Recently I’ve been asked to help people understand how to deal with pressure and opposition from their families as they make a break with Mormonism. I posted last week on why LDS families may feel antagonistic when children or siblings leave the fold.
I realize that this is not just an LDS issue, but can affect anyone who disaffiliates from any strongly-held family faith. Yet my experience is in the LDS context. I don’t know to what extent my particular observations can be generalized to other faith settings.
I have observed over the years a few key points where people leaving Mormonism face the most pressure from their families. Of course, not every family responds the same way. But if there is hostility, it often shows up at these moments.
One pressure point is when a person first expresses serious questions or doubts about the LDS Church. Faithful Latter-day Saints are encouraged to ignore certain questions that are not seen as “faith-promoting”, such as changes in LDS doctrine or unsavory incidents in LDS history. A negative response from loyal family members is understandable, since such questions might be seen as the first warning signs of possible apostasy. The family may be concerned not only for the doubter, but for the potential influence that individual may have on other family members.
Another pressure point arises when a person stops participating in church activities. He or she may cease attending sacrament meeting or resign from a calling, or more seriously, stop wearing temple garments. When a previously active member goes “inactive” this can escalate the family’s fears. For some, concern will spill over into anger. A few will chose shame, guilt, or intimidation to steer the erring member back into the fold.
A third pressure point happens when the person leaving Mormonism starts attending another church. If he or she merely remains inactive, the family may harbor hope for a change of heart that might lead to reactivation. But when a person starts attending a different church, that signals a much deeper divide with Mormonism, and thus increases the level of concern.
The fourth major pressure point is when the person transitioning out of Mormonism chooses to be baptized in another church. This can be seen as a full and final repudiation of his or her LDS heritage and identity, thus creating a great deal of angst on the part of parents or siblings. In my experience, former Mormons often hesitate to embrace baptism, or to tell their families about their baptism, because they fear the hostility this act can engender from their families.
This analysis is not meant as an indictment against anyone. My purpose is to support the people who are making difficult faith transitions by identifying with the challenges they may face.
I also realize that the people leaving their family faith behind are often the ones stirring up hostility by their attitude and behavior in the process. So next week I plan to address suggestions for maintaining family relationships while leaving Mormonism.