In the past 11 years, I’ve given thousands of hours to this church. I’ve attended meetings, I’ve prayed for inspiration, I’ve taught countless lessons, born my testimony, and paid tens of thousands of dollars in tithing to the betterment of the church. My husband and I held many callings, and there were times when we held multiple callings simultaneously because other members wouldn’t accept callings and things needed to get done. Our kids were dressed and ready for church early on Sunday mornings, and because my husband played the organ, we learned to be 20 minutes early to church, even when our ward met at 9am.
I’ve done my duty as a “good Mormon woman” should. I spoke out in big and small ways when things didn’t feel right. I held leadership callings, teacher callings, music callings, and ward missionary callings. I attended the temple, prayed for church leaders, and twice a year I prepared myself for general conference to receive light and knowledge from the heavens. I made food, delivered it, set up for activities, visited women and families, and completed food orders. I not only held family home evening religiously, we also instituted a daily morning devotional with our kids. We had church art in our home. I received many priesthood blessings from my worthy priesthood-holding husband.
Then I started having serious doubts about God’s love for me as a woman. Multiple scriptures and church history made me question my worth in God’s eyes. I felt a major disconnect between what men and women experience being members of this church. I talked to my considerate Bishop and he was compassionate and loving. He assured me that God did love me and that I would receive answers about Heavenly Mother. That assurance came true.
After that I was called into the Stake President’s office and although I was told I was loved, I was also told that women need to cover their bodies to help men. The Stake President told me he zoned out in our Relief Society meeting and didn’t hear some sexist comments that were made, that our Stake Relief Society President then added to, and I informed him that the comments deeply hurt some sisters who had been sexually abused. So I spoke up in the meeting in defense of women and men.
The meeting with my Stake President was to check on me after a couple of women who were in attendance during that Relief Society lesson and myself met with our Stake Relief Society President. She told us she didn’t hear things the way we did and finally after almost an hour conceded that what we heard had actually been said. The Stake President wanted me to know he cared, but basically he didn’t agree with me about what women are feeling. I had also written a letter that I never ended up sending to some leaders in the church about my feelings as a woman in the church and asking specific questions that I had been struggling with. He said he supported my decision to send the letter even though he did not fully understand my problems and agreed that answers needed to come from above him.
I had my husband attend this meeting with me because I didn’t know if I could do it alone. At the end my husband lovingly counseled the Stake President by telling him that church leaders need to listen more to the women of the church because they are hurting. I let him know that if women weren’t coming to him it wasn’t because they weren’t having problems, it was because they didn’t trust him and were afraid they would receive the response I had received. I knew this because women were trusting me with their hard feelings regarding church.
We got a new Bishop and my spiritual life needed a break from church. I felt assured God wanted me to feel love, and at this point I was feeling so hurt at church that I needed a breather. I needed to heal my relationship with God. I asked my new Bishop to release me from my calling. I told him I just needed a break. He called me in for a conversation, telling my husband (his secretary) he was concerned I was “disconnecting” from church. I told him he didn’t need to worry, but that I just needed a break and I didn’t need to “worry.”
In truth what I needed was love, compassion, understanding, and patience. Instead, I was met with his lengthy testimony, his descriptions of “things I would not believe” that had strengthened his testimony, and his defiant stance that I was not doing God’s will, that God wouldn’t tell me to take a break. The audacity of this Bishop to tell a person (a woman) that she doesn’t understand what God is telling her is outrageous.
I left that meeting (very loudly) telling him that I wouldn’t be coming to church the following week, not because of that particular meeting, but because I didn’t feel like I was trusted as a woman in this church. Five weeks following that, he let me know he had revoked my temple recommend because he didn’t think that if he asked me the questions right now that I’d be able to answer all of them in the affirmative. I want to clarify that he didn’t ask me the temple recommend questions; he just assumed the answers. My recommend would not have expired for another year. It turned out that the Stake President had a meeting with him to discuss me, and he told the Bishop to revoke my recommend and not tell me about it. One point goes to my Bishop for actually letting me know so that I wouldn’t be embarrassed showing up to the temple in a couple of months for a family wedding.
A week after that they moved the records of one of my ministering sisters to a different ward boundary and then removed the other one from my list. They did not think I could give her the spiritual support that she might need (even though both she and I had stated that we were happy with our arrangement). I had just given emotional and physical support to their family in the previous month. As I mentioned above, I have always done my visiting teaching, nearly impeccably. I don’t just mean that I went visiting teaching. I mean that I became friends with my sisters, and if I could tell that over time we were not the right fit, I let the Relief Society President know so that she could provide a better fit. In contrast, during all the years I have been a member of the church, the amount of times I have actually been visited, let alone given the support I needed through visiting teachers has been meager. Instead of talking to me or assigning a more active woman to my route to serve with me, they decided to sever that connection to the ward and to let me know after the fact.
Now I really have no plans to go back to church. I don’t feel welcome. I don’t feel loved. I feel ostracized. I feel even more spiritually and emotionally hurt. Ironically, this witnesses to me even more that my break for healing was very much needed. My answer was, in fact, right for me.
Given my experience over the past year, here’s a list of 10 “don’t’s” and 10 “do’s” when trying to fellowship a Latter-day Saint who is struggling with church:
1. Don’t believe your testimony is the thing that will make someone stay at church. Don’t bear your testimony. Even though you may be feeling something strongly, they may not be, and it isn’t compassionate and won’t necessarily help them feel loved.
2. Don’t question answers someone else receives from God. We believe in personal revelation, not impersonal revelation. We don’t all receive the same guidance because we are unique children of God.
3. Don’t constantly ask the spouse of a person who isn’t attending how the person is doing. Communicate directly with the person. Send a text. Call them.
4. This one is specifically for men: just because a woman shows her emotions, this does not mean she isn’t inspired. If her emotions make you uncomfortable, it isn’t the “Spirit” withdrawing, it is your ego being uncomfortable. Work through that on your own; don’t take it out on her.
5. If you make someone upset, apologize. Show love. Offer forgiveness.
6. Don’t take away a temple recommend or ministering route from a person who is having a hard time. You don’t know when their hard moment will pass, and this is very damaging.
7. Don’t avoid talking to them them if they attend church once in a while, or if they start attending again. In other words, try your best to make them feel comfortable in what is likely a very awkward situation for them.
8. “Tough love” is OUT. We don’t accept that anymore, because it’s actually not love. It’s disrespect.
9. Don’t judge. (Because seriously, you may end up there one day and you’ll want the good karma flowing your way.)
10. Don’t say you love them if you don’t actually feel it. We all know what it’s like to hear those words and not feel them.
Instead, here’s a list of 10 things that may help someone in a faith crisis:
1. Offer love.
2. Drop off treats. Leave them at the door. A little note is nice too.
3. If you do meet with the person, think of a part of your life that you can connect with them on. Not as a way of pacifying or trying to change the subject because you’re uncomfortable, but because you can genuinely, in some way, understand.
4. If you can’t understand, don’t judge. Just listen and love.
5. Offer to give a hug.
6. Ask the spouse (if they have one) how they are doing. Don’t assume that the spouse who is still attending is doing well or is admirable. You don’t know how they’re feeling or where their testimony is.
7. Compliment them.
8. Tell them you love them.
9. Thank them for their contributions to your life, your family’s life, and to the ward.
10. Let them know you still want them in your life because of the love you genuinely feel for them.
If you want people to stay in the church, you have to offer them respect, compassion, and love. Jesus does. God (She/He) does. Grace does.
Louise is a happy woman. She chooses to spend her time with her husband, children, with God, and learning.
[Photo by Nick Fewing]
Louise, I’m so sorry that you have been treated so terribly. I don’t know when obedience became more important than compassion, but it’s not Christ-like.
In my experience, this response by leaders is so gendered. When men pull away from the church, ward leaders often reach out to them and try to include them, even turning a blind eye to worthiness issues. When a woman so much points out a problem at church in a mildly assertive way, the response is too often to isolate her and call her whole character into question. I’ve even seen this happen to some incredibly devoted and long-suffering Mormon women (like a primary president who dared complain to the bishopric after they released all of the nursery teachers and failed to replace them after more than a month). I wonder if it comes from the idea that women are naturally spiritually superior to men; ergo, a woman who politely but firmly requests to be released from a calling might be further gone and more dangerous to those around her than, say, a man who uses illegal drugs and physically threatens his wife. Whatever the thought process, it’s unfair and hurtful, and it shouldn’t be hard to do better.
I’ve seen similar things happen, but I suspect it’s actually driven by the fact that the church, on a functional, institutional level, doesn’t need women like it needs men. There are very few leadership callings that only women can hold but oh so many that can only be filled by men. And even those callings that require women aren’t technically necessary for a ward to exist. A congregation can be 100% male and still be classified as a ward. So a proactive woman gets treated like a guest who’s outworn her welcome, while a man who’s cheating on his wife gets to stay in the bishopric indefinitely because he’s the wayward brother that the whole family is sure will fix his ways any moment now.
That makes sense (sigh). Still, it seems unnecessary to actively push women away.
I think it depends on the ward. I was a fully active member, acting as the secretary in the High Priest Group and teaching the lesson in Priesthood meeting once a month when my own questioning led to the break in my metaphorical shelf. I walked away and not a single person from my ward ever spoke to me again. That was 12 years ago. The bishop advised my wife to divorce me…which she did.
I was very determined that I wasn’t going to be the “angry apostate” but eventually as the divorce played out, and my wife slandered me to ward members in front of my children, and as I discovered the myriad of historical issues which had been whitewashed by the church, I fully realized I’d been duped into donating literally hundreds of thousands of dollars to a fraud, I became very angry. It took me quite a while to work through it.
Shown a little kindness, I think that outcomes could have been very different.
A lot has changed since then. I’m happily remarried and at peace with where I am in life. I have a few LDS friends that I am close with, and some of my children still hold to the church.
Sadly, I will never trust any LDS person with any level of detail of my life because it is simply too easy for them to climb on their 10 foot tall “high horse” and start dumping judgment and condemnation all over me.
It amuses me when members claim that they don’t judge others. The truth is, they are unable to see their judgment and condemnation because in their view they are “right” therefore it isn’t judgment. But when you see yourself as having the “truth” by definition all others without your truth are “wrong.” Such judgment is inescapable and inseparable from the worldview.
Just maddening. It breaks me a little every time I learn of someone who’s been treated as less than.
Your experience mirrors mine in many ways over the last two years of my life. I don’t want it to be true, but it breaks my heart to see that my ward and stake don’t really miss me…they miss my ability to fulfill callings and bring meals and help others. I am so sad at the stories that have been told to explain my absence.