“Compassion for those who leave” –
I presented this talk to the ward members in sacrament meeting as an attempt at helping to prepare them for my upcoming resignation as their Bishop.
Knowing that compassion eases one’s own pain I hoped it would ease the members suffering at the shock & stress of my resignation.
The talk was really well received by the members.
Sacrament talk Helston Ward, Sunday 9th January 2011.
If I had my rathers I would prefer not to have to give this talk today.
It’s about a topic which makes me feel uncomfortable and will probably shock you, as it did me.
Even as we discussed this issue as a bishopric this week my counsellors and I were very emotional.
The General Authorities have told us for years to prepare for trying times ahead. I have been asked as your bishop to prepare you for these trials.
How strong is your testimony?
On what is it based?
“And now as I said concerning faith- faith is not to have a perfect knowledge of things; therefore if ye have faith ye hope for things which are not seen which are true.” Alma 32:21
“Now Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Hebrews 11:1
Would your testimony stand up to indisputable evidence to the contrary?
We have been warned that in the last days many of the elect will leave the church.
The General Authorities have warned the Bishops, through the Stake Presidents, to “Prepare for a mass exodus from the church, even from the leadership.”
Many faithful, devoted, and dedicated members are leaving the church they once loved due to “unintentional consequences of their search for truth”.
These were people who were fully committed temple going, tithe-paying members.
In 2009 it is estimated that over 83,000 members left the church.
Many members, including leaders, are resigning their membership, NOT DUE TO SIN OR WEAKNESS, but due to reading or listening to something which changes their PERCEPTION OF TRUTH.
Can our relationship with those who leave the church withstand these changes in THEIR BELIEF?
It’s only natural to feel awkward about the situation. To not know what to say.
The relationship with my own brother and sister-in-law, David and Louise, has suffered as a consequence of their decision to leave the church.
I have found it very difficult, as have my parents and the rest of the family.
We believe that, because of their actions and disbelief, they we will no longer be a part of our eternal family. THAT REALLY HURTS!!
Its a very emotionally charged subject.
But it’s becoming a common problem. Most of you here have loved ones, including friends and family, who have trodden this path. Or we know of someone.
It’s far too easy to be judgemental, or even to fear those who leave.
I have certainly found this to be the case for me. I rarely associated with my brother, his wife and children, or spoke with them. I found it too difficult to discuss things openly and be candid for fear of getting into an argument.
Sometimes we fear they will adversely affect the testimonies of our children.
My relationship with them has been made even more difficult because I am also their bishop and have a role to play to protect the church.
But it’s often even harder for them. Have you ever thought how it might feel to be THEM?
I have recently talked with some who have left the fold, and have read accounts from others. The common feeling is one of “loneliness” and “of not being understood” by people whom they once called brothers and sisters.
Imagine for a moment what it must be like. “The best way to understand someone is to try to put yourself in their position”.
Imagine that “Everything that you had thought about yourself, others, and the world was built on a lie! All the time you were growing up you felt different and did not know why. The way you looked at life was based on who you thought you were and on what you believed to be true.” Your world would just crumble around you! You would not know what to trust, let alone who to trust! You would have to re-learn almost everything; the way you interacted with others, your values and more.
What if every major decision you made was based on what you thought was truth? There would be so much fallout your head would be spinning! You would most likely experience ‘rage’, ‘despair’, ‘grief’, ‘sorrow’, ‘anguish’, ‘more anger, mistrust, confusion’, and run through a ‘whole gamut of emotions’. The longer you were members of the Church and the more you genuinely believed it to be true, the more severe the trauma coming out. Someone who had been LDS all his or her life will experience greater hardship than someone who had been a convert of only a year or two. But even those who leave after just a couple years experience a great sense of loss when they leave. Leaving Mormonism is not as simple as waking up one morning and deciding to rip up one’s temple recommend. It doesn’t come after hearing or reading a couple negative things about the Church; if it were just a few contradictions you could easily readjust your thinking or put them on a “back burner” to deal with later. For an active, believing Mormon to conclude that Mormonism is not true takes a long and painful time of intensive study, prayer, deliberation and soul searching. Many risk losing family, including their spouse, children, and extended family, as well as their best, maybe only, friends.
Some who leave say it feels like a death in the family, or a divorce.
Jim Whitefield, A sixty year old member from Norfolk, who had served in many leadership positions in the church, left the church just a few years ago says this:
“If ever members could comprehend that in reality for someone of my age (sixty in February 2006) -retired and with no one to talk to except my wife, you actually end up with nothing. It is an excruciating decision to make and not one of choice. I would far rather try to believe, it is so much less painful. To keep your family and friends, you just sit on the back row for once and say you have had a nervous breakdown or something and can’t cope with callings; you would get away with it and still have a life. But for me, it would have been a lie. It takes courage to admit the truth to yourself and then to others and to be willing to accept the consequences of that decision and your subsequent action upon it. In reality, you lose most of your family and all of your friends as they have no time for you because you no longer move in Church circles, which means that as you are not there with them, they don’t bother with you; even the ones who say they mean to, as subsequently they are kept so busy in the Church that they never have or make any time for you. There is also fear, as you are of course considered apostate. I have moved from being known on first name terms by well over a thousand members who personally knew and respected me, to a number of true friends that I can barely count on one hand. Staying close to the Church, making no real friends outside since I was fourteen years old didn’t even leave old school friends available to me, having lost contact decades ago. My decision leaves me with “no life, few family and friends who care about me and a very difficult future. Members have said that it is my own fault. I actually had some very critical and somewhat unkind phone calls and abusive letters from local leaders and so called friends in the Church who should have known better. I was almost suicidal after my first wife’s death and this was another equally distressing moment in my life, leaving me feeling that way again. I destroyed those letters in a flood of tears.”
As I said before, their perception of truth has changed!
He goes on to say:
“When someone joins the Church, if they are ostracised by family and friends due to their new found ‘faith’, they at least have a new ‘family’ to welcome them, within the Church. When you leave, there is no one there for you. You are alone.”
I found that shocking. But he actually vocalises the feelings of many who leave the church.
It also made me feel guilty for the way I have treated others including my own family. My own brother who I love!
David said to me recently. “You know what is hardest, it is that even family will not listen”. He says “I don’t want you to believe me, what I want is for you to listen and try to understand me.”
“If I say that sheet of paper is black, and you say it’s white, at least you’ve listened. You may not agree with me, but at least you now understand my beliefs.”
How can we cope with this dilemma? We believe in UNCONDITIONAL LOVE, but find it hard to accept those who choose to follow a new path.
Jesus said “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.” John 13: 34
Luke 6: 27-34 The Saviour said in the beatitudes, “But I say unto you which hear, Love your enemies, do good to them which hate you, Bless them that curse you, and pray for them which despitefully use you. And unto him that smiteth thee on the one cheek offer also the other; and him that taketh away thy cloke forbid not to take thy coat also. Give to every man that asketh of thee; and of him that taketh away thy goods ask them not again. And as ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them likewise. For if ye love them which love you, what thank have ye? For sinners also love those that love them. And if ye do good to them which do good to you, what thank have ye? For sinners also do even the same. And if ye lend to them of whom ye hope to receive, what thank have ye? for sinners also lend to sinners, to receive as much again. But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great, and ye shall be the children of the Highest: for he is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil. Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful. Judge not, and ye shall not be judged: condemn not, and ye shall not be condemned: forgive, and ye shall be forgiven:”
What is compassion for others?
The origins of the word ‘compassion’ come from the Greek patheia, meaning to “bear/suffer” and cum meaning “with”. It means to suffer with, or to empathise. To feel the sorrow or pity for the pain of another.
You can feel compassion, and show compassion.
There is a true story of how Russians showed compassion to the German soldiers after they had captured them during the 2nd World War.
“Stalin ordered 20,000 German soldiers to be paraded through the streets. The onlookers gazed with hatred at their enemies; they were clenching their fists. But then all at once something happened to them. They saw German soldiers – thin, unshaven, wearing dirty blood-stained bandages, hobbling on crutches or leaning on the shoulders of their comrades, and walking with their heads down. Suddenly an elderly woman in broken down boots pushed herself forward. She went up to the column, took from inside her coat something wrapped in a coloured handkerchief and unfolded it. It was a crust of black bread. She pushed it awkwardly into the pocket of a soldier. Then from every side, women came running towards the soldiers pushing into their hands bread, cigarettes, whatever they had. The soldiers were no longer enemies. They were people.”
A beautiful quote from Sogyal Rinpoche about the power of compassion:
“Evoking the power of compassion in us is not always easy. I find myself that the simplest ways are the best and most direct. Every day, life gives us innumerable chances to open our hearts, if we can only take them. An old woman passes you with a sad and lonely face and two heavy plastic bags full of shopping she can hardly carry. Switch on a television, and there on the news is a mother in Beirut kneeling above the body of her murdered son, or an old grandmother in Moscow pointing to the thin soup that is her only food……Any one of these sights could open the eyes of your heart to the fact of vast suffering in the world. Let it. Don’t waste the love and grief it arouses. In the moment you feel compassion welling up in you, don’t brush it aside, don’t shrug it off and try quickly to return to “normal”, don’t be afraid of your feeling or be embarrassed by it, and don’t allow yourself to be distracted from it. Be vulnerable: Use that quick, bright uprush of compassion – focus on it, go deeper into your heart and meditate on it, develop it, enhance it, and deepen it. By doing this you will realise how blind you have been to suffering. All beings, everywhere, suffer; let your heart go out to them all in spontaneous and immeasurable compassion.”
Life sometimes can be difficult. That doesn’t mean we can’t find peace and joy.
Jesus Christ said. “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
Paul reminds us, “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith,”
Isaiah 55:12 “For ye shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace: the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”
Proverbs 12:20 “Deceit is in the heart of them that imagine evil: but to the counsellors of peace is joy”.
Romans 15:13 “Now the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, that ye may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Ghost.”
If you look around this room and see who’s here, then imagine some of us may not be here in a week, or a month, a year or two. I want you to know that whatever happens I will love you. I will have compassion for you.
I thank you for all your support and love for me over the years.
In the name of Jesus Christ. Amen