[The title of this lesson in the manual is “Beware the Bitter Fruits of Apostasy”. Our efforts here were to cast a more hopeful light on the subject.]
By Jana and G.
I have a joke to use as an attention-grabbing opener. It might seem sort of silly at first, but it’s certainly relevant to the lesson content and will get the sisters engaged…
I heard this joke this morning about a man in a theater taking up three seats…
A man was sprawled across three entire seats in a theater. When the usher came by and noticed this, he whispered to the man, “Sorry sir, but you’re only allowed one seat.”
The man groaned but didn’t budge. The usher became impatient.
“Sir,” the usher said, “if you don’t get up from there, I’m going to have to call the manager.”
Again, the man just groaned, which infuriated the usher who turned and marched briskly back up the aisle in search of his manager. In a few moments, both the usher and the manager returned and stood over the man. Together the two of them tried repeatedly to move him, but with no success. Finally, they summoned the police. The cop surveyed the situation briefly.
“All right, buddy. What’s your name?”
“Sam,” the man moaned.
“Where ya from, Sam?” the cop asked.
[insert dramatic pause]
Explain: This joke is certainly silly, but it has a deeper meaning. We can never really understand someone’s behavior unless we take the time to know where they’re coming from. We can assume that they are “taking 3 seats” because they don’t know the rules, but maybe it’s because they’ve just fallen from the balcony and they’re unable to do anything else but simply lay there. And it’s our job to listen to their story and to offer the aid that they need in their specific situation.
A lesson about apostasy is a tricky thing. We might be tempted to make many assumptions about apostasy and about those who have fallen into apostasy, but what Christ would have us do is the very hard work of loving and having compassion for those who are struggling with issues of belief. We need to take the time to know if they’ve just come from “the balcony.”
Introduction: Reasons Why People Leave The Church.
From the earliest days of the church, events and circumstances have arisen that cause individuals to lose faith. Some turn their energies to persecuting the church, some find their way back into activity, still others make their peace and move on. In most cases, leaving the church is a painful experience frequently involving feelings of isolation and alienation from a community that had previously been a source of fellowship and spiritual nourishment. Often this loss of faith causes rifts between friends and family.
The early saints faced challenges to their faith that today’s members may have a hard time relating to. Aside from recurring persecution from antagonists outside the church, many members lost all of their capitol in a failed financial venture that church leaders encouraged them to invest in. (1) In addition, the institution of polygamy was difficult to swallow. Joseph Smith’s early experiments in Nauvoo were secretive hidden affairs even less socially acceptable than polygamy under Brigham Young . (2)
The Church today is relatively safe and mainstream. It’s members are not subject to the persecution or social stigmas of yesteryear. However, there are still many issues and circumstances which can bring about a crisis of faith. For some, they are not able to reconcile their own view of a loving god with various church practices or beliefs. Others find themselves jarred when their study of the history and doctrine of the Church bring up uncomfortable issues that are not discussed in their Sunday School classes.
Richard Bushman, in a paper intended for the leadership of the church, discusses what it’s like for a member to lose confidence in what the Church teaches:
“Often church leaders, parents, and friends, do not understand the force of this alternate view. Not knowing how to respond, they react defensively. They are inclined to dismiss all the evidence as anti-Mormon or of the devil. Stop reading these things if they upset you so much, the inquirer is told. Or go back to the familiar formula: scriptures, prayer, church attendance.The troubled person may have been doing all of these things sincerely, perhaps even desperately. He or she feels the world is falling apart. Everything these inquirers put their trust in starts to crumble. They want guidance more than ever in their lives, but they don’t seem to get it.”
Bushman goes on to share the advice of a close friend:
“…It is necessary that the church not only shows more support and openness to these ‘apostates’ but also teaches and advises all members, bishops, stake presidents etc., who usually don’t know how to deal with such a situation in terms of organizational and ecclesiastical questions and – out of insecurity – fail to treat the critical member with the necessary love and respect that even a normal stranger would receive. “
-what were some of the spiritual trials of faith the early saints faced? How are they different/similar from ones faced by saints today?
-what events and circumstances can cause a crisis of faith?
-Have you ever experienced a crisis of faith, and if so, what helped you get through it (CAUTION this is a very sensitive question, ask only as guided by the spirit.)
-Discuss ways of encouraging, showing love to, reaching out towards individuals who may feel alienated from the church.
(Bushman’s paper gives helpful information on this. As does John P. Delhin’s extensive essay “How to Stay…” Particularly the sections Reasons to Stay and Seeking to Understand.)
Supporting our Sisters and our Leaders
A significant theme in this lesson is that we should support and sustain our leaders. I’m sure that each of you can think of a time that you were in a Presidency or a leadership calling and you were criticized or not supported by ward members. I know I have, and I can remember feeling so discouraged and so overwhelmed with the tasks of my calling. As the lesson says, we need to cease criticizing each other, we need to support and sustain each other in our callings.
Assign a sister to read the following quote from the lesson (perhaps you can split it up between 2 or 3 people because it’s a bit long. Or, just read the first paragraph if time is short):
In 1840, a small, organized body of Church members continued to live in Kirtland, Ohio, although most of the Saints had gathered to Nauvoo, Illinois. In response to news that a Church member in Kirtland was trying to destroy the Saints’ confidence in the First Presidency and other authorities of the Church, the Prophet wrote to a Church leader in Kirtland: “In order to conduct the affairs of the Kingdom in righteousness, it is all important that the most perfect harmony, kind feeling, good understanding, and confidence should exist in the hearts of all the brethren; and that true charity, love one towards another, should characterize all their proceedings. If there are any uncharitable feelings, any lack of confidence, then pride, arrogance and envy will soon be manifested; confusion must inevitably prevail, and the authorities of the Church set at naught. …
“If the Saints in Kirtland deem me unworthy of their prayers when they assemble together, and neglect to bear me up at the throne of heavenly grace, it is a strong and convincing proof to me that they have not the Spirit of God. If the revelations we have received are true, who is to lead the people? If the keys of the Kingdom have been committed to my hands, who shall open out the mysteries thereof?
“As long as my brethren stand by me and encourage me, I can combat the prejudices of the world, and can bear the contumely [harsh treatment] and abuse with joy; but when my brethren stand aloof, when they begin to faint, and endeavor to retard my progress and enterprise, then I feel to mourn, but am no less determined to prosecute my task, being confident that although my earthly friends may fail, and even turn against me, yet my heavenly Father will bear me off triumphant.
“However, I hope that even in Kirtland there are some who do not make a man an offender for a word [see Isaiah 29:21], but are disposed to stand forth in defense of righteousness and truth, and attend to every duty enjoined upon them; and who will have wisdom to direct them against any movement or influence calculated to bring confusion and discord into the camp of Israel, and to discern between the spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
“It would be gratifying to my mind to see the Saints in Kirtland flourish, but think the time is not yet come; and I assure you it never will until a different order of things be established and a different spirit manifested. When confidence is restored, when pride shall fall, and every aspiring mind be clothed with humility as with a garment, and selfishness give place to benevolence and charity, and a united determination to live by every word which proceedeth out of the mouth of the Lord is observable, then, and not till then, can peace, order and love prevail.
“It is in consequence of aspiring men that Kirtland has been forsaken. How frequently has your humble servant been envied in his office by such characters, who endeavored to raise themselves to power at his expense, and seeing it impossible to do so, resorted to foul slander and abuse, and other means to effect his overthrow. Such characters have ever been the first to cry out against the Presidency, and publish their faults and foibles to the four winds of heaven”
Let me repeat and emphasize one section of this quotation, that Joseph told the Saints in Kirtland that they should have: “the most perfect harmony, kind feeling, good understanding, and confidence should exist in the hearts of all the brethren; and that true charity, love one towards another, should characterize all their proceedings. If there are any uncharitable feelings, any lack of confidence, then pride, arrogance and envy will soon be manifested; confusion must inevitably prevail.”
Question: We know from this quotation that when we criticize our leaders it leads us astray. Can anyone share ideas on how we can better support and sustain our leaders (hint: think of how you would have appreciated support in your leadership callings)?
In addition to thinking about how we can better support our leaders, this lesson encourages us to think about how we treat those who have fallen into apostasy. In this vein I’d like to share a personal story that you may feel free to share in your lesson, or perhaps think of a similar story from your own life to tell in its stead:
About 10 years ago my husband came to me and expressed doubts about some fundamental church teachings, including some core doctrines like the divinity of Jesus Christ. I was very shocked, because up to that point he’d been the very example of a wholly devoted and believing Mormon. I cried and was so sad when he told me these things. I didn’t know how I could “fix” his testimony and was terribly confused. I started fasting on his behalf regularly, seeking insight for how to help him.
One night I came home rather late from a YW Presidency Meeting. I knew my husband was already asleep so I spent some time on my knees praying downstairs before I went up to join him in our bedroom. My prayer still didn’t offer any solutions to my dilemma about how to help him regain his testimony, but I felt loved and comforted.
As I entered our bedroom and saw my husband lying there sleeping—curled in a fetal position–he looked so sweet and young and childlike. I felt an overwhelming feeling in that moment. It was as if the Father showed me how he saw my husband, as his beloved child. The strong impression came to my mind that it was not my role to change my husband—that he was given his free will to choose his own spiritual path—but my role was to love him, to show him unconditional love like that of his Heavenly Father.
As I let that idea sit with me I realized that those feelings were indeed inspired. Were I to criticize or condemn my husband, it would only build barriers between us. Were I to love him, listen to him and support him, we could continue building a relationship together. It was the turning point in our marriage and I am so grateful for the revelation I had to “see” my husband as someone who was worthy of and needed unconditional love.
I am sure that many of you have people in your family or close friends who have experienced challenges to their testimony. How have you been able to reach out and support them as the lesson counsels us to do, with “perfect harmony, kind feeling, good understanding, and confidence” in them? How have you done this in your callings when you’ve reached out to those who are less-active?
Suggestion: If you feel comfortable doing so, please consider asking a sister who has an interfaith marriage, a non-believing spouse, or who has not-LDS family members to prepare a 3-5 min story about how she’s able to build bridges of understanding with those close to her who aren’t Mormon).
Conclusion; The Balancing act.
The lesson ends with several quotes that encourage members to put their faith in the leaders of the church as a way to avoid apostatsy.
William G. Nelson reported: “I have heard the Prophet speak in public on many occasions. In one meeting I heard him say: ‘I will give you a key that will never rust,—if you will stay with the majority of the Twelve Apostles, and the records of the Church, you will never be led astray.’ The history of the Church has proven this to be true.” (17)
On the other hand, Brigham Young expressed concern that members would blindly follow church leaders:
“I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire for themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful they settle down in a state of blind self security. Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of God to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not.” (3)
Occassionally members may feel tension between these two concepts; following the church leaders vs following personal revelation. This tension requires the individual to work out a balance between them, one that works best for their own life’s path.
Likewise, in dealing with a loved one who has lost faith in and/or left the church there is a balancing act that must be done; working out the best ways to be true to your own beliefs while respecting the experiences of the other.
Discussion: Ask the sisters about balancing these seemingly conflicting aspects of their lives.
End with Testimony.
An inspiring lesson, Jana and G. I wish everyone had RS teachers that could handle the subject this well.
Is there such thing as an apostate that stays LDS? I think that’s what I am.
Wow. Masterful handling of a difficult topic. I love the focus on love and compassion.
This is good. Thank you.
What saddens me at the moment is how often we judge and condemn, or label as fearful or wrong, those who do not see things as we do. Whether we are conventional, eyeing the avant guard with suspicion, or au current, rolling our eyes at the status quo, both camps fail, again and again, to see others with love, to treat their life views with respect, to respond with humility and to fully trust God’s ability to make all things work together without our meddling and fussing.
I truly believe that your insight about seeing another as God sees them is spot on. And I also am coming to believe that being able to truly see and feel God’s amazing love for us on a regular basis is what frees us to be able to do that and to respond to them as we should.
May we all do that more.
Thank you, thank you to all the contributors for the wonderful inciteful thoughts on the RS lessons each month. I can never fully prepare my lesson till I’ve read this blog. I always get something I can use in my lesson! This lesson – tuff topic – beautiful way to deliver it!
i’m so glad i found this. i have to teach this lesson on sunday, and felt really pensive about the sensitivity of the subject. thanks for the stories and insight!
I prefer a more narrow focus. There rarely is enough time to present this many aspects of the topic. The lesson topic is not Apostasy in general as it is what Joseph Smith taught about Apostasy whether in word or by example. I feel impressed to limit the lesson focus to only what he taught about it. There will always be other meetings to discuss the subject further and bring in all sorts of resources. I think its important to remember that this year’s course of study is about the teachings of Joseph Smith.
Lori…loved your comments! I am the RS secty and asked to sub this lesson. After I read it, I felt like it was in a different language (1830’s) so this has really helped me visualize me teaching this important message. However I do think one of the main points should be geared to the topic of keeping an eye on ourselves more than anyone. And my Pres always wants Christ mentioned in every lesson, talk or what have you…I appreciate that about her.
[…] 2009 Relief Society lesson on apostasy […]