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Sadness for ExMormons; Sadness for Mormons

March 12, 2015

Over at Wheat & Tares, I wrote an article “Misplaced Sadness for Exmormons.” This article was in response to bhodges article at By Common Consent: “A Few Confessions for people who have left the church.” While I appreciated much of the article, what bothered me was the fact that even though he was making all sorts of concessions about people who leave the church (for example: “someone who leaves the church can still live a good and happy life”; “I cast them in the role of sufferer whether they feel like they suffer, or whether their actual suffering differs much from my own resulting from the vicissitudes of life that impact anyone “; or even “there are people who leave but who maintain good values and live healthy—even Christlike—lives.”), he still had this sort of sentiment:

The truth is, I do feel sorrow when people I know leave the church. But expressions of this grief can be taken in a number of ways leading to negative side-effects. These include alienating people who choose to leave, as well as reinforcing a sense of superiority on the part of people who stay. At the most basic level, the idea is that a person who leaves is being defined according to a perceived lack on their part. Sorrowing for them makes sense according to the assumption that staying is the absolute right decision. In sorrowing, I impose my own standard on them even though I do it as an act of love. But my love is thereby revealed to be conditional. Instead of relating to a former member as still being a sister or brother in Christ, a dear friend or family member, I define myself over and against them—even if I admit that the fact that I’m still here and they aren’t seems ultimately mysterious.

I should put my sorrow in perspective. I sorrow for people stricken with cancer. I sorrow for parents who lose a child. I sorrow for suffering. In expressing sorrow for people who leave, I express judgment about their actions and the quality of their life.

So, I just wanted to write a post to say: “look. No need to sorrow for people who leave the church. No need to use the same emotion (even if in different intensity or quantity) as you would for people stricken with cancer, because for many people, leaving the church is a thing to rejoice. And didn’t someone somewhere say: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn”?

At the same time, as I read the comments, I got a glimpse of the other side, and I will say…there are still things to be sad about for the entire situation.

The fact is that as a religion with particular truth claims, people are going to feel superior in some sense about whatever choices they’ve made. So, to some extent, wouldn’t a Mormon who truly believes in the religion (as it is taught as the “one true church”) have to feel a little sense of loss for someone who leaves?

But wouldn’t the same be true the other way? Wouldn’t an ex-Mormon who truly believes the religion to be fraudulent have to feel a little sadness for someone who stays.

In the By Common Consent discussion and elsewhere, people expressed their thoughts on these sorts of things:

I empathize with many of your thoughts here. However, many of those I know who have left the Church have done so as a result of their intellectual wrestling with truth claims. While their transition away from the Church was painful, and persists in its cultural and familial difficulties, they “seem” quite confident in their rejection of the Church and genuinely happy to have left. As their stated reason for leaving was that they could no longer believe in something so ridiculous, when I am around them I feel as though they perceive me to be an idiot for still believing. Or further, there is a sense (sometimes stated overtly) that I will eventually come to my senses. So I confess to avoiding them. I am confident that they feel as though I have judged them to be wicked, that I feel sorrow for their soul, that I think they are secretly suffering, that I am fickle in my friendship. Such is not the case. In truth, I simply find them to be insufferable.

or, by another commenter:

To believers, there is no legitimate reason to leave. To those who find the church to be a despicable lie, there is no legitimate reason to stay. That leaves no common ground.

It is by design. Mormons are a peculiar people, and will be separate from the world.

Is this a cycle that everyone is forever locked in, as long as they have the strength of their convictions? Does acceptance and nonjudgment essentially require one to hold one’s own views less strongly?

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