"For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known."
-1 Corinthians 13: 12
For a post about the role of traditionally-believing Mormons in maintaining healthy relationships despite religious differences, see my post titled:
"20 Things to Keep In Mind When Talking With Your Non-traditional Mormon Friends and Family"
- Don't expect them to "get it" overnight.
-Remember, for most people, the reasons traditional belief stopped working built up over time on our metaphorical shelf. At some point, the cumulative weight of these things broke through the very supports on which our traditional testimonies were hanging. There may have been a few final straws, but usually there was no "anvil" that, by itself, was capable of breaking that shelf and causing a crisis of faith.
-So, it is not likely that we can sum up our thoughts, feelings, and experiences in a way that will immediately make sense to a traditionally-believing Mormon. As hard as we try, we probably can't do justice to our thoughts, feelings, and experiences. They may still have plenty of room on their shelf for the explanations you share with them. So, don't be suprised if they don't seem to appreciate the weight of your findings.
- Give them the benefit of the doubt, even if the evidence against some of the Church's traditional claims may seem pretty damning in your opinion.
-However unlikely it may seem to you, at least acknowledge the possibility that their beliefs are true. In a previous post, I discussed a helpful Richard Bushman quote to the effect that "the facts don't compel you" to believe one way or the other. If I am being completely candid, there are moments when I personally feel the facts are pretty compelling. In my honest opinion, it doesn't look good for several of the Church's traditional claims.
-That being said, I am willing to doubt my infallibility a little. And I am willing to say that there are people, who are probably better informed than I am on the issues, who still choose to believe in the Church's traditional claims. I'm thinking mainly of people like Richard Bushman and Terryl Givens.
-Now, to be clear, it might be a stretch to call them traditional believers. I think most members would at first be a little uncomfortable with their brand of Mormon faith. But they have found a way to make it work. And I respect them. So, for their sake (and for the sake of people like them) I want to say, "Maybe they're right." Even if I don't think their conclusions are the most plausible. Maybe they're seeing something I am not. We should all take an honest look at the evidence. Then, they should pray about it and follow their answers, and I should pray about it and follow mine; and then we should just respect and embrace eachother and live in peace. It will all work out for the best in the end. I really believe that.
- "Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater."
-I think there is a great deal of value in Mormonism. To give an example, perhaps the most powerful thing about Mormonism for me is the fact that I learned how to communicate with God in the Mormon intitutional and cultural context. I think it is possible that we as a Church are pretty good at facilitating genuine spiritual experience. Personally, I was inspired by Enos' and Joseph Smith's wilderness theophanies, and I continue to be. Also, the LDS tradition advocates fantastic teachings like the importance of free agency, and finding and embracing all truth, no matter the source.
-If spirituality is not your thing, consider the more concrete benefits of Mormonism and Church activity to people like my friend who struggles with drug addiction, for whom the substance-free atmosphere and the empowering spirituality has aided him in his recovery.
-Furthermore, I have spent a great deal of time lately thinking about Mormonism's potential to be a force for good in the world. I find a lot of socially progressive values in the LDS scriptures. If possible, I would like to see the Church realize it's potential for facilitating real social and environmental progress.
- Build on common ground, avoid overemphasizing differences.
-As I said, don't spurn the gospel's potential to be a force for positive change in the world. Go out of your way to find common ground, talk about it often, and build upon it.
-Conversely, don't harp too much on areas of disagreement. If you always focus on areas of disagreement, eventually you will be viewed as an outsider, or an untrustworthy source.
-People usually don't want to give up their religion. So, attempts to change their mind about it, or to deconvert them, are usually in vain. Instead, it might be better to support them, and at the same time model a more constructive form of their faith tradition in our conversations and our actions.
- Don't be overly eager to share your problematic findings. Love and support them no matter what they decide.
-When we have learned something important and believe it to be true, it is tempting to go out and share it with the world. I very much believe in telling the truth, but before you go out and share your findings with all the zeal of a newly set-apart missionary, remember...
-Remember, along with the feelings of liberation and enlightenment that often accompany a faith transition, there was also a great deal of difficulty, pain, and sorrow. We should not be too eager to put people into a situation where they have to wrestle with these things.
-Generally, I think people will deal with the problems when they are good and ready. I don't want to push too hard and pose an abrupt challenge to their faith when I know from personal experience that a difficult faith transition can greatly affect every other aspect of a person's life. That said, in some areas I think we have a responsibility to tell the truth, especially where the consequences of keeping silent are far worse than the consequences of speaking up (e.g. teen suicide and LGBT issues).
-When we have decided it is time to share faith-challenging information with some of our loved ones, make sure you follow up by giving them the love and support they need in dealing with this information. Don't try to push them towards any particular conclusion. Respect their personal faith journey, their agency, and their ability to find the answer that is right for them. I usually suggest at least two ways of dealing with the facts, (1) the more apologetic interpretations and (2) my own interpretations (Rather than trying to prove or disprove the claims of the Church, I just try be open to either conclusion and then go wherever the evidence seems to be pointing me).
- Remember, when they try to get you to come back to Church, they probably have the best possible intentions.
-Even when their words seem insensitive or condescending, they are probably coming from a place of love. It is only natural to feel a little offended in such cases. However, it may be that they are loving you the best way they know how. Try to give them some leeway in this.
-If occasion permits, you might consider giving them some pointers on how they can be supportive while avoiding some common pitfalls.
- Always consider what they have to say. But ultimately you have to trust yourself.
-As Jared Anderson has said on his Mormon Sunday School podcast, don't reject anything out of hand. Sit with it for a while. Meditate on it. Pray about it. See if there isn't something to be gained from their perspective, in spite of (or precisely because of) the fact that it is different from your own.(1)
-At the same time, "you've got to trust your instincts." By trust yourself I mean, trust your conscience - your ability to reason and recieve personal revelation for yourself. You are more qualified than anyone else to decide the religious path that is right for you.
- Beware of pride.
-You just got off the boat, don't turn around and act like you are superior to everyone else who is still on the boat.
-Often times, when we have experienced a faith transition, we also feel ourselves growing and maturing in all kinds of ways. This is a very rewarding aspect of what is otherwise a difficult experience. Perhaps we have developed a kind of faith that accomodates a sophisticated understanding of key problems in Church history or doctrine. Or perhaps we feel ourselves becoming more humble regarding our religious convictions, and more loving and open to people who don't fit the Mormon mould.
-All of this is good, unless it makes us feel superior to people who haven't necessarily grown in these ways. Don't compare your strengths with their weaknesses just so you can feel superior. Recognize that you may not be so far removed from those weaknesses yourself, and that they may still be able to teach you a few things, which brings me to my next point...
- Acknowledge the ways they may be your superior.
-Occasionally when I attend meetings, I continue to be inspired by the service my Ward members provide to the ward and each other, and by certain small acts of charity that extend beyond their immediate circles.
-Also, I continue to be inspired by their faith. As I have sought to discern truth from error in Church teachings, the rational (sometimes skeptical) mind has served me well. But when it comes to spirituality, logic doesn't get me very far. I am inspired by the stories of people's spiritual experiences. They remind me to strive to cultivate an appreciation for both the rational and the spiritual. As Einstein is often quoted as saying, "The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift."
- Don't burn your bridges.
-Just because your feelings about the Church are changing, this doesn't necessarily mean that you have to go out and find a whole new set of friends to replace your Church friends. As the old song goes, "Make new friends, but keep the old." I remember when I was an active traditionally-believing Mormon, and one of my friends went inactive. I wished he didn't feel the need to distance himself from me. I really truly genuinely was not judging him, and I wasn't going to be pushy and try to get them to come back to Church. I just wanted to continue to be his friend.
-Remember, as much as some Mormons can be judgmental or condescending (Mormons are people too), we aren't all like that! Some of us just like you for who you are and want to keep in touch. Don't push us away!
-Also, for better or worse, the Mormon network can come in handy when you're looking for a job, or if you need a hand when moving into a new apartment, etc. Regardless of your beliefs, you can pitch in when others need a hand, and then feel perfectly comfortable accepting their help when your time comes around. It's nice to have a community or a tribe which you can go to for support when you need it.
- Don't expect them to be something for you that they are currently incapable of being. -As Mormons, we are sort of trained to depend on the Church or the gospel for solutions to our problems. But then, during a crisis of faith, many of us suffer great loneliness when friends and leaders are unable to understand us or give us the support we need. If they have never encountered these problems, or just haven't given them the time of day, they can hardly understand what you are going through. And maybe they are just not comfortable delving as deeply into those subjects as you are. If so, they won't be much help to you. It doesn't help that discussion of many such topics is considered taboo in Mormon culture. In a similar vein, many grow frustrated when Church-approved resources fail to provide satisfying answers to our questions. This is a legitimate grievance that Church leaders ought to address. -For now, however, I have to recommend that you find an alternate support system. There are a number of online resources which are candid about problems in Church history, doctrine, and culture without being antagonistic toward the Church overall.
-Consider BYU's Neal A Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship, or the apologetic website FAIR. You might also enjoy a subscription to Sunstone Magazine or Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought or any number of Mormon-themed blogs, such as: Open Mormon, By Common Consent, The Juvenile Instructor, Times and Seasons, Rational Faiths, Flunking Sainthood, Young Mormon Feminists, Feminist Mormon Housewives, Exponent II, The Mormon Therapist, and No More Strangers: LGBT Mormon Forum. In addition, there are a number of valuable nontraditional Mormon podcasts, for example, Mormon Stories, Mormon Matters, A Thoughtful Faith, Feminist Mormon Housewives, and Mormon Sunday School. Finally, you might consider joining one of the facebook discussion groups which are loosely affiliated with the above podcasts for Mormons from around the world; Or, if you prefer, you might look into one of the small local facebook groups for nontraditional Mormons which have formed around the country in recent years.
- Do what's best for your family.
-In some cases, it may be best for your family to continue formal Church activity. The most common example would be if your spouse remains a traditionally-believing member. But there is no one size fits all solution. It is up to each of us to decide the level of Church activity that is right for us. In some cases it is too mentally, emotionally, and spiritually draining to continue going to Church after a faith transition. If you feel like Church attendance sucks the life out of you, then it might be better for your family if you don't go.
-In this case, you can probably find other ways to be supportive of your loved ones while maintaining a healthier emotional balance within yourself. For example, you could still help get the kids ready for Church. You could volunteer to take the kids to Young Mens or Young Womens. You might decide to attend Church on holidays or other special occasions. You could participate whenever your ward does community service. And you should definitely continue to do Family Home Evening. Here, you can pick a spiritual message that is in line with both your personal beliefs and theirs. This is a good opportunity to build on the common ground that still exists between you and your traditionally-believing family members.
- Do what is most emotionally and spiritually healthy for you.
-In the Church, and in Mormon culture, we learn to sacrifice our own wants, feelings, and even needs for the gospel. We call it sacrifice. We might give up our Tuesday nights to serve in young mens or young womens. We might give up our Saturday afternoon to finish writing a talk for sacrament meeting. Despite the importance of families, we might give up a Sunday afternoon with our families to serve in the Bishopric of our Ward or on the Stake High Council. We might break up with the guy or girl of our dreams, because he or she is not “temple-worthy” or not a member of the Church. We might accept a calling, against our better judgment, because we believe that a call from the bishop is a call from the Lord. We might give up 10% of our income as tithing, even though we have difficulty paying for our basic living expenses.
-Some sacrifice is a good thing. Personal sacrifice is part of being a decent human being. We are not supposed to put ourselves first all of the time, but rather we are to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” When we love our neighbor as ourselves, we will sometimes put their wants and needs before our own. This applies to personal relationships as well as our relationship with the overall community. A person who has this kind of love will sometimes sacrifice his wants and needs for the greater good. A healthy level of sacrifice can stretch us and help us to grow. To live for more than just ourselves will make our time on earth more meaningful and personally fulfilling. As Jesus said, in a sense, we find ourselves when we lose ourselves.
-However, as Jared Anderson pointed out in his podcast earlier this year, there is a point where your "sacrifice" actually starts hurting you.(1) At this point, it is no longer the kind of sacrifice that helps you grow and develop as a human being. Remember, the commandment is to “love your neighbor as yourself.” This includes loving and caring for yourself - seeing that your physical, emotional, and spiritual needs are met. There is danger in both extremes: loving yourself so much that your neglect your neighbor, or loving your neighbor so much that you neglect yourself. When deciding the level of sacrifice and engagement with your community that is right for you. You might want to keep this balance in mind.
-There is one category of “sacrifice,” however, that I would never recommend, ever. Do not unquestioningly follow your leaders or your community if they would have you go against the dictates of your own conscience. And do not neglect your life’s calling in order to answer a call that was revealed to someone else. For example, don’t fight against the right of same-sex couples to marry if your conscience is telling you that this is an injustice. And don’t feel pressured to be a stay-at-home parent if you feel particularly called to serve in some other way, and vice versa.
- Claim the Mormon title and identity, whether they like it or not.
-You don't stop being Mormon just because you stopped believing in some of the traditional claims of the Church, or because you cut back on your Church attendence. You haven't stopped being Mormon until you say so; And even then, you are probably still more Mormon than you care to admit. Being Mormon is a bit like being Jewish, it is almost like an ethnicity. And there are many ways to cherish your Mormon heritage that don't involve formal Church attendence. You could study Church history, do your geneology, engage in emergency preparedness, have family home evening, place a particular emphasis on learning and truth-seeking, pray to your heavenly parents, volunteer in your community, donate a significant share of your earnings to a good cause, and participate in wholesome recreational activities.
- Don't let TBMs make you feel unworthy of God's love, or the guidance and comfort of the holy spirit.
-You are a child of loving Heavenly Parents, and they never stop loving you and reaching out to you.
-Truly, I'm telling you, if you are doing your best to discover and follow after the truth, and in the meantime really trying to treat your fellow human beings as you would want to be treated, there is no reason for you to be ashamed. And the holy spirit shall be your constant companion.
-As Jesus said:
"Or what man is there of you, whom if his son ask bread, will he give him a stone? Or if he ask a fish, will he give him a serpent?
"If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him?"
- If you feel like going to Church, don't let traditionally-believing Mormons, or Mormon culture generally, shame you out of going.
- Try to let go of the ego's need for others' approval.
-It is only natural to want others to think well of you, but we don't have to care so much. When you have a clear conscience, and when you feel God's love, it doesn't matter so much what other people think or say about you.
- Have the courage to let go of institutional security
-Institutional security is the comfort of knowing that millions of people and an entire establishment agree with you. It is a hard thing to let go of, but when you do, you have to rely entirely on the peace and comfort that the spirit brings. and that comfort that comes with knowing you have been thorough in your investigation, and openminded and prayerful.
- Have the faith to let go of the ease and comfort of second-hand revelation, and seek divine inspiration for yourself.
-Remember, one of the good things that happens when we fully realize the humanity of Church leaders, is that we have to fall back on personal revelation to know what is right. It is scary at first. It is nice thinking that someone else has it figured out, someone else has done all the hard work, and I just need to do what they say. But in the end, true spirituality is never second-hand. Everyone should go directly to the source for themselves. And this is a very Mormon concept.
- Remember, forgiveness feels really good.
-One of the other good things that happens when we fully realize the humanity of our leaders, is that we aren't as suprised when they make mistakes, and we more easily find it in our hearts to forgive them.
-While you don't have to condone the mistakes of Church leaders, you can forgive them, and make some allowances for them to make mistakes in the future (even glaring and aweful ones). Like us, they are real flesh and blood human beings, who are influenced as much by their time and place and culture and personal opinions and desires, as they are by diviine inspiration. Revelation doesn't come to any of us in a vacuum. We can learn from eachother's mistakes as well as our shining moments.
- Put love first! ...even before your commitment to finding truth and exposing error in religion.
See also: Engaging Gospel Doctrine, Ep. 093.1, at about 1hr. 17min. for a thoughtful discussion on this cultural notion that we should "submit to God's will without hesitation."
(2) Mormon Sunday School, Engaging Gospel Doctrine, Ep. 086.1, at about 53 minutes, Jared says a few things that help us define a healthy level of sacrifice:
"The Church was made for the members, and not the members for the Church."
"It kind of is human sacrifice if you are giving up your well-being."
"There is a difference between giving more than you want to (sacrifice)..." and giving so much that you are actually hurting yourself, harming your family relationships, etc.