Today, we present a guest post by Brian, a commenter to the site and a non-believer with active LDS family members.
I received a letter from my brother-in-law the other day. I am a convert to the church of 41 years and currently inactive. I went on a mission a year-and-a half after joining. From there, I was married in the temple and have had five sons, three of whom served missions. I have served in three bishoprics, have been an EQP and stake clerk.
My brother-in-law is a life-long member of the church, married in the temple with four children. He is in his 60s, a graduate of BYU and has a Masters degree in business from UCLA. He is not good with people — a fact that his wife fully acknowledges. That is partially the reason that even with his education he works only part-time at a local nursery, although the family has significant financial problems.
I have a gay son and live in California. We lived through Prop 8, although my wife and two sons did not spiritually survive it. My disaffection from the church coincided with Prop 8, but stemmed from historical and doctrinal problems of the church that I have studied extensively for most of my church life.
My brother-in-law and I have exchanged two letters before this current one. His first letter was a very nicely worded letter stating that he wished I would reconsider my activity in the church and consider the ramifications on my family. He wrongly assumed it was Prop 8 fallout and was certain I would return to the fold once the raw nerves of that situation healed. I responded to him a year or so later explaining that my disagreements with the church went deeper and had been developing for decades. As part of that letter, I told him I was not interested in discussing the issue further because the feelings on the church are so intense for both of us and those feelings are so different.
What follows is the text of the recently-received letter of October 3, 2011:
“This is in answer to your last letter. I appreciate your filling me in on what’s been going on with you over the past couple of years, and I of course respect your right to believe what you will believe. At the same time, it tears me up to witness your loss of testimony. It’s like a death in the family to me. I feel more comfortable putting my ideas in writing than discussing them with you in person—I think it’s easier to stay calm and respectful this way. Just as I chose not to take offense at your comment “…I felt like I had to check my brain at the door (at church)”, I ask for your indulgence with my perhaps clumsy wording and/or arguments. I don’t mean to give offense.
“I find that the Church’s influence in society is overwhelmingly positive, life-affirming, and beneficial, more so than any other religious or secular organization I can think of. Likewise, it demands and receives from its lay members a (voluntary) level of commitment unmatched, as far as I know, with any similar organization. We are always going to have problems and challenges; that is part of life and growth. If you look for negativity, you will find what you are looking for. But to concentrate on the negative while overlooking the positive is to me short sighted. It seems like you have a particular axe to grind.
“I know that I have not read all that you have read that led you to your present system of belief, or lack thereof. And frankly, I’m not interested in doing so. You state that you don’t believe that Joseph Smith was who he claimed to be. It seems to me that there is little or no middle ground among scholars on the issue of Joseph Smith. If you are LDS with a testimony of the Restoration, you treat him with reverence and gratitude. If you’re a non-believer, especially if you are an ex-Mormon (a la Fawn Brodie), you have “scholarship” based on anti-Mormon sources, some of which have been around since the 1830s, while ignoring all the positive evidences that point to his divine calling. Actually, this is one more fulfillment of prophecy. As you recall, Moroni told Joseph that his name would be had for good and ill among all nations of the earth. When modern “scholars” reference their works about the church to some of the 19th century works, I would have to take them with a grain of salt.”
At this part of the letter, he addresses some of my arguments regarding man’s 6,000 year existence and the Universal Flood, citing God’s omnipotence. He then gives a couple of testimony-related experiences.
“The Lord is certainly directing His work. These experiences (the testimonial experiences he related in the prior paragraphs not included here) are not at all unusual among those who are engaged in His work.
“I believe, as you once believed, that spiritual discernment must occur through study, fasting, and prayer. I know you have read much and studied much. What would you say would be the ratio of the hours you spent reading the writings of worldly authors versus the hours you spend in studying the scriptures, fasting, and prayer? Or did you give up early on tuning in to the Spirit for inspiration regarding truth and light and substitute the pursuit of worldly knowledge for spiritual effort: If you chose a worldly methodology, it’s not surprising that you came to a worldly conclusion. I’m sorry to be so blunt, but if this is the case, then you closed the door to spiritual knowledge and hardened your heart to the promptings of the Spirit.
“Again, I certainly don’t dispute your absolute right to believe what makes sense to you. But please answer one question—what if you’re wrong? What if the Gospel which you believed in for decades is, in fact, true and you are letting worldly writings destroy your faith? What damage are you doing to your family to your wife and the boys and to your grandchildren?
“I admit that when you first hit me with your experiences, my first reaction was to question my own faith. But when I thought about the sum total of my experiences, the knowledge I have of the Church’s history, doctrine, and benevolent influence in the world, the questioning was cut short. My faith in the truthfulness of the Gospel is rock solid. I pray that you may reconsider your position.
“I remain always your brother.”
It should be stated that he has no idea what I have read to arrive at where I am today. I have never shared that with him. When I first read this letter, I was not going to reply. When I briefly discussed it with his wife — an active LDS member — and explained to her how some of the things mentioned bothered me, she said I viewed the letter negatively because I am “negative”.
I realize that the readers of Wheat and Tares don’t have all the background between family members, but I am interested in your feelings on this correspondence and how you would respond if you were in my position.