It's been just over a year since I broke up with the Mormon church. At Aaron's request I still generally attend church so I've had the chance to hear a lot of lessons from a very new and different perspective.
Just a few months after my decision we had a Sunday School lesson in which the teacher asked, "How can we help our children stay true to the gospel?" The answers were along the lines of: teach them to read scriptures, have family home evening, pray for them, encourage them to follow the commandments, etc.
As I listened to these devoted parents trying to come up with ways to help their children stay in the church they love, I started to squirm in my seat. "My parents did all those things," I thought, "and ultimately they didn't help."
I should have raised my hand and said, "You need to teach them about the skeletons."
It's kind of like the sex talk. Do you want your kids hearing the details from you, the loving well-informed parent? Or would you prefer they learn about it from some punk kid on the playground who only sort of knows the truth mixed in with some total crazytown info he overheard from his older brother?
The Internet is that punk kid, and all that information-- true, false, a mix of the two-- is laid out for your kids to find with a simple Google search. They're not going to learn it in Sunday School or from the Church Educational System because, as Boyd K. Packer put it, "Some things that are true are not very useful." and the church doesn't like to talk about the skeletons in its own closet.
Let me tell you something about the people who are leaving the church right now: they are good people. For the most part they are not leaving because they "want to sin." They're leaving because they've learned things about the church itself that make them deeply uncomfortable.
I've wondered lately if things might have gone differently if I had had a more honest and truthful view of church history and other bothersome things while growing up. It's possible that I still would have landed where I did (the church's unequal treatment of women and gays is a huge issue for me and may have been enough on its own) but maybe I would feel a little more warm and fuzzy toward the people at the top. Instead, I look at them and think, "You knew and you never said anything." And then I have to take deep breaths and work very hard at not becoming a bitter apostate.
|At the Provo temple during my BYU days|
From my personal experience I can tell you that finding out about the church's skeletons from the internet as an adult instead of from the church itself felt a lot like spending 24 years of my life in loving, constant devotion to someone and then discovering that they'd been lying to my face the entire time. I'd hear something in passing or see an odd comment in a news article and think, "Surely that cannot be true! I never learned anything about that in all my years of Sunday School and seminary or at BYU!" And then 10 minutes of research would confirm that it was not only true, but also there was SO MUCH MORE that I'd never heard before and it all made me feel like I'd been duped. I spent 4 years feeling heartsick and used and trying to ignore the skeletons. It didn't work and I left.
If you want to help your children stay in the church you need to teach them about the skeletons.
Tell them that Joseph and Emma did not have an amazing love story. Tell them that he had as many as 40 wives; one was as young as 14 and some were married to other men who were faithful members. Yes, he probably had sex with at least some of them. Emma hated polygamy and ultimately separated herself from the church.
Tell them that he was in Carthage jail because he broke a law, not because he was falsely accused.
Tell them about the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Tell them that innocent men, women and children were tricked into surrendering and were then murdered by members of the church and Native American accomplices. Tell them that it may have been done on Brigham Young's orders.
Tell them about the Book of Abraham. Yes, the church has the papyrii. No, it doesn't contain what we have in our current scriptures.
Tell them that prophets aren't infallible. Tell them about blacks and the priesthood ban.
Do your research. Know your history. And tell them about it.
I don't blame my parents for not telling me about these things because the information wasn't readily available when they were raising their kids and they didn't know. It's easily found now though, especially as the church releases essays on sensitive topics. Tell your kids about the skeletons. It might be hard or awkward but they will grow up knowing that you did your best to be open with them and that you valued honesty and integrity enough to tackle hard topics and trust them with the information. When they have questions they'll come to you instead of that punk kid, The Internet and maybe you'll be able to save them from the hurt that has killed the faith of so many others.
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