Beliefs Faith Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

An open letter to my Mormon family and friends

A guest post by Mette Harrison

To begin with, don’t be worried that I’m going to try to get you to leave Mormonism or come closer to my side of the fence. I have zero interest in causing anyone a crisis of faith like the kind I went through. I’m happy that you are happy in Mormonism.

When I returned to church after being an atheist, I had thought I might come back to a more orthodox Mormonism, but now acknowledge that isn’t going to happen. I’m still active in the Church, but nontraditional in my beliefs. I have some problems with the Church’s truth claims, history, and treatment of women and blacks. My biggest complaint is the new policy toward same-sex married couples and their children.

What can we do on both sides to try to make things work now that we are where we are, you suspecting me of some sinful behavior which I must have committed to lead me to my current place, and me frustrated that you can’t see what seems to me a direct violation of Christ’s loving nature?

Perhaps you’d be willing to meet me halfway. Here are some thoughts on what I would like from you:

  1. Family activities. Consider planning more that aren’t related to General Conference, visiting temples, or doing temple work/genealogy, etc. Does this mean I expect you to stop doing those things just because I’m not interested in them? I realize that isn’t fair, even if a part of me genuinely wishes that everyone could just stop pressuring everyone else to stay in Mormonism. You can continue to invite me. I will continue to politely decline and wonder if you might consider just asking me to lunch without the side dish of Mormon guilt.
  2. Judgments. The current assumption among orthodox Mormons is that anyone who colors outside the lines wants to “sin.” Can you please not judge me that way, even privately? I’ve learned some really important lessons on my journey, and you could ask me about those. I’ll try not to press on you the view that because I’ve been where you are and you’ve never been where I am that I know more than you do or that my current place is superior to yours. This may be the hardest thing for both of us to change and the one we resist the most. It’s going to take a lot of work.
  3. Prayers. I’m willing to say a prayer at a family event (though not all who have changed their views on Mormonism are). But my prayer may be different than what you’re expecting. If that bothers you, then rather than the typical spur-of-the-moment invitation, you may need to decide this in advance.
  4. Food/drink. My food habits are different these days. I’m not a drinker myself, but I no longer see drinking as the sin that I once did. I can see that you wouldn’t want to buy drinks for someone coming to a family event, but can you find a way to allow others to bring them and drink in front of you without being angry or judgmental? Can you find a way to accommodate my vegetarianism?
  5. Church stories. I don’t expect you to never talk about your life in the church. I know that you have callings and that your church service is important to you. However, I may not see “miraculous events” in the same light that you do. It would be nice for you to acknowledge that—and maybe even be able to laugh about it together.
  6. Boundaries. I know that Mormonism has taught you that my life is your business, especially men who are used to patriarchy and “stewardship.” It’s not your business if I have a temple recommend, if I’m still wearing my garments, if I keep the Word of Wisdom, if my kid is going on a mission, if I had an affair, or if I had a problem with pornography. Don’t ask me those questions. Don’t ask my kids those questions. It’s not your business.
  7. Gossip. I can’t stop the family from gossiping about me any more than you can force me to go back to the Mormonism you love. But consider what message you’re sending to anyone else who has questions and may be within earshot. The binary in/out rhetoric of Mormonism is stifling for open, honest relationships of love.
  8. Money/Inheritance. I know Mormon parents who have written into their will that children can only inherit if they are “temple-worthy.” I don’t care about your money. I don’t want anything you have. But can you not see how manipulative this tactic is, how you are trying to control people from beyond the grave?
  9. Weddings/Funerals/Blessings/Baptisms. For various reasons, I won’t be coming to all of these. I will be more likely to attend if there are parts that are designed around those who aren’t full believers. For instance, if you have a temple sealing ceremony, consider doing a ring exchange later for those who can’t be inside the temple. Consider having funerals at a funeral home instead of a chapel, where all members of the family can participate, instead of one Mormon bishop presiding over all the content. If you have a blessing or baptism, maybe you could also try to make sure there is plenty of time and space for family time afterward?
  10. Social Media. You think of social media as a great way to bear your testimony and to share essays and news items that bolster your view of the church. I sometimes find these things offensive and rather than talking to you about each one of them, I might choose to disconnect with you on social media. This is going to be better for all of us, I promise. I’ll come to family gatherings with less anger on board, and so will you.

I know a lot of those who go through faith crisis say that they’re “the same person” and wish others could see that. I don’t feel that way at all. I feel like I’ve become a very different person, but that others pressure me to pretend to be the same.

I want people to let me be who I am, and to acknowledge that the path I’ve been on has led me to goodness, even if it’s not what they once recognized. I am a kinder, more compassionate, more service-oriented, and less judgmental person than I once was. I have learned to be excruciatingly honest in my writing, including when talking about the Mormon church.

I know that level of honesty can hurt people and I’m sorry to hurt you. But I’m not sorry to be who I am. Maybe we can find a new way to relate to each other. I would like that.


Other posts by Mette Harrison:


 

This story is available for republication.

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church," which will be published by Oxford University Press in March 2019. She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

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