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Wednesday, May 1, 2019

11. The Fallout of Disbelief/Changing Relationships

In my last post I included the letter I gave to close family and friends expressing my disbelief in the church. However, I did not include an introduction or concluding statement. I wanted to have the post be in the exact form of what I wrote to those close to me, minus my wife’s name of course. Due to the fact that I didn’t include an intro or outro, I will write a few things here.

First, I wrote that letter in July of 2018, which was nine months ago. As such, some of the information contained within it may need updating. I realize now that I made it sound like I was struggling with my faith for years. This was not the case. While it is true that I found certain aspects of the church difficult or confusing, I believed it wholeheartedly. It wasn’t until I really began looking deeply into the church in December of 2017 that serious doubts began.

Second, my letter is an oversimplification of my process. I shortened the account of my struggles for the purpose of brevity but I want to clarify that this was a long and difficult process. Also, these sources were not the only ones I read. I researched other sources from believing members as well as those that had either never been LDS or used to be but did not identify as such any longer. As I have said in the past, I went into this wanting to come to the conclusion that the church was true but I wanted to research all available information. There was a lot to unpack but only so much space to write about it.

Third, I mentioned in the letter that I didn’t want to go into details about issues with the church so as to not force this difficult information on anyone. Writing my blog may seem like I have given up on that idea, but this is not the case. Reading my blog is voluntary. For those posts that have included difficult information, I have tried to add a disclaimer for anyone not wanting to get into the issues. I know of several active members that have been reading, but I also know of several that have chosen not to. I respect the decision to not read them. At least the information about my journey is now available. At the very least, my mind is clearer. In the past I have felt judged for my decisions, but now I remind myself that unless others have read these posts, they don’t have a right to come to any conclusions about me. Unless they understand the whys behind my decisions, they don’t get to have an objective opinion about those decisions. As I stated at the beginning, this blog is predominantly for me in my journey forward.

Fourth, I mention in my letter and in some posts that I made my decisions based on my conscience and my integrity. By saying this I am not trying to insinuate that those that are active members of the church are lacking these things. All I am saying is that I could not find a way for the church to be true with the information I had. As such, I needed to take steps away for my own mental health. There are some people that know many of the issues and decide to stay; but as I have stated before, these individuals typically have a very different set of beliefs than the average chapel Mormon and much different from what is taught by the leaders of the church. That being said, I respect everyone for whatever decision they make. I have said this before but I am not trying to convince anyone of anything; I am trying to help others understand me as well as externalize my inner feelings.

Next, my wife and I have since told our children certain aspects of where I am at in my journey. I plan on sharing some of what we have said to them in a future post. As a result of this openness, we may not engage with the church in a way that is considered average for most members. Once again, I hope this decision is not judged negatively. Along with feeling judged I have also worried that I am viewed as a disappointment. That no matter what other positive accomplishments I have made, or that I still have strong morals and values, I will still be seen as a disappointment. I hope I am wrong in this assumption.

Another aspect of this journey that I have gained insight on recently is that through the pain of traversing this faith transition, I realized I have focused mostly on the negative aspects of the church. I do not believe this is out of the ordinary for those in my position. I discussed the stages of grief and I believe this negativity fits with these stages. But I want to clarify that I do see many positives within the church. I am planning a post that will discuss solely these positive aspects and will publish it in the near future. But I wanted to reiterate that even though in these early posts I have focused on the negatives, there is definitely good in the church. Through writing this blog I am processing out these negative feelings and will hopefully be able to become more neutral.

Anyways, after that long preamble, I finally get to the topic of this post: The fallout. What happened after I made others aware of my change in beliefs? How were relationships affected?

The initial reactions were generally very positive. All of my family and friends that I gave the letter to were supportive overall. Each of them gave the message that they would love and support me in whatever decision I made. There were a few questions on what changes they could expect to see but nothing overly probing or uncomfortable. I have had brief discussions on certain topics with a few people on occasion but this has been rare. But while relationships have definitely not disintegrated, there has been a change. I can feel it. I’m assuming others can feel it as well. It’s nothing in particular that we are doing or saying but it’s more of an unsure feeling. What is safe to talk about? What do I say in this situation? Things like that. It feels like as long as we pretend nothing has changed, we are good. I still talk about the church, missions, etc., and I don’t mind this at all, the topic of how things are going is never discussed. Few call to see how we are doing. If there is communication, the subject is not touched or actively diverted away. It’s difficult feeling like there is an invisible wall between me and most of my close friends and family.

I made a post on Facebook in early August of 2018 as well, expressing my disbelief. It was a shorter version of the letter I posted to my blog but the foundation of it was the same. Except I offered cookies to anyone that remained my friend. I think it worked…The responses I received were, once again, quite positive. In private messages, I discovered that I was not the only one that had doubts. I was not the only one that had struggled with the history and the less known, more difficult aspects of the church and had their faith impacted. Some decided to stay active members while others had stepped away. Some continued to attend on a temporary basis while they decided how to tell those close to them, with the eventual plan being that they would stop attending. It helped knowing that I wasn’t the only one in this situation. That I wasn’t crazy. I had at least one person unfriend me on Facebook but there were likely more. I only had one person respond with a crying emoji but I can definitely understand why. We are taught that the church is true, the one and only church led directly by God. The decision to step away from that must be difficult for members to understand. So, I don’t want to make those individuals feel bad for their reactions. But it was comforting to hear that the intention of most of those close to me was to not have the relationship change.

But I now believe change was inevitable. Like I have said, many members of the church were initially very positive in response to learning about my disbelief. While some have tried to understand and talk to me about how I was doing or even asking what brought me to my conclusions (you know who you are and I want to publicly say it was appreciated!), the vast majority never discussed it again. I want to reiterate, I can empathize with this decision! In the church we are taught to not read or listen to anything that does not support the church, as it is deemed “anti-Mormon.” As I have included what I believe to be a fair definition for that term in an earlier post, I won’t go into that again. But for the vast majority of the past, the church has taught members certain things about those that doubt or leave. We are taught to doubt our doubts before we would ever even consider doubting our faith. People that doubt have been told they are never satisfied with answers but that we keep “whacking at moles,” constantly looking for another problem that we know can’t be solved. Those that leave are told their past faith and testimony were a paddy-cake, taffy-pulled experience, essentially telling us that we are immature and obviously never had a strong belief to begin with. We are shamed rather than understood. I have discussed how those that struggle with doubt or leave have been characterized, so I won’t go into depth here. But I will include one certain quote from an apostle of the church, Boyd K. Packer: “Remember, when you see the bitter apostate, you do not see only an absence of light, you see also the presence of darkness. Do not spread disease germs.” Needless to say, those like me are not spoken of favorably, which directly impacts the view others within the church have of us. It’s comments like these that make attending church as a non-believer extremely difficult.

It has taken until recently for any guidance to be given that is actually helpful or positive in regards to how members of the church should treat those in my situation. I will give two quotes, actually the only two quotes that I know of, that exemplify how we should be treated. “One might ask, ‘If the gospel is so wonderful, why would anyone leave?’ Sometimes we assume it is because they have been offended or lazy or sinful. Actually, it is not that simple. In fact, there is not just one reason that applies to the variety of situations. Some of our dear members struggle for years with the question whether they should separate themselves from the Church. In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly…we respect those that honestly search for truth. It may break our hearts when their journey takes them away from the Church we love…but we honor their right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience, just as we claim that privilege for ourselves.” Elder Uchtdorf suggests that members of the church should not assume why people leave and that there are numerous possible reasons. He acknowledges that our process can be a long and painful struggle. He concludes that our search for truth (as that is honestly what it is) should be accepted with empathy and respect just as believing members of the church would hope for the same for themselves.

“It is hard to understand all the reasons why some people take another path. The best we can do in these circumstances is just to love and embrace them, pray for their well-being, and seek for the Lord’s help to know what to do and say. Sincerely rejoice with them in their successes; be their friends and look for the good in them. We should never give up on them but preserve our relationships. Never reject or misjudge them. Just love them!” This quote by Elder Soares from the most recent General Conference is a great example of what people that doubt or leave hope for. We hope for love and acceptance. We hope that our struggles aren’t seen as a sign of divine disfavor. We hope that our successes aren’t seen as fleeting. We just want to be viewed as the same as we were before we expressed our disbelief.

Instead, we often end up feeling isolated and alone. And I believe it’s largely due to fear. My experience has been one of the better ones from what I have heard and read about. I have heard stories of parents kicking their children out of the house. Of people raising their arm to the square to cast out the demons that must be inhabiting them. I have heard of family completely shunning those that leave or screaming at them about the ruin they will bring to their family. But for me, this topic has simply been the elephant in the room. Members might think, “What if he says something that makes me doubt?” Or “What if he shares anti-Mormon material and I stop believing in the church?” “He obviously hates the church; this is so uncomfortable.” As I have said before, information itself is simply true or false, and we all have the right to determine for ourselves what makes the most sense. But at the same time, I don’t need or want to spout off about everything I have learned, where I learned it, or anything else. And I don’t hate the church or those that are in it. But I think members fear they might catch whatever disease of doubt I have. That the anti-Mormon material that we are warned against might infect those that believe and falsely make them doubt. And these things are contagious by way of discussion. I agree, it is extremely difficult to doubt or lose your faith. Having a fear of that is legitimate. But does the fear itself, that you might hear information that makes you doubt the church, make the church either true or false? Either the church is true or it is not. Any discussion we have will not change the facts. The only thing that could possibly change is your knowledge of certain issues. I just want to be heard, accepted, and understood.  I suppose I am just looking for support.

But I don’t want to make it sound like I have not received any support whatsoever. That is simply not true. I have not had anyone be negative or rude to me or my family. I have not had anyone disown me or tell me I was ruining my life. A few have reached out at times. Individuals have been positive in my interactions with them. That is not the issue at all. When I speak of wishing for more support, I mean a phone call, a text message, an invitation to wings to talk. I wish individuals would ask how I’m doing and what support my wife and I need from them. I don’t need people to comment on or like my Facebook posts. I don’t need anyone to publicly announce their support. I realize that everyone is likely doing what they think would help, which is trying to not have the relationship change. Maybe this is because this is the best that some can offer, and if that’s the case I sincerely appreciate it! Perhaps the reaction of not discussing this difficult situation is what others believe would be most comfortable for me.

An example of what this approach feels like is if I made people aware that I have cancer. I know it’s not a perfect comparison, and I definitely don’t want to minimize what those that have cancer go through. But if I did have some kind of serious illness, I’m sure I would initially receive phone calls, texts and Facebook messages expressing condolences and offers of support. But what if, from that moment forward, every time I interacted with anyone, they completely ignored that I had cancer. They never asked how I was doing or what they could do to help. They didn’t call my wife and ask what they could do to support her in this difficult time. They acted like I had never told them I had cancer in the first place. Thankfully I don’t have cancer and I realize that would be something much more awful to go through, but I thought this would help get my perspective across. I don’t need to discuss specifics. I don’t want to sit down and bash the church. I would just appreciate someone reaching out and saying, “Hey, this must be really hard. Do you want to talk? Is there anything I can do to help? What do you need from me?” Some have offered this and it has been amazing. In my next post, I plan on writing specifically on how to support someone going through a faith crisis or transition, so hopefully this will help others in the future. Long story short, ask about my cancer…shoot, I meant journey. I honestly don’t have cancer. Ask about my journey.

I also want to briefly discuss the impact that my faith transition has had on my wife. I have mentioned in past posts that my wife was upset when I initially told her that I no longer believed. She cried. A lot. On the night I told her that I no longer believed, she stayed up all night reading scriptures and praying. And crying. That was a long night for both of us. She has been in almost constant anxiety about the future. What will we teach the kids? How will we do it? What will change? Does he still love me? Does he still want to be married to me? Can our marriage survive this? These questions are common for those in her position, but just because they are common doesn’t make it easy.

I only bring this up because I don’t think people have realized that my wife has struggled through this process just as much if not more than I have. She has experienced almost exactly the same fear, pain, grief, loss, and stress that I have. It has looked a bit different, and may have been about different things, but those feelings have been there, and they have been overwhelming at times. Since last summer, we have had amazing conversations. We have also had extremely difficult ones. There have been happy days and absolutely terrible days. We have had to rely on each other through this process. But considering the situation, I’m sure she would have appreciated having someone in addition to myself to support her. Unfortunately, support was infrequent. And I am not blaming anyone. I don’t want anyone reading this to think that I am talking about them in particular. As I stated before, no one really knows what to do in this situation, so they do what they think is best. Perhaps she would have declined opening up if more support had been offered as she is a very private person. I don’t even know if she will let me post this information or if it will end up on the editing chopping block. However, because she is not a very outspoken individual, and asking for help is not really in her vocabulary, I wish more people would have offered support through those really hard days, weeks, and months. 

One thing I hope members of the church keep in mind if they are ever in a situation similar to ours: DON’T LEAVE YOUR SPOUSE! A few months ago, I read an article I found on the front page of the official LDS church website that stated that individuals should not seek divorce if their spouse goes through a faith crisis or faith transition. If your relationship is otherwise good and strong, do not separate due to differences in belief. I know of several mixed faith marriages that find a way to make it work. And they don’t just scrape along, they find a way to thrive. My wife and I have been listening to a podcast on the subject called Marriage on a Tightrope. I would highly recommend this to anyone with a spouse that is doubting or no longer believes. But please, don’t leave your spouse if the relationship is otherwise good.  It takes a lot of hard work and a lot of compromise, but it is worth it. I’ve spoken quite a bit about future posts. Another that I plan on writing is how we have learned to compromise in a mixed faith marriage.

One last sensitive topic I wanted to discuss is that I don’t know how to make friends outside the church. I have realized that I only have a few individuals and couples that I would consider close friends. Many of those are members of the LDS church. Because of my fear that these relationships will continue to change, and because I am afraid that I have burnt too many bridges with this blog, I wonder if it would be better to cut my losses and focus solely on making friends outside the church. Except, I only know how to do this in theory. Just talk to people at the kids’ activities. Invite neighbors over for dinner. I hear that inviting someone out for coffee is popular, but as a Mormon that’s not really something I have ever done before. My life was centered on being a member of the church and now I don’t know how to be a functioning member of…not the church. It’s terrifying, to be honest. I worry that I have doomed myself, and by extension my wife, to a solitary life where we don’t fit in. We don’t fit in with members of the church and we don’t fit in with those outside it. There is too much different in both situations. I want to have people that I am close with, that we are close with, but it seems impossible. That is another casualty of my disbelief. That feeling of isolation. The feeling of not belonging anywhere. Of never quite fitting in.

No one would choose this. This is not the easy road. This is not the path that someone lazy would take. This is the harder, more difficult path. I wish it was different. I wish I could make the evidence make sense in a different way. And I’ve tried. But I can’t.

In my next post, which I am extremely excited for, I will write about what people can do to support those that doubt, are in a crisis of faith, or no longer believe the same way they did in the past. Some of the ideas will be common sense. But they may also be difficult. It may mean that you temporarily put aside your own beliefs in order to love someone unconditionally. It may be difficult, uncomfortable, and scary, but I guarantee, it will help not only the person struggling, but also yourself.

1 comment:

  1. Felt this post hard and related with a lot of your feelings of isolation and not belonging. Thanks for sharing.