In spite of having long spoken in defense of the Church against the criticisms of the “antis,” including some outspoken former members, I’d like to confess that there is room for increased respect and tolerance among LDS ranks for those who have left us and even rail against us. And I personally wish to improve and be less hasty in judging intents and criticizing positions of those who have left.
Remember the story in the Book of Mormon about the Nephite group who leaves Zarahemla to go back and live in the original land of Nephi? They spied on a Lamanite group living in the area, and the Nephite leaders prepared to attack. But some of the Nephites saw that those Lamanites were decent people and argued that it was wrong to launch an offensive war against them. Bloodshed erupted among the Nephite group and a handful of survivors returned to Zarahemla, their expedition having been a tragic failure.
I offer a weak parallel to this story in pointing out that many ex-Mormons, even some who show a lot of bitterness toward the Church, may be much more honorable people that we have realized, and may have entirely logical reasons from their perspective for leaving. In fact, it is not hard to find reasons to reject Joseph Smith or Brigham Young or any past or modern prophet, or to find doctrines and practices that one can strongly object to.
Many who leave do not do so because the moral standards were too high or because someone snubbed them at Church or because tithing was too painful or they just got sick of home teaching or were victims of gossip or had a serious moral sin that they wouldn’t quit. It is understandable, in fact, that people would get upset over polygamy or several other things in LDS history or even in the Bible that would lead them to reject the Church or organized religion in general. There are certainly powerful arguments to be made and often no simple answers.
I am sad that they left. I think there are rich spiritual dimensions to the LDS experience that they will miss, or perhaps were already missing during their time of membership in the Church. I had one person tell me, after twenty years of membership in the Church, that he had never experienced a real answer to prayer. That pains me. I wish their experience could have been more like mine. No, I can’t explain polygamy, either in Joseph’s day or Old Testament times. It makes no sense to me and aspects of it offend me, even if some of the marriages were “dynastic” marriages that did not involve living together as man and wife. All sorts of things offend me, from the Old Testament right up to 2006. But I cannot deny what I have experienced, and indeed, what I know. There is a power and a reality to core parts of the Gospel. The Atonement of Jesus Christ is real. The Book of Mormon is real and divine. The Temple is divine. Prayer “works.” The gift of the Holy Ghost is real. The blessings and miracles associated with Church service are real.
Something is going on here that cannot be explained by any hypothesis that begins with Joseph as a charlatan who fabricated the Book of Mormon. That doesn’t mean we have to agree with everything the Church has done, but there is at least something going on that needs to be considered.
But there are other ways of looking at the external evidences, and plenty of ways to miss the evidences of the divine. Those who leave because of their interpretation of history or evaluation of the evidence may be entirely sincere and rational. In fact, that may apply to the vast majority.
Those who choose to leave may still be our friends and neighbors. They may still be reasonable, kind, loving people with differences that we can accept. I hope we can have some degree of mutual respect and less nastiness.
Given the fallibility of man, it is almost certain that some things that any person accepts as truth will be wrong. In the end, the most important thing has got to be the gift that is the greatest of all, charity. May we have it in abundance, even toward our enemies, even toward those who choose to revile us and accuse us of all manner of stupidity. I need it more, and apologize when I have been too rash or harsh or quick to judge those who have offered criticisms here.
May we feel charity even for those who shout at us and wave garments in our face. But may we also see past our religious differences and realize that some of those who leave our Church do not stand shoulder to shoulder with those who taunt and defame us. Some feel we have been duped and defrauded, but mean us no harm and respect the good that they can see in us. We need not assume the worst in them, and instead should see the best that we can.
When I was a teenager, a friend of mine converted to the Church, and I was very happy for him. Then he ran into anti-Mormon literature and was swayed and began to speak against the Church and had his name removed. Understandably, my bishop encouraged several of us to be careful and to avoid religious discussion with him. I was uncomfortable with him and we grew apart. But now, many years later, we’ve teamed up again, though we are states apart. He’s an amazing person, vastly interesting, and though we differ in many topics, I am pleased to count him as a friend. He is no longer an “anti” but quietly tolerates my religious beliefs (with a few good-natured jokes, of course), though he thinks it’s all a lie and believes there is no God. I realize that he is every bit as important to God as I or any member of the Church, and perhaps more so, given what he has endured and overcome.
In appreciating him and his friendship, it is so clear that there is much more to life than simply whether one is or is not a member of any particular religion. Yes, the Church of Jesus Christ is divine and is a marvelous tool meant to bless the children of this planet, but there is much outside our tiny Church that we have yet to appreciate. This life is a journey, and there are treasures to be uncovered for all and in all who seek the Good, even when they – or we – have gotten some things wrong along the way.
May we be civil one to another, even as we debate our religious views and contend for the cause of truth as we see it.