Sunday, December 02, 2007

How not to win friends and bring people into your church...

I’m puzzled.

Do the Mormons really think that the best way to get my mother and I back into the church is by telling us that we are wrong and that we need to repent?

It isn’t even just repentance that we need, according to an article that the visiting teachers* mailed to us (we asked them not to bother us in person, but said that they could mail stuff to us…I’m rethinking that decision at this point). We need, apparently, to change everything we do, think and say. Because we just aren’t good enough for God the way we are.

Great. Re-activate people by insulting them. That’ll work.


Don’t believe that they take this approach? Let me quote from the article, which was written by Russell M. Nelson, one of the church’s general authorities. I’d love to tell you what church publication it appeared in, but the quality of the Xerox copy is such that I can only make out a dim “May 2007” on the bottom of one of the pages. You can probably find it (it is titled “Repentance and Conversion”) if you search the church publications at the LDS church’s official website.

Among other things, Nelson writes:

“Yes, the Lord has commanded us to repent, to change our ways, to come unto Him, and be more like him. This requires a total change.” (Emphasis mine.)

There is a footnote attributing part of this statement, but the woman who sent this to us didn’t bother to copy the page that held that footnote. I guess we’re just supposed to take her, and the writer’s, word for it, get with the program, and be…somebody else.

Honestly, this was one of the (many) problems I had with the church. No one wanted me to be myself. Everybody wanted me to be someone else, namely like every other Mormon woman was expected to be: only interested in getting married and keeping house and in having children and knowing my place. I tried for years to be that person, by the way, but I finally realized that it was a losing battle and that there isn’t anything wrong with me the way I am. I should have known that I would never fit in, because there were a couple of problems there.

Problem number one: My only domestic quality, as a key chain I used to carry said, is that I live in a house. Well, this is not completely true as I can cook if need be; I can knit, crochet and do counted cross stitch; and I do keep the place reasonably clean. But cooking and cleaning are things I do because I have to, not because I love them and not because I think they are part of my "role" as a woman.

Problem number two: I’ve never been good at “knowing my place”, of sitting down, shutting up and behaving myself. Of going along to get along.

I’ve no doubt they’ll keep trying. Every month, we get a little note in the mail saying how much the miss us and love us. Which is kind of funny, since we’ve never attended that ward** and they don’t know us at all. Well, the visiting teachers came to the door once not long after we moved here, but that certainly doesn’t constitute a “knowing” extensive enough to either miss us or love us.

All of this offends me, this being told by people who don’t even know me that I must change or God won’t love me.

I know, I know. All of this will only feed into the stereotype supported by the church that people only leave because they’ve “been offended” or because they’re “too lazy” to live church standards. Or because they "want to sin".

Well, no. I did not leave because I was offended. If all it would have taken for me to leave was to be offended I would have been well and truly out years and years earlier than I was. And honestly, I’m not too lazy to live church standards. I just don’t believe that many of the “church standards” have anything to do with actually being a good person. For example, I fail to see how drinking coffee…or having more than one ear piercing in each ear…or men having facial hair…would make someone not a good person. Oh, and for the record, I don’t drink coffee and I don’t have pierced ears at all any more. Not being of the male persuasion, I don’t think the facial hair thing applies. And as for sinning: A) I know plenty of people who do plenty of sinning without leaving the church and, B) I don't do any more sinning now, out of the church, than I ever did in it.

They should probably just save their postage. The reactivation thing won’t work. I figured out some time ago that I just was not cut out to be a nice little Mormon girl.

*For the uninitiated, the church assigns women, usually in pairs, to go out and visit a certain number of women every month, ostensibly to make sure that they are doing all right and to see if they need anything. The problem with that theory is that it always seemed, when we had visiting teachers come to visit this, they were mostly busy looking at the house to see if we kept it clean enough and if there was any evidence that we had been doing anything we shouldn’t have been doing.

**That’s like a Catholic parish or a Protestant congregation.


JohnR said...

Thank you for this insight into my own experience (though I'm sorry it was gained through your frustration):

Honestly, this was one of the (many) problems I had with the church. No one wanted me to be myself. Everybody wanted me to be someone else...

And ditto on the narrowness of that acceptable 'someone else.'

One of the things I appreciate the most about having left the Church is the freedom to be me.

And, FWIW, I'm glad that you are who you've chosen to be.

Kris said...

Ask them to leave you alone. If you don't want anything to do with the church then don't allow them to send you anything at all in addition to non contact. Why do you care what any LDS person writes if you don't believe it anymore anyways? For the average person, non-contact works quite well (but perhaps not so much in crazy ass UTAH)

I am an active member myself as you know(converted when I was 18) and I can see how you would be frustrated. Similarly, I would be frustrated and annoyed if my best friend who has left the church constantly harrassed me about leaving the church too because of this and that and the other thing. But she doesn't because we have a mutual respect for each other and each other's decisions.

My point? Too bad people can't just get along eh? If only people could have a mutual respect for other people I suppose this place we call earth would be so much more pleasant.

lma said...

Thank you for your kind words of support, John. I've just never understood why so many Mormons are so uncomfortable with individuality. At least the ones in the ward I lived in for so long seemed to have been, because they spent an inordinate amount of time trying to cajole, convince, and sometimes even bully me out of mine.

You are right, Kris, that mutual respect is an important principle. My contention is that sending that particular message shows a lack of respect for the decision my mother and I have made to no longer associate with the church. I, on the other hand, would never dream of sending them something to the effect that God won't like them if they continue to attend their meetings.

Now, I claim the right to write and post more general pieces explaining why I choose not to continue to associate with the church, but I would never press that opinion on a particular individual by mailing something to their house or calling them on the phone or otherwise targeting them personally. If they ask me my opinions about the church, I am willing to discuss that with them, but I will not bring up the subject, as I feel that someone's individual choices of religious practice are between them and whatever deity or deities they believe in.

I would just be happy if more Mormons took the tack you do on the issue, Kris. Sadly, I have personally not known very many who share your outlook. This is not to say that they do not exist, just that I haven't encountered them very often.

I think you are probably correct, Kris. I really need to just ask them not to send us anything else. It isn't like my mother was ever really active in the church, and I haven't been for a long time now. When I said it was alright for them to mail us stuff, I was just trying trying to be polite.

The truth is, I don't care what Mormons write for internal consumption. Which is what this article (I suspect that it might have been a conference talk) apparently was. What bothers me is that the visiting teachers took it upon themselves to send that message, to use it scold us for our choice, when it seems abundantly clear that we are not interested in associating with the church...after all, we've lived here for going on three years now and we haven't been to church even once.


C. L. Hanson said...

When the church tells the members that those who leave the church need to repent, I think they're doing that for the sake of the members, not because it's going to actually work in terms of bringing people back.

The LDS church doesn't want its members to look at your example and think about whether you may be happier or may be right. It wants them to immediately dismiss you as a sinner who needs to change.

lma said...

I'm sure that's the case. I know when I run into people from my old ward, they seem taken aback that I'm happy and that I'm successful in my work, as if that should be an impossibility.