Generally, I have a title for my blog post in my head long before I put fingers to the keyboard, but today I am conflicted. This is Easter weekend and there are so many different emotions I feel today. If I look directly at the relationship I have personally cultivated with God over the last few years, I am humbled, I am thankful and I know I am wholly blessed to be loved by him so much so that he would sacrifice His son to atone not only for the sins in the world to the time of His death, but it would cover sins yet to be committed, such as those I’ve engaged in throughout my life.
His death would tear the veil within the temple moving man out of the way of our relationship with God. Now, when I have sinned, I do not need to seek the high priest to have him burn an offering for my sins. Christ was the sacrificial lamb, and closed the need for the law and such ordinances. I simply must recognize when I have made an error, bring it to His feet with a humble heart and ask forgiveness. And because I believe in Him I believe He wipes my record clean and I am able to move forward trying my human best not to err in the same way again. I am thankful it is that simple. And I am thankful after years of misunderstanding the gravity/simplicity of this lovely truth that I have come to understand it in such a personal way. Grace is a most precious gift.
I have spent much time in prayer the last day and a half. This has been a heavy weekend. It’s interesting. For those of us that were once part of a high demand relgion (in my case the Mormons) when leaving, it is difficult to simply leave it alone. For a long time it shaped who I was, beliefs I held, friendships I formed, life-decisions I made. And for the most part, having been out for four years or so now, I am not consumed with thinking about it, it is not my first or last thought of the day. However, this weekend something happened that stirred the pot. It often takes me by surprise how something that didn’t happen to me, that happened in an organization that no longer holds any power over me, can still stir my emotions.
I think part of it is that it’s my nature to fight for the underdog. It’s a personality trait I have carried with me as long as I can remember. Even in my childhood days when I would have been considered a bully, (yes, my adult-self owns that part of my past as well), I stood up for those that were timid, shy, picked on for no good reason, or generally outcast from the established social groups. And I think that’s what got me all in a tizzy yesterday.
I am a listener and supporter of an incredibly popular podcast called “Mormon Stories“. It is hosted by Dr. John Dehlin, a man who was also once Mormon, who began to question truth statements made by the church, and in doing so met others who were questioning as well. Mormom Stories is a podcast that explores these questions through interviews and storytelling. I believe at the outset his goal, and maybe even still, was to make the Mormon church a better, more honest, place for its members. Ultimately, because he wouldn’t disband his platform, the leadership of the church excommunicated him. That’s how they tend to deal with those who disagree and are public and vocal about their beliefs and feelings. Even when it’s not done with direct intent to harm the church, but to help those that are searching. And the process, church disciplinary councils, whereby the church/area leadership determines if a person’s actions are so sinful, so agregious that they need to be disciplined through being disfellowshipped, or even excommunicated, are often touted by church members as being done through a loving process. Generally it is held that even after excommunication one can still be welcomed back through repentence (i.e., ceasing the behavior that the church found offensive, denouncing it and stepping back in line with the church “speak”). This is so very destructive, and shameful for those who experience it and even for those who love those that are subject to such disciplinary action.
A few months ago, during one of the Mormon Stories podcasts, a couple was featured. Leah and Cody Young. They live in Ohio and are from pioneer stock as far back as Mormon history goes. Both have ancestors reaching back to when Joseph Smith began his church. They were both raised in the church and for the most part followed what they were raised to believe, Cody served a mission, they met in a single’s ward, were married, created beautiful children and a beautiful family. Then about 18 months ago, they hit a faith “bump”. They started to read a bit about church history, relying on church documents and “approved” church materials, and between the convoluted history and plain mistruths they uncovered they fell pretty quickly into a devastating faith crisis.
The problem is, and I’ve pointed this out before both here on M2G and on my personal blog many times, when you are in a high demand church and you begin to have questions, there’s not a lot of places you can go and be bold with your concerns. When you do seek out guidance, often the person asking is encouraged to read their scriptures (i.e., the Book of Mormon specifically) more, pray deeper, longer and more heartfelt prayers and listen for the answers God will surely reveal. The problem is, if the answer He provides is that the church is not true, you may very well find yourself stranded on a lonely island all by yourself. To tell others that you’ve come to the conclusion the church is not true is to put yourself in the possible position of losing friends, being isolated from family, and being disciplined through church councils. It’s a lonely cross-roads to find yourself in. And it’s where the Young’s found themselves. They went first to their church leadership who were not able to resolve the questions or pressing feelings the Young’s were experiencing — so — they decided to both create community and help others who found themselves in the same boat. They created a Facebook page for others in their homestate of Ohio who were experiencing similar things in questioning the church of having left the church altogether.
Shortly after forming this Facebook page, the Youngs were called into their Bishop’s office and asked to disband the page or face excommunication from the church. They felt an ethical responsibility to those they were helping and meeting through the page so they determined they would not take it down. They were finally called into a church disciplinary council I believe last Sunday (April 14) and on Friday, Good Friday of all days, they were officially excommunicated from the Mormon Church.
I am sitting here, at this moment staring at a blinking cursor. I’m trying desperately again to come up with the sin they committed that was so grievace in God’s eyes that the church would, on His behalf, feel the need to cut off His children. All they are guilty of is a) speaking truth where they have found mistruths in church history, teachings, or beliefs; b) supporting and loving others who are hurting and going through similar experiences; and c) refusing to succomb to pressure from church leadership to silence their findings and “get in line” with the church’s unified message that it is the one “true” church.
Aside from the fact that no actual sin was committed, this process is incredibly hurtful and shameful. And not just to the Young’s and their lovely children.
Some might be asking at this point, “why does it matter if they didn’t believe in the church anymore anyway?”
For me, this wasn’t an issue. When I came to the realization the teachings of Mormon doctrine were not only false but directly in contention with biblical teachings the decision to leave was easy. It was still incredibly lonely and painful, but severing the ties to the organization wasn’t a huge hurdle. I, and my family, willfully removed our names from the organization’s rosters. To do so required us to send a letter to the corporate headquarters, demanding the church remove our names. And even then the letter we got back referred us to our local bishop, as they believed this was an ecclesastic matter. Ugh. Anyway — doing this, removing our names was an easy task — because we had no family in the church. We didn’t have Mormon heritage or lineage back to the pioneers, we were converts. Breaking ties with the organization only meant our ties to the church were severed and therefore any “ordinances” we’d participated in through them were now erased. And for us, that was a good thing.
But if you are like the Youngs, and you have extended family, and family that goes back generations, and you have performed the ordinances instructed by the LDS religion, then you are generally “sealed” to your entire family — meaning once you die, you get to live eternally with them in the “highest level of heaven” (that’s a discussion for another day). By being excommunicated, or by withdrawing your own name from the church rolls, you lose these bonds with your family in the eternities. And though you may not personally feel controlled by these ordinances or requirements anymore, you have family members who believe very much that these ordinances are necessary for your eternal salvation. And really, out of kindness and love for those family members, many who leave the church opt not to do so formally to spare causing further pain for those that they love so dearly.
In the last church-wide conference, Russell M. Nelson, current President of the Mormon church, practically stated that those that do not get in line with the teachings of the church will be lost forever. Not one footnote in his talk supporting that ordinances, or anything beyond faith in Christ are required, came from the bible — only the Book of Mormon or their other relied upon doctrines. Talks like these are devastating to believing members who have family members that have either fallen away from the church or who have been excommunicated such as in the case of the Young’s.
I look at this whole mess of a proceeding and my heart hurts for this family. All they have done is try to answer a call to support those that were in pain — a pain they personally understand. And I know their efforts will continue and they will not be disuaded by the decision doled out by their former church.
I for one can look at this with thanks and gratitude for answered prayers. When I went searching for answers and couldn’t find them in man, I found them in God’s Word. It changed everything for me and my family. And on this holiest of weekends, I am forever grateful for the true plan of salvation. That Christ sacrificed His human life so that I may go to him in both my brightest and darkest hours and know that He personally understands and through the Holy Spirit can guide me to a better direction when I am feeling lost or off-balance. I am thankful for His message of grace — through it I have learned prehaps the most about having grace for myself. I am especially thankful that I have found faith in Christ, and that is all that is required of me. No ordinances manufactured by man to get in the way of salvation. I no longer strive for perfection — I strive to be better today than I was yesterday — more helpful to those around me, more compassionate to those struggling or in need.
I pray for the Young’s. That their hearts may heal, that the support they offer finds its way to those who need it most. And I pray for their extended family, who I am sure are experiencing a sense of pain and loss right now as well.
I look forward to celebrating tomorrow. Easter always makes me reflect on how thankful I am for my personal relationship with the Savior. That I embrace the gift of grace He extends to me. That I fully accept its blessing on my life by sharing the meaning of this treasured gift with others around me so that they may know and understand it, too.
I hope all who read this can take a moment and pray for the Young’s. And for others around you who may be searching and/or hurting at this time. I believe there is power in prayer — I pray the Young’s feel enveloped by love and grace from all those around the country who wish them well. Amen.