A few things first, though.
- I'm going to call it what it is: abuse. I won't apologize for using that word. When I start wondering whether it's really abuse, I remember testing positive for PTSD (which has thankfully mostly subsided now), withdrawing, hardly trusting anyone, and barely being capable of work. I wasn't just reading the wrong sites or concentrating on the wrong things. That wasn't at all like me; I'm not a naturally fearful person.
- By "Church," I mean the members, including rank-and-file members and leaders at all levels - though of course those further up the hierarchy bear more responsibility.
- The fact that the Church abuses doesn't necessarily mean its truth claims are false. A good illustration for believers: the Pharisees were God's chosen people, and even believed most of the right things, but devoured widows' houses and crucified the Son of God.
- A Church led by and comprised of good people can still carry out abuse. In general, abusers treat those who they don't abuse as well as anyone else.
- I'm not interested in Zen techniques for finding peace in the Church at the moment, as helpful as those can be. I'm just trying to understand its behavior.
- I did not enjoy writing this. You might not enjoy reading it.
My sources, roughly in the order I found them:
- A book recommended by Joni in a comment at wheatandtares.org: Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men (there's a PDF online; Google for "why does he do that pdf" without the quotes)
- Elder Hugo Montoya's June 2017 Ensign article Overcoming the Danger of Doubt (though there's plenty of similar Church material to choose from)
- A quote I read recently, on the difference between trust and faith; paraphrased more positively: "The responsibility for maintaining trust is on the trusted; the responsibility for maintaining faith is on the faithful"
- Bill Reel's podcast 268: The Spiritual Trauma of Mormonism
I disagree with that quote on trust and faith, but I think it illustrates very well the Church's attitude.
I haven't listened to Bill's podcast, only read his descriptions of it. But that was enough: the light bulb finally went on.
Elder Montoya's article is awful: yet more of the isolating, divisive, victim-blaming drivel the Church often produces to try to keep people believing the right things. I got an earful of the same from Elder Ballard a few months ago when he spoke at an area conference. In fact, I've been hearing it every few weeks since my faith crisis eight months ago. Elder Montoya's article was just the latest.
I could almost feel my children turning more against me as I read it. I occasionally ask my children challenging questions at the dinner table. Are those going to be "hurtful" questions now? Will they see me as a "so-called" father?
Roots of Abuse
The article is part of a pattern of emotional abuse that has a source I can't directly see. In the past, I've identified the source of abuse as lack of understanding or information, people really just wanting to believe, social momentum, shame, guilt, and pride. Those all probably contribute, but I don't think they adequately explain the coverups, misrepresentations, demands for even more belief in the face of disconfirming evidence, excommunications for telling the truth, the utter lack of anything resembling repentance, and accusing anyone who dares to doubt of giving in to Satan's lies.
Here's a theory that explains it all: the Church thinks it's entitled to its members' belief and trust. When we're born into an active family or baptized, the Church stakes a claim of ownership on our faith.
Abuse 101: Most of the time, abuse isn't due to mental illness, sociopathy, extreme insecurity, or anger management issues. Those things usually just instigate it and exacerbate it. Most of the time, abusers are regular folks who are often nice to everyone they're not abusing. They abuse certain people because they believe that they own those people to some extent. They believe it's okay to control the people they abuse to get what they think they're entitled to. In the end, abuse comes down to having a warped value system.
Abusers can be so nice when you're giving them X, where X is what they think they're entitled to. If you can't - and this often happens when abusers demand more and more until they demand more than you can give - they give you the back of their hand. If you call them on it, it's your fault. It's always your fault, because you weren't giving them X, and they have a right to it. If you strike back or even just try to defend yourself, they'll turn things upside-down by saying, "Why are you abusing me, especially after all I've done for you?"
As Bill so eloquently put it, abusers won't let you tell your own story. They'll tell your story for you, about how you're a bad person for not giving them X. They'll get you to believe it. They'll get your friends and family to believe it. If you call them dishonest or manipulative, they'll say it's you that's being dishonest or manipulative, and they can prove it, and they'll rally everyone in your life to the cause of protecting themselves from you. Everyone will side with them, and you'll wonder if you're taking crazy pills.
The thing that makes abuse really, really hard to fix and really hard to even identify is that, with the exception of a few sociopaths, abusers think they're acting morally. The man who beats his wife when she doesn't have dinner ready when he gets home is only keeping his wife from walking all over him. The man who keeps calling his girlfriend lazy and fat thinks she just can't take a joke - with half his brain, anyway; the other half thinks that he's entitled to always be right and has discovered that shattering her confidence makes her give in. The domestic tyrant who seeks sole custody honestly believes he's the better parent. I mean, look at her: she's a mess, isn't she? She's completely unraveled and spitting fire while I'm calmly telling the truth about her lack of parenting skills.
Most abusers don't even consciously recognize that they think it's okay to control the people they abuse. They're just doing what has worked in the past, either for themselves or for a role model. Most abusers can't see their own sense of ownership and entitlement. A worldview in which they see themselves instead as good, as the underdog, as persecuted, and even as abused, shapes itself around their warped value system.
A lot of that seems awfully familiar to me.
The theory that the Church - again meaning its members, but especially its leaders - believes it has a right to your belief and trust is the only way I can explain the laden-with-contradictions "the Church is right even when it's wrong, and I'll punish you for saying otherwise" attitude of most leaders and seemingly about half of active members.
How To Tell It's Entitlement
How do we know when abuse is driven by a warped value system? With humans, there are some simple questions we can ask.
How does he treat others? Is he awful to everyone, or does he restrict his abuse to certain people, such as the people who have made commitments to him? If he restricts his abuse, it's probably entitlement.
Was there a "honeymoon phase" with few warning signs? If so, it's probably entitlement.
Does he acknowledge fault, make amends, and honestly try to change his behavior? Does he repent? If not, it's probably entitlement.
What does a breakup look like? Does he make life a living hell for the people who try to escape him? If so, it's probably entitlement.
With the Church, there's an additional question that sheds light onto the cause of abuse. Has the Church ever thanked those who leave for the time, effort and money they've put into it?
No, not once, ever.
A couple of good questions to ask to identify what an abuser feels entitled to are "What does he retaliate over?" and "What interest is he protecting when he tries to control people?"
I'm still answering those questions for the Church, but here's something preliminary. If you say that you don't believe in God because he's never answered your prayers, members will just feel sad and sorry for you. Yeah, they'll testify a lot and they'll try to get you to see things their way. But if you say that you don't believe Joseph Smith was a prophet because he married and slept with other men's wives, holy moly, look out.
This tells me that the Church isn't always looking out for our eternal welfare, which both kinds of unbelief would jeopardize. The second statement is about belief and trust in the Church, which it thinks it's entitled to.
Not everyone in the Church has an abusive value system. My ward's bishopric doesn't, for example. President Uchtdorf apparently doesn't. "It's not that simple" speaks volumes.
The Church seems to be starting to give up its entitlement to our time. More leaders are working with members to find callings that fit, more members are declining, and the top leadership hasn't tried to guilt members into doing otherwise.
Probably the best sign is that those wonderful Millennials who don't trust organizational power nearly as much as previous generations will be in charge someday. They also have much more direct experience with openly LGBT people and members who have left. The Church slowly has its brain replaced every 40 years or so. Maybe the abuse will stop by 2057.
Most of the Q15 seem to have an abusive value system. Elder Ballard apparently does. "Where will you go?" also speaks volumes. Elder Holland apparently does. "I am so furious with people who leave this church." "Don't break your mother's heart." I think his anger and attempt at control arise from entitlement. (Also, is your mother entitled to your faith in the Church?)
The Church is currently doubling down on demands for belief, even as it teaches more accurate history that gives much more room for doubt.
Probably the worst sign is that the doctrines themselves help propagate abuse. They contribute to the warped value system that leads to abuse, and they also help justify abusive behavior. Examples:
- This is the only true and living Church, and every other inside-outside, good-vs-evil, us-vs-the-world pronouncement that increases trust in the Church and dehumanizes outsiders.
- The prophet can't lead the Church astray. "I'm right even when I'm wrong." The Q15 needs to stop believing this damnable heresy.
- Satan exists. This provides the most ready, isolating, divisive and wrong explanation for when members lose faith.
- Good emotions communicate objective truth. Being at peace with the abuser therefore means the abuser must be right - which for a human abuser can only happen when you're giving him what he thinks he's entitled to. Also, under this doctrine, it's next to impossible to identify abusive behavior, because identifying it makes you feel bad. I felt horrible writing this. Does that mean it's wrong?
What To Do About It
The vibe I'm getting from "Why Does He Do That?" is that it usually takes a great deal of external pressure to get an abuser to see the sense of ownership and entitlement that drive his control and abuse. It also takes a great deal of internal will and humility on the part of the abuser.
Maybe I'll have more ideas when I'm done reading it, but honestly, it looks pretty bleak for the next 40 years or so.