48: Friendly Advice for Interacting with Apostates (Part 1)

Heather hosts a panel discussion with Amber, Craig, and Sarah in which they give advice to church leaders about productive ways to interact with apostates and doubters.



  1. John

    So this idea of cutting people off, threatening/excommunicating etc is prevalent in the church. I don’t know the roots, but it certainly is expounded in the infamous “Miracle of Forgiveness”:

    “One would wish that the rebellious would stop and ask themselves questions such as: “Do my philosophy and my critical efforts bring me closer to Christ, to God, to virtue, to prayer, to exaltation?” “What have I gained by my criticism peace, joy and growth, or merely satisfaction to my pride?” “What have I gained by my sin other than immediate carnal satisfaction?”
    In cases where the rebellious exercise repentance, that repentance may be sparked in various ways. Some men come to recognize their sins from introspection while others must be brought to their knees by outside forces. Many, having realized their transgressions, begin their repentance in secrecy. Others must be apprehended and chastised and punished before they begin their transformation. Some even need to be disciplined by forced inactivity, dis-fellowshipping, or even excommunication before they realize their plight and the need to transform their lives. None of us should resent being reminded of our responsibilities and being called to repent of our sins. The Lord may choose to chasten us in this way or some other, but it is all for our own good.”

    Essentially its advocating tough love and denying the spirit (to those who still believe) is to shake them up by the contrast in their lives. Spiritual abuse is a more fitting term in my opinion though.

    Reply Aug 22, 2013 @ 08:55:36
  2. CorveyMichaels

    Just a note that I sympathize to the extent that I am capable to experience for your story and circumstances. I wish it could have been very different and that local leaders could be more understanding, open to discussion, and more gentle. As a believing male member, I am sorry for what happened and do not think it was in your best interest using such an approach.

    Reply Aug 23, 2013 @ 11:14:33
    • Sarah Stiles

      Thank you, Corvey. I do not know what caused the sudden change in attitude from these men, since they have previously shown support, even though they did not understand. I was still a member in very good standing, and I got the feeling that the ward members loved and respected me, despite my doubts. I do know that the SP spoke with them later, and then assured me that they were out of line, and that this sort of thing should not happen in the future.

      Reply Sep 30, 2013 @ 13:24:24
      • CorveyMichaels

        I am sure you have already come to some resolution that you are still in very good standing with friends, family, and in even in the eternal worlds now and in those to come.

        Reply Oct 16, 2013 @ 16:49:58
  3. Canuck Aussie

    How is it that these church leaders cannot see how abusive and evil their interview/disciplinary practices are? They go against the foundational teachings of their own church, against the principles of Christianity and are exactly what Satan would want them doing. There is something seriously wrong with a church that twists people’s brains so much that they think abuse has anything to do with Christ. If Satan actually existed, he is clearly at the helm of the LDS cult.

    Reply Aug 24, 2013 @ 02:15:21
    • CorveyMichaels

      C.A. With Heather C. having maybe better explained your thoughts, I concede that local leaders can and do not exactly practice what is preached. As lay leaders they are given a set of duties along with instructions and very little training and experience to handle very personal matters. It is the bane of a lay leadership. I also don’t think paid leadership has resulted in any better outcomes. As has been proven over an over again, give anyone little authority and it can be used very poorly. Those who try for good, are often left with the example of past leaders or perhaps the broader cultural traditions that are flawed. Having been subject as a believer to several not so talented leaders, I have concluded that all organized religion has struggled with this issue. So I learned, by difficult experience, that I can choose to throw off belief systems or I can use any and all experiences to my benefit. I stay with the LDS belief system for some very basic theology. The evil that I have experienced is from within and also expressed in the weakness of all of us, whether we are religious or not. I am saddened that others such as Sarah and many others had to endure such difficulties.

      Reply Aug 24, 2013 @ 16:26:30
      • seasickyetstilldocked

        CM, to what degree do you hold the Church responsible for the actions of their local leadership? Do the actions or priorities of the institutional church even matter when you consider why you remain a faithful and believing member?

        Reply Aug 26, 2013 @ 12:20:16
        • CorveyMichaels

          I think you make a great point as to what extent should the institutional element be responsible. I think they should be responsible and should use the leadership structure to teach how to behave better. This is where there is a weak link and where the Church is experiencing the modern apostasy movement. We know that the chain is only as strong as its weakest link. This can be pinpointed right to your experience and others (even mine). Nonetheless, I have chosen to separate the administrative arm from the theology. This I believe is culturally and socially difficult, but is a required step for any believer in any organized religion in order to begin another approach to the divine.

          Reply Aug 29, 2013 @ 12:32:19
          • CorveyMichaels

            P.s. It’s the theological concepts that has really created so much consternation that can be linked to Church History and Leaders. Current leaders are not given the ability to address it and resort to the cultural and ideological defaults. I find LDS history fascinating and rich with its struggle to define the divine. Yes, both in its mistakes and and as a believer in its successes.

            Aug 29, 2013 @ 13:09:31
          • seasickyetstilldocked

            If you believe the Church should be responsible, then do you believe they should be held accountable? If not, why?

            Aug 30, 2013 @ 21:05:29
          • seasickyetstilldocked

            PS, I find it interesting that you seem to be implying that the weakest link would be the leaders at the local level while I clearly see the weakest link being the top 15 and the cult of personality management culture that surrounds them.

            Aug 31, 2013 @ 16:21:07
  4. CorveyMicheals

    Canuck Aussie,
    Your statement is so overly broad reaching its hard to give it any intellectual credence. Your position could apply to every organized entity from family units, to government, and to any business entity, including non-profits. The issue is really about people and their weaknesses that do extend to organizational behavior. But labeling is really not productive in helping the situation.

    Reply Aug 24, 2013 @ 11:07:12
  5. Expositor's Heather C.

    Corvey: Play nice. Don’t come out of the gate swinging with your claws out.

    Also, you’re letting the church completely off the hook. There are institutionalized ideas and practices that are enforced top-down. Many of the church’s harmful behaviors aren’t the fault of rogue leaders full of human fallibility. They’re the result of misguided ideals and unchallenged attitudes towards authority propagated and reinforced by the top brass as well as the doctrine coming out of the correlation department.

    C.A. makes a very valid point. There are many things the LDS church does that goes against its supposed ideals of free will and personal accountability. One need not look further than the forced obedience of the BYU honor code.

    Reply Aug 24, 2013 @ 14:54:32
    • CorveyMichaels

      Heather C,
      Now that’s a thoughtful response. C.A. was swinging with the labels. If one wants to truly dialogue by making a extreme point of who might be at a particular helm is not attempting to explore an issue nor attempting to find a mutual meaning to an issue. Such statements are as demeaning as the approaches you pointed out in the podcast by those of presumed authority.

      Reply Aug 24, 2013 @ 15:39:52
  6. SloppySeconds

    Fortunately for me I’ve never been confronted by any authority figure about my disaffection. The worst I got was a chat with my uncle who was a stake high council member. Without even asking me what happened he accused me of having given up on prayer and scripture study. He couldn’t have been more wrong. I read and prayed up until the moment I gave up on Mormonism. I don’t recall if he asked me about exposure to or dappling in “anti”-Mormon stuff but I had various friends who eventually asked me if that’s what drove me away. At the time of my disaffection the only “anti” stuff I had run across was a black and white picture on my brother’s computer of people in a prayer circle with their hands in the air and the words “Oh God, beer is good for my mouth!” (the slogan of Pay Lay Ale). I was deeply offended by it and didn’t ever seek out anything that could be considered “anti”-Mormon until four or more years later. My point in all this being that I was confronted with assumptions, all of which were wrong, so my advice to members would be to stop assuming you know why people leave the faith.

    Ironically enough, years after losing my faith and years into settling into my atheism/agnosticism, I married an active believing Mormon and we get along great. Her current bishop puts zero pressure on me and proudly admits to getting a kick our of the controversial episodes on Mormon Stories. I almost wish the bishop were more of a jerk so I wouldn’t feel as bad about requesting my name be removed from Church records.

    Reply Aug 25, 2013 @ 07:49:51
  7. seasickyetstilldocked

    I went to the bishop to discuss my non belief a few years ago. I figured that the right thing to do was be honest and let him know where I am at. I began by stating that I did not want to debate anything but rather just wanted to discuss the general issue of having to reconcile my testimony to an increased set of information regarding the restoration. I was very nice and clearly, sad. I had explained how active I had been etc. Here was his response in this order:

    Who have you told in our ward about this.
    Who have you told in our stake about this.
    If you keep at this, you will likely lose your family.

    Then he goes on some story about losing your marriage and kids due to apostasy. I was stunned. The meeting sucked. I did not argue but simply realized that this was how the church handled people like me. It does not matter how faithful you have been or how much tithing you have paid or how many hours you have spent on your callings (at your families expense no less). You are basically told, “Thanks for playing, now don’t let the door hit you on your way out.”

    Reply Aug 26, 2013 @ 12:01:44
    • CorveyMichaels

      I do not think it is as simple as you seem to imply that the top 15 institutional leaders hold a greater weight in church culture. I consider the “teach them correct principles and let them govern themselves” is first and foremost in what makes Mormonism so interesting. The Church is a council and decision governing system with multiple presiding officers. Each stake and ward are semi-independent bodies created by comment consent. This is were the weak link can flourish hopefully for the good, but not always, as was so in the tragic case of the Mountain Meadows Massacre. There the council form broke down, due in part to geographical isolation, the local leaders began a terrible council and decision process that even when that broke down a few influential persons carried out some of the early plans leading to massacre. A much less tragic example is the dress code of the LDS missionaries. There was a time that top hats had to be worn, then only suits, then only dark conservative colors, and then the recent changes, etc. These changes are not simply 15 institutional leaders leading the cause, its the believer’s behavior that pushes which stems from each succeeding generation. Likewise, doctrines and teachings have gone through similar changes leading to the issues involving Church history today. That’s why the early leaders had such a different view of Mormonism than do the leaders today. However, I confess the my position then opens up the discussion of what kind of revelation are the 15 leaders receiving? For me, they simply hold a calling and an office and their revelation is no more privileged than it is more me or a local bishop. The caveat is that they hold the calling and office for directing Church and their decisions may be questioned by a later generation and are subject to potential re-visitation. Thus, I still argue that the weakest link is us the believers, who at times called a local leaders, are we ready for additional light and knowledge?

      Reply Sep 02, 2013 @ 11:31:31
  8. JM

    Loved this podcast as I’ve recently told my bishop how I feel and his response was similar to ones expressed here. He also asked my wife if I have a “porn problem” as we all know that’s really the deep down, honest answer for why we leave when we discover the truth.

    Obviously our unpaid clergy’s lack of training is showing.

    Keep these types of podcasts coming, I really enjoy them.

    Reply Aug 26, 2013 @ 12:21:50
  9. Matt

    I liked the podcast and thought that it was representative of many of the issues that occur when faith is lost or diminished in core teachings in the church. The administrative actions are definitely unclear when you have members whose beliefs don’t align with what is in the manual.

    Just a recommendation, could you add the key points to the description of the podcast? I believe that if you had succinct points in the description that others could take those thoughts with them and apply them and influence the wards or stakes that they are a part of. Otherwise, they have to be avid note takers while they listen to the podcast to accomplish this.

    Reply Aug 29, 2013 @ 14:37:25
    • Craig

      Hi, Matt, sorry I haven’t been following these comments til now. Here are the key points we covered in the podcast. I’ll see if we can get this added to the show notes as well.

      – Don’t assume that you know what people’s personal experiences (spiritual or otherwise) mean to them. Do ask them how they interpret their experiences.

      – Don’t put people in a situation where they are being questioned by multiple people when they are alone. It puts them on the defensive and makes them less likely to hear the message you are trying to get across.

      – If you are planning to discuss matters of belief, especially if you think there will be differences of belief expressed, don’t call people into a meeting with no warning. It can make them feel blindsided and unprepared. Do let them know ahead of time and tell them in advance why you would like to meet.

      – Don’t tell people they are being deceived by Satan. You have no way of knowing whether that is true or not, and it’s incredibly condescending as well. Even if it were true, telling them so will just make them stop listening to you.

      – If you are not prepared to truly listen to the answers you get, and research them for yourself, don’t ask people to tell you what their issues with the church are. They will likely tell you things that you have never heard before and are unprepared to answer. There are resources out there to deal with these things from a believing perspective, but “you just have to have faith” will not be persuasive.

      – If someone is willing to serve in a limited capacity and they are not hurting anyone else’s faith by doing so, let them serve. Saying they are no longer allowed to participate because they aren’t on board with the whole program will likely drive them away.

      – If someone tells you something in confidence and asks you to keep it private, don’t talk about it with other people. This includes ward councils and the like. This doesn’t apply to us since we have been pretty open about our spiritual journey, but if you disclose information that someone has asked to keep private they will likely consider it a breach of trust.

      Reply Sep 05, 2013 @ 09:23:03
      • Matt

        Much appreciated.

        Reply Sep 05, 2013 @ 09:30:31
  10. RDB

    Thank you for these points of advice (I hold a leadership position). I’ve been processing through a lot of the troubling facts you reference for myself, and have been advocating for a more loving approach to people in faith transitions. Thanks for your perspectives!

    Reply Aug 30, 2013 @ 00:39:35
    • Craig

      I’m glad you found this podcast useful, RDB. Thanks for listening!

      Reply Sep 05, 2013 @ 09:24:30
  11. Michael

    I’ll throw in my story. After being a non-believer but faking it for years and being in multiple leadership and scouting positions, I handed my bishop a letter that said, essentially, that I was done, that next week is my last week at church and included my temple recommend.

    My bishop showed up at my house 2 days later. The FIRST question he asked is, “Are you wearing your temple garments?” WTF? Really. I just told you I don’t believe in god and you want to know about my underwear?

    After we talked for about 20 minutes, he said, “Well, I need to talk to the stake president to see about disciplinary action.” (Mind you, this bishop had been counselor in the stake presidency for 9 years.) I told him to go home and read his handbook because I had done nothing to merit church discipline. Non-belief is not grounds for church discipline.

    Of course, I already knew that this guy has absolutely no people skills, which made him a very awkward bishop.

    Reply Sep 18, 2013 @ 08:47:28
  12. Geoffrey

    Ooh! Ooh! I have an example of ecclesiastical abuse! Pick me! Pick me!

    At 16, I forced myself to go to church (my family was and still is active, but I definitely could have refused to go), but I refused to participate in any activities. When the bishop asked me to talk in front of the ward, I flat out refused. I felt like garbage at the time, and I could no longer make the church logically make sense. I also didn’t understand why, a few years back, the kid who was bullying me could still bless the sacrament even though I had told the bishop about the abuses I suffered at his hand over and over again. No direct action was taken against this young man. I began to realize that I wasn’t going to receive help from the church, and that I was completely on my own to solve that problem (which is another fun story completely).

    When my bishop called me into his office for my interview to become a priest, I told him that I no longer believed, and that it would be inappropriate for me to be raised a priest. I wasn’t angry or confrontational, I just wanted to be honest, the universally moral course of action. I told him that I felt nothing for the church, and that I felt nothing for God.

    He looked me in the eyes, then calmly and knowingly said the phrase I will never forget, “Geoffrey. You are so passive, you will grow up to be a bank robber or drug dealer.”

    I knew the implications of his words immediately. How dare I question? How dare I have the gall to be honest about it? How dare I go against my entire family and culture for the sake of truth? How dare I throw away the pretense of perfection?

    I also wondered why he even thought I was worthy in the first place if he was supposed to be using divine revelation.

    I confronted him over his words, but he insisted that he was right and told me to pray about it: I’d come around to see it the way he did, surely, if I prayed hard enough. He tried to sell it as tough love, not arrogance.

    Bullshit. XD

    Reply Oct 11, 2013 @ 21:36:07
    • Geoffrey

      Oh, forgot to mention that this bishop only knew me for a couple of months, yet he was so willing to assume that I was a horrible person.

      Reply Oct 11, 2013 @ 21:40:16

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