I Am The Church

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?

21 thoughts on “I Am The Church

  1. Rigidity causes the eyes to close, the mind to narrow and the heart to harden, is that God’s way? You are doing fine, you’re parents cannot help but see this…there is love – they can’t help themselves.

  2. I am a faithful member of the LDS church. I very occasionally check your blog. However, since you asked for my perspective, I’ll give it. I think that your father is probably, more than anything, hurt and sad that you have left the Church. He probably sees it as his failure for not teaching you whatever it was you needed to know to remain faithful. However, I think he also sounds angry, and I can’t say I blame him. Your attitude expressed through some of these posts comes across as filled with hatred and derision towards the Church, and frankly, I can see how a parent might take that personally. I think if it were my daughter I would be very concerned for her, but she is an adult and can make her own decisions. However, I would do anything I could to prevent her from influencing my other children. I think your other inquiries are loaded questions, but I will say this: I would bet anything that if you were to reach out to your family with the genuine love it is obvious you have for them, they would respond with more love than you could imagine. I bet your parents hurt every day that you have left the Church and appear to hate the Church – and possibly them – as much as you seem to.

    Hey, if you don’t want my thoughts don’t ask for them.

  3. I used to be that way. I was a good little Catholic and my (then) fiance wasn’t, and every time he rejected an offer to explore Catholicism for himself felt like a rejection of me as a person. But it was my problem, not his. I was the one whose priorities were out of whack. This is not your problem.

    To attempt to control one’s children, especially adult children, in such a way is abusive and wrong, showing a lack of tolerance for diversity and differing opinions one finds in the FLDS and similar cults. For you to try to help a sibling who is suffering the same pain as you, for you to openly express how such institutional and family abuse made you feel and to properly identify it as abusive and wrong, is not hateful or cynical. It’s just being honest. Some people can’t handle that, but that’s not your problem.

    I think I can speak from an orthodox point of view as a child of two devout Catholics. My parents would never, ever have treated a child this way for expressing differing opinions or lack of faith in Catholicism. When facts are presented, my parents accept them as rational people. When they saw that my big brother was gay and that he’d been that way since he was a very small child, they realized that the Catholic church was just wrong. The same goes for a number of different issues, including abortion, birth control, etc.

    Your father’s problem is not that he is Mormon, as far as I can see. His problem is that he is an irrational person with perhaps some mental disturbances regarding control in his life (i.e. not having control of his world terrifies him, and so he reacts aggressively in an attempt to maintain such control). His problem is that he holds irrational beliefs and values about his role as a parent and about his faith as a Mormon.

  4. Mike, way to go buddy.

    1. Assuming she has bad intentions in asking for input
    2. Implying that the bad experience she had with the church was no real cause for anger
    3. Implying that the way her parents treat her is justified
    4. Assuming she hasn’t tried to reach out with genuine love, or that any reaching out she has done was done with fake love
    5. Laying on the guilt because her parents hurt because she doesn’t think like them
    6. Implying that she hates her parents and the church

    MAJOR Christian charity, there, bro. Applause, applause. There’s only one thing you got right:

    “He probably sees it as his failure for not teaching you whatever it was you needed to know to remain faithful.”

    That makes sense. But if it’s his fault, then why take it out on her?

  5. Dear Molly, How is it possible to counter that kind of black and white, all or nothing, religious belief/world view? Mike obviously has bought into that destructive way of thinking- my own family, too. It was their way or the highway. Despite the 11th Article of Faith, David O. McKay’s pronouncements re: choosing another (or no faith) I have yet to meet an ‘open’ TBM; that is, someone who can fully accept an adult son or daughter who has chosen a different path than their own.
    Also, I have read all your posts- I cannot find any hatred or derision. Just honest questions and heart-felt emotions. For those of us in similar situations to your own, I have found your blog to be both a comfort and thought-provoking. I hope someday your parents will grow past their prejudices, intolerance and skewed moral code and be able embrace you for the wonderful woman you’ve become. That woman shines through in your blog.
    Unfortunately, I’ve lost all hope that mine will be able to accomodate such a radically un-mormon openness.
    And I found it a bit amusing (in a wry twisted kind of way) that your father believes that ‘he is the church’- when confronting my abusers, I was told that it was the individual that had abused me, not the church. That the church is perfect, but some of it’s members can fail at times.
    The mormon church and it’s members are grasping at straws at this point- it’s all slipping away on a tide of truth and exposure. Thank you for your own personal light that has shown a number of very dark places in mormondom.

    • @St.Ain’t, those are all very kind words. I had an identical experience. When trying to point out that the abuse I encountered, I was told that mantra: “The Church is perfect, even if the people aren’t.” The wall I ran into was that if the Church is so perfect, why hasn’t it built safety nets into its structure to catch people who are knocked down by those who are imperfect and in positions of authority? There is literally no way to report clerical abuse in Mormonism. Everything is left to whomever your local leaders happen to be. Everything is handled in closed-door, back-room meetings. No problems are addressed in the open. Even worse, when I tried to point out that there was no method for reporting clerical abuse, TBMs would accuse me of attacking the church. “The Church is Perfect. You just had a bad experience with a few people,” they would say. Is it not a sign of caring about the church that I saw a systemic weakness that was causing people to be harmed and wanted to speak up in the hopes of fixing it?

      • Molly, first of all, I’m very sorry about all the pain you’ve been through with your parents. I know it must be hell and I really hope that you can get things resolved.

        I feel compelled to disagree with you about there being no way to report clerical abuse. Although I’m sure you already understand what I’m about to explain, I’m going to say it anyway for the benefit of your readers who are not familiar with the church system.

        Every year, there is a ‘ward conference’ in which the leaders of the stake(one level above the ward) officiate and propose to all the members of that ward that the leaders of that ward be sustained for the coming year. All the members of the ward then either sustain or choose not to sustain the ward leaders. If anyone chooses not to sustain the leaders, then they meet with the stake leaders to discuss the issue and address concerns.

        The same thing happens at the stake level semi-annually.

        However, if the problem is more urgent, one need not wait until a ward or stake conference. The chain of command in the LDS Church is very transparent and I know from experience that there is always someone higher up that you can go to and that they will listen to you.

        Compared to other churches, the LDS Church has arguably the most effective system for dealing with clerical abuse of any church out there and many people have been excommunicated for their conduct. Ironically, the LDS Church is often criticized for how well they clean house after something bad happens

        • I am asking this in earnest: Have you ever seen someone raise their hand to not sustain a leader? If so, do you know that the procedure is to have closed-door discussions with that individual rather than to have the conversation open to the congregation or to even report back to the congregation? Have you ever seen how someone is treated afterward should they ever raise their hand to refuse to sustain an authority?

          Every General Conference they report that the voting to sustain leaders is unanimous. Is there any issue on earth where thousands of people in a room will unanimously agree on every single issue? Although this process was originally intended to allow the church to be governed “by common consent” as typical 19th century Protestant churches were, the “voting” has largely lost its meaning.

          I must also respectfully disagree with you that the LDS Church has the most effective system for dealing with clerical abuse. The people who are in positions to be abusers are also the same people who deal with abusers, and public discussion of abuse is socially and institutionally discouraged.

  6. Bloggo,

    You you judge me for your perception that I’m judgmental, which seems a little hypocritical. Further,you misinterpret my remarks entirely. I hope that the original questions were sincere, because my answers were sincere. And to clarify, I was not in any way condemning the writer’s efforts to build a better relationship with her family. I was explaining (as requested) where I thought her family might be coming from.

    St.Ain’t,
    You have misinterpreted the family’s remarks, which is unfortunate. A generous reading of what was said clearly shows that Molly’s parents want to have a relationship with her. If you choose not to see that, I don’t think anything I say is going to change your mind. Also, I am sincerely sorry that any abuse by members occurs. But I do agree that it isn’t fair to blame the Church for its very imperfect members.

  7. Molly,

    With respect, your dad’s a whack job and would probably be every bit as domineering and controlling as a Catholic or Baptist. He’s the one with the problem and I hope you understand not all families are like that. Not all Mormons are like that. I agree with Carla, there may be some underlying issues there where it may not be his “fault” entirely, but that doesn’t mean you need to subject yourself to unrighteous dominion and abusive relationships.

    Most families have some degree of diversity in them, all families have black sheep. What you have is not “normal” or acceptable. My own daughter has her own issues with the Church and while we hope she’ll grow out of some of them….more accurately, learn to move beyond them as we don’t completely disagree with her on most issues….it doesn’t affect our relationship at all.

    @Mike, I’ll put my recommend next to yours any day. I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt and assume that as an infrequent reader you simply don’t understand the dymanics of Molly’s family and the type of unrighteous dominion and abuse that are the polar opposite of everything taught by recent prophets and apostles. Her family wants a relationship with who they wish Molly to be instead of who she really is. That’s their choice, but enough is enough.

  8. Greg,

    I’m not sure what you mean by comparing recommends, but it sounds like some sort of challenge. If so, I accept, I guess, since I’m not honestly not clear on what the challenge would be. If it’s about righteousness, you’d probably win.

    But look, my only reason for commenting is that I have happened upon this blog from time to time and it is clear that Molly loves her family. I think it is equally clear that her family loves her. Even though I know none of the individuals personally I would love to read a post from Molly saying that her relationship with her family had really improved because it seems to me that is what both parties sincerely want.

    I don’t get that they want to have a relationship with who they wish her to be instead of who she is. I think Molly would probably ask that if her father visited, he not say anything disparaging about her beliefs, and I think it’s fair to request the same courtesy. I think it’s easy, especially with a subject like religious beliefs, to want to demonize those who think differently, whether we’re religious or not.

    To Molly, I honestly hope things get better between you and your family.

  9. When my son was 16, he decided the church wasn’t for him. He had a couple of very interesting “road trips” but he always came home. Once after he came back, we were talking and he said, “How can you stand me?” I asked what he meant. “How can you stand me being around when I don’t even think like you or dad anymore?” I looked at him and replied, “D–, I may not like your politics, I may not like your beliefs, I may not like your choices, but I will always love you. You are my son.” He just nodded.

    I am a active member of the church with a strong testimony. There were people who couldn’t understand why we didn’t just disown our son or ban him from our home. Yes, we do have a younger daughter that was broken hearted that her big brother wasn’t around much. The only restrictions he had during the short times he stayed with us (15 1/2 – 18 years old) were simple. No smoking, no drugs, no drinking, no girls in his room. House rules. After the second time he left and came back we said he didn’t have to go to church. But he had to either go to school (still in high school) or get a job. We weren’t going to support a MTV lifestyle (sleeping all day and watching MTV). He had left the second time because attending school and church were part of the plan. Our rule was until you are 18, you go to church with us. After that, it’s your choice. When asked why the church rule wasn’t enforced this time, I told him “You have made it very clear that you do not want to go to church, fine. You have proved your point. I will not allow you to make something I love and cherish a point of contention.”

    He is 37 now, a good man. Follows a different path than we would like. But we love him. He is kind, loving, has some good family values with his little family. (Gee, I wonder where that came from? 🙂 I try to follow what President Hinkley said a few years ago about family or friends that no longer believe. Love unconditionally, be a good example and bear testimony only when appropriate. My son knows I’m a woman of faith. I love him dearly. I have always felt that when a child goes down another path, how can they know that Jesus loves them and cares for them, when they are treated as your father has treated you? I’m sorry, it’s not Christ like at all. He is not honoring his priesthood, he is not honoring his God, he is not honoring your right to choose or as we tend to say in church, your free agency. Sorrow and anger are not forever, love is.

    May his heart be softened, pray for him and your family. I will.
    Hugs and prayers to you.
    Roxann

    • Roxann, That all sounds incredibly reasonable and just so . . . decent. By not compelling your son, you’re accepting him. I believe that if I had been treated like that there would not have been so much conflict. It grew hard to be patient when I was struggling with my testimony but when I visited my parents would force the issue. Perhaps they thought by doing so they were reinforcing areas of weakness in my belief, but all they did was compound the problems I already had.

      It’s good to see that there are people like you who recognise that the idea that it’s okay to disown your child or reject them because they don’t think the same way as you is cruel and foolish.

  10. Wow Molly. First let me say that’s a tough situation with your parents, especially with your father. Sincere and warm cyber hugs to you.

    Second, I can relate. There IS a cult mentality among the most devout/rabid in the church. Not all members have it, as some of the comments here demonstrate. My TBM family, like yours, does have it. That mentality stems from the fact that certain members do, in fact, identify themselves to their very cores with the organization — and everything the organization’s representatives tell them they are supposed to be. They have been well conditioned. Thus they don’t have a genuine sense of self. It’s been created for them. This is true for my parents. From what you have written I suspect it is true for yours.

    Their own cognitive dissonance and the resulting uncertainty threatens their very sense of personal identity. Hence, many are very contentious when you don’t share their beliefs. They HAVE to be right. Their sense of identity depends on it.

    Therefore, your rejection of their beliefs is perceived as a rejection of them. Your father said it: I am the church. Your parents, especially your father, are afraid of you. You are a threat to their sense of self. And they have been well-taught that if you don’t believe, they failed. It’s a mindf***.

  11. Molly, there isn’t an effective system to report abuse in the lds church. The idea of standing up in a meeting or raising your hand puts the onus on the victim. Look what happened to the so called Mormon Alliance- it was over-whelmed with abuse reports, and the members that tried to help the victims were eventually ex-communicated (as have been countless others that report the abuse to law enforcement) The latest studies show that 1 in 4 mormon girls will be abused, and 1 in 6 boys will suffer the same. A very poignant read re:perpetuating cycles of abuse in the lds church can be found at http://writ.news.findlaw.com/hamilton/20100415.html
    Also at that same site is her rebuttal to the mormon lawyer Von Keetch’s comments. To date, the church is not seeking to rectify this problem, but rather to limit it’s legal liability. If you would like more info re this subject, let me know and I will e mail links to you.

    • If you’d like to write a guest post on the balancing act between sustaining authority and combating abuse, please do let me know. It’s a complicated and important topic. The more discussion that takes place the better.

      • Molly,
        Yes, I will write a guest post on this topic. Can I e-mail the post to you for your editing/comments first? I don’t see a “contact me” on your blog.
        Let me know how you wish to procede, because, yes this is an extremely important topic.

  12. re; the person above who thinks sustaining votes count for something–

    i’m active lds and although i’m liberal i still consider myself tbm. even i think the “voting” to sustain is a joke. people just raise their hand because it’s part of the routine and don’t give it a second thought. kind of seems like a shame to me because it doesn’t make it seem like people take their faith seriously if they just raise their hand.

  13. To Mike-

    If Molly isn’t welcome in her father’s house with her thinking brain and the beliefs that come from her heart, her experiences and her sincere searching, then she isn’t welcome. Same for the other householders.

    Molly’s father has made it clear that only his thoughts and beliefs are welcome. Anyone is welcome to have his views. But they’re only welcome when they have adopted them.

    That’s not a family. That’s not Christian. That’s not devout. That’s not even decent humanity. It’s cultish and it’s tyrannical and it’s unacceptable behavior.

  14. I am so sorry to hear about your experience Molly. In many ways my own experience is vastly different AND exactly the same.
    I have not been in the church now for over 14 years. The last time I went to church I went to support my brother as he blessed his baby.
    My lesbian partner and I sat in the back row with our foster child but of course we were “seen”. One of the speakers stood and said she felt inspired “at the last minute” to change her talk to the importance of families and the sin of homosexuality and damage it does to children. My mom was convinced the spirit spoke to her to take the opportunity to send us this message. I was convinced the “spirit” that spoke to her was the shock of seeing a real live lesbian couple right in the pew!

    On the topic of sustaining leaders – how could ANYONE feeling lack of support for a leader put their hand up infront of everyone at ward or stake conference? The pressure to conform when everything is so public is insane.
    The system is severely flawed – in favor of supporting the status quo.

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