It’s been nearly two years since I left Mormonism behind. In some ways, two years seems like a long time, but in the grand scheme of things, it is not. In the Mormon perspective of “eternities” it is but a blip. I’ve wanted to write about my departure experience and share some thoughts for at least 12 months, but I have avoided it. Thinking about it now, all the energy I wasted “enduring”, is a pretty big downer for me, so that’s the main reason I haven’t revisited it. I’ve felt much lighter, happier, and unburdened these past couple of years. Writing about it takes me back to the internal struggle and the disappointment my family and some friends felt about my decision.
I have discovered several things over the last two years. When you leave a religion that is tightly knit and all-encompassing, like the L.D.S. church, the church people do not know how to react. The most common phrase said to me when I see church people now is, “We miss you.” To that, I would like to respond, “You still have my phone number. You still know where I live. If you miss me, perhaps you could reach out and we could go to lunch (a movie, an art exhibit, etc.).” If you sincerely felt like my friend at church, then why is that the only capacity in which we can be friends? This only-friends-if-you-are-exactly-like-me-and-go-to-my-church scenario baffles me. When I miss someone, I reach out often and stay in touch with them regardless of their religious affiliation. That seems like a pretty logical thing. I think what is meant by, “We miss you” in my scenarios is actually, “I don’t know what to say to you, so I’m going to say something that seems genuine (‘miss you’); but is really going to come off as the exact opposite.” In the Mormon church, the women’s organization is called Relief Society. The church is organized into geographical regions called wards. Each ward has a Relief Society President. When I made my departure, the president of my ward’s Relief Society was someone I had known well for more than a decade. I sent her a letter to let her know that I wouldn’t be attending church any longer. The reason I sent a letter was two-fold: 1. As a courtesy to several involved parties so that the information would be received at around the same time. 2. To explain things as succinctly as possible without any confrontation. This R.S. President texted me to let me know she had received the letter and asked if we could still be friends. I was completely bemused and it led me to question, “Hadn’t we been friends all along? Why would my decision to no longer attend church makes us not friends now?” My response was, “Of course we can still be friends. Heathens need friends too.” In that story, you find the name of my blog — the generation of which I promised to tell at some point. (*Consider that promise kept.)
Rumor has it that many church members think people who exit the religion do so because they have been offended by something another member said. These “offenders” are giving themselves way too much credit. Do church members truly think there is an offense so horrible and belittling and awful that the offended, on a whim, has turned their back on the religion they grew up with, the heritage they were taught, the day-to-day practices they’ve established? In some ways, it seems that the church people use others potentially “being offended” as a way to soothe their own minds. They don’t want to believe that the religion or the history of it could be flawed in any way. They would prefer to think that someone who has gone apostate was “easily offended.” I’ve talked to countless people who have left the L.D.S. church and not one of them has left as a result of something as simple as “being offended.” Are we not all offended at some point in time? I had people say things to me or my daughter that I did not like, but those occurrences have nothing to do with why I left the church.
I know why many Mormons I thought were friends have not asked to hear my story. They are warned against fraternizing with anything that isn’t praiseworthy towards their religion. It will always strike me as bizarre that people can throw me lines like, “I hope you’re happier now” and “please don’t spew vitriol about Mormons all over the Internet” (which I have not done) and “just move on”; but they don’t want to know how my painstaking decision was reached and many surely don’t want to see that I am much happier now. The L.D.S. church sends missionaries all over the world to preach what is their truth, but they don’t want to hear about what someone else perceives as truth, for fear it may shake their own faith in some way. They haven’t asked WHY I left the church or what led to my decision to withdraw; which was well thought out and sweated over for more than a decade. I did a tremendous amount of studying — I would say somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 hours worth. I read church sanctioned scriptures, books that were published by church members, historians, and non-church members. I joined online communities for those with questions. I read blogs. I prayed. I pondered. I thought deeply. I considered. I cried. And then ultimately, when I couldn’t accept living what I felt was a double-standard any longer, I left. It was not easy. That is the other misnomer Mormons may have about those who leave. They think people just wake up one day and decide not to attend church anymore because they’d prefer to have Sunday fun-day or because they want to drink coffee guilt-free or because they don’t want to pay 10% of their income in tithing any longer. While all those things have been bonuses to my leaving, those are not the main reasons I stopped attending. Not. Even. Close. I would like to receive credit where credit is due. My decision was not made lightly. The Mormon religion teaches that there is a place for everyone in its religion and that it is the ONLY religion which will bring you true happiness. I must say, I never felt at home or truly happy within the church construct. Did I have pleasant experiences there? A handful of times. But I didn’t find it more spiritually uplifting than attending a great concert by a band I love or watching a movie I adore.
I’m grateful I had experiences socializing with non-Mormons in my day-to-day life for many, many years before making my departure (and I also have a supportive non-Mormon husband). That may sound strange to an outsider of the church. “Why wouldn’t she be socializing with a variety of people and have friends of all different kinds?” Mormons are taught that they are peculiar and that they need to stick together. Unless they are forced to deal with non-Mormons through sports teams, work scenarios, or school classrooms; they don’t. Most of the Mormons I know have social circles which are 98% Mormon. I cannot imagine how crippling it would have been for me had that been my case. Exiting would have taken much more strength and courage without a support system outside of church members. Beyond my studying and sincere praying, much of my leaving had to do with the huge place I have in my heart for my gay friends, my trans friends, my feminist friends, and my friends who are agnostic/humanists. I always felt those individuals were belittled, demeaned, vilified, second-classed and treated unfairly by the church in which I was raised. Being raised in the Mormon church caused a lot of internal confusion for me. I wanted to be Christ-like, in that Christ is kind and compassionate; but even more than that, I wanted to be the rebel Christ, which I feel is the Jesus they don’t touch on enough in Sunday School. I wanted to be like the Christ who overthrows money-changers’ tables in the temple and walks on the fringes of society with those who are less popular. That was the Christ I understood best, the one with whom I shared the most similarities.
Not being part of the church body any longer has led me closer to who I truly am spiritually, mentally, and emotionally. I don’t waste my time seeking the approval of church people. Many of which I found to be more nice (sometimes fake), than kind. It’s the first time in my adult life that I have truly felt like an adult who is making my own decisions. I don’t do things now with the thought of an impending eternal reward or the thought of NOT receiving blessings if I don’t do something that was prescribed. I’m living how I’m living, because I know it’s right for me. My perspective of being Christ-like has changed to trying so much harder to walk in the shoes of another, to treat everyone with respect, kindness, and dignity regardless of race, class, gender, or sexual preference. (It’s not always easy, and I still slip; but then I remind myself that it’s alright. No one is perfect.) I also think any loving God would want me to be happy and to feel like I have a place in this world. He would want me to be comfortable in my skin and with my thoughts and the life I’m living. Over the last two years, I have learned a lot. One of the main things being that I am who I have always been, but I’ve become an even better version of my self. I am thankful for those who have supported me and have continued to be happy for me. Those who have not just said they miss me, but have shown they do by reaching out, appreciating my journey, and caring about me and my story. On to the next chapter.