Commentary: LDS Church officials are practicing spiritual extortion

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) President Russell M. Nelson speaks during the morning session of the 189th Annual General Conference of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Salt Lake City on Sunday April 7, 2019.

I tuned into General Conference, with my hopes set on coffee. Instead, to my sadness and dismay, we were given coercion.

Time is running out” was a running theme, coupled with warnings that family ties would be eternally severed for those who do not walk the one-size-fits-all path. As we are so concerned with calling things by their correct names, let’s start with this:

Tying the eternal salvation and exaltation of church members to a checklist of requirements, which includes but is not limited to paying money to the church, is spiritual extortion.

Teaching that families may not be together after death because of differences in beliefs, inability to conform, or unwillingness to make specific prescribed covenants is spiritual coercion.

Perpetuating this belief as a universal truth for everyone is psychological torment and religious manipulation.

These teachings are alienating to a myriad of families, including divorced families, blended families, single-parent families, step families, childless families, extended families, grandparent families, foster families, joint families, families by choice, non-nuclear families and LGBTQ families.

It also carelessly promotes “othering” among traditional families because opportunities for learning, growth, connection, empathy and understanding of people in situations that are different but no less worthy, can be stifled by these beliefs.

As a single mother who has had no choice but to step away from the church for my own safety, I see that my children (who still sometimes attend) are damaged and harmed when they hear this rhetoric, as it causes psychological trauma and is emotionally threatening.

No mother should ever have to hear her child ask, “Why can’t we be in the same heaven, Mommy?” It is not OK. And it is certainly not healthy.

And as a community health nurse, I find it deeply concerning, ethically speaking, as it is fundamentally indicative of an unhealthy institutional system. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints should not be in the business of spiritual alienation, family separation or ecclesiastical intimidation. But, as it appears, it most definitely is.

Life is not black and white. It is a million shades of gray plus all the colors of the rainbow. Heaven will be just as colorful and vibrant.

I fully embrace the teachings of Jesus Christ, which is why I teach my children that nothing will separate us. Ever. Because this is what Christ taught.

Heaven will be a place of love, not longing.

It will be a place of healing, not hurting.

It will be a place of well-being, not wounding.

It will be a place of peace, not pain.

It will be a place of connection, not coercion.

It will be a place of acceptance, not abandonment.

It will be a place of reception, not rejection.

It will be a place of optimism, not ostracism.

It will be a place of inclusion, not anguish.

It will be a place of tranquility, not trauma.

It will be a place of togetherness, not terror.

It will be a place of safety, not separation.

It will be a place of elation, not encumbrance.

It will be a place of goodness, not grief.

It will be place of happiness, not heartache.

No, time is not running out. We have an eternity to be with our families, our friends and our loved ones. And I like this happy heaven better.

Lesley Butterfield

Lesley Butterfield, Roanoke, Va., is a lifelong member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, a registered nurse and writer who advocates for trauma-informed care across communities.