Barry’s Note – My Dad and I are extremely close. Believe it or not, my leaving the Mormon Church has made us even closer, even with him being a very active believing Mormon. How is this possible? Because my Dad loves me. It’s that simple. Over the past 2 1/2 years since I left Mormonism, he has routinely and continually chosen the love of his son over the love of his religion, while maintaining his Faith. Since many parents and siblings struggle with how to react when a loved one leaves The LDS Church, we thought it would be a good idea for my Dad to write a blog post about his experience of his son leaving his religion; how it’s affected him, how he’s adjusted and what role Love and Mormon Doctrine played in that process. Since my Dad can be a bit longwinded (nothing like me……), we have decided to break this up into a series of posts. Here is the first. I hope y’all enjoy and some can relate.
My name is David Mills. I am committed member of the LDS Church. My son Barry Mills made the decision to leave the LDS Church a couple of years ago. This is the first post in a series in which I will detail how Barry’s and my relationship has grown and improved since then.
I have known many families in the church whose adult children have left the church for a variety of reasons. In most cases, those children do not come up in the subsequent conversations I have had with the parents. It is as if their children who have left the church no longer exist. Although this is a very strange attitude for a parent to have towards their children, in the past it has seemed like a normal reaction to me. However, since Barry has left the church I have reevaluated that attitude and today I don’t believe it is the proper attitude to have and I cannot see where it is supported by LDS Church doctrine. I think it is driven by the church members and church culture. I believe that lay members take statements by the General Authorities out of context to support this attitude and behavior. Over the next few posts, I will explain my reasoning behind my position on that statement.
When Barry left the church, I knew our relationship would change, but I wasn’t sure how. I had to make a decision as to whether the change was going to be motivated the LDS culture that I was immersed in, the teachings of Christ, my love for Barry, or a combination of the above. After two years of watching Barry’s journey, I can say emphatically that my relationship with Barry is better than it was before he left the church.
Let me start with some personal history. I have been a devout Mormon all my life. I took a break from the LDS Church when I was in the military and served in Vietnam. At that time I was in a war situation where what I was taught in the LDS Church did not apply any longer. Because I was still a religious person, I started searching for a religion that did meet the criteria of my current situation. I began studying all the world religions that I could find. By studying all these religions, I was trying to find a purpose for my life that made sense to me. When I got back to civilization, I started attending the LDS Church again. After comparing all I knew about the religions of the world with the LDS Church, I decided that the LDS Church had more ‘truth’ about God than any of the other religions that I had studied. So, I became an active member again. I have not been disappointed. I have learned more about God and how to relate to deity in the LDS Church than I could have outside the church.
Because of my experiences with other churches and the power of my conversion to the LDS Church, I have been involved in proselytizing the gospel all my life. I have been in the Stake Mission Presidency, a Ward Mission Leader several times, and a Ward Missionary several times.
That is a cliff notes version of my church history. More pertinent to our discussion is the history of my social life. I have not been very successful in the social arena. As I have analyzed my personality over my lifetime, I have discovered some unique character and personality traits that have been dominate in my life. Some of them have been good and some bad. One of my bad attitudes has been my belief that ‘I am right and everyone else is wrong’. This attitude has helped me to be an effective salesman and an effective school teacher. It has always been easy for me to manipulate customers into buying my products. That attitude also helped me to motivate students with severe disabilities that I worked with for 19 years. However, this attitude has not served me very well with bosses, church leaders, or in personal relationships. Before I started teaching school, I had 32 different jobs in 26 years.
A few years ago, I found a really good therapist who explained the main reason why my social and business life had been such a miserable failure. He pointed out to me that the main problem all my life has been my dominate attitude of ‘I am right and everyone else is wrong’. This attitude became a personality trait when I was in the Vietnam War. I was taught that ‘the survival of the fittest’ was the only way to survive in a war environment. So, I became the best at it.
This attitude lead me to see myself as one of ‘the entitled ones’. Entitled to what, I don’t know, but entitled nevertheless. To me that meant that whatever I did was the right thing to do and whatever anyone else did was the wrong thing to do. In hindsight, I realize that this personality type is very hard to work with. It does not encourage lasting relationships. Also, it made me an unmanageable employee and a lousy team player in social and church situations. Although, The LDS Church only encouraged this unhealthy attitude because with each church lesson or testimony shared we affirmed that We, Members of The LDS Church, had the full truth of God and everyone else did not.
Recently, a friend and I were discussing my unique attitude and he asked me how it had worked for me. When I looked at everything this attitude had cost me, I had to say, ‘not so good.’
A few years ago all that negative stuff in my life changed. This change happened in conjunction with Barry leaving the Mormon Church and claiming that he is an Atheist. It didn’t happen because Barry left the church, rather is coincided with it.
When Barry told me that he was leaving the church, I could readily see that I was going to be faced with a very traumatic dilemma. I was going to have to make a decision on the new direction our relationship was going to take. I knew our relationship would have to change because Barry was going to force that change. I would have preferred to keep it the way it was, but I could see that Barry was not going to let that happen.
So, with the wringing of hands, I looked at my options.
My first option was to follow the Mormon Culture approach to cut Barry off and treat him like he didn’t exist. I quickly discarded that option because I love my son. Barry and I had always had a great relationship and there was no way I was going to let that to change.
My second option was to follow the Mormon Doctrine approach and try to re-convert him by showing him the error of his ways and point out to him how he had been deceived by the adversary. Because of the depth of Barry’s conviction that the facts that he had discovered made it impossible for him to stay in the church, I could see that this wasn’t going to work either. Barry was convinced he was right and the church and everyone in it were wrong. Having had that attitude most of my life, I could see that he was not going to back down. I taught him well.
My third option was to treat Barry like nothing had happened and tell the rest of the family to get over it. This was not going to work either as the rest of the family was up in arms about what Barry was saying. So, I had to address the issues not only with Barry, but with the rest of the family. The whole family was now divided on these issues so what I said had to make sense to both sides. I did not want to take sides and cause more of a division. I wanted to be on both sides, because that is what a parent is suppose to do. I knew what was right for me. I was told by the other family members what was right for them. But, I didn’t know what was right for Barry. And neither did anyone else in the family. So, over time that is what we all had to work out.
So, that left option four. I could try to understand why Barry felt the need to leave the church and try to deal with that as a loving parent should. That would require me to look at the issues he was bringing up and understand them from his point of view. I knew what my points of view were on those issues. I had heard their pro’s and con’s most of my adult life. Barry had some newly discovered facts, but the main issues were still the same. What I needed to do now was to look at those same issues from Barry’s point of view. Not to discredit them, but to understand why he felt so strongly about them and why they had caused him so much trauma that he had to leave the church. Because this was Barry’s dilemma and it was causing him pain, I made it my dilemma too. Together we would figure out what was causing the pain and resolve it.
In the next post I will discuss how Barry and I began our ‘Journey To Enlightenment’ to do just that.