Relationships with family and friends in the Church have been put under strain because of my involvement as a witness to Tom Phillips fraud case against President Thomas S Monson.
In our local Ward of Helston, in Cornwall things were unintentionally made worse when the local bishop, a friend, asked me to explain my reasons for being involved in the case to the Ward members so they would not feel like I’m attacking them personally. As a compassionate man I believe his motives were honourable, even if the result was negative and unexpected.
My initial response to his request was to suggest to him that he reads a written statement from me to the Ward in sacrament the following day. He declined but advised I just put the letter on Facebook.
After questioning this course of action he again thought it was a good idea because many members follow me on Facebook and they are already feeling attacked personally by what I post on my wall so he thought using the same method to publicise the letter and explaining my reasons would help calm their fears.
Again I questioned this course of action. But he was adamant this was the way to do it. My wife Liz was with us and heard his instructions very clearly.
I set to writing my Consoling Letter to Helston Ward and posted it on my Facebook wall about 11pm on Saturday night. with a reassuring photograph of ‘overcoming fear’. Being desperate to follow the bishop’s instructions and help calm their fears I wanted to get the letter on Facebook before Sunday so the members had a chance to read it before Church meetings the next day. To make sure they saw it I tagged their names.
I also sent the same letter as an email to those without Facebook accounts, and also to the Stake Presidency of Plymouth Stake and several Bishops and Stake leaders in an effort to be as open and transparent as possible.
I intentionally made the letter public on my wall in an effort to be open, honest and transparent because that was the message of the letter and are the reasons for my involvement. I was confident the content of the letter would help resolve misconceptions about my motives. How wrong could I have been.
I have subsequently received letters expressing members very strong feelings of distrust in me and my actions.
Though I desperately want to reply to the individuals concerned, who we consider our friends, I am being very circumspect about the way my actions and words will be understood.
I do not believe it is possible to reassure them when their own cognitive filters are so strongly influenced by fear. At this stage, anything I say or do will be misconstrued, to everyone’s detriment. So I am forced to stay silent.
I write in this blog as a way to express myself and hope others will see the bigger picture.
If I could reply, these are some of the thoughts I would want to be understood by those who now consider us enemies of the Church:-
I’ve been emotionally drained from reading all the messages of support for our campaign from hundreds of people all over the world. Many people are truly suffering as a direct result of the inability of their believing family and friends to understand their change of beliefs, or even that they would be asking questions.
May I take a few moments to explain some of my feelings. I’m not bitter, but I am determined to assist those who are suffering.
I’m truly sorry that most members in my local Ward feel offended by my actions.
Some of their responses remind me of my own angry impassioned plea to my brother David, a few years back when I was bishop, because he threatened to reveal the problems in Mormon history and doctrine to a newly baptised member of the Ward. I was desperate that he didn’t influence her badly against the Church. My wife & I have also had to deal with the emotional trauma of discovering our own son Chris had run away from home because he felt terrified to talk about his change of beliefs. And then we had to come to terms with the fact that he no longer believed in our ambitions for the ideal eternal family. Sadly I think I know somewhat about the emotions involved in the issues from the perspective of a faithfully believing member.
It now feels really bizarre to be seeing these events from the other perspective, whilst retaining a memory of my past viewpoint.
I don’t blame the members for defending their circle of non-member friends from what Elder Boyd K Packer calls ‘disease germs’. But from another perspective those ‘disease germs’ actually only give a broader overview of the facts on which to base one’s determination of the truth. Those so called ‘disease germs’ give the full and frank disclosure we’re asking for, instead of the narrow sanitised story which Elder Packer assures the believer is faith promoting.
The ever-increasing focus of the Church on the emotional feelings of elevation which they call the ‘Spirit’ is ubiquitous with organisations which prioritise feelings over facts.
The emphasis has changed in my lifetime from belief in purported truths, to belief in belief itself, and an emphasis on how that belief makes one feel. The very same emphasis is recognised in most religious belief systems, but particularly those which are acknowledged as using ‘undue influence’.
Knowing this, should make the truth seeker wary of being too credulous in giving their affiliations and affections to an organisation which could abuse their trust.
When an organisation attempts to control information in any way, there is naturally a suspicion of deception. I believe it is always better to be open and honest. When members find out that their testimony of the restored gospel has been based on incorrect, inaccurate and incomplete information it is understandable they should feel aggrieved. The biggest problem is the fallout with families and friends that occurs.
Paraphrasing Holly Welker, the Church needs to stop considering those who leave as proud, angry, offended and sinful. Sunday School, Priesthood and Relief Society lessons which portray those who leave the Church as greedy, evil, haughty, scheming, careless, fallen etc, need to stop.
How Christlike is it to consider us as “apostates” and “in Satan’s power” for wanting to follow truth and expose the lies and deception we found in the Church, the same lies and deception that even President Uchtdorf acknowledges have actually happened?
It’s one thing to blame the Priesthood leaders, even past prophets, but quite another to then go on and say that members need to be obedient to current priesthood leaders and the Lord will not let them lead us astray.
Those of us who have recognised there is a problem are vilified as sinners.
Believing Mormons refer to those who leave as dead – ‘Spiritually dead!’
Is it right that members of the Church say to their friends and family “I would rather you were dead than leave the Church”? As happened to me.
Could there be a serious problem with a belief system which values a person’s beliefs over a person’s life?
Why would loving Christian people be determined to cut off someone they profess to love by a process of excommunication?
Or is it any less threatening when they ask their friends to resign from the Church? As has happened multiple times to me. In my case the Stake leaders also told me I needed to resign or be excommunicated just because I resigned as Bishop.
When all a person has known in life is their Mormon identity and upbringing, how caring is it to ask that person to detach themselves from their own past, their own identity and culture?
I believe in mutual respect, but ‘mutual respect’ also requires ‘believers’ not to regard those who no longer believe as “spiritually dead.”
Mutual respect requires believers not to consider that those who do not share their beliefs are somehow ‘lacking’, or have been “deceived by Satan,” and must therefore be persuaded to accept the truth the ‘believers’ possess.
One of the problems we’re trying to overcome is that believing Church members are frightened their testimonies will be damaged by talking with those who leave. When actually, any testimony worth holding should welcome new information and be amenable to change. The resultant discomfort experienced by one’s testimony colliding with new information is not due to feeling the influence of the devil as I was taught, but of a normal healthy psychological process of one’s brain assessing and assimilating new ideas. It’s called cognitive dissonance and everyone gets it. It might challenge our viewpoint and be uncomfortable for awhile, but in the long term, if one can accept this process of change, it enables us to discover truth more readily.
I’ve been accused by some Ward members of not apologising in my Consoling Letter to Helston Ward. That my letter was not conciliatory in tone, but used to further promote my campaign.
I do not understand.
I’m involved as a witness in a serious case of corporate fraud and they want me to apologise!!!?
When the Bishop asked me to calm their fears by stating that I wasn’t attacking them personally and reassure them my motives were positive, I didn’t think he meant to apologise for ever being involved.
Every neutral third party I’ve shown the letter to feels the compassion and the desire to reach out and help those who are suffering. They all applaud the desire for openness, honesty, transparency and acceptance.
What in my letter to the Helston Ward was incorrect, embarrassing or is causing so much fear?
I quoted four General Authorities including President John Taylor, all espousing openness, honesty, transparency & acceptance.
There were two links.
One to the Mormon Open Letter. Which is a wonderful compassionate plea for the four things mentioned above, signed by nearly 3,000 people in only a week, including active and former members.
And a link to my blog post where I explain in more detail the reasons for supporting the case.
All I can see is that people are afraid of me and whatever I say.
In situations like this the messenger is more important than the message. The members’ incredible fear and their perception of me as the apostate in Satan’s powerful influence has coloured their view of everything I say and do.
The big question which members need to ask themselves is:
Why is there so much fear?