Wednesday, December 12, 2007

How I feel about my relationship with the church.

The following story expresses how I feel about my relationship with the church and why, though I see many good aspects of the church and its membership, I ultimately feel the relationship is an unhealthy one.

This is a story of John (the church) and Mary (me), a couple which have been married for 20 years. It is about their relationship and a decision that must be made by Mary.

Mary met John when she was 20 years old and he was 27. John had just finished law school at Harvard after graduating at the top of his class. He had just been hired by a top law firm and was beginning his career. During his years at Harvard he was the star of the basketball team and a leader in student government. He was handsome and polished and seemed to say and do all the right things. Mary quickly fell in love with John and was very impressed with the way he lived his life and the decisions he had made to get him to where he was in his life. They married and began their life together and Mary came to have great respect and trust in her husband. He was the leader of their home and she came to rely on John’s wisdom and counsel to help her make most of the decisions in her life. She knew she could trust in John’s wisdom because he had gained her faith in him by the life he led and a lifetime of events and accomplishments that proved his astute judgment, wisdom, and honorable character.

John became highly regarded in his profession as a lawyer. On one particular case he was required to defend a man that had been charged with widespread discrimination and sexual harassment in the work place. John was reluctant to take the case because he felt the man was guilty but was required to take it on. The accused had been a good client of his from the beginning of his practice and John had defended him in many other similar circumstances. There was a lot of money to be earned by John if he could get his client off but he felt morally uneasy with continuing to defend a man he realized was guilty. John had used his skill as a lawyer in the past to keep his client out of trouble but this time it was too much. John knew that he could get his client off again on the current charges but instead he used his skills to convince his client that is was morally right to plead guilty to the charges and to change his pattern of discrimination and sexual harassment.

This story makes Mary very proud of her husband and his moral strength to not only do what is right for himself but to convince his client of the morally right thing to do. She knows that John will always chose what is right over money or any other worldly praise or gain.

Another event that happened in John’s life occurred at work late one night. John was forced to stay late to finish up a project with a very attractive co-worker. They are the only two people in the office. The woman starts to flirt with John and comes on to him. John being happily married and loyal to Mary stops the woman’s advances and decides to leave the office immediately and remove himself from a potentially compromising situation. He tells Mary about the episode and she is very proud of him and how he made the right decision. Mary tells her family and friends the story and they are all very impressed with John and praise him for his behavior and loyalty. John and Mary’s relationship is strengthened by the event. It gives Mary a sense of security and trust in her husband. She has a deep feeling inside of her that John is special and different from most other men. The event strengthens her resolve to be faithful to her husband. Mary develops a deep sense of trust and love for John in part due to this event.

Other events happen in John’s life in which he is able to demonstrate to Mary what an incredible and extraordinary man and husband he is. These stories are used in the ensuing years to teach their children about loyalty, honesty, love and other good principles. These stories are also used to convince Mary and the children that John’s wisdom and judgment is greater than all others and that his counsel should be followed and obeyed. When she sees other women’s husbands she notes their imperfections and feels so blessed that she has been given such a perfect husband in John. Over the years John continues to make Mary happy as he leads her and their family in a direction that he thinks is right. Many other experiences happen in their lives that continue to confirm to Mary that John is a truly special man unlike any other and that she can fully trust him do what is right and lead their family. Mary truly loves John and follows him as he leads their family.

After many years of marriage Mary begins to hear rumors that some of the events in John’s life are not quite what he made them out to be. For instance she hears from an old friend of John’s from college that they didn’t go to Harvard but actually went to the University of Massachusetts. Another associate said that he didn’t think that John was the star of the basketball team but was a reserve player that played sparingly. These things didn’t make sense to Mary. Why would John lie about going to Harvard? It’s not like a law degree from Umass would be any less of an accomplishment. Why the need to say he was a star basketball player? Was he really the top student in his law school? Other things occur which seem to put a question on other events in John’s life. He tells her not to listen to others and that they do not have her or their family’s best interest in mind. Besides isn’t she happy? Hasn’t she always trusted him? Hasn’t he always made her happy? Haven’t they had many kind and loving experiences together? What about the good feeling she always felt when John told the various stories from his life. John counsels Mary not to listen to any of these other people and that she needs to have faith and trust in him and that she will be more happy that way. She has become very dependent on John to lead her and help her make life’s decisions. Mary believes John has more insight and wisdom than she does and so she goes along with his counsel believing that he will not lead her astray.

Mary agrees with John and refuses to listen to anything or anyone that may show a different version of events. Eventually though, curiosity gets the best of Mary and she decides to listen to a friend who knows a different version of events regarding that night in the office with another woman. Mary’s friend happens to be an acquaintance with the woman in the office that night. Her friend’s version relates that John encouraged the flirting and intentionally set up the late night at work with no one else around. John is known as a big flirt around the office and many rumors have been attached to his name. John and the office woman have been attracted to each other for some time and had little flirtations in the past. The flirtation continues and eventually they are right next to each other and embrace each other. They both know that the other is happily married but they throw caution to the wind on this night and begin to kiss passionately and continue to embrace. The passion continues and soon they are touching and undressing each other. After several minutes of kissing and touching the half-naked woman pulls herself away from John. The woman says that they should not be doing this and that she is very much in love with her husband and that it makes no sense to do this even though they have a strong physical attraction. John reluctantly agrees with the woman and they both leave the office without anything more happening.

Upon hearing the woman’s version Mary is initially shocked and saddened. However, she loves her husband and does not want to believe that he could have been dishonest with everyone for so many years. Besides, why should she believe the office woman’s version of events? Perhaps she is the one being dishonest in order to save her reputation.

Mary decides to confront John about what she heard and his response is to remind her that he had counseled her not to listen to other versions of the event. He points out how this is making her sad and hurting their relationship and isn’t that evidence that what she heard is not good? He also points out that the information is not reliable because it is second hand and besides her friend that told her about the office woman’s version of events has never really liked John anyhow. John is able to explain away the discrepancies in a fairly complicated but initially satisfactory manner to Mary.

Mary agrees with John and feels guilty that she did not listen to his counsel not to listen to what other people were saying about what happened that night. She also recognizes that she is not as happy as before and that even if things didn’t happen exactly as John had told her she knows he is a good man and has made her happy over the years. She loves him and does not want anything to change the way she thinks about him.

Mary puts her concerns on a proverbial shelf and continues on but is still bothered by what may have happened that night. She reminds herself of all the good things John does for her and the many ways he makes her happy. Besides, no one is perfect and even if things did happen differently than she had always been told that does not make him a bad person. Then one day while cleaning out John’s closet she finds his journal and reads about what actually happened that night in the office. The journal basically confirms the story Mary’s friend told her. She confronts John with this new evidence and he can no longer deny that he has been telling a faithful version of events. He admits that he wrote a different version of events at the time but it’s been so long since it has happened that he cannot totally remember what actually happened and how can anyone be sure what really happened that night. It has been so long ago. Perhaps he wasn’t telling the correct story in his journal when he first wrote it down. Besides, ultimately he did the right thing and he did not have sex with the office woman. Isn’t that the important thing? He says that he always told a faithful version of events because he knew what was best for her and only wanted her to trust him and love him.

Mary eventually forgives John and decides this one instance of human frailties should not be held against all the other good things he has done. However, over time Mary discovers many other things about John’s life that were different than the version he had always told her. And the real version of events always make her husband look a little more ordinary and human than she had believed him to be. Mary finds out that the case involving John’s client charged with discrimination and sexual harassment was actually a settlement forced upon him by the court when John realized there was no way to get his client off this time. His client’s business would be shut down and he would loose all he had if he did not accept a guilty plea.

John tries to explain that it was with good intentions that he told the faithful version of events. He said, “Didn’t the faithful version make you trust me and love me more than the actual version? I knew the actual version of events would cause you to not fully trust me and to question my ability to do what is right and lead you and our family in the way I felt we should go.” John believes that his intentional deceit and pious lies are justified by all the good that comes from them. He feels he was inspired to develop this false impression of him so that he could be a better leader for the family and one the children could always trust and have faith in.

Mary could forgive John of one or two stories that had to be explained away but when nearly every significant event in John’s life has to be explained in the most complicated and implausible manner it becomes too much for Mary to believe. She now realizes that John is not the magnificent hero he had always led her to believe. She realizes that he has many faults and can make poor decisions at times. She begins to question her love and trust in John because she now realizes that those feelings she had for him were based on half-truths and pious lies. She realizes that she cannot just rely on all of the things he tells her and that she needs to verify things for herself before following any ideas or counsel her husband may think is best. But Mary still loves John and realizes that most husbands have faults and problems and that overall he is a good man and that he has done many good things over the years. John does indeed have many wonderful and good qualities that Mary admires but his need to be right all of the time and his inability to admit mistakes is overpowering and making their relationship unhealthy.

So Mary tells John that she can still love him and forgive him of past indiscretions and that perhaps they can still be good for each other and make the relationship work. However, John refuses to allow the real version of events to be told to the children or any others and says that he knows what is best for her and their family even though he has made many mistakes in the past. He counsels her to just follow him and have faith in him despite her knowledge of his indiscretions and failings. He knows what is best for Mary and their children. What good would come from letting everyone else know the full truth? Others are happy with the current version of things and the real truth may cause more harm than good if they realize that John is as fallible as anyone else. He tells Mary that it is better that the children see him as an extraordinary man that they can fully trust and follow. He reminds her that his faithful version of events always made people feel good inside. He reminds her that his faithful version of events taught their children good principles and that they are living good lives because of those things. John tells Mary that none of the problems she is now having would have occurred if she would have just been obedient to his counsel and that she did not have enough faith in him. He even suggests that Mary is the one with problems or sins to hide and perhaps that is the reason she is now accusing John of doing wrong. He threatens Mary with divorce if she tells anyone else about the truth. He points out her own unhappiness about things now as proof that he was right all along to tell his faithful version of events. If Mary had been more obedient to him she could have continued in the happiness that he had given her.

Mary feels alone and betrayed by John and all the good things he does and the happiness he once brought has been lost to a large degree. The problem for Mary is not the imperfections in John’s character so much as the false impression given and John’s need to uphold these false impressions in order to maintain obedience to his counsel. For John it has to be all or nothing. Even though Mary agrees with many things that John feels the family should do she does not agree with all things and would like the opportunity to make her own decisions in these areas. But again John will not allow it; he thinks he knows better than her even though he has clearly demonstrated that he is not always right in his judgments. However, John requires that he continue to be viewed as a nearly infallible person with the wisdom and knowledge necessary for others to find true happiness. He will divorce Mary if she tries to tell any of their children about what she knows. Mary wants to learn and try other things that John will not allow and feels stifled by his need for her to be completely submissive and obedient to him. If she wants to teach her children something different than what John wants she has to do it secretively and then tell her children not to tell their father about it.

Mary feels that it is unhealthy to continue to teach the children these half-true stories and pious lies designed to give the false impression of John’s abilities. She sees other families in which the husband does not pretend to be right about everything and the family allows each individual to grow and learn things on their own. Questioning is allowed and even encouraged and old ideas can be replaced with new ones if they are found to work better. She wants a relationship in which the husband and wife can learn from each other and are willing to be honest about difficult issues. She wants a family relationship in which children teach parents, husbands learn from their wives and vice versa. No one is forced to agree with others on all issues but love, respect and understanding is the model.

Mary thinks that she might be better off without John since he is unwilling to change his demand for obedience to his counsel as well as the constant threat of divorce if she says anything to anybody. Even though he has brought her much happiness in the past and can still agree with him on many things, the feelings she once had for him are gone because of his intentional deceit and portrayal of himself as being one who will never lead her or her children astray or give false wisdom and counsel. Mary realizes that John can and has made bad judgments and mistakes and that she needs to think things out for herself before just agreeing to his thoughts. But John will not recognize his mistakes and allow his children to see him as he really is. He is prideful and sincerely thinks his ways are the right ways and that he should not have to be questioned by his wife or children in these matters. So despite all the good things John does and all the ways he has really made her happy Mary realizes the relationship is not a healthy one. She also realizes that John is unwilling to change his need to be followed and obeyed without questioning. In addition she realizes that John will continue to tell everyone pious lies and half-true stories to maintain a perception of near infallibility and superior judgment in order to get obedience to things he feels are right. She even realizes that John really thinks what he is doing it right and ultimately best for her and the children. But Mary believes that it is not.



A clever allegory that hits all to close to home.

So how does Mary go about separating herself from John? Though she knows the relationship is unhealthy, she also knows that its severance will affect and undoubtedly upset her children, and likely others...thus her hesitancy, repeated questioning of her own thoughts, and numerous attempts to justify the continuance of an abusive partnership. Also noteworthy is that on some level, though the relationship has no real foundation since it is based on numerous lies (despite some of the 'good' that has come from them), that she continues to feel some sense of guilt and perhaps even fear in her quest to end something she knows to be wrong. If John really loved her like he said he did, he would not be trying so hard to control her. He acts more like a dictator than a partner. And successful, healthy marriages don't function well in an autocratic environment. Despite what John might think is 'right'. We can justify anything if we believe hard enough that it is 'right'.

Funny that John (an ironically appropriate choice of character name) isn't familiar with his own principles and teachings; 1 John 1:5..."God is light, and in him is no darkness at all." 1 John 4:8 "He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love." 1 John 4:18 "There is no fear in love; but perfect love casteth out fear: because fear hath torment."

It appears that John is somehow exempt from the very set of precepts he so diligently tries to instill in others. I think John needs to go back and read his own handbook for a refresher.

new deep said...

Well I'm glad you liked the story. Of course the story isn't finished and the hard part is yet to be written.

Obviously depending on one's situation the opportunities of choice vary. If I had only myself to answer to then I would basically drift into inactivity and hope to be left alone for the most part. If R. felt the same way as I do then we could do the same. I would probably take the course of action that would cause the fewest amount of waves. Just basically go inactive and show up when or if I wanted to. I see no reason to make a public statement about my disbelief in the church. No one would really understand anyway.

But as you know, my situation is more complicated than this and I have R.'s feeling, beliefs etc. to consider. So we are trying to find the compromise and she has been very generous and patient with me. We are setting boundaries with the church and we are still trying to figure out when and what I can tell the girls as they get older. If they are going to believe in the church then they are going to believe with eyes wide open and a realization that there are other options that I feel are superior to the Mormon Church.

We will not allow the church to have power over our family and we are taking measures to ensure this happens. In the mean time I am trying to teach the good and warn against the bad the church has to offer. It is not an ideal situation but one that is currently agreeable.

In the meantime I am looking for something to fill the void of spirituality I currently have. I am looking into meditation, yoga and some other things that I hope can bring me some connection to something higher. This may be God or just something universal that connects everyone that may not have a good definition. Any suggestions?

I really liked your comment- "I think John needs to go back and read his own handbook for a refresher." There is no way the church could pass the temple recommend questions. In particular:
Is there anything in your conduct relating to members of your family that is not in harmony with the teachings of the Church?

Are you honest in your dealings with your fellowmen?

Have there been any sins or misdeeds in your life that should have been resolved with priesthood authorities but have not been?