Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Magic of Redemption

When I joined the LDS Church, I saw in its doctrines and practices a means of (among other things) redeeming myself from my own homosexuality as well as the deeply shameful family legacy of abuse that I described in Monday’s post.

(This post is a continuation of the one posted on Monday, 10/31.)

First of all, there were the temple ordinances I could perform for my deceased ancestors.  I strongly believed the LDS doctrine that I could be a “Savior on Mount Zion” (see Obadiah 1:21) for my abusive forebears and be a means of redemption to them.  Furthermore, as Joseph Smith taught, I could in so doing receive blessings myself (D&C 128:18).

This work helped me to feel special – that I was preordained to do this work, that out of all the many members of my extended family spanning generations and numbering into the thousands, I alone had been chosen because of pre-mortal valor to do this work.

It was heady stuff. But it was other-focused.  And it wasn’t healthy.  Many times over the years as I engaged in genealogical research and temple work, I would hear a nagging voice in the back of my mind saying, “You’re just doing this out of a vain attempt to create a sense of family that you never had as a child.  You’re trying to make yourself, and believe yourself to be special, because you were never treated as special when you were a child.”

Whenever I would hear that voice, I would tell myself it was the voice of Satan, trying to deter me from doing my foreordained work.  Under no circumstances could I allow myself to believe that voice, because the emotional and psychological costs of doing so were too great.  I could not allow myself to feel I wasn’t special.  I could not allow myself to examine my motives.  I had to keep the focus off myself.  I had to perpetuate the myth.

As important as this myth was to me, however, an even more important myth (which also arose out of LDS concepts of redemption) focused on other existential issues relating to abuse.  Shortly after I was married, I read the following quote in the Ensign (LDS Church magazine) by LDS psychologist Carlfred Broderick:

“[M]y experience in various church callings and in my profession as a family therapist has convinced me that God actively intervenes in some destructive lineages, assigning a valiant spirit to break the chain of destructiveness in such families. Although these children may suffer innocently as victims of violence, neglect, and exploitation, through the grace of God some find the strength to “metabolize” the poison within themselves, refusing to pass it on to future generations. Before them were generations of destructive pain; after them the line flows clear and pure. Their children and children’s children will call them blessed” [Ensign, August 1986].

The concepts expressed in this quote were new to me and extremely powerful.  Suddenly, I had an answer to one of the most fundamental existential questions that had plagued me since childhood – Why was I abused?  Why did I have such a shameful family history of abuse?  Here was the answer – again magical, powerful, mythical, intoxicating:  I had volunteered for this assignment – to single-handedly take upon myself the sins of my fathers and mothers, to metabolize all the accumulated hurt, pain, anguish and shame that generations of abuse had created and to prevent it from being passed on to another generation.  This both explained my past and charted my future.  It was my responsibility to end the legacy of abuse.

I believed – passionately – in this myth for most of my adult life.  But, the other day in my friend’s hot tub, I unexpectedly gained such profound insights into the fallacious and evil nature of this myth that I literally felt like I had received a blow to the chest, opening a well of emotion and understanding (not unlike my reaction to President Packer’s October 2010 Conference address).

To be continued tomorrow.  The Invictus Pilgrim Book Club post this week will be on Friday.


  1. Ugh, these cliff-hangers are torturous.

  2. Nothing like a good hot tub to facilitate revelation :)