Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Why I Left the Mormon Faith

In last weekend's General Conference (big meeting with lots of speakers from the LDS higher ups), President Deiter Uchtdorf (one of the top 3 guys in Mormondom) gave a talk about bringing those who have "strayed" back into the folds of the church.  He made a statement that went something like this: "Doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith. If you are struggling, come back. We need your talents."  I'm paraphrasing because I couldn't find a transcript of the talk.
   One other thing he said that was interesting was: people leave for lots of reasons, and that leaving is sometimes hard.  It's true. The choice for me to leave wasn't easy. It wasn't something that happend because I was offended or wanted to "sin".  I agonized over the decision for years, and still feel guilty for it.  Just because some people are happy being a part of the LDS church, and never felt isolated or alone, doesn't minimize my feelings or experiences.  Simply because I've never felt included doesn't mean that others can't, and yet I'm told that how I felt was wrong, because "that's not really how the church is".

   I've thought a lot about that talk, possibly because a well-meaning friend texted me and told me I should listen to it.  I thought about doubting my doubts.  I pondered on why I left, and what  my talents are.  And then I considered the reasons why I left.
   I have doubted my doubts for the last 10 years.  For 10+ years, I have struggled with loving myself and who I am, because I've always felt so different from the Molly Mormon ideal.  Having been a victim of sexual abuse, I considered myself dirty, unwanted, and unlovable.  Every time chastity was taught, I was reminded that I was already unclean.  The leaders didn't differentiate between voluntarily losing one's virginity, and abuse.  Though nobody knew about my history (least of all my mom), I felt there was something wrong with me. By applying leader's examples to my life, I was a smashed cupcake, chewed gum, and a licked candy bar.
   I doubted my intellect because all it ever did was get me in trouble.  There have been people that have told me "There is a place in church for intellectuals."  I have never thought this true.  When I was 14, I left teenage Sunday School for the adult version because I knew all the answers. And I do mean that quite literally.  I knew them so well, in fact, the teacher accused me of stealing my mom's adult Sunday School manual and "studying up" ahead of time.  Was that a bad thing, if I had? (I hadn't)  Was I really being taken to task for wanting to know more, or being able to retain knowledge?  So I went to adult Sunday School, hoping it would be better.  I lasted 2 weeks. Then some adults asked that I go back to where I belong, because they found that I could answer all the questions, and that unnerved them.   I mentioned, in a previous post, that there is no Advanced Placement classes.  The Sunday School lesson manuals are literally the same from 12, until adult.  Though they switch every year (a cycle of 4 years), the questions are the same, the principles are the same, and the answers are the same.   It's difficult being an intelligent person in the church because the lessons get...boring.
   I doubted my worth because I didn't want to be a housewife.  For as long as I can remember, the church teaches the doctrine of the Holy Housewife.  Motherhood and wifehood is the highest ideal.  Yes, education is good, but make sure it's something that can easily translate to the home, or help with raising children.  Degrees like music, dance, elementary education, and photography are really common among LDS women.  I wanted to be a scientist, or a doctor, or something.  I was told "Why would you want that? It would be really hard to juggle a family and being a doctor."
   Even after I got married, I doubted my worth because I couldn't get pregnant.  People would ask "When are you going to start a family?"  I would either cry, or answer "My husband and I are a family."  Through growing up Mormon, and the lessons I was taught from Primary, my entire worth was based on my hymen and uterus.  A virgin up until my wedding night, and then a brood mare afterwards should have been my goal.  I was subtly shamed for wanting and being different.  I felt isolated through my infertility, because lessons were gauged towards child-rearing, and I had no children.
   I doubted myself and my doubts to the point of depression.  One issue in the church that I came across was the idea that I was never good enough. On Sundays, there would be lessons and sermons about forgiveness, readiness, scripture reading, prayers, and a bunch of other things. All of these things were considered "necessary".  We were told God would judge us on how readily we did these. "Draw near unto me and I will draw near unto you." was preached often.  The thought that if I didn't forgive everyone, right away, I would be cast into hell, was readily available.  I never read, studied, cared, prayed, forgave, prepared or was humble enough.  And so if I had problems in my life, it was because, through my actions (or inaction), I had pushed God away.

   I've been "inactive" for about 3-4 months now. I considered taking Ucthdorf's advice about going back.  I thought about sitting 3 hours a week and hearing about a petty, jealous, arrogant God, and being told He loved me, and that everything that happened was for my good.  I thought about sitting through lessons that I could recite verbatim.  I imagined sitting in Relief Society, and hearing comments about how people know God loves them because He gave them such beautiful children.  I thought of the $500/month that we had payed in tithings and offerings. I remembered being told at 13 that my same-gender attractions were evil, and that I should pray that God removes them. I recalled the lessons where I was taught that Priesthood=Motherhood.  I remembered people's looks of derision when I wore bold eye makeup, or clothes that I felt beautiful in.  I pondered my Visiting Teachers, and how awkward and annoying "forced friendships" were.  I considered the outward appearing happiness and perfectness, when everyone knew what was going on at home.  I remembered how unfair I thought it was that in High School, a boy could party Friday night, go to the temple and do baptisms Saturday, and pass the sacrament on Sunday.  I shuddered to think of the awkwardness of trying to describe my sexual "sins" to a man 40 years older than I. I considered how ugly the garments (Mormon underwear) made me feel. I could never master the "prideful humility" of so many members.  I imagined being told that because I was female, I was meek, mild, and nurturing. I considered how men claimed they "respected" women, but every time I made a comment or had a question, it was either ignored or given little thought. I thought of the times that I was honest in my answers, and was subtly shunned for being negative.  I remembered the cliques that I was never a part of, because I never lived in the wealthy subdivisions. And my talents, that were never utilized, because I didn't fit in the mold of what the Bishops thought I should be.  Or in the temple, when I was told that I should listen to the counsel of my husband, but there was no directive for him to listen to mine. Most of all, though, I recalled being an outsider.  I was never Molly Mormon.  I was too fat, too poor, too loud, too damaged, too contrary, too smart, too fat, too independent...too wrong.  I was told to doubt my doubts, doubt myself, doubt my friends, doubt everything except the church.
 
   I could never go back, because when it comes down to it, the church never made me happy. It never made me feel close to a loving God.  It never made me feel proud to be a woman. It never satisfied me intellectually or socially.  Mormonism claims to be loving, but they insist on rigid gender roles, and isolate those that don't fit them.  It claims to be just, but stigmatizes all those who don't fit into heteronormative relationships.  The LDS church gladly took my money, but shamed me for not giving enough, even when I was giving in voluntary offerings the same amount as my monthly grocery budget.  Going to church made me feel fake, because happiness is the only acceptable emotion.  Attending church made me feel worthless, because few cared about what I had to say.  Mormondom made me feel stupid, because my questions went unanswered, and I was shunned socially for asking for more doctrine.  Mormon leaders have said "We don't want blind followers, find out for yourselves if what we're saying is true."  And yet, those that get different answers are isolated.

So, President Ucthdorf, I will consider coming back when women have equal rights, responsibilities, respect as individuals and importance.  When there are levels of doctrine to be studied.  When questions are answered honestly and the asker isn't shamed for wondering.  When women are free to choose whatever role they want in life, without stigma.  When the church really opens its arms to those who are different, not just paying polite lip service.  When modesty means true humility, not covering up cleavage or thighs.  When everyone's talents are used, not just those who outwardly look the most "Mormon".  When the Prophet or Stake President realises that it's OK to find answers outside of the MormonBubble.  When the Bishop with his perfect wife and 7 perfect kids, and the 40 year old single sister are given equal respect and representation.  When members know where their tithing goes, and there are no apologetics.  When the state of my spirit is more important than the weight of my checkbook.  When children and teenagers are free to be who and what they are, not just cherubic ornaments for their parents.
   Basically, whenever the church really acts on it's doctrine of LOVING PEOPLE AS THEY ARE.  When that happens, call me, and we'll chat.  But until then, I'm taking my money, time, talents, and intelligence elsewhere, where I can be happy and accepted.

13 comments:

  1. Imagine a tall and slightly over-weight Italian witch standing and applauding this entire post, complete with whistles and cat calls!

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  2. I think your feelings can be summed up by a quote from the "Shawshank Redemption" (movie, not book) "(s)he's just institutionalized." It can be quite difficult to feel free, even when you've finally found freedom, when you've been raised in a cage, with a non-negotiable set of arbitrary rules. Spend enough time outside the cage though, and you'll eventually wonder how anyone could ever live such a closed-off life.

    You'll also begin to better separate your own views on morality/justice/good/bad from those of the church. If, after some time apart, you think your views/values are the same as the church's, and if you still feel a genuine longing to have that in your life, then by all means go back. However, I suspect that, based on your posts, the misgivings that drove you from the church will only continue to do so, and as you develop your own views of the world, you'll see how incompatible the church is with who you are....and instead of causing you discomfort and guilt, it will eventually provide a sense of relief and freedom.

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    1. I just hope that eventually the guilt will go away.

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  3. Yes, I've seen that quote about doubting your doubts all over Facebook and it's made me want to vomit. I feel like what it's actually saying is, "Feel free to think for yourself as long as you don't let it interfere with doing what we tell you to do." The interesting thing about your post is how our experiences have been so opposite in some ways yet have led us to such similar places. I was Molly in so many ways. I always felt welcomed at church, could fit the mold without too much difficulty. I enjoyed the sense of approval and belonging. In the end though I just couldn't make myself believe it. I'm so sorry that you were hurt so much by those who "meant well"

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    1. Exactly what I thought! "Sure you can think and question. Unless it leads you out the door, and in that case, thinking is bad."
      What I appreciate about your opinion is that you can say "Well, I never really experienced that, but it doesn't mean you didn't." So many of my Mormon friends tell me that my feelings and experiences aren't valid and true because they haven't gone through them. Ugh.

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  4. The last two paragraphs? Word. Totally with you. I don't know why people can't understand why other people leave the church.

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    1. Yeah. My new favourite quote is by Robert Kirby. "In the end we protect ourselves by believing only the truth we can handle and shouting 'heresy' at anything we can’t. That’s not faith or God. That’s ego."

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  5. I love that last paragraph. That's exactly how I felt when I left the last Christian church I was a part of. And the guilt will eventually subside. You're out of your cell now, but you're still working your way out of the prison. Once outside, you'll have a fresh perspective that will allow you to look at your former belief system and think critically about it in a new way. Then, it will no longer hold any power you.

    I found it to be helpful to stay busy on Sunday mornings. I always tried to do something that made me feel happy, or that I enjoyed, outside the home, even if just going out for tea/coffee. You may not find it the same, but I felt it worth mentioning.

    love that last paragraph. That's exactly how I felt when I left the last Christian church I was a part of. And the guilt will eventually subside. You're out of your cell now, but you're still working your way out of the prison. Once outside, you'll have a fresh perspective that will allow you to look at your former belief system and think critically about it in a new way. Then, it will no longer hold any power over you.

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    1. That's a great analogy! And precisely how I feel. Thank you for the advice and encouragement. (The phone glitch made it even better; it was great to read the first paragraph twice!)

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  6. I just wanted to say that I found your blog just a few minutes ago, and I've read two of your posts, and I'm HOOKED.

    You've stated things so beautifully and they ring so true. I actually cannot describe my feelings and response to your post here, but I wanted to say I totally get it, and I'm rooting for you, and whatever life takes you from here on out.

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