeliever back, but it certainly can help relationships survive a major life change.
The thought strikes me that this essay and the earlier one from Chris Henrichsen would not have been written had there not been an increase in core members walking away from the church. There’s no stampede for the doors, but enough people are leaving to allow us to see patterns both in why they leave and how other church members respond. That the response can involve rejection and animosity may have inspired Dieter Uchtdorf’s kind and conciliatory “Come, Join with Us” talk in last October’s general conference.
Maybe President Uchtdorf wasn’t speaking so much to doubting members as he was to their staunch family and friends when he said, “my dear friends, there is yet a place for you here.” If an apostle tells me there’s room for those with questions and doubts, how can I insist they leave? Better to rejoice that they are still here and strive to love, even if their questions sometimes make me uncomfortable. After all, I don’t have to agree with someone to love them. And there are many things I’ve been wrong about in life, but choosing to love others has never failed me.
The reality for today’s LDS church is that more people are making a conscious choice to leave for a variety of reasons, and the church really has two issues to work through: How to prevent the loss of more members, and how to deal with those who do leave. I have no idea how they plan to address these issues, but it does my heart good to see both leaders and lay members promoting kindness and love. The gospel Jesus taught is about love, and love ought to trump all other considerations. John Lennon said that “love is all you need,” but really, love is all we have.