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Do unto others

This post is directed at my Mormon reader base.  But first, a disclaimer.  This post is meant first as an exposition on my personal experiences, secondly as a commentary on my observations, and third as constructive criticism for any who wish to receive it.  It is not meant to blame anyone nor condemn any act.  It isn't meant to justify or absolve guilt of any of my own actions.  It also isn't meant as a pity party for myself.  I only want to communicate the way in which certain actions have caused me to become disaffected with the church and other actions have helped me to continue to love the church, and by so doing encourage actions of the latter category.

My immediate family (counting Karen's and Conrad's, all of whom I consider to be family) has reacted as best as can be expected to the events that have unfolded over the course of this year.  There are those whose behavior has been so exemplary that I only wish I could ever be as understanding and compassionate as they are.  I say this because they are also the ones most likely to take my words here to heart and to feel that they have been less than adequate in showing me love, which is not the case.

Having grown up in the LDS church, in a devout family, I grew to love the church very much.  As recently as the time I informed my bishop that I am gay, I still loved the church, and I loved my calling as ward mission leader.  I loved helping the missionaries.  When the bishop took my calling, even though I had done no wrong, I was surprised.  I felt the action was unjust--especially since the Handbook of Instruction clearly states that gay people who aren't engaging in homosexual activity are worthy of holding the priesthood (if they're male) and any calling in the church that a heterosexual person would be able to hold.  Later on, when he took my temple recommend, I had no more motivation to remain a member of the church, feeling completely abandoned by that church and stripped of any privilege in it.  Therefore, I handed my letter of resignation to my bishop, respectfully rescinding my membership in the church.  At this point in time, I still believed that the church taught true principles, that it was led by a prophet and that it was merely incorrect concerning the morality of homosexual activity.  So, it was for a period of about 2 or 3 months after this point in time that I continued to attend LDS services.

In fact, I was basically told that my participation in the church was wholly unwanted.  I was not allowed to have a calling and that I could no longer volunteer at the family history center (which I had been doing pretty much weekly since Karen and I first moved to Tennessee) even though half of the staff at the center is non-Mormon.  One week my roommate, who was Sunday school president in the YSA branch, asked me to teach a Sunday school class, which I willingly did.  The branch president acted as though I was trying to sabotage his branch.  Immediately following the class, he asked to speak with me.  He told me that there were several people who were concerned about me teaching and that in the interest of protecting his branch, I should not do so in the future.  Ironically, he was sitting in the class while I was teaching and by his own admission said that there was nothing objectionable in what I taught, that it was all according to the handbook.  But, I could tell that he was right about people not wanting me to teach because there were some people (a small minority, to be sure) that didn't even want me at church.  People who just a few short months prior would ask me how I was doing and act friendlily were pretending as though I didn't even exist.  The branch president's own wife, who is normally a very sweet woman, wouldn't even make eye-contact with me and rarely spoke to me.

During the course of these months, I started researching more into the bits and pieces of "anti-Mormon" literature that I had encountered over the years, but had always ignored or avoided in the interest of protecting my testimony.  (I find this ironic because Mormons teach that knowledge obtained by the Spirit is stronger than any other way of obtaining knowledge, that when a spirit speaks to a person's spirit, it leaves an indelible imprint, and at the same time a testimony is so fragile that one should avoid reading anything or listening to anyone who disagrees with the church.)  At any rate, as I started researching these claims that I had heard, I found out that the truth lied not with the sterile history that the church currently presents, but in the actual histories of the church--the Journal of Discourses and the History of the Church.  Also, more truth can be found in recent scientific discoveries than in the church.  For example, it is true that DNA evidence indicates that Native Americans are related to Asians, not to Jews, as the Book of Mormon claims.  And, there really is basically no archaeological evidence to support many of the things mentioned in the Book of Mormon--including flora, fauna, and man-made objects such as chariots. Having made all of these discoveries, and realizing that I could not trust the church to give me accurate information, I finally relinquished my belief in it.

When I made this post about leaving the church, it included much of the difficulty in the matter.  It was a hard thing to do, and it felt very much like severing a limb and leaving it behind, knowing that amputation was the only way to save my life.  In this vulnerable state, I looked for ways to express the feelings I was having.  I wanted people to talk to about the matter.  Luckily, I had a friend who was willing to discuss the matter with me and he introduced me to a Facebook group designed for people questioning Mormon beliefs, in transition out of the church, or having left completely.  I have found this group to be a great support to me.  More recently, I have found the Ex-Mormon forums and have begun active participation there.

As I began sharing my doubts about Mormonism, expressing that I believe that the church is a hoax, and that its doctrine is false, many people were understandably offended by this.  Many people have unfriended me on Facebook, quite possibly because they don't wish to see my posts that question their faith pop up in their newsfeed.  This, I can understand.  Some people felt it necessary to send a message informing me that they have unfriended me.  This, I felt was unnecessary and more damaging than simply unfriending me.  However, some people felt it necessary to contend with me on my wall about the things that I would post.  Some claimed that the issues I was raising have been "debunked" by the church, which is not the case.  However, they would contend with me angrily, in the defense of their church.  Again, this is quite understandable.  Having been a devout Mormon for the first 28 years of my life, I know why someone would do that.  I didn't like having my beliefs questioned while I was a believing Mormon.  But, anger is most often met with more anger.  Finally, there were those who would become downright rude to me.  I have been called names and received all sorts of derisive and condescending comments from people who were defending the church.  This behavior is never acceptable.

I found myself starting to really dislike the church.  Part of this was because I found more about the church, for example that its for-business ventures far outweigh its charitable contributions, and part of this (possibly a larger part) was because of the way people were treating me.  As I attempt to express my thoughts and feelings, I am met with contention and anger.  I ask, quite sincerely and without any attempt at accusation or blame, what is the purpose of reacting this way?  What do you wish to accomplish by arguing with me about your church?  If you want me to "return to the fold" or "regain my testimony" or something like that, do you think this is the best way to do so?  If you want me to believe that your church is a loving and a true church, would it not be better to express love and merely let the church defend itself, since it is true?

I'll say what effect these confrontations did have on me.  At the time I first announced my sexual orientation, I received many emails from people that were extremely out-of-character for them.  People that have always been very peaceful, loving, and unassuming suddenly became hostile, accusatory, and presumptuous.  To me, this was an indication of brainwashing.  Of course, I wasn't ready to honestly believe that they were brainwashed, since I still believed in the church, more or less, and therefore this assumption seemed absurd.  However, as I saw people contend with me angrily on my Facebook wall and in private concerning the truth of the LDS church, I started leaning more in the direction of believing that this could be the case.  Now, I don't want to be as bold as to say that the church brainwashes people.  Certainly there are those who make this claim, and there is some validity to their arguments.  Whether it is true or false, I could not say with any real certainty, and I don't mean to say that here.  What I'm saying is that when I get reactions like this from my Mormon friends, it makes it easier for me to believe that they are brainwashed.  Why?  When a brainwashed person's brainwashing is questioned, this creates a significant amount of cognitive dissonance and can often result in unusually aggressive or violent behavior.  Obviously, I would be foolish to think that these people arguing with me is a sign of them being brainwashed, especially since the people who have argued with me would do so just as vehemently if I were to challenge their political views or any other topic in which they have a vested emotional interest.  But, the thing I'm relating here is my feelings, not my thoughts, and feelings aren't often rational.

Consider, just for a moment, consider the two reactions you might have to someone in the scenario I am currently in.  So, you have a friend that was once upon a time a devout Mormon.  Now they are having a crisis of faith and are sharing with you all of the information they have found about the LDS church.  One reaction you might give is the reaction I have laid out above--you can argue with them and try to defend the church or prove that it is true.  You can also just bear your testimony, not feeling any particular need to debate the points being presented by your friend.  Or you could, as instructed in the Bible, turn the other cheek, love those who you feel are persecuting you and pray for this friend.  What is the difference between these two reactions?  I must say that for each of these two options, I have had many friends choose that route.  I also must say that if all of my Mormon friends had chosen the former rather than the latter, I would find it very difficult to muster any positive feelings for the church any longer.  It is only because I have had friends that have shown me great sympathy that I still view the church in a positive light.  In fact, I have even had one friend, who is active in the church, who has shown me more empathy than I ever would have expected from someone in his position.

So, when you have interactions with such people, think about what kind of image you want the church to have.  Do you want those who leave the church to think that its members are simply vindictive, angry people who persecute anyone who decides to leave?  Or do you want them to keep a positive view on the members of the church, seeing that they are truly loving and caring people?

I have had people--who at least in the past I would have considered dear friends--who have called me names, have accused me of great sins and other unspeakable acts.  They have said to me things that I would never consider saying to something that I sincerely considered to be a friend.  The fact that these are people that I do consider or used to consider to be dear friends makes the pain all that more poignant.  If it were merely acquaintances or people that I didn't know, I could brush it aside, knowing that they don't know my character.  But, when it is people that I felt could see who I am, people who I believed understood me, that is when it hurts.  That is when I feel betrayed.

Having used the dramatic verbology that I have, I feel that I need to make a disclaimer here.  I would say that the majority of my friends (including family) have merely said nothing to me concerning the matter.  This is a neutral approach.  It neither hurts me nor comforts me.  This is probably a very safe and wise course to take.  A small percentage of friends have treated me poorly, as described above.  This behavior I have no choice but to forgive, since I cannot claim to have avoided provoking it.  An equally small percentage are the ones who have reached out in love and shown sympathy or empathy for what I am going through.  These people are the ones whom I admire, those that I believe have truly captured the essence of Christlike love.  As Christ said, it is easy to love people who are kind to us, but it is much more difficult to love those that we do not perceive as kind, those whom we might esteem to be our enemy.  It is the test of whether we can love people like that that proves true love.

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