As I have gone through my faith crisis and then into my faith transition I have looked for those that have gone through somewhat analogous transitions to see what I can learn from them. I have also looked into the how’s and why’s of belief. My investigations have been quite varied and I have found them very enjoyable and much more relateable than if I would have reviewed the same material back 10 years ago.
One very interesting podcast I have listened to is from Bart Campolo. Bart’s father, Tony is Campolo, is well-known as one of the most influential leaders in the Evangelical left and has been a major proponent of progressive thought and reform within the evangelical community. Bart was following in his father’s footsteps, but then converted to secular humanism. What is interesting about Bart’s story is how well he and his father have continued to have a strong and loving relationship despite their differences. They have even just created a film about it “Leaving My Father’s Faith” (trailer here) that I am interested in seeing.
As warm as this is, it stands in stark contrast to many of the stories from those that have left the LDS faith and the relationships with their believing friends, and especially family. Just pull up the ex-mormon reddit sub and you most likely find at least 1 of the 25 postings on the first expressing some sort of emotion, from sadness to all-caps anger, about how they are unable to have a healthy relationship with their family. It is sad.
There is plenty of blame to go around to both sides. Believing and former members alike are guilty of not respecting boundaries, not showing appropriate respect for others differing beliefs, and not trying enough to “suck it up” a bit for the relationship.
On this subject I was glad to hear what Richard Bushman had to say when Blair Hodges interviewed him on the Maxwell Institute Podcast episode #75 “To be Learned is Good.” At about 40:44 into the podcast you will hear this following exchange:
BH: What do you offer people, what kinds of ideas or thoughts do you offer to people who decide to step away from the church, decide to step away from Mormonism? And also to loved ones of people who have stepped away.
RB: Well, people will often come to me when there is a son in law on the verge of leaving the church and they are hoping I can say something that will turn them around. I have decided after a decade of doing this that I can’t. You know there is no argument I can give. I try to argue with them – It goes nowhere. It is like bible bashing in the mission field. It never gets anywhere. So I don’t do much of that. I agree with the facts of what people say. All these things did happen, so I don’t confute those things. What I wanted at first was to see the possibility there might be another way of looking at them. You don’t have to see them as damning. But now, I think more about this person’s life and what that person’s life and what that person’s life is going to be like if they leave the church. How are they going to fill that hole, mend the relationship with their spouse or their mother or someone or other.
I have seen members that have so much fear of what will happen to their non-believing family members that they push others away with this fear. And it is too common for those that no longer believe to be more invested in convincing believing members they need to stop believing in the LDS church. This reminds me of a comment I read in the Ensign that would be good for these members to read and take to heart.
A prophet of God once offered me counsel that gives me peace. I was worried that the choices of others might make it impossible for our family to be together forever. He said, “You are worrying about the wrong problem. You just live worthy of the celestial kingdom, and the family arrangements will be more wonderful than you can imagine.” (https://www.lds.org/ensign/2016/08/the-hope-of-eternal-family-love)
We do see examples of members that love no matter what their child’s faith or orientation, such as Tom Christofferson’s family. The Christofferson’s are not totally unique, but not as common as it needs to be.
For most readers of this blog, I could go on and on, but most will all have seen this themselves.
So what can be done about this? How can each side move past this?
He had a sectioned titled, “What you Should Do” where he is talking to church members.
The answer is simple: Stop trying to get them to come back to church! Just love them.
And this is certainly a case where what is good for the goose is good for the gander.
For those that have left the church, respect where your believing family and friends are in relation to the church. Stop trying to deconvert them. Just love them.
Terryl Givens had several suggestions on this topic also when he was on the LeadingLDS podcast. He suggested 3 items. (a) Try to have empathy and specifically he suggests trying to “feel” and not just “fix” the non-believer. (b) Bearing testimony does not answer questions, which Elder Ballard has said those days are gone. (c) Don’t criminalizing doubt.
I was listening to Hidden Brain podcast a week or so ago and they were covering the topic of “Counting Other People’s Blessings“. They touched on Schadenfreude (the pleasure derived from the misfortunes of others) and I did think how I have seen that in play. I am sure it goes both ways, but I will admit I have seen this more when “life” just occurs to someone that has left the church. When something bad occurs to a member it is explained simply as “a trial of faith” with no moral connotation. But when someone has left the faith a similar occurrence of misfortune is too often explained smugly as, “see what happens when you leave the church and no longer receive the blessings that come with it!”
The steps that can help on both sides of this issue can be hard to do. In most cases it will take both groups backing off a bit if the relationships are to be preserved.
So in your opinion:
Who needs to change more? The believing members or the former/disenfranchised? Or is that not even a question we should spend time on?
What are some suggestions you have seen successful?
Main picture By Tobias Alt – Own work, GFDL, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3064756