Missionaries didn't break my relationship with my family. Life did.

As a convert whose baptism and membership in the Church was the subject of a lot of strife between me and my immediate family, it's hard not to see myself in this essay that was published over on Exponent II. There was a giant part of me that wanted to respond to Abby Maxwell Hansen and share what I've learned from being in her convert mother's shoes. But the longer I thought about it, the more I realized all my thoughts on that subject were never going to fit into a comment. So instead, I'm putting them here.

To provide some context, I'm from a poor family full of untreated mental illness and addiction. The only goal and dream I'd ever had for my future was to leave my hometown on the East Coast (and by extension, my family), to build a healthier and more stable life for myself somewhere, anywhere else.

I joined the Church in high school at sixteen years old. It didn't take me long to realize it would be my ticket out of my situation. I chose to go to college at BYU in Utah, served a mission in Brazil, got married in the temple, and later ended up moving to Idaho with my husband. I've spent more of my adult life away from my family than I've spent near them.

That was not an accident. It wasn't a mistake. It wasn't a negative, unwanted consequence of joining the Church. The separation itself was a deliberate choice I made, which I don't regret in any way.

I say with my entire chest that the Church and its members are an essential part of why I didn't end up being a statistic of poverty, addiction, abuse, and incarceration. The Church is in no way responsible for destroying my relationships with my family. I'm sure that's not how some of them see it, but here's the thing. When two family members desire to maintain contact (or reconnect) across physical distance, they will do so. If they don't, there are other reasons for that which membership in the Church doesn't create.

Baptism and temple marriage weren't the reasons my relationships with my family were strained. All my church membership did was reveal the preexisting fractures that were already there, and would've existed regardless of whether I'd ever been baptized or not. I still would've moved away. I would've maintained the same separations from family members with whom I have zero contact at this point. All the Church did was give me the options and resources to build that life for myself. The Church gave me what I needed to start over in a totally new place without family support. Which is great, because there was absolutely no reality in which my relationship with my family was ever going to be any different.

There was no version of my life with a happy extended family OP is describing, with enough mutual respect and restraint to have that kind of closeness. For that kind of closeness to exist, people on both ends of a relationship have to be willing to put in that work. If they wanted to, they would. If they didn't, it's because they didn't want to. And I can tell y'all from personal experience: if it's been decades and a family hasn't moved on from "you're in a cult" and "you have a coffee pot," the fractures go deeper than that, no matter what anybody says.

I don't have children who can misinterpret and blame my personal and religious choices on missionaries. It wouldn't matter if I did because my branch didn't have missionaries. I joined the Church with the support of church members who found me, taught me the discussions, and baptized me. It was what I wanted and they were the only ones available. But know this: you could get rid of missionaries entirely and it wouldn't stop people from finding the Church and being baptized. I'm living proof of that. And as long as people continue to be baptized, there will always be familial strife that will become wrapped up in that decision. Even if it didn't start there.

Imagining an alternative timeline in which family members don't join the Church and consequently end up with better lives and closer families is an exercise in fiction. The opportunity cost of choosing This and not That deals entirely in an unknowable hypothetical, which isn't enough of a foundation to go assigning blame to anyone. Especially when the hypothetical is predicated on people making choices against their own best interests when it comes to going low or no contact with their own families. As someone who has made, and is still making that decision, I can't fault anyone who does so looking for peace in their own lives. The idea that they could've tried harder, done things differently, or prioritized themselves less to maintain those familial relationships is wishful thinking at best, and dangerously delusional at worst.

The idea that missionaries walk around bumping into walls and causing generational trauma all by themselves? That's attributing way too much of what a family's dynamic already is on innocent bystanders who don't have the power or support necessary to force anyone to do anything. Instead, it's worth considering that infrequent, lukewarm, awkward family visits are (perhaps) the best of all possible worlds.

[And as an aside: Can we stop advocating for the Church to get involved in the United State's broken healthcare system by forming their own hospitals and medical clinics? 

Any unmarried woman who has had BYU's insurance and health care can tell you why that's a bad idea. Enough people have already had their access to medication and treatment curtailed in the name of "religious freedom." In my experience, the doctors at BYU's student health center don't even bother diagnosing or treating conditions like PCOS because hormone therapy (i.e. birth control) is part of the treatment for it. And even if they did prescribe it, the student health insurance wouldn't pay for it because they view it solely as contraception, not hormone therapy. 

Low income and under served populations deserve real, inclusive, comprehensive healthcare. That's not what they would get if the Church was sponsoring it.]

When Abortion Bans Aren't Pro-Life

I recently encountered a pro-life person trying to justify abortion restrictions by saying that it's better for mothers with fatal fetal abnormalities to be able to hold their babies instead of them being "thrown away as medical waste."

They say it like that from ignorance and heartlessness. They need that malice from mothers and doctors to exist to justify doing this to women, to mothers who never wanted to be in this position with their babies. The trouble is, in an effort to punish hypothetical women who are allegedly 'just trying to throw their babies in the trash,' they harm women like this.


For Amanda Zurawski, it wasn't a choice between getting to hold her dead infant or not. She was dying of sepsis, which is what happens when women who genuinely need abortions don't get one. Her body was being ravaged by infection because the state of Texas had legislated that her life didn't matter and wasn't worth saving as long as her non-viable baby still had a heartbeat.

Pro-life folks almost killed her. She's lucky to be alive today. She's suing the state of Texas and I pray to God she wins. Because here's the thing: you can be a religious person and see that regardless of how you feel about abortion, THIS? This isn't any better.

This isn't the holy and humane treatment your pastors, priests, and prophets told you would happen by making abortion illegal. Supporting forced pregnancy doesn't save lives. It just switches out who is going to die. They reassure you that it's justified, that it's better this way, that these women deserve it because only "horrible" women would "throw away" their babies like that.

But who gave them the authority to decide that a woman they don't know is worthy of death? Who appointed them to decide that a failed pregnancy should be a death sentence to every woman who has one, just in case?

A kind, loving, merciful God who is no respecter of persons, who cannot show favor to one life over another without ceasing to God, does not do that. Those who represent him shouldn't be okay with standing in for him to make those decisions either.

Which then leaves me with the real question: if not God, then who? From whom does this suffering, this indifference, this death by tyranny come?

Making abortion illegal and punishing doctors doesn't save lives. Abortion bans fail to save the pregnancies that were going to fail anyway and makes women like Amanda less capable of surviving them. Abortion bans don't save babies. They kill women.

That is the objective truth.

And no matter how much you don't like it, no matter how much you try to spin it any other way to suit the narrative your church has given to you, it doesn't stop being true.

A Prayer of Deliverance for Queer Church Members


After reports of bullying on BYU's campus towards Sarah Coyne, a professor who mentioned her transgender child in class, let's not have any confusion about what thay bullying represents and where it comes from.

You cannot teach the pure love of Christ for the LGBTQ+ community at the same time you exclude them from church fellowship.

You cannot talk out of both sides of your mouth and expect anything but cruelty, bullying, and ugliness to follow.

You do not reap grapes of thorns or figs from thistles.

Those who sow in hatred reap in violence.

A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit. Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire. Matthew 7:18-19

LGBTQ+ exclusion is an evil fruit from the corrupt tree of exclusionary church policies. Those policies are good for nothing but to be hewn down and cast into the fire.

We have been divided against our own at the behest of evangelical Christianity for long enough. Anyone who insists we do this to our own is no friends to us.

We are the house that cannot stand when it is divided.

How many more of our people, our brothers and sisters, our fathers and mothers, our friends and neighbors, our family members in Christ have to suffer and die before we see the error of our ways?

How many more will it take for the error to become apparent?

I plead that deliverance comes quickly.

Lord, thy people perish. 

Give us the courage and strength to run the hatred of strangers from our midst.

Let words of unkindness and violence turn to ash in the mouths of those who speak them. 

May all the inner vessels of those who have steeped malice be scoured clean. 

May those who have made the cups of others bitter be forced to drink to the dregs themselves.

Bring all conspiracies, all tyranny, all oppression into the light where all may see plainly.

Let those who deal in secret have their names be known and spoken in truth from the rooftops in the light of day.

Let there be no peace in Zion until all may rest therein.

That is my prayer today and always. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

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