Mar 13, 2012
There are many terms that get employed in metaphor so often that they begin to lose any real meaning. “The Vanguard” is one of them. In the age of machine guns and smart bombs, the term has lost much of its impact, but it is worth looking at one more time. In ancient battles the vanguard were the first troops to enter battle. The vanguard was responsible for the first wave of attack, and the vanguard always suffered the worst casualties. Battle has always been a nasty affair. It is brutal. And the kinds of battles over religion, family, and belief we are waging today can be equally as brutal. The scars are not physical, but the emotional scars can run deeper and have a more lasting effect.
Historically speaking, battles were often very short–many times a matter of minutes–and the important actions by a few were often the pivotal points to entire conflicts. The rest of the troops were often there only for defense or support. Even in very large battles the actions of the few brave souls that rushed in first made all of the difference. The vanguard advances the battle; the vanguard determines what the fronts are; the vanguard determines when and where the war can end.
In all great social movements there is a vanguard that is willing to step out front and take the arrows. Historically, some risked death or physical pain. Fortunately we are not engaged in such a situation and we live in a society where we are free to speak our minds. But that doesn’t mean that speaking our minds will be free from consequence.
Many of us, who have left the Church have suffered real consequences. We have been written out of wills. We have lost friendships. We have been disowned. We have divorced. We have been kicked out of school. We have lost children in custody battles. We have lost jobs and sometimes entire careers. But it is not just us. Even innocent bystanders will suffer. Often neighborhood children will refuse to play with our children. Parents won’t let their children into our yards. Parents of their own wayward children will be released from callings or made to feel the blame for their adult children’s action in apostasy.
The cost is so high in many instances, that a great number refuse to bare it. In the last few years I have received literally hundreds of emails, calls, messages and visits from those who struggle with this decision. I have cried with these suffering individuals as they face the Faustian bargain of staying in a Church they don’t believe in–and sometime despise–or losing that which is of most value, their families. The choice is nearly undecidable.
The question is then, obviously, why do it? Why not just stay in and bear it? All of us have to do things that we don’t fully enjoy or agree with from time to time. How is this any different? It is a great question and one that deserves a thoughtful response.
For me, it was my daughter. She was three years old when I last went to Church. At that time I was struggling as a member of the Church. I had lost all of my belief in the Church and my belief in God. But I didn’t want to disrupt my family. However, I realized that she was about to start a system of indoctrination that would train her that she was a second class citizen and she should always subvert her will to male authority figures. I decided that any effort that I would invest in countering that message within the Church would be lost since I was still supporting the organization. My actions in merely attending Church and tacitly giving my approval therewith would speak louder than my words. I decided that I must bear the pain now so she wouldn’t have to later.
But suppose that people desired to stay and tried to inoculate they family, children and friends by letting them know where they disagree. This sounds like a great plan to anyone who hasn’t tried it. The Mormon culture does not tolerate dissent. Dissonance, especially in the form of verbal disagreement with Church authority is shouted down and snuffed out. Many a mixed faith couple knows the cloud of silence that descends when one’s beliefs about the most core parts of our existence are simply not allowed to be discussed. Most often, the resolution is that the partial or non-believer is not allowed to speak, parent, or love in manners that are not fully approved by the Church.
But even if they didn’t follow this paradigm and spoke, the problem is the Church is effective at dealing those who do not believe. It is skilled at turning spouse against spouse and child against parent. It is the rare parent that can counteract all of the youth programs, temple visits, conference talks, and peer pressure that will come down from the Church. The Church starts from the time children are very young and surrogates the role of the parent. This action continues through the youth programs culminating in the mission experiences in which young adults are not even allowed normal contact with their parents or siblings and are required to subjugate their very identity to the Church.
I have seen many souls without belief who go on and on maintaining their relationship with the Church. There are those who can reject all of the truth claims of the Church and be perfectly happy with membership. These folks I will address in the next installation of this essay. However the other half are often living a half life–a sort of zombie Church existence. They are constantly bombarded with a message they disagree with in an avenue that has no place for self expression. They must never express their deepest thoughts to their spouse or children. They are constantly reminded of their living duplicity several times each week. This is soul crushing.
To leave the Church will cause pain and destruction, but for many, the route of remaining involved is also a destructive force. There is always the pain of living a life that you can only partially believe. In these instance the parts of the self begin to battle and the result is often depression or worse. But it is not just the toll it takes on the individual. By remaining in the Church your are pushing the pain down another generation. All of the struggles that “patient” individual is suffering in silence will wait as traps for the next generation to walk into and the suffering will continue.
Let us return now to the vanguard. “I would leave the Church, but I will suffer for it.” I am amazed at how often words to this effect are repeated in a room full of ex-Mormons. Almost to a person, those who leave the Church as adults suffer tremendous loss for it.These things are usually said without the awareness of their effect on the others in the room–since the individual is thinking about their own dark situation. But to say it is not worth the fight to those who have fought, is in a small sense to trivialize their pain and their action. The person who leaves the Church over moral objection will count it as worth every price paid. To live a life free and true to oneself is precious and it is a freedom that once tasted cannot be overvalued.
One might rightly ask, but “why the frontal assault at all?” Why not the Fifth Column?” These are those who wish to “change the Church from the inside.” The fifth column is the enemy within, the spies who work behind enemy lines to weaken the front and allow the outsiders to vanquish. But to do this, you must ask yourself who are you fighting against and who are you fighting for? Look around and try to identify which of your actions support your enemies and which support your allies. But the most important question is, how do you know your actions are effective? There are many who attend Church every week, secret with the knowledge that they personally don’t buy any of this bunk. But they serve in callings, provide money, support and help raise the next generation of followers for the the institution to benefit from. How is any change effected at all?
When one looks at the history of conflict, it is very rare for the battle to be won by those who choose to bed with the enemy. It is almost always the force from outside the causes real change. There comes a time in ones life to stand up and be counted. There is a great satisfaction that come from being true to yourself and from having those around you know where you stand. The temptation to not stand up is great, but wars cannot be won without confronting peril and pain. Not everyone is able to taste the desired victory and arrive at peace. But some causes are worth dying for, or at least, suffering some personal losses that others might be free.
Next: Part 3: Amen and Amen