There is an interesting article on The Mormon Curtain that talks about the mormon phenomenon of being offended. More appropriately, the idea that someone has stopped going to church or resigned their membership because “someone offended them.” If you’re not familiar with the concept of offended members, take a few seconds to read the article.
Done? Okay, now I can relate the perfect example of this thinking. Sister-in-law was raised in a very strict LDS home (by comparison, our family was pretty liberal as far as mormon psuedo-doctrine goes: we had no problems with having caffeinated soda, I recall watching my first R-rated movie when I was about 6, etc). Now, I’m not saying that her home wasn’t loving, or that her parents were harsh to her (I actually really like her parents… in so much that I only have to chat with them at family parties and the like); her home, however, was a place where strict obedience to anything and everything they ever heard in church (or a church-related event)—even if the tidbit they heard was only something they overheard in the hallway gossip chain—was required. Not only was cursing (even if accidentally) something to cause a family member to invoke self-shame and lower their self-esteem, but hearing someone else do it created an open season for guilt-riding and intimidation. For example, if my sister-in-law was sick and didn’t make it to church that sunday (or even only attended 1 hour of the 3 hour block), she’d feel awful, as though she’d found Jesus, approached him and then kicked him in the stones. However, if you missed church, prepare to receive the interrogation of your life. Not in a harsh way (how can anything from a quilter’s high pitched voice sound harsh), but the implied shame and disgust would drip from her words.
Get the idea? A general nature of shame and vilification toward anyone who “slips up” or doesn’t live by their set of rules (regardless of if those rules are even generally understood and practised by anyone).
Okay, now, having read about “being offended” and getting a taste of what my sister-in-law is like, allow me to paint a picture. I’ve not stepped in any church (regardless of the denomination) in over a year and a half. Prior to that, however, I had attended the same congregation as my brother and his then fiancé, but only just. Mormon ministry is a lay ministry, and I had been “called” to take care of the congregation’s administrative duties, which dominated most of the 3 hour block of Sunday meetings (minus the main “sacrament meeting”, but plus an hour or two after everyone left, to count and deposit the week’s donations). So most of my Sunday was devoted to office work, not religion. But this was fine by my sis-in-law; I was at church. However, fast forward 1.5 years. I’ve moved to another part of town, stopped attending church, and pretty much rid myself of all things mormon. Well, except family. It’s important to note that only my father and one of my brothers (both out of the church as well) know the full scope of my “mormon situation.” My other brother (husband of the aforementioned) only knows that I don’t go to church; he has no idea that I’ve renounced belief in its tenets. But, being my brother and a generally accepting and loving man, he doesn’t push it. In fact, he’s only once mentioned going to church to me. However, his wife…
One evening, I had driven to their house to help him fix a computer problem. After it was fixed, we spent some time talking about funny things we’d seen online. We were enjoying each other’s company. Well, his wife (we’ll refer to her as Jenny) had been watching TV in the other room, but had apparently tired of it and walked into the office, sitting down on an upturned bucket and just stared blankly at us. We were deep in conversation when Jenny broke in with “When you move (I’ve been planning a move out of state. -ed), will you go to church?” I stared blankly at her.
“What?” (my brother and I had been discussing cars, so the comment seemed alien to me)
“I mean… do you not like church?” she questioned.
“Umm… why are you asking me this right now?”
“Well, don’t you miss going to church?”
I look at my brother with the oh, shit, here we go again look. “No.”
“Doesn’t that make you sad?”
“No. I feel fine, thanks.”
Now, obviously trying to pressure her husband into helping with her cause, she asks him, point blank, “You feel sad when you miss church, don’t you?”
The look of awkwardness and horror sweeps my brother’s face. He’s a great man and one of the most charitable people I know, but he’s never struck me as Hellfire and Brimstone, Ra-Ra-Ra type of mormon. He sort of squeaks out, “Uh… well, not sad… but I do miss seeing our friends at church if I miss a few weeks.” He looks at me. “I don’t feel sad when I miss elders quorum, though.” We both chuckle.
Henceforth, let’s say my brother’s name is Troy. “Well I feel sad when I don’t go. Troy feels sad”—I look at my brother, and he has the oooookay… look on his face—“when he doesn’t go. Why don’t you?”
Not wanting to turn my family life upside down at this moment, I avoid explaining that since I have no belief in the tenets Joseph Smith conjured up, going to a mormon church is kind of a moot point. “I dunno… just doesn’t bother me.” I decide to turn the tables a bit, “Why does it upset you?”
“Because that’s what you’re supposed to be doing. You go to church.” She pauses. “Did someone offend you at church?”
God. Damn. You’re kidding me right? The thoughts flood my mind. I start getting a little frustrated. “No.”
Okay, not entirely accurate. Hundreds of people in the church have offended my sensibilities and perception of proper etiquette, social skills, and reason. But never once did that cause me to say “I hate the church! I want to stay away because Brother Johnson said all democrats should be barred from the temple!” (someone really did make that democrat statement in my presence once, though). And certainly, I’m thick-skinned and reasonable enough to realise the difference between someone being a massive tool at church and the actual beliefs of a church.
I started to think about Jenny’s methods and manipulation techniques. I recognised a few from my training as a mormon missionary. Her goal was not so much to understand why I was not going to church, but to instil a sense of guilt in my heart and manipulate me into going to church again. I began to look at her actions in the scope of someone whose entire belief in the church was based on the social aspects (generally, someone who is a recent convert to mormonism and the kind of person who joined because the missionaries were so nice to them). If she had acted this way toward one of these thin-skinned, timid new-entries… she’d have been the source of someone being offended and leaving.
Offence can cause people to leave the church, as with any social group, but the most infuriating part, as mentioned in the linked article, is that offence is treated as one of the only possible reasons someone would leave the church (along with “being too weak to live the commandments”, “not wanting to admit past sins”, or “wilfully wanting to sin, look at Playboy™ and drink beer!”) and yet the blame for said offence is placed squarely on the shoulders of the offended. Can we not all see how amazingly obtuse this is? It blows my mind to think that so many otherwise smart people can serious believe that the only reason any person would give up their supposed “eternal glory” was because someone was mean to them. Seriously, if I believed that something would lead me to never-ending happiness, I’d gladly take someone screaming insults in my ear all day. However, I do not subscribe to the beliefs of the mormons, for many reasons… but not a single one is because someone offended me.