Mormons are a fiercely loyal group. We know this, and others know this. When I was pregnant, working full-time, and terrified of jumping into the financial insecurity of becoming a stay-at-home mom, an older co-worker I barely knew stated the obvious, “You’re a Mormon. You’ll be fine. Mormons take care of their own.”
She was right, of course. Everywhere we moved we didn’t just have a congregation ready and waiting, we had a ward family. When we had a 10-foot U-haul truck to unload and too few hands to do it, we went to the closest LDS church and found a ward directory. The Elder’s Quorum President’s wife on the other end of the phone, who we had never met, promised us a group of guys there the next morning. They were there. When my husband was hospitalized for a week, we had meals, babysitting, and yard work taken care of within record time. We clean each other’s houses, we watch each other’s kids, we commiserate, we comfort, and we mourn. We take care of each other.
Friends will betray us
President Russell M. Nelson’s Worldwide Devotional address earlier this month has garnered attention for many reasons, but there was another line that has haunted me since I watched it. He was speaking to Millennials and warning them about the difficulties on the road ahead: “You will need that strength because it will become less and less popular to be a Latter-day Saint. Sadly, some whom you thought were your friends will betray you. And some things will simply seem unfair.”
Some of our friends will betray us. In talking with others, it wasn’t long for the comeback that many members feel betrayed by church leaders right now. In reality, there was a feeling of betrayal on both sides in the wake of the handbook/policy changes.
Loyalty to the church led many to publicly voice support for the changes even before the clarification letter from the First Presidency came out. Those members knew church leaders receive inspiration for those in their stewardship. They knew the changes came from the love and concern that leaders have for members, a viewpoint confirmed by President Nelson at the devotional. And what was the reaction? The world attacked them, but that wasn’t unexpected. What hurt was that fellow churchmembers turned on them. Beloved church leaders were labeled bigots, blinded by prejudice. Churchmembers were labelled unChristlike by their peers for showing loyalty to the church’s official position, something all members are obligated to do. How could people betray their own community?
The sense of betrayal on the other side, ironically, also arose out of the fierce loyalty members have for each other. Church leaders weren’t just expressing disapproval of a lifestyle (that had clearly been stated many times before). Church leaders were declaring those who publicly committed to that lifestyle and their family members no longer members of the community. An entire group was being expelled. Members suddenly had to choose between loyalty to affected family members, friends, and other churchmembers, and loyalty to the institution. It felt so incredibly wrong. How could the leaders treat their own people this way? How could they claim that God wanted them to treat their people this way?
Different levels of betrayal
In a 2010 Deseret News article, Kristine Frederickson addressed betrayal after a bad personal experience. She separated a lesser form of “betrayal” from a more grievous “BETRAYAL.” The lesser type is what members in the first group felt: “Most of us have experienced an acquaintance or friend gossiping or saying hurtful things to others about us or those we love. This certainly is one form of betrayal and, as in all its forms, involves a violation of trust. It stings and often surprises because — more often than not — it is unexpected.”
Those on the other side, though, were reacting to the greater form of “BETRAYAL.” Frederickson explained, “This form of BETRAYAL, on a deeper level, equates to being in the ‘household of friends,’ serving and sacrificing for them, only to find that those individuals were neither friends nor upright in their actions toward you…. The level of betrayal increases when those individuals pretend to high standards of integrity and virtue, to be aboveboard in their actions and to adhere to standards of fairness and equity, yet acted duplicitously and unethically.” It’s the intensity of this more severe perception of betrayal that’s making it difficult for those in the second group to move on.
Is healing possible?
Discussion of dissent belongs elsewhere. My purpose is to highlight methods that members could use in the meantime to nurse their wounds and eventually repair the effects of a breach of trust.
Kristine Frederickson described three behaviors that helped mitigate her pain:
- Finding comfort in friends and family. “When my husband, children, family and dear friends heard what had happened they rallied around and their love and support gave me great comfort. It strengthened and deepened the bonds of love between us and thereby enriched my life.” For those who are not themselves troubled (but are dealing with those who are) take a step back and listen. Logical explanations and rationalizations are not effective at easing the emotional pain many are experiencing.
- Using religious methods that still gave her peace. “I turn to the scriptures because they comfort and provide a context for my pain… I listen to uplifting, inspiring music and I pray. I pour out my heart, and try to pray for those that have offended me. This is difficult and I often rise from my knees and forget my good intentions. But this act benefits me because continued, sincere pray decreases bitterness that would otherwise sink deep roots and chancre rather than free my soul.” Ultimately, the type of healing necessary for a breach of trust with church leaders can only come from a higher source. Period.
- Recognizing her own imperfections. “Lastly, as strange as it might seem, I try to remember times I’ve acted duplicitously and hurt others because when all is said and done we are human and we sin. We might call ourselves ‘Saints’ but we are, after all, really ‘sinners’ and Christ’s gospel is a gospel of repentance. Betrayal affords us, almost compels us, to recognize our need of the Savior and of the blessings of the Atonement. In our extremity, we can deepen our relationship with the Savior.” It’s never bad to recognize our imperfections as long as we can recognize how much good God accomplishes through us in spite of them.
 Yes, I said Deseret News. Stay with me.
 Or the futility of dissent, whatever. (Even if in a few decades leaders looked back and scratched their heads at this decision, they would never suggest that anyone did anything wrong. For example, the current description of the priesthood ban from the Mormon Newsroom: “It is not known precisely why, how or when this restriction began in the Church, but it has ended.”)