Friday, January 4, 2013

How Do I Convince My Family I'm Right?

Shortly after the last General Conference in October, I received an email from my dad.

He'd been thinking about the announced lowering of age requirements for missionaries and he was wondering (hopefully) if I'd have actually gone on a mission at eighteen instead of bowing out at nineteen.

He continued by asking when my feelings about the church began to change, what caused those changes, and whether there was something he could have done then or could do now to help.  Of course, by "help," he means "convince me to come back to the church," but at least he wants to reach some level of understanding.

I don't deny that I have been lucky in many respects--my family hasn't shunned me or anything.  Although they're all pretty awkward about it, at least most of them have tried, in some way or another, to understand where I'm coming from, even if it's all very general and non-specific. 

I emailed him back with a general outline of why I decided to leave, and mentioned that I was glad to no longer be associated with the church and that I still had a lot of anger toward it.  He really latched on to that last part.  He said he was surprised to hear me use the word "anger."  He went on:
A lot of people respectfully disagree with the teachings of the Church.  But, my experience has been that when people are angry with the Church, it's often the result of the actions of people within the Church (hopefully, not the result of my actions), and not the teachings of the Church itself.
To be fair, my dad has a decent amount of experience with people who are angry with the church--if I remember right, it's about six years as bishop and then nine years as stake president.  But all of that experience is colored by a firm belief in the church's truthfulness--which means a deep-seated need to explain other people's malcontent in terms of members' actions instead of in terms of fundamental doctrinal flaws.

I offered to outline my problems with the church so that he could understand why I want nothing to do with it.  I even started writing it all out in a Word document, intending to eventually attach it to an email.  Then I hit a rough few days at work and didn't have time for it.  And I just kind of forgot to finish it.  Similarly, my dad's emails trailed off and the conversation just never got resolved.  I assumed, for a while, that as we got closer to the holidays, my dad postponed the conversation.  I figured he didn't want to bring up a subject so potentially volatile when the whole family would be together (and, hopefully, getting along) so soon.  I hoped that, after the new year, he'd send me another email about it.  I haven't gotten one yet.

I feel like it needs to be him that initiates the discussion again.  Because I have this whole arsenal of stuff to throw at him, and if I initiate the discussion, it will seem like an ambush.  I want him to keep asking me why I'm angry at the church so that it won't seem quite so unfair when I unleash a near-endless wave of reasons.

My dad is a smart guy.  He's no genius, but he has an above-average capacity to understand new and difficult concepts.  He taught me to be practical and analytical.  I feel like he's too good to be a lifelong Mormon.  He should have seen through the lies more easily than the average person.  And I feel like, if I triumphantly trot out my numerous points of evidence and my reasoning and my logic and my analysis and my practicality then he'll get it.  He'll understand.  He'll realize that I'm right and that he's spent half a century living a lie and subjecting his children to it.  He'll be grateful to me for liberating him instead of concerned for my apparent waywardness.

But I know it's silly.

Another of my dad's better characteristics is his ability to empathize with different opinions without being easily swayed from his own.  He's the guy that could say "I understand that you feel that opposing gay marriage limits the basic human rights of an entire section of society, and I get where you're coming from, but I still feel that the most important point here is that homosexuality is morally wrong" with complete sincerity.  I admire his capability to see other sides of an issue without ever letting someone else change his mind for him. But unfortunately, this means that fifty years of brainwashing and self-validating beliefs are going to be particularly difficult to undo.

But I don't want to be the loner in the family anymore.  I'm tired of being the one that's universally assumed to be wrong.  I wish I could show my family that I'm actually right and that they'll be much happier if they follow my lead.  I wish I could show them how little there is in Mormonism that's worth believing in and how much there is in Mormonism that's worth getting the hell away from.

I hope my dad emails me soon.  And I hope I have the balls to finish my epic letter of explanation and send it to him.  But I'm almost positive that nothing I say will convince him.  If any of you have any advice whatsoever on what to say or how to say it to maximize the effect it may have on him, please, please leave me a comment.    

I want to do this right and I need all the help I can get. 


  1. I don't have any comments on convincing anyone else that you're right, since I haven't been able to do that in my life either.

    I would say that it would probably be better to try to learn not to need or want to be understood.

    ...I haven't quite gotten there either, though, so I can't really give you tips there either. ^_^ This really was a worthless comment.

    1. Oh, not worthless at all.

      It's a good point--instead of making him the source of the problem, I should confront the things I'm doing wrong that make communication in my family so awkward. If I figure that out, maybe I can interact with them comfortably without trying to tear down their faith.

      I think I have to try anyway, but if I fail, I should definitely learn to make being understood by them less important to me. Otherwise I may just have a terrible relationship with my family for the rest of my life.

      Thanks. Good tip, even though it's not quite what I was looking for!

  2. Another thing that I would say is that you should try looking at it in terms other than of whose "problem" it is our who is "doing something wrong".

    There are numerous reasons why people are acting the way that they do, so blaming one person or another as it is a free will decision for this to be awkward does not make sense, IMO.

    That being said, if you are going to believe that you can change anything, the wouldn't it make sense that you'd probably be more able to change how you react to your parents than you will need to change how they see the world or you?

    1. I don't necessarily look at it in terms of who's doing something wrong. I don't have a problem with most of the things my family does because I see them mostly as fruits of their beliefs. They're not doing anything wrong, they just believe a lie.

      While I'm totally in favor of people taking a step back and admitting their own roles in the negative aspects of their lives, I'd like to think that's not what's at play here. I'm constantly dealing with the results of my own failings, and I just want the issue that makes my family relationships the most strained to be righted. Changing the way I react may be my only real option, but it feels like admitting that they're justified in treating me weirdly in the first place. So before I put my head down and try to alter my own behavior, I'd like to try to change their minds. And then if I fail I can just try to be more mature about the whole situation.

      I have no idea if this is making any sense.

  3. You know your dad better than I do, but if he's as analytical and capable of empathy as you say he is, it might be enough to just keep the conversations amiable, and feed him facts little by little. He sounds reasonable enough to acknowledge valid points, and especially if you avoid an emotional reaction, they will sink in. And hopefully eventually his shelf will collapse.

    1. Thanks. I hope it works. He hasn't reopened the discussion yet, but when he does, I'll try to resist the urge to angrily throw everything I have at him at the same time!

  4. Well, I too hope he gets back to you soon, because I can't wait to read what you have to say to him.

    I don't know much about him, but knowing how TBMs are, he's probably very anxious to hear from you and praying for you daily. Good luck!

    1. He actually has gotten back to me. It's been a long series of back-and-forth emails. Not a lot of progress has been made. I've been trying to figure out how to whittle it down to something I could post about, but there's a lot of ground to cover!

      Thanks for the interest and the good wishes. I'm sure I'll have something about it up sooner or later.