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Helping A Loved One Who Joins a Polygamist Group

Periodically as parents, brothers, sisters and friends, we will learn that someone we care about has joined with or is considering joining a polygamist or Mormon fundamentalist  group.   How can we respond? 

Helping Those We Love

Unlike personal sin which can usually be corrected through our own efforts to repent, our inability to initiate a change of heart in another person, especially a loved one, enhances our disappointment and frustration. Watching a loved one leave the Church is very difficult. Nonetheless, we should not feel helpless, but should remain proactive. There is much that caring family and friends can do to aid those who are deceived. Useful guidelines include:

Meekly teach truth (if perhaps they are uninformed)

Respect their agency (apply tolerance and patience, never coercion or threats)

Continually extend unconditional love (but do not condone the sin)

Trust in God (He loved them first and still loves them best)

Meekly Teach Truth

One very challenging aspect of Mormon fundamentalism is that by quoting discourses given between 1852 and 1890 and selectively quoting specific scriptures, a fairly convincing argument in favor of continued plural marriage can be constructed.  The process is called "proof-texting" and can also be used to support almost any idea.  The key is to understand true teachings and the scriptures is to examine them within the contexts they were given. 

Proof-texting can be very effecting, especially if the listener/reader is uninformed.  When promoted as isolated teachings, Mormon fundamentalist theology may appear logical and sensible. Numerous pamphlets and books have appeared over the years and if read without understanding pertinent history, doctrine, and scripture, might seem convincing.

When a loved one has embraced Mormon fundamentalist teachings, what can be done?

History shows that a minority of new converts to fundamentalism have done much research into their teachings.  Without a basic knowledge of the scriptures and prophetic instructions, they fail to grasp important teachings God has already revealed.  Instead, they may quickly pray and find themselves deceived.

To assist, we may benefit by familiarizing ourselves with pertinent teachings as found in the scriptures and the teachings of modern prophets.  Some historical and doctrinal issues discussed on this website may also be helpful.

As we gain knowledge of correct doctrines, we must resist the temptation to beat our loved ones over the head with the truths we understand. We might also remember that some people who have joined the fundamentalist ranks are motivate by feelings and things that true doctrine will not solve.  Through all our struggles, we must remember the Lordís counsel: "And let your preaching be the warning voice, every man to his neighbor, in mildness and in meekness" (D&C 38:41; italics added).

Watching a friend or family member believe falsehoods is not easy. Yet, if they have been previously taught the truth, our primary goal as we interact with them may be simply to maintain a charitable relationship with them. Beliefs and feelings can change. If we poison our relationship with a loved one today, we may completely destroy our ability to exert a positive influence in a year, five years or ten, when they begin to wonder.

When loved ones commit errors and sins, there is a natural tendency to rush in and forcefully teach truth. Prior to doing so, it is important to ask ourselves: Who are we really trying to help? Are we actually teaching them something new, or are we simply venting our frustration as we are forced to submit to his or her free agency?

An important question is: When is the right time? Sometimes we may be tempted to shout directives to closed ears. Proper timing will usually require patience, not just hours or days, but possibly weeks, months or years. Teaching prematurely will not only be ineffective, but it may be offensive to loved ones, feeding into the victimhood they might have already embraced.

We must seek the right moment, when an atmosphere of love is felt and the Holy Spirit might attend. (See D&C 50:17-23.) Not only will we be inspired, but our loved ones may feel His influence. We must not forget that our words have little power to change another personís heart, but the Holy Spirit can do it easily under the right circumstances (D&C 11:21).

Respect Their Agency

A second consideration in dealing with loved ones who stray requires us to respect their agency. It is not easy. Perhaps we might remind ourselves that they fought in the war in heaven supporting the Fatherís plan which retained our free agency. Possibly they fought more valiantly than we did.(!) As much as we might desire to, we cannot force those we love to follow gospel principles. Nor should we attempt to do so. Forcing men and women to do right was Satan's plan (see Moses 4:1, 3).

Sometimes parents may shoulder unnecessary burdens as they forget about the principle of free agency. They may pronounce harsh judgments upon themselves and heft large quantities of guilt upon their own shoulders if one of their children goes astray.

In General Conference, then Presiding Bishop, Robert D. Hales taught: "[A] child even one raised with great love and care and carefully taught, may choose, when an adult, not to follow [righteous] teachings for a variety of reasons. How should we react? We understand and respect the principle of agency. We pray that life's experiences will help them regain their desire and ability to live the gospel. They are still our children, and we will love and care about them always. We do not lock the doors of our house nor the doors to our heart." (Ensign, November 1993, p. 10; italics added.)

Continually Extend Unconditional Love

One of the greatest weapons we possess in the battle for the souls of our loved ones is unconditional love. When friends or family members stray, we may feel disappointment and even embarrassment. Our love for them empowers them to break our hearts. Consequently, we will suffer. Perhaps we should expect to suffer.

Commonly, our own sufferings (and perhaps a dose of self-pity) might join together to seemingly authorize us to demonstrate conditional love by saying or implying, "I will love you only if you return to the Church." Love can be used as a manipulative tool to force a change. This is wrong.

The Lord has specified the tools we can use to influence the beliefs or actions of any other accountable mortal: "by persuasion, by long-suffering, by gentleness and meekness, and by love unfeigned; By kindness, and pure knowledge" (D&C 121:41-42). President Kimball has counseled: "Love ignores rejection. But where there are special challenges, we fail only if we fail to keep trying. Let our love of each member of our family be unconditional." (The Teachings of Spencer W. Kimball, p. 247; italics added.) Elder Neal A Maxwell has observed: "Sometimes reaching out is like trying to pat a porcupine. Even so, the accumulated quill marks are evidence that our hands of fellowship have been stretched out, too!" (Ensign, Nov. 1996, p. 22).

Recall the parable of the prodigal son:

And he said, A certain man had two sons:

And the younger of them said to his father, Father, give me the portion of goods that falleth to me. And he divided unto them his living.

And not many days after the younger son gathered all together, and took his journey into a far country, and there wasted his substance with riotous living.

And when he had spent all, there arose a mighty famine in that land; and he began to be in want.

And he went and joined himself to a citizen of that country; and he sent him into his fields to feed swine.

And he would fain have filled his belly with the husks that the swine did eat: and no man gave unto him.

And when he came to himself, he said, How many hired servants of my father's have bread enough and to spare, and I perish with hunger!

I will arise and go to my father, and will say unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and before thee,

And am no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.

And he arose, and came to his father. But when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him.

And the son said unto him, Father, I have sinned against heaven, and in thy sight, and am no more worthy to be called thy son.

But the father said to his servants, Bring forth the best robe, and put it on him; and put a ring on his hand, and shoes on his feet:

And bring hither the fatted calf, and kill it; and let us eat, and be merry:

For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to be merry. (Luke 15:11-24.)

Besides demonstrating that we should not lose hope, this parable also illustrates the need for unconditional love.

Undoubtedly the father disapproved of his son's initial decisions but respected his moral agency. The father also maintained a positive relationship with the boy that ultimately facilitated his return. The prodigal son knew the doors to his father's house and heart were left open. No artificial barriers were constructed by the father requiring the boy to swallow additional pride to return. No ultimatums or other manipulations appear to have been employed which might have impeded him as the consequences of his unwise decisions suggested that he backtrack to his family. This is the Lordís way.

Trust in God

Despite the suffering other people bring into our lives, we might remember that no matter how much we currently love them, God, our Heavenly Father loved them first. He also continues to love them best (that is, better than we can). Despite His eternal love, He does not sink into despair as they spurn His truth (see Moses 7:44). He is all-knowing and all-loving and we can trust in Him.

Until a person's probationary period is ended, there is a chance that he or she will repent. We should recall the Proverb: "Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it" (Proverbs 22:6). Of course everyone has his agency and some may choose to never repent, but we must always retain hope. Our hope will be manifest through our actions, such as unconditional love. We can also maintain fervent prayers on behalf of the wayward friend.

Never Cease to Labor

As those we love transgress God's laws, they will almost always give us compelling reasons to thereafter withdraw from them and their apostate behaviors. Nevertheless, we must always labor to bring them back to their Heavenly Father. The great prophet Mormon lived at a time when unrighteousness prevailed. His hope for his people diminished, but he did not give up. He wrote the following to his son Moroni:

And now behold, my son, I fear lest the Lamanites shall destroy this people; for they do not repent, and Satan stirreth them up continually to anger one with another.

Behold, I am laboring with them continually; and when I speak the word of God with sharpness they tremble and anger against me; and when I use no sharpness they harden their hearts against it; wherefore, I fear lest the Spirit of the Lord hath ceased striving with them.

For so exceedingly do they anger that it seemeth me that they have no fear of death; and they have lost their love, one towards another; and they thirst after blood and revenge continually.

And now, my beloved son, notwithstanding their hardness, let us labor diligently; for if we should cease to labor, we should be brought under condemnation; for we have a labor to perform whilst in this tabernacle of clay, that we may conquer the enemy of all righteousness, and rest our souls in the kingdom of God. (Moroni 9:3-6; italics added.)

Mormon observes that if he and his son were to "cease to labor" with the unrighteous Nephites, they would be "brought under condemnation." Similarly, we should never "cease to labor" on behalf of a loved one who has gone astray.

We may wonder how our Heavenly Father is able to witness the wickedness of His children, knowing the eternal consequences it brings. Perhaps He is comforted by the knowledge that, from the beginning, He has done everything within His power to help each one of us obtain exaltation. Brigham Young explained: "God has done everything we could ask, and more than we could ask... There is not one thing that the Lord could do for the salvation of the human family that he has neglected to do; and it remains for the children of men to receive the truth or reject it" (Discourses of Brigham Young, p. 27; see also D&C 88:33). 

Continuing our efforts with apostates helps us create a similar memory that might give us comfort throughout eternity. After we have left this mortal existence, we will remember our righteous actions performed upon this earth. Ideally we will be able to recall that we earnestly tried to reclaim our wayward loved ones. Still, we must acknowledge the limitations of time and resources under which each of us now serves. We must also accept the fact that we may not be able to do all we would like to do. Anne Morrow Lindbergh observed: "My life cannot implement in action the demands of all the people to whom my heart responds" (Quoted by Elder Neal A. Maxwell, Ensgin, June 1994, p. 41). Nevertheless, we should attempt to do what we can do. Otherwise we may find ourselves "under condemnation" as Mormon warned. This perspective may provide additional strength to extend the hand of love, even if that hand has recently been rejected.

We Must Still Keep the Commandments

Through all the suffering brought on by the apostasy of a loved one, we must remember that their unrighteousness will not affect our own hope for exaltation. We will be judged according to our own efforts to keep the commandments.

Though Moroni cared for the Gentiles, the Lord explained that their lack of charity would not work to his disadvantage: "And it came to pass that I prayed unto the Lord that he would give unto the Gentiles grace, that they might have charity. And it came to pass that the Lord said unto me: If they have not charity it mattereth not unto thee, thou hast been faithful; wherefore, thy garments shall be made clean. And because thou hast seen thy weakness thou shalt be made strong, even unto the sitting down in the place which I have prepared in the mansions of my Father. (Ether 12:36-37.)