One theme, two letters this week, readers:
I am a 16 year-old girl, writing because I have developed a deep love and commitment for the LDS Church, but I’m facing horrible hostility from my mother. My mother isn’t just suspicious of the Church as an outsider. She was raised a member in Utah, and became inactive when she left home for college and never looked back. So when she criticizes the Church she knows exactly what she is talking about and seems to speak from a passionate place of hurt.
I was raised with no religious affiliation, and because of this, I lacked the kind of community that my Jewish and Christian peers had in their synagogues and churches. That was why a year ago, my mother, also having a loneliness/community crisis herself, got my brother involved in Boy Scouts via the church, and talked a local ward to let me go to Young Women’s. We loved it just as a secular way to make friends and have fun, but for me it became spiritual. After about 6 months, I knew that I believed in the Church and it was the completion to my desire to find a church. (I was obsessed with God and Christ from an early age despite the lack of discussion in my home). Then came the time to tell my mom.
A month ago I expressed my desire to get baptized and I got a long lecture on how it would ruin my mind–I have been raised a liberal and the majority of Mormons think more conservatively than me–make me lonely (the irony), how disappointed she would be in me, and how it would divide us for the rest of our lives.
There has nothing been more painful to me than hearing that. I have considered giving up on the Church because I can’t reconcile it with her. But that’s equally painful. My goal was to get baptized this year, but now I’ve thought it may have to wait until I’m in college. Until then I’d still like to go to church and other activities, but I’m afraid of alienating my mother just by doing that.
How can I foster my faith but stay at peace with my mother especially as a youth?
I’ve found, through much prayer and reading of the scriptures, that I believe The Book of Mormon to be true. I really want to be baptized. I’m 18 years old and am going to a community college and living with my parents and in two years, I hope to transfer to a four year. Even before finding that I agree with the beliefs and ideals of the Mormon religion, I was considering transferring to BYU in two years. Now I would like to even more because I honestly want to surround myself with like-minded people. I have never met a member of the LDS church that I did not absolutely love. I’m excited to be baptized.
The only problem is that my parents strongly dislike the Mormon religion, mostly because I am half African American and my mother is very sensitive to any person or group of people that has every been racist toward African Americans or Africans in general. I have not yet gone to her to tell her that I want to be baptized, but I did tell her that I want to transfer to BYU. She was absolutely furious. She told me that I should go find some nice Catholic school to go to instead, because that “would be better for the purposes I have for going”. So it seems that soon I will need to tell her that I want to be baptized. I have no idea how to go about it. I definitely want to avoid destroying my relationship with my parents, but I need to be true to my faith as well. Also, I know there is a very good chance that when I tell them, they will decide to kick me out of the house. I would have literally nowhere else to go and no way to pay for school over the next few years. I’m terrified of being stranded. I’ve considered waiting a few years until I’m out of the house, but that feels extremely wrong morally. It would be like lying. I really need help.
Funny how life works. I disappointed my parents when I stepped away from Mormonism. I came back an unorthodox Mormon feminist Democrat person and, alas, still a mild to moderate disappointment to my parents and other parental-like-folks-who-knew-me-when. And now I get mail from young women who are afraid of disappointing or even losing their parents on the way into Mormonism.
Because the story at the heart of it all is the epic intergenerational saga of parents and the power they have over our lives.
Sitting here at my yellow formica-top kitchen table late Sunday night I find it nearly impossible to put the great epic intergenerational saga of parents into words. Other than to say that decades from now, when you have children of your own, you will still be wrestling with the weight of your parents’ legacies, all that they tried to give you and could, or couldn’t, and how their own griefs and needs and aspirations are woven into your own. You too will sit at a kitchen table with a cup of herbal tea and find it all hard to put into words.
“Honor your father and mother,” says the Old Testament. “Leave mother and father,” says the New. And Jesus said, “I am come to set a man at variance against his father, a daughter against her mother” (Matthew 10:35).
Is it possible to both honor your father and mother and make choices that challenge their vision for what your life should be? Is it possible both to love your parents and break their hearts?
These questions constitute one of sacred mysteries at the very heart of what it means to be alive and human. And mysteries so profound often defy easy answers. Perhaps the best we can do is face such mysteries with honor.
The sages of the Rabbinic tradition have some very specific instructions about what “honor” towards parents entails—for example, making sure your parents are physically provided for, never cursing or shaming them, or speaking disrespectfully to them.
Perhaps in your cases you can honor your parents by showing them that you have listened to them and understand their concerns. Make sure you do. (For example, make sure you study the history of Mormon institutional racism and the experience of Black Mormons and know it for yourself, or make sure you understand why your mother’s Mormonism was a source of such hurt to her.) Honor them by communicating your gratitude for the way they raised you to be community-loving, principled, spiritual people. Affirm all that you can of the spiritual legacy they have built into you.
Then, thinking wisely about timing, and in a way that minimizes shame and contention for all involved, make your choices.
That’s the best I can offer. For I too am in the thralls of this sacred mystery, and I don’t expect I’ll ever have it all figured out. So I’ll turn it over now to my readers, some of whom have more experience with the family politics of conversion than I do.
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