|Print | Back||June 15, 2012|
Mormanity:Cutting a Little Slack for Ex-Mormons
by Jeff Lindsay
When I was a teenager, a friend of mine at school converted to the Church, and I was very happy for him. Then he ran into anti-Mormon literature and was swayed and began to speak against the Church and had his name removed.
Understandably, my bishop encouraged several of us to be careful and to avoid religious discussion with him. I was uncomfortable with him and we grew apart. But now, many years later, we've teamed up again, though we are on different continents. He's an amazing person, vastly interesting, and though we differ in many topics, I am pleased to count him as a friend.
He is no longer an "anti," but quietly tolerates my religious beliefs (with a few good-natured jokes, of course), though he thinks it's all a pleasant lie and believes there is no God. I realize that he is every bit as important to God as I or any member of the Church, and perhaps more so, given what he has endured and overcome.
In appreciating him and his friendship, it is so clear that there is much more to life than simply whether one is or is not a member of any particular religion. Yes, the Church of Jesus Christ is divine and is a marvelous tool meant to bless the children of this planet, but there is much outside our tiny Church that we have yet to appreciate. Those who leave still count. They still have valuable and inspiring work that they may do in their spiritual journey, in their family life, in their service to society and in their professional work. Don't discount them. Cut them a little slack and see the good in them.
For those of us who love the pearl of great price we have found in the Restored Gospel of Jesus Christ, it can be terribly painful to watch someone we love leave the Church. Sometimes former Mormons or current members struggling in their faith become bitter and seem to continually pick at the Church. It's easy to demonize those we see as enemies, to shun them, and to treat them as spiritual lepers.
On the other hand, having known a wide range of people who have struggled with the Church in various ways, including some very good people who chose to leave, I wish to say that a little more generosity and Christian compassion from faithful Latter-day Saints might be wise. There is room for increased respect and tolerance in LDS ranks for those who have left us and even rail against us.
In my experience, many ex-Mormons, even some who display bitterness toward the Church, may be far more honorable than we have realized. From their perspective, they may have sincere, logical, even seemingly irrefutable reasons for leaving. Indeed, it is not hard to find reasons to reject Joseph Smith or Brigham Young or any past or modern prophet, or to find doctrines and practices that one can strongly object to.
Many who leave do not do so because LDS moral standards were too high or because they were "offended" by some trivial event. It probably isn't because they finally decided that paying tithing was too painful or that beer just tasted too good to resist. And in most of the cases I know, it wasn't because they had a serious moral sin that they wouldn't quit.
It is understandable, in fact, that people would get upset over polygamy or several other things in LDS history or even in the Bible that would lead them to reject the Church or organized religion in general. There are certainly powerful arguments to be made and often no simple, slam-dunk answers to remove all concerns.
Let's recognize that the people who leave may be doing their best to be good, intellectually honest people. They may be wrong in their interpretation of religious data and flawed in their assumptions about and expectations of the Church, but that doesn't make them loathsome, stupid, or immoral.
I am sad that they left. I think there are rich spiritual dimensions to the LDS experience that they will miss, or perhaps were already missing during their time of membership in the Church.
I had one person tell me, after twenty years of membership in the Church, that he had never experienced a real answer to prayer. That pains me. I wish his experience could have been more like mine.
No, I can't explain polygamy, either in Joseph's day or Old Testament times. There are sorts of things offend me, from the Old Testament right up to 2012. But I cannot deny what I have experienced, and indeed, what I know. There is a power and a reality to core parts of the Gospel. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is real. The Book of Mormon is real and divine. The temple is divine. Prayer "works." The gift of the Holy Ghost is real. The blessings and miracles associated with Church service are real.
Something is going on here that cannot be explained by any hypothesis that begins with Joseph as a charlatan who fabricated the Book of Mormon. That doesn't mean we have to agree with everything the fallible people in the Church have done, but there is at least something going on that needs to be considered.
However, there are other ways of looking at the evidences, and plenty of ways to miss the evidences of the divine. Those who leave because of their interpretation of history or evaluation of the evidence may be fully rational. They may still be our friends and neighbors -- good friends and good neighbors. They may still be reasonable, kind, loving people with differences that we can accept. I hope we can have some degree of mutual respect and less nastiness.
Given the fallibility of man, it is almost certain that some things that any person accepts as truth will be wrong. In the end, the most important thing has got to be the gift that is the greatest of all, charity. May we have it in abundance, even toward our enemies, even toward those who choose to revile us and accuse us of all manner of stupidity. I need it more.
Many of those who leave our Church do not stand with those who taunt and defame us. Some feel we have been duped and defrauded, but mean us no harm and respect the good that they can see in us. We need not assume the worst in them, and instead should see the best that we can.
This life is a journey, and there are treasures to be uncovered for all and in all who seek the good, even when they -- or we -- have gotten some things wrong along the way. It's not all about having an LDS membership number.
May we always be civil one to another, even as we debate our religious views and contend for the cause of truth as we see it.
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