Risky Rescue

I don’t read The Ensign, but I do read Zelophehad’s Daughters.  It was “To the Rescue,” an entry on ZD from last week, that clued me in to an essay by Thomas Monson from the October Ensign called “Our Responsibility to Rescue.” You can pretty much figure out the whole essay from the first paragraph:

For Latter-day Saints, the need to rescue our brothers and sisters who have, for one reason or another, strayed from the path of Church activity is of eternal significance. Do we know of such people who once embraced the gospel? If so, what is our responsibility to rescue them?

About the same time I read that, a good chunk of my Facebook friends posted links to this piece from Robert Kirby about his wife’s decision to leave the LDS church and join another and what that meant for their marriage:

I make it sound easy. It wasn’t. When a shared faith is one of the original pillars of a relationship, it doesn’t get removed without consequences. There were a lot of those, not the least among them was which of us was going to hell now?…

What’s your religion worth to you? Is it something you’d die for? Lots of people say they would lay down their lives for their faith. Would you kill for it? How about your marriage? Would you divorce your spouse over your faith?…

Keep in mind that if you stay, you can’t just agree to disagree about religion. At some point you’ll have to disagree AND shut up about it. No wound — whether emotional or physical — ever heals if you keep picking at it….

In the end it came down to this for me: I believe the most important thing for which I’ll be judged is how I treat my wife rather than my church.

When I saw an interesting conversation developing after a friend linked to Kirby’s piece, I couldn’t help asking what he thought of Monson’s, given that they are in such sharp contrast.  My friend said that he thought that they weren’t as contradictory as I might think, since Monson’s article is about a particular type of person: someone who still believes in the church and misses its influence in their life, not about people who have truly stopped believing and are happier outside the church than in it.

The problem, of course, which we went on to discuss, is that no one and nothing official in the church ever acknowledges that anyone can be happy–much less happier–outside the church than it.  The rhetoric in Monson’s talk might not be quite as condemning, but its basic attitude is not really different from this discussion of apostasy and its effects on marriage from Spencer Kimball:

To be really happy in marriage, one must have a continued faithful observance of the commandments of the Lord. No one, single or married, was ever sublimely happy unless he was righteous. There are temporary satisfactions and camouflaged situations for the moment, but permanent, total happiness can come only through cleanliness and worthiness. One who has a pattern of religious life with deep religious convictions can never be happy in an inactive life.  The conscience will continue to afflict, unless it has been seared, in which case the marriage is already in jeopardy. A stinging conscience can make life most unbearable. Inactivity is destructive to marriage, especially where the parties are inactive in varying degrees.

Religious differences are the most trying and among the most unsolvable of all differences.

The harshness of Kimball’s stance–that if a spouse leaves the church, s/he has basically destroyed the marriage–is one reason that “When He Stopped Believing,” an article by Name Withheld from the July 2012 Ensign about a woman who decided to stay with and love her apostate husband, was such a big deal.

But things like this article from Monson make it difficult if not impossible for Name Withheld to truly accept and love her husband for who he is. Instead she is encouraged to try to change him–told him that it’s her religious duty, in fact, to change him, to rescue him, and that if she doesn’t try valiantly to do so, she’s failing him, herself, her church and her god.

This is why I never believe any official statement from the church about how it respects people of other faiths.  It doesn’t.  It sees them as people who not only need rescuing, but are often too fallen and blind and deluded to realize just how badly in need of rescue they are.

You know what’s really corrosive to a relationship?  A palpable sense that the other person is somehow broken and has to be fixed–and that you and your church are the ones who can do the fixing.

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(It also bugged me that Monson’s article refers to artist JMW Turner as Joseph Mallord William Turner. Yeah, that’s his full name, but it’s not his professional name.  One more way the church can’t let people determine who they are or how they express themselves in the world.)

 

 

 

 

 

9 thoughts on “Risky Rescue

  1. This is a very emotional issue. It not only is an issue between spouses but an issue between parent and child. I know when I left the church the re-occurring concern for me was how do I handle the fact that my children feel the need to ‘rescue’ me. My children live with the belief that I am somehow in need of rescue and it is their responsibility to save me (or love me in-spite of me). I was projecting onto them the feelings of my youth when I gave up truly loving and respecting my father because, in-spite of all my efforts, I couldn’t rescue him.

    Now, as adults, my children have all left the church and I see their father (who is an amazing father) feel guilt and disappointment because he somehow failed his duty to keep his children in the church. Can he ever truly be proud of their amazing accomplishments? No because they have all failed to jump through the Mormon hoops of life. Missions, temple marriage, church callings… And it makes me sad for him; sad that he can’t relish in the fact that he helped raise three of the most amazing people. Instead he lives in some false hope that one day they’ll change. One day something he says or does will ‘save’ them.

    Sad commentary on a church that claims to put family first.

  2. I was projecting onto them the feelings of my youth when I gave up truly loving and respecting my father because, in-spite of all my efforts, I couldn’t rescue him.

    I remember as a kid in church and the knowledge the elders had that my father was a “non-believer.” He was basically treated as if he didn’t exist. Elders would tell me when I was like 10-years old that I need to “take care of my mother and sister” because I was the “man” of the family…. it’s like they were planting seeds in my mind that, in some deep sense, my father didn’t fully exist — not to mention the gendered language of a boy “taking care” of a grown woman. I think I remember asking my mother why they said such things … did they not know that my dad was at home, just not at church, probably sleeping in?

    Since I became a non-believer in my late teens, I now deal with the distance between my believing mother and me, her hopes that I will be saved, AND the distance between my father and me, caused in part by the seeds planted by the Church when I was young. The Church really is in the business of breaking apart families, huh?

  3. Elders would tell me when I was like 10-years old that I need to “take care of my mother and sister” because I was the “man” of the family….

    Alan I agree. It’s a crazy notion that a young boy holds the keys to be the ‘man of the family’. How are single mothers or mothers like yours, with an inactive husband, supposed to handle that situation. It’s really ridiculous.

    I have a vivid memory of sitting in Sunday school class as a 8 year old; listening to the teacher say that a family without a ‘worthy priesthood’ holder at the head of the family…is a family in chaos. Implying that a family isn’t really a ‘good’ family unless there is a ‘good’ priesthood holder at the helm.

    That was the beginning of my mission impossible… ‘Rescue Dad’.

  4. I thought that Ensign article about valuing your marriage despite your spouse leaving the church was too good to be true. Now to interpret this as cynically as possible. 😉

    Mormon women divorcing atheist husbands doesn’t help the church. Might as well stay with him. And if you can pressure him into occasionally participating in church activities, so much the better…

  5. In the past there have been Ensign articles encouraging the active wife to be patient and loving toward here non-member or inactive husband. The illustrated cases were examples of such non-nagging women whose husbands slowly warmed and became active or joined..

    But now we have a new breed: the spouse who was active, faithful, committed, and then, however it happened, rejected the Church’s truth claims. In many cases now it is the female who is having problems with the church, whereas in the past it was almost always the husband. For some church leaders the only answerer is to discard the apostate. After all, exaltation in the upper echelon of the highest degree is at stake. And the probability of this questioning member returning to the fold is very low. It is better to discard your hand than lose the whole body.

  6. I don’t have time to comment as fully as I would like right this moment because I’m running off to the Ordain Women attempt to attend the priesthood session, but I thought I would post a link to this write-up from Jana Riess of Dieter Uchtdorf’s talk from this morning’s session of General Conference about why people leave the church:

    Pres. Uchtdorf’s talk was compassionate and nonjudgmental, avoiding the standard blame-the-doubter default position that has too often characterized the LDS Church’s relationship to those who leave.

    Sometimes we assume it is because they have been offended, or lazy, or sinful. Actually, it is not that simple. In fact, there is not just one reason that applies to the variety of situations. Some of our dear members struggle for years with the question of whether they should separate themselves from the Church. In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly that it was restored by a young man that had questions and sought answers, we respect those who honestly search for truth.

    This sympathetic and pastoral approach also conceded that people who have questions about Mormon history often have valid reasons for asking them.

    etc.

  7. @6 very cool!

    also conceded that people who have questions about Mormon history often have valid reasons for asking them.

    The crazy part is that that really is a concession. The default assumption has been that if you’re asking a question whose answer might make the CoJCoL-dS look bad, then you must necessarily have a sinister motive.

    I can’t wait to find out how the women at priesthood session thing went! (Maybe the answer is already waiting in my RSS reader…)

  8. I will say that in my family, though we had plenty of people we might have considered in need of rescuing–my grandfather on one side, an uncle on the other, a whole family of second cousins, etc–we never would have dreamed of actually trying to rescue them. You just had to let your apostate family be apostate. It was sad, because you knew you couldn’t trust or love them the way you trusted and loved family who were members, but you had to respect their right to choose the wrong.

    But now we have a new breed: the spouse who was active, faithful, committed, and then, however it happened, rejected the Church’s truth claims. In many cases now it is the female who is having problems with the church,

    This describes my great-grandparents, who were born into Mormon families in the mid 19th century. My great-grandfather was a mission president for several years and a bishop for a couple of decades. His wife, whom he had married in the temple, had no interest in going to church with him. I still can’t get the whole story and at this point I won’t, since there aren’t many people still alive who knew them. But I do know that she was considered the brains in the marriage and that no one ever suggested that her inactivity was because she wasn’t well-versed in Mormon theology and practice.

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