I recently listened to a podcast by John Dehlin where he interviewed Richard Packham. According to John’s write-up of the podcast, part of his purpose is to “explore 3 ways in which the LDS Church creates unnecessary enemies.” The second episode focuses on how the Church makes by “breaking up families (when one no longer believes).” It is this particular point of John’s (and many who are critical of the Church) that I wanted to comment upon, although I will also provide a few comments on the podcast episodes with Richard as a whole.
During the course of the interviews (which take over 2-1/2 hours) Richard tells of his life in the Church and how, after he moved from his sheltered existence in Utah, he discovered that the Church wasn’t true while he was in college in Illinois. He tells how, after much time studying in the university library, that he came home one day and announced to his wife that the Church wasn’t true.
In further explaining what happened to him, Richard goes on to explain how he decided that since he no longer believed the Church to be true that it didn’t matter whether he followed the Word of Wisdom and it didn’t matter whether he continued to wear his temple garments. He would choose to go to parties, without his wife, and enjoy the lifestyle enjoyed by other university students. This led to troubles between Richard and his wife.
One day he came home and found his wife and children gone. He discovered the next day that they had taken the train back to Idaho, and it wasn’t long after that a divorce was sought and granted.
Richard explained how he has come to feel that this crumbling of the marriage was the fault of the Church. It may be indirectly, but it is nonetheless the Church’s fault because of its teachings. After all, there was no abuse, he tried to be a good father, and the only thing that changed were his beliefs about the Church. John agreed that this is terrible, and (paraphrasing) that the Church should change so that it isn’t responsible for such occurrences.
Personally, I think that Richard is justifying the bad things that happened during the dissolution of the marriage in a way that that doesn’t implicate his decisions. John, trying to be empathetic to the things that others go through, actively supported Richard in his characterizations of the past.
Richard doesn’t stop with blaming the Church for the breakup of his marriage, however. In wrapping up the discussion about the dissolution of his marriage and the Church’s complicity in the events, he states that “it isn’t just an intellectual decision that the Church isn’t what it claims to be…there is evil there. Evil things are happening” because of the Church’s teachings about family and marriage.
What did Richard expect? He “discovers” that the Church isn’t true, surprises his wife with the announcement as a fact, changes his values and his behavior, and then (in late life) blames his first marriage’s dissolution on the teachings of the Church. Neither Richard nor John provided much empathy for the wife (although Richard invited John to interview her). The implication in support of the assertion that the Church breaks up families is that, just perhaps, the wife shouldn’t feel betrayed by the path that Richard decided to take in his life. Perhaps she should be able to overlook his decision and continue to love him.
One of the prime reasons for the breakup of marriages—in or out of the Church—is infidelity. According to Wikipedia:
Infidelity is a violation of the mutually agreed-upon rules or boundaries of an intimate relationship, which constitutes a significant to extreme breach, or outright default, on the implicit good faith contract of a relationship, or a betrayal of core shared values with which the integrity and nature of the relationship is defined.
Were there any “mutually agreed-upon rules or boundaries” in Richard’s first marriage? Undoubtedly; there are in any marriage. Did his first wife feel that Richard had violated those boundaries and that an “extreme breach” or “outright default” of their relationship had occurred? Perhaps. Did she feel a “betrayal of core shared values with which the integrity and nature of the relationship is defined.” Probably.
Yet it is the Church’s fault.
Sure it is.
Nobody should take my comments as “dumping” on Richard. I actually think that Richard is a nice enough guy. John indicates in his write-up that it was his intent to explore his three points about the Church “via Richard’s own personal story.” If John (and Richard) feel it appropriate to use Richard’s story in support of the points, it is equally appropriate to examine Richard’s story in countering the points.
The fact is, John and Richard, in their story telling, are plain wrong. It is inappropriate to blame the Church for the natural outcome of individual choices. Even Richard stated in the interview that if he had remained in the Church, no doubt he would still be married to his first wife. It was his choice to leave, and I can hardly blame the wife for feeling betrayed at Richard’s intellectual infidelity to the “mutually agreed-upon rules or boundaries” that were part and parcel of their relationship.
It wasn’t the Church; it was Richard, and John doesn’t even see it.