Few parents react with joy to a child who renounces the family religion, but Mormon parents anguish for a child who leaves the faith. A truant Mormon not only gives up her own salvation, she leaves a hole in the eternal family circle.
Our oldest son expressed doubts of LDS doctrine and policies by his senior year of high school. Wort’s criticisms became stronger and more intellectual while taking philosophy classes his freshman year of college. Mormon parents are assured that if we raise our children in righteousness they will not go astray—or if they do, the sealing bonds will return them to the fold. Naturally, I blamed myself for Wort’s doubts. I should not have let him take summer jobs that required Sunday work.
I argued for the benefits of church activity—especially a mission. Wort tried to please me. He attended church when not working, but the Elder’s Quorum failed to impress him with any spirituality. I prayed for him. Our bishop recommended I attend the temple once a month and submit Wort’s name to the prayer roll. I attended twice a month. After Wort’s freshman year, he moved out of state and began attending a university ward. He found congenial friends there, but could not make himself believe Mormon history or doctrine.
A General Conference speaker recommended that doubters keep the commandments in order to gain a testimony. I shared that wisdom with Wort, and he mailed me a long letter detailing all the guilt he’d heaped upon himself while growing up Mormon—starting at age 11 when he refused to touch his younger sister’s hand during our family’s sealing in the temple. After years of berating himself for every minor fault, he’d concluded he wasn’t Celestial Kingdom material. Discovering learned people who did not believe Mormon doctrine freed him from his burden of guilt.
The same year our youngest daughter, Aroo, refused to pay tithing even though she’d saved the 10%. At first I thought she was just being difficult, but our conversations in the ensuing months convinced me she had no faith, no testimony. Was it because of my insufficient mothering of this fourth child—the one I’d never had time for? Or were some people just born with less or no faith in God? Unlike her brother, Aroo didn’t hide her feelings and go along with church activity just to please me. Neither my prayers nor pleas helped. Plenty of legitimate, non-religious reasons exist for convincing teens to forego promiscuity and alcohol use, but I wasn’t smart enough to use them. “Because you love Heavenly Father” doesn’t work for a person who doubts the existence of God.
Well, I didn’t threaten or disown my children, but I did heap unnecessary, unhelpful guilt on them and on myself. I related better to Wort’s disbelief because it was based on discoveries of inconsistencies in doctrinal logic and altered facts of church history. Aroo’s lack of belief was as personal to her as my conviction was to me. Trying to convince someone their feelings are wrong while yours are right is foolishness married to arrogance.
Possibly the fact that I had harbored questions for years about church doctrines on polygamy, denial of the priesthood to blacks, and the subordinate role of women made me a tad compassionate to my unbelieving children. Eventually, my intellectual doubts outweighed my spiritual feelings. Church meetings became tedious. Time spent decorating for ward dinners and programs didn’t make the world a better place so far as I could tell. And tithing? Most of it went for missionary work, temples and Church Education. Were those programs doing enough good in the world to merit my continued support?
Now I was the one on the slippery slope and George was the innocent victim. He was shocked and hurt. I was rejecting him and our eternal life together. In other religions, a spouse who decides against continuing in the family’s faith is a disappointment, even an annoyance. In Mormon belief, that spouse disrupts the entire family’s hope for an eternal reward.
Our relationship with each other and our children trumped our relationship with our church. George and I compromised. Our nuclear family is now ecumenical, embracing true-blue Mormons, evangelicals, and agnostics. Love unites us.