Jana Riess on shame and fear

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DarkJedi
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Jana Riess on shame and fear

Post by DarkJedi » 13 Jul 2020, 06:06

I regularly read Jana Riess's stuff, often on the Salt Lake Tribune site (but I do also go to Religion News Service sometimes). I thoroughly enjoyed her book The Next Mormons. I found this week's column particularly poignant.

https://www.sltrib.com/religion/2020/07 ... -you-want/

Indeed I think the shame/guilt/fear card so often pulled by leaders (especially local leaders) and family members does more harm than good and is not the answer. It certainly doesn't work for me. A few highlights from Jana:
The first is flat-out fear.... To paraphrase: Don’t be like the virgins in the Gospels who didn’t light their own lamps! These are perilous times, and you don’t want to be caught without the gospel and the rock-solid community of the church. This approach is a basic default mechanism for religion (and humans) in general, but it can be hurtful – especially when people are already in pain. It’s also not very effective.
The second approach is shaming. This letter positions the recipient as the prodigal son and the sender as the worthy, patient father who is waiting for the son to repent. In the beginning it says, “we write to you as friends” and at the end says, “come back and let us be friends again” — which suggests that something has ruptured the friendship. That something is the recipient’s lack of “full activity,” which the senders hasten to reassure the recipient cannot be quite so terrible that she can sink below the light of God. (Um . . . thanks?)

The subtext is: We are not in the least bit curious what those questions or doubts are, or what you’ve been through; just forget about all that. If you can’t pretend that nothing is wrong, we will not be able to remain friends with you.

Nowhere in the letter do the writers express a desire to know what is going on with the recipient; they do not wish to listen, learn, or truly befriend. They seem, above all, to want compliance. They want butts in pews, or at least the coronatide equivalent.
A few people I’ve interviewed so far have come back to church, at least for a time. It’s definitely a minority. And within that minority, I haven’t yet met a single person who returned because fear and shame were effective enticements. What has worked also boils down to two things: genuine listening and innovation.
Really listening to people with doubts and questions is hard. Latter-day Saints are keen on having answers for everything, so this is going to be a paradigm shift. Real listening means we don’t jump in and minimize people’s pain just because we have found an answer that works for us (“Oh, no, there’s a really good reason Joseph Smith married a 14-year-old girl! Allow me to explain!”). Real listening is not so much about providing solutions as it is about honoring someone else’s struggles.
Real listening should also lead to the second thing that works: innovation. If we want to keep church members, we can’t simply dismiss their struggles. A true community of God does not sweep difficult truths under the rug as though the church is a perfect institution that does not need to apologize for its past mistakes and make changes, just like we all do. When we repent, new and wonderful things can start to happen. Repentance is a seedbed of necessary innovation, both for individuals and institutions.
Innovation means being open to not returning to business as usual. To not seeing people primarily as calling-holders, pew-sitters, family-history-indexers, and tithe-payers. For too long we have viewed rank-and-file members of the church in terms of what they can contribute to the organization, and it’s time to start listening to what they actually need from the organization. Sometimes those needs will be in alignment with the church’s programs and priorities, and sometimes they won’t. (For example, I have yet to meet a teenager who is truly on fire about indexing family history names, though I’m sure those people exist.)
If people are leaving the LDS Church, the solution is not to instill fear in them, shame them into compliance, or demand that they keep silent about who they really are and what they think. The solution is to provide an alternative to leaving that is so irresistible that they will be enriched enough to stay.
In the absence of knowledge or faith there is always hope.

Once there was a gentile...who came before Hillel. He said "Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot." Hillel converted him, saying: That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it."

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nibbler
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Re: Jana Riess on shame and fear

Post by nibbler » 13 Jul 2020, 07:40

Our toolbox is pretty limited. Also, when you're a hammer everything looks like a nail. I think we as a church become hammers when our focus is on our authority.

It's in human nature to want to fix, at least it's in my nature. That's a part of the issue, people that have left the church are seen as something that has to be fixed, so we enter the relationship in fix-it mode before we've even had the opportunity to listen. Another thing about when we're in fix-it mode... we're usually in it to fix the other person, not ourselves.

Many over the years have said, "We see things not as they are, but as we are ourselves." When leaders lead with shame and fear it's more likely they're communicating their reasons for staying.

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Re: Jana Riess on shame and fear

Post by nibbler » 13 Jul 2020, 07:45

I forgot the most important bit.

What sort of things would motivate people to come back?

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DarkJedi
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Re: Jana Riess on shame and fear

Post by DarkJedi » 13 Jul 2020, 10:19

You're right that Riess is much more clear about what doesn't work than what does or might. She does point out listening as important, and I agree. I recall mostly wanting to just have someone listen and not argue or condemn. The problem is OK, they listened, now what? The fear/guilt/shame is so ingrained in the culture that I don't think most people know anything else. Nevertheless, I'm not sure that's what Jesus actually taught. According to Riess after listening is where the innovation comes in but she's vague on what that innovation might encompass. Again, it's hard to innovate in the culture but it is the culture that needs to change. I do think her point looking at things from the perspective of what members need from the organization instead of what members should give to the organization is very well put. It is a reversal of Kennedy's famous "ask not what your country can do for you" quote. In this case I think that's exactly what Riess is advocating.
In the absence of knowledge or faith there is always hope.

Once there was a gentile...who came before Hillel. He said "Convert me on the condition that you teach me the whole Torah while I stand on one foot." Hillel converted him, saying: That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it."

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nibbler
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Re: Jana Riess on shame and fear

Post by nibbler » 13 Jul 2020, 12:37

Interesting points. I know I beat these dead horses too much, I apologize in advance for taking a few more wacks.
DarkJedi wrote:
13 Jul 2020, 10:19
The problem is OK, they listened, now what?
Yeah, I struggled to answer my own question. The challenge is that there are as many reasons for leaving as there are people. If someone left because no one listened to them, listening may be enough. For others, listening would show that people care, but it doesn't fix the problems, it's only the start.

Even after we make the changes to start validating people we've still got the uphill climb of actually creating space for people. E.g. what if you don't believe that Book of Mormon is a historical record? Will you be allowed to make comments in Sunday School? Will you be allowed to go to your daughter's sealing? Can you be a general authority? Great, someone listened, but why go back if you'll be kept at arm's length or be endlessly corrected by people that have the one right answer?
DarkJedi wrote:
13 Jul 2020, 10:19
I do think her point looking at things from the perspective of what members need from the organization instead of what members should give to the organization is very well put. It is a reversal of Kennedy's famous "ask not what your country can do for you" quote. In this case I think that's exactly what Riess is advocating.
I understand the point of "ask not what your country can do for you" but at the same time I believe current church culture is way out of balance. Over the last several decades the sacrifices have remained relatively the same (two hour church and trimming some programs down notwithstanding) but what the institutional church gives back has slowly ebbed away. Sports leagues, gone. Road shows, gone. Janitors, gone. Scouts, gone. Pageants, gone. Budgets, too anemic to do much more than a ward potluck for Christmas. It's hard to build and maintain a community when there's a high demand but nearly all of the fruit of that effort is siphoned off, never to be seen again. Our frugality and more pointedly anxiety over the future has led to a bare-bones, stripping down of the community. And that's just the more material aspects of church.

Temporal and spiritual go hand in hand. Temporally we cut costs and make sacrifices for theoretical rainy days. Spiritually we reduce the range of acceptable beliefs to a small list of supposed certainties.

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Re: Jana Riess on shame and fear

Post by Roy » 13 Jul 2020, 15:24

nibbler wrote:
13 Jul 2020, 07:40
It's in human nature to want to fix, at least it's in my nature. That's a part of the issue, people that have left the church are seen as something that has to be fixed, so we enter the relationship in fix-it mode before we've even had the opportunity to listen. Another thing about when we're in fix-it mode... we're usually in it to fix the other person, not ourselves.
I suppose my question would be if we needed to rescue them from leaving the church. I wish there was some sort of function where there could be some sort of "exit interview" where the person could be heard and made to feel valued. We could then enter their stated reasons for self distancing from the church in some sort of report. We would let them know that we understand and respect their decisions. Ask them what forms or degree of contact they might be comfortable with going forward and that we would love to have them return to full activity if their situation ever changes.
"It is not so much the pain and suffering of life which crushes the individual as it is its meaninglessness and hopelessness." C. A. Elwood

“It is not the function of religion to answer all the questions about God’s moral government of the universe, but to give one courage, through faith, to go on in the face of questions he never finds the answer to in his present status.” TPC: Harold B. Lee 223

"I struggle now with establishing my faith that God may always be there, but may not always need to intervene" Heber13

nibbler
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Re: Jana Riess on shame and fear

Post by nibbler » 13 Jul 2020, 15:40

Maybe related, maybe not, there's the Joseph Campbell quote:
Preachers err by trying to talk people into belief; better they reveal the radiance of their own discovery.
This is another dead horse of mine. We spend a tremendous amount of effort shoring up belief in the restored, one true church narrative. Think what that same energy could accomplish if channeled elsewhere.

Arrakeen
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Re: Jana Riess on shame and fear

Post by Arrakeen » 13 Jul 2020, 16:16

Roy wrote:
13 Jul 2020, 15:24
I suppose my question would be if we needed to rescue them from leaving the church. I wish there was some sort of function where there could be some sort of "exit interview" where the person could be heard and made to feel valued. We could then enter their stated reasons for self distancing from the church in some sort of report. We would let them know that we understand and respect their decisions. Ask them what forms or degree of contact they might be comfortable with going forward and that we would love to have them return to full activity if their situation ever changes.
This reminds me of cancelling certain subscription services. Some companies, when you try to cancel a service, try to talk you into staying and make it very difficult to just cancel your subscription. They just won't let you go and it is always annoying. I end up leaving with a very bad impression of that company and will probably never purchase their service again. On the other hand, I have had some services where there was a very simple process to cancel. The customer service representatives were very polite, just asked me to fill out a survey about my reasons for cancelling, and said they hope I will consider them again in the future. I ended up with a much more positive opinion of them and would consider signing up again if they added the features I need at a good price. I think too often people face the annoying sales-like efforts to keep them from leaving, and it can sour their attitude towards the church.

Personally, I have a lot of resentment towards the church right now. I think a lot of it is due to me being at BYU and feeling forced to remain active at church against my will for fear of losing my endorsement. While technically the fear approach is working to keep me "active" as long as I'm a student, it's really not helping in convincing me to stay long-term. You can put someone in a really nice house, but if you try to lock them in and prevent them from leaving it's going to start feeling like a prison no matter how many wonderful things you put inside.

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Re: Jana Riess on shame and fear

Post by mom3 » 13 Jul 2020, 18:48

Our Bishop moved recently. It was during Covid, so no church or formal release. It arrived in email.

That Bishop was a great listener. He took so many to lunch to let them air their issues. No judgement. Tons of love. Always friendly. Chill.

My husband reached out by email to say "thanks and good-luck."

The Bishop wrote back. He mentioned he would miss a lot of the ward members (we do have some really great members, even for TBMs, and a good handful of misfits). What he said he wouldn't miss was the "Gaslighting". His words. He didn't say from where or whom. Our Stake Presidency is 2/3 chill, but the HC is a mixed bag. And the 1/3 of our old guard can really be a pain. Our Gospel Doctrine teacher was so relieved to be released, because Old Guarders, constantly came up after a lesson and fixed what he had or hadn't said.

Anyway, it was an interesting exchange because he is active, caring, etc. And the shame, fear crap runs even into leadership.

I suspect implosion is the best option. Let it run it's course.
"I stayed because it was God and Jesus Christ that I wanted to follow and be like, not individual human beings." Chieko Okazaki Dialogue interview

"I am coming to envision a new persona for the Church as humble followers of Jesus Christ....Joseph and his early followers came forth with lots of triumphalist rhetoric, but I think we need a new voice, one of humility, friendship and service. We should teach people to believe in God because it will soften their hearts and make them more willing to serve." - Richard Bushman

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