Last week we had a really good conversation on Blaming Parents vs. Mourning with Those Who Mourn. I asked an online friend Robert Trishman (@RobTmanJr on Twitter), who is a convert from Catholicism, to share some of his thoughts with me about what happened when he left his childhood faith. I think the way he described changes to his faith and dealing with family apply to my own shift in gospel perspective, as well.
Nobody can control what you believe. You can’t control what anyone else believes. What can we control? How we react when someone takes a different path than we would.
It’s natural to have a visceral reaction when someone disagrees with something we hold dear, especially faith — and especially when someone who once agreed with your faith no longer does. I shouldn’t have been surprised that my family was shocked that I was making such a drastic change. Their reaction wasn’t “oppression” or “persecution” it was natural. My conversion came seemingly out of nowhere.
So across the spectrum, we need to allow for that initial reaction. But after that, I believe that faithful Latter-day Saints can be challenged to do better — just like I could have done better in the way I reacted back to my family, much better. Among the biggest regrets I have in life are some of my actions and words toward them at the time.
A child/friend/relative says he or she is leaving the LDS Church. OK, get that initial reaction out of the way. Then, do your best to understand — you don’t have to agree, just do your best to understand. As St. Francis of Assisi (doing the “bring all the good you have” thing from my Catholic background here) said in his famous prayer: “O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek to be understood, as to understand.”
Mormon families send their sons and daughters out to serve missions in the hopes of bringing people into the Church. When that happens, there is much rejoicing. But that most often means that the person who has come into the Church leaves another faith to do so. That will sadden some of the convert’s family and friends, while those supporting the missionary are celebrating. But when the journey of faith leads one out of the Church, there is sorrow among Mormon family and friends. Is the sorrow necessary?
We revere those who endure hardship, ostracism, disowning — someone I taught on my mission found a place to live before he told his family he was joining the LDS Church, he knew it was coming — and other challenges to accept the restored gospel. But people who leave Mormonism face those same things. People call it out as hypocritical, and I believe they’re correct. I would obviously be a hypocrite if I were angry with my children over a change in faith.
If, as the adage goes, you will face opposition for doing the right thing, and if leaving the Church is the one of the most wrong things to do, then by that logic leaving should be the easiest thing in the world with no opposition whatsoever. But the harrowing experiences of many with the negative reactions people have endured from family and friends show that’s clearly untrue.
If you think my opinion is oversimplifying, so be it, but here it is: The only possible need for sorrow when someone departs from your faith is if you think they have sealed their fate of damnation. I do not see this being the case in LDS theology. I do not see a call for despair merely because someone’s beliefs have changed. God is bigger than that. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is more powerful than that.
LDS teaching on baptism, particularly that little children do not need it and are basically guaranteed salvation, was a major doctrinal factor in my conversion. Mormon’s words in Moroni 8 seem harsh toward the practice of baptizing little children. It’s my opinion that it he’s not necessarily railing against the rite in and of itself, but rather any lack of trust in God. This is the same prophet who, in the previous chapter, decries any attitude that says miracles will cease or that angels will cease to minister among the children of men. He’s not a fan of beliefs that put limits on what the Lord Omnipotent can do.
So let’s temper the doom and gloom over those who leave the faith. I’m not saying anyone has to do cartwheels or throw parties, but we should never ostracize, disown, or make unfair assumptions about people’s actions just because their beliefs have changed or — for whatever reason — they decide they don’t want to be part of the Church anymore. Respect the principle of agency — it’s what allows you to believe as you do, and others to make their own choices. Respect the fluid nature of faith — do you believe the exact same things you did 10 years ago?
And above all, trust in God and His matchless LOVE and power.