Conversations. Chapter 2: George Continued

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From George (For Context see Chapter 1 )

Dec 16, 2016

The Mormon Stories group is interesting. My friend has been watching it for almost five years now, and for all the claims that it is a “safe space,” it seems nothing of the sort. It seems to be mostly populated by people eager to help folks leave mormonism and a few individuals gullible enough to believe that it is a forum that is safe for questioning. The only safety there is in bashing the Church and your warm reception there is because they recognize you for what you are. To put it politely, you are someone trying to be an exit counselor, but you want to do it while simultaneously wearing the imprimatur of a member of the Church, ostensibly in good fellowship. Based on what you’ve written, you seem hopeful that your stake president will even give it his blessing. It seems clear to me, and I trust to anyone else who might read your extensive writing on the subject, that you have no interest in helping people regain their testimony and actually be productive members of the Kingdom. Instead, the impact of your efforts will only lead people to leave the Church or to hide in plain site as you are attempting to do.

Please inform me better if I am misreading you. Would you consider your efforts a success if someone you worked with returned to full fellowship and sustained the brethren? I doubt it. If one of your Talkeria crowd called you today and said, “you know what Sam? I was wrong. The Church is right on gay marriage. I’m not troubled by any of the historical stuff either. Thanks for talking with me, but I don’t find your advice useful any more.” Would that be a success in your book?

I wish I could wish you well in your work. I fear that you are accomplishing nothing of eternal value, and contributing great harm to the souls of those you influence. As your efforts seem only calculated to remove people from the Church and inspire insurrection among those that stay, I cannot wish you well with this. No good and honest member of the Church could in good conscience.

My Response

Dec 17, 2016

Dear George,

Thanks for responding in an attempt to understand where my heart is. That means a lot to me.

I really owe you a debt of gratitude. You have forced my hand. I’m going to lay cards on the table that I have hidden until now. I’m coming out of the closet to reveal my true intent.

This doesn’t have anything to do with coming out to the Stake President or the Bishop. I’ve been open with them. They know where I stand & how I believe. My Stake President has read my blog and watched the Mormon Stories interview with John Dehlin. They are both good men with good hearts.

This isn’t about coming out to my fellow members. Hiding in plain sight? Sometimes I wish I’d hidden. But, I didn’t. I’ve been naively open. Many members in my ward and stake have also read my blog and seen the John Dehlin podcast.

Nope. The people that I have not been transparent with are my friends who have left the church and those who are seriously considering it. I’m a little nervous about coming clean. But, I trust my friends who have made their exit from the church. I have found a safe place among them to sort out my journey. It was within the sheltered Facebook walls of the Mormon Stories Group that I made my decision to stay in the LDS church. Made my decision to embrace the teachings and example of Jesus Christ. Made my decision to go back to the temple. Made my decision to create a safe space for people to talk and stay in the church if possible.

George, during my faith journey, there were no safe spaces inside the church to discuss my questions and doubts. No one to empathize. Actually, no one I knew could empathize with my pain and loneliness, because they had not undergone this journey.

A year ago, if I had told my Mormon Stories friends what I’m going to tell you now, I likely would have been harshly judged. But, over that 12 months, we have built together, a relationship of trust, love and friendship that can endure the outing of what I have hidden from them.

Here goes.
1. When I talk to someone with doubts, my preference is that they stay in the church.
2. When someone decides to leave. My hope is that they can find a way to stay.
3. When someone has left, I hope there might be a way for them to come back.
4. Every time I hear someone’s journey out of the church, I tear up. Another empty chair at an empty table.

I don’t invite my friends to come back to church. I know why they left. I am acquainted with the damage the church has caused them. I honor, respect and understand their decision. These are good, intelligent & thoughtful people. They have made an excruciating decision to leave a place that has been an integral and vital part of their lives for years.  As rational adults, they have made the tough choice that walking away from the church is best for them and their family.

For those, who are in the process of leaving, I want to help alleviate the anguish and loneliness of their journey. Their dignity should remain intact. Not shred to pieces by judgmental pettiness. Hopefully, those who leave would remain friendly to the church. Instead, our current culture and methods are creating lots of enemies. You complained about the nature of the comments in Mormon Stories. They are actually mild compared to other social venues that are much larger and more vitriolic. The church created the unfriendly attitudes that are now on full display there. We blame it on them. The problem is us.

For 14 months, I have lived among what you consider the enemy. They are not our enemy….if only we would treat them with love, respect and understanding. When we throw condemnation. It’s hurled back at us. One of my favorite scriptures is John 3:17, “For God sent NOT his Son into the world to condemn the world.” I have chosen to embrace the teachings and example of Jesus. How can I possibly condemn anyone? Well, sometimes I do. It’s a slip up. Barring the slip ups, I’m not going to condemn anyone who has left the church, no matter the volume or the vitriol.

Nor do I condemn you, George. I see now what your motives are…and understand them. You are interested in people staying in the church. Well, you and I have that in common. We’re just coming at it from different directions. I’m at the back door. For that matter, I’m the lone man at the back door. That needs to change.

As you probably know, I voted opposed for the first time at April General Conference. I had a 3 hour conversation with my Bishop and Stake President. That gave us plenty of time to discuss my reasoning. They were good with it.  But, my wise bishop said this, “Sam, be prepared for people to misunderstand you.” Sure enough, most everybody has misunderstood and misjudged where my heart is. That’s one of the reasons that I really appreciate you seeking to understand.

As far as I know, not one person has left the church because of my writings. However, over the past 2 years, I have witnessed hundreds of people leave the church. Their journey was aided by joining the ‘safe spaces’ inhabited by the ‘enemy’ because there was no safe space of aid and understanding within the church. There are tons of support groups outside the church for doubting members and those who have left. There are exactly ZERO support groups for those struggling and attempting to stay. The closest thing to it is my Talkeria. But, it does not have any support from the church.

Although, I’ve seen scores leave, I have also assisted many in staying. I have now heard the following phrase several times, “I’m holding on by my fingernails.” Almost every week someone contacts me who’s struggling, but wants to stay. Here are some examples.

Last month a man in my stake invited me to lunch. He basically wanted to know how I manage to stay. His wife and he both have big questions but would prefer not to leave. They have several children. He had been extended a significant calling by the stake and was reluctant to accept. He has since taken the calling. His beliefs are non-traditional. I hope he can endure until a safe support group for struggling members can be established. Until then he is truly hiding in plain sight….and in silent loneliness. Fortunately, his wife is in the same place.

Last week another family contacted me. He sent a long letter. These were the final words, “Nobody in my ward knows. I don’t really know why I’m telling you all this. It’s just comforting to feel like I can talk about it. I think you are the first LDS member I have ever told. I go to church every Sunday. I want to keep going to church every Sunday. But, I don’t want to sit in during lessons.” He and I are going to lunch this coming week.

Today, this came in: “I’ve shared some of your thoughts with the bishop of the ward in which I used to reside. He now wears a rainbow pin on his suit coat and shuts down any discussion he hears about LGBT persons having less worth. This particular bishop also has a stepson who is gay. He has had to work hard to be accepting and not harsh where this young man is concerned. It has truly opened his eyes. If you get a friend request from _______ or ______, they are my daughter and son-in-law. They are trying to stay in the church despite a growing discomfort to the lack of respect shown to the LGBT community.”

George, I don’t really have a pathway all nicely laid out in front of me. My guide has been the gorgeous teachings of the Savior, like the Parable of the Good Samaritan. I am certainly open to suggestions, especially from someone as concerned for the welfare of the church as you.

Hopefully, this gives you a good idea of my direction and intent. There are several other topics that I’d be glad to address, like the Talkeria. But, this missive is already long enough.

All My Best, Sam

P.S. You are welcome to come to a Talkeria. I think you would be pleasantly amazed.

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