Leaving the Saints: Language and Alienation

The BBC’s recent documentary on Mormonism highlighted the powerful feelings of ostracism that are frequently felt by those who leave the Church. These feelings are not unique to those who leave a religion but are often felt by those who join a tradition as well.  In fact, large identity transitions of any kind can have similar consequences.  Yet, with that caveat,  I want to offer some reflections on this phenomenon as it applies to leaving Mormonism and why I believe exclusion is felt at times by those who leave and by those who stay.  In particular I would like think about how and why this occurs within families.

Based solely on anecdotal data I assume that this is not an uncommon experience.  Yet, my experience also suggests that members of the Church are actively encouraged to love and care for those who are left the faith.  This is especially true of those within the family.[1]

Why then do families which had previously been close, or at least not antagonistic, slip all too easily into practices that feel exclusionary?  Because these families have once experienced rewarding emotional ties I believe that this is rarely intentional.  In most cases this gradual alienation is quite unconscious although surely there are times when those who remain and those who leave are both guilty of unkindness toward the other.  These shifts highlight both the fragility of our relationships and also the way in which we rely on a shared language to communicate in the context of this fragility.

Mormonism, like most other religions, fosters ties that bind people together.  But, living together is incredibly difficult.  We are born into families that we did not choose (or if we did, we do not remember choosing) and who are often distant from the interests, thoughts, and feelings which constitute our personality and subjectivity.  Yet, these stark differences are mediated by a socially normative and (I would argue) evolutionary driven commitment to care for those who are our kin.  At root we are alienated individuals seeking to survive in a hostile world by relying on kinship networks that we were born into to protects us from this hostility. As we mature we develop a place in this network which is organized by various social and religious narratives.  There is a steady accretion that stabilizes these relationships even as they shift through the life course.

In short, religion, and Mormonism is no exception, provides a powerful set of narratives which shape the connections and ties binding families together.  Religion provides obligations, rules and rewards for family life. Mormonism’s emphasis on the eternal structure of these associations perhaps make the force of the LDS narrative particularly salient.  For many Mormon families, daily activities are performed and negotiated within the context of a religious practice that often brings us into regular contact.  Mormonism compels us to work together to meet the competing demands of our shared faith.  Busily arranging family schedules to accommodate mutual, seminary, primary and other Church meetings feels like it is the work of eternity.

When someone leaves the Church they rupture this social fabric.  This is not to say that they should not leave (or that they should be blamed for leaving) but there is an almost inevitable feeling of panic and chaos which results from such a change.  The social world of that family is no longer the same and it is often felt, at least so I am told, as a death.  Not that those who remain somehow wish this person was dead or that they are somehow incapable of communicating with the person who left; but the pain and grief involved in managing this rupture is akin to what is felt when someone does actually pass away.  This metaphor is apt because the person that was once known has radically shifted their position, roles and identity in relation to the other members of the family.

In such moments, the ties which previously provided shape to the family are thrown into disarray and they are all left with the difficult work of trying to reestablish those ties.  The painful reality is that very often once that religious tie has been severed we may find that we do not have as much in common with each other as we thought and that we may not need each other in the ways that we previously felt. This realization is profoundly difficult. What makes it worse is that we can lose the ability to communicate with each other about what we are now experiencing and feeling.

Because, as I mentioned earlier, the Church is such a massive part of everyday conversation Mormonism, when it becomes (or is perceived to become) taboo it can be very difficult for some people to find new conversations.  Kristine Haglund once observed that language is vital to how Mormons live their faith. The right words matter.  We speak of ordinances and not ritual. We talk of the sacrament rather than communion or the Lord’s supper.  Words, for Latter-day saints, provide an ontological certainty in an otherwise contingent and deeply unsettling world.

Leaving the church often involves developing a different vocabulary with which to articulate a new sense of self, a new faith etc.  As a result, those who remain members of the Church may find it very difficult talk to about faith (those things that matter most) in ways that do not use the rhetoric of Mormonism. At the same time, those who have left feel dissatisfied with that language because it does not capture this new life and identity that is being forged.  Rather this language serves to reinforce their old (and potentially painful) persona.  My suspicion is that there might be a few who are able but unwilling to move between these discourses.  Most people, I suspect, are merely unaware and/or unable to see how these different ways of speaking clash against each other.

This is part of the reason people drift apart and why they feel ostracized: they have simply lost the words to talk each about the things that matter most.

Notes:

1. Those who have moved on from Mormonism will surely remember the many meetings during which Latter-day Saints are encouraged to care for and bring back those who have stopped attending Mormon worship services.  Such efforts to reach-out are very often predicated on certain assumptions that the person who has left may find distasteful or unsatisfactory.  Yet, my experience has been that such rhetoric and action is most often based (at least in part) on love and charity.

Comments

  1. The problem is, we in the church do not talk about faith at all. We talk about certainty. We always talk about what we “know” to be true, not what we believe. This is the language we are raised in if we are lifers, or taught if we are converts. We are spiritually unprepared to talk with anyone who is struggling with their faith because we do not have a vocabulary that allows us to do so. I think there is also a cultural bias against anyone who doubts or questions or who is perceived as less than 100 percent.

  2. Aaron (1) I agree! I was just noting that on Sunday in RS. We were talking about hope, and when asked what hope is one of the sisters replied “Knowing that things will get better.” I said “I am pretty sure that hope (like faith) is NOT knowledge.” There seems to be a Mormon language taboo on admitting you do not know something that there is no possible way you can know. Words like hope, faith, believe, feel, etc… are all sacrificed on the altar of this faux “knowledge”

  3. This post is thought provoking. My mom continues to talk to my drug-addicted sister with statements like, “Did you ask your home teacher for a blessing?” I’m sure her home teacher is not on speed dial like her dealer is. It would be comical if it wasn’t so sad. My mom just doesn’t know how else to talk.

  4. J. Stapley says:

    Thanks Aaron. Mormons view their relationships with coreligionists, and especially kin, in cosmological terms. This is made real, as you note, in the language used to communicate the most simple things. A transition out of the faith results in a rupture of the cosmology. Many Mormons know how to speak and relate to coworkers outside of the faith, but it is tremendously difficult to know how to be a sibling or parent to someone outside the faith.

  5. Geoff - A says:

    There is also a great deal of emphasis on unity. As I pointed out to my HP group leader on Sunday, you can achieve unity by excluding everyone who disagrees with you; or you can have unity by including those with different views on how to live the Gospel.
    My experience is that most members and leaders, are more comfortable with the exclusionary version though of course they would deny it and claim to be loving, while excluding.
    I personlly think those who are most unquestioning of The Church are least able to live the Gospel.

  6. Last Lemming says:

    I know its not cool to mock typos, but this was irresistible.

    cowmology

  7. Last Lemming says:

    No fair! You fixed it too fast.

  8. J., I would hypothesize that there is a positive correlation between our ability to speak of our faith with coworkers and our ability to speak to family members. In areas where Mormons are very densely populated it is likely that Mormonism becomes the rhetorical norm and so this ability to shift discourses is inhibited simply because of a lack of familiarity with other ways of speaking. Certain those relationships (conversations) with family are far more emotionally fraught than those with coworkers – which inevitably makes them more difficult – but my guess would be that there will be a higher probability of the family becoming religiously bilingual if they have already developed that capacity in the workplace.

  9. Geoff – A, certainly that is one of the other important points of emphasis in Mormonism, but I suspect that the tendency to seek unity through exclusion is not all that unique to the Church but rather humans in general seem to struggle with that kind of ambiguity.

  10. Last Lemming, there are some benefits to wielding the keys of the kingdom.

    Aaron, I think that is right. However, I think that beyond discursive modes, Mormons generally do, I think, generally view relationships at work as outside their cosmology. I think that it is very difficult to perceive familial relationships to be outside their cosmology.

  11. An Imperfect Saint says:

    I am a lifelong member of the church. My parents allowed me to have friends of different faiths growing up, and I think that gave me a slightly larger “spiritual vocabulary” than I would have without those friends. I was also molested for most of my childhood.

    I think the thing that is most important when I am talking to members and former members who are dealing with a crisis of faith is that I have had them myself. I gained my testimony one painful experience at a time. I have a testimony in spite of leaders who knew I had been molested, but still told me that I had to do my best to make and keep a relationship with my abiser because I was “sealed” to him. I believe that the church is true, but I don’t believe that the sealing power is an absolute, that creates unbreakable bonds no matter what circumstances. I had a strict instructions to learn to forgive if I wnated to be able to move forward spiritually.

    I was raped when I was almost 15, I disclosed part of what happened to my bishop about 36 hours after it happened. When the initial reaction of my bishop was to tell me that he wouldn’t excommunicate me if I worked hard to find forgiveness that I could get back the “virginity” that I hadn’t protected closely enough. If he was going to punish me for half the story, I certainly wasn’t going to tell him the rest of it, or anyone else for that matter. It took me almost two years, a suicide attempt and hospitalization to find the courage to tell someone the entire story. Even now I tend to be more willing to discuss the incest. Being released as Mia Maid president a few months after I had been called, put on church probation for six months, and having rumors that I got pregnant and “cried rape” when I didn’t want to take responsibility. (The great irony was that I did get pregnant from the rape, and had a miscarriage in the first trimester, but since I didn’t tell anyone, not even my parents, about the pregnancy, the rumors where just malicious gossip. The only people who I talked to about being raped were my bishop and then my parents, at my bishops insistence, so one of them had to have talked to someone to have anyone else know that it had happened.)

    So, by the time I was sixteen I had been through two disciplinary counsels and been put on church probation twice, once for being raped and once for attempting suicide. The trial of faith was difficult on so many levels. I only had nightmares about the incest, and so while I knew something was very wrong, I thought that I was what was wrong. My sex drive had been out of whack even before the rape. After that I figured that if everyone already had decided I was a slut, and I knew something was wrong with me, so why worry about trying to live the gospel?

    I lived with my grandparents for six months after I was out of the hospital. They weren’t members of the church so sometimes I went to church, sometimes I didn’t. Sometimes I felt the Holy Ghost, even while I was acting out sexually. My grandparents gave me space to figure out who I wanted to be, even though that process would have been terrible if I had strong ties to the LDS community in that area. I needed that chance to decide that I wanted the church, that I needed the gospel in my life. I chose the church, and the gospel, in spite of the trials and the struggles to understand priesthood leaders who could be so judgmental, when the promptings I recieved were full of love and acceptance.

    I was lucky that the ward had a new bishop, that my parents were seperated and my father was out of the house and out of the ward leadership structure. I came back to a bishop who listened, almost like a priest would listen to a confessional. When I was done telling him everything, he asked to me come back every week for the next six weeks. He asked me to pray at least three times a day and to start rereading the Book of Mormon. Each week we talked about what I had read, how I thought it applied to my life, and how I felt when I was praying. I was honest when I told him that I felt like I was talking, and someone was answering, but I couldn’t understand the message because there was too much static. He promised me that if I would keep reading my scriptures and praying, even if I made a mistake, had sex with someone, masterbated, to keep reading my scriptures and keep praying. After the first six week I finally told him the entire story of when I was raped. He said he hadn’t been sure, but he had been prompted to simply love me and encourage me to do simple things that would bring me closer to the Lord, so that I would learn to trust him enough to tell him what was really bothering me. It was still several years before I told my mom the entire story of the rape, I have never given my father the satisfaction of knowing what someone besides him had done to me.

    The trial of my sexuality has not gone away. Being married is helpful, since I have an appropriate outlet for my sexuality, but there are still some times that I am struggling and sex is my outlet for comfort. It isn’t easy to live with my past, and I don’t blame my choices on anyone else. I do understand myself better, and I can use that knowledge to make sure that I am channeling my struggles into more appropriate actions.

    I have continued to struggle with the concept of unrighteous dominion. My father is an obvious offender. He molested me, was excommunicated for that, and for being apostate. The rest of the leaders who hurt me are more ambiguous. Personally I question their judgment and decisions. I am better able to give them the benefit of the doubt than I was when I was in the middle of trying to deal with them. I struggle with members who make judgmental comments, whether it is in a sacrament meeting talk or Relief Society. I recognize that I have no right to judge where they are spiritually, and that I need to give all members and non-members the benefit of the doubt that I felt robbed of, on a number of occasions.

    I have bad days. I have some days that are easier than others, when I am trying to live the gospel. I still take my former bishops advice, read my scriptures even if I don’t feel like it. Pray at least three times a day, even when I feel like I am only talking to myself. Keep doing it even on the hardest days, and each day will get a little easier.

    Right now I am in a good place. My husband is supportive, even though we have been through legal hell and back during this first year of our marriage. In the end the truth always comes out, even if it takes several years and $45,000 to prove it. Even in the middle of having my siblings take sides, my exhusband and biological father actively pushing the DA to send me to prison for as long as possible, a medical problem that has given me more pain in 6 months than I might reach in a five year time frame.

    Through all of that “outside crap” revolved around me, I was able to be the calm in the middle of the storm. I was given a blessing the day that my world seemed to crumble. I was given a lot of very specific promises in that blessing, two directly maintain to this:
    1) I was promised that as long as I would be faithful in reading my scriptures that I would be able to maintain my ability to see clearly, be at peace, and trasmit that feeling of peace to everyone around me.
    2) I was promised that as long as I was truthful, completely, that I and my children would be watched over and cared for. I was promised that I would receive the inspiration to know what to do, and when to do it, if I listened carefully to the promptings of the Spirit and followed them when I received the promptings.

    On my darkest days of pain, uncertainty and trouble, I held onto the promises in that blessing. I did everything I could to be sure that I was worthy and focused, so that when I received promptings I followed through on them. Sometimes that means that I sometimes have to pray for clarification or to understand how to do something, but as long as I ask, the Lord has shown me the way forward. In the middle of challenges I found that I needed to allow for some help from others, find new ways of doing things myself, and serving others when the Lord prompts me too.

    Sometimes I have been on the brink of leaving the church. Certainly as a teenager I struggled with whether a church that embraced men who are imperfect in their judgment was one that I could live with. I was very tempted after my first marriage fell apart to simply leave the church, I visited a number of congregations in the new town I moved to. In the end, I decided that I knew where my truth was, and the blessings I wanted could only be found in the LDS church. I made friends at the churches I visited when I was “searching” and I am truly grateful for their friendship.

    One of my best friends from high school came “out of the closet” about 12 years ago. He was excommunicated when he and his boyfriend moved in together. They hope that someday they will be able to marry, and I find it hard not to hope that there will be a way for him to someday come back to church. His boyfriend was raised in a non-denominational church, which they attend, but he misses the feeling of belonging he had as a member of a world-wide church. His struggle between church membership, and the person he feels he has always been, is poignant.

    One of my other best friends asked to have her name removed from the roles of the church on her 18th birthday. She does not miss the church. I don’t know exactly what her experiences were, but she says that all she misses of church is the hymns, and she has a CD with all of her favorites. Beyond that, her desire for a life that includes any religion, is non-existant. We talk about kids, art, our blogs, but not religion. I mentioned a new calling once and her response was, please don’t remind me of such a painful part of my life. And so, we go back to safe topics. She still has relatively close relationships with her family, but she doesn’t go to the blessings or baptisms of her nieces and nephews. I have only seen her enter an LDS church for her sibling’s wedding receptions, or when she is doing wedding photography (which is what she does professionally).

    I think there are many things that make it hard to cross divides in religious misunderstandings and language. I don’t think it is impossible, but I think it takes work, and a willingness to have moments of discomfort as relationships are renegotiated. I have had several friends who are aware of my past who have asked me to help them sit down with a family member or friend to start a conversation. A lot of times hearing that they are not the only ones who have thought about leaving, or the only one who has left and is afraid that they have lost everything by leaving the church. I wish that more people could be willing to talk about their struggles as church members, and why they stayed or didn’t. I know the “I’m a Mormon” campaign helps people see who members are. I wish we had a similar campaign named something like “I have fought hard to keep my faith, and this is how I did it.”

    Sorry for the very long comment, I realized about halfway through that there may be someone who needed the whole thing, even though it was an emotional stretch to lay my life out so bluntly. If you are struggling, know that you aren’t alone. If you love someone who is struggling, you are not alone. If you find yourself in one of those categories in the future, you are not alone!

  12. J., agreed. Emotionally fraught does not quite do justice to how we understand our relationships in terms of our broader salvation narrative.

    An Imperfect Saint, I am glad that you have a found a way to navigate some very difficult experiences and find some peace.

  13. If you grow up Mormon almost all of your friends are Mormon and when you leave you must start over. The church has a history of shunning and ostracism. I was excommunicated when it was still being announced from the podium and as a result I assure you I was ostracised by all but one member who remains a friend today! While official practices have changed, culture changes more slowly.

  14. I would also add that in my experience, it is difficult to have any relationship, even with siblings that have NOT left the church, that are not constantly filled with the rhetoric of Mormonism. I tried to talk with one of my sisters the other day about taking surgical steps to prevent any further pregnancies after this baby (my 5th) is born, and what she opened with was “I assume you have been thoughtful and prayerful about it”. It upset me a lot, and it is difficult to articulate all of the feelings I have been having about it, but what you have written here has helped me a great deal in sorting through it. I have been able to talk about that topic with non-mormon friends based on factual information and other’s personal experiences with those types of procedures, and not one of them has used language intended to make me feel guilty or second guess my own ability to make decisions regarding something this personal. But with my siblings, all of whom, myself included, consider ourselves active members of the church, the rhetoric is always there. In every conversation, regardless of the topic.

  15. Howard, my reading in the area of excommunication practices suggests that the intention was not to promote ostracism within the community. Rather it grew out an antebellum America that experienced large amounts of anxiety over how to signal trust in an increasingly mobile society while also trying to negotiate the democratic and authoritarian impulses of early Mormonism. This is not to argue that ostracism was not the unintended consequence of such practices in some instances but merely to say that I am not convinced that it was the explicit intention. Moreover, although public announcements of excommunication are less common, excommunications often still become well known within the community and so I suppose that in actuality the circumstances are somewhat similar. With that said, I am sorry to hear that you experienced ostracism from your ward.

  16. Private I. says:

    An Imperfect Saint (11) “I realized about halfway through that there may be someone who needed the whole thing,…” the answer was me–I needed it. When I was 18 years old I was raped several times by my then boyfriend and when I told my bishop about it I was put on probation for 6 months. I was barred from taking the sacrament. I could not tell my parents because my father would have killed him and he was not worth losing my father to jail. I trusted in my bishop and was betrayed. He even told his wife about it. I left The Church for a long time and also acted out sexually. Over the following decade plus I tried and tried to regain activity but would burn out after a while. Eventually I was able to tell my mother what had happened in limited detail, but even this many years later I still cannot ever have my father or brothers find out about it. While it is not good to know that it happened to someone else as well, it is good to not feel as alone about it.

  17. LLH – Since your siblings can’t seem to translate their words into your language, you might try doing it yourself. I have two sisters who have left the church so I use church language when I refer to myself but try to use generic language when talking about them. When your sister says “”I assume you have been thoughtful and prayerful about it” you should try to translate it into generic language in your mind like “have you thought about it carefully and do you really feel like this is the right decision for you?” and you can answer “I’ve really researched this and thought about it carefully and I really feel like this is the right decision for me” or “After struggling with this decisions I have decided that this is the best thing to do under the circumstances” or “I feel at peace about this” or “Even though I am stressed and worried, I know this is the path I need to take right now in my life, and I have to trust my instincts.”

  18. Aaron R.,
    It would be comforting to think that it was just my ward or just my stake, but the problem is much broader than that.

  19. Love is a powerful force – and can be wielded in positive and negative ways. People generally have a hard time truly putting themselves in others’ shoes and being truly empathetic – and this inhibits our ability to understand and live fully Christian lives (no matter our particular religious affiliation).

    We talk about King Benjamin’s sermon – and, inevitably, someone says, “Sure, but . . .” We talk about the Golden Rule – and, inevitably, someone says, “Sure, but . . .” We talk about the injunction not to judge and to forgive all – and, inevitably, someone says, “Sure, but . . .”

    To further complicate things, as others have said, Mormonism is a life-encompassing religion. My mother couldn’t carry on a conversation about anything for more than about 10 minutes without it turning directly and explicitly to a conversation about the Gospel in some way. That’s not a bad thing, in and of itself. I really admire it, and I’m finding my mind operates in the same way – but my decades living outside the Inermountain West’s Mormon Corridor has given me access to and understanding of the non-Mormon vocabulary necessary to converse with others in their own language. Both of those aspects of my life (acutally living in predominantly non-Mormon areas and learning other religious languages) help me communicate with those who are not of my faith – but only a core belief in the most expansive view of “according to the dictates of our own conscience and allow ALL (wo)men everywhere the same privilege . . .” allows me to talk with struggling or disaffected members in a way that is reasonably empathetic.

    To me, that’s the key – truly accepting the privilege of everyone worshipping according to the dictates of their own consciences and, with that foundation, focusing mostly on service as a response to objective and stated need (with explicit allowance for personal revelation) – not primarily as a response to presumed or perceived need or with ulterior motives (like future religious conversion or reactivation). It helps that I believe we will be judged ultimately on how diligently they strive to live according to the dictates of their own consciences and not how comprehensively they complete any religious checklist. I think that’s bedrock Mormonism, but it’s much harder to accept with regard to “our own” than to others – especially because of our higher expectations of them and our sense of betrayal or disappointment when we feel rejected by them.

  20. Howard, I did not mean to imply that it was just your ward where this happens but rather that it was within your ward that this occurred. Yet, I still believe that my description of the problem has the potential to assist with understanding why people in a ward feel unable to communicate with those who are excommunicated. As I mentioned in the OP, I believe this has relevance to a variety of major identity transitions, real or imagined.

  21. I wrote a very short post about this same general topic a couple of years ago on my personal blog:

    “Truly Loving Those Who Leave” (http://thingsofmysoul.blogspot.com/2010/03/truly-loving-those-who-leave.html)

  22. I am repeatedly reminded why I am glad my parents had the foresight to decide that there were too many Mormons in the West and they did not need their family to be among them. Growing up in the East and Midwest meant the Church was an important part of my life but most of my friends, especially my closest friends, were non-members up until I graduated from high school. Not that I haven’t encountered my fair share of absolutist members who speak of nothing but truth and cannot understand those of other faiths and those who are enduring crises of faith. I believe there might even be a few of those in my family. But the constant exposure to other world views has been a benefit that I work hard to ensure my children encounter also.

    The attitudes I encounter in strident members disturbs me constantly and raises my hackles. They fear “the world” and lock themselves up tightly in order to stay safe from it and in the process become insular and ignorant of how others truly think. Didn’t the Savior deride the pharisees precisely because they couldn’t understand why he would spend so much time with the downtrodden, the diseased (where often the disease was considered a physical manifestation of spiritual impurity), and those whose faith differed? How can so many Latter-Day Saints draw near to Him with their lips, but their hearts are far from Him? Or at least far from the least among our brethren and sisters?

    I try not to judge but instead recognize that each of us walks this path doing the best we can today with the hope that we will do better tomorrow. I see President Hinckley and now President Monson preaching the message of loving each and every person and paying special care to those who may have turned away. We seek to rescue because, as I told a young man last week as we counseled together, he is an important part of the body of Christ and it cannot be whole without him. Those holes are gaps in our strength and losses in our power as a community. There cannot be unity within a community if members exclude those who are different or weak. We are not like herds of zebras who would cast off the weak in order to survive. Instead we should be the shepherd who circles and gathers and loves those who are flailing.

    Excommunication is intended not to create an opportunity to shun but instead to aid the repentance process and help save the souls of transgressors. The action may be what is necessary to help the individual accept accountability for their actions and learn humility to allow the atonement to work in their life. That is the primary purpose though it is also intended to protect the innocent (extremely important – something I fear some leaders do not fully comprehend – as evidenced in a few comments in this thread), and to safeguard the purity, integrity, and good name of the Church. There seems at times to be a failure in recognizing who the victim is and who the transgressor might be. I’ve been through enough councils to know that the critical factor is the outpouring of love that needs to persist to support, encourage, and lift up those who are struggling. But we are all human and many members likely fail to understand that

    I fear I may suffer at times in my ability to connect with others who are struggling with their faith but then I remind myself that it may not be the struggle that puts distance between us but simply a difference in personality because there are some with whom I have made very deep connections.

  23. My friend told me how she moved 1000 miles away from home, lived a lifestyle completely opposite of the faith, and her Dad called her from UT on her 21st birthday and asked if she had ever considered going on a mission. She didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Maybe someone should tackle writing a book on this subject?

    To all of those who have been or are currently being abused, I’m so sorry that after all you have endured, you are met with less than sympathetic leaders. So grateful to hear there are a few leaders out there that showed or expressed Christlike love. My sister had a leader tell her that one day she would get on her knees and thank her Heavenly Father that she had been abused. It’s pretty much the last time she set foot in an LDS building. How about a stake leadership training on what to say to women or men that have been abused? We all need to learn how to minister better to each other.

  24. We have a recent convert in our ward who decided she wanted no further contact with the church. I was her vt partner, had spoken at her baptism, was the gospel principles teacher, and had talked to her at least once a week. She hadn’t shared what led to this decision to me. On the day the RS pres had called me to tell me I had already texted and emailed the woman…in the course of a normal day.

    I worried slightly about it, then decided to see how she reacted and just continue friendly contact but limit church related contact. She’s fine with that. We still email back and forth. Though she is single and never married…she really enjoys my newsy children stories. I’m always interested in how her master’s is going.

    I’m encouraging other women in the ward to maintain their friendships…it’s a challenge when you are told bluntly to NOT contact someone…to then reach out and contact them.

    On the family side. My husband and I both have siblings who have left the church. For a variety of reasons and through a variety of paths. One of his sisters went through a HUGE angry stage. She and her husband would email their nephews and nieces anti mormon literature…gave one sil a huge stack of anti=mormon literature (she left the church, her husband and her son–yes there is more to that…but the encouragement to leave really didn’t help). AT one point they said they were sorry, were tryign to come back, were a part of our baby blessing, then very shortly afterwards applied for a job at BYU, didn’t get it and went right back where they were…later saying they had lied about coming back at all.

    Unsurprisingly this has created hard feelings. My hsuband is much younger than this sister and our children didn’t receive the antimormon literature.

    They are now is a much better space…living their life as they see fit and just allowing us to live ours.

    Many people do have anger upon leaving the church…frequently the anger is justified towards a person or twenty. Sometimes it’s justified towards the institution…but it frequently has unintended consequences.

    I do so wish Bishops would emphasize love and reer to counselors for complex issues they have not been trained to handle. I’m sorry for the pain some of you have dealt with relating to abuse and rape—especially the completely unecessary pain added on to that of incompetence, ignorance and idiocy of church leaders.

  25. I was honest when I told him that I felt like I was talking, and someone was answering, but I couldn’t understand the message because there was too much static. That comment is worth a post of its own.

    In fact, your comment An Imperfect Saint would make an excellent guest post (at Wheat & Tares if you are interested and no one else gets you first).

  26. “I personally think those who are most unquestioning of The Church are least able to live the Gospel.’ Does that include President Monson and other apostles? I don’t think it’s an issue of questioning the church at all. It’s a question of understanding basic gospel principles and then living them. There are lots of people who appear outwardly faithful but inwardly have significant struggles. There are also plenty of people who question everything and are still jerks. The tough thing about maintaining a relationship with someone who’s left the church is that you might not have had anything in common to sustain a friendship except for their affiliation with the church. Sometimes being related by blood is not enough. I know plenty of estranged families that are non-members. There are few of us who maintain life long friendships once we’re separated by miles. We move on. We form new relationships. My guess there are just as many people who’ve left the church who “shun” family as there are members who “shun” the person who’s left the church. No one has a monopoly. But I don’t think its always a purposeful effort on the part of either side.

  27. Although it feels like ostracizing when most contact with members disappears after someone leaves I’m not sure that is what it really is. I have worked at the same place for almost 20 years now. There are people there that I see every day, we chat, we talk about our families, our vacations, our weekend, we go to lunch, we work on projects. I have literally been a second hand witness as some of their children have grown from elementary school to adulthood. But if I were to change jobs tomorrow I wouldn’t be surprised if I never saw or heard from any of them again. Employment is the glue that holds our friendship together. Likewise church membership is the glue that holds most of my church friendships together. It isn’t that our friendship isn’t genuine or real but it is grounded in our common experience not only as church members but as ward members. When someone that I see every Sunday and truly enjoy being around moves I think I will keep in contact, and that has been true for a few but not many. For most their sphere of life disconnects with my sphere and we build new ties. That isn’t ostracizing, it’s just life.

  28. Bethany says:

    Great post. We tend to forget that we have our own language and customs and when we are left speechless, it creates a lot of tension between people. Some of my siblings have left the Church for reasons of a bishop not knowing crap as others have found out painfully via the posts. Finding common ground after this can be extremely hard for families.

    I’m semi-active and it’s a pain when my obnoxious father-in-law goes on about how my husband and I are destroying our children as we aren’t righteous enough for him. Best thing I ever did was ban him from my house even though I hated to do it. Of course, that has confirmed our unrighteousness even more in his eyes. If the first words out of his mouth wasn’t “So, did you go to church on Sunday?” or something else church related we’d have a better relationship.

    We as members need to find common ground for relationships and sometimes it means removing church language completely from conversations. A lot of church members find that terribly difficult if not impossible. It takes time, but it can be done.

    Thanks for the reminder of I’m talking, feeling like someone is listening but there’s still a lot of static. I needed to hear it.

  29. An Imperfect Saint says:

    Private I. (#16) You are not alone. I glad that my post spoke to you. I hope that wherever you are in your current spiritual journey, that you have people to talk to. If you don’t leave a comment here, and we will figure out a way to “talk.”

    Sometimes I am jealous of people who seem to be living perfect lives, I was feeling that pretty intensely about a year ago, and then one of the “perfect” members of my relief society asked me if she could talk to me. She then laid out her two year struggle with the fact that all three of her daughters had disclosed that they had been molested by her first husband. She said that she didn’t have any idea how to deal with the rage she felt that for 20 years she had slept next to the man who was systematically destroying her precious daughters. She didn’t know how to talk to her daughters. She didn’t know how to talk to our bishop or stake president, and her temple recommend interview was coming up in three months, and she couldn’t answer the questions in the same way that she always had.

    She talked for almost three (3) hours, laying out all of the rage, hurt, confusion, and guilt she felt. I just listened and asked the occasional clarifying question. When she had finally wound down, I asked her the question that confused me from the time she started talking. She told me that after the testimony I had given several months before, that she was pretty sure I wouldn’t judge her, even if I didn’t know how to help.

    There are three things that are important in this experience, and one that is completely unimportant. I will start with what is NOT important. That *I* was the person who gave the testimony that she remembered was not important.

    What I said in that testimony is important. It was a testimony of Christ. That when each of us stands before the judgment bar that the only real relationship that truly matters is our relationship with Christ, whether we have his image in our countenance. While lots of things we do in life, in our families, in the church, in each of our decisions can bring us closer or far away from Christ. In the end it is only whether He knows us well enough for an effective “closing argument” when he is our advocate to the Father.

    It is important that we were both at church the day of that fast and testimony meeting. She almost didn’t go to that meeting because she had spent most of the night crying after a conversation with her daughter. I went even though I had decided the night before to stay home. I had a fever, I fell asleep while the sacrament was passed. I got up to bare my testimony and was at the pulpit before I consciously realized I had started to move. I had no idea what to say, and half way through, I couldn’t figure out how to get myself out of my testimony in a graceful way, when I wasn’t sure exactly where I had started. I wouldn’t really know what I had said if so many people hadn’t talked to me, emailed me or talked in a RS lesson. I was the one standing at the pulpit, everything I said was absolutely true to my beliefs and experience, but the expression of those thoughts and ideas are not something that I can really take credit for.

    It is important that this sister REMEMBERED the testimony I shared when she was struggling. So many times in the scriptures we are told to remember something, remembering is important and can ONLY be done if we have had the experience before. We have to be in the right places, at the right times, with the right attitude, with the willingness to be prompted, and we have to be paying attention. So, while there are experiences we are having all the time, and not all of them seem important when they happen, if we are have the memory, then the Holy Ghost can help us remember it, when we need it. While personal revelation is a right we have as the children of our Heavenly Father, it is oftentimes remembering things we have seen, heard, read or experienced, put in a slightly different spiritual circumstances, that brings the answers we are seeking.

    I have gone on a long time again. My apologies to those for whom my posts are not applicable in their lives.

    To #16, and anyone else who feels alone, I want you to know that there are many more people who share your struggles than you could ever guess, from outwards appearances. There is a LARGE community of WOMEN and MEN who have struggled with sexual assault, molestation and rape who are still trying to navigate their way through faith promoting experiences as well as faith damaging experiences. There is always a tension, it will not go away, it will be part of my life, for the rest of my life. It will be part of your life, for the rest of your life. You do not need to do it alone!

  30. Glenn Thigpen says:

    I really think that the problem is more prominent in areas that are predominantly LDS. I think another poster has already aid something to that effect. I was raised in a devoutly LDS home, but in an area where the church is not the predominant religion. Several of my siblings have fallen away from the church, yet we have maintained familial bonds which have grown stronger over the years.
    We do not bring up the church at family get togethers. We bring up family. We do not judge each other for the different paths we have taken. I wish that those who took another path would return, but have not tried to discuss those decisions. If any were to evince such a desire, that would be different.
    The same is true for my children who have strayed. At least one seems to be on a recovery course now. The lines of communication are all open in my family. Maybe I am a bit naive and there really is some smoldering resentment, but I have never seen the smoke.
    I believe that living my religion is the best way I can help my brothers and sisters and children. Now, if I could just get that last part right…..

    Glenn

  31. A Turtle Named Mack says:

    This is an issue I am struggling with, currently – but from the other side. Recently, I have had a number of ‘friends’ from Church decide to abandon activity and renounce their testimonies. These are people with whom I socialized quite regularly. I find that socializing with them is now awkward, given their rejection of the Church. Many of them have, frequently, mentioned that their hope is that the decisions they have made will not influence the friendships they have with Ward members, because there’s really no reason why we can’t still socialize. As I examine these relationships, what stands out is that many of the friends I have from Church are not people I would generally have much interest in, if not for our common, shared, beliefs. I think it’s great that my Church associations allow (force) me to congregate with people who are so different than myself. However, when those shared beliefs are no longer present, I find that I just don’t have the same interest in maintaining friendships. Basically, many of those who have left the Church are people I really wouldn’t have been interested in, otherwise. If I am going to put effort into developing and maintaining friendships with those who do not share my religious beliefs (which I continually do), there is a long list of persons I find more interesting and appealing. However, I am self-conscious about discontinuing these friendships and giving the impression that I am rejecting someone simply because they have left the Church – which is quite petty. It’s not because they no longer have a testimony, it’s because I never really found them that interesting, in the first place. And, now that the only thing we had in common – a shared religious experience and history – no longer exists, I don’t feel obligated to socialize any more. It’s a struggle to navigate these relationships, and not just for those who have left the Church.

  32. Mormons are taught that the world is a bad bad place. When a family member leaves, they move to the category “world.” Subsequently, they are bad. They are not loved, rather, they are “loved.” We can all tell the distance. Wrong set of words, OP.

  33. marmot (32) no group of people are all the same. I am a Mormon and I am nothing like you have described. I neither fear “the world” nor do I treat those who leave The Church as such.

  34. #32 – I’ve never heard it taught that way in my entire life. Sure, too many individual members might see things that way, but it’s not been my experience with the vast majority of members in my life.

  35. Mack (no. 31) — I appreciate what you’re saying — the tension you feel is real — as I have worked with this tension, I came to realize that I cannot allow someone else to hold me hostage. If our friendship formed in the community of faith, and “he” left the community, “he” cannot insist that our friendship continue — it might, if there is some other reason for the friendship (including my own desire to redeem him); or it might not, as I continue to find friendship within the community.

  36. Aaron, problems with changing one’s mind and subsequent ostracism is not confined to religion. The mundane matter of switching alliegences to football teams is difficult. Try being heavily involved in politics and switching from one party to another and then try to remain friends with your former colleagues. We seem as human beings to be strongly inclined to struggle with this aspect of social living. As LDS we are not great dealing with this, but I’m inclined to think nobody is good dealing with it.

  37. I am self-conscious about discontinuing these friendships and giving the impression that I am rejecting someone simply because they have left the Church – which is quite petty. It’s not because they no longer have a testimony, it’s because I never really found them that interesting, in the first place.

    This actually answers a question for me. I’ve had friends who left the church, and as much as I wanted to remain friends with them, I found that they just weren’t interested in socializing with me anymore. I guess I was not that interesting and they were only being friends with me because we belonged to the same church.

  38. “those who have left feel dissatisfied with that language because it does not capture this new life and identity that is being forged. ”

    Our extremely limited collective vocabulary, characterized by approved catch phrases and whatever sounds like them, not only restricts our ability to speak to people outside and/or who are leaving the church, it also makes it difficult to converse humanly within the church. It keeps us from learning, as it tends to turn any attempt at understanding back in on itself. It is rooted, I think, in the old Protestant notion that righteousness is closely related to austerity. It wrecks havoc with missionary work. It limits our vision of reality.

  39. Just now catching up on this post, but well done! Reminded me a bit of Clifford Geertz’s analysis of what culture is, and what religious culture is.

  40. #22: Alain, Those holes are gaps in our strength and losses in our power as a community. There cannot be unity within a community if members exclude those who are different or weak.

    Some women feel that unity is suffering at the expense of discluding them from the priesthood, no?

    Excommunication is intended not to create an opportunity to shun but instead to aid the repentance process and help save the souls of transgressors.

    To the extent that excommunication as a process begins to be counter-productive to its stated goals it seems to me a reasonable thing to do would be to reevaluate the process and perhaps seek a better solution and even a better description or title for it. I’m thinking particularly when it comes to things like believing/teaching heretical things.

  41. Relative to excommunication, do you guys think that someone who has no social ties to Mormonism, i.e. non-member family, etc would be better off being excommunicated and rebaptized in order to help their repentance? I know it can get sticky when someone has the social ties. I’m just asking…erm…for a friend–yeah, a friend wants to know.

  42. PS, here is the Geertz piece I was thinking about:

    http://www.scribd.com/doc/6582884/Geertz-Religion-as-a-Cultural-System

  43. The church used to practice rebaptisms and so forth to help in similar situations, as well as for health and transitions to higher activities such as temple ritual.

    Based on the current practical view of what excommunication constitutes in the church, though, I don’t think such a decision would be well-understood or encouraged by any church leaders who would be in the line of facilitating such a thing.

  44. Aren’t we essentially being rebaptised every time we take the sacrament? I don’t get the excommunication thing, or why there is so little oversight from those with the sealing power/authority, since excommunication negates all our temple covenants, them when rebaptised,occurs, you suddenly have everything reinstated after you’ve been a member for a year. Not very consistent to my way thinking…

    EOR, you may cimsider this for your friend ;) When I was very conflicted regarding my personal accountability, My therapist recommended I read Wendy Ulrich’s book, Forgiving Ourselves. It’s available on Amazon in Kindle edition. “Miracle of Forgiveness” by SWK was so shaming and had left me under the impression that my sons “would have been better dead” than have their virtue taken from them. But Ulrich uses scripture to clearly differentiate between rebellious sin and human weakness to clearly demonstrate the importance of accessing the atonement in its fullness. Obviously, I’m not there yet, but the premises of the book is that is an everyday process that is worth engaging in. The book also clarifies, why we often don’t feel forgiven, or why we return to sin, and that it has little to do with worthiness or rebellion. If more members had this understanding, I really feel there would not only be fewer losses, but more kindness, empathy and compassion for those who leave.

    Thanks for the link, BHodges!

  45. LOL, madhousewife, I can’t imagine anyone not finding you interesting?! Sometimes being around those who remind of of what we have lost can be painful.

  46. Thanks for the comments everyone.

    PeterV (#36), I agree that this phenomenon is not unique to religion and I tried to allude to that brief in the OP. However with that said i do believe that there are uniquely Mormon shades to this problem.

    BHodges, thanks. I will gladly accept any comparison to Geertz. Plus you have reminded me that I really need to read some of his work.

    Ruth, those comments regarding the sacrament are frequently made but I do not think they are scriptural. Excommunication is more about the community, as far as I am concerned, than about repentance.

  47. An Imperfect Saint says:

    Ruth (#44)
    I think it is a misconception that “coming back” into the church, when you have been excommunicated, is a simple matter of following timelines, or a matter of outward actions. While the church has minimum guidelines for how long an excommunicated member must wait to ask to be re-baptized, and another minimum amount of time to request that your temple blessing be restored, those are minimums, and in my experience, they have little to do with the actual time, energy or spiritual growth that is required to truly repent and get to the point that your temple blessings are restored..

    As someone who has been through the process, and who has talked to a lot other re-baptized members, maybe I can shed some light on the assumptions that seem to be made, because there is a minimum waiting period in the church handbook, that repentance is easy and follows a particular path or timeline.

    After a member is excommunicated, they can’t simply sit around and wait for a year to pass by so they can be re-baptized. Whatever sin(s) caused the excommunication MUST not only stop, but a true repentance process must happen, no matter how long that process takes. For a very small minority of those that I have talked to, it took only a year to 18 months to complete the first step in the repentance process.

    Personally, it took me a little over a year for my bishop to feel that my repentance process had progressed to the point that it was appropriate to reconvene the disciplinary council which had excommunicated me previously. Just as the disciplinary counsel that had excommunicated me asked a lot of probing, intimate questions to address not only the sin, but also my spiritual practices and feelings about the gospel and Savior. The second disciplinary counsel barely touched on whether I was still committing the sin and instead was almost all focused on what I had done to repair my relationship with Christ and Heavenly Father. At the end of our discussion they asked me to bear my testimony. They then asked me to wait in the hallway, while they sought the Lord’s counsel, in prayer.

    In my case, at the second disciplinary counsel received the inspiration that the Lord had accepted my repentant heart, and the humility I had found during the previous thirteen months. It isn’t always that way. In fact, in talking to a number of people who have been excommunicated at some point in their lives, it is pretty rare to be re-baptized as quickly as I was.
    One the other extreme from my experience is a man I have known for most of my life. I hadn’t realized that he had been excommunicated when I was a teenager. He was an assistant scoutmaster, which is a calling you can have without being a church member, and so I doubt very many people in the ward were aware of the fact that he wasn’t a current member.
    I found out about his situation when my bishop, with the permission of the brother in question, asked me to talk with this excommunicated member who was frustrated, feeling isolated and like he was the only one in the ward who had ever been excommunicated. When we sat down to talk, with the bishop in the background but not really a part of the conversation, he shared the struggles he was having currently, and the frustration and shame that he felt. He felt that he was alone in the “in-between” of being excommunicated, but wanting to have his church membership back.
    At the time I talked to him, he had been through three post-excommunication disciplinary counsels, over an almost 12 year period of time. While his outward actions had been in line with church teachings for at least the last ten years, when the questions turned to his feelings about the gospel and the Savior, he hadn’t put in the hard work on his relationship with Christ. We talked a lot about the bishop’s advice to me, when I was excommunicated, that I needed to read the Book of Mormon EVERY day, and say my prayers at least three (3) times a day EVERY day. I am sure that he had heard similar advice from leaders in the past, but I think that hearing it from someone else, who had walked the road that he was on, made a bigger impact than it had previously.
    There were a lot of topics in our conversations, but a theme that came up over and over focused on how easy it had been to quit the original sin, but how much harder it was to create an authentic relationship with Heavenly Father and Jesus Christ. He didn’t question the results of the previous disciplinary counsels that decided he wasn’t ready to be re-baptized, because when he looked himself in the mirror, he didn’t see the countenance of Christ.
    A few months later, at his fourth disciplinary counsel, he was given permission to be re-baptized. It had been thirteen (13) years since he was excommunicated. I talked to him right before his final disciplinary counsel, and was there when he was re-baptized. He asked me to speak at his baptism, and to share the “simple formula” that I had given him to reconnect with the spiritual side of his life. I don’t take credit for the “formula” and I have always given credit to the bishop who offered it to me, but what is important was that someone who had been excommunicated, and came back, had given him hope.
    Simple formula = Read the Book of Mormon every day and say your prayers at least 3 times a day every day. It is something that even members who aren’t excommunicated should probably be doing.
    The second step that you (Ruth #44) assume is easy is the restoration of temple blessings. This is probably the most difficult part of a full repentance process, and it isn’t simply a matter of “excommunication negates all our temple covenants, them when re-baptized occurs, you suddenly have everything reinstated after you’ve been a member for a year.” I can’t disagree strongly enough with this view of the process of asking to have your temple blessings reinstated. It is a long, exhausting process, and it involves a number of people feeling inspired that it is the right time to have your blessings restored.
    Let me lay out the process as it has been, so far, for me. (From what I understand, this is not an unusual process, and certainly all the steps to petition to have temple blessings restored is the same for all members.)
    The first step is to have your bishop feel inspired that you are ready to have your temple blessings restored. You can express your desire to your bishop to have them restored, but until he feels that you have made the progress that needs to happen, none of the process moves forward. My bishop shared with me that sometimes those promptings happen fairly close to the year since re-baptism mark, but often it takes longer, even if a bishop is praying for inspiration every week. Once the bishop feels it is appropriate, he then interviews the person, and asks them if they feel ready to go through the process of requesting temple blessings being restored.
    If the bishop and member feel that it is a right time, both of them write a letter, addressed to the prophet, explaining the situation that created the circumstances for excommunication. The letters need to be detailed without leaving any of the sins out, or trying to excuse the reasons for the sin. It needs to include information about the details of the repentance process, what challenges came up, what spiritual growth happened, what things are still challenges, and how those challenges are being addressed. I just went back and looked at the letter I wrote, and it was four and a half pages. I didn’t see the letter that my bishop wrote, but the Stake President told me that his letter was longer and even more detailed about the feelings, prompting and impressions that the disciplinary counsel experienced at both the councils that excommunicated and authorized me to be re-baptized.
    Both of those letters are then sent to the Stake President for him to read and pray about. The Stake President then interviews the person who is petitioning to have their temple blessings restored. If that person is married, there is usually another interview with their spouse to get their perspective. At that point your spouse is given the option to write a letter to the First Presidency, and the Stake President also writes a letter with his thoughts and feelings that goes with the entire packet of information that is sent to the First Presidency. All of the records from any and all disciplinary counsels are also enclosed in the packet of information that is then sent off to the First Presidency. Then you wait, and wait, and wait. There is no timeline for when you will hear back, and it can be weeks in some cases, and months in others.
    There is no guarantee that you will have your temple blessings restored, even after having your bishop and Stake President recommend that you have your temple blessings restored. The First Presidency, after they have read the information, and prayed as a presidency for a specific revelation from the Lord, then write their decision, in the form of a letter, to the member who made the request. It is sent to the Stake President, who then gives it to that person’s bishop, to share with the member who made the request. When the First Presidency doesn’t accept your request to have your temple blessings restored, there is often very specific advice given to the person, and sometimes their spouse or their family, directly from the Lord, as shared through His Prophet.
    It can be a heartbreaking experience to have the First Presidency of the church speak for Christ, and let you know that He does not yet think that you are ready to have the blessings of the temple restored in your life. It may have been a number of years since you committed the sin that took away your temple blessings and membership, but this isn’t a process of not doing things that are wrong. Having temple blessings restored is about the relationship between one person and their Savior. It is not easy, it is not simple, and it is not an automatic process.
    I do understand that there are not a lot of people who understand the process who haven’t been through it. I don’t blame people for their ignorance, but I do think it is important for the general membership of the church have an idea about what the process is, and how emotionally and spiritually complicated it is to truly repent and be judged worthy of having your temple blessings restored. I do know that many of the people that I know who have had a long and painful repentance processes, are hurt even more by members who treat repentance as an afterthought; an easy and simple process that is not that important.
    It has been almost five (5) years since I was excommunicated and almost four (4) years since I was re-baptized. I have asked to have my temple blessings restored once, and that request was rejected. I haven’t felt inspired to ask to have them reinstated since that first request. I have been working hard to follow the counsel of the First Presidency, and I think I am getting closer to asking my bishop if he thinks it is time to make that request again. I am not sure when the Lord will feel that my heart and soul are ready to have the blessings and responsibilities of temple blessings again. Whenever it is, I will NEVER take them for granted again. Sometimes I wonder how I could have taken them for granted before I was excommunicated, and I am sad when I see members whose words or behavior make me wonder if they really know the true value of those covenants, and their subsequent blessings.

  48. An Imperfect Saint says:

    Aaron (#46)
    I think we must have posted fairly close together because I didn’t see your post until after I posted my very long one.

    I think you probably already got this, if you read the post, but when you said, “Excommunication is more about the community, as far as I am concerned, than about repentance,” I couldn’t disagree with you more. It is comments like that which drive away people who truly are attempting to create a long-term, personal repentence process, from talking about it with the general church population.

    If repentence is not seen as a part of a personal relationship with God, then of course it is not important, and it can simply be swept away as a nuisance that doesn’t need to be handled with the honesty, care and love that all excommunicated members need. I hope that you will rethink your fairly callous comment, and instead of simply putting “excommunication” into a broad category, that you will instead look at each individual who may need your love and support as they find their own personal way back to a relationship with Christ. It is a harrowing, lonely struggle.

    Wouldn’t you rather lovingly help someone along that process, instead of dismissing their struggle without even trying to understanding it?

  49. An Imperfect Saint (#48), thanks for your response. I am little bit of a dunce but I really cannot see how my comment was callous. Further, I am not sure if your response is based on the post which I linked to (of which that statement was a short summation) or just that you are reading something into my comment which I do not believe is there.

    I agree wholeheartedly that repentance is about coming to Christ but I suppose I fail to see why that requires excommunication. Excommunication does not necessarily aid the process, although it may for some.

  50. I’m sorry, Imperfect, that was not the intent of my post, though I very much appreciate you sharing your painful process. I’m afraid it has left me with more confusion with the process than I had in the first place. I know several excommunicated members who have rejoined, and their experience has been different that yours, giving me the impression that it is an automatic course. But I still question how the Bishopric or Stake Presidency can revoke temple blessings without oversight or the sealing power. Your experience and complete trust in your leadership is not something I can easily relate to. If I felt truly forgiven, had prayed and fasted about it, and someone told me I wasn’t, I don’t think their oppinions would hold any authority over my own revelations. I cant help but feel that having a more balanced council (as in a few women’s oppinions and inspiration thrown in the mix) would make the processes more just. But, it is not something I have experienced first hand, so as always, I could be wrong. I suppose that could be construed as a rebellious spirit, but I just don’t see these men as God. I feel they would represent God more completely if like God, they had female counterparts. Regardless, I feel they will always be just as prone to being wrong as I am.

    Aaron, thank you for pointing that out regarding the sacrament. I’ll have to look into it further, since it is an impression I always attached to. Back to the scriptures and prayer for me!

  51. Lord, I have to say that I agree with Ruth (50) and perhaps it is a rebellious spirit in me as well, but if I felt I was forgiven and someone told me “No, you’re not.” then I would be out of there. My allegiance is to God, and while I respect the FP12 as men of God, they will not tell me something contrary to what I feel I have received personal revelation on. Granted, I haven’t done my endowments so I wouldn’t have to worry about that aspect of things, but goodness me, I don’t believe I would go through all that. Maybe it works for others, but not for me.

    I do think that even in the case of sin there needs to be mitigating factors. Just as all sins are not created equal, neither are all sinners. If I had to write a detailed letter of my many many sins I would include the circumstances that led me there that were not my own choice. If people see that as “excusing sins” then I suppose that is what they have to see it as. I think I do have a hard heart and a rebellious spirit, because I do not even have the patience for all of that business.

  52. An Imperfect Saint says:

    I am sorry if this posts is a little short and frustrated. I guess the responses from Ruth and EOR are part of the reason no one really talks about being excommunicated and re-baptized. The misconceptions and misunderstandings, and animosity towards church leadership is not what the repentance process is about. Hijacking someone’s personal experience to forward your own view point is about par for the course. I had been told by others who have walked the path of repentence and tried to talk about their experiences that those who claim to want to support those who may have had an abuse of power from the local authorities would be completely unaccepting of someone who wasn’t hostile after the process. I had hoped for more thoughtful responses here.

    So, I will very briefly respond to the two huge gaps/mistakes in your thoughts. (Yes, my brief and someone else’s may be different.)

    1) Almost everyone who is excommunicated for issues other than apostasy ask to have a church disciplinary council, after they have had a number of conversations with their bishop. It is a process that is decided between the bishop and sinner, and not something that is forced onto the person who is trying to reshape their lives. In my case, I felt prompted to ask my bishop to have a council. I was a “borderline” case, and without asking I might never have been excommunicated. The point is that I received the prompting, acted on it, and through this process received blessings that could not have come any other way.

    The only two people I have talked to who were forced to have disciplinary councils were being accused of, and ultimately excommunicated for, apostasy as well as at least one other serious sin. Apostasy is a sin against the church and it’s teachings in a blatant manner that cannot be disregarded. Watching my biological father go through the 10-15 year process from cranky with leaders, to full-on apostate who had decided he knew more than any church leader, including the prophet, I learned that there are some people who will make bad choices, no matter what their circumstances and how many times people attempt to help them.
    (As a quick aside, anyone who thinks that the circumstances surrounding the choices a person made are not central to a disciplinary council has never been in one. A disciplinary counsel is never just about one act, and circumstance all the way back through childhood can be shared if it seems relevant to the issues brought before the council. In fact, in my experience, the circumstances and patterns in my life were way more important than the actual transgression, both in being excommunicated and in the blessings I have received on the road to full repentance.)

    2). This is not a local process with no oversight. If you disagree with a ward disciplinary council, then a stake council is convened. There may or may not be leaders from other stakes or area authorities that are part of the process at that level. If a member still disagrees with the decision made by a stake disciplinary council (which includes all of the high council and the stake presidency, at a minimum) each member has the right to ask the Quorum of the Twelve to review the decision. One of the members of the Quorum of the Twelve reviews all of the information from the previous councils, and any additional information that the member feels was somehow missed or not understood, and input from anyone else who has been part of the process.

    If it is determined that there are any questions about the local leaders and their actions, a higher disciplinary council can be convened as the General Authority sees fit. If the General Authority reviews everything and receives confirming revelation, then no additional action is taken and the member receives notification that their appeal has been denied. The decision to allow an appeal to go forward, or to deny it involves not only ecclesiastical leaders, but also lawyers for the church who review cases for information involving the safety of other members of the church. That legal review happens whether someone appeals the decision of the disciplinary council or not.

    I understand that not all leaders are as loving as we would like, and in very insular areas of the church, where church leadership does not often change, that there may be some exceptions to the rules as they have been layed out. In some ways, the person who has a disciplinary council has greater protections, since they can appeal a decision to the General Authorities if they feel their excommunication if they feel something was done unfairly.

    One thing before I finish up. I doubt that having women on a disciplinary council would change the decisions that are made. The idea that disciplinary councils are groups of men unrighteously judging women is a stereotype that I just haven’t seen, or heard about, outside of the boogie man stories of those who have never been through this part of the process of repentance. Since there is never anyone who is part of a council that isn’t part of a leadership position that gives them the keys to righteously judge, I really don’t think the gender means as much as the heart and spiritual discernment of those who are given the callings and keys, to support those who are judges in Israel.

  53. I’m not sure what I said that was offensive, or how I may have “hijacked your experience to forward my own views.” I commend your faith in your leaders, and in this process, and fully accept your experience and the blessings it has brought to your life. I can only form opinions according to my knowledge and experience. Thank you for clearing some misconceptions. I apologize for any unintemded offense.

    Repentance is such an intimate matter for me, and one I participate in often. Having someone in the middle that doesn’t know me, is umtrained, and in my experience is prone to umrighteous dominion is frightening. To my mind, the sheer intimidation of having a woman who has a history sexual abuse by men, being judged by a council of untrained men, is offensive. Maybe I wouldn’t feel that way if I were in your shoes, and maybe you wouldn’t be so confident in your leaders if you were in my shoes. Again, I HIGHLY recommend Wendy Ulrich’s book Forgiving Ourselves.

  54. Lilfe is experienced individually – everything about it – in one way or another.

  55. So is life.

  56. Latter-day Guy says:

    Almost everyone who is excommunicated for issues other than apostasy ask to have a church disciplinary council, after they have had a number of conversations with their bishop.

    I’d be interested to know what evidence you have to back this up. What is your sample size? This just seems really, really unlikely. I can certainly imagine voluntary confession leading to a disciplinary council, but penitents asking specifically to convene The Luv Court™––especially if their bishop is amenable to handling the matter more informally––would strike me as very strange. That is not to say that such a thing would never happen, but I hardly think these individuals are in the majority ––”Almost everyone”? Really?

  57. An Imperfect Saint says:

    Ruth,

    I can certainly see in your situation, and as a fellow sexual abuse survivor I hope I can catch a little of the emotion, if nothing else, that there may have been some long term history with specific leaders that may give you the inspiration to start your discussions about repentance when there are other leaders called. I never would have even had the first conversation with my bishop when I was a teenager. I am not trying to tell anyone when they should start the process of dealing with sins/mistakes/hurt/abuse so that they can find the love/forgiveness/peace/joy/security that can come from a disciplinary council and the resulting determination.

    I don’t think the church releases official records, but I have had several bishops tell me that for every 10 disciplinary councils you might have one excommunication, and another 2-4 put on some other form of church discipline, which leaves half of those who go through it coming out with a “clean slate” knowing that they are worthy and acceptable to the Lord, exactly as they are. I have also had a stake president, who had been a bishop for about twelve years, in two stakes, before he became a stake president, that the choices someone makes in the week before and week after a disciplinary council will have the greatest impact on where we go afterwards. I argued with him, since I felt the early molestation had more to do with my life patterns than a few weeks as an adult. He chuckled and said it was how I let the past work on me in those weeks that he was talking about. Since my disciplinary council had been set three weeks before, I had time to run away, or not show up if I chose to. After I had received the decision, whether I was still in church the next Sunday was one of the biggest indicators of how unwanted to live my life, in a moment that didn’t have any social requirement for me to be there.

    Ruth, I would say that if you have concerns about unrighteous dominion with a particular bishop, that he is not the right one to go to with your concerns. I don’t know if your stake president is someone you trust more, but if not you need to find your personal revelation about when and if the Lord wants you to go through a disciplinary council.

    I do believe that each life is a singular event, but that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do our best to understand more than our own. In fact I think it is even more reason to share experiences with each other.

    Aaron, it was the conversation you linked to that provoked the comment. I am not going to go into all the reasons that I think excommunication might be necessary for the individual and/or the community, but I do think that an excommunicated ex-member of the church has a space to figure out whether they belong in the church without continually compounding the sins that they are committing. For someone who is struggling, taking away the element of “breaking temple covenants” allows the person time to figure out what they really want, without the additional guilt that comes with the breaking of covenants.

    Okay, I am officially ending this thread for me. I need an emotional break from this topic for a while. Obviously it has churned up more emotions than I expected. For those of you who know me, please give me at least a “day off” to get myself composed. There is no rancor in this request, but the posts plus 5-10 emails a day have been emotionally draining. I just need a little time to polish up my faith and let a few bruises heal. :-)

  58. I do not believe I have done anything to warrant a disciplinary council, nor do I believe that my children who were raped are in need of it. Victims don’t need discipline for their abuse, perpetrators do….just sayin’…

  59. Thanks for the comments everyone. The conversation has run its course and so I will close the thread now.

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