You Didn’t Fail at Church Checkbox Parenting

One of the worst things I’ve encountered online among church members is the idea that if your children leave the church it’s because of you, their parents, did something wrong.

It’s obvious that this is awful in so many ways, but I want to talk about the fear and shame and church conditioning that underlies it.

Because let me tell you, as a mom of young adults and teens who is looking around at the other parents my age with their kids, pretty much every single church family I know is dealing with the loss of expectations that all their children will grow up to be church members who marry in the temple. Church checkbox families are no longer the reality for really any family and we need to confront that as a church.

And lest you think it isn’t happening around you, in your family, in your extended family, and in your ward family then more than likely your kids are too young at this point or they are afraid to tell you. Even the church understands the tsunami coming at them, if this new institute class is any indicator.

Honestly, there should be a Sunday School class called “You didn’t fail. Parenting when your children no longer believe.” It would be filled in most wards.

In said class, instead of thinking we failed somehow, we could talk about how all of us are really trying to do our best with the tools that we were given. That the agency, so prized in our rhetoric, can lead to beautiful journeys that our children take, even if it is away from the church where they were raised. That kids who are queer find very little to recommend the church in it’s current state and how can we do better? Instead of feeling shame every time a well-meaning church member bore their testimony about God blessing them in their family checking church boxes of missions, temple marriages, baby blessings, we can be vulnerable about what we perceive as loss and rework our understanding of what God has planned outside the checkboxes.

Feeling like we have failed as parents, that our families should feel ashamed of those who left, or that the very idea of someone leaving the church means we refuse to have open-hearted conversations about it and instead cast blame is fear, plain and simple.

So more and more I’m believing that our sealings to family aren’t broken when members step
away from the church. And acting like it is, both in our own heads, or from those who profess to be our brothers and sisters in the gospel, is what truly strains and breaks those seals. Instead we should be doing all we can to keep the relationship strong in all the loving and accepting ways we can. That’s what truly binds us together in love.


  1. “…pretty much every single church family I know is dealing with the loss of expectations that all their children will grow up to be church members who marry in the temple. Church checkbox families are no longer the reality for really any family and we need to confront that as a church.” This is the truth. In my ward and stake it is as evident as the sky is blue. And adjusting my own expectations for my own family has made it easier to deal with. But as a church I fear we have been much, much too slow in effectively dealing with these changing dynamics. (I teach early morning seminary so I have that front-row seat to the situation as well).

  2. Very interesting points. You’ve illustrated well the frustration and guilt that the faithful parent(s) must face when their child(ren) step away from the church. At this point in history it seems it’s not only the children though. A huge number of formerly faithful members are doing the same it seems; some of them who have been regular church goer and tithe payers for decades. For myself I was inactive for 32 years. After my non-LDS husband died, I moved into a great ward and was reactivated. I was able to maintain that until COVID and the resultant fall out from it. I’ve never gone back, and it’s doubtful I ever will. A sort of schism has popped up between members in my ward about COVID and what it means. Most are non-vaxxers who refused to mask up, even when Covid ran rampant. I have a terminal illness and it was only good common sense for me to avoid places where such entitled people were. Several startling changes have arisen in the time too, changes to the church itself, our foundation and the ‘revelation’ of things long held to be truthful as lies or at least half-truths (Joseph Smith papers). This has unsettled me badly, and I cannot in good conscience attend a church that is undergoing such massive changes. So I’ve joined the crowd of ‘steppers away’. I still hold what I was taught as a child and teenager growing up in the church as true. I find my own worship of Christ and God enhanced rather than diminished too. Are the children you write of just the beginning of a wave of changes in the face of what a Mormon (sorry, LDS. Oops can’t use that one either) member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is? That whole branding thing was only one of many revelations that seem to me to be more about our image and not about Christ at all. Just my opinion.

  3. I’m almost unsure such a class would be attended very well, just because so many seem to think whatever their children are doing that’s not in line with the church is a trial for them, the parents. We love might history and morality lessons, but even with the current “self reliance” courses, it’s pulling teeth to get anyone to even admit they’d need someone else’s help.

    Seriously wanted to shake the High Councilor who lamented how his biggest trial was his daughter who came home early from her mission and is now in a relationship with another woman.

  4. This is so true. I’m down two for two. Both of my children have left the church and my husband was never a member, so I feel like every bad choice I made has come to haunt me. I tried so hard to do what I was supposed to do by myself in terms of going to church, fulfilling callings, saying meal and bedtime prayers, and setting a good example. It was exhausting because I had no support from my spouse.

    Anyhoo – now my Non-binary pansexual daughter wants nothing to do with the organization in the least and my son who was the 100% model all-in kid, has now rejected everything and is agnostic/atheist?

    Every. Single. Day. I weep over what I could have done differently and how my whole life feels like a failure (all the quotes, man, al-l-l-l the quotes…) It would really be a major shift to hear something *hopeful* and uplifting from the church. I know I’m not the only one who feels like a parenting (i.e. human) failure. It’s hard.

  5. Ian Thomson says:

    I think your observation is spot on. This is one of the great disconnects in our current Church, and I’m looking at my immediate family and what I see in my local ward: parents are in, huge chunk of kids are out. And yet everyone wants to pretend that it either (1) isn’t happening, (2) is only happening to them, or (3) this is some kind of sifting of the wheat from the tares/refiner’s fire sort of thing. In other words, they are either the exception to Gospel promises or the casualty in End Times thinking. I don’t want to turn and blame any individual parent for their kids’ own unbelief. That isn’t fair or productive. I look at my siblings, and I think they’ve lived good lives and largely done right by their children. It didn’t make a difference.
    However, I don’t think that gets us off the hook. Although we may not be responsible for their leaving the Church qua parents (in our role as the folks who are raising them in the home), I do think we are collectively responsible for their leaving the Church and their childhood beliefs qua members of the Church community (in our roles as participants who dictate, form, teach, pass on ideas, indoctrinate, raise, guide other young members of our community, and otherwise explain the value and role of religion). In that we have failed. I can say that because the numbers back me up.
    I would posit that we (collectively) have advanced a version and vision of religion–not just Mormonism, but religion–that is largely irrelevant to this next generation. It offers them little that they are seeking for, and doesn’t meet any of their needs. Whose fault is that? I think it is ours. We’re offering them something they can easily do without, and when we tell them that it comes at some cost and some price, the decision gets even more obvious. The decline of religion in our society is because we have not adapted our notions of religion and religious communities to the actual needs of its own people. That intransigence, stubbornness, and lack of imagination is actually our fault.
    So nobody should be beating themselves up as bad parents. But I think we all ought to shoulder the burden and beat ourselves up a little bit for being bad members of the Church. If we were different, and had something better to offer, I do not believe that people generally act against their own self-interest and well-being. If our religion was a net benefit to them, they’d stick around. Of that I’m pretty sure.

  6. Thank you for this post.

    A talk by Brad Wilcox about “warning labels” edited for the Ensign October 2008 perpetuates some of this harmful thinking.

  7. oops^New Era

  8. Kristine says:

    meems, I’m so sorry. And I feel pretty confident that it really isn’t about any “bad choice” you made. Almost every family I know is going through this, regardless of their membership/marital status and their righteousness and parenting skill.

  9. I felt this post in my soul, every single thing. Especially that judgement and blame of others is rooted in fear. Fear that the same thing could happen to our family- but if we can pinpoint the blame on something the parents did/didn’t do, it gives us a false sense of control over our own situation.
    Truth is, we don’t have control over half the things we think we do. And life is a journey of learning, not some pass/fail test. If we are arrogant and judgmental, I think God has his ways of teaching us how to be more like him. I used to think I failed at my only purpose in life because I have kids who didn’t check all the boxes or checked them and then unchecked them. It’s taken years, but I realize how unhealthy that thinking was. I now try to only internalize the healthy things that are said at church and dismiss the things that don’t feel right to me, but not going to lie- sometimes it’s hard.

  10. Kristine says:

    Assuming (without evidence, because there is none) that the children of “progmos” leave at a higher rate than others, it seems like less progressive members might consider the effect that seeing their parents ostracized or treated as second-class citizens might have on those children. Teenagers may disrespect their parents, but they are also defensive when other adults show disrespect–a church that doesn’t want their family will not likely seem like one they should invest in.

  11. Agree that our perception of sealing can work against it in a kind of circular damage circuit. Fine post.

  12. C. Keen says:

    Let’s add another point: the church didn’t fail, either.

  13. Kristine says:

    C. Keen–I’d be interested in an argument for that assertion.

  14. Jack Hughes says:

    I had a sibling resign from the church almost 20 years ago (before it was cool, and long before we were having more compassionate conversations about such things like we are in this forum). My parents felt like failures and it wrecked their relationship with my sibling for years. I myself had my own seasons of rebellion, sidestepping or ignoring some of the checkboxes at times.
    As a nuanced believer now, I’m saddened by all the unnecessary parental heartbreak that resulted from these very personal decisions grown children made as individuals to pursue their own spiritual paths. This is the outgrowth of a screwed up culture that doesn’t really honor the individual choices of others, Nelson’s “sad heaven”, etc, even when we outwardly claim to (11th AoF).

    But on the other hand, I don’t think parents that are forceful, overbearing and hyperreligious should be let off the hook so easily, especially when such parenting borders on abuse. My current bishop comes to mind. He’s an absolute buffoon who is ignorant at best, religiously overbearing at worst while projecting a faux-humble countenance. Three of his four adult children have left the church, and I’m quite certain his parenting style was a contributing factor. And I want him to feel bad about it and suffer for it. It’s the only way he will learn. At the very least, I want him to stop giving me unsolicited parenting advice about how to raise “righteous youth in Zion” because he has clearly demonstrated that he is unqualified to do so.

  15. purple_flurp says:

    I’m just here to appreciate usage of ‘tote the line’ instead of ‘toe the line’, fantastic.

  16. “tote the line”? I’ve always thought it was “toe the line” and my husband thinks its “tow the line”

    As I was thinking about this, I considered my family dynamics. My husband is 1 of 7. Of those siblings, 2 are out. It’s doubtful the other 5 will leave, but 10 years ago it was doubtful the 2 who left would leave. Of the 24 living grandchildren, 12 are out and there are 2 I don’t know about.

    I’m 1 of 4. I’m the only one out. Of the 9 grandkids, only my 3 are out, but, mine are the oldest and only ones who are adults. It remains to be seen what happens with the younger kids. I don’t really see my siblings leaving the church.

    When I go farther afield, to my cousins and their kids, more have left the church than I would have ever predicted while growing up. But if I go up the genealogy tree, family leaving the church would have been scandalous. My family were pioneer stock. They were all in for generations.

    This is an interesting dynamic to think about. Some people thrive in the organization, and some people whither. Siblings who were raised under the same roof with the same religious teachings. Attended the same wards with the same leadership. Had nearly identical foundational learning. I think it has little to do with parents and parenting. We are individuals. And The Church isn’t one size fits all. The Gospel might be, but not The Church.

  17. purple_flurp says:

    “The decline of religion in our society is because we have not adapted our notions of religion and religious communities to the actual needs of its own people.”

    Ian, I agree 100%, but I would go even farther to say that it’s not just a decline in religion, but there’s a growing loss of faith or trust in institutions in general: churches, governments, industries, etc. All of which are failing to address the worsening material and spiritual conditions of people in these times of late capitalism.

    Anecdotal, but I noticed this at a recent family reunion, parents that were in the boomer/older gen X age groups were shocked to hear their adult children express their indifference or apathy towards the USA as nation, expressing sentiments along the lines of “I wouldn’t care if our country collapsed” or “I don’t think the USA is a force for good in the world” or “I don’t think our military actually makes us safer, in fact they make us collectively less safe”.

    It was interesting to watch the horror play out on these parents’ (and grandparents’) faces at beholding the institutional apathy of their adult children.

    Anyway, at the level of the Church, I don’t know how you fix this. My idea would be starting to lean towards fostering a culture of community and mutual aid based on the doctrine of charity and Christ-like love while the checkbox items and ordinances take a backseat. I think we have all the components to do that, with our welfare infrastructure but it’s not being mobilized in that way. I do believe the Church leadership is entitled to divine revelation, but I also believe that their worldview can get in the way. These guys all grew up a long time ago in very different times in which there was more implicit trust in institutions (there was no way for most people to know otherwise back then) I don’t think they would ‘get it’ even if it was explained to them.

  18. My grandparents had 12 kids and were engaged parents, served faithfully, pioneer stock, etc. By the time I was a teenager and old enough to know, half the kids were inactive. I lived with my grandmother one summer and saw her talk to a couple of her kids and she loved them all regardless.

    It reminds me of my brother who died of SIDS and there was always an undertone that it was the parents fault. Recent research has shown it’s genetic but the years of damage are still there.

    It pains me how harshly we judge each other. I know it’s getting better but so many church leaders hold these stale views.

  19. All of my tween-teen-college kids have left. I think the college kid would like to return, but there isn’t anywhere for her to go for LDS community support her own age. She had zero desire to go to a church college and goes to a fabulous state school, but that means the ‘student ward’ is mostly 30-somethings still living with their parents. She went a couple of times and gave up.

    Two of my kids are LGBT and that is the real deal-breaker for all of them. It’s hard to really explain just how demoralizing and demeaning our services can be to LGBT kids.

    All of which leads me to not blaming myself at all that they left. I feel like the church shoved them out the door, and that was assisted by ward members and the disapproving looks they gave my (non-LGBT) daughter when she decided she hated wearing dresses and wanted to wear pants to church. That Sunday was really the beginning of the end.

    My spouse is devastated by their leaving. I still seek for ways to give them the good of the church, and I want them to feel some connection to the history and religion. But I totally get why they are leaving. At their age, I would have done the exact same thing.

    Ward members treat me as if I’m struggling, upset, hurt that my kids aren’t active. I’m not though, and I never quite know what to say…

  20. Janet S says:

    When people comment that religion must change, I am puzzled. Religion is about your relationship with God. Did none of these people ever develop their own relationships with God? Have they never heard His voice or received personal revelations?
    I have struggled mightily with things that have occurred in my life but always had the memories to hold on to. But then I had to choose the Church for myself when I was twelve. I attended without family and struggled long and hard to understand the gospel. Did we forget to teach these children how hard choosing Christ is? That getting a real testimony, not a “the ward is a fun place I hang out with friends” but a place to help us know God?

  21. Kirkstall says:

    Do we actually believe in the 11th article of faith in the church? Do we actually give a flying fig about people’s right to follow their own conscience? I don’t think we do. We may pay occasional lip service to it but in practice we see every other way of living and believing as patently inferior. The attitudes described in the OP and demonstrated in some of these comments make that very clear. It has to be ok for people to leave, otherwise we have no right to call foul when people use the word “cult” to describe the church. I repeat: It has to be ok for people to leave.

    Here’s a hot take: good parenting can actually cause children to leave the church rather than stay. You may have done your best to teach faith and institutional loyalty, but in spite of yourself you couldn’t help but teach empathy and critical thinking as well. You taught your children to trust their inner voice and to seek to understand and help the marginalized. You taught them the path to happiness, and though it may break your heart that the path led out of the church, you actually did it right.

  22. Chadwick says:

    Virtually everyone I know has at least one close family member or associate who no longer actively attends church. And it’s hard not to blame ourselves when our culture uses phrases like “sad heaven” and “empty chairs” and labels those who leave as “lazy learners” or “lax disciples” but the reality is that, the more our leaders talk like this, the more they drive people away. Our kids won’t stand for their friends parents marriages being called counterfeit, or for being told that their friends play church. And quite frankly, they shouldn’t stand for it, and neither should we.

    But it’s not our fault. I repeat, it’s not our fault. We have agency to choose, and the church’s tent just isn’t sufficient yet for all to come unto Christ. Maybe one day.

    I have several friends whose parents will make comments about failing as parents because their kids no longer attend church. Sometimes these comments from the parents seem genuine, and sometimes they seem manipulative. My mom is aware that even I have had to place some distance between myself and the institution for the sake of my mental health. I keep trying to remind her that we still share the same core values of love, respect, and desires to build strong relationships, serve others, and improve the world. But sometimes it seems no matter how well I may be doing in other areas of my life (professional, marriage, family), she chooses to focus on church attendance. That’s her choice.

    And please let’s also remember that church attendance doesn’t automatically give you a relationship with the divine anymore than stepping back from the institutional church severs a relationship with the divine. Ironically, I fell more connected to divinity currently that I did when I attended church every Sunday.

  23. This comes directly from Elder Packer. He has a whole chapter on it in Teach Ye Diligently where he recounts meeting a friend that was liberal and how he was proud to not be as conservative as his father and Elder packer tells him that it will be his fault when his children leave the church.

    I remember reading that chapter on my mission and thinking is that going to be me? Turns out we all left the church together.

  24. If you want to know why your kids are leaving the church, you should ask them. And you should listen to what they say. Don’t preach or bear your testimony or push back. Just listen.

  25. How is an ahistorical BoM not a dealbreaker? That’s the most pressing question in the Church.

  26. Brian T says:

    I put the issue of kids leaving the Church squarely on the leadership mostly in SLC. Until their rhetoric stops sounding like the Westborough Baptist Church’s, were going to continue to lose the youth.

    As someone once said, young people care less whether their church is true, instead they want a church that is good

  27. Larry the Cable-Guy says:

    Is it helpful or hurtful to consider that the same pattern of scattering and gathering that happened centuries ago on a macro scale, may now be playing out more often on a personal scale?

  28. Olde Skool says:

    Such an interesting post and discussion. I think all the time about my grandparents, who were as all-in as you can get. Grandfather born in a polygamous family in Mexico in the 19th-century to a family whose name appears throughout the D&C; grandmother’s family pioneer settlers. Faithful and stalwart, both. Of their many children, about a third stayed in wholeheartedly and strictly, about a third left, and the remaining third were participatory in some way but indifferent about it–“progmos” (before it was cool!) or flexibly observant or on-and-off, variously. Of the next generation down (that’d be my generation, me and my cousins, born decades before the millennials), about the same ratio is in evidence *regardless of which form of adherence their parents had followed*. Ditto our kids’ generation. I guess this is all to say: this is a phenomenon that’s been happening, if the small data-set of my largish family is any indication, for at least the span of the 20th century. Maybe it’s time we all got better talking about it without assigning blame.

  29. Sad Heaven for all of you apparently. Don’t blame me, I’m just reminding you what RMN implied in 2020 GC

  30. Not so sure what a “check box” family would look like. But I am pretty sure they never existed. Living lives of faith takes enormous effort, involves pain and suffering, and it has always been that way. One parents or mentors for the entirety of one’s life.

  31. Stephen Hardy says:

    Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel.

    “Religion declined not because it was refuted, but because it became irrelevant, dull, oppressive, insipid.”

  32. Patti Smith says:

    Great post and discussion.
    I attended a funeral today for a sweet sister in our ward. She has two adult children, neither of which is active in the Church. She planned her entire funeral as her cancer was terminal—the service, the speakers, the music, the food, right down to the tablecloths and centerpieces.

    She had the Relief Society president read her “My Testimony” talk that she wrote several months ago. In fact —it was a talk entirely about her testimony. She said that the happiest times in her life was her time serving in the temple. She wrote her own eulogy as well. No family members spoke. In her Testimony talk, read verbatim, emphasizing being together with her family in the hereafter.

    Her daughter moved in and cared for her and her husband full time for the past six months. I offered condolences to the daughter. She looked absolutely crushed and broken. I had the eerie feeling mom was reaching out of her coffin for her last chance to bend her kids back into Church activity.

    What are we doing? Why does the Church teach parents that they must keep control the life choices of there own adult children? Even at death?! Love and acceptance seems so conditional. And it isn’t the mother’s fault. She was conditioned by the Church that it is her duty.

  33. Old Man says:

    I hope my comment doesn’t depress anyone, but LDS doctrine is quite clear that parenthood is a calling without a release date. Death doesn’t dissolve that bond, not does faith crisis or religious affiliation. It just seems to me that for a religion that grants a “long game” to all of humanity for salvation, we are very “short game” oriented in how we talk about parenting. I’m sure a good many prodigals return in this life or the next. If God hasn’t given up on them, why should we?

  34. Where there is no vision, the people perish …

  35. “No success in life can compensate…”
    What a beating stick that has been in my life!

  36. Latam girl says:

    Highly recommend this book:

  37. Away from the Mothership says:

    I think I’m old enough to remember when the check boxes came into being. At least, I remember some talks making bold (and wrong) promises.

    As I understand it, the real issue is the check boxes where wrong to begin with. Some leaders looked at what “faithful” members did, i.e. served missions and married in the temple and then turn it on it’s head – if everyone does these things they will be “faithful members”. Now we have a lot of people who checked the boxes and left.

    What I would really like to know is, what conditions are necessary for people to return? What do we do/not do?

  38. Big Cow says:

    I left the church probably 15 years ago (i’m a gay) and a few years back, my parents literally asked me “do you think we failed as parents?” (I said no.) All they can see is that I’m not a church member anymore. They don’t see that I’m a successful lawyer who is living where he wants to live and doing what he wants to do, without debt, or substance abuse issues, or health problems. But i’ll never get married the temple and never give them grandbabies, so they must have done it all wrong! /s

  39. Anon for now says:

    I heartily second the recommendation to read “Bridges: Ministering to Those Who Question” by David Ostler. You can buy it at Deseret Book or many other outlets. His perspective is refreshing and based on solid research combined with a caring perspective.

    It breaks my heart when I see parents weeping at church because their children aren’t active. Too many see themselves as failures and their life’s work as having been meaningless. I know their children–almost all are really good people, living good lives. It’s a distressingly narrow definition of success and, I believe, harmful on many levels.

    Part of the harm is that it leaves parents unwilling to let go and allow their children to live their lives, even when it includes making mistakes along the way. It’s also harmful when it leaves parents unable to acknowledge their children’s victories if those victories don’t include reactivation in the church.

    The Book of Mormon injunction to mourn with those who mourn is also found in Romans 12:15 where it is accompanied by a parallel injunction to rejoice with those who rejoice. Parents can do this with their children–mourn when they mourn and rejoice when they rejoice, whether or not those children are “on the covenant path.” To do anything else is questionable parenting, and it’s hard for me to envision a God who would disagree.

  40. My two adult children are not active and I don’t imagine they will be. They are two of the best Mormons I know (ok mothers bias). They are thoughtful, kind, loving, and empathetic people I know. I know they push back against cruelty of others when it is socially inconvenient (I’ve been told stories by teachers and other parents). What is interesting is that they hate it when they are introduced as the Mormon kid. They see the good growing up in an admittedly more progressive Mormon ward instilled in them, but they fear ppl will judge them based on the institutional church. They despise the treatment of queer members and nonmembers, they see the misogyny and the impact it has had on their mom (they are all boys), they want to think deeply about religion and values and have that cut off at church, and they resent the church’s financial policies and lack of disclosure. They do note the goodness in so many members even those they disagree with. Honestly I feel proud of what they have become. It wasn’t all me, it was their own selves, their community and some luck along the way. However using the checklist version of Mormonism I’d say the church failed them, not us. They failed to listen to their generations wisdom. They failed to be open and honest, instead dictating how one should think. They failed to demonstrate the values of love and charity they preached. And there was no social bond in the youth. It’s not appealing. If God is someone that cares more about checkboxes than personal transformation then I suppose we are in trouble but I don’t believe in that God.

  41. The church wants you to make covenants where in you agree to do something and then you receive something from God. This seems to show the ability to debate. The general authorities aren’t into debate and negotiations. They would need to back down on their family doctrine which is set in stone. Young people think they can negotiate because of the whole ‘covenant’ idea.
    Cutting deals with God is what a covenant is.

  42. When I married, a long time ago, my wife wanted 6 children. I shrugged my shoulders and said, effectively, why not? As the children started to grow I established a couple of rules for my parenthood.

    Rule 1: if a kid acts out, he or she needs attention. Make the attention largely positive. Negative attention is rarely (never) reassuring. So if a kid leaves the church, give positive attention, not negative. No guilt. No shame.

    Rule 2: Raise kids to be your friends as ADULTS. You do not have to be friends with your kids all the time as kids, but you have to treat them so that they will like you when they are themselves adults and/or parents. Regardless of anything else.

    I would like to report that I have been relatively successful. My wife passed away 15 years ago leaving me with their care. My kids all like me. I still go to church. Three have left the church and I can understand why. One has a weird relationship with the church. One has an on/off relationship to the church, and one remains active.

    I believe in spiritual revelation. I have been assured that Joseph Smith made a valiant attempt at a first draft of eternal humanism, but it was woefully inadequate to meet the complexities of a) modern life, b) the complexities of evolution and our evolutionary heritage, and c) the implications of all the infinities implied by any concept of eternity. So, if I ever see my children in eternities, it will be in a place of love and freedom (no top down coercion!). And I will like them and they will forgive me for my parental ineptitude.

    I really enjoy the company of my children (42-52). I expect nothing, I only hope.

  43. At the risk of TLDR, One more thing. What the church just did, making the gospel home-oriented and church supported, is incredibly short-sighted. Mormonism has always been a social religion. That statement of home oriented and church supported is a suicide pact, admitting that the church is, functionally, irrelevant. .

    That idea started with the church idea of “correlation,” that everything needs to be under priesthood (top down, patriarchal) control. It was the end of social life for kids, the end of strong feminism in the church. It is ending up by allowing the church to abdicate its sociality. Indeed we are turning into Southern Baptists.

    And then there was Ezra T. Benson who introduced conspiracy theory into the church, who reinforced the literality of things like the Book of Mormon and PofGP.

  44. Church culture generally has been defeated by social culture. It’s both at the micro level of the church programs failing broadly, but also macro level of faith in God and the importance of religion in day to day life. It’s just not embedded in our ethos as a society as much as even Star Wars is!

    That said, the programs never could bring conversion in and of themselves. They just provided a framework for conversion to happen if the individuals were able to make the intangible leap to receiving real, authentic, heavens-opening revelation that connect individuals to Christ.

    It’s deeper than knowing the church is true and the president is a true prophet, etc. But I do not belittle those — I just point out that along the way people aren’t receiving the same revelations in principle that Joseph did. What’s the point of the church that teaches modern day revelation if we aren’t?

    On the other hand, I and others are confident I can stand with Joseph and say I know it, God knows that I know it, and I could never deny it. I hope my kids will have that experience. That’s the best way the church programs can succeed — helping individuals to use their agency in a way that makes that revelation possible. I’m not sure it can be achieved with checkboxes.

  45. Almost as good as Curry says:

    Background: I do not want to name names but it might be impossible if anyone reading this knows who I am describing. For your first hint, he has the same name as an NBA superstar. I will use the pseudonym of a different star, Barkley, to refer to him.

    Bishop Barkley was a career Army grunt. His accent reflected his journey as a young man which was an odd combination of the Bronx and the rural South. His wife spoke a strange language from a country on the Pacific rim and he often imitated her. His nickname for her was Forbidden Fruit because she converted him by initially refusing his romantic interest. He preached in the old time-Southern Baptist style and he preached to wake you up more than put you to sleep. He might interrupt his talk singing an old country gospel hymn or what we used to call “Negro Spirituals”. He might call people by name in the audience for a response to a question. I never walked away from his talks without loving them and wishing he had given them in general conference, just to shake things up.

    As a bishop and later stake president, he promoted controversial actions like telling the teenage girls in his ward (including his daughters) to keep a condom in their purse. He felt like teenagers of different races should dance and date each other. He also thought it was easier if you “married in your own tribe.” He was not above raising his voice in a private interview and telling you what he really thought. But his genuine love made it easy to forgive him and take his advice for what it was worth.

    One time when he first got a cell phone, he gave the number out over the pulpit and told the teenagers they could call him any time, day or night, for any reason- ’cause he knew it was not always easy to talk to your parents. About 2 minutes later my daughter sent him a message, “Luv ur talk”. It beeped and he read it along with her name. He smiled and said: See, they be listenin’. Then another beep and another beep. She was messaging her friends, some not even in the meeting, and they did a cyber attack and completely disrupted his talk. Finally he said: damnit, knock it off.


    Message: Bishop Barkley and a GA in the x th quorum of the 70 were on the stand for a 2 hour meeting with adults only, where they opened it up to general questions. I thought most of them were marsh mellow questions. Then a woman stood with a yellow legal pad and haltingly read a complicated question to which she had given quite a bit of thought. Basically, it described her struggles raising her children and the agony of watching them stray out of the church and away from God. And what could she do?

    The visiting authority turned to Bishop Barkley and said I think you should handle this one. Bishop Barkley gave an incredible sermon that one might hear from an evangelist at a summer revival in the pine woods. He focused on faith in the Lord Jesus and repentance, for about 20 minutes.

    Then he stopped for about 10 seconds. He said slow and loud. I am going to get real with you, sista. He described how most, actually all, of his children were making poor choices. One night he took Forbidden Fruit out on the front porch and they looked up at the stars. He prayed; Lord you gave us these children and we fed them and raised them and tried to teach them the best we could. But it isn’t working. Throwing his arms into the air, he shouted: So WE ARE GIVING THEM BACK TO YOU!!! They are adults. We will still pray for them and talk to them. But now it is on YOU.

    Bishop Barker sat down without another word. Not even “in the name of….””

    The visiting authority stood and said: So much false doctrine. Where do I begin? Many people laughed, like it was a joke. But he was not joking. I found it hard to listen to him tally the usual list of Mormon bromides which implied failed parents had not done it right and of course, the church bore no responsibility. While I thought about the profound wisdom and faith of what Bishop Barkley had just said.

    One of his sons was close friends with another youth in the Stake who was given a football scholarship to BYU. He lasted about 3 months before being arrested for selling cocaine to his teammates. It could have been Bishop Barkley’s boy. But funny thing, over the years some of his kids have come back. One of them married a wild and wayward church leader’s daughter and the Lord brought them both back. Others are not in church but doing wonderful things with their lives.

    One aspect of Mormonism is continued improvement in the next life. Leaders in the 19th century speculated on the possibility of progress from one kingdom to another and the top leaders later rejected the idea. What if they were wrong?

    A line in the song, Amazing Grace, says: When we’ve been there 10,000 years….
    How much growth could a person experience in 10 long lifetimes, or 1000 years? Or 10,000 years? I can’t get my mind around a million years. Yet eternity is longer than that. The answer to this problem is bigger than all of us.

  46. “Mormonism has always been a social religion. That statement of home oriented and church supported is a suicide pact, admitting that the church is, functionally, irrelevant.”

    Excellent point. The change from three hours to two was great for young families whose young kids were approaching meltdown halfway through the third hour. I’m a bishop and I talked to a lot of members who are saddened by loss of the hour. Singles, widows and widowers, families without children/newlyweds, and people whose social lives revolve around the church. We’re in the midwest so there’s less day-to-day interactions with other ward members via propinquity that exists on the Wasatch front. It’s been harder for me since I did a lot of ministering in the foyer and the hallways during classes.

    So much of what the church offers is social connection with people who share a common belief system. I know members of my ward who are, for all intents and purposes, agnostic, but they love us and know they’re loved, and we’re here for their spiritual care.

    I’m a chaplain in training. When I am released I’m going right back to work except with my brothers and sisters who aren’t members of my faith, primarily in hospice care. My mentor is an orthodox rabbi, my achi (brother), and has taught me so much. When he introduces himself to people he serves, he explains that “The doctors are here for your medical care; I’m here for your spiritual care.” They often say “Well, I’m not very religious, rabbi.” In his best New Jersey accent he says “Who said anything about religion? I said spiritual care.”

  47. anonymous today says:

    “In said class, instead of thinking we failed somehow, we could talk about how all of us are really trying to do our best with the tools that we were given.”

    This is truth. Grace makes it possible for doing our best with what we know to be enough. Not to try to answer to what others think we should know or do or be able to see.

    But that isn’t just true for parents. It’s true for us all, including Church leaders (which some of us may be someday, or some may have already been).

    I think we need more Jesus. More grace. More practice talking about more than just our normal fears and complaints. Old belief systems die hard, but old belief systems are embedded all the way around this circle of pain and are often generational.

    When hard things happen, it’s human nature to want to control and blame. Parents do this to children, children do this to the parents and the church, and allies of those leaving do it to the church leaders and institution. None of these approaches seems at all consistent with grace. But grace is not natural. It takes some effort and practice and study to taste what it could be.

    How Jesus responded to those who misunderstood Him; how He responded to sinners; how He responded to His chosen (and very imperfect) leaders (through all dispensations), how He responded to those who killed Him, even…He gave them all space and grace to not be everything everyone needed, just so. In fact, trying to be everything (or expecting someone to be everything) is counter to the plan. And it produces suffering.

    Even non-Christian traditions espouse radical acceptance and forgiveness as key to peace. Other frameworks like Internal Family Systems or ACoA reinforce that no matter the family dysfunction (the church is just another family with lots of messiness therein) one can heal. Meditation practice invites letting go of expectation and narratives to release unnecessary suffering. There are true principles around these ideas in so many realms.

    We worship a God who weeps when His children don’t accept His plan and His Son. So I think it’s a bit much to expect parents not to weep. If our faith means anything, it’s grief-worthy to not be able to share that with your family. If people leaving wasn’t something to grieve over, there would be no point for a post like this, or calls for improvements. It matters.

    Respecting agency matters, too. We need not be in others’ faces who choose a different path. But in other contexts, we tend to hold space for grief, not berating them for needing some time to process grief of other sorts. I think we need to just try to give each other more space and grace all the way around. And more Jesus.

  48. I find it interesting that so many commenters here bring up their “Pioneer Heritage” or point to their coming from “Pioneer Stock” in an attempt to demonstrate the pain in their family members or themselves leaving the church.

    Where does that leave the rest of us, whose families do not have a long history in the church? Are the moral questions any less complicated? Is the pain of seeing a child leave the church or abandon their faith eased because your grandparents were not members?

  49. I’m a young adult, hoping to have children and raise them in the church, with a brother who may or may not be active – in my eyes, while I think there is a certain duty to teach your children the religion you have, my religion is MY religion, not my brother’s, not my future children’s, not even my parents’. I think less emphasis culturally needs to be placed on “checkbox parenting” and more needs to just be placed in separating parenting and church attendance, because every person is their own individual and no parent fails if their child so chooses, through their own agency, to leave the church.

    I often feel a bit distant from the churches described in the comments of BCC since I already grew up in a relatively progressive area for the church in general compared to most people, and my mother herself has emphasized loving people to love them and not for the decisions of their family (it may be important to note two of her brothers are out and several of her nephews and neices are, but in spite of it we show love and care to all of them). If only all the people in this church would feel the same way.

  50. When I read the responses here, I am left scratching my head. What in the world did you teach your children? That serving a mission would grant you a personal witness of the truthfulness of the gospel? That marrying in the temple guaranteed you a happy marriage and faithful family? This is not what the scriptures teach. If you believed it or taught it to your children you believed false doctrine.
    The price of salvation is high. Finding truth, recognizing it, then understanding it costs extreme effort and desire and sometimes years of struggle. You know, like the price of a college education, a successful career or a loving marriage. Why are the children of today such snowflakes? If something does not agree with some current cultural norm, it must be wrong.
    How appalled our grandchildren are going to be with this generation. Once transgender is scientifically understood, how will they view the generation that advocated amputation of body parts and introducing fake hormones into people’s bodies? They will equate you with Dr. Mengele.
    Teach your children they will need to struggle to hear God’s voice, but that they can hear it. Like the prophets have been trying to teach us these last few years. Teach them visions come to regular members. Teach them angels do visit us to provide help. If you cannot testify of this from person al experience, ask yourself, then God, why not?

  51. Wow, Rennee; I realize it may be hard to hear from up there, but you’ve put a lot to unpack.
    – “What in the world did you teach your children?”
    Take some time to listen to the stories of such things being taught my church authorities, at every level. These aren’t coming out of thin air by overzealous parents. “False doctrine”, despite correlation, is throughout. Humans are like that; we want to find explanations that make sense to us and direct others to follow our understanding.
    That certainly doesn’t mean that the Church cannot also be true, just that it’s not as simple as blaming us misguided souls.
    – “The price of salvation is high.”
    This sucks as a rationale for anything. How high the price depends quite a lot on the circumstances of your life, not to mention what gender you are, social opportunities, world location, etc.. If a story is shared of a Polynesian family selling all they had to sail the ocean to get to the temple to be sealed (losing a child on the way), it’d be used as inspiration in General Conference to show “the price of salvation is high”. Did that price really need to be paid? Can we really be so callous at someone’s pain?
    (I’ll skip the “kids these days” bit)
    – “Once transgender is scientifically understood”
    It’s been understood for decades, and our understanding continues to grow. Lack of understanding can be an impediment made worse when we refuse to believe truths that disagree. Very few people believe there are people on the moon and mars, though a Prophet declared differently years earlier. And the Nazi reference was just a cherry on top.
    – “Teach your children . . .”
    You seem to miss that many of us are desperately trying to do this whole lot. That’s kind of the point of the post (and the blog, really). The problem has been what they hear from Church leaders and teachers, things that have crept in and made a home, despite the power of correlation.


  1. […] “Feeling like we have failed as parents, that our families should feel ashamed of those who left, or that the very idea of someone leaving the church means we refuse to have openhearted conversations about it and instead cast blame, is fear, plain and simple,” Emily Jensen writes in a recent post on By Common Consent. […]

  2. […] “Feeling like we have failed as parents, that our families should feel ashamed of those who left, or that the very idea of someone leaving the church means we refuse to have openhearted conversations about it and instead cast blame, is fear, plain and simple,” Emily Jensen writes in a recent post on By Common Consent. […]

  3. […] By Common Consent blogger Emily Jensen points to the new class as a possible response — and help — to waves of young people leaving the faith. […]

  4. […] By Common Consent blogger Emily Jensen points to the new class as a possible response — and help — to waves of young people leaving the faith. […]

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