I wrote this essay a month ago while our family was vacationing on the Oregon coast. I’ve left it in its original form despite the recent events regarding the pending disciplinary actions of my two friends, John Dehlin and Kate Kelly. I’m not sure if this post still has relevance now or not.
A LETTER TO AN APOSTATE
by Michael Barker
I came to a hard realization last night after a phone call. Those closest to me that struggle with the LDS Church and are in a serious faith crisis… well, I’m completely impotent in helping them. Nothing I’ve offered has allowed them to reconstruct their faith in a way that is meaningful to them and will allow them to still engage in the LDS Church institution. Nothing. They all leave.
My wife tried to console me as I held my head in my hands, sitting on the closed toilet lid. I shook my head:
“None of the tools I try to offer have done any good.”
“But Mike,” she replied, “Think of all the positive responses you have gotten from people that have read your essays. Think of all the times someone has said, ‘Thanks, I needed to hear that today.‘.
“That may be true, but the ones closest to me – my friends, my family – they all leave. They all leave.”
“Well, if your goal is for them to stay, then yes. But they have their agency. You have advocated loving them; loving those that leave.”
“They all leave.”
“Do you think I will leave?”
This conversation has caused some introspection on my part. Why do I even care if someone stays or leaves? Here are some possibilities:
- I am concerned for their souls.
- I just want to be right.
- We are friends and a big part of that friendship is/was the Church.
Let’s look at number one: I am concerned for their souls. Honestly, this isn’t something I think about, even for myself. For me, the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and the Gospel of Jesus Christ is more about the here and now. It’s about alleviating the suffering for people now. It’s about loving people now. The eschatology of the LDS message is of secondary importance to me. So, number one on the list, isn’t true for me.
Number two has some truth to it. I am, by nature, a very rigid thinker. I am a black and white thinker. It is difficult for me to see the other colors, but when I do, the world is more beautiful. The color spectrum of my life and the lives around me are much more brilliant than the two extremes of the color spectrum; black -which absorbs all color and so is colorless to our eyes; and white which reflects all color and so is colorless to our eyes.
I like to be right. I have an ego. Hell, one cannot be a blogger and not have an ego. Let’s be honest here. An important lesson I have learned, have advocated, and usually forget, is it is more important to be kind than to be right. When trying to decide between mercy and judgement, choose mercy. My friends that have left, I love them. Really, I love them. I am truly happy that they are happy. One can be happy without the LDS Church. Many are happier once they leave the Church. This leads me to number three: We are friends and a big part of that friendship is/was the Church.
This is probably from where my pain comes. If I am honest and look at those friends of mine who have left the Church, and that aren’t family members, the only reason we became friends was because of our LDS ward. None of them share my same interests. Okay, I really have only one interest, mountain biking. I’m a mountain bike junky. So, take their membership away, and what are we left with? We are left with our friendship with no strings attached. But this is where the difficulty lies.
I have seen on internet forums the pain of those who have left the Church because all of their LDS “friends” abandoned them when the decision was reached that the Church “wasn’t what it claimed to be.” It hurts me that they were abandoned. Because of this, I realized something. If I want to remain friends with those that have left, this is going to take a lot of work. If I’m not seeing them at Church every Sunday, we are going to have to put some extra effort into our friendship. So I make phone calls; I send emails; I send text messages:
“Hey, do you all want to go out to eat this Friday?”
“Hey, do you all want to meet up for lunch?”
Usually our schedules don’t quite sync, but that’s okay – maybe next time. I want to be their friend. I don’t care if they drink. I don’t care. I want to be with them. But, it takes so much work. To be honest, I wish they would call me to invite me to do something; it hurts that they don’t. I’ll keep trying because they are my friends.
So, my advice to those that have left? Be kind. I know we that still attend Church can be outright a-holes to you. I condemn that behavior. Let’s be honest though, you too sometimes come in and poop all over everyone’s wonderful picnic. You can also be an outright a-hole.
Find happiness. The sooner you can leave Mormonism alone, the sooner you will be happy. It’s hard though. I get it. It’s in your blood. It’s in your DNA. You can’t just shake it.
Find and maintain some type of spiritual practice. This one might be off-putting, but allow me to explain. If you think about it, Buddhism is really an atheistic religion. I’m not saying this to bolster some type of apologetic claim for Christianity. Just think about it though. They do not worship a god, yet many maintain the spiritual practice of meditation. So, you as a non-believer, find some practice that feeds your spirit, your mind, your consciences, your whatever the hell you want to call it. Find something and do it.
I had dinner the other night over at a member’s house. Including me, there were five of us. One of them had been given the church speaking topic of “Doubt”. My ears perked. I said, “I have some great quotes that might be helpful if you want.”
“Ya, we are seeing a real paradigm shift in the Church right now, with regards to faith and doubt.”
At that moment, I realized my ward still sees me as being on the fringe. I am to be tolerated.
I think this is from where my pain comes:
I am not fully embraced and accepted by my ward nor my more traditional-believing Mormon friends.
My friends that have left the LDS faith (and in many instances with whom I feel the most comfortable) at times, seemed to have forgotten about me.
And my heart aches. It aches for that lost companionship. Companionship that was lost when I first opened up my mouth to offer a dissenting opinion in Church. Companionship that was lost when my friends and family left the Church.
In the words of the Preacher:
“…vanity of vanities; all is vanity.” (Ecclesiastes 1:1)