There continues to be lots of discussion about disaffiliation and disaffection from faith communities these days – most often, involving a language of unexpected “faith crisis” hitting, which can subsequently trigger what many experience as an inevitable, irrevocable “transition process” away from religious practice.
While the language of “crisis” may be a useful framework at times, it also has its limitations. So, I’d like to propose today another way to make sense of some of the moments that seem often to act as early catalysts to a process of disaffection.
For the last decade, marriage and family therapists have been learning to better help couples navigate intense moments that can prompt an unraveling of otherwise secure, loving relationships – moments where marital attachment has essentially become “injured.” Formally, “attachment injury” has been defined by Dr. Sue Johnson and colleagues as occurring “when one partner violates the expectation that the other will offer comfort and caring in times of danger or distress” and is “characterized by an abandonment or by a betrayal of trust during a critical moment of need.”
This “injurious incident” subsequently “defines the relationship as insecure and maintains relationship distress because it is continually used as a standard for the dependability of the offending partner.” Whatever happened in the past thus “becomes a clinically recurring theme and creates an impasse that blocks relationship repair in couples therapy” (italics my own).
While acknowledging some limitations of this other proposed metaphor, I’d like to suggest the concept of “attachment injury” as having some unique applicability and relevance to the variety of incidents that often precipitate what is most often characterized as a “crisis of faith.” My proposal below applies across faith communities generally, since clearly disaffiliation is a broad phenomenon. But I take as my primary focus examples from my own faith community: the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
particular, I raise this as another way to help make sense of times or specific
moments when our understandably high expectations of life in our respective
faith communities are not only not met,
but in different ways (and for different reasons) painfully disappointed.
This last weekend, I caught a glimpse of Tyler Glenn and Dan Reynolds on the Love Loud Livestream singing a mock primary song, with words implying hypocrisy among those hold a different perspective on sexuality than they do, for not being loving like they are (like even a child should find obvious!) I couldn’t help but think about what it could have meant if – instead of using their enormous reach and popularity to foment discontent, resentment and suspicion, these famous rock stars would have found a way to uphold, sustain, and even defend their beleaguered former family of faith…in the very moment when Heaven Knows we need it the most.
“It’s not more critique and attack we need right now,” I told a good friend recently who has stepped away from the faith. “What we need is an Alma the Younger.”
It would oversimplify the Book of Mormon account to describe Alma the Younger as growing up with a huge spiritual advantage due to his prophet father, since that same father once sat on a golden high priestly throne thanks to his willingness at the time to speak “flattering…lying and vain” words to justify the “riotous living” of a sexual free-for-all in his patron King’s court.
When it comes to “the loving thing to do,” we continue to reach very different conclusions in the American conversation on sexuality. Why? Our convictions about love, I argue below, arise directly from other convictions about happiness and identity itself...all of which explains contrasting evaluations of whose teachings are “loving” and whose are “destructive.”
With another Pride month upon us, rainbow flags everywhere remind us about who has decided to love gay people in their neighborhoods. But what does that really mean? And is it a question about which thoughtful, good-hearted people could legitimately, honestly disagree?
Maybe not. It’s become so common to equate support for the formalized gay rights movement with loving people more, that when a question or concern is raised about this same movement, it’s become almost automatic for (many) people to label the person raising the question as obviously “unloving.”
And when someone suggests (as I have) that it’s possible to love gay people in a different (perhaps even better) way than is being called for in the gay rights movement, perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised with the responses.
After the passing of his dear older brother, Jacob stood before the people of Nephi with an earnest interest in “consoling and healing” them through the “pleasing word of God; yea, the word which healeth the wounded soul” (Jacob 2).
while doing just that, Jacob also admitted feeling “weighed down with much
desire and anxiety” for his people’s welfare – to the point that he felt
constrained to share other things he
acknowledged would likely “enlarge the wounds of those who are already wounded.”
particular, Jacob knew that his cautionary words about sexual boundaries being
crossed among his people would be painful for some listening, which made his
deeply-felt obligation to speak personally painful as well:
Wherefore, it burdeneth my soul that I should be constrained, because of the strict commandment which I have received from God, to admonish you according to your crimes, to enlarge the wounds of those who are already wounded, instead of consoling and healing their wounds; and those who have not been wounded, instead of feasting upon the pleasing word of God have daggers placed to pierce their souls and wound their delicate minds. (Jacob 2)
believe the prophets in our day feel a similar pain, especially when teaching
about issues they know are sensitive, and deeply personal. But like Jacob of
old, they feel “constrained” to speak what God puts on their hearts – recognizing
that whatever pain some might feel in their words, they are necessary to
address a deeper woundedness that exists independent of their words.
Wounded America. There are enough wounds to go around in
America today – of all kinds, and in all directions. Even more pervasive and life-threatening than
physical wounds are those tearing at hearts, and minds – spirits and souls. In
particular, lots of people feeling wounded when it comes to questions of sexuality
today. The pain is real, often overwhelming, and sometimes even lethal.
Note: A special thanks to Jana Riess for her willingness to correspond and share thoughtful responses to a number of questions during an especially busy time for her. Given the seriousness of claims made in her lengthy book, an adequate review and response also requires sufficient space (trigger warning to long-read-haters!)
In 2002, word circulated that an in-depth PBS Documentary would be coming out focused on the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. As a new doctoral student, I got excited that such a high-quality doc would be available – and on a network known for fair-minded reporting.
Thinking it would be a great way to let people know who we really are, I sent out a note to classmates and professors to be watching out for it. As soon as the film aired, however, something became quickly apparent. From the dark images of Joseph Smith set to spooky music, to the scene of primary children clearly intended to convey brainwashing, it became obvious that this film was less about representing us, than someone else’s story about us.
Producer Helen Whitney clearly didn’t set out to craft something malicious or deceptive. Instead, I believe she approached the project with pre-existing strong feelings about who we are – which emotions naturally influenced how she told the story. For the many who tuned-in to learn the truth about our faith, however, Helen’s arguments and our own reality were fused into one indistinguishable product.
‘The truth about what’s happening in Mormonism.’ On February 26, 2019, after sharing 18 months of advance results, the Salt Lake Tribune announced the “day is near” for people to read the full report from a study it described in one article as “groundbreaking,” “sweeping” and “landmark.” Hailed by others as “momentous,” “revolutionary” and a “must read for anyone interested in the LDS Church,” the text by Dr. Jana Riess was widely promoted as an answer to some of the most pressing questions facing the Church.