525: Dan Wotherspoon on Speaking with Loved Ones about Faith Differences

different-perspectives-ps3-trophy-25266.jpgIn this episode, co-released with Mormon Stories, Wendy Williams MontgomeryJohn Dehlin, and Dan Wotherspoon speak about the difficult dynamics at play in discussing with loved ones, whether family, friends, or ward members, about differences in faith positions after one party or another has shifted. In contrast with the types of challenges presented to people by “outsiders” to their faith, a change in stance and the new worldview presented by those who were once in sync with you (or at least perceived to be in sync) can be far more devastating. Their shifts often feel very personal, a rejection of something we hold most dear. And they have no excuse! They once knew what we know and now challenge and say they are seeing more clearly or experiencing something else more richly? For those who are the ones who have shifted, a loved one’s negative reactions to that person’s change also can feel quite personal. Why don’t they trust me that I’m on a good path, that I have information or insights that open the world to me in new ways? Why are they choosing stubbornness and clinging to ideology and dogma over really exploring and staying in close relationship with me no matter where my faith journey takes me?

How can we see these and other dynamics more clearly? What is “our” responsibility as those who have been the one whose perspectives have shifted? How can both parties better understand the challenges of this situation and learn to have compassion for each other? What are key virtues needed in such relationships? What are some “dos” and “don’ts” for negotiating this difficult interpersonal terrain?

Please listen and then share your stories and insights in the comments section below!

Comments

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17 comments for “525: Dan Wotherspoon on Speaking with Loved Ones about Faith Differences

  1. square peg
    March 17, 2015 at 9:52 am

    Thank you so much for this podcast. I cried all the way through it. I was able to relate to the things you all said. It’s sad that I can feel closer to people online that I don’t even know than I can to my own husband, parents and some of my kids. I feel like you guys understand me and comprehend the injuries and trauma’s of my spirit because you are on the same side of the fence I find myself on. Many of my family members never will “get me” in the same way!!! And sadly I want and need that, but I know it’s not realistic and I need to stop longing for it. My relationship with my husband just keeps getting a wider and wider gulf between us. I am heartbroken because my soul’s desire is to be close and to be his best friend. But our different perspectives seem to have ruined any chance of that. It causes great inner anguish to have to feel so far apart emotionally. Our relationship is so strained and so superficial. But we’ve tried and failed numerous times to make things better, but every time we try, it ends so badly. Our differences are simply too toxic. We can’t seem to communicate without our defenses going into over-drive. As a result, walls have gone up on both sides, and we’re both too tired to try to take them down anymore. I think some personalities can make the differences work, but we both are such strong and stubborn people. It is a distance that cannot be bridged. It is hell! But this is OUR reality. I’m glad for people who can make it work and deeply respect and understand each other despite differences. It makes me jealous that their situation and personalities make that a possibility. You had some fantastic suggestions on this podcast. I hope they are things that will help many people navigating the painful waters of how to reestablish relationships that used to be good, but now are so fragile. But I can’t change the dynamics of this no matter how hard I try. I cannot have the connection to the depth that my soul hungers for. We’ve had to stop trying to communicate on the bigger issues because it ALWAYS makes things worse, no matter what approach we try to start out with. I hate having a shallow relationship, but that is what it has to be for us I guess. It makes me angry. It makes me depressed. But you can’t force a door open that someone is determined to keep shut. I’m hoping the saying is true that “time heals all wounds”, because it is a heavy burden to live this way everyday. I desperately want to “shine”, but it’s almost impossible to do so when those you love insist on continuously casting a shadow on you because they are certain beyond any doubt that a “deceived” person can’t shine. So I have to just learn to shut my mouth and feel invisible in the shadows they seem to want me to stand in unless I come back to their way of seeing things. This is why it’s so easy for people to get bitter and angry. But yes, I understand it is our duty and obligation to try not to feel that way. Easier said than done sometimes. You just get to a point you feel so worn out that it’s hard to find the motivation to try again, when your personal track record proves your best efforts have never changed anything. But I’m sincerely hoping others will do better with this than we have. We all deserve to be happy and to find peace. Thanks again for sharing your wisdom and insights with all of us. It is the only validation and reinforcement that some of us get to help us remember we are not alone, even if our life circumstances often make us feel that we are. God bless us all in these difficult journeys.

    • Brad
      March 17, 2015 at 12:34 pm

      square peg,

      What a beautiful yet tragic summary of this process so many of us who are undergoing a faith transition find ourselves in. Yes, I agree whole heartedly that there is an unfortunate cultural mainstream belief that a “deceived” person can’t shine. That is what makes it particularly difficult to confront the issues with anyone who holds an orthodox belief in the church. We have become deceived, broken individuals who can only receive redemption by abandoning our new perspective, stop being influenced by the adversary, and get back in the boat. It’s no wonder progress cannot be made when trying to have a civil discussion on the matter. We begin the discussion already being not credible due to the believer’s preconceived idea of who we are and what we are trying to accomplish. I feel your anguish and wished I could do something to help.

    • Frank
      March 17, 2015 at 7:14 pm

      square peg,
      Several years ago my dear wife and I suffered a situation similar to your own. Upon announcing to my sweet, wonderful stake primary president wife that I, though a member of a ward bishopric, could no longer believe nor continue to be active, her shock, disbelief and disappointment at what I was saying was palpable. I explained that while I could and would continue to support her at any level of activity she continued to maintain, if I was to remain sane, I could no longer play “lets pretend” and to live a lie. While this revelation was extremely jarring to her she was and is so wonderfully understanding that she continued to love me, even as she continued with her activities. However, as the years passed through her own investigation, without any pressure or goading what-so-ever from me she came to more and more understand and agree with the correctness of my position. Also, as my situation was reported to our temple married, totally involved children, it was received with varying degrees of anxiety and disbelief but without the knee-jerk reaction some families experience. [The same could not be said however about the response of extended family, but we considered that to be much less important]!
      Today my wife and I [along with most of our children] are totally on the same page, and while we all remain at least nominal mormons with varying degrees of activity, our children are wonderful, responsible adults. We all love and support each other as we continue to attempt to make sense of life’s journey, and hope that perhaps your experience will come to parallel our own. We wish you the very best in your sincere and difficult attempt to resolve your issues!

    • Lilli
      March 18, 2015 at 12:24 am

      It is ‘pride’ that causes us to not respect or be able to listen to the beliefs & opinions of our spouse, or anyone else.

      If a spouse will not respect and love their partner no matter what they believe or don’t believe, no matter if they are righteous or unrighteous, then it has nothing to do with the unbelieving spouse who may have changed their mind mid course.

      It has everything to do with respect and love and keeping our marriage vows to cherish and nurture the other, no matter what. Those who are filled with love for their spouse may not agree on everything but they will not reject their spouse or create distance or avoid talking about anything just because they don’t believe the same anymore.

      The focus should not be on a spouse’s beliefs but on mutual love and respect and compromise, realizing that both spouses believe both true and false things and they are here on earth to help each other find the truth (by sharing different views & opinions & reasoning together & not being afraid to study both sides of an issue, like Christ commanded us to when he said to prove all things by facts, not feelings.

      While being on the same page is always wonderful and eventually everyone will be on that page in the next life, having different beliefs here isn’t a big problem for those who truly love each other, for a spouse can talk about ‘tiny green men from mars’ and the other will still listen and respect their views and interests.

      It’s ‘pride, disrespect, fear of the truth and that we might be wrong, that makes us not want to hear, explore or respect the beliefs of our spouse, (which is a much bigger problem, defect or sin then not being in the right religion). We should be far more interested in understanding our spouse and making them feel accepted and comfortable around us, then anyone else on earth, even if we may not have agreement on beliefs.

      Christ & even Joseph Smith taught that religion should never come before the spouse and definitely never be the cause of a separation. Love is the greatest of all, not religion. Religion is just there to help us love our spouse, not make our marriage harder.

      It is ‘love’ that proves that someone is ‘right & righteous’ anyway, not what religion they believe in, if any at all.

      If we truly love & respect our spouse & put them 1st, then one day they will come to understand what love is and we will convert them to our beliefs. Love is always the answer.

      • jebediah springfield
        March 18, 2015 at 7:53 pm

        i agree that the focus of a marriage should be the love between the two spouses, and not the beliefs they have or don’t have. if things were stripped down to simplistic terms, black or white, wrong or right, a spouse should not leave the other one solely on the fact of belief or disbelief (if so, that marriage was doomed from the start, and i have no idea how they thought they had an eternal marriage with that mindset.) however, things are usually not so black and white.

        often, when one spouse stops believing, the other spouse suddenly becomes afraid not only of their spouse sharing anti-mormon rhetoric, but they’ll ask themselves: if they don’t believe in mormonism, do they not believe in eternal marriage? will they cheat on me? divorce me? will they start drinking? essentially – will they start living a lifestyle that’s incompatible with mine?

        these are very real fears that should be taken into consideration. when people get married, they do not only because they love each other but because they have compatible values (ex: wanting children v. not wanting children, drinking alcohol v. not drinking, supporting lgbt rights v. supporting anti-lgbt causes) that they see as essential for their marriage. the issues that cause separation are usually very complicated and there are always two sides to the issue.

        so yes, believing spouses should seek to understand their non-believing spouses because they love them and they shouldn’t give up on them just because they no longer believe.

        but those who have stopped believing, either partially or entirely, should be understanding of their spouse and what they are going through, as they probably never expected this to happen and this shatters their whole world view as well. sharing should be done with patience and love, and more as an invitation than a shoving-it-down-their-throats approach. and to help, the nonbelieving spouse should always reassure their spouse of what hasn’t changed (i.e.: they still love them, they still believe in monogamy, they won’t start drinking, etc.).

        this is not about figuring about who is wrong and who is right, but about being in communion with your spouse and other relationships, and fostering an environment of love and understanding.

        • Lilli
          March 22, 2015 at 1:33 am

          Jebidiah,

          I agree that spouses should be patient with each other and if one changes their beliefs midstream then they should be loving and gentle in the way they share their beliefs.

          But in such cases, usually both spouses are going through equal pain & worry, so neither deserves more understanding then the other, they both need understanding and reassurance. The believing spouse needs to reassure the non-believing spouse that they still love them and accept them, and care about their feelings, thoughts, opinions & beliefs.

          I believe it is very black & white and it’s very important to know who is right or wrong, or neither will be able to help the other or the marriage get to a healthy loving respectful place.

          And there is just as much likelihood that spouses will start drinking or having affairs or be abusive or abandon them whether they believe in the Church or no church at all. I have read that the LDS Church has just as high a divorce rate, if not higher, (and I believe abuse rate) as almost any other religion, or even atheists.

          In fact, I find that many people who leave the Church worry about the evils their believing spouse will continue to be duped into going along with, that seem to be getting worse in the Church as time goes on. Like if the Church brings polygamy back, as I believe they will. It’s a valid fear that a believing spouse would be willing to go along with that.

          And after a while most marriages are very incompatible. Compatibility is nice but not a necessity. Love, service, respect, unselfishness and commitment are necessities that will foster love far more then compatibility ever can.

          So bottom line is, we need to focus on becoming healthy individuals who can love and respect each other whatever our beliefs, realizing that no religion or church has a monopoly on good people, people are all about the same the world over. In fact I believe the LDS Church is one of the least Christlike Churches, so unbelieving spouses have just as much to worry about for their other spouse as visa versa.

          My husband’s siblings, parents, friends & relatives are all non LDS. They are in many different religions, but they most all enjoy coming together for family gatherings and one of the favorite topics of discussion is religion. No one is afraid to share their opinions and no one is afraid to hear different opinions or religious views. It’s very respectful, open and even insightful to have such discussions.

          But in my family & friends, where everyone is LDS, hardly no one wants to talk about religion, it’s almost taboo, let alone can hardly anyone handle hearing different opinions or beliefs expressed, especially if by someone out of the LDS faith or who left the Church. They even avoid & act afraid to get together with family members who have left the Church, totally unlike my husband’s family. There is an extreme fear in almost all LDS I know that if they talk to someone who doesn’t believe in the Church or who brings up problems, then the hearer will grow horns or something and instantly apostatize.

          I have watched this extreme difference for 30 years as I live in Mormonville and also travel back east to visit my husbands family twice a year. I attribute this fear in LDS as coming from their religion, their leaders teachings that they are totally right & can’t be wrong, and they teach them to fear anyone outside.

          While other religions may not like or agree with LDS, I have not found this type of fear in the non-LDS I know.

          Spouses should also strive to become this healthy, that no matter what each other believes, they can sit and share ideas, and reason together maturely and with love, love for the truth, that together they will seek for truth wherever they find it.

          Again, it is pride and arrogance to think we aren’t wrong about many many things or can’t be deceived in our beliefs. I believe the LDS Church teaches this unhealthy pride, to make us believe we can’t be wrong.

          While Christ taught the opposite. He taught that it is easy to be wrong and warned us to constantly watch out for falsehoods & false prophets who would deceive us. He commanded us to prove all things, but facts not feelings. But pride makes us feel we could never be deceived, by man, spirit or angel. When in reality, everyone can easily deceived by all 3, no matter how good a person they may be.

          We can’t help convert our spouse to the truth, unless we know what the truth is ourselves and can see clearly. Until we get the beam out of our own eye & learn the truth, the black & white, we won’t be able to help convert our spouse to the real truth that brings true happiness to our marriage & world.

  2. Cory
    March 17, 2015 at 2:45 pm

    Thank you for discussing heretic vs. apostate! One of my pet peeves. The LDS Church uses “apostasy” incorrectly. You really cannot excommunicate an apostate, because by definition an apostate is someone who has renounced the faith. A heretic is simply someone with unorthodox views. v. http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/9399?redirectedFrom=apostasy#eid
    and http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/86195?redirectedFrom=heresy#eid

  3. March 17, 2015 at 3:18 pm

    So there was one thing I was hoping for here. I find a number of people in the church who are converts or people who used to have a “wilder” lifestyle feel they have been on both sides of the fence.

    Wendy and Dan both reference the idea that disaffected understand both sides of the fence while others don’t. Some of the most vehement and harmful members can be those who have had an alternative lifestyle before. They can be a group that refuses to back down because they have “been there”. I tend to see quite a few venomous comments from that particular group.

    I love the idea of humanization though. On both sides of the fence, we tend to dehumanize the other side particularly when we feel we are being dehumanized. Tough spot to be in. Such a good podcast and a great resource in the future. I would love to see a write up of this podcast with the recommendations or “best practices” listed out.

    • Lilli
      March 22, 2015 at 1:37 am

      Yes, Just because we have come to realize the Church isn’t true, doesn’t mean we have found the truth.

      Many, if not most, people who leave the Church, can be just as lost and deceived as those still in the Church.

      It is rare for someone to find the real truth and live it.

  4. Frank
    March 17, 2015 at 4:45 pm

    square peg,
    I suffered from a very similar situation with my spouse many years ago. I was in a bishopric and my sweet wife was stake primary president, My wonderful wife just could not understand [nor accept] the transition that had come over me – but as a matter of conscience and sanity I could no longer live with what I had previously whole-heartedly accepted and supported. While I agreed I would and could continue to support her in her position I could no longer pretend to believe in that which just did not add up for me. Fortunately she was the type person who could allow me to live my life as I felt I must, though her disappointment in the aggreement was obvious.
    We continued in this vein for some time, and while I in know way coerced her to follow my example, over time through her own industry she came to see the validity of my thinking and position.
    While we both remain nominal mormons, with children ranging from totally active to total disbelievers [though all were at one time temple married, fully active believers] we all love and accept each other for what we now have become. I am proud of them all as they are all wonderful, responsible adult people, which is all I could ever ask for. Perhaps over time you and yours will be able to arrive at a similar position and arrangement. I certainly hope so…and I believe that my experience shows that hope for you and yours does still exist!
    Best of luck to you and yours…we understand!

  5. Uncle Ralph
    March 17, 2015 at 11:57 pm

    Dan’s positive proactive approach to dealing with the parties who perceive themselves agrieved is admirable—if you can manage it. What I fear is that when the bomb of “apostacy” (or whatever you want to call it) goes off, the folks on both sides may be too badly wounded and in too much pain to interact positively or even at all. As John sort of hinted at, it may be best to simply retreat from the scene and heal quietly for some time, maybe a long time. I think it would be important, though, to try one’s best not react like a wounded animal if approached on the subject by anyone. The “spiritual path” that the “leavers” and the “stayers” end up on may not be something that anybody chose. It may very well be perceived as an unmitigated disaster and disaster recovery can take a long time and the likelyhood of rebuilding exactly as things were before is very small. That’s probably one of the most important steps: to accept that everything will be OK someday, but it will never be the same. Take solace in the fact that NOTHING stays the same anyway.

  6. Lisa
    March 18, 2015 at 5:52 am

    Comment cross-posted at Mormon Matters: A great conversation on a very important topic–I could listen to an entire series just on this! I want to make a point about the short conversation on “apostasy” versus “heresy.” Dan, you threw the question to the panelists whether your characterization of these was fair, and I want to suggest that it wasn’t. Here’s why. In your description, I heard you identifying as the primary mark of differentiation between the two groups not the choice of how much engagement with the church one would have, whether one retained active status or not, or the degree to which one’s own opinions aligns with pervasive views of doctrine held among institutional members, but the relative amount of love or concern one has for the tradition and institution. Surely a love for the faith and its people is a strong driver–perhaps the strongest–for many who make the difficult decision to stay actively engaged with the institutional church after a shift in beliefs. I also have an intense love for the faith / ancestry / family and church traditions / upbringing / etc., but have made the difficult decision to spend less time affiliating with the institutional church. Perhaps if we did a statistical analysis on the correlation between “love for the church/faith/tradition” and “decision whether to stay engaged with the institutional church or not” on the pool of folks who have experienced large faith shifts, I theoretically may be an outlier, but my sense of the matter is otherwise. I think all of us who find ourselves in the pool of faith-shifters and who may find ourselves frequently countering the simplifying (and in effect dehumanizing assumptions) of more orthodox believers–need to be careful not to perpetuate this same dynamic among faith-shifters who have made different decisions about “staying” or “leaving” (and everything in between) than we have. Another burden that is ours. Another interesting dynamic at play in all of this.

  7. jebediah springfield
    March 18, 2015 at 7:57 pm

    what i’m wondering is what would be your take on false doctrine being taught at the pulpit or sunday school? as an active mormon, when i go to church, if something is being taught in sunday school that is blatantly false (ex: the infallability of prophets, even when they’re wrong), should I keep my mouth shut, even though I believe that is a damaging teaching? or if I speak out, how should I go about it then? or should I just let it be taught and keep my mouth shut, even though I know it’s blatantly wrong?

    • Doubting Thomas
      March 18, 2015 at 8:57 pm

      Have you ever contradicted an obvious false statement that is perpetuated by most active Mormons as being absolutely true? Your example is perfect. In my ward every head will turn and the topic will be changed just as fast.

      The church is no longer about truth. It is ALL about obedience to CURRENT leadership.

  8. Andrew
    March 19, 2015 at 9:07 am

    The discussion about relationships becoming superficial really struck a chord with me. I’m sure there are many like me who now feel that they have no one with whom they can connect in a deep meaningful way; spouse, children, parents, siblings, and friends have all been moved to the superficial category. That leaves a major need that is left unmet.

    • jebediah springfield
      March 19, 2015 at 7:58 pm

      this was one of the points that stood out to me. recently, ive had the experience of having to reevaluate my friendships. while there were definite feelings of nostalgia and sadness at not having certain friends in my life, i realized that i do not want surface friends, but intimate friends that i can trust with my thoughts. you can have a close relationship to people without discussing religion (unless they’re uber religious and thats all they ever talk about). and you dont want people in your life that will judge you for your different views.

  9. Michael Surkan
    March 25, 2015 at 11:32 am

    It seemed like a lot of the conversation in this episode revolved around how best to explain a heretical viewpoint to active LDS members to either achieve understanding or convince them that they are mis-guided.

    I wonder if trying to explain or convince one’s disaffection with active members is simply not a pointless exercise to begin with? It is fruitless to try and explain one’s disaffection with orthodox LDS belief to an active member unless that person is genuinely interested in exploring such questions, and wants to engage in such a conversation.

    LDS members who have either left the church altogether or become unorthodox in their belief structure simply need to accept that this is something they need to keep to themselves or those of like mind. Take to the on-line communities, make new ex-Mormon friends, write blogs or make podcasts, but DON’T try to explain yourself to parents or LDS friends. It will lead to nothing but frustration all round…

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