Shun Happens

What does it mean to shun someone? Have you ever thought about that? I am sure many of the readers of this blog being ex-mormon have given it plenty of consideration. In that religion there are lots of ceremonies of progress, especially if you are male. You get blessed and given a name as a baby, then baptized at 8, you get priesthood at 12, then level up1 at 14, 16 and 18. You go on  a mission, then get married. You have your first child and the cycle repeats.

These are all reasons to get together as a family, like the bar mitzvah or the quinceanera of other faiths, families get together and celebrate these progressions in a persons life. But what happens if you don’t believe? Depends on the family, some are pretty accepting and some not so much. But one thing they all do is prevent you from participating to some degree. If you don’t believe then then you can’t bless your son in front of your community, you can’t even stand in the circle if you have committed that sin. Doing a baptism? Nope, Ordination? Nope. How about attending a wedding? Um nope, but we do have this little room you can wait in if we invite you to come see us leave the building after.

Now I might be having a visceral reaction to this. When I first left the church I specifically requested to still be invited to these ceremonies. I recognized these were the times that our family often got together. They are moments of progress and celebration I felt it was important to participate in, even if it was from the sidelines. Then I was invited to a baptism one day and right after welcoming my family and I there I was specifically invited to NOT participate in the in the laying on of hands. My oldest son who had just come home early from his mission, still professing belief at the time but doubting quite a bit was also invited to NOT participate. It hurt, I had never felt more shunned in my life than I did at that moment. I felt like I had been invited to show up just so my lack of belief could be rubbed in my face and highlighted for my family to see. It was the most offended I’d ever felt in relation to the gospel and highlighted for me the negative aspects of believing you are a ‘chosen people’ when it comes to how you treat other human beings.2 After that experience I had far less desire to participate in these ceremonies of progress than I did before. Which did cause me personally some sadness because even though I don’t believe in claims of having the fullness of truth on the earth I still find value in celebration of progress amongst your community. The problem I realized is I am no longer a member of that community. Belief is a prerequisite to be so.

On the topic of shunning Elder Holland had this to say.3

We don’t shun people is his simple response. Now I think he might be referring to the official practice of shunning that happens to a scientologist or a Jehovah’s witness that leave the faith, the renting of the shirt and the declaration ‘you are dead to me’. No that type of shunning doesn’t happen (at least not officially) in the church. The way you are shunned in this religion is far more subtle. You see even though Holland’s hypothetical non believer son would still be part of the family, He wouldn’t get to participate in the wedding of a sibling, he’d have to wait in the little room where all the kids that are too young to do the adult stuff sit. Not only are you not allowed to participate, you should feel ashamed that you are not worthy to do so.

The fact is church sanctioned shunning happens, it is impossible to not shun someone from a wedding when the church decides who is allowed to see it. Disbelief bars you from blessing a child, or giving a son the priesthood as his first step down the path to manhood. Your goodness as a human being plays no part at all. Only your belief does. I once told my wife not being part of these ceremonies was one of the biggest things I miss by not participating in the church. She pointed out it was no biggie for her because she was always barred from it. I’d never thought about it that way. From this perspective the women in the church are permanently shunned from participating in everything but their own wedding.

Leaving the church creates a gulf in a family of believers, one that isn’t easy to bridge. Sometimes it is between children and parents, sometimes between spouses. It is normal and happens just because that is the way it is setup. The church is an exclusive club and if you don’t believe you don’t get in. My hope for people that have followed their integrity and have left is they realize much of this psychology at play is embedded in the faith, its not the direct fault of the people doing the shunning. For the people that still believe, my hope is even when your son or daughter or sibling or cousin isn’t there in the temple or the circle that you go out of your way to not shame them for their disbelief. Don’t ask them to wait in the little room, don’t go out of your way to exclude them, trust me, they already feel uninvited enough as it is. Instead tell them to meet you at the after party and give them a big hug and thank them for coming to celebrate with you. It can make a huge difference.4

Ceremonies of progression5 in my opinion are one of the best things religions have to offer to their communities. For me they are what I miss the most. Shun happens, there is an apostate to believer gulf. Hopefully we can bridge it by reaching out and seeking understanding of each others reasons for their choices. Hopefully we can realize there is some psychology at play here that touches on emotion and gut reaction that often bypasses higher level thinking. Can we all just get along? I think so, I hope so. I strive to make it so. Hopefully you can too.

 

 

 

  1. Have you ever been invited to celebrate the females getting their level-ups in the young women program? I know you are always invited to the boy stuff because they have ordinations and do the whole laying on of hands thing. I realize from my perspective now that is another way girls just don’t the same respect as boys in the religion I once believed.
  2. This incident escalated to a high level shortly after because I voiced my opinion on how I was treated to which I was told I deserved it for my negative public posts about the church. That made it escalate even further and caused actions that ripped a scar in my soul that I doubt will ever completely heal. In the end though I want you to know that my family did apologize, for the treatment and we have put this in the past, I don’t bring it up now to dredge up old wounds, I just want the reader to understand that I do know from experience what it means to feel shunned.
  3. on a side note at minute 5 in this video Holland says he would love to sit down and talk with all the apostates, asks for a list of names. ‘For what’ I thought when I heard that ‘to give to the SCMC??’ Seemed like an odd request to me. But shortly after he made that declaration this website went up taking Elder Holland up on his offer, to date this meeting has not happened. I am beginning to think that my initial impression was right, it was just an empty promise in an effort to get a list of names of dissidents.
  4. My mom gave me a big hug at one of these after parties just yesterday and it helped me with the gulf that I am still working to bridge as time goes on.
  5. any good ideas for some Fridge base ceremonies? if you are inventing your own religion might as well make it more inclusive right?

14 Comments

  1. Hello fellows , I live in Brazil and I was baptized when I was 11 and now 48.
    Mormons shun people With no problems , concerns or repentance! All that nice smiles Turn to awful looks ! Since I decided to study more, and look the Church in a different way, 85% of my old mórmons friends Left ! They don’t call , don’t say anything or give any Help in time of need. They are gone! What do this people who cries só much about their love to Christ, their God which is their Church and his little god Joe Smith! All that LOVE turns into nothing Regards to their old brothers .
    Só is clear that Mormons are untrue one more time . They say what They are not! They are very affraid to discover the real truth about themselves!

  2. It is a shame in an organization that claims to be”Gods one true church”that this practice goes on.However when you consider that any church or organization is made up of maybe well meaning but flawed humans it is not surprising.What a leap forward it would be if we all looked past the obvious and were willing to put aside our very real bias and considered the real people behind our actions.Any club or organization that would have me as a member is subject to great suspicion and needs to be avoided.Cheers

  3. Sadly, it is my observation that we also do plenty of shunning of people who are believers. Just ask most people who are gay, struggle with addictions, or are feminists. It is one of the things that challenges me the most right now. I

  4. Shunning that comes from the people closest to us is the most hurtful (like your family’s baptism). I don’t think it is doctrine and hopefully not commonly encouraged by leaders, but there are definitely some people in the church that encourage or believe that if a spouse leaves the church, then the faithful spouse should divorce them. When my mother-in-law found out my spouse had questions/doubts she told me she would support me in divorcing my spouse (which I was/am not doing and thought that was super inappropriate) and she switched signing her emails to my spouse from “Love, Mom” to “Thanks, FirstName”. Definitely a form of privately/emotionally shunning someone. Ultimately I think it would help family deal with relatives that leave the church, if the church stopped emphasizing the need to be an active Mormon and temple goer/married in the temple to get to heaven and instead emphasized the need to be a good person and spouse. If it is true, I don’t think God will judge my spouse too harshly for doing what they thought was right (and thus leaving the church) and still be a very good person and spouse.

  5. I am one of those devout LDS people that gets along with people of vastly different backgrounds, to the point some people have questioned if I am psychopathic as everyone gets along with me. The thing is, while LDS people should never shun anyone (parable of the lost son??? parable of the lost sheep???) all people, no matter what, can be seen within a psychological context. People prefer to be around others who share their beliefs and practices. That is the definition of culture after all. You think that if a person were involved in the vegan movement and then began eating meat his or her fellow vegans would accept it, even though such people usually chastise others for intolerance the most?

  6. When I was on my way out of the faith I was asked by the Bishop if I was going to ordain my son to the M/Phood and expressed reservations because I could no longer have any confidence in Mormonism … My son was confused because I had taught him all his life to have faith yet I had lost mine and it was causing him to struggle with his! Another Brother had Offered to step in and bless but in the end I felt that I had as more knowledge and inspiration about the needs of my son than any other and performed what would be his and mine last church blessing.. Everyone including the stake pres said it was a very spiritual blessing.. The point is it should not matter if you are worthy have the priesthood or are a woman, anyone who has good desires for an individual should be able to take part or it should be the wishes of the individual. I am convinced it can only harm a blessing if the person giving the blessing allows it to!

  7. I very recently stopped attending church or any activities. My husband left the church publicly about 15 years ago. Only the past two years this fall have I stopped going completey. After making this choice I can see now that the people I thought were my friends were just trying to “be a good example” to me and now that they see I have made my choice to be happy with my husband and no longer go to church, they have dropped me and my children compleltey. I also can see a 100% change in the way our family is treated at any family activity. It has lead my husband and I, to not care to attend any church activity for any family member. I really want to let you know how much I appreciate your posts. It helps me very much to move foward with a smile and feel like it is all going to work out. More importantly that we are not alone in the way we feel after making our choice to no longer be lds. Thank you very much!

  8. Mormons claim they don’t shun people and they don’t overtly teach it, however, like many things, shunning is an “unwritten” rule in the Mormon Church that happens and members won’t acknowledge that part of the culture.

  9. You make some good points. We Mormons (generally) go too far with this topic.

    There is a line. If I am not a member of a faith, then I understand that I cannot go to a place that only members can go (ie-Synagogues, Mosques, Temples). I don’t see it as shunning. I respect the tenants of their faith.

    Likewise, if I am not a member of a faith, I shouldn’expect to participate in ordinances that members do (rituals at a quincenera, ordinances, confirmations, etc). I don’t feel slighted, because I am strong in my own belief system.

    As for marriages…..currently in the USA, the government requires a civil union in order to be a recognized marriage. That means anyone should be able to participate in that civil union. That doesn’t mean I am going to go bang on the temple doors and demand to be let in. What I am going to do is push to have the Church approve civil unions first for couples, then sealings can go right after, or the next day, or whenever the couple wants to, instead of waiting a year. That’s how it is done in other countries, why shouldn’t it be here? It’s not a matter of doctrine. IMAGINE all the heartbreak that would save.

    Finally, I think a certain amount of shunning happens when we use terms that indicate exclusion and distance. And also when it is directed at the person instead of the action. “Ex-Mormon” instead of. “Different belief system,” “apostates” instead of apostasy, “non-members,” or “less active (I particularly loathe that one).” When we use jargon that is unfamiliar to others without explanation (ward, stake, etc).

    Anyway, my two cents. 🙂

  10. Incidentally. John Dehlin dud a podcast on mormonstories.com where he relates an interview he had directly with E. Holland. When he asked him if he felt those with very strong debilitating type doubts had a place in the church, he remarked that E Holland nearly jumped out of his chair with an enthusiastic YES. Later, John had other interactions with him that lead him to feel Holland had answered in a more placate way at the time.

  11. I dislike very much the natural shunning order of The Club. It really is a built in exclusivity shunning mechanism. I have tried my best to keep my beliefs in tact while being respectful of others’ beliefs so that I can minimize the amount if shunning. The worst part is that an apostate with a spouse and kids in tow is or can be treated at times like a 2nd class citizen….paying heed to how it natural taints the children’s perspective towards the disbelievers parent. I have combat Ted that for years in a most unorthodox fashion by becoming a cafeteria style believer if you need to put a label on it.

  12. Thinking about this and the LDS church is set up, I don’t think that shunning is avoidable. The only way around it would be to have bishoprics do these ceremonies instead of fathers and not have a circle of all priesthood holders in the room. Then believers and non-believers alike would be able to attend without being left out.

    And the women have always been left out of most everything and are avoided (shunned) or demeaned if they speak out. Even though a small percentage of ward councils are women, their opinions are often dismissed anyway so they have no real voice.

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