The topic of family life was our focus in May for the scheduled Meetup among Ex-Mormons and again in June for discussion among Ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses.
“The Happy Family”
Summer time offers so many things that traditionally can unite families: Weddings, graduations, reunions, vacations, home improvement projects, canning vegetables, rummage sales, etc. But for many who have left the Mormons or the Watchtower, connections to family who remain in those religions has been lost.
It might appear that any hope of reconciliation and “a happy family life” then rests on the shoulders of those who removed themselves from the religion. That’s a heavy burden to bear and a significant power tool these group use to capitalize on the loneliness incurred by disfellowshipped members. Often times people return to their religion not because they believe it is the truth or have a desire to serve God under its mandates but because they miss their families so much!A basic human desire is for a happy family life and religions like the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and the Watchtower promote this ideal in their literature and yet, people come out of groups like these with broken and dysfunctional families. The lack of family is why many support groups like our Meetups exist for ex-Jehovah’s Witnesses and ex-Mormons. It is one way to receive new mothers, brothers and children just as Jesus promised.
“I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Mark 10:29-30)
One person’s decision affects the next generation within their family. Some of us, drawn in by those lovely portraits of happy families depicted in tracts and magazines, were the first to join the Watchtower or the Mormons and introduce its influence into our own families.
The Bible does offer some guidelines for society’s most basic institution which is the family, but is that the main goal of following Jesus Christ? Didn’t Jesus himself also warn that he did not come to bring peace but a sword dividing members of households?
34 “ Do not think that I came to bring peace on the earth; I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. 35 For I came to set a man against his father, and a daughter against her mother, and a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law; 36 and a man’s enemies will be the members of his household.
37 “ He who loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me; and he who loves son or daughter more than Me is not worthy of Me. 38 And he who does not take his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me. 39 He who has found his life will lose it, and he who has lost his life for My sake will find it. (Matt 10:34-39)
Among other things, the Watchtower and the Latter Day Saints use the “happy family life” to lure in new converts based on this basic human desire to have close-knit, loving families. The Mormons promise that families will be together eternally, but Matthew 22:28-30 indicates that we do not understand the Scriptures nor the power of God if we think the marriage arrangement continues in heaven. Furthermore, I see nothing in Jesus’ ministry that promoted the family as the primary reason to follow him. In fact, I see quite the opposite in his teachings.
When Jesus asked men to follow him, what were some of their responses?
‘I have married a wife, and for that reason I cannot come.’ (Luke 14:20)
“ Follow Me.” But he said, “Lord, permit me first to go and bury my father.” 60 But He said to him, “Allow the dead to bury their own dead; but as for you, go and proclaim everywhere the kingdom of God.” 61 Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord; but first permit me to say good-bye to those at home.” 62 But Jesus said to him, “ No one, after putting his hand to the plow and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:59-62)
The early Christians were called to follow Christ, not a religious organization. And in following Christ, they were admonished to keep their focus on him and not on picturing their family together with them at some panda bear picnic in paradise or a celestial kingdom.
Do these groups promote “Follow Jesus” or do they manipulate the natural desire for family in order to follow them and remain in their organization?
People in the religions of the Watchtower and the Latter Day Saints can enjoy a happy family life just as two unbelievers can have a happy marriage and family life also, but when a person comes to Christ, they have a totally different focus. We should not be surprised at the divide because when someone becomes a Christian they’re a new creation (2 Co 5:17). Even if they were a basically “good person” beforehand, they now belong to Christ and are being conformed into his image not the image a religion or what a family wishes to instill in them. An unbelieving mate may not have bargained for this change thinking that the person they married is longer there in a sense, but there are changes along the way in all relationships, not just in the case of one becoming a Christian. Someone could lose a limb and the partner would have to compensate, perhaps even move to accommodate wheelchair accessible features. They could look back and remember how easy it was before the accident, but isn’t it better to press on? In the same sense, one could look back and remember how easy it was before Jesus Christ came with a sword into the family also. The Israelites left Egypt to pursue freedom in worshiping God, yet the freedom caused them to long for things left behind, even though they existed as slaves in their former life.
We see admonition for families in the Bible, but I don’t see the pretty pictures of “happy families” there. I see singular workers on a mission. Abraham didn’t even know where he was going, but the family followed. I wonder what Peter’s wife thought of him? Jeremiah was told not to even marry because of the work God had planned for him. The confusion comes by thinking we’re supposed to run back and make it look like we’re still the same family. But if putting our family relationships becomes a higher priority than God, it’s called idolatry. We were bought with a price, our vessels belongs to Him. That is heavy because at the same time, we do belong to our families. We’re still in the world and have to make a living and have responsibilities to care for them, but what does the word say? Abraham knew he was a STRANGER on this earth. His true citizenship was in heaven. The early Christians understood this world was passing away AND SO IS IT’S DESIRE. Our desires change. When we died with Christ, so did our old desires. We are continually being fashioned into the person God wants, the one created in Christ. Whatever is not part of that falls away as refuse.
Light has come into the world and says, “follow me” If we resist and say, “permit me first to go back to my family,” he adds “she who loves husband or child more than me is not worthy of me.” And I ask, how does THAT fit into the “happy family” pictures we’ve all seen? We’re not to seek the happy family as a goal, we’re to seek God and his kingdom first. If the family follows happily, great, but if not, that is the sword Jesus intended. Perhaps some Christians live miserable lives because they are too concerned about serving their families the old way before coming to Christ? They leave off their personal calling from God because it just doesn’t fit with the old family plan. They still feel as strangers in the world, yet they keep trying to fit into it. If we died, how can we fit back into the world? Jesus said he didn’t come to bring peace but a sword. He divides because what we do with Jesus here and now is how we are judged.
So what is a person caught in a divided home to do? Let the sword end the marriage? Shun those who disagree? When Jesus came to this earth among a divided people, the Jews and the Gentiles, what was his desire? God had been the one to separate the Jews from all other nations after all. They had become his chosen people by means of a barrier between them and the Gentiles which was the Law. Yet, when the fulfillment of time came, he had an intention to reconcile them to himself through the cross.
14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility,15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace,16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. (Ephesians 2:14-16)
There is no doubt that what happened on the cross divided families in the first century and continues to do so today, and yet, God can not be held responsible for such division for his intent is to put to death hostility and be our peace. Yes, he brings a sword that divides, but he seeks to destroy the barrier and make two into one. How will this happen unless the division first becomes obvious?
When a person “sits on the fence” in leaving the Latter Day Saints or the Watchtower, they may know Christ but sense a lack of growth toward their spiritual calling. Their family remains in the organization and even though they know it’s not the truth, they don’t completely break from it in order to be part of their family’s life. It’s awful that anyone has to make this decision in order to “keep the peace”, and yet, doesn’t Christ himself say he came to bring a sword?
When a person finally writes that letter of disassociation or digs into the research once and for all and makes that break, growth happens. Until then, they live in fear of the sword that they never allow to separate them on to the side of Christ. How will their family ever come out until they see the separation?
In the case of the apostle Paul, he was raised in a religious family who likely was quite proud of how he went about persecuting those who left Judaism to follow Christ. Yet, he did not stay in Judaism for the sake of his happy relatives. He was separated out not just on the road to Damascus, but from birth to be a follower of Christ! God ALLOWED him to be born into a Jewish family and go through his time of being a Pharisee until that day it PLEASED GOD to REVEAL Christ in him.
15 But when God, who set me apart from birth and called me by his grace, was pleased 16 to reveal his Son in me so that I might preach him among the Gentiles, (Gal 1:15-16)
It was pleasing to God to separate Paul from his heritage when the time came. Paul’s time as a Pharisee was well spent and used to mold him into a preacher not only to his own brethren, the Israelites, but to preach among the Gentiles as well. Christ was there waiting in Paul to simply accept him as his savior. He’s waiting in the hearts of many to just remove all those stumbling blocks that keep them from simply being able to accept his enormous love and calling in their lives to do the work he prepared in advance. Oddly enough, for some, those blocks are their own families.
Keep yourself in God’s love, Julie