Creating a new Mormon family after a faith transition

A guest post by Mette Harrison

For those of us who have gone through a faith transition out of (or within) Mormonism, there’s often a heavy price to pay when the truth comes out. That price is paid in the coin of family intimacy.

I’ve probably dealt with fewer consequences than others. My parents and siblings still talk to me, and my in-laws still invite me to Thanksgiving Dinner.

But things are strained. There are rules to follow. Often I’m the one who’s asked to be quiet to make things go more smoothly, or to simply step out when conversations veer into “miracle” or “obedience” territory, often a trigger for me. I’m keenly aware of the fact that admitting to not believing in Mormonism anymore marks me as weak, even evil, in their eyes. And so I’m the one who has to make compromises to continue the relationship. They’re not going to meet me where I am.

But I’ve been on the other side of this equation too, and I remember what it felt like. My youngest sister left Mormonism almost twenty years ago, listed herself as “dead” on our family website, and sent a letter telling us that she didn’t want to have any relationship with us again.

That was my first experience with someone in my family leaving the church. I was shocked and dismayed. I was on the side of the family continuing to toe the righteous line. Eventually, some contact was re-established with this sister, but only with those family members who were willing to listen to her tell us about the evils of Mormonism.

The second time when my oldest sister (a former missionary and recent Primary President) left about ten years ago, I was more even shocked because I’d had a good relationship with her (I thought) and she also asked the family not to contact her in any way—ever again.

This was my forever family. How was this happening?

But when I went through my own faith crisis a short time later, I began to see how difficult it is to maintain the same relationships, especially close family ones that are often tied to the church, and especially in the very angry early stages of transition. There can be reconciliation, but it has to be on different terms. Once I’d given up the idea of an afterlife, the celestial kingdom, judgment, and more, the sense of “family” I’d once had for my blood relatives was gone. For most of my life, Mormonism was all about being in heaven forever with your family, sometimes even if you don’t like certain family members. The idea is you’ll all be perfected and love each other up there. Except I rejected that idea, along with the Mormon God I’d once believed would force us all to be happy together.

So what now?

Well, what happened for me more immediately was that I began to rebuild my sense of family with people who weren’t related to me. I suspect everyone who has been through a faith transition away from family has done the same thing and they already know all about it. But in case you’re still in the midst of it, let me offer you hope, because it’s not all bad, losing your old family and having to assemble a new one. (There is even hope after a few years that you can find some family members who will still be interested in a more limited, boundaried relationship, but that may or may not come for many.)

I focus on my new “family” a lot now. I draw that chosen family of friends close around me each night in my gratitude practice, imagining them all with me and feeling their love. It’s not the same as having my blood family love me the way that I am—it’s a whole lot better.

These people have often been through a similar faith transition in Mormonism—they include ex-Mormons, post-Mormons, nuanced Mormons. Some are Mama Dragons, the group of mothers of LGBT youth who've banded together to offer each other and children support. But there are also other religions in the mix. One of my dear family-friends is a Catholic who was raised Baptist and has some Mormon family, as well. Some of my dearest friends are atheists (honestly, they can be extremely peaceful and calming to be around—as long as you don’t talk politics). I’ve made some dear friends in the autistic community, as I’ve come out about that diagnosis. Occasionally runners and triathletes make the list, though I tend to be kind of solitary at sports. And there are writer friends of all stripes because we have a special weirdness to share.

My point here isn’t necessarily to offer suggestions for where you might find new friends, but only to reassure you that if you are a Mormon or post-Mormon who is feeling bereft around the holidays, family is out there, waiting for you to see it and embrace it. Our friends holiday dinners are wonderful and every bit as tender as traditional family ones. I won’t say that I never miss the old days with family before I transitioned, but I’m so filled with love that I don’t feel the loss often. To use religious terminology, I feel so very blessed by my new associations. If I believed in the kind of interventionist God I once did, I’d say I thought he led me to these new people who have my back and show up for me when I need them so often, either online or in person. There’s loss, yes, but there’s also this new growth.

If there’s one lesson that I still believe in from my old days of religion, it’s this: every death brings a new life. The death of the old me led to the new me, and to my new family.

And I’m good with that. Someday, maybe you will be, too.

 

Comments

  1. It feels there is a lot of anger behind this post. We are all human beings. Perhaps we could all look beyond the labels and how others self-identify and treat everyone as equal in humanity whether they are blood relatives, Mormon or not.

  2. “I’m keenly aware of the fact that admitting to not believing in Mormonism anymore marks me as weak, even evil, in their eyes. And so I’m the one who has to make compromises to continue the relationship. They’re not going to meet me where I am.”

    Seems like a mix of projection and failure to see how she might meet them part way. All of these posts always strike me as demanding and non-compromising, like a child who is upset when she does not get exactly what she wants when and how she wants it.

  3. We gay people do exactly the same thing if our “forever” family turn out to be aholes. That’s why I have friends going back 50 years.

  4. I’d have to disagree. Usually the people who are “right” because god says they are demand a degreee of “compromise” that they would find unacceptable were it reversed.

    For example, my parents’ idea of compromise 40 years ago meant they never had to meet my friends, my boyfriend at the time, educate themselves, visit me, or even value their relationship with their son.

    I eventually realized that there was nothing I could ever do or say, apart from wrecking my life in order to pretend to be something I wasn’t and never would be, that would give me a relationship with them That I would want to have.

    Eventually,I realized that it wasn’t the gay issue as much as our whole relationship. I also realized it was their loss, not mine. I’ve always had a wonderful set of two of substitute parents. My current mom is 96, loves me like her own sons, who also see me as part of the family.

  5. “For example, my parents’ idea of compromise 40 years ago meant they never had to meet my friends, my boyfriend at the time, educate themselves, visit me, or even value their relationship with their son.” And had Ms. Harrison mentioned this sort of thing on this or any prior occasion, I might react differently. But for the most part, these posts tend to paint a picture of Ms. Harrison being bothered by talk of Church or experiences that her other family members value. In this and other posts, Ms. Harrison appears to demand that her faithful family members shelve, for her sake, their most cherished beliefs and practices.

    Of course, I don’t know what the actual facts are with Ms. Harrison’s family, but the picture she is painting does not place her in the best light.

  6. Best post ever. Great story Mette. I would add that your sense of obedience to THEIR values is limiting you.

  7. Perhaps evangelizing a false history isn’t victimless after all.

  8. And what was your idea of compromise, Ben? Was it truly a request for compromise — or (in light of the Scriptures) a demand for capitulation?

    I do not ask these questions lightly. Many parents have been subjected to the latter, and the latter has a sawtooth edge. But families usually don’t talk about that aspect publicly. It’s a silent gig.

  9. Capitulation is what you see in your terms. I don’t believe in it, myself. I prefer dialog.

    But to answer your question. 40 years ago, I sent my parents some excellent books on the subject in order to educate them. They wouldn’t even tell me they had received them, let alone read them. Eventually, they admitted they had received them, but had no interest in reading them.

  10. Ah yes. The giving of “educational” gifts. A familiar thing.
    There was a gay activist from small-town Kansas. We were writing at the same college paper, so as you’d expect, our writings smashed head-on in flames.

    Somehow, we publicly agreed to hash it out face-to-face. At first we selected a neutral Interfaith meeting, but we only had time to say hello (but it was still a good warmup). So we went straight to the newsroom for immediate hash-out. The rest of the staff kindly gave us space, while whispering quietly.

    Curiously, he unexpectedly gave me a newspaper feature about AIDS, churches, and coming out of the closet. And I unexpectedly gave him a newspaper feature about AIDS, churches, and ex-gays. The gift exchange. Had a wonderful talk. (No compromises at all. But it was a great hash-out, we both agreed.)

  11. Thank you for the insight into a big problem in the Church. I have a friend who recently told his wife he no longer believed in many of the claims of the church. She threatened to divorce him. That was sad. They are still together but she gives him grief over it and is the source of conflict. One of the most important talks that could be given by an apsotle is to explain to members not to act like this toward family members. Sad, but it will prabably never come. So much for inspired leadership. Instead they want to spend energy fighting against the civil rights of the LGBT community.

  12. Yes! I thought the same while reading this. Our intentional families.

  13. Nah, I don’t sense any anger. I sense she has moved beyond that and is now just speaking from experience.

  14. You always peddle such a huge pile of horse shit that’s it’s almost impossible to entertain addressing you for the pungent odor of what you have to say.

    There are times for families to voice their most cherished beliefs and participate in their most cherished practices and there are times that out of respect for others in their extended families things be reigned in for a time. Your idea of compromise is very one-sided, “You must respect and make room to listen to me, but don’t expect me to do the same, because these are my most cherished beliefs and practices.”

  15. This is a sad post. I personally know several LDS families where one or more of them have left the church and they still have very close, loving, and supportive relationships with each other. My good friend from college(who is very active LDS, and her husband is the bishop of their ward), has a brother who is gay and not LDS, and they are super close, live by each other, and are very supportive and active in each other’s lives. Sometimes we don’t hear about all the positive and loving stories – but there are a lot of them out there.

  16. “There are times for families to voice their most cherished beliefs and participate in their most cherished practices and there are times that out of respect for others in their extended families things be reigned in for a time.” Sure, but Ms. Harrison has never painted this picture for us. Perhaps family members are sending her Conference talks and praying for her by name in her presence, but she doesn’t say that. Instead, it looks like she just doesn’t like people talking about what they consider miracles in her presence. This would be like asking a gay family member to not mention his boyfriend in the presence of the family. Is that the type of thing you would find acceptable?

    I’m also a little taken aback by your first sentence. I’d be interested to know what other comments of mine you find so offensive.

  17. I am curious as to when and how this all went down. I understand the why, as I know from past columns about your doubts and non-orthodoxy. Your last guest column was only last month, though, and you were seemingly still in the Church. The last sentence of that column now reads as haunting: Family Home Evening is “family bonding at its best, and if you ask me, that’s what Mormonism is great at.” I hope you don’t take my questions as rude, as I am genuinely curious and have never had any connection to Mormonism.

  18. A good read, but I can’t help but wonder how much of drama is invented rather than organic. The reality is in this day and age most families whether Catholic, Jewish, Mormon, Baptist, or whatever have a variety of religious traditions and approaches represented and everyone for the most part manages to get along fine with neither world war III nor eternal existential angst. Most of the time it’s as simple as “don’t be a dick.” That is to say, people maintaining the family traditions don’t get to belittle or speak ill of those with different paths, and those on different paths don’t get their panties in a bunch if traditional topics and practices remain part of the family mix. My experience is most families get along OK.

    Ben raises some good points that there are some toxic situations where family does in fact need to be cut off – and the situation for many within the LGBT community qualifies. Indeed, decades ago the LGBT person would likely have been shunned and it would have been viewed as the “right” thing to do. Sometimes you have to make your own family. And even when you don’t have to, it’s nice to have the option of special friends who have your back, especially when you live far from home.

  19. There may be some out there, but they are doing it in SPITE of the apostles, not because of them.

  20. “Once I’d given up the idea of an afterlife, the celestial kingdom, judgment, and more, the sense of “family” I’d once had for my blood relatives was gone.”

    That’s a consequence of the deception of Mormonism. Mormonism can’t be defended, and once someone figures that out, there is the possibility they walk completely away from God, not understanding that there is a God, but Mormonism has lied about Him.

    https://downtownministries.blogspot.com/2015/03/progressive-revelation-or-making-god-of.html

  21. Almost every criticism of Mormonism can be levied against other forms of Christianity.

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