How Not to Treat Believing Members Once You Leave the Church

Between the most zealous active members of the Church and ex-Mormons is a secret third group: the ones who are in an active state of deconstruction. In that group is a mixture of church members all across the spectrum who have such a wide variety of thoughts and beliefs, the only thing they all truly having in common is being adjacent to Mormonism and a willingness to sit in community in that state of difference.

I've been in that space for many years now. It's the closest thing to "come as you are" Mormonism as I've ever seen. No matter your proximity to the institutional church, we all do a kind of play therapy together with the materials from it that we've carried with us. It's great... until someone too far to the end of either spectrum shows up and starts evangelizing to their particular flavor of belief or non-belief.

I've posted previously my response to those who advocate too aggressively for their versions of active Mormonism, linked below. I'm feeling the need for a similar post to exist for those in the ex-Mormon camp as well, especially those whose approach is to remind me that the Church doesn't value liberal or progressive members. As if there's any liberal or progressive member who doesn't already know that.

I know the Church doesn't want me as I am. I know they think my values aren't useful to them. I know that better than many former church members do because I was there. I was there at 16 years old when many of them were still active. I was reading the writing on the wall before many of them even knew it was there.

Here's the thing: I don't care.

I don't care that they don't want me. I don't care that they don't respect me. I don't care that my very presence irks them to the very core. I don't care what they think about me. Caring about their opinion of me is the only power they have ever had over me, the only way they can hurt me, and I took that away from them a long time ago.

I'm not here to get their approval.
And in case you needed the addendum to that post for me to spell it out, I'm not here to get the approval of ex-Mormons either.

So many ex-Mormons have this notion that the only way to engage with my authentic self is to leave the Church. The idea that someone could spend years away from the institution, as I did, and choose to go back is incomprehensible to them. They cannot process the fact that my authentic self is a believer, a disciple of Jesus Christ, and a Mormon—deconstructed, wiser, and prepared to rebuild, but ultimately still a Mormon.

The fact is, the Church needs me. They need me to deconstruct and destroy the false idols and apostasy that they've brought into the restored church of Jesus Christ from the Republican party, evangelical Christianity, and white nationalism.

They need me to be there, and so do you.


You need someone on the inside saying that racism is sinful, is present in the Church, and destroys everything it touches. You need someone on the inside saying that praying the gay away is harmful, incoherent nonsense. You need someone to say the things you needed to hear as a teenager in the Church. You need someone with the skill set, the language, and the institutional presence to do that work, to break the cycles of intergenerational trauma and abuse, in a setting where the people who need it most are most likely to receive it.

I'm saying this with no degree of sarcasm or insincerity. Do what serves you and your happiness. If that means leaving the Church, I don't respect you any less for it. Do what you must for you and your family. I will honor that choice because I now fully understand what goes into making it.

Do not, however, think your position makes you morally or intellectually superior to those who stay, who have done the work to realize that they can do more good by staying than by leaving. And as always, do not use random active members as punching bags for your scruples, religious trauma, and grievances. Criticism without consent is not only ineffective, it's straight up abusive. It's the example of the classic adage that "hurt people hurt people."

I don't believe church leadership when they say that you all got lost in the gray matter of moral relativism, that your motivations were selfish and rooted in sin. Do not believe them when they tell you to mistrust me because my presence at Church is somehow a betrayal both to them and to you simultaneously.

Be smarter than that.

How to Address Domestic Violence in the Church

Source: World Bank
From a domestic violence survivor: take all of the outrage you feel for what Michael Haight did to his ex-wife and children, and direct it into helping the people around you who are in that exact same precarious position.

Every community, every congregation, every class in every school, every neighborhood, every group of people you have ever been a part of has had victims of domestic violence in them. No one ever wants to acknowledge that. But that's the truth.

I'm not telling you not to be angry. Be furious! But don't just express your disapproval on social media and expect anything to change. Be the safe place a family like Tausha's could've gone to. Then go find the Tausha near you and help her.

I had people around me in my community who did that, over and over again. They pulled me out of the toxic environments my parents had created. Make sure the people around you know they can come to you if they're in trouble.

The most important thing I could ever tell you as a survivor is this: never assume that anyone you know is immune to abuse, that "if she was really in trouble, she'd tell me." Never assume that to be true. Never think you'd be able to spot them if you weren't actively seeking them out.

No matter how safe and happy things appear in the intimate relationships around you, all it takes is one phrase to let people know you're a safe person to them.

"If that ever changes, you can come here." 

That's all you have to say. Say it explicitly to anyone you care enough about to want to save them if they found themselves in real danger with nowhere else to go.

In a church setting, take advantage of opportunities to plant seeds in lessons, at activities, during talks you might give, Family Home Evenings, or any other gatherings in your home. Quote the section about abuse from the Family Proclamation. Teach those around you what it means and why it matters.
We warn that individuals who... abuse spouse or offspring, or who fail to fulfill family responsibilities will one day stand accountable before God.
Share the Church's resources about abuse and where to find them in Gospel Library. Make sure those with whom you serve are familiar with those resources and their content. Wherever you serve or worship in the Church, be prepared to help families who are in these situations.

It's also important to prepare you children in age appropriate ways how to respond to these situations appropriately. Teach them that preventing domestic violence begins in their own choices in how to treat others. Teach them how they can help friends, teammates, and classmates if another child confides in them that they're being abused. Don't wait until after that confidence has already been placed in them by someone else.
Be a safe, discreet person who can be trusted with these kinds of confidences, whose goal is to empower others to make the choices that will keep themselves and their children safe.
I'll give you an example from my own life.
I taught in Young Women for many years in my last ward. During that time, a family who lived near us had their youngest daughters take the missionary discussions in our home. The oldest daughter was indifferent, if not outwardly hostile to any kind of religious messaging. She was disruptive during lessons. She was the type of teenager that someone could've looked at and thought "I can't wait until you leave my class and never come back." I didn't treat her any differently. I could see real pain inside of her and treated her with kindness, no matter what she said or did. I refused to give her the reaction she was looking for. I treated her with the love she deserved, rather than matching the energy she was putting out.
At 10 p.m. on a week night, she showed up at my house. She and her father had gotten into a fight. She asked if she could stay the night. I didn't hesitate. I brought her inside. I made up the guest bedroom, set out towels and toiletries in our guest bathroom. I made her some chamomile tea. We talked for a little while. Her father guessed at where she was. My husband spoke to him outside while I continued talking to her. We kept everyone separate until they both were calmer. I asked her privately if she felt safe going home. She said she did. That was the only time I pressed her for the truth. 
I told her if she ever needed to come back, she knew where to find us. She wasn't the only one from that Young Women group who reached out to me when they were in dire straits. 
That's what this looked like for me because I was serving in Young Women. For you, it might be relatives in your own extended family, the friends or teammates of your children, coworkers, or anyone else around you going through divorce. Divorce always has the potential to be dangerous, especially in the first year.
I had a person I worked with at my first veterinary clinic who filed for divorce while I was working there. I checked in on her repeatedly to make sure she was okay. It didn't matter that we weren't that close. We didn't have to be for me to care about what happened to her.

When you do these things from a place of love, or even just concern, it won't be weird or awkward. You're making it clear that there's space in your life for them if they need it. They'll come to you if that need arises. 
All you have to do when that happens is say, "Come over."

Becoming Found Family within the Church

Growing up in an unstable home environment with parents who struggled with a host of issues that included poverty, addiction, alcoholism, domestic violence, and racial violence, one of the skills I learned early on in my life is gathering and assembling found family. I had so many adopted mothers, tied to so many different communities who cared for and about me.

The reason I made it out of poverty and avoided becoming a statistic was because of the support and mentoring I received from people who were my chosen family, rather than being limited to the support my biological family could provide.

While the Church is not the only group capable of forming these kinds of relationships, it's especially important for members of the Church to know how to do this, and know the meaningful distinction between found family and "ward family" or "church family."

Let's start off by talking about that distinction.


Not All Church Family is Found Family

I've been in the Church as a convert for almost seventeen years now. I joined as a teenager, the only member in my family. I've been in enough congregations to know the difference between ward family and found family.

Ward family is conditional. It exists within the shared identity of being members of the Church, and therefore only fully extends to members of the Church. Those who aren't members and are unlikely to ever become members, or who were formerly members and are no longer fully engaged with the Church, are often seen as being unworthy or undeserving of that network of help and loving care. The reason for this is because with church membership comes the expectation of reciprocation. In this line of thinking, the church member will pay it forward at a future time through ongoing service through the Church. The issue is not that people are receiving benefits to which they have not previously contributed. Rather, it's the boundary setting that happens with those who have no intentions of paying it forward through the same network of finite resources.

Church family also often centers around the formal administration overseen by local leadership on the ward council. It may or may not be facilitated through delegated assignments, volunteered service, or shared resources extended through church social networks. Because no one person has total control over this council and the causes it chooses to undertake and how, the help that is given through it is shaped by the personal beliefs and life experiences of many different people. Because of that, mileage and results will vary wildly based on geographic location and the cultures (and politics) of the surrounding areas.

Anyone who is familiar with the concept of found family, or comes into the church with the expectation that church family will function like found family, is going to be confused by what they see happening in many places. And because it's important for church members to understand the difference, to be willing and capable of doing both kinds of giving, this comes with acknowledging those differences honestly.

Found Family is Unconditional

Found family is an ongoing, personal relationship between individuals that isn't bound by shared identity, social networks, or life experiences. It's a much closer relationship than a casual acquaintance at Church. It's a friendship where a person is fully integrated into a family's embrace as one of their own. The exchange of love and gratitude is mutual, flows in both directions, and exists solely within the individual family. There's no expectation for anyone else outside of that relationship to be benefiting from it. So while two different communities may be coming together and sharing in a mutual space with one another, there is no expectation that their communities will directly benefit from that exchange.

For example, if an LDS family decided to sponsor a family of refugees and developed a found family relationship with them, there would be no expectation for the refugee family to join the Church. If an LDS family took in a queer person who was also a former member of the Church, there would be no expectation for them to come back to church because of that association, or in exchange for resources. The relationship itself is the reward, not anything monetary or otherwise valuable that the relationship could be used for.

Found family relationships often materialize spontaneously through already existing friendships. But through my own reflection, I'm realizing they exist when people create space in their families, their homes, and their lives for those relationships to materialize.  It's one where the jump has been made together from acquaintance or casual friendship to actual family. Those relationships are grown, nourished, and are sincerely cherished on both sides.

Not every relationship in the Church should be one of found family. I'm not suggesting it should be. But recognizing the ways that God works through found family is an important one for people of faith to understand and embrace. There is a kind of good that only be accomplished through found family relationships and in no other way, including by the a church or ward family. There are families who have space in their lives at different seasons to create found family relationships, and some who don't. It's important to be able to assess situations impartially and to understand which is needed.

In Psalms 68:6, David taught that "God setteth the solitary in families: he bringeth out those which are bound with chains." I've seen that ministry work through my own life in the Church. The trajectory of my life changed completely because members of the Church facilitated both found family and church family relationships. Knowing how to do both is good discipleship and allows those who belief in Christ to follow his example in moments where it can do the greatest good.

Building Positive Relationships of Trust and Safety with Youth in the Church

I was the Sunday School teacher for 14-15 year olds when Come Follow Me came out, with a class composed almost entirely of Young Men who had a certain reputation for being "difficult." The bishopric, other ward members, and parents of the youth in my class all gave me similar warnings.

In actuality, they were fine. They were normal kids having normal problems. They had the same needs as any other teenagers. The warnings I was receiving were not accurate reflections of the youth. They did, however, give me some insight into the unhealthy expectations parents in my ward were putting on their children to toe every single line perfectly, with no deviation.

I didn't do that to them. That's the single most important thing I gave them: the slack to be a normal kid, rather than members of "the chosen generation." I tried to love them for who they were, rather than who or what they were pretending to be. I accepted the fact that a significant number of them were only there because they were forced to be and were giving me the courtesy of their limited attention. I understood that relationship and accepted it, without any expectations for them to change it against their will.

I respected them, even when they didn't always respect me. I validated their feelings, including their desire not to be at church. When they saw I wasn't going to rat them out to their parents for things they said and did, that they were free to be themselves, that they could be on their phones and I wasn't going to take it personally, they opened up to me. They gave me the chance to speak to their real concerns. It didn't happen every Sunday. I didn't expect it to happen every Sunday. But it did happen. And it only happened because I earned their trust, rather than expecting them to just give it to me when I'd done nothing to earn it.

I prepared a spiritual buffet every Sunday and didn't criticize them for what they did or didn't take. They could take what they wanted or just leave it all there. I didn't force them to do anything they didn't want to do or feel comfortable doing, including reading scriptures or praying. I didn't force them to be insincere in my presence.

And you know what? One of the most disruptive ones showed up at my house at 10 p.m. after she ran away from home during an argument with her father and asked if she could sleep at my house. She knew she was safe with me.

That's what my priority was. That was my motivation in everything I said and did. And just because every kid didn't become or stay active in the Church, go on a mission, get married in the temple, or follow the trajectory the Church had established for their lives, that doesn't mean I wasn't successful. I wasn't there to enforce rigid expectations on anyone.

Too many parents and leaders in the Church are unable to let go of what they think their success is supposed to look like with the youth to accept what is actually achievable.

Making the Church a safe place to come back to if they ever need help, rather than a place of achievement and conformity, is where we are. The lion's share of our youth aren't interested in serving missions, temple marriage, going to a church-sponsored school, or maintaining the Church's ideal relationship with organized religion into adulthood. They're going to be casual in their relationship with the Church, at best. We can align our messaging and social interactions with a more casual approach, without any judgment about what we think they should be doing instead. Or we can keep doing harm by telling folks they're not good enough for not wanting the lives the Church has laid out for them.

We can't say we're doing the former, while trying to constantly bait and switch into the latter. It doesn't work. We've surrounded ourselves with the consequences of what it looks like when we try.

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