I had thought things might be on the mend with my family for a while, but there was a big row on Monday over some books I had given my sister to read. I gave them to her a long time ago, back when I believed that because she was an adult, we could discuss any topic she brought to me. The books were part of a larger conversation we were having about anger and how to move past it and see the good in even hopelessly flawed situations. Two were by the Dalai Lama; Healing Anger and The Art of Happiness.
The third was a book by two evangelical ministers that discussed how to overcome a bad experience had with abusive clergy. I had been given that book by a friend when I was dealing with the aftermath of escaping a very damaging marriage. Leaving my ex took immense willpower as I had to finally throw off the controlling arms of priesthood leaders who were scaring me with damnation so that I wouldn’t leave a temple marriage. I had a lot of anger to process, and I made many notes in the margins of the book. My sister was dealing with a lot of similar anger against LDS authorities. She stopped believing in Mormonism long before I did, and she is still living under my parents’ roof whilst attending university. We had several conversations about how to let go of anger, see the good in situations, and I offered her that book so that she could see what I was like at my most angry and hopefully learn to bypass many of the negative emotions I had felt by focusing on forgiveness and patience.
I had made a promise back in October to my parents to never discuss politics or religion with any of my siblings — even the adult ones — and I have held to that. But I forgot about the books.
My father routinely searches my sister’s room, as he used to do to me. He found the books, and had no way of knowing that they had arrived long before I understood the degree of authority they still expected to have over children who were legally adults but still under their roof. The Dalai Lama was scoffed at, but the book on clerical abuse was a cause for outrage. Before even flipping through to see that it ends on a very positive note, my parents took this text as a personal attack on the infallibility of the LDS priesthood. In their view, a book that states that men who claim to speak for God are not always doing so, and that it’s ok to protect yourself from abuse, is heresy.
I found out just how personally my father takes all of this. “The church is not an organisation or a building,” he told me over the phone. “I am the church. Any criticism of the church is criticism of me.”
I was astounded. Never in my most orthodox days did I ever believe that there was no distinction between an organisation and the people that make it up. Perhaps that’s why I was never destined to be a good Mormon? I can’t say. It’s just too befuddling for me to get my head around just now.
He told me that the path I had chosen put an enormous rift between us and that from now on we would have very little in common in this life or the next. He told me that if I was ever to visit his house again he didn’t want me to ever speak about what I think or believe, and that if I could follow that rule “we are prepared to receive you.”
Blimey. What a warm invitation. What I heard him say was:
- Your rejection of the church is a personal rejection of your parents
- We are going to heaven; You are going to hell
- We have nothing in common
- I don’t want to know anything about who you are
- If you can play a good little black sheep, we will tolerate your presence
Perhaps that’s just me being cynical because I’m still feeling the sting, but I can’t help but resent the fact that they reserve the right to recriminate me for every past wrong, no matter how long done. And because of those forgotten books and the way they were discovered, that’s one more thing I’ll never be forgiven for.
This is not a cynical question, nor is it a trap. I sincerely want to know: if everything that I am is disgusting and threatening to my parents, why do they want to have a relationship with me at all?
If there are any still-faithful LDS readers out there, or people who remember what it’s like to be faithful, would you take the apostasy of a child this personally? Would you place similar restrictions on the apostate child? Would you realise that the consequence of such a strict response has the effect of alienating your other children from you, making them more likely to reject such authoritarian religious beliefs? How would you resolve the struggle between the bits of LDS orthodoxy that are mandatory and the realities of how difficult some aspects of Mormon belief can be to deal with?