Leaving Mormonism – Another Perspective
I recently read a blog which discussed the relationship challenges with “Leaving Mormonism”. In an effort to shed some light from someone who’s been on both sides of those relationships, I’d thought I’d share my thoughts on the same subject.
I have been blessed, in my callings in the LDS church, to serve the young men and women, I have had the opportunity and privilege to discuss crises of faith with some of them. I can honestly say that the experience has often increased my testimony of the Gospel of Jesus Christ greatly, but has seemingly done little for those having the crisis. Perhaps counseling is not my finest skill set.
These opportunities have afforded me the ability to watch those relationships change as some individuals have left the church and gone on to pursue other interests. The changes in those relationships are much the same that any relationship would change as interests and beliefs begin to diverge.
I will begin by discussing my time as a golfer. I began playing golf when I was 7 years old on an old cow pasture in Chrisney, Indiana. My Dad was serving in Vietnam, so the rest of our family went to live with my grandparents. On summer days, my older brother and I would play golf all day long. I grew to love the game for a myriad of reasons.
In my twenties, I became completely absorbed with the game to the point of addiction. I played 5 to 6 days a week most of the time. I played with a group of about 10-12 very close friends. The joy for me came not only from golf but also from the interaction and friendships I developed with these guys. Golf, like any other sport or hobby that someone becomes actively involved in, becomes a part of your community. I told my then fiancée, now spouse of 28 years, not to expect me to ever give up golf. It was more than a game to me, it was part of who I was.
About 18 years ago, things changed in my life. I started to become more active in the church and golf became less of a part of my daily life. My church callings became more time consuming and as a result, I played less and less golf. These days I play 5 to 6 times a year rather than that many rounds each week.
What do you suppose became of those close friendships I had inside that very close-knit community in which I use to place so much value? Exactly what you might expect.
Many of the guys I use to play and socialize with on an almost daily basis, I have not seen or spoken with in years. I have no idea what they are doing now or what is going on in their lives. It wasn’t a conscious effort on their part to ostracize me from “the group”. They would still call me when I first began playing less to see if I was interested in the tee time the next day, but as my answer became consistently, “no”, they began to call less and less. Since I didn’t work with any of these men, and since they did not live close enough to be in my ward, there were fewer opportunities to spend time with them. It was a natural consequence of my decision to change my priorities. Relationships change when someone decides to leave the church for very similar reasons.
During the time I spent serving in a local YSA ward, this was our weekly schedule.
Sunday – Leadership Meetings / Regular church meetings
Monday – FHE with the YSA
Wednesday – Occasionally attending Institute
Thursday – Activity night with the YSA
Saturday – Occasionally meeting to clean the church
*Also, throw in ward temple activities and super summer retreats.
There were many opportunities to build relationships with these young brothers and sisters. It was the greatest opportunity I will likely receive regarding a calling in this church.
Some members of the ward left because they moved away for college or employment. Some left because they got married. Some left because they just stopped attending. No matter what their reason for leaving, the relationship changed immediately simply due to the sudden change in the opportunity to spend time together.
After we were released as a bishopric, those relationships changed between myself and all of the YSA members.
For the most part, I have a casual chat with one or two if there is a reason for it. I’ll “stalk” (inside joke) them of facebook at times. But, life goes on for them and for me… as it should. It would actually be a bit creepy if I was still actively involved in most of their lives.
Whether they are active or inactive at this point has absolutely no bearing on how often I see them, unless they happen to be in my home ward.
Members of the church are often accused of severing contact with those that decide to sever their association with the church. I have no doubt that occasionally there might be a case where those feelings are justified. However, most of the time it is nothing more than a natural consequence of a change in the opportunity to associate.
My golfing buddies didn’t like me any less because I stopped golfing with them. They weren’t mad at me for changing the priorities in my life. Their diminished invitations to join them to golf were a natural result of me continually telling them I had other things to do. My opportunity to spend time with them faded as our interests took us in different directions.
My current calling requires that I spend about 3 to 4 days a week serving in some capacity. So. If you’re not in my ward and I don’t work with you, my opportunity to have a relationship with you, outside of the occasional social media interaction is very limited. It doesn’t mean I don’t still care about all of those people. It doesn’t mean I don’t still love them. It’s just life!
However, there is an added dynamic in a relationship between someone who has decided to leave the LDS church and someone who remains. That functional change in the relationship should also be quite obvious.
In the above-mentioned blog, the writer seems to have a desire to not only maintain the relationships with member friends but also to continue the dialogue regarding new found beliefs and perspectives. I’ve actually had the opportunity to have those types of discussions at times… and they can be really good as long as both parties are respectful. But having them more than once with the same person where both sides are intent on keeping their current belief system would likely become toxic.
As a result, I no longer have conversations that get too far into religion, faith, God or pretty much any spiritual subject with someone who has decided the church is no longer for them. The discussion would now be between two conflicting perspectives and would likely not benefit either party.
If a person thinks this shared new perspective will be a benefit to me, then they fail to completely understand my level of “belief”. I am LDS. I am converted. There is absolutely no way that any discussion will ever change that. For me to “change my mind” about what I know to be true would quite literally take a conversation with God. Even then, He would need to explain why He has been lying to me all this time!
Since I’m assuming any discussion from me is unlikely to influence or change the opinion of someone who has left the church… those conversations will only happen when or if the other person brings up the subject… and even then only if they have a sincere question. I will not join in a debate. Truth, will never be found inside a spirit of contention.
Family relationships will change for the same basic reasons listed above. Not so much the change in time spent together, but the conversation will be different.
Though there will be changes in the relationship between someone who has chosen to walk a different path from someone who has chosen stay the course, there should never be changes in the feelings of one for the other.
I would like to conclude with one final example that is personal to me. I was fortunate to get to know a fantastic young woman while serving in the YSA ward. She was struggling, even then, with her testimony of the Gospel. We had many conversations and some incredible spiritual experiences as a result. Well… maybe they were just incredible to me. A while later she moved out of state and I was able to keep track of her on facebook and we would share an occasional message.
I could tell that her focus was changing and that she was likely not going to remain active in the LDS church. A short while ago, I noticed that she was no longer listed among my group of facebook friends. I mention this for one reason only. I have never requested a friendship on facebook. I have never unfriended anyone on facebook. So, when I recently read a blog from this young woman regarding the struggle to maintain relationships when leaving the church, it was surprising to me that she was the one that had severed ours.
I am in no way offended or upset. I only make the point to illustrate that it’s not always the one who remains that is ending the relationship.
I have recently learned this young lady is engaged. With that in mind, there is also one more very, very important message I would want this Sister to know. I am incredibly happy for her. I wish her all the happiness and joy that a great marriage can possibly bring. I hope she is able to enjoy a lifetime of wonderful experiences with her incredible husband. The only difference in my wishes – as an LDS friend – is I wish it could last for time and all eternity.