Discussions of Mormons and Mormon life, Book of Mormon issues and evidences, and other Latter-day Saint (LDS) topics.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Dealing with Disaffected Mormons: Why a Little or Even a Lot of Knowledge (Alone) Can Be Dangerous

When it comes to defending one's faith, a little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. A lot of knowledge can be even more dangerous. The problem with knowledge comes when one relies on knowledge alone to respond to questions or attacks. The more knowledge one has that seems to refute an argument, the greater the temptation is to share it and dump on the person with the question. A thirty-minute soliloquy exploring the ins and outs of a topic may not be what was needed. Sixty minutes is no improvement. Sincere listening might have been the right thing to do first. Sometimes the wiser approach is to first understand, empathize, and then, if appropriate, share alternate perspectives in a dialog, not a knowledge and testimony dump. SO EASY TO SAY! Hard to do when you've got your finger on the trigger of a loaded fact gun (still dangerous, even when it's loaded with blanks). I've made many mistakes in this area. I regret some of my overly zealous efforts to persuade others in my younger days.

If one thinks his or her knowledge is so sound and bullet-proof that any other view is due to ignorance, then we've got a real crisis of cinematic proportions in the works. The resulting spray of fact bullets are going to injure a lot of bystanders without ever hitting the target, like so many gun battles in the movies. All that ammo used without doing any good, just creating mayhem. Knowledge needs to be there, written resources need to be provided with documentation and insights, but the application needs to be with restraint, with kindness, with respect and not animosity for the target, or all is lost. Again, so easy to say!

In Forays Amongst the Disaffected, John Lynch discusses his efforts to reach out to former Latter-day Saints on a forum for ex-Mormons. His experience is consistent with that of many who have sought to understand the concerns of those who leave the Church. His advice is outstanding.
I discovered that most who leave the church and associate on that web site do so because they perceive some violation of trust occurred. Perhaps there was a teaching they held that they found out to be false, and they could no longer trust a long time mentor to whom they had anchored their testimony. Perhaps the failings of a member created an offense, and the person could not reconcile their expectations with reality. When it is a leader that disappoints, it seems the sting is so much the greater. Perhaps they found an unflattering piece of history on the Church (ironically almost always directly or indirectly through some Church or Church-sponsored source), and they feel that the truth had not been told them. In all cases, the issue was that somehow they had an unmet expectation that resulted in feeling a trust they had granted someone or something had been violated.

Several shared accounts of their attempts to reconcile their sense of violation by approaching leaders, family members, or close friends with their concerns. Whether real or imagined, these same people indicated that the reaction to their inquiry was too often met with hostility. The very people they felt could help them often responded by either dismissing their concerns or become hostile to them, treating them more as a threat than a cherished acquaintance.

I very much realize that there are two sides to every story. Fears and insecurities may have well led at least some to interpret others' reactions harshly. However, the insecurities of members may have equally caused their reaction to be less than it could have been.

In discussing such issues, recently sustained member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Quentin L. Cook, made the following comment during his conference address titled "Our Father’s Plan—Big Enough for All His Children":
It is equally important that we be loving and kind to members of our own faith, regardless of their level of commitment or activity. The Savior has made it clear that we are not to judge each other. This is especially true of members of our own families. Our obligation is to love and teach and never give up. The Lord has made salvation "free for all men" but has "commanded his people that they should persuade all men" to repentance.
Such an eloquent appeal to our better natures encourages us to endure in kindness with those in the church who struggle with their testimonies.

Is this not wise advice regardless of the reason someone approaches us with a concern?
When people approach us with concerns, with questions about objections they have encountered, with troubles over something that happened int he Church, it's likely that we won't have a good answer at our finger tips. But that's no excuse to dismiss the concern or chastise the questioner. Treat them with respect, honor the trust they show in you by approaching with the question, and try to help them find a resource or an answer. If you don't know, feel free to admit that. Be kind and loving, even if the questions seem unfair.

If you do have a good answer at your finger tips, if your fact gun is loaded and ready to shoot, be careful. If you've got a silver bullet, why not carefully hand it to your friend when they are ready to receive it rather than blast it their way at 30,000 feet per second? Ah, so easy to say.

The kind and loving part is especially hard in email. Sometimes sincere seekers of truth ask questions that seem hostile and belittling. Better to delete and move on that to respond in kind. For those that aren't really looking for an answer, I prefer to not waste my time, but I may have missed opportunities. There are times when I respond to really bitter questions, but it's difficult to be tactful when someone approaches me with something like, "You Mormon liar, if you don't refute my lengthy and rambling arguments within one month, I'll take it as admission that you know you are deliberately deceiving people and defying God." Yeah, just got some of those from a noted self-appointed defender of the Christian faith, whose tone in approaching his fellow Christians doesn't exactly inspire me. I'm actually going to respond, but I hope I can resist the temptation to descend into similar nastiness.

32 comments:

In Another's Name said...

Oh, how true! It's soooooo easy to blast away with "knowledge" - or if we don't have it, to try to do some good some other way. If by our own lack of knowledge we feel threatened by a question, we may in deed see the one who presents the question as a threat. And in our lack of knowledge, the question and sincere questioner may in deed be threats. Our own defense may be an offense to those who need our love and help.

Your post could point to the meaning of the parable of The Ten Virgins: "I don't have enough oil [spirituality or testimony (oil symbolizes the Holy Ghost)] for both of us."

The Lord tells us in latter-day revelation that the five who are wise are they who take the Holy Spirit for their guide and are not deceived; and your post is the first commentary I have seen that seems to accurately point to circumstances in which one's gifts of the Spirit (including testimony) are just enough for themselves such that trying to share would leave one without enough.

It would be much nicer to have a little extra spirituality so our lamps would be full enough not just for ourselves to get by but enough to help out another, to give them a start. This is why your blog is so important. You have not just enough for yourself but enough to share.

May we all seek enough to share! The night is coming in which that which we think is enough for ourselves won't be. That night could be a minute or ten years from now but it will come. Unless we have enough to share now, we don't yet have enough for our own future needs.

The Lord bless you to continue your work and may the rest of us become like you.

In the name of Jesus Chirst. Amen.

annegb said...

Blasting away with knowledge and your own deep spirituality is one good way to run me off.

Anonymous said...

What's hard is not reacting to someones concerns that they had overcome with your help and the help of the spirit but then years later start to develop the same concerns despite their previous enlightening on the matter.

Anonymous said...

AnneGB, is it Jeff's knowledge and "deep spirituality" that you meant? Are you sure you've got the right blogger?

Georgia said...

A good post. I'm a former mormon convert who has fallen away from the faith.

Jeffs post discusses that often times its because of a falling out or issue with a member that was a 'witness' to the new member. In my case that is so true.

A very faithful member who I counted on so much I felt lied to me about something in particular. It seemed to be just to say and do whatever was needed to have me baptized and we would worry about everything else after the dunking. But after taking the leap of faith I continued to do my research and reading especially the new testament time and time again. I found so many questons that would lead me away from the mormon faith I found I just couldn't go back.

Maybe a gut feeling kind of thing. People can look at JS and say its obviously true and others with a sincere heart can look at JS and say its obviously false.

Before I joined the church I would read Jeffs site and in fact once did email him with 2 questions that I have never seen answered before but got no response. Now I understand a little better about why no response came and I have no hard feelings.

Jeff provides some great thoughts on all the 'facts' out there. We truly can argue all day long... Oh this verse says mormons are right and someone else will argue that this verse says mormons are wrong.

In the end I have to do whats best for myself. People can argue their side like when the elders president called the other day and asked when he would see me again in his church (I attend another now). My response was... 'I don't even know myself.'

He's a great guy and i wish him the best and he asked if he could call again. Which I don't mind but I find myself praying for the souls of all. If he's right then I hope the Lord will push some forgiveness my way and if I'm right well I hope he will be forgiven too.

Ryan said...

If [you really think] you've got a silver bullet, why not carefully hand it to your friend when they are ready to receive it rather than blast it their way at 30,000 feet per second?

++

Maybe it's time to dust off the Socratic Method... if we really know our stuff so well we should be able to guide others to discover it for themselves, in their own way, at their own pace.

The experience of learning something for yourself is arguably more important than knowing the facts in question -- especially when it's related to testimony.

Jared said...

Jeff,

I agree with most of what you presented in this post.

I don't know all the answers to the question of how to deal with those who are "former" Mormons.

I'm of the opinion, that as a general rule, if a member hasn't obtained a witness from the Holy Ghost regarding the Book of Mormon then something will turn up to cause them to eventually become a NOM, inactive, or an enemy of the church.

The parable of the 10 virgins, and the sower tells it like it is. I find this very sad.

I wish every LDS blog would promote the importance of obtaining a testimony from the Holy Ghost as promised in Moroni 10:4-5 regarding the Book of Mormon.

Bookslinger said...

Jared, even if one does have a testimony of the BoM/Church/Joseph Smith, it's still possible to get disaffected. I did. A testimony isn't enough. A conversion is needed. And not only a conversion, the roots of conversion need to sink deep into you in order to anchor you to the restored gospel and the official church that has been ordained to administer the restored gospel.

That feeling of betrayal that many disaffected members feel is real, that feeling of not getting a sufficient portion of the story or picture up front.

I felt it when I went to the temple the first time, and my escorts left me alone, and a well-meaning but over-zealous (and perhaps a newly trained) temple worker pounced on me (literally grabbed me, and gave me no choice, unless I wanted to fight him) and put me in the initiatory line (without the knowledge of my escorts) before I was ready and before I had any ideas of what was going on.

No one told me the true nature of 19 year old missionaries before I showed up at the MTC in the days long before the bar was raised. Because I joined when I was over 21, I hadn't associated with Mormon teens, and my ward had no priests, so I fully bought into the ivory-tower "ideal" of what missionaries were _supposed_ to be. But no one told me that few, if any, missionaries lived up to that ideal at the beginning of their missions.

No one informed me about (let alone prepared me for) the psychotic, neurotic, desperate, in-their-late-20's obese women that would pounce and try to cling on me when I returned from my mission.

No one taught me how to turn down excessive callings, or that it was okay to turn down a calling when you were already overloaded. People gave me callings and "assignments" thinking that as a single person I had all sorts of free time. But being single, I had no help-meet to do the chores, and with a 60-hour/week job, I had no spare time after the basic callings.

I disagree with John Lynch on one minor thing, but his main point, that feeling of betrayal, is spot on. For me it wasn't historical information that was withheld, but it seemed like the church was withholding necessary information about the present. I would have stayed active, but I wouldn't have gone on a mission had I known the general nature of most of the people I was going to have to live with for two years.

The point I disagree with Lynch, and it may not be a disagreement because he doesn't directly address the point, is that he ascribes (at least by implication) a degree of sincerity to the leaders/prime-movers or directors of that ex-mormon forum that I don't think they have.

I see a problem in that some truly hurt and disaffected members might be turning to that forum looking for resolution, answers and healing, and then the hard-core apostates (those who actively work against the church and gospel) get a hold of them, and feed them even more misinformation, and continue to stir up antagonism instead of searching for healing and resolution.

Jared said...

Bookslinger--

Thanks for sharing your experience. The insights were every interesting to me. Your right--conversion is greater than testimony and is essential to get ones feet firmly planted in the kingdom.

Mormanity said...

Georgia, I'm very sorry I didn't answer. If your email was the least bit tactful, my failure to respond was much more likely due to being flooded by email rather than not wanting to respond. I miss an awful lot. Some get deleted accidentally or put in "answer later" folders where they may never get answered, and many hundreds linger in my Inbox. Really having trouble handing email!

Roxy said...

Hello all!

I remember when I was converted into the Church almost four years ago and the feeling of joy I felt stepping into the baptismal font. My soon-to-be husband felt the same when he was converted almost a year ago.

Before I was baptized I asked all the questions I wanted to ask and the eldes answered them as best as they could. My fiancè researched as much as he could before he was baptized. I still have a lot to learn and am still learning day by day. My fiancè, who studied for months before being baptized everything he can grab onto about the church, has learned about just as much as I did a year after I was baptized.

I continue to be amazed of how much history our faith has. Sometimes, the longer I waited to make a decision about whether I should do something that was good or not so good, the more time Satan had to tempt me. The more knowledge my fiancè tried to consume at once, the more frustrated and confused he got.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that I know that in God's time He will answer our questions and show unto us all that we should do and how we should do it. I know that most of our church leaders try their best to teach everyhting they feel we should learn every week. And I also know how difficult it might be for missionaries when they try to teach investigators who have a tone of questions because it is impossible to learn everything in a short amount of time.

I'm so grateful for the caring and hard working members who are willing to teach us and for the resources that are there for us.

Peace out homies!

pops said...

Sometimes it's useful to have a little background on the disaffected because their motivation is not always what they say it is.

Take my son, for example. He was raised in the Church, served a mission, married in the temple. But he had the misfortune of associating in his teenage years with someone who introduced him to pornography, and he acquired an addiction which he then battled on and off for a number of years. But, one day, years later, when his wife surprised him as he was viewing porn, he quit. He quit his marriage, he quit the Church, and he quit trying to escape porn. But if you talk to him, he will swear that the reason he left the Church is because there are too many unanswered questions about Church history, that the Church has tried to suppress its history, that Sidney Rigdon was really the source of doctrine, that polygamy was the product of Joseph Smith's lust, and on and on.

But what really happened is this: he got tired of the pain that comes from not living up to what he knew to be right, the pain of the loss of the love of a woman he loved dearly - an unbearable amount of pain, all told. So he discarded what he knew to be right to escape the pain, and went in search of justification for having discarded it. I don't know that it was a conscious choice, but rather a desperate attempt to make the pain go away. [Bruce Hafen gives an excellent description of this particular dysfunction in The Broken Heart.]

While this raises obvious issues with my failure as a father, the point is this: when he brings up questions about Church history, the correct response is to say, "OK". Arguing about Church history only serves to justify in his mind that he has made the correct choice when he has the last word, and to alienate him from me when I have the last word.

He doesn't need facts. He doesn't need to be convinced that the Church is true. What he needs is the healing power of love. He needs to get to a point where he can seek the Savior's forgiveness, healing, and love with a broken heart and a contrite spirit. Bombarding him with facts and reason will only distract him from where he needs to go.

Titch said...

Thanks Pops! Spot on I knew someone in exactly the same place - was committing sin but instead of changing looked for faults in Joseph Smith, the Church, you name it. Charity is the only way to help. All the best, Titch

Georgia said...

Just wanted to reply to the 2 posts above.

Of course people can fall away because of a specific sin but that is not always the case. I suspect the 2 above people would agree that there can be a reason other than a sin in a persons life.

The reason why I wanted to state that is too often I see mormons assuming its a sin and they can't fathom that there are people out there that just do not honestly believe.

If you grow up outside of mormonism and take a hard look at it and not just what the missionaries want to talk about but the complete history, Journal of Discources... It's going to raise questions.

Bookslinger said...

Georgia, the follow-up point to that is when a person has an "I know..." type of testimony, they can lose that testimony due to sin. When we sin and don't repent, we lose light, that is, we lose knowledge.

It's easy for me to understand that when someone _believes_ something, they can stop believing, or change their beliefs.

It's hard for us (at least for me) to understand how someone can stop _knowing_ something that they _know_.

Well, it's _not_ just because some people interchange the words "believe" and "know." Some people do that. But when you _really_ "know" something, one way you can "un" know it is to have un-repented sin in your life.

Un-repented sin is a testimony killer.

But, if the person never had an "I know" type of testimony, and they only had an "I believe" type of testimony, meaning that the Holy Ghost never "burned it into every fiber of their soul", then you're right, there are lots of things that can cause a person to change their mind/opinion/belief.

That's why a "burned in" testimony by the power of the Holy Ghost is essential, but it's not sufficient by iteself. It's also essential to nurture it, and to repent as we go, and "watch and pray always". A testimony alone is not enough.

chasing- R- Kids said...

Jeff,
I came upon your blog tonight after doing some looking for a book on defending the faith. I have really enjoyed your website and your tongue in cheek wit. ha ha, As a missionary 10 years ago I faced oposition every day to the work, I was literally bashed in the street EVERY day in one area of Phoenix and learned to spot the work of the adversary a mile away. Because of the testimony I gained from a simple prayer offered by a child I learned for myself that the Holy Ghost testifies of truth and those who fight against God's work do not carry that spirit (GAL 5:2) with them. The litmus test from the scriptures. That testimony was enought to get me through the doubts, the questions I had raised to me, even now when I hear a clever argument or new proof of the false cult church of latter day saints, I look back to that experience and remember what the Lord taught me that day and continues to teach me.
thanks, for your efforts to help those who have turned away by the gainsayers of the world.

pops said...

Georgia - I didn't mean to imply that all disaffected Mormons are so because of sin - just that it is one path to disaffection. And since I'm a sinner, I don't tend to view them harshly. It just helps to understand and love someone to know where they're coming from.

Nathan said...

Roxy, I loved your comment.
Nathan

Georgia said...

Thanks pops, I never thought you were implying that everyone who left the churchdid so because of a specific sin

I just wanted to make sure that everyone else realized that there can be other reasons

Bookslinger is right in my case, my eureka moment never came. It never happened before or after baptism. And well that's enough of my story for the day, I need to go to work.

daveja vu said...

I have nothing but compassion for those who have fallen away from the church, particularly those who had an experience that they were unable, for whatever reason, to reconcile with their faith. The ones that I have a problem with, and try to avoid like the plague, are the toxic ones who fight against and try to turn others away from the church just because they themselves lost their testimony. To me, encouraging others to reject their faith just because they themselves couldn't understand it is plain evil and awfully close to my definition of perdition.

Rusty Southwick said...

Like pops said, many who fall away from the church will cite reasons other than the real reasons or the main reasons. The same is true of divorces. People will look for some excuse to leave their spouse, when they already wanted to leave prior to that for other reasons. People will quickly bail from situations requiring commitment because it's their out.

As for the ex-Mormon web sites, I know of a prominent forum site along those lines, and what's rather interesting is that while these people are very bitter toward the church, they very often didn't just fall away from the church but they fell away from theism as a whole. And yet the way they characterize it is that Mormonism was the dirty culprit. They try to blame Mormonism for some supposed set of nefarious teachings when in fact they themselves just stopped believing in God, and needed a scapegoat to assuage themselves. It's very revealing that they would do this. I don't think it's often conscious, and I'm sure it's easy to get conflicted. But unfortunately they see the church as an easy target to place the blame on. I've even seen some people blame the church for life choices these people themselves made, as if they were coerced. At some point, everyone needs to have personal accountability, because the church doesn't coerce.

Patrick said...

Without the "burned in" testimony of the Holy Ghost our selection of truth is simply a beauty contest. Each person pursuing his ideal truth image. So much beauty, so little time.

Tony said...

Jeff, thank you for your post. As a teenage member of no more than two years, I can't tell you how much your posts and the blogs of other latter day saints have helped me along both spiritually and mentally.

Bookslinger, you are a person I truly have come to admire and respect because of your dedication to the gospel and what seems to me to be a true and right heart in you, if you don't mind me saying so. Even in the face of tribulation, you have stuck to your convictions.

So far it seems as though I have had only good experiences in the church, though I haven't been in it long. I can honestly say that I have a strong and ever-growing testimony of Christ and his gospel. I have surely come across things that might trouble some at first glance only to dig deeper and find what I felt was the more accurate representation of truth. Some things, I just honestly don't know.

I'd like to say that I would never fall away from the faith and rock I love and cherish, but I believe it was Joseph who showed us that no one is really "immune" to that happening. As bookslinger mentioned,an unrepentant spirit and sin can kill a testimony. I am grateful that the Lord has given me enough guidance to turn to Him for forgiveness, even after being so blessed and yet having done the same dumb thing more than once. Through such experiences, I feel that I have truly seen some ways of how the atonement has worked in my life. I have slowly but surely come to the realization of my fallen nature and my need for Christ. I am eternally grateful for His grace and mercy, that He was worthy though I surely am not. It is my humble prayer that I might always remember what the Lord has done for me, and that others might feel of His pure love and see the need for Him.

Thanks again to you both, and all who contribute and try to find the way to our Heavenly Father.

Anonymous said...

it's possible for people who become disaffected to be 'protected' from bitter negativity to some extent by how they are treated by LDS friends--

a dear young friend of mine who was a great strength to one of my children and made the difference for my child in terms of his/her own spiritual well-being--

left the church after having an over-the-top traumatic experience in a relationship with an LDS--

found a 'safe' person who wasn't LDS to marry--

and has since come back to friendship with many *old friends* who are LDS--

she has told me a number of times that if it weren't for friends who have listened, loved, and not lectured . . .

she would have been led into anti/negativity, because it was there for her to lean on when she was reeling from trauma--

she did have LDS *associates* who judged her bitterly and harshly, when in her first pain, she simply stopped coming to church to try to find a place to heal--

those of *us* who have accepted and loved her--

have found that her marriage to a good (non-LDS) man has been a balm for her--and that, with our friendship, she no longer has to be searching for *anti* in order to feel safe--

the need was taken away, though she has learned that some of her LDS former associates aren't 'true' in friendship--

they took her own 'leaving' as a personal offense towards them, while standing behind their own activity with great piety--

others, still active, haven't needed to do that--

and have rejoiced to see her grow and lose her bitterness and even say such things as: "I am grateful for the things I learned and find myself leaning back on them to help in my marriage"--

healing? I think so--

hope? Oh, YES--

but not thanks to some who have seen themselves as the 'most faithful' who spurned her--

only to those who left all that alone and continued to love her and believe in HER--

and, in her case, it was not sin--

or even lack of testimony--

trauma can be underestimated in its power to hurt, but the Atonement of Jesus Christ IS infinite--

Mormography said...

Mormanity,

Your historical modus operandi has been to ignore valid points, comments, and questions. I am curious as to why

... "if you don't refute my" ... "arguments within one month, I'll take it as admission that you know you are deliberately deceiving people",

would win a response from you.

Mormanity said...

Mormography - interesting name. Is that something you do with X-rays?

Your allegation that I have a track record of not responding to valid points maybe correct, but it also seems to overlook the fact that I have a blog and a burgeoning website where I actually do try to respond to questions people pose. Naturally, of all the thousands of questions and barbs being thrown at me, I can't respond to EVERY argument - I hope you get that. Yes, I've got a day job, a family, and a life.

Out of curiosity, not that I intend to respond, what "valid point" needs my attention now?

Mormanity said...

Mormography - interesting name. Is that something you do with X-rays?

Your allegation that I have a track record of not responding to valid points may be correct simply because I can't respond to everything 24/7. Your jab also seems to overlook the fact that I have a blog and a burgeoning website where I actually do try to respond to many questions people pose. Naturally, of all the thousands of questions and barbs being thrown at me, I can't respond to EVERY argument - I hope you get that. It's not because I don't like you or am afraid of logic and truth, painful as they can be. Actually, I've got a day job, a family, and a life. And did I mention hobbies??

Out of curiosity, not that I intend to respond, what neglected valid points need my attention now?

The Misanthropic Mormon said...

I'm doing a (bad) job at keeping a blog that discusses what I've learned about myself and Mormonism have since discovered for myself that it is not true. Regardingmormonism.blogspot.com. I'm kind and open, if you venture a visit.

A little learning is a dangerous thing, so said A. Pope. But he followed those words with "Drink deep." My deep drinking has led me away from Mormonism and into the world of modern biblical scholarship.

Mormanity said...

Mormography - I think the Salamander controversy and the Stowell letter is the point you want addressed. See my post from Aug. 2 and follow the links.

Mormography said...

Maybe the Hofmann episode is what I want to address, but I like to think that I am more interested in the reasoning and thought patterns of apologists in general. The Hofmann episode is merely a case study to the greater issue of divine inspiration. The apologists’ efforts on the Hofmann episode contain so much low hanging fruit for this inspector of poor assessments, I decided to address them all at once and give the first Mormography entries greater cohesion.

My remark regarding you ignoring points is not in regards to me specifically, but many other commenters on Mormanity. Many times I have not posted responses only because others already had and been ignored. The example I gave on my blog was this comment by a Jason Hull pointing out the need for apologists to give examples of present day divine revelation (the proclamation on the family does not count ;) ).

Tony said...

Knowledge is a powerful thing, and it has been my experience that where truth is, fear, doubt, and confusion don't abound. Remember that before trusting just any site seeking to prove that the church is true. Look at the language. Notice the overall demeanor. Watch out for ellipses... Chances are many things are taken out of context. Look for primary documents. Consider the source and bias on both sides of an argument.

Just my two cents. Don't ever be afraid to ask God In prayer, and don't listen to those who would discourage you from doing so.
Make that four cents.

Tony said...

Typo: I meant to say "isn't true"