A few years ago, I made a foray onto a message board for individuals who have left the Church. I was open in my identity both by name and also regarding my status as a full, believing member (TBM as they call us). I went there looking to learn, hoping that I might somehow gain some insight that would help us with people who have floundered in their faith. What I failed to do was identify my association with FAIR. I tried engaging in an email exchange with Steven Benson, grandson to President Benson and a nationally recognized cartoonist who famously left the Church. The result was Steve employing his journalistic skills and “outing” me as a FAIR board member. I was banished and ridiculed as a “troll” as if I was someone spying on their open message board with a hidden identity. But there were a few who witnessed my sincere and respectful efforts approached me independently and offered to share their experiences.
What I learned was enlightening. I discovered that most who leave the church and associate on that web site do so because they perceive some violation of trust occurred. Perhaps there was a teaching they held that they found out to be false, and they could no longer trust a long time mentor to whom they had anchored their testimony. Perhaps the failings of a member created an offense, and the person could not reconcile their expectations with reality. When it is a leader that disappoints, it seems the sting is so much the greater. Perhaps they found an unflattering piece of history on the Church (ironically almost always directly or indirectly through some Church or Church-sponsored source), and they feel that the truth had not been told them. In all cases, the issue was that somehow they had an unmet expectation that resulted in feeling a trust they had granted someone or something had been violated.
Several shared accounts of their attempts to reconcile their sense of violation by approaching leaders, family members, or close friends with their concerns. Whether real or imagined, these same people indicated that the reaction to their inquiry was too often met with hostility. The very people they felt could help them often responded by either dismissing their concerns or become hostile to them, treating them more as a threat than a cherished acquaintance.
I very much realize that there are two sides to every story. Fears and insecurities may have well led at least some to interpret others’ reactions harshly. However, the insecurities of members may have equally caused their reaction to be less than it could have been.
In discussing such issues, recently sustained member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Elder Quentin L. Cook, made the following comment during his conference address titled “Our Father’s Plan—Big Enough for All His Children“:
It is equally important that we be loving and kind to members of our own faith, regardless of their level of commitment or activity. The Savior has made it clear that we are not to judge each other. This is especially true of members of our own families. Our obligation is to love and teach and never give up. The Lord has made salvation “free for all men” but has “commanded his people that they should persuade all men to repentance.
Such an eloquent appeal to our better natures encourages us to endure in kindness with those in the church who struggle with their testimonies.
Is this not wise advice regardless of the reason someone approaches us with a concern? In raising my children, I have often found that how I respond (my choice of words or my tone of voice) often has a greater impact on their reactions to my advice than what I say. Am I not communicating both with my words and how I use them? I think it important that we never discount a concern that is entrusted to our care, and that we validate the fact that someone has felt their trust violated. To do otherwise is to add to the possible perception of offense and remove out ability to influence them.
In D&C 121:45–46 we read:
Let thy bowels also be full of charity towards all men, and to the household of faith, and let virtue garnish thy thoughts unceasingly; then shall thy confidence wax strong in the presence of God; and the doctrine of the priesthood shall distil upon thy soul as the dews from heaven. The Holy Ghost shall be thy constant companion, and thy scepter an unchanging scepter of righteousness and truth; and thy dominion shall be an everlasting dominion, and without compulsory means it shall flow unto thee forever and ever.
In other words, if we extend charity to those who come to us, we preserve our influence. It is no assurance that they will agree with us or accept our perspective, but at least we can hope for a day when we can again counsel them down a reassuring path with regards to the restored gospel.
In the end, my foray amongst the disaffected ended in my banishment, not because of my affiliation with FAIR, but because the moderators felt I had violated a trust by not disclosing this information up front. In hindsight, I guess this should have been expected. Still, my kind comportment and respectful dialogue allowed me some choice opportunities to exchange thoughts and ideas with some few who could see that I was not there for anything other than sincere reasons. My lesson was reinforced, and I learned that the virtues of charity and patience can indeed create a dominion of influence where one would not have otherwise existed.