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.
- 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. ↩
- 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. ↩
- 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. ↩
- 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. ↩
- any good ideas for some Fridge base ceremonies? if you are inventing your own religion might as well make it more inclusive right? ↩