This is an edited version of a post I wrote and shared on the A Thoughtful Faith Support Group on July 13, 2017.
This post is empathetic of pain and anger experienced by individuals who have experienced trauma and a sense of betrayal in the midst of a Faith Crisis. As a result, some of the things I wrote may come across as critical of the choices of the Church and its leaders that at times contributes to this sense of trauma and betrayal.
If you are not comfortable with criticism of human choices made by LDS Church leaders, you may want to skip reading this post.
At least for me, one big piece to process of my Faith Crisis included the deconstruction and eventual reconciliation of deep, soul-ripping feelings of betrayal.
1-The Why of my feelings of Betrayal.
2-How I began to overcome and reconcile feelings of betrayal by understanding Testimony, Spiritual Experiences, and the “Faith Forcefield Bubble.”
3-How I reconciled the balance of my feelings of betrayal by applying the context I explained in Part 2 to how narratives of Church History were created, developed, propagandized, and protected to prioritize Heritage/Faith over History/Transparency.
4-Build your own puzzle, and serve those on the margins.
Part 1: The Why of my feelings of Betrayal.
For me, upon studying the Church History Gospel Topics Essays, the footnotes, and the cited sources, I concluded that the Church was not what it represented itself to be, that the Brethren did not have special mantles of discernment, that the Brethren chose to prioritize Heritage over History, that false dominant narratives were perpetuated in a Correlated “Our Heritage” version of history instead of a “Rough Stone Rolling” version of history, that many things claimed to be from God by the Brethren were actually man-made, that significant harm had been inflicted on innocent people in the name of God by the Brethren and the Church, that the Brethren have and still do at times lead the Church astray, and that Jesus really isn’t “at the wheel” with the Brethren as “officers” of the metaphorical “boat” of the Church.
These conclusions were absolutely devastating for me because I had experienced what I perceived as powerful and sacred spiritual witnesses of the truthfulness of many, many things I subsequently concluded were not entirely factual—and many were completely false.
My cumulative spiritual experiences, combined with their quality, depth, and sacredness had given me a certainty of belief—beyond mere faith—about many narratives and doctrinal assertions that I later concluded were actually whitewashed, spun, and/or bowdlerized.
[Bowdlerize: to expurgate (something, such as a book) by omitting or modifying parts considered vulgar bowdlerize the text. Or, to modify by abridging, simplifying, or distorting in style or content.]
I learned that official LDS Church Historian Leonard Arrington and other professional historians worked to correct misleading and false narratives in the 1970s and early 1980s, but that the conservative members of the Q15 (Quorum of the 15, which includes 3 in the First Presidency and 12 Apostles) ended up shutting that down, intimidating scholars with the September Six, and that essentially, there was a somewhat of a dark period with regard to historical accuracy and transparency between about 1982 and 2005, under the direction of the Brethren whom I implicitly trusted and loved during my mission and the first 15 years of my marriage. Only very recently has a more public effort been made to begin to reconstruct some of the false historical narratives.
I felt betrayed by the Church for giving me Correlated materials with myths and half-truths from which to teach and testify, for me to facilitate others having spiritual witnesses of false narratives, and people joined the Church based on false things I taught as a missionary and as a Ward Mission Leader. I unknowingly planted and nourished seeds of future Faith Crisis in the mission field and in my Ward and Stake. And, I realized that I had not treated others in my Ward and Stake with the level of empathy and understanding that they needed and deserved as they experienced Faith Crisis or doubts in the years gone by.
So, I experienced deep and soul-ripping feelings of betrayal by the Brethren and the Church, I felt guilt and feelings of betrayal for seeding future Faith Crisis in others and for my insufficient empathy for others who had experienced Faith Crisis, and I felt devastating betrayal by my false construct of spiritual experiences being divine witnesses of truth.
To compound things further, the Heavens closed for me that weekend I stumbled across the Essays. Before that, I had consistent and routine spiritual experiences in my callings, as I studied scripture, as I participated in ordinances, as I exercised my priesthood, and with prayer.
After stumbling across the Essay material, I felt abandoned by God because no matter how many hours, days, and weeks I would pour my soul out in pleading prayer for help, guidance and understanding, and no matter how many blessings I’d receive from priesthood leaders, the Heavens were closed. There was nothing.
I was the same person, with the same worthiness. I felt broken. Somehow it must have been my fault—even though it was the Church that broke things, not me.
I felt like a fool for not applying critical thinking to my faith in the same way I applied critical thinking to all other areas of my life. I betrayed myself.
I felt betrayed that although some of the Essays had been out for as long as years, I didn’t know about them because I was actually too faithful and too focused on the study of the Correlated Curriculum of the Church. There was no letter ever read from the Ward pulpit to introduce the Essays, there were no General Conference talks about the Essays, there were no Ensign issues dedicated to the Essays, and there was no email notification from the Church of the availability and introduction of the Essays.
14 months ago, neither my Bishop or my Stake President had read the Essays. My Ward never spoke of them in Ward Council or elsewhere. I had no local support from the Church to reconcile the issues, no one to talk to, and I feared bringing up the information in the Essays with my LDS friends because I did not want to trigger a Faith Crisis in them—which ended up being a valid concern because I later introduced multiple friends to Faith Crisis when I introduced the Essays to them via Facebook posts or personal conversations.
I also concluded that several of the Essays were infiltrated with misleading, out of context, spun, and dishonest information, and I discovered that the First Presidency was involved in the final editing and approval of the Essays. I discovered that Elder Packer was against the publication of the essays, but reluctantly agreed to let them go forward.
Betrayal is a strong emotion, particularly combined with loss of certainty, fear of loss of relationships, and fear of harming others as I processed my Faith Crisis.
My feelings of betrayal seemed justified and based on demonstrable, concrete information, and when combined with the feelings of abandonment from God, a feeling of brokenness, a feeling of guilt and embarrassment, and feeling like I was sinking in quicksand—with no solid foundation anymore—they were nearly unbearable.
It was like I was the faithful spouse who discovered unfaithfulness and abuse, and then was gaslighted by my unfaithful spouse, and with a threat of being thrown out of my family and other relationships for my discovery of the unfaithfulness and abuse.
This is a glimpse at my “the dark night of the soul”, and Betrayal was a huge part of it. There was deep trauma.
Please know that I hold space for my fellow ATF members who processed the information from the Essays differently than I did and who do not sense betrayal. These are my experiences, not everyone’s.
Part 2: How I began to overcome and reconcile feelings of betrayal by understanding Testimony, Spiritual Experiences, and the “Faith Forcefield Bubble.”
I need to add additional context here. So, even though this Rational Faiths blogpost will take several minutes to read, I ask you to read it in order for me to begin to explain how I began to overcome and reconcile my feelings of betrayal.
The blogpost I link further below is titled: Testimony, Spiritual Experiences, and Truth: A Careful Examination.
It is worth the read. It describes much of what we experience under the construct of spiritual experiences. It explains how these kinds of experiences are not exclusive to Mormons, and it explains how and why these types of experiences are largely unreliable to determine the truthfulness of things.
I share it with you for three reasons:
First, it helped me understand that my spiritual experiences did not betray me. Instead, it was the construct of what I believed spiritual experiences meant that was the problem, not the experiences themselves.
Second, it helped me understand why I felt like the Heavens had closed and that I had been abandoned by God. The construct was faulty. So, further divine connection wasn’t going to continue under that construct. I had “seen behind the curtain” and could not unsee it. (I would later experience what I now describe as divine interconnectedness with my fellow men and woman, which I have hesitated to call God, but that are deeper and more meaningful to me now than my past experiences. The types, frequencies, and predictability of my pre-Faith Crisis experiences have not returned.)
And third, I share this blogpost with you as context as to why the Brethren and the Church perpetuated the things which I later perceived as cruel betrayals that bordered on spiritual abuse. At times, they actually were spiritual abuse to the extent that doubters and those who lost belief had their stories co-opted and re-framed to protect Heritage, and to alienate and shame doubting members to protect the herd/institution.
I now have a reconciled belief that the Brethren and Correlation in the Church believe themselves through their own individual and collective spiritual experiences, through heritage, and through testimony that they have been doing God’s will all this time. In some cases, they believed the ends justified the means. In other cases, they actually believe that the dominant historical narratives are not false, but rather that they are simply the Readers Digest version that are sufficient and worthy to grow faith.
Then, there is the “Faith Forcefield Bubble.” It insulates people inside the bubble so that they often don’t even hear, see or notice things that are problematic. When we bring up concerns to them, those concerns just bounce off the Bubble. The Bubble insulates them and protects them in their certainty.
Another description of how people in the Bubble react is called “The Backfire Effect.”
Here is a pretty good explanation of The Backfire Effect:
Since these men and women who participated in Correlation and the perpetuation of false but Heritage building narratives are still in the Faith Forcefield Bubble, and they are skilled at either shelving problems or feel justified in gaslighting people who question, they likely don’t fully appreciate the harm and spiritual trauma they inflict on members.
I certainly didn’t realize the trauma and harm I inflicted on members while in my Faith Forcefield Bubble as a missionary, Gospel Doctrine Teacher, Ward Mission Leader, HPGL, or High Councilor. I believed God led me to do and say the things I did, and that He witnessed of the truthfulness of the narratives I taught. I suspended critical thinking because of my faithfulness and the certainty I found in my Bubble.
So, here is the several minutes long read blogpost:
Also, the blogpost refers to some of the stories seen this YouTube video about Spiritual Witnesses. You should watch it if you haven’t seen it before:
Part 3: How I reconciled the balance of my feelings of betrayal by applying the context I explained above in Part 2 to how narratives of Church History were created, developed, propagandized, and protected to prioritize Heritage/Faith over History/Transparency.
Not until recent decades was the role of a historian to present an accurate and truthful picture of how things happened.
Think of how long the stories of Washington and the Cherry Tree, or quaker-like moral and pious men as our Founding Fathers, or a pious and kind to American Indians Christopher Columbus were all falsely perpetuated in our history textbooks. Today, we know that the Cherry Tree story is a myth, that Washington had false teeth built out of teeth extracted from his slaves, that Ben Franklin was a philanderer, and much of Columbus’ cruelty to American Indians.
It was the role of historians to present and preserve heritage and inspiration through building narratives about the past, and to honor those who built institutions and freedoms for us. The unsavory parts were bowdlerized, and myths were perpetuated in the name of faithful history. It wasn’t to necessarily trick or deceive the children who studied from those textbooks. It was to preserve heritage, honor our predecessors, and to inspire the students.
The same pattern has been true with regard to Church History. Historians bowdlerized, suppressed, and whitewashed the less savory or more controversial parts of the history—like folklore magic, seer stones, teenage brides, hiding relationships from Emma and from husbands of polyandrous wives, Mountain Meadows, the Circleville Massacre, The Reformation, Adam God Doctrine, Blood Atonement Doctrine, the racism, First Vision versions other than the 1838 account, etc., etc. Historians also mythicized and propagandized faith inspiring parts—like the revisionist history about when members learned of the Restoration of the priesthood, Brigham taking the form of Joseph during a speech to solve the succession disputes, the Miracle of the Gulls, the sacrifice of the crushed fine china for the Kirtland Temple walls, a translation of the Plates using an ancient God-provided Urim and Thummim, persecution of the Saints solely for religious reasons, that Joseph’s legal problems were all trumped up charges without any basis, that the Word of Wisdom was God’s mind and will to prohibit all alcohol, tobacco, coffee, black tea, and harmful drugs, etc., etc.
The historians of the past and the octogenarian and/or other conservative members of the Q15 largely believed that History should preserve Heritage and Faith, and messages and facts that could detract or cause questions should be minimized or eliminated.
Now, remember Part 2. These Brethren believed that they were either guided or justified by God due to their spiritual experiences and testimonies, and they lived in their Faith Forcefield Bubbles, while being “church broke” to the 3-4 most senior members of the Q15, very skilled at shelving or even failing to see things that triggered dissonance, and all with an intense desire to not embarrass or shame the Brethren who preceded them.
(Please know that “Church broke” is not a pejorative term but rather one that faithful high level leaders at times use to self-describe their absolute loyalty to the Brethren and commitment to the Church. I believe that they use it to be similar to how a wild horse is “broke” so that it can be a worthy and valuable contributor to advance the work.)
Now, please read Brian Whitney’s blogpost: History vs Heritage: Maybe We Should Stop Saying That We’ve Been Lied to by the Church
I don’t agree with everything Brian writes here. The black-and-white thinker in me concludes that misleading people constitutes lying, regardless of the motive. However, Brian does provide additional context to how and why Church History developed the way it did. His premise that we should move forward while understanding the context of how we got here is good, in my opinion.
Now, you may have always believed that other faith traditions included and were built on narratives that were in part misleading, propaganda, and/or misunderstood interpretations of things to support the truth claims of those faiths. Right?
You didn’t experience a deep sense of betrayal when you concluded that those traditions were based on misleading and false narratives. In fact, if you participated in missionary work, you got excited when others recognized the misleading, false, spun, and bowdlerized narratives of their faith traditions. You didn’t experience betrayal from an institution that had no influence or power on you, or that didn’t stand between you and God as an arbiter of worthiness and the source of truth.
The reason my sense of betrayal was so strong is that in my Stage 3 Faith (Richard Rohr’s 1st half of a spiritual life faith), my source of truth and narratives was the LDS Church, and God’s role was to inspire and direct truths to our leaders, the leaders would teach us, and then He would confirm through the Spirit the truthfulness of the truth claims. The institution stood between me and God, was the arbiter of worthiness and the source of truth.
Once people exit Stage 3 (or enter Rohr’s 2nd half of spiritual life kind of faith), the source of truth is no longer the institution—any institution. This changes everything as we traverse Stage 4 Faith.
If you want a primer on Fowler’s Stages of Faith, this one is as good as any:
Also, I highly recommend Richard Rohr’s, Falling Upward:
Adding my opinion to part of a recently presented metaphor about the Church being a “boat,” many of us jump off the boat and become part of the water by Stage 5.
The “water” is actually the divinity and source of truth, not the boat, not the drivers of the boat. Many of us no longer need the boat or the officers on the boat to be the sources of truth, arbiters of what constitutes worthiness, or to be those responsible to maintain the integrity of what truth claims are legitimate. We decide. The power is within us. We can be in the boat or out. Our choice.
Another metaphor would be that we had a “1000 piece puzzle of faith” before our Faith Crisis, and most of those pieces were spoon-fed to us by an institution that told us what pieces to use, how our puzzle should look, and whether or not we should have pieces omitted from our puzzle.
When we experienced our Faith Crisis, it was as if our entire puzzle was thrown on the floor—maybe even abruptly and almost violently.
During a Faith Reconstruction—even if that means we end up with agnostic or atheist beliefs—our work is to incrementally pick up each of the puzzle pieces and determine in our heart whether that particular piece works for us anymore at this point. If it doesn’t we toss it or set it aside for future consideration. We are actually empowered to do this. It doesn’t matter what the institution says or what the Brethren say. We decide whether to keep, set it aside, or toss it like worthless chaff. Incrementally, we decide which puzzle pieces will work for us, and over time, we build a new puzzle. It probably has way less pieces. It probably doesn’t look anything like our 1000 piece puzzle did, but we claim our own authority as we build our own puzzle with what fits in our own hearts and souls.
So, with those metaphors, I concluded that the propagandized, mythicized, bowdlerized and misleading narratives from the Church had no place in my new puzzle, that the power was from within me and not dictated or filtered through any institution, and that the institution of the LDS Church had no more claim on what my puzzle looked like or say on my interaction with the “water” than did the Catholics, the Muslims, or the Evangelicals, and that the leaders and culture of the LDS Church developed their narratives and prescriptive puzzle constructs based on the same types of spiritual experiences and man-made power structures, with control and Pharisaical rules as all the other institutions. When the LDS Church institution equaled or had no more power than all the other institutions, and the power came from within me instead of from any institution or its leaders, the betrayal by the Brethren and the Church didn’t matter so much anymore because they were all the same type of powerless prescriptors of how puzzles were supposed to be built, and with which pieces, based on their own man-made constructs that approximated the leaders’ personal interpretations of divinity and their own spiritual experiences and testimonies, or their desires to honor past leaders and preserve Heritage.
I had the power now. I was out of Stage 3, approaching Stage 5. I was in my 2nd half of my spiritual life. I could claim my own Mormonism or absence thereof, and institutions had no direct role to get in between me and my fellow humans, to dictate my puzzle, or to get in between me and the “water”, because I was now part of the “water”, and I am free from the boat, and I can choose to mount any boat I want or none at all.
It is harder to feel betrayed by Catholic leaders’ treatment and management of the child sex abuse scandals when that institution has no power or say over you. Likewise, the betrayal becomes less relevant when the LDS Church institution and Leaders have no power or say over you because they are no different than the Catholic leaders, or with my relationship is with the “water” and with my fellow human beings through what I now perceive as divine interconnectedness.
Part 4: Build your own puzzle, and serve those on the margins.
If you made it through all this, I really hope that it helped if you have been struggling with Betrayal. Others helped me reconcile, process and abandon the power or the Betrayal. I hope to pay it forward. I don’t expect or suggest that your experience will be similar to or the same as mine, but hopefully for some, there are pieces here that can serve as a useful model.
Even if you have a different experience or concept of spiritual experiences, or with regard to whether Jesus is at the head of the LDS Church, or even that the Brethren have keys and authority, but they stumble through things as fallible men, and that there is good in and from the boat, I suggest that there is still value in the principle that you have the power to build your own puzzle, and you can claim your own authority and relationship between you and God.
You’ve got this! The power is within you. You are the arbiter of truth. You get to reconstruct whatever puzzle you want, and as long as it isn’t harming others, we will be here to love and support you because it doesn’t threaten us if your puzzle is different than ours.
The final and most powerful key for me to end the influence of the feelings of Betrayal came from fellowshipping, mentoring, and serving those on the margins. To mourn with those who mourn and comfort those who stand in need of comfort–particularly others navigating a faith transition. This is where magnified empathy and compassion that are often gifts born of the burnt ground of Faith Crisis can sometimes come to light.
At least, this is how I’ve processed things here in Montana.
2 thoughts on “Overcoming feelings of Betrayal during Faith Crisis”
Really enjoying your blog posts. Thank you for taking the time to share your faith journey!!
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I am sure that your blog will help many if they read what you have to say. We were members of the LDS church for 55 years and resigned in November 2017. We are moving forward; however I resent the indoctrination we are exposed to in LDS/Mormonism…e.g. this is the only true church upon the face of the earth, as man is god once was and as god is man may become, we have a heavenly mother.etc. etc. etc. I loathe the references which pop up in my head now and again, the evidences of indoctrination thrust upon us and our children. I wish I could unlearn them as I now understand them to be absolute refutable rubbish. I consequently resent the need to refute any Mormon Doctrine as though I am required to provide arguments as to Joseph Smith’s visitations, why the Book of Abraham is false.etc. Membership in this church was a waste of time and the need to associate with it any longer is counter-productive. It is absolutely false …let each man discover that for himself. Lies are lies are lies