What should Mormons do with friends and family members who let go the Salt Lake Church’s Iron Rod and move into the Great and Spacious Building?
I remember years ago when meeting with an older couple as their home teacher, I was struck by the answer the good sister gave me when I asked about her son …
“Oh, he’s moved into the great and spacious building for now.”
At the time I thought that was a cool-sounding way to refer to fellow Mormons who had gone inactive or actually left the Salt Lake Church.
However, the trite little phrase could not mask the pain in her voice or the pain in her eyes. I wondered if her son was merely “touring” that GASB or had actually taken up residence and intended to remain there permanently. The mother seemed to think so and was attempting to accept that, move on with her life and sadly planning on the eternity she desired – but separated from her child.
At that time as an intensely active young father with three children, I had no idea that within a few years I myself might eventually take up space in that same building. I also had no idea that my own family might painfully think of me only in the context of “where” I had gone and the “stiff-neckedness” or “hard heartedness” that had taken over my spirit.
Most Salt Lake LDS Church families – close and tight with one another as they are – include some members who have become inactive or have been lifelong inactive members. In many of these families a separation that develops often has to do with the “true churchiness” of it all – which is reflected as a perceptual difference in values, expectations and goals.
“Son (or daughter, brother, sister, spouse, etc) I’m very concerned about your eternal salvation.”
Active Mormons, for the most part are genuinely concerned about their less-active family members. After all, in a church that includes an elaborate and extensive home-teaching program in which members interact with an intent to shore each other up, it can be difficult when an inactive member who repeatedly gets tossed an eternal life-preserver keeps moving away from it.
Worse, to the devout, when a family member voluntarily leaves the Church is disfellowshipped or excommunicated, the circumstance can be perceived not only as tragic but downright dangerous – particularly if a family member becomes critical of the Church and expresses that criticism publicly.
The active family members might see such as if not only has the loved one moved into the GASB, but has also opened a booth and hung out a sign that says “Apostate,” or “Troublemaker.”
It may even be difficult in discerning whether that wayward relative is seen first as a member of the family or seen first as an apostate.
In my own case, during the early years as my questions and dissent drove an ever-growing wedge between the Church and me, I acted out the part of dissenter-turned-apostate.
I was critical, vocal to the point of outspoken and asthe active members of my extended family and Salt Lake LDS friends might tell you – downright obnoxious and annoying with my opinions.
That attitude lasted several years until one simple fact dawned on me, a fact learned from one of my brothers who – after I had started pestering him with my “new truths” – did not respond in kind. The light came on when I realized that for my brother, the Salt Lake Church was as true as it needed to be … the whole kit and caboodle of church and its programs worked for him.
…. And that was all that mattered.
Not doctrine, not dogma, not Church involvement in politics, none of those things that had totally bothered me.
If it works for active members of the Church, then that’s what matters. It is not up to me or anyone else to bring new information that – if believed – might harm that spiritual contentment without offering something equally satisfying in its place.
Much of my anger against the Salt Lake Church has dissipated perhaps with the exception of its forays into the political processes in unreasonable way or for literal-minded reasons. But that is an issue for another piece of writing.
The Salt Lake Church has an official, or semi-official stance it teaches to its members regarding those among the membership who stray. That stance might be best defined by a quote from a 1981 Conference Talk by Carlos Asay, a General Authority (one of the Presidents of the Seventy) entitled, Opposition to the Work of God,
“Avoid those who would tear down your faith. Faith-killers are to be shunned. The seeds which they plant in the minds and hearts of men grow like cancer and eat away the Spirit.
…We walk in uncharted mine fields and place our souls in jeopardy when we receive the teachings of anyone except he that is ordained of God.”
Mormons have long memories of the tragic history that includes the consequences of aggressive behavior of hostile apostates who participated or actually led ugly – even bloody – persecutions of Joseph Smith and other leaders as well as of the church membership in general.
Justifiably then there has arisen a traditional hostility to apostasy of individual members. And that automatic stance of suspicion and distrust bleeds over into an almost programmed phobia of dissent within the Church.
A phobia is described as an irrational, intense and persistent fear of certain situations, activities, things, animals, or people. The main symptom of this disorder is the excessive and unreasonable desire to avoid the feared stimulus.
Elder Asay’s quote above might be defined as an unintentional programming of a kind of Mormon social phobia, an irrational fear of dissent and dissenters.
Individual Mormons demonstrate – by their way of life – the worthwhile character of a unique way of spiritual living and attitude about life. It matters not if outsiders agree with the theology or the doctrines; the fruit of beliefs in terms of quality of life for many members is above dispute.
That quality of life, however, tends to break down, perhaps only slightly at first, when almost any form of negative is encountered. This could be justifiably assigned to the either/or and black/white absolutes of that theology and doctrine of specialness and exclusivity which – if life inside living truth is so wonderful – contrasts with a dismaying reluctance to tolerate dissent.
Whether intentional or not, the Church is seen as excessively utilizing fear as a motivator with its membership that includes – as the Asay quote demonstrates –
- a fear of enemies of the [Salt Lake] Church,
- a fear of losing one’s salvation,
- a distrust in the values or integrity found within the non-Salt Lake LDS world
and, what might be perceived as an almost pathological fear within the leadership that has to do with its members thinking independently and questioning it. It is hard to argue that all that religious rhetoric against dissent tends to program irrational fears of questioning the leadership authority.
What might that look like?
Through repetition, members are exposed to a way of thinking and outlook hard to ignore since the implication of disloyalty to the Church includes putting personal salvation at risk;
Intellectually the risk of being disfellowshipped or excommunicated is not the immediate problem. The more immediate sense is that of stepping too close to spiritual boundaries, playing with fire or exposing one’s self as more vulnerable to evil and/or Satan.
Terrible consequences can be the conscious or unconscious fear of being abandoned by the divine, an example of which is found in a lesson from the official Church website library:
“Those who apostatize lose the Spirit of God, break their covenants, and often persecute members of the Church.
Strange as it may appear at first thought, yet it is no less strange than true, that notwithstanding all the professed determination to live godly, apostates after turning from the faith of Christ, unless they have speedily repented, have sooner or later fallen into the snares of the wicked one, and have been left destitute of the Spirit of God, to manifest their wickedness in the eyes of multitudes.
… From apostates the faithful have received the severest persecutions. Judas was rebuked and immediately betrayed his Lord into the hands of His enemies, because Satan entered into him.”
The irrational fear of dissent and/or doubt is not helped by the following teaching which implies that at the moment of doubt or disagreement – when the Spirit of God is most vitally needed – it will be withdrawn. Light and knowledge promised to those who seek answers with a sincere heart and real intent will be arbitrarily and cruelly cut off and denied at the source:
“There is a superior intelligence bestowed upon such as obey the Gospel with full purpose of heart, which, if sinned against, the apostate is left naked and destitute of the Spirit of God, and he is, in truth, nigh unto cursing, and his end is to be burned.
When once that light which was in them is taken from them they become as much darkened as they were previously enlightened, and then, no marvel, if all their power should be enlisted against the truth, and they, Judas-like, seek the destruction of those who were their greatest benefactors.”
Worse, this lesson goes a long way to encourage the notion that family or not, if your loved one has doubts and expresses them or openly disagrees with or dissents from Church doctrines, policies or the opinions of Church leaders, that person has become a personal enemy of the church and by implication, it’s membership … including that person’s family.
“Renegade ‘Mormon’ dissenters are running through the world and spreading various foul and libelous reports against us, thinking thereby to gain the friendship of the world, because they know that we are not of the world, and that the world hates us; therefore they [the world] make a tool of these fellows [the dissenters]; and by them try to do all the injury they can, and after that they hate them worse than they do us, because they find them to be base traitors and sycophants [flatterers].”
One final comment on a passage in the above quote,
“we are not of the world, and that the world hates us.”
Is it hard not to almost routinely accept then the notion that Satan is still persecuting the Church which is “in the world, but not of the world?” Regarding apostasy and betrayal from former Salt Lake Mormons, if surrounded by untrustworthy people prompted by hate, the Church seems to see itself in a light that resembles what we might describe as a “Fort Apache” outlook?
Toward a loving and peaceful co-existence with loved ones who are both “IN the world and OF the world”
How many of those living outside the ideological sphere of Salt Lake influence bear an evil will or intention towards the Church?
There are in fact national evangelical Christian opponents and political activists who tend to oppose “all things Mormon” out of an overall intolerance for non-fundamentalist Christian organizations. These are in opposition to specific doctrines and practices of the Salt Lake Church and encourage their own memberships to avoid all LDS connections.
But among the inactive and disaffected there are few real “enemies” of the Church except on a very personal and non-universal basis. We might ask of the leadership if it is not time to stop grouping disaffected, inactive or former members with every openly and radical hostile opponent of the Church.
Often active Mormons who passively absorb the fear-mongering rhetoric regarding dissenters and apostates relate poorly to inactive or non-Salt Lake LDS friends and family. Secure in their programmed acceptance of the true-churchiness of their way of life, active Mormons might not understand how a mirror perception is directed in their direction by persons who were taught critical thinking and do not passively accept rhetoric expressed by authority figures.
The inside-the-Church confidence with which Salt Lake Church members live and relate – often in a subconsciously smug and condescending way – to friends and loved ones outside that saved social network may be but the sole adornment on non-existent new clothes.
When such outsiders who used to be insiders have lives that are anything but the disaster described in the Church lesson material on apostasy, that assumed reality as taught in Church lessons is worthy of question and doubt … while the reality of the lives of non-active loved ones is blindly ignored only at a risk.
Not so much among lifelong inactive Mormons but quite prevalent among former Mormons, the common thread has to do with actual questioning and searching their own lives, assumptions and motivations that underlie their own beliefs.
When they searched, pondered and prayed often what was obtained in terms of light and knowledge was closer to resolution, even reconciliation – and quite contrary to the curse of a stupor of thought predicted to fall upon those who doubt.
Often, as I believed and behaved in my early years of dissent and apostasy, I had the same judgmentally subconscious smug and condescending attitude regarding active members stuck in the “true-churchiness of it all.”
With that kind of attitude what we end up with is a polarity between two groups of persons who love each other but whose lack of spiritual harmony has become the cause of unnecessary disunity and loss of loving interaction.
What to do about that?
What sort of repentance is needed from both camps?
How to get around the differences that appear to based on absolute truths or lack of truths and just simply love one another, live and let live and stop defining each other as worthy or unworthy, saved or lost?