My relationship with my family has shipwrecked over the last few weeks, and while I’ve been drifting in the flotsam I’ve been able to see the difference between the Gospel and the Church.
A Church is an organisational and administrative body that is meant to facilitate the application of the gospel. Policies and procedures, in theory, should not get in the way of application of doctrines. Churches can change in their size and methods. But the gospel, the core doctrines and source of salvation, is meant to be perfect and unchanging. The Church is supposed to be the means, and the Gospel the end. But when The Church is declared The One True Path, the means and the end become the same thing.
In this unnatural state of fusion, believers can justify being abominably cruel to those who feel that there is not a one-size-fits-all approach to happiness. Rejection of the One True Path is equated with rejection of the gospel. Failure to adhere to policy and procedure becomes the same thing as a personal attack on Jesus Christ and Joseph Smith with atheist assault weapons.
My parents said some pretty nasty things to me in our last phone call, which took place just over a week ago and concluded with my mother calling me selfish and hanging up on me. Apparently making plans to fly my sister out for a visit at the expense of her attendance at a church Halloween party qualifies as selfish nowadays. I know the real issues. They feel that Church is more important than family, so much that family visits should never interfere with ward activities, however trivial. More importantly, they do not trust me to interact with her outside an environment they can control. They do not want me to be myself around her. They want the edited, restricted version of me that must stay on her best behaviour at the peril of a verbal beating. Visiting my parents’ house feels more like entering an enemy camp during a ceasefire than being welcomed home.
Now that the communication has broken down and the restrained hostility against me has transitioned to open contempt, I’ve started trying to piece together why my family members react as they do. Most of my aunts and uncles stopped speaking to me after I failed to support Proposition 8. One of my aunts posted a provocative statement on my Facebook page stating that I needed to follow the prophet. I told her I wasn’t comfortable getting involved in political lobbying, and was treated to a tirade that included the entire text of the Proclamation on the Family. Many of my friends sent me private messages along the lines of “Cor, you’d said Mormons are barmy, but now I really know what you mean.”
One of the most frustrating parts of leaving Mormonism is that you go from being a prized member of your family to being treated like a traitor. Everything you do, however innocent, is suspect. I have been accused of attempting to buy affection by giving birthday and Christmas gifts that I would have purchased regardless of my religious beliefs. When I am home and suggest that I take my siblings to the cinema, I am subjected to an interrogation/lecture about not taking them to see something inappropriate. Never mind that I would never take a family member to see a movie they wouldn’t enjoy, whether due to lack of interest or offending their religious sensibilities. I could literally try to take my sisters to see a Disney film and still be treated with suspicion.
What’s in my heart doesn’t seem to matter. I have nearly identical views to my family in many respects. I want humanity to make infinite progress in gaining truth, knowledge, and an understanding of the universe. I want human beings to treat one another with love and kindness, recognising that we are all part of a human family and as such we have an obligation to love one another. The essentials of what the gospel offers — eternal progress, connection of humanity, and love for family — are things I want.
But in my family’s view my methods of working toward this goal are false. I believe that scientific methods, not prophets, are the best way to learn about the universe. I am no longer certain about any kind of afterlife, but am confident that humanity will continue to grow and progress after I have had my opportunity to contribute and made room for newcomers. These are false doctrines in Mormonism. However, there’s one thing that in theory we should be able to agree upon: This life as we know it is a one-shot deal. With that in mind, shouldn’t we be decent to one another?
Mormons have an interest in being kind to those with different beliefs from their own, because they are trained to view these people as potential converts. Apostates, however, are a major threat. When disaffected Mormons are treated with hostility, it reveals that statements of tolerance, respect, and co-operation with those who are different are nothing more than a sham. The niceness to never-Mos is simply bait for conversion, and the nastiness to former Mos stems from the self-satisfied belief that in the afterlife they’ll have the opportunity to point their finger and say “I told you so.”
This kind of certainty comes from confusing the path with the destination. Failure to distinguish between the Church and the Gospel harms non-believers through acts of bigotry, but it also harms believers. If their Gospel is true, then confusing the Church for the Gospel is a form of idol worship. Orthodoxy rather than enlightenment is prized. Correct procedure, not love, is valued.
But then, I’m just a dirty apostate advocating the heresy that there are paths outside the Church that lead to happiness. What do I know?