Trust

Today was my first day in a new ward.  It is unavoidably true that one of the reasons for our move was to find a fresh start in a new ward.  By way of synopsis, our son Jordan came out (gay) three years ago.  While it was a great shock, our family rallied around Jordan.  As we became more educated, we realized how damaging being in the closet is.  We were not ashamed of him.  Also, our ability to protect Jordan was severely limited unless he was out.  So we crashed out of the closet as a family.

The impact of this news was jarring to both family and friends.  Our learning curve was steep.  While well intentioned, many were not willing to look past stereotypes.  In Church, this was manifest by gossip and passive aggressive behavior that felt very much like shunning.  Our leaders looked up the Priesthood leadership chain for direction and found none.  In this vacuum, they came to the conclusion that we were just one family.

“We are not going to upset the apple cart for just one family,” was what we heard over and over from both the ward and stake level.

This emboldened those who were offended by a gay youth in their midst.  A few refused to take the sacrament from him as a Deacon.  Others would shame him (and us) in the name of defending marriage.  As this Church environment grew intolerable, we sought refuge in a neighboring ward.  But the same overall policy was in place.  As my son was now a Teacher, I reached out to his young men’s leaders: the counselors, the YM President, the Bishop, and asked them to please get him involved in preparing the Sacrament.  While he was ordained a Teacher, he had never participated and no one bothered to reach out.  Ultimately, nothing was done.  When Jordan finally turned sixteen and the Bishop asked him if he was excited to become a Priest, Jordan said no.

“What is going to happen when I bless the Sacrament and someone refuses to take it because I was the one who blessed it?”  Jordan asked.Broken-trust-600x524

“Oh that would never happen.”  The Bishop reassured.

“But it already has….” Jordan replied, “when I was a Deacon.”  He was never ordained a Priest.  And he rarely attends Church.

This story is the beginning of a process that has dramatically impacted my family’s relationship with the Church.  In our first ward, I wasn’t crushed by the fact that our ward had a few people who were largely uneducated on LGBT issues and were deeply hurtful to us.  That was something I expected.  I was crushed by the fact that my friends and people I had served with for 10+ years stood by and did nothing.  They were paralyzed by indecision looking for permission to love a gay youth.  And there was no leadership or members willing to say that refusing to take the sacrament from someone found worthy by the Bishop is wrong.  Or that disparaging him or his family is off limits.  So we were alone.

In our second ward there was cool tolerance, but not acceptance.  When the Bishop was faced with the situation that in all likelihood some members would object to a gay Priest blessing the sacrament, he could not affirm that he would have that gay youth’s back.  Trust was broken.

When that trust is breached, it often causes a chain reaction of faith trauma.  It is in that moment when we realize that our faith was the glue that held all the various parts of our testimony together.  This overarching faith masks the truth that we have come to know and experience very few things.  Certain principles or historical events that once bothered us, but we put on the shelf, are now front and center.  The testimony of the whole is now insufficient to allow us to ignore the Church’s deficiencies.

For most of my life, I believed the stereotypes that people leave the Church because they are either spiritually weak, led astray, they are easily offended, or they just want to sin.  But now, because of my experience, I believe it is usually founded in a breach of trust.  In some way, the Church, its leaders, or the doctrine fail us.  Now many will say that the Church is made up of imperfect people, but the Gospel is perfect.  It is true that the Church is made up of imperfect people.  But it is also true that the whole of the Church is the body of Christ, which is the sum of its people.

“Except in the case of His only perfect Begotten Son, imperfect people are all God has ever had to work with.  That must be terribly frustrating to Him, but He deals with it.  So should we.  And when you see imperfection, remember that the limitation is not in the divinity of the work.  As one gifted writer has suggested, when the infinite fullness is poured forth, it is not the oil’s fault if there is some loss because finite vessels can’t quite contain it all.  Those finite vessels include you and me, so be patient and kind and forgiving.

Elder Holland

This extends from the top of the Church to the very bottom.  Terryl and Fiona Givens in the Crucible of Doubt (which I highly recommend) dedicate multiple chapters to dispelling the myth of prophetic infallibility that dominates Mormon culture.  Most members will acknowledge that the prophet isn’t perfect. Yet in the same breath they say that the prophet can never lead the Church astray.  While truth and/or doctrine might be fixed, our understanding of any given truth changes frequently.  Misconceptions on this fundamental point can often be the biggest stumbling block of all.  I often hear “either the Church is 100% true or 100% false.”  But this ignores the fact that God has chosen imperfect men to lead His church. Even a superficial look at the Bible and church history makes this clear.

The recognition of this fact is as necessary for the believer as for the doubter.  Believers and doubters can be pushed into false ultimatums that are very destructive.  Believers who hold to this ‘black and white’ viewpoint are too easily shattered when they discover something that is hard to reconcile.  When even one imperfection is brought to light, then this ‘black and white’ thinking can lead them to deny there is anything good or true in the Church.

What believers and doubters both need is empathy and love. There is no space for empathy and love when we are so polarized that we can’t see the good in another person.  Bill Reel and Steven Garff have an excellent discussion on exactly this topic that I highly recommend.
http://www.mormondiscussionpodcast.org/2015/07/steven-garff-gottmans-ratio/

So I find myself in this limbo between my Church (where I feel conflicted) and those outside the Church (whom I feel great empathy for).  I have felt firsthand this experience of destroyed trust.  I have learned to understand some of the difficult experiences that others have faced.  I have a close friend whose trust was broken when the Church’s support of Prop 8 violated their conscience.  I have a close friend whose trust was broken when the gospel topics essays outlined a very different story of common Church teachings.  Forty plus year members of the Church are finding out messy parts of Church history and their trust is broken.  Another friend was taught as a youth that obedience to covenants were a very real physical protection and shield.  When there was a horrible accident that resulted in extensive chronic pain, trust was broken.

This is more than just trying to troubleshoot specific issues of why people leave the Church.  I am not asking you to leave the 99 and go after the one.  Half the flock has left! Our wards and stakes have a 50-60% inactivity rate. If we truly mean to minister to them we must change how we approach them.  The following is a list of suggestions to hopefully assist our friends to rebuild a healthy spiritual relationship with Mormonism.  Many of these are situations and dialogue I have had personally.  Some are the experiences of others.  Some just represent my hopes.

  • Having shared religious beliefs is not the only way to make friends. It is possible to make friends based on other criteria.  You can even make friends with gay people.
  • Don’t make another person’s loss of faith and trust about you. Blaming a child or sibling for threatening to destroy your eternal family is very destructive.  Don’t accuse another of ‘losing the spirit’ or ‘the light in your countenance has gone out.’  Your hurt feelings because of their loss of trust in the Church is making it about you.
  • Restoring broken trust is not accomplished by victim blaming. Whatever reasons have led someone to doubt the Church, delegitimizing their experience demonstrates your lack of trust in them.  Restoring trust is a reciprocal relationship.  Even if you don’t understand, grant some validation to another’s experience.  If you cannot show empathy, you cannot help restore another’s trust.
  • Don’t preach.   We are a Church that likes to have quick and ready answer to everything.  In all likelihood, if someone you care about has shared with you their crisis of faith, they have explored many, if not all, of the related Church teachings on the subject.  They are not stupid.  “I don’t know,” is a perfectly acceptable answer.
  • Bearing your testimony is not an answer. And while it might bring the spirit, it also frequently ends an otherwise beneficial conversation.  You can encourage another to continue to seek spiritual answers and pray.
  • Don’t be dismissive of another’s experience or marginalize the reasons that their faith is shaken. If they matter to you, then the issue threatening their faith should matter to you.
  • Most people honestly struggling with faith and trust are doing so because their conscience and integrity are deeply troubling them. They may not see things as you see them, but they are being honest with themselves.
  • Shaming others for not keeping Church standards (when they might hold those standards in doubt) is very counterproductive. Don’t create a false ‘you are either all in or all out.’  The moral whiplash may cause them to reject everything they once valued.
  • Love them. Don’t allow a spiritual division to be the only dimension to your relationship.  Make sure they understand that your love for them is your first priority.
  • Allow their pain to be real. Feeling what your friends and family are going through will create bonds that could lead them back into fellowship with the Church.
  • Be patient. Allow people to work through their doubt without your judgment.  Anger is often a legitimate emotion when we feel our trust has been violated.  Allow for weeks, months and maybe years while others learn to find their way.
  • Find and build on the elements of testimony that they still value. They may not have explored what elements of their testimony are still intact.
  • Build on the foundation of Christ. Act as you think Christ would.  Be the Good Samaritan, binding up the wounds of the injured.  Healers get blood on their hands and their hearts break nursing the wounds of their loved ones.  Don’t hesitate or run away.
  • It is possible for people to have a fulfilling relationship with God outside of the Mormon faith. Encouraging others to maintain the truths they have found and build on them is excellent.

I know this is not an exhaustive list and I encourage others to add to it.  Repairing trust will take much longer than it took to break it.  Our wards and stakes are 50-60% inactive because we are not very good at this.  I know I would be grateful for those who reached out to me and my family in this way.  I hope in my new ward I can find the home my family needs.

 

PS – This is the first of three articles written on Trust, Sadness and Grace.  Look for Sadness in a few weeks.

 

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12 comments for “Trust

  1. August 18, 2015 at 4:03 pm

    I was part of the problem for years.. and did not see the problem. Now it is impossible for me to not see it. The ingrained racism, sexism and homophobia are tolerated in the church and hopefully it will decrease until it is gone.. but that may take a while.

    • Becky Coombs
      August 23, 2015 at 10:49 am

      Can I quote and share this very insightful and nail-on-the-head comment?

  2. Tristen
    August 18, 2015 at 4:34 pm

    Loved this article, couldn’t agree more. It is such a long and difficult path to the truth and to God and empathy and understanding to those in front of or behind us on the path are all that we can really afford to give. Anything further requires us to try to know God’s will and I don’t think anyone on this earth is physically or mentally capable of understanding God and his ways. What we have are many many many strands of good and truth and light from so many different sources and when we piece all of those things together, we begin to see God. Great article, I couldn’t agree more!

  3. August 19, 2015 at 1:02 am

    Thank you for pin pointing why I am boiling with anger when this kind of subject is brought up at church or when I see this attitude or when….or you know what I mean.
    I know all that you wrote because I could have written it myself. See, I have been excommunicated and back to the church. What brought me back was a spiritual event not a need to mingle with my old crowd.
    I guess reading your article I understand that my ward is no exception to the rule and is just as normal is it gets.

  4. Patricia Card-Farrell
    August 19, 2015 at 1:48 pm

    Wow! I never even considered that some folks don’t take the sacrament based on whose blessing it…thanks for sharing!

  5. Stephen Patterson
    August 19, 2015 at 9:03 pm

    There are some observations here that I really resonate with, some that I feel ok about and some that I disagree with. But, I think that’s totally fine when we as members try to have a dialogue about these issues. I suppose that’s how it is in sacrament meeting when people share their personal views and comments. Sometimes it’s great, sometimes I cringe. The way I go about it is this: learn the actual doctrine and deepen an understanding of it with other’s non-contradictory comments and with what the Spirit teaches.

    It is sad that there have been some wards that would act rudely towards a gay member. I think the emphasis of love and empathy here is awesome and necessary.
    But, I would be careful to make the leap that this is a “Church” problem rather than an issue with a local ward. On purely logical grounds, one instance like this does not create a strong inductive argument. I grew up in an awesome ward that has some seriously loving and wonderful people in it. I didn’t realize that that same atmosphere doesn’t exist in every other ward till college, mission and other visiting experiences.
    Anyways, my point is to be a bit more hesitant in proclaiming an issue as being Church-wide (such as, the Church sucks at accepting gay people) rather than simply concluding, I was let down by the lack of support in my own unit (or units). It just seemed like the the distinction here was kind of vague.

    But by the way, that is totally crazy about those members refusing to take the sacrament from a priesthood holder just because he’s gay! I would be trying to take advantage of the moment of the sacrament to even take much thought for the deacon. Why waste those precious minutes on judging the worthiness of the priesthood brethren?

  6. Meg Abhau
    August 19, 2015 at 9:30 pm

    Best article yet! I wish I could share this with all my family. Thank you for this beautiful piece.

  7. Lynn
    August 20, 2015 at 10:18 am

    It saddens me to hear of experiences like these. I have a number of family and friends that deal with Same-Sex Attraction and some have had to deal with passive-aggressiveness while others were accepted and loved by their ward. Through my experiences and the experiences of others I have learned and have further developed a testimony that the gospel is true and perfect, however the Church is not. It doesn’t make life easier for those who suffer from the actions of others, but having the knowledge that their Father in Heaven loves them unconditionally does.
    I wish it was possible to open others eyes to the truth around them and make them understand Heavenly Father’s plan better.

  8. Marie Cooper
    August 20, 2015 at 4:45 pm

    Beautiful suggestions, I sincerely hope and pray that your family finds a real home in your new ward and the support and unconditional love that you all need.

  9. John Novak
    August 23, 2015 at 8:52 am

    Thank you for this article. It is unfortunate that such a culture exists within our church, but exist it does. We need our leaders to take a top to bottom approach to this issue. While having some strong local leaders is great, they are simply too few in number to be able to effect change.

  10. Jen
    August 24, 2015 at 12:36 am

    I’m sorry to hear your struggles. It always seems to cut more deeply when it’s your child that’s affected… Thank you for bringing greater awareness to the subject.
    We each need to worry so much less about the others around us, what they think and do or what they think of us. Instead focus on seeking truth for ourselves and then willingly living by those truths regardless of where others stand in it. We don’t have to wear it on our sleeves, it is between ourselves and the Lord. We are all at different levels of understanding.
    As for others, let’s aim to love first, there will not be enough time left to judge and the tendency to do so will melt off of our character.
    All I can say is, I’ve learned to not allow anyone else the power to separate me from the Lord or from doing the things I’ve covenented with the Lord to do. I realized after getting in a stink a few times over things that by getting worked up and trying to prove myself right, I actually and given others power over me…
    In the end, I think He will be much less concerned with what others did to me and much more eager to hear how I chose to react.
    Stay strong. Stay true. Love, love, love, it’s always the answer.

  11. Celia Partridge
    August 24, 2015 at 10:48 am

    I am a 75 year old retired woman. I was raised in a staunch LDS home. My father was a bishop and my mother the Relief Society president, mostly at the same time.

    I was divorced from an abusive and alcoholic man in the mid sixties. Divorce was uncommon, and apparently unacceptable. I felt a similar shunning from church members, and the well known LDS attorney I retained on the recommendation of my bishop was demeaning and verbally abusive to me.

    I have been inactive for almost fifty years, although I still identify as LDS. I have known many wonderful church members, but also many judgemental and hypocritical members. I choose to continue hoping that my church will eventually follow Christ’s example.

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