Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.
There's a mistaken idea that all those who leave, or are expelled from, the LDS church are weak in faith, deficient in commitment, ignorant of doctrine, unwilling to sacrifice, or in other ways sub-standard church members.
Though this idea is false, it was most recently publicly proclaimed by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland of the Quorum of the Twelve. In response, my sister-in-law, Annette Larsen, wrote the following. I think her perspective is worth sharing.
Dear Elder Holland,
Let me first start by saying that over the years of your membership in the quorum of the twelve, I have taken great insights, great wisdom, and great solace from many of your talks. The times when you have taken a parable, or a passage of scriptures from Christ’s life and expounded upon it, shedding light on the situation and the humanity of those moments, I have found to be deeply profound. So it has been with a heavy heart that I have seen you over the past several years, becoming frustrated, angry and maybe even a little bit hostile with those that may disagree with you or the church.
I saw a link this morning to an amateur recording of a talk that you gave at a Tempe Arizona devotional. The recording was only 15 minutes long and is labeled as ‘part 3′ of the talk. I wasn’t able to find parts 1 and 2 but in the 15 minutes you covered several things, so I believe I understand the context of the remarks that I heard. Like many of your talks, there were moments when you opened the scriptures and pointed out some great truths.
You spoke of Christ asleep on the ship while the storm raged. You pointed out what kind of utter exhaustion the Lord must have been feeling in order to sleep through such a squall. You pointed out that his whole life was filled to the brim with people following after him and asking things of him, and how that must have made him deeply exhausted for much of his life as he gave his all, literally his all.
But there were also moments when you spoke of those who have, or those who are, leaving the church. The reason that I listened to the talk in the first place was because of this quote which was highlighted by the person who posted it:
Don’t you dare bail! I am so furious with people who leave this church! I don’t know whether ‘furious’ is a good apostolic word. But I am. What on earth kind of conviction is that? What kind of patty-cake, taffy-pull experience is that? As if none of this ever mattered, as if nothing in our contemporary life mattered, as if this is all just supposed to be “just exactly the way I want it and answer every one of my questions and pursue this and occupy that and defy this – and then maybe I’ll be a Latter-Day Saint”?! Well, there’s too much Irish in me for that.I was taken aback by your fury. I was taken aback by the way that you turned people like me into the butt of your joke. Each time you railed on those who leave the church, it was amid a chorus of laughter from your audience. You suggested that anyone who was ‘on the boat’ and decided to get off was stupid. In the quote above you seem to be suggesting that anyone who leaves the church is weak, without conviction, and selfish. I wonder if you think that it was a taffy-pull experience for me to step away from the church when I knew the damage it would cause. I wonder if you think it was easy for me to let go of years—a life-time worth—of belief and habit and yes, conviction. Do you think I shrug and say, ‘oh well’ when my mother cries for what I’ve done? Do you think I am unhurt by the friendships and community that I have lost?
To leave behind the only community I’ve ever felt a part of outside of my family was something I agonized over. It was gut wrenching to even consider that what I had believed—every comforting thought about my standing before God due to my membership—might not be right. Or at least that it might not be everything.
You say you are furious. Perhaps then, you might have some empathy for the betrayal and fury that I felt. You may not agree with my decision, but perhaps you can at least understand the emotion. It was no patty-cake, no taffy-pull. It drove a wedge between me and many people I love. Nothing but a belief that I am doing what the Lord would have me do would have incited me to do something so obviously prone to hurt me and those around me.
Perhaps you might consider that the mockery and disdain you show toward those of us leaving the church gives us no incentive to return. I for one still have much love and tender feelings toward the church, but it’s difficult to hold on to those when you so openly speak of your disgust for people like me. Those who join the church against their families' wishes are lauded as heroes because of the faith and conviction it took for them to make that choice. So perhaps you might consider some compassion for those of us who desperately want to please our families but have had to choose to please God instead.
We are each on our own journey back to the Lord. We each have different lessons to learn and different paths to tread. So while my journey may be different than yours, I will still wish you God speed, and I would ask you to allow me to go in peace.
You said leaving the boat would be “the dumbest thing you can do.” Perhaps for some of us, this is the sacrifice that the Lord has asked of us. Perhaps we need that experience, that refiner's fire as we are tossed on the sea, so that we might gain the faith to walk on water.
A closing note:
I realize we all say things sometimes that we regret later. Therefore I hope Elder Holland's off-hand comment doesn't represent his true feelings, nor the view of the LDS church. And if it does, I hope Annette's letter will help both he and the church come to greater understanding of those who love the Lord—not an organization—above all else.
And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.