EP 518 – The Impact of Parents’ Religious Rigidity on Young Adults Leaving the Church – An Interview w/ Liz Brown-Macdonald

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A study of disaffiliated Latter-day Saints who claim to have religiously "rigid" parents asks us to rethink the way we relate to our loved ones.

There are many stereotypes that float around regarding Latter-day Saints, particularly those in the so-called “Mormon Corridor,” the more heavily LDS section of America along the western edge of the Rockies, stretching from eastern Idaho across Utah and down into Arizona. Perhaps nowhere are those stereotypes more manifest than Utah County, home of Provo and arguably the densest population of self-described “active” Latter-day Saints in the world.

One such stereotype is that of overly pious or religiously rigid parents – parents so wrapped up in living their faith that deviations from the script are cause for major rifts between children, and these children often feel misunderstood and unloved in the process. This isn’t to say such parents don’t have noble goals and love for their kids – but there is a real struggle to balance their religious ideals with the choices their children might make.

Liz Brown-Macdonald is a research and aspirant PhD candidate and recently conducted a study among young adults ages 18-30 who had left the church and described themselves as having religiously “rigid” parents. She chronicled and analyzed their stories, looking for common threads. While Liz is quick to note her study is not meant to be representative of the overall population, it does provide crucial insights into decisions parents can make differently if their children choose to leave The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, particularly those in areas of dominant Latter-day Saint culture.

Many of the responses from these individuals are heartbreaking – tales of parents effectively cutting kids off, saying routinely they hope to see their children in the next life, awkward family gatherings. Indeed, one respondent argues simply, “The Church doesn’t have an answer for mixed-affiliation families.” So what answers can we find together?

Going a step further, there are examples of children engaging in dangerous sexual behavior because they are too afraid to be seen purchasing contraception, or a few examples of bishops unfortunately shaming a girl for coming forward with her indiscretions because of the damage it could do to a young man’s standing in the Church.

It’s worth noting many of the actions reportedly taken by the respondents’ parents seem to go beyond the mark and aren’t even supported by the Church. How easily do we fall into cultural chasms when parenting? We have huge goals and ideals for our children, and it can become easy to forget that the Church’s teachings are more moderate and sensible in many areas than we might suppose.

We are thankful to Liz for sharing her insights with Josie Gleave and Geoff Openshaw. There’s good material here for many of us, regardless of our activity level in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints or any church, for that matter.

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