Beliefs Columns Culture Jana Riess: Flunking Sainthood Opinion

When your child resigns from Mormonism

Mette Harrison

A guest post by Mette Harrison

When my daughter stopped going to the LDS Church, she was 13. It was a long, complicated battle. She’d had a blow-up with one of the other girls her age and said she wanted to go to a different ward with one of her friends. I agreed to this for some months, until I happened to go home in the middle of church one Sunday to get something I’d forgotten, and I discovered her watching television in the front room.

I was angry. I felt like she had lied to me. I tried to think of some punishment to fit the crime, but when I sat down with her and talked about it, she made it clear that she’d only lied because she couldn’t tell me the truth. She didn’t believe in the church anymore. She’d tried to go to her friend’s church for a few weeks, but she just couldn’t. She didn’t believe in God. She was an atheist.

You may think, like I did at the time, that thirteen is too young for anyone to decide anything so life-changing. You may think it was a “phase” she was going through. You may wonder how her choice would ripple through the rest of the family. If she was allowed to stay home from church, what about the younger children? Wouldn’t they all want to stay home, too?

But in the end, that’s not what happened. At least, it wasn’t so simple. I won’t say that my other children have all ended up with firm testimonies of the gospel. They haven’t. But we’ve mostly adjusted.

This daughter was married at the end of last year in a beautiful non-temple ceremony. She wore a strapless princess gown that made her grandfather slightly uncomfortable. She and her fiancé wrote their own vows and it was the first time I’d felt that motherly sense of joy. I’d created this human.

The wedding!

 

Somehow, her gorgeous face and this wedding came from me. I don’t know how because we’re very different (even though I know people tell me all the time that we’re exactly the same). I didn’t feel an ounce of sadness that she’d chosen a wedding outside of the temple. It was perfect, just as it was. And I loved her vows, in which she stated that she didn’t believe in anything like destiny in bringing lovers together, because you had to seek out love and make yourself right for it, and you had to choose the other person. She chose her fiancé and he chose her.

So why was it that when my daughter told me she and her fiancé had chosen to have their names removed from the records of the church that it hurt me? A little at first, and then more and more as I examined what this meant between us. I’ve known for ten years that she was an atheist. I’ve (mostly) given up the idea that she might someday change her mind and come back to the church. I’ve found my peace with her having a different way of seeing the world, knowing that she would make different choices than I’ve made. Some of her choices are better than my choices, and some of her choices (like changing her name to her husband’s) were similar in ways that surprised me. But this choice to formally resign from the Mormon church did not make me feel any measure of happiness or peace.

I’ve spent some time since then trying to figure out what this hurt was that I felt and thought it might be useful to share with a wider audience. The statistics are clear. Many Millennials are leaving Mormonism. Perhaps not at the same numbers as Millennials who grew up in other religious groups, but about half of them will no longer be active in the church as adults. I won’t say there’s nothing we can do to stop this, but I do wonder if the more we try to stop it, the more we just end up ruining our relationships with our children, and I definitely don’t want to do that. So we mourn together and think about what it means.

The biggest part of the hurt I felt was rejection. Not of the church, if that makes any sense, because I knew she’d already rejected the Book of Mormon and the prophets and so on. But of my tribe. I felt that when she resigned she was rejecting my heritage, my background, all the lessons I’d learned as a child. And even if she’d rejected them internally before, this external act was a firm and final pushback.

I also felt a severing. Maybe not the kind of severing we in Mormonism are taught to fear—being denied an ever-after ending—but a severing nonetheless. She was cutting herself off from her past, not just mine. She was saying, “you were wrong to raise me in this church that hurt me.” And yes, that hurt, maybe more than other times when she said I had made a mistake.

It might not have helped that this all happened at the same time that she was getting married, which was another severing, and that she and her fiancé chose to do this at the same time, together, as an act of building their relationship. One thing that has drawn them together is the sense that they feel like “black sheep” of their families, I think. They’re the non-Mormons in families of Mormons, however broadly I am now drawing out that definition in my own faith journey.

But like her marriage, this is her life, not mine anymore. Parenting has always been a lesson for me in how little power I have over these other lives that touch mine. From the moment they emerge from the womb, you cannot tell them when to eat, when to sleep, or when to poop (no matter how much Dr. Spock made me think I could do that with my first child). You can’t make them hold your hand crossing the street. You can’t make them do their homework. You can’t make them like the ice cream or candy you like.

Instead, your children just keep telling you more and more things you can’t tell them to do. They are who they are and they let you know in small and big ways every moment that you have not created a new version of yourself. They don’t exist in order for you to redo your own life and get things right.

Yes, it is a rejection. But it is also a new creation. Her life. Her world. Her terms. And my job is to embrace all of those parts of her, even this one that is difficult.

About the author

Jana Riess

Senior columnist Jana Riess is the author of many books, including "The Prayer Wheel" (Random House/Convergent, 2018) and "The Next Mormons: How Millennials Are Changing the LDS Church" (Oxford University Press, 2019). She has a PhD in American religious history from Columbia University.

36 Comments

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  • It’s nice that Ms. Harrison has not shunned her daughter because of the daughter’s beliefs. I’ve heard many stories of such individuals being shunned by family, friends, and coworkers.

  • Great last paragraph. It’s not a lack of faith that embraces these children, it’s a lack faith that rejects them.

  • Forty years ago when my ex-wife and I took our newly firstborn to meet his maternal grandparents my mother-in-law soon became decidedly “off”. It emerged months later that she had realised that son was fed when he let us know he wanted food (demand feeding) whereas ex had been fed every four hours – woken if asleep and ignored for an hour if bawling after three.

    MiL took the view that her daughter was criticising the way she was brought up by MiL.

    Our view was that we were doing exactly the same as she – in that we were doing what was then considered best practice – it was the practice that had changed not the love.

    At twelve I rejected my parents’ religious views (although I was fifteen before I managed totally to escape the “vicarage pew”) but I never felt that they had mistreated me by immersing me in superstitious belief. They were, I believed, wrong – but not frivolously or wickedly – they did what they thought was right for me – it’s just that I disagreed.

    I rejected their views – not them; fortunately they coped with it.

    FWIW – My father probably coped because he did not believe in a god who would reject people because they had a rational disagreement with Him and my mother because I’d said, and meant, the sinner’s prayer aged eight. (Mum died believing we will meet in Heaven – albeit I shall have ears like Dumbo’s, sport a parting and wear short trousers).

  • Today, many families are split in the LDS church. Here’s a thought. I have personal knowledge that in the final judgment, ALL persons whose hearts are PLEASING to God will received Eternal Life. That is the TRUE gospel of Jesus Christ. Strive daily to have a heart that is pleasing to God. Remember Christ in every thought, and He will be so happy to see you!

  • It’s nice to hear the god confides in the likes of you his relationship to anyone else on earth.

    I’m wondering if he suggested to you that you should really be taking your meds?

  • One should always marry more than just a Mormon. Likewise, one’s children should be seen and loved as more than just a Mormon. To reject a spouse or child over terminating their affiliation with the church is unconscionable. And yet, the church insists on driving the wedge, and teaching the unconscionable to its members.

  • If the writer does not leave the cult and repent she is headed to the same place as her atheist daughter.

  • Painful as life can be sometimes I draw solace from remembering that “All God’s children have a place in the choir”. The Lord has set before us choices & no man can choose for another. Children are great reminders of all kinds of things. 1 of them is that this world is not our home we are just passing through. I will pray for your daughter as I’m sure you do.

  • This is an absolute and unconscionable falsehood. The church has never taught anything of the kind to its members. Just the opposite.

  • Tell us again what is the ‘true Gospel of Jesus Christ”? Pleasing God is the true Gospel? I don’t think you have an idea who Jesus Christ is Michael — however, I think you know the mormon jesus — which is not the Jesus of the Bible and Christianity.

  • The TRUE GOSPEL is extending love to all of God’s children. Doing that makes your heart pleasing to GOD. ASK HIM and he will confirm it to you!!

  • YES, that too! If I forget to take my meds, HE sends a small, kind prompting to remind me. HE is SO great!!

  • SAVED maybe, but Eternal LIFE is only for those who keep all of HIS commandments and arrive before HIM with a PLEASING HEART. ASK
    HIM and HE will confirm it to you!!!!

  • No one understands the importance of agency (the God-given opportunity to make choices between competing alternatives) as clearly or as centrally as the LDS people. But for all the understanding and doctrinal teaching we have, we seem to struggle, as much or more than most, when people use that agency in ways we don’t agree with. I think the author’s post is insightful, honest about her own hurt, and also liberating and loving towards her daughter. I think this is what God intended when he sent us here. He meant for us to be able to chose.

  • Please direct me to either policy, doctrine or talk that backs up your claim of ‘driving the wedge’. I would love to see where you come up with that notion.

  • I am so glad to hear you let your child choose. I had no choice unless I was sick I was forced to go to church as a teen and adult. And I will let everyone know that will drive most kids away faster.
    If I was honest my testimony when I was a teen was my parents and extended family and the ward told me it true so it was. Plain and simple.

    I hope you listen to her why she decided to remove her name. I won’t go into anything here out of respect. If anyone wants to hear my opinion PM me.

  • Joseph k it is a fact i know lds members who have left and their family and friends shun them and act like they deserted them all because the lds church make such claims that if you leave the lds church you are turning your back on god and family and are dammed to hell the amish and the roman catholic church and eastern orthodox church and some protestant sects believe that but without the shunning part this is a very childish way of reasoning the author says she is hurt and that the daughter turned her. Back on her heritage membership in a religious organization is not a heritage its not like the mother was german or some european background and the girl said i reject my families ethinic decendents or something i was born lutheran and we are tolerant and believe man has free will to chose what they do and dont believe we do not force our beliefs down others throats nor do we believe that goverment needs to get involved in the affairs of churches nor do churches need to get into the affairs of politics

  • My mother however is italian and catholic and her family believes if you leave the church you have commited the ultimate transgression and you are dammed

  • That’s BS. On 11/5/15 the Mormon church issued some policy additions to Handbook 1 defining those who are in same-sex (they used the word gender for some strange reason) marriages as apostates, mandating disciplinary councils for them and denying children of those marriages any ordinances and rituals in the church until they reach 18, at which time they can receive these ordinances and rituals only if they move out and disavow the practice of their parents. This policy addition was leaked to the press and is now available for anyone to read.

  • On 11/5/15 the Mormon church issued some policy additions to Handbook 1 defining those who are in same-sex (they used the word gender for some strange reason) marriages as apostates, mandating disciplinary councils for them and denying children of those marriages any ordinances and rituals in the church until they reach 18, at which time they can receive these ordinances and rituals only if they move out and disavow the practice of their parents. This policy addition was leaked to the press and is now available for anyone to read.

  • The policies are clearly meant to ensure that anyone who joins the church is clear on its views toward same-sex marriage and is able to live by them without being pressured to leave the church or oppose its policies. As you stated correctly, they have to disavow the practice, not their parents. Big difference.

  • i.e. Disavow their parents marriage.
    It’s delusional to a cult-like extent to think this isn’t pretty much the same thing.

  • LOL. What are Mormons if not delusional? I mean, the book of Abraham is a demonstrably proven fraud. The church’s own Egypt scholars agree the papyrus is nothing more than a funerary document like thousands of others.

    “If Joseph Smith’s translation of the Egyptian parchment could be discredited, and proven false, then doubt would be thrown also upon the genuineness of his translation of the Book of Mormon, and thus all his pretensions as a translator would be exposed and come to naught.” – Elder B.H. Roberts, LDS Scholar and General Authority, Comprehensive History of the Church 2:138″

    And yet, it was!
    https://cesletter.org/apologetics/the-book-of-abraham-except-for-those-willfully-blind-the-case-is-closed.html

  • I’m pointing out the hypocrisy of a Mormon calling another group of people delusional, just in case others are hurt by your comments so that they understand the kind of person that is making them.

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