I have sometimes met fellow church members who, where their personality would normally be, they just have the church. They don’t seem to have anything to talk about that isn’t the church. Everything they think about is the church. They name-drop the important church leaders they have met or heard in person, thinking this is going to create a connection with me as a fellow church member. They quote a leader as if those thoughts have become their own by association. They talk about themselves and their family members only in terms of the life milestones that have become colloquially known as “the covenant path”: marriage, missions, baptism, callings.
I have also met ex-Mormons who are kind of the same, but in relation to their newfound freedom as post-Mormons. They are excited to talk about coffee, alcohol, even sexual adventures (depending on the group of people), their family’s benighted TBMness, their new wardrobe, their Sunday freedom. That’s all a part of life, I suppose. This specifically feels like a phase in the process of stepping away from something that was so all-consuming.
I’ve definitely met both Mormons and non-Mormons who were not like this, too. Some people replace their individuality with church membership, base their relationships on it (or their separation from it), and others don’t. They have interests, opinions, experiences, and hobbies that are their own. They don’t see everything through a Mormon filter.
One of the key foundational strategies Christian Kimball discusses in his new book Living on the Edge of Inside is something he refers to as personal differentiation. The risk of not differentiating is that you fall into a binary trap: either you accept everything you are told and conform to it, or you leave. Is this due to their own personality or to the Church’s encouragement? Kimball posits that it is due to maturity.
When I was twelve, I read a short story in one of those magazines that young girls read voraciously at the time. Maybe it was Cosmopolitan (which didn’t used to be exclusively articles about 57 ways to orgasm), or maybe it was something targeted slightly younger like Teen Beat. The story was about a girl who was 11 or 12 who, for the first time ever, noticed that her parents were not perfect. They spoke to each other with an edge in their voice sometimes. Her mother, who she had always thought was beautiful and perfect, had crooked lipstick. These little glimpses at the imperfections of her parents were the author’s way of capturing the girls’ budding differentiation process. When you first see that your parents are not what you thought they were, you begin to think about your own identity as well. You start to realize that your identity is not the same as theirs. It’s a life-long process.
Has someone ever told you that your actions didn’t “reflect” well on them, implying that it was your responsibility to protect their reputation, and that they could be damaged by your (separate, non-harmful) actions? That points to a differentiation issue. If you are responsible for their reputation, that means you are not fully a separate individual. This seems to come up most often in families, but also in the Church. The Church may withdraw your membership if your stake president or higher up decides that what you say or do “reflects” badly on them. Of course, the argument could just as easily be made that shining light on bad things is not the fault of the light, but of the bad things. But this is really about differentiation. I’ve often said that they can correlate the manuals, but they can’t correlate the contents of my head. I know stuff. I have ideas.
For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways.Isaiah 55: 8
A ward member was teaching a YM lesson years ago and asked the class, which included my son, what was the most precious possession they had. Obviously, that’s one of those incredibly vague fishing questions that’s destined to fail. He got answers like “the atonement,” “our testimony,” and “scriptures.” I mean, really, what did he expect? Well, he expected the answer he finally blurted out in exasperation, “No! Your family name!” This was a guy from a Mormon pedigreed family, with a name that was familiar to every church member, natch. Regardless, it was a strange thing to call the family name your most prized posession when 51% of the population is encouraged to give it up like it’s nothing when they marry. But it also points to a differentiation issue. Not everyone with the same family or family name is the same. You don’t immediately gain cachet because you have one famous relative. What about the content of your (individual) character?
As an adult, I ran into the Sunday School teacher I had as a 13-year old. I apologized for how terrible we were as a class, baiting him with embarrassing questions, disrupting lessons, reading the dirty parts of books in the back of the classroom, etc. He held up a finger and said in a ponderous voice “Never apologize for these behaviors. They are necessary in the process of growing up! You must learn to create your own identity, and this is all part of that process.” He was always one of the wisest people I knew, a college professor of economics who had come to the US from Guyana to teach.
Growing up, my best friend’s mom who was a divorced ex-Mormon had the opening to the Gestalt Prayer tacked up in her kitchen. I read it many many times as a child and older.
I am not in this world to live up to your expectations, And you are not in this world to live up to mine. You are you and I am I; If by chance we find each other, it’s beautiful.Gestalt Prayer
The first time I read it, I found it kind of shocking. Weren’t we taught at Church, especially as women, to be selfless, to give up our lives to “save” our lives? Wasn’t it selfish to want things, to be ourselves? Didn’t Jesus sacrifice Himself for all of us, and shouldn’t we also do likewise?
But we were also taught that we had to gain all the knowledge that we could so that one day we could become gods, like our Father, and run our own planets. And to do that, we couldn’t just go through life doing what we are told. You don’t become a leader by simply taking orders. You have to differentiate yourself from the group. You have to, as an individual, have something unique to offer.
The temple ceremony seemed to be a mark against differentiation. We were supposed to agree to give up everything to further the church, time, talents, our very lives if necessary. And the harder thing than dying for the Church is living for it. Literally choosing to suborn your life completely to whatever the thing is the Church wants or expects.
The problem is that’s not healthy, and it’s not being an adult. When people say at Church that they are A-OK with whatever the brethren say, and that they have no opinion about anything that others are finding harmful or objectionable, that could be true–maybe they just don’t care about LGBTQ issues, sexism, or whether Paul wrote the epistles. Not everyone cares about everything equally. Or they might be refusing to differentiate because they believe, as children are taught, that doing as you are told is the safest path. Differentiation is dangerous. Unfortunately, differentiation is necessary to growing up.
Kimball’s book talks a lot about facing your relationship with the Church as an adult rather than the child / subordinate role that is often expected. When you are called in to meet with the bishop, do you revert to a child / parent mindset, hoping for approval and instructions, or do you approach as a differentiated adult, someone who has opinions and experiences and brings them into the conversation rather than hiding them to avoid criticism or consequence.
When we don’t differentiate, we don’t live. We go through the motions and wait to be told whether we are good enough or not by someone in authority. Our opinions come from others. We care what others think of us. We police the thoughts and words of others and see them as a threat if they differ from the norms of the group. We can’t live and let live because we deny ourselves the ability to truly live. If Jesus died that we might live, why do we sometimes think that we can’t actually live our lives, that we have to cower, waiting for others to tell us what to do, hiding our unique opinions and thoughts from detection? There will be consequences if we reveal who we are, but the worst consequence of all is to hide in the shadows waiting for crumbs of human approval.
- Do you see issues with differentiation in the church members you know?
- Do you find family relationships within the Church to be healthy or to require hiding oneself?
- Does the Church encourage differentiation in your experience, bringing your thoughts, ideas, and experiences into the Church, or does it only want the party line? Have you experienced both?
- Do you remember important moments in your own differentiation process?
You raise good questions. I want to be loyal and faithful, and full of faith, hope, and charity, and purposefully engaged in a good cause of my own free will and choice — and I want to do it as part of my path while following my Savior. I want to sustain and build up the church. But, in doing so, I want to be my own person making my own choices — I don’t want to be a “company man” [dictionary.com: an employee whose allegiance to his employer comes before personal beliefs or loyalty to fellow workers; or wictionary.org: a male employee who has a great – and often, in the view of others, an excessive – commitment to serving the interests of the organization which employs him]. I think that is also what Jesus wants from me, and I want of the church to help every member in this way.
I liked this. I have often looked at the GAs over the years and thought to myself that their lives just seem to be church, church, church and that seems rather depressing to me. Now that probably makes me sound like a bastard, because they are likely all very happy and fulfilled, and perhaps have exciting extra-curricula interests and activities going on (please weigh in if you have knowledge of “the secret lives of GAs”!) But many certainly don’t give that impression, or at least are reluctant to show it. Don’t get me wrong – I have spent much time pondering the mysteries and the meaning of the Christlike life. But their sheer intensity – well, it’s not for me. Good luck to them.
Your description of differentiation reminds me of what bell hooks wrote about marginalisation:
“As such, I was not speaking of a marginality one wishes to lose, to give up, or surrender as part of moving into the center, but rather as a site one stays in, clings to even, because it nourishes one’s capacity to resist. It offers the possibility of radical perspectives from which to see and create, to imagine alternatives, new worlds.”
I think it’s fascinating to think how this would work in a church context, or whether it would work at all…..
For me authenticity is honesty and integrity. It is essential to my personal mental health.
If you are pretending about who you are, then you remain alone at all times. No one knows the real you so no one can love you.
I try to be the same person at all times. To lie to create a false reputation to me has no value. I can be loyal in that I can keep a secret that is not mine to tell. But mostly I think people ought to accept they are not perfect and would do well to allow others to know they aren’t perfect. That’s important for the mental health of other people.
People may want me to appear and act a certain way for their own comfort. I ask you: tell me again, exactly why is their comfort more important than my mental health?
Church leaders’ parent-child relationship with the membership is one of my biggest complaints with how they lead. They think we can’t handle ambiguity, moral complexity, questions without answers, transparency – so they give us black-and-white thinking, simplistic answers, certainty, and tell us that to be safe we must conform and obey. This pattern works for raising young children, but as the OP points out, at some point you have to grow up and differentiate yourself if you are to become a complete human being, or “perfect” (teleios in Greek, meaning complete) as Jesus wants us to become. How I wish the leadership would finally treat the membership as adult peers instead of as children, to allow us to become our own moral agents, to become complete like Jesus.
Hawk Girl is absolutely correct. Far too many members refuse to put in the hard work required to be independent actors and think for themselves.
Sadly, the ignorant masses prefer to sit around in sweatpants and crocs watching zoom Church on IPads, often while simultaneously playing violent video games on a bigger screen. They take the path of zero effort. Sadly, the Church has given it to them.
For real discipleship requires the ability to think and act independently. It requires more than mindlessly following instructions.
A controlling leader in the mold of Kaiser Wilhelm II can’t be everywhere to control every follower at the same time. When his gaze is focused elsewhere, the mindless servants will slip off to the honky tonk because they have never had to think for themselves about whether it is a good idea.
In the last month, during 2nd hour at church, a teacher was spending quite a bit of time talking about how it’s important in the scriptures to know who is speaking–a prophet, God, Christ, etc. They repeatedly mentioned how the scriptures frequently have explicit markers such as “thus sayeth the Lord” which makes it easy for the reader to know when Christ is speaking versus someone else. I couldn’t resist, so I very, very carefully worded a question to the teacher similar to this (the way I worded it in class was probably even more careful than this), “If the scriptures frequently explicitly let us know when God is speaking versus when a mortal man is speaking with ‘thus sayeth the Lord’ type of markers, why is it that we almost never hear our Church leaders use these types of markers in GC? How are we supposed to know when a Church leader is speaking versus when God is speaking in GC?” Boy, there were at least 5-6 people who immediate raised their hands to respond to my question. They mostly just gave the standard answers: you can pray to get confirmation (but no mention if your prayer isn’t answered or you get a negative answer), Church leaders can’t lead us astray–God would immediately kill them, etc. I did hear one I hadn’t heard before which was that God somehow provides a kind of “blanket protection” over GC which guarantees that everything taught there is His word–Church leaders can say things wrong in other venues, but at GC God makes sure that they always get it right. Unfortunately (or maybe fortunately), this was at the very end of class, and I could tell the teacher was anxious to wrap up (I actually think this teacher appreciated my question, but they just genuinely wanted to wrap up because we had exceeded the class time). I was kind of surprised at how many people jumped in so quickly to essentially argue that Church leaders are infallible, at least at GC. Not a lot of differentiation there. Also, as time expired, I was contemplating whether I really wanted to give my answer to my own question. My feeling is that Church leaders frequently make statements that don’t reflect God’s will, including at GC, and the reason we don’t hear any “thus sayeth the Lord” markers from them is that they don’t really receive any inspiration/revelation from the Lord that is strong enough to justify using such a marker. I probably wouldn’t have gone that far and worded things much more diplomatically, but I was debating even whether I felt like I ought to do that when I was saved by the bell. I value the fellowship of my fellow ward members, but I fear that if I share my true viewpoint on things–if I differentiate myself too far from the party line–that I will be ostracized.
mountainclimber479: Funnily enough, when I was reading your story, the English major in me expected the conclusion to be that inserting “thus sayeth the Lord” is more likely to be puffery, the narrative voice trying to add weight to an idea through association, not necessarily a citation (as the teacher asserted). Without a doubt, the teacher’s assertion is simplistic and doesn’t even bear the slightest scrutiny in terms of literary analysis. Lazy learners, indeed! The scriptures are not comic books with speech bubbles pointing at the speaker, but it might be attractive to wish that were the case.
In JCS universe we are all young and healthy and can run off to Church any time we like. This thinking is the very thing that is being described: conformity for the sake of conformity. Let’s have a little out of the box thinking to see how we can better reach people. My father was fighting cancer for 5 years when he died. It was Zoom Church or nothing.
I used to be proud to be Mormon. I’d find ways to bring it up with strangers or acquaintances. I wasn’t really trying to be a member missionary as much as I was proud to differentiate myself from non-Mormons.
Now that I have changed my view of the Church, I don’t want to be known as the Mormon. And if people already know that I’m Mormon, I feel the need to differentiate from active believers by explaining that I am no longer associated with the Church. This becomes a burden when, for example, my wife and I tell someone that we met at BYU. We then feel the desire to explain that we were active Mormons at BYU but that is no longer our belief system.
Here’s what I’ve noticed as I’ve tried to differentiate from active LDS: LDS and former LDS folks seem to appreciate the explanation, while non-LDS wonder why I’m bothering to explain. It is very common in other faiths to be “inactive” or “nuanced” or critical of their faith so they don’t see the need for an explanation. Still, I don’t want to be misunderstood as Mormon because of all that that implies.
In sum, I’ve moved from one form of differentiation to another.
I thought I really valued the homogeny of the church culture during my high school years. But my freshman year at BYU and my mission experience clearly illustrates what happens when you take it too far. Bored, dull, vapid people and culture. No thank you for my current self.
I have not experienced the church valuing differentiation of any kind. YMMV.
Angela C: You’re totally right. I’m certainly no expert on biblical literary analysis, but it makes a ton of sense to me to treat “thus sayeth the Lord” markers as literary elements meant to add weight to an idea rather than take them literally as “God is speaking now”. I’m pretty sure if I were encountering the Bible for the first time as an adult, I would have picked up on that myself, but after a lifetime in the Church, I (and probably everyone else in the room that Sunday) just automatically treated the “thus sayeth the Lord” markers literally. Go CES! Go BYU Religion Department!! Anyway, thanks for the insight.
In the social sciences, this concept of differentiation is opposed to enmeshment. Enmeshment is when family members are so tangled up in each other’s lives that there is little differentiation, and boundaries are frequently violated. The parents will often punish any attempt at individuating, or teach children that their “most important possession is the family name.” (insert puking emoticon ) Children are actively taught not to trust outside the family, there are hard boundaries between the family and outside, and lack of proper boundaries in the family. The enmeshment can be the whole family, or any sub grouping within the family, say between mother and children, leaving the father as kind of a bystander. An example of this might be when the mother decides to kill herself and first murders her young children. Enmeshment with older children is abusive because the parents fail to respect boundaries. Treating your teen or adult children as two year olds is a way to keep them enmeshed, because two year olds cannot be independent. Enmeshed families protect the family, or the family’s standing in the community, if it means sacrificing individual members. This is why the sexually abusive big brother, or grandfather will be protected, protecting the family reputation, while sacrificing the well being of the abused child. Individual happiness is sacrificed for the perceived well being of the whole, so individuals may be miserable, but the family keeps up its desired level of functioning, which is really malfunctioning, but the best it knows how.
This concept is worth knowing when examining differentiation from the church. It is clear some members are too enmeshed, while others are left more as bystanders. And like enmeshed families, the church violates boundaries within and has too hard of boundary between itself and the rest of the world, the “us and them attitude. It treats the members as small children, has no respect for boundaries of members, will quickly protect it reputation, even while sacrificing the well being or membership of an individual member. The enmeshed members are usually less than happy, having sacrificed happiness for acceptance in the enmeshed system. The members who fight the enmeshment are also less than happy because they feel the lack of acceptance and approval. But they are probably happier than the highly enmeshed members, because they know why they feel unhappy with the system, while the highly enmeshed ones do not miss the differentiation they have never known and may think they should be happy but don’t understand why they are miserable. The church not only discourages differentiation, it frequently punishes it. You cannot express different opinions without being shuffled to the margins of the church.
So, do I think the GAs who are highly enmeshed and very undifferentiated are happy? Nope, I suspect they are pretty miserable but can’t figure out why. Look at Oaks. Does he strike you as a happy person? Uchdorf has been not nosy the most different but also the most differentiated, and is clearly happier than some of the others, until he was demoted from the first presidency, which many people have seen as kind of a punishment for daring to be different.
I’m in a grief phase of my life, owning (or trying to own) all the bad choices I made while believing I was keeping my covenants. The subsequent consequences of those choices keep snowballing, spawning chaos instead of the carefully manicured order that we are promised if we listen to the entreaties to stay well within the safe boundaries of the proscribed covenant path. And the unfortunate corollary to that picture is that much of my life has been spent chasing unicorns, developing crippling coping skills, and generally being blind to my own individual reality, a most precious thing with which to be acquainted.
That carefully curated order is laughably two-dimensional, a cardboard cutout of real experience that only appears to be realistic if you never change your perspective and view it from a different angle, which we’re explicitly warned against doing. The way it’s transmitted to us brings to mind a lifestyle influencers’ social media account, with all the unavoidable chaos kept carefully outside the range of the camera lens, in service to only showing the example of the current iteration of what a righteous ‘covenant path’ means.
So I guess differentiation to me means facing squarely the random chaos that keeps showing up in my life and belatedly learning lessons about how to survive with my integrity, and the shredded remnants of my faith still functional. If possible. It’s not always possible. Thus comes the grieving.
I believe I don’t need to provide examples, because I’m pretty sure everyone here has plenty of their own to draw on. I’ve come to see that chaos and general disorder is the natural order of life on earth, probably by divine design, and of course one fights against this relentless entropy because we’re not savages! Though in defense of savages, they fight the same battles, often with better skill and results than the “civilized.” We’d do well to humble ourselves and observe and learn from that.
I find little utility in attaching blame on the church in general or on specific leaders, because doing an honest job of that takes a lot of energy, with very little return. A thorough survey of whence comes the messiness doesn’t matter, and I have plenty of other work cleaning up. But it is useful to see patterns and skills in the disarray to avoid repeated mistakes. (Sidebar— Mistakes are not sinful, are unavoidable, useful for learning about reality, and bad only if repeated too many times.)
Is it clear how much my worldview has differentiated from the tripe I was taught as a YW and beyond? One thing that doesn’t sustain me anymore are the methods by which the corporate church polishes its rose-colored glasses with which we should regard the inherent chaotic evil in this life. One of the ways the (mostly male) power-brokers in the church maintain the illusion that following the path of the Plan of Happiness actually does bring order to the chaos, is through coercing the invisible work of (largely female) busy bees , into rebuilding the image when breakdowns occur. Not preventing breakdowns from recurring, mind you, but just burnishing the image so it doesn’t look that bad. Remember — Mothers Who Know make sure their children are clean, hair tidy, dressed in freshly ironed clothing, and quietly well-behaved. And if something happens that can’t be shined up again, or worse — invites too much sunshine which might disinfect a pathogen, well the perp of that should sacrifice themself post haste to the needs of institutional maintenance or be cut off. Especially if the perp is female.
One thing that does sustain me is the backstory of Christ found in the New Testament. Not the curated stuff, but the data embedded in the story, about how he dealt with chaos and evil, and more important, as an exemplar of values to which we might aspire if we really want to fight entropy and preserve some moral integrity. There is useful truth there that serves me much more fully when I apply it directly by myself rather than through the lens of the institution. As was originally intended.
And this, dear reader, is the only way I’ve found to truly differentiate. To really discard the proverbial dirty bathwater while still keeping the baby.
Also, kudos to Anna for nailing it with a useful survey of enmeshment and boundaries applied to healthy differentiation within families and the institutional church. I would’ve written a different comment if I’d read that first. Probably shorter too.
Elder Joseph B. Wirthlin taught:
Some are lost because they are different. They feel as though they don’t belong. Perhaps because they are different, they find themselves slipping away from the flock. They may look, act, think, and speak differently than those around them and that sometimes causes them to assume they don’t fit in. They conclude that they are not needed.
Tied to this misconception is the erroneous belief that all members of the Church should look, talk, and be alike. The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world. Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony. All of Heavenly Father’s children are different in some degree, yet each has his own beautiful sound that adds depth and richness to the whole. This variety of creation itself is a testament of how the Lord values all His children.
Alas, Elder Wirthlin’s sentiment has yet to take hold in a church where conformity and loyalty to church leaders are the litmus tests of one’s “worthiness.” Fear, shame and guilt-based rigid dogma and stern authoritarianism are pervasive and will be until the “older” generation dies out.
If aliens were to descend from the sky they’d probably have difficulty telling us apart. We have much more in common than we generally think–and that’s not a bad thing. We are, after all, of the same genus. It’s when we get up close and personal that we are able to tease out the differences–and thank goodness for those differences. By nature we seek for variety in all things including each other. Even so, we should rejoice in the things that we have in common as well as in the things that make us different. That which we have in common draws us together and makes us family–brothers and sisters.
That said, there’s no question that we can go in either direction to an unhealthy extreme. And there’s also the danger that we might draw the line too closely on either uniformity or diversity. I’d hope that, on the one hand, we’d recognize that gospel requires that we build a community of believers; people who take upon themselves the name of Christ and seek to edify each other in striving to live after the manner that he has prescribed. And on the other, I’d hope that we’d be open enough to accept a wide range of expression in living within the bounds that the Lord has established.
OT but have you guys seen this?
(a) crazy Mormons
(b) crazy ex-Mormons
(c) hey, the whole church should do ‘shrooms! Then meetings would be a lot more interesting, and people would be *happy* when the missionaries pop by.
(d) imagine jello vomit
This is a great post. Really well written and well done. Amen.
I see a real correlation between differentiation and the different stages of faith. Using McLaren’s model, often in stage two faith people have not differentiated very much from the church and they find a lot of peace and safety in obedience and being in alignment with what is taught. Stage 3 is essentially the process of differentiating, (noticing imperfections, forming your own beliefs rather than accepting beliefs that others told you, etc…), And stage 4 is living a differentiated life. As mentioned in the post, you can live a differentiated life outside of the church, and you can also live a differentiated life within the church.
It ultimately goes back to claiming your own moral authority- which I believe is a task that the church does a great job preparing us for, but then it strongly discourages us from actually doing it. Based on teachings, practices, and statements from leaders, they do want us to stay in stage 2 and stay undifferentiated and obedient. But as was mentioned, the gospel is one of progression and reaching our potential and “You don’t become a leader by simply taking orders.” So, it is up to us to “eat of the forbidden fruit” and exercise our agency- and not just obey because someone said we should, but we should live great moral lives because we have developed great morals, and we can live true to ourselves.
All that to say, I wholeheartedly agree with the post (and the comments that have been made). Beautifully written.
As the author of Living on the Inside of the Edge: A Survival Guide, I’m enjoying this conversation about differentiation. Thanks, hawkgrrrl! And everyone who has commented so far.
I’d like to reinforce that for my understanding and use of “differentiation” nobody should expect or even hope for approval or support from the Church or church leaders. For me, this is about survival, not about making everybody happy.
I don’t mean for my comment to be a book review, but…
I just finished Christian Kimball’s book a few minutes ago. I have been reading it every spare moment I’ve had over the last week. Between his book, and hawkgrrrl’s post today, I feel further blessed by the Lord in my life, even if where my personal differentiation journey has taken me down a different path than the “Norman the Mormon” stereotype. At the place I am in my life now, I have also been blessed by a bishop who has encouraged me to take the time to further discover who I am and then determine how the Church and I fit together to enrich my life, no matter what that looks like. I am blessed with an LDS Family Services therapist whose idea of support is very similar to Christian’s approach. I am blessed by goodly parents who love me for who I am and don’t wield the Church as a heavy club to beat me back into orthodoxy. I am aware, however, that not everyone is as fortunate as I am. One of my friends in the ward is questioning everything after many years of trying to reconcile having a transgender daughter (who he and his wife love and support) with his long-established Church beliefs. The dissonance is making this incredible man’s journey through life so much more difficult that it needs to be, in my opinion. As was asked at the end of the OP, I think many of us (though probably not all) feel a certain peer pressure to hide what we really think or how we really feel in order to fit the mold at Church. Learning to differentiate myself over the last year has taught me a new definition of honesty, in addition to lowering my blood pressure by 20 points (true story!) now that I am not so worried about conform and hide what I’m thinking. Being able to differentiate yourself will result in being able to have an open, honest relationship with deity. No matter how that relationship develops, it will be genuine, because it’s your relationship with God, not anyone else’s.
@tomirvine999- I love that quote and keep it handy to remind myself of what the Church can and should be!
Another aspect of differentiation that I learned as an is to differentiate from my wife. I picked up from my parents and/or church that the husband and wife are to become one as much as possible. Sure it’s ok to have some individual preferences (perhaps like different favorite foods) but for any important topic you would ideally agree wholeheartedly with your spouse. I’ve learned that’s not possible and probably not desirable.
Don’t know if that’s a church teaching, a traditional Christian teaching, or just my family, but I suspect it’s Christian with a unique LDS flair.
As many other commenters have said, the Church clearly absolutely does not want its members differentiated, but rather as enmeshed as possible. Like was just being discussed on Elisa’s temple changes post, the last covenant in the temple isn’t to be willing to give everything up for Christ, but for the Church. And of course it’s not at all an enmeshment of anything like equals. There are the controllers and the rest of us who are to be controlled. I loved Bryce Cook’s comment above so much about Church leaders never seeing members as peers, but forever as children who have to be carefully controlled.
Hawkgrrrl, I did want to comment on this section at the very end of your post: “When we don’t differentiate, we don’t live. We go through the motions and wait to be told whether we are good enough or not by someone in authority. Our opinions come from others. We care what others think of us. We police the thoughts and words of others and see them as a threat if they differ from the norms of the group.”
At least for me, the goal of being completely differentiated feels hopeless. And honestly not desirable. I do want to be part of groups and to care what others think of me. Having given up on having the Church be the one be-all end-all group of my life, though, I feel like the best I can do is to maybe identify with and be part of multiple groups that have competing priorities. That way, short of being able to fully differentiate myself, the different groups maybe at least keep me from becoming too enmeshed in any one of them. I don’t know if this makes any sense because I just came up with it, but I think there’s at least some logic to it.
Toad: I think that your point about differentiation within marriage is very important. A friend once asked if my husband and I were on the same page about Church, and I said no because we are two different people with different life experiences, different opinions, different thoughts. I could have easily said yes. I could have believed yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s true. It’s probably never true that two people are really 100% “on the same page.” We are until we aren’t, ya know? There’s always a difference. Pretending otherwise feels like a recipe for heartache down the line. Acknowledging that each person is different in their thoughts, feelings, experiences, and opinions should also go hand in hand with respect for their autonomy. As George Emerson says to Lucy Honeychurch, “I want you to have your own thoughts, even when I hold you in my arms.”
Ziff: I think that caring what others think and want can get out of hand, and has a strong tendency in the church to replace caring what we think and want. In my own life, the tendency has certainly been to set aside my own thoughts and wishes in favor of what I think I’m supposed to think and want. But your point about belonging is also a valid facet to being a social animal, which all humans are.
I took so long to realize that I needed to differentiate myself from the Church, and to disentangle myself from family enmeshment. Both those concepts were so well-put and I can see myself in them. I really spent decades of my life wanting the approval of Church leaders. I wish I had some of those years back. I wish I’d differentiated when I was a young adult instead of middle-aged.