Three years ago, my brother-in-law announced to my wife’s family that he was leaving the LDS Church. His research of the history of the Church yielded some disturbing results; shortly thereafter he and his wife divorced. My sister-in-law soon stopped attending as well. All of this was very difficult for my wife to process. My wife and I were trying to live the Mormon dream; she was working to help put me through school while I was working towards being a successful college professor someday.
We were living in Michigan at the time and we had the support of a great bishop and a welcoming ward family.
When we decided to move to Florida for me to pursue my doctorate we were beyond happy. We felt that, after four years of marriage, it was time for us to start a family. Shortly after my wife became pregnant I was called to the bishopric as the ward clerk. The Mormon dream was in full swing, and I was on my way to the big time.
On November 3rd, 2012, my wife and I suffered a miscarriage. She experienced the physical pains of childbirth, but both of us felt the loss emotionally. It was painful. It’s still painful. Every time I think about that would-be child my heart aches.
The miscarriage caused me to slink into a dark, depressive hole. I was not myself. I was irritable, on edge, easily discouraged. In January of 2013, my wife and I came to the realization that I was severely depressed and that I needed professional help. During this time, we were also having a hard time reconciling many of the troubling Mormon issues we learned about—history, gender-equality, culture—and we decided that it would be good to take some time away from our church callings to focus on our marriage and try to improve our relationship.
I asked the bishop I was then serving under to be released and he requested a little more time from me so that the new yet-to-be-called bishop could have some consistency. But my marriage was in jeopardy and I felt that this was what I needed to do, so as soon as the new bishop was called I again requested to be released.
Within two weeks, both my wife and I were called in separately to see the new bishop (I was out of town on business otherwise I would have gone with my wife). We individually explained our situation: we were dealing with some marital issues, I was dealing with mental health issues, some of the things we had learned about the Church were troubling, and we wanted to take some time to figure out what role Mormonism was going to play in our lives going forward.
Expecting to be shown love and compassion from our bishop, I was unpleasantly surprised in my discussion to be given a pop temple recommend interview, despite having renewed it two months prior. Since I expressed some doubts and concerns, my bishop told me it was his responsibility to seek out and protect the Church from any perceived threats and suggested it might be best to turn in my temple recommend.
While I was nervous, I didn’t feel as if I was doing anything wrong. If, as we proclaim, we believe in a perfect Atonement, with Christ having suffered the pains and afflictions of all mankind, then that Christ will understand my situation. He will understand my mental state. He will understand why I made the decisions I make and why I fall short of perfection where I do. He is the only Being perfect enough to be able to stand in judgment of any one of us.
I pulled out my recommend to hand it to my bishop, but he balked. He suggested instead that I should hang onto it, but that I should go talk to him if I decided I wanted to go to the temple. He also said that, since he was born and raised here in town, and is now an attorney here, he knows a lot of people who will report to him if they see me doing anything suspicious.
Here I was, in grieving for my lost child, in crisis because of my failing marriage and mental health, and trying to figure out what the hell I believed religiously. Forget the fact that I was a lifelong member with pioneer heritage (my great-great-great-grandfather was Joseph Smith’s dentist), raised in Provo, Utah, seminary graduate, served an honorable full-time mission (holding multiple leadership positions while there), married in the Salt Lake Temple, BYU graduate, served in two bishoprics in different states, doing what I felt inspired to do as the “presiding authority” in my home, and this bishop we had never interacted with before this had the audacity to say we were threats to the Church!? That he was going to be monitoring us!? How is that Christ-like?
In the coming months my wife and I decided that we should separate to separately work out our individual mental health issues. She left me on July 8th, 2013, and the divorce was finalized three weeks later on the 31st. It has been very difficult for me, but I am in a much better place mentally than I maybe ever have been. This time of year is difficult, in particular, because there are so many memorable dates (my wedding anniversary was June 28th, etc). I miss her and have nothing but love for her—it was the most amicable breakup I’ve experienced, albeit difficult.
But I digress.
I would like to contrast my experience with this bishop to another bishop I know.
My father-in-law was called as bishop just before I married his daughter. He is one of the kindest, most compassionate men I have ever met. I remember during our wedding luncheon he could rarely be found at the head table with my parents, new bride, new mother-in-law, and myself. I believe I saw him stop at every single table and thank each guest, individually, for being in attendance.
He applied that same people-person attitude during his tenure as bishop. Many members of their ward express their love and admiration and immense gratitude for the love he showed each member of his flock. From what I understand (I don’t know any names or details), even in cases of serious sin he would counsel and work with the members before even considering formal church discipline—and even then it was only as a last resort. As the Holy Ghost worked through him, he discerned the intentions of the good people of his ward and served like that for nearly six years.
I am extremely grateful that I still have a good relationship with him. During the latest round of targeted church discipline my father-in-law has been in touch with me, mourning with me, exchanging ideas and articles. He has sincerely tried to understand my perspective and pain and has continually comforted me when I needed it. He very well may be the most genuinely Christ-like person I have ever met. And I consider how well he has treated me despite not technically being family anymore.
I believe it this latter kind of compassionate and caring leader that we need more of in the LDS Church—bishops and stake presidents who listen to their congregants, both the more conventionally orthodox and the questioning, leaders who welcome all and ostracize none.
This is all particularly painful in the wake of Kate Kelly’s recent excommunication, John Dehlin’s threatened disciplinary action, and the mass of others whose local leaders found it necessary to discipline them (some of them receiving instructions—whether explicitly or implicitly—from authorities higher in the pecking order). Why do some bishops have no problem with their members advocating for gender equality while others find this a scourge that needs to be exterminated? How can my local bishop here in Florida feel justified in threatening to take my temple recommend for asking questions when my father-in-law is helping members in his ward find a place while asking those same questions?
For a church that values global standardization, there is a major problem with their correlation efforts. This “Leadership Roulette” needs to be stopped.
NJ currently lives in Florida, where he is finishing his doctorate and applying for full-time employment. In his free time he enjoys cool, unique restaurants, going to the beach, and Blue Bell ice cream (probably too much).