Yesterday, Bhodges had a beautiful post offering a few confessions to people who had left the church. I want to start by reiterating that I do find the post helpful and beautiful and authentic and sincere — it’s definitely a good reflection.
So, my one regret with publishing this post is that it’s prove the adage that perfect is the enemy of good — because although I certainly prefer bhodges’s perspective over how some people think of and treat inactive, disaffected, lapsed, or former Mormons (see the picture later in this article), there was definitely a line I found troubling.
In this post, bhodges notes his anxieties and worries when thinking about and dealing with those he knows who have left the church. He clearly states that his anxiety is not that their lives will be worse, but instead, as he writes:
…I worry that they’ll believe I pity them as lost souls who must be making sinful choices and disconnecting themselves from God. In fact, I don’t pity them for that. My belief that God’s mercy is deep and abiding and that eternity is a very long time suggests they’ll ultimately be fine and, more importantly, that their current experiences have value whether they unite with the church or not. So I grieve with hope.
Emphasis added. His worry is more that people who leave will assume that he, as a Mormon, thinks worse of them.
…But Since b doesn’t actually pity those who leave as sinners disconnecting them from God, then what’s the problem? Again, I will say: I think bhodges’s has a very thoughtful, nuanced, respectful perspective on this. The problem comes in that he still grieves, and he still finds sadness. As he writes later:
…Any pity on my part can feel judgmental and misplaced—especially considering the fact that someone who leaves the church can still live a good and happy life.
The truth is, I do feel sorrow when people I know leave the church. But expressions of this grief can be taken in a number of ways leading to negative side-effects. These include alienating people who choose to leave, as well as reinforcing a sense of superiority on the part of people who stay. At the most basic level, the idea is that a person who leaves is being defined according to a perceived lack on their part. Sorrowing for them makes sense according to the assumption that staying is the absolute right decision. In sorrowing, I impose my own standard on them even though I do it as an act of love. But my love is thereby revealed to be conditional. Instead of relating to a former member as still being a sister or brother in Christ, a dear friend or family member, I define myself over and against them—even if I admit that the fact that I’m still here and they aren’t seems ultimately mysterious.
I should put my sorrow in perspective. I sorrow for people stricken with cancer. I sorrow for parents who lose a child. I sorrow for suffering. In expressing sorrow for people who leave, I express judgment about their actions and the quality of their life. I categorize them with other sufferers in ways that may be untrue to their own experiences. I risk making a judgment about the likely state of their soul eternally, a judgment only God can really make and which I’ve been cautioned against making (Matthew 7:2). I cast them in the role of sufferer whether they feel like they suffer, or whether their actual suffering differs much from my own resulting from the vicissitudes of life that impact anyone (Matthew 5:45). Yes, there are some people who leave the church and who shift their values in sometimes-destructive ways, but there are church members who suffer from the same things, and there are people who leave but who maintain good values and live healthy—even Christlike—lives.
(Emphasis from original.)
I have quoted this much because b is, in my opinion, so very close, and yet there is still room to go. He notes that “someone who leaves the church can still live a good and happy life” (yes!) and that by categorizing people who leave as suffers, he is casting them in that role “whether they feel like they suffer” (or whether leaving the church caused their suffering). These are commendable statements.
But beyond that, I just want to say this:
Thanks for writing this post and putting these feelings. I can tell that you have really thought about it. And again, I think if more people in the church got to this point, maybe a lot more people could stay, or, even if they still left, they could leave on much better terms.
But please, don’t sorrow for me or other exmormons simply for having left the church. Especially don’t use the same kind of emotion for exmormons as you would for someone stricken with cancer or for a parent who has lost his or her child.
If you want to sorrow, please save sorrow for people’s actual suffering (like aforementioned cancer or aforementioned loss of family member). And chances are, your friends, family — whoever has left or even people who stay– they may suffer in some way. But think about the actual reasons they suffer. Maybe the people you know who left suffered because of the church, and leaving was their way to stop some form of suffering. In this case, why not rejoice that they left the church and rejoice that they stopped that suffering?
(For whatever its worth, I know that part of your post points out that part of your grieving and sorrow is for the church. As you say:
I grieve that I’ll miss out on their ongoing contributions to the body of Christ. I sorrow that the church can’t live up to the divine potential it seeks to achieve.
I get that. And commend it.)
And maybe some people who have left do suffer because of the church…because of what other members in the church do or say after people leave. Daniel at Good Reason blog drew it out like so:
Let’s sorrow for the fact that this happens, and work (together?) to make it less likely.
But generally, people — whether inside the church or outside the church — suffer for reasons completely different from standard seminary answers of magnifying callings and attending meetings. Maybe they have, as you put it, suffering “resulting from the vicissitudes of life that impact anyone.” Maybe these are the same things you would already provide assistance for a ward member — like helping someone move or providing a care package for someone who is sick — but here’s the thing: you can still provide to someone not in the ward, and even more, you can do so without any strings attached.
Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with (and not for) those who mourn.