If you guys have read all the way through parts 1 through 9, you deserve a gold star for hanging in there.
If you’re local and you’ve read through the whole thing and you want a prize, I’ll give you some of my food storage. So like many committed Mormons, learning this information was painful. I thought that if I just kept researching I would find information to help me keep my faith. I prayed and researched and waited for General Conference (April 2013). Like a good Mormon girl I brought my questions to General Conference looking for answers. My faith was broken, but I still wanted there to be answers to fix it! However there was not a single talk that remotely addressed any of my concerns. The thought came to me ‘Won’t you feel more peace if you just let it go?’ and I felt relieved. Hang the mental gymnastics, when I stopped trying to find obscure rationales for things that I knew at my core to be wrong I felt physically relieved. It’s never okay to take advantage of young girls, it’s not okay for BYU professors to use electroshock therapy to attempt to “cure” homosexuals, it’s never okay to lie to your wife about taking other wives, it’s never okay to teach people a lie (about how the Book of Mormon was translated, or the facts about polygamy) for decades and send them out on missions to spread this lie, without informing them of the facts and it’s never okay to use to the widow’s mite to build multi-billion dollar malls.
Even after this point I went back and forth. There were days that I wished I could un-know all that I knew. Could I just lie to myself and pretend that all was well in Zion? Could I walk away from the young women that looked up to me? If I stayed in the LDS Church I could be an influence for good in my community. I could help fight some of this horrible rape culture rhetoric. I could give lessons to the youth that focused more on being kind to others and less on modesty. I could be the kind of leader that I wished that I had as a youth. But at what cost? Is the difference for good among the youth equal to the difference of harm that it might do my family if we stayed? That’s very difficult to say. Some wards are a great place to raise your family, others not so much. It often depends on who your local leaders are and it is very much a game of roulette. I have heard and seen stories of poor judgement calls by local priesthood leaders that give me the chills, or just make me sad. Can I give these men that much support, that as Elder Tad Callister says priesthood authority trumps the things that I as a parent teach my children? Can I trust them that much when by their own publications, I see that they have lied to me? Yes, the LDS Church does many good things and they help many people. And yes, I believe that most Mormons have good intentions and are trying to help. But if we are measuring organizations that do the most good, the Catholics run far more charity hospitals and orphanages than the LDS Church, but I can’t say that I trust their leaders either.
I like Pope Francis, he’s pretty cool, however the behavior of many other Catholic leaders just makes me feel sad.
We were thinking about moving, I could just fade away after I got into graduate school. But I didn’t get in the first time around. I continued to participate, and most had no idea that I had doubts. And it got harder. I felt like I was fighting against the other leaders, with the modesty rhetoric and the fear speech. I am only one small voice in a large group of people who believe that when the prophet speaks the thinking is done. Then October General Conference came and Dallin Oak’s talk was the very last straw. There was no kindness in it. He made it sound like everyone needs to be getting married younger and having more kids. There was no compassion for those who struggled with infertility. There was no compassion for those who for various reasons don’t feel like they can adequately parent a large family. There was no compassion for those who had searched for a companion and remained single. There was no compassion for those who struggled because they did not fit the prescribed cookie cutter. There was no compassion in this talk for those who are born gay, and like everyone else on this green earth just want to be loved.
As a leader I made a point of not giving lessons on topics that I had concerns with, yet even so, by being present those girls (and everyone else for that matter) assumed that I believe. That I believe that Joseph Smith acted in the name of God, that I believe that Native Americans have Jewish heritage and that I believe that general authorities speak with and behalf of God when they spout the kind of rhetoric that drives homosexual teens to suicide. I knew of at least one of our young women who was a lesbian, there were a few who had homosexual family members. I could not bear the thought that they viewed me as a supporter of these hateful ideas. I worried that by remaining a part of the organization, and staying quiet I still may be harming them. With their doubts and fears I could harm them by my complacency. Those girls trusted me and I didn’t want to be an example that people pointed to “Heather’s smart, she’s aware of the issues and she still supports these things”. It broke my heart to feel like I was deserting them, but I had to leave.
The last day that I taught almost all of my beehives were there, including the very inactive one and two that had moved away. (Serendipity? I had told no one but my husband and one of my best friends about what I was going to do that day.) The assigned topic was being Christ-like. I gave them the following handout:
“Let us have the courage to defy the consensus, the courage to stand for principle. Courage, not compromise, brings the smile of God’s approval. Courage becomes a living and an attractive virtue when it is regarded not only as a willingness to die manfully, but also as a determination to live decently. A moral coward is one who is afraid to do what he thinks is right because others will disapprove or laugh. Remember that all men have their fears, but those who face their fears with dignity have courage as well.” Thomas S. Monson Oct 2004 General Conference
Jesus’s teachings were not meant to be theoretical. Always they were to be acted upon. Jesus taught, “Whosoever heareth these sayings of mine, and doeth them, I will liken him unto a wise man” (Matthew 7:24
In our efforts to rescue and serve, we follow our Savior’s unique example and tender teachings about love: “Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:39). He even commanded us to love our enemies (see Luke 6:27–28). And in His great teachings at the end of His mortal ministry, He said: “A new commandment I give unto you, That ye love one another; as I have loved you, that ye also love one another.
“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:34–35).
We discussed how sometimes being Christ-like means being radical. Christ broke the law of the sabbath to heal a man, because it was the right thing to do. He also rebuked the money-changers in the temple with a whip. “Sometimes being Christ-like requires courage to defy the consensus, to not be a part of things that we know to be wrong. When you see things that you know are wrong, it can be hard to stand up and speak out.” And then I told them I was leaving the Church. I didn’t really go into details why, I felt like at their age if I gave them a truckload of issues it would just cause conflict in their home and social lives that they have neither the means nor the support to deal with. I just told them that I was leaving the Church as a matter of principle, because I always tried to be honest in the things that I taught them and there were certain things that I could not support or be a part of. “When I stand in front of you and teach, you assume that I believe certain things, and that is not always the case.” I told them that I loved them and I sincerely hoped that they had paid attention to the things that I had taught them. I told them that I wanted them to grow into strong, kind, smart, happy young women. I was near tears I felt so sorry to be leaving them, and the whole group of them looked at me completely dumb-founded.
Since leaving many people have asked me, ‘Well, what do you believe now?’. In some ways my beliefs have not changed. I believe in being honest. I believe in being kind. I believe in integrity, love, service and seeking after truth. I believe that Christ is a great example of how we should treat people. Those are the beliefs that I think really matter. There are things that I just don’t worry much about. I don’t really worry about the after-life. I have no power to change it. I don’t worry about the nature of God. God will or will not continue, regardless of my opinion. I’m not saying that I’m an atheist, I just don’t know. And that’s okay. If there is a God, I am not afraid of Him. I like this quote that is attributed to Marcus Aurelius (although it’s not in any of his writings, so who knows who actually said it).
“Live a good life. If there are gods and they are just, then they will not care how devout you have been, but will welcome you based on the virtues you have lived by. If there are gods, but unjust, then you should not want to worship them. If there are no gods, then you will be gone, but will have lived a noble life that will live on in the memories of your loved ones.”
When I left, there was a small part of me that was afraid that the things my family said would be true. That I bad things would happen to me and I would regret leaving. I have had some friends desert me, but I question if those people were really my friends or if I was a convenient acquaintance. Although I lost friends, I gained many more friends who I am able to be my authentic self around. There has been some distance between myself and some family members, but my family was dysfunctional long before I lost my testimony, so that event alone can hardly be blamed. Yes, it makes me sad sometimes that the LDS Church is more important to them than family, but so be it. It is not worth fighting about. I can not change their opinions anymore than they can change mine.
Since leaving I feel liberated. I have honestly never been this happy. My life is pretty good and I am glad for the chance to live it. Because I am a fan of lists I thought I would share the top ten reasons leaving the LDS Church has made me a happier freer person.
10. I have more time. I have more time for school. Instead of putting in 15 hours a week into Young Women’s, I put that time into getting good grades. I’m not wasting my time on people who only value me to the degree that I conform to the cookie cutter. I have more time for my kids. Every Sunday we do something as a family, (in addition to Monday nights). We spend more time enjoying the outdoors. I have more time to exercise and to meditate.
9. I am much healthier. Growing up in the church I received many of unhealthy messages about body image. As a Young Woman, I remember sitting through more than one lesson where my leaders said that “Only selfish people go to the gym.” “Only self-centered people run marathons.” “Girls who stand up straight are just trying to show off their boobs.” And we were also given the message that we needed to be attractive so that we could get married and have a bunch of babies. When I was going through things with the move, I recently found a handout they gave us that talked about how exercise was bad for your soul.
I burned it and it made me feel better. Mormon culture is such that we ate a lot of unhealthy things, at home and at every church gathering. Funeral potatoes, fatty meats with gravy, donuts, a hundred variations on desserts with jello and cool-whip. (Not that you can’t have those things occasionally, but making them staples just isn’t good for you.) People around me spoke against the evils of coffee (which has numerous health benefits like helping with diabetes and Alzheimer’s), yet were dependent on diet coke (which is actually really bad for you). I had family members and church leaders who constantly commented on my weight, whether I lost or gained a few pounds. My mother would buy me clothes that were too small for me and tell that I just needed to lose weight to fit them. (And it’s not like I was ever overweight, I weighed 115 pounds at the time.) There was a great deal of cultural pressure to be thin. (This is not exclusive to Mormonism, you see this problem everywhere.) I had leaders that I knew were bulimic, as well as leaders and relatives who engaged in fat-shaming talk, in regards to themselves and others. I was smart enough to know that these behaviors were unhealthy, and I knew very well that exercise was good for people, but I didn’t know how to have a healthy body image. I have a huge family history of diabetes, hypertension and heart disease, and I knew that exercise can help these issues, but for a long time I felt a certain amount of cognitive dissonance for doing it. The shaming rhetoric about modesty didn’t help either. It wasn’t until after I started training for a marathon that I felt comfortable exercising in a tank top and I also decided that I really love to exercise. And that was just a few years ago. The further I distanced myself from the church messages of my youth, the better I felt about myself. I stopped feeling guilty for exercising. I recognized that exercising makes me feel better about myself and helps me to have the energy to be a good mom. I started exercising for the right reasons, because I want to be healthy, instead of the wrong reasons, because people around me were pressuring me to be skinny. I don’t feel as much pressure to look like some kind of model. I feel freer and more comfortable with my body. I feel like being healthy myself puts in a better place to help others be healthy too.
8. I no longer feel the pressure to be the ‘model Mormon mom’. I care a lot less about what people think. I don’t feel like I have to do it all. I can say no, and not feel guilty about it. I don’t have be crafty, plan elaborate meals, be an ideal parent, look like a magazine cover and always being trying to impress people. I can do some of those things when inclined, but I don’t feel pressure to do everything all the time. There was so much focus on appearances that I can just let go of. I don’t care as much about what people think and it is very liberating. I can just be me. And I think that being me is pretty awesome.
7. I feel more free to love my kids. For a long time I was afraid that maybe one day one of my kids may be gay and then what would I do? I hurt me to feel like there might be a reason why I couldn’t love them unconditionally. I felt that I would be obligated to make it clear that I would be unaccepting of that part of their identity. Before they were conceived I had built this mental barrier between me and them, this condition on their acceptance. Leaving the LDS church I could let go of that. If they find someone that they love and loves them, I see no reason why we can’t love and accept them into my family. Recently, Thing 2 asked ‘Mom, will you always love me, not matter what?’ I hugged him and felt such relief that I could honestly say ‘yes’. I also don’t feel the pressure to try to mold them into ‘Celestial Kingdom candidates’. I can just let them be free to grow into the type of person that they want to be. If they can’t sit still in church, oh well, we can channel that energy into running and playing instead of being frustrated and bored. If they are curious and exuberant and irreverent and sassy, that’s great (and believe me, they are). I feel no need to try to change who they are. I can just enjoy this beautiful opportunity I have to be their mother. I no longer am certain about the ‘Celestial Kingdom’. That makes these moments I have with my kids, right here and right now all the more precious and valuable.
6. I am no longer homophobic. I was never the kind of person who ‘hated’ gay people, but I was afraid of them and ‘their condition’ and how they were destroying my family. That is nonsense. I have gay friends. I love them and they have never been anything but kind to my family. I no longer have to be afraid of this dark and nebulous threat. Allowing consenting adults to marry doesn’t harm me or my family in anyway. I think that most people who oppose the rights of LGBT people, don’t really know these people. The ‘gay agenda’, if there really is such a thing, is just about having an opportunity to enjoy the same rights that the majority. They’re just people like you or I. When you realize that someone you love or respect is this ‘enemy’ that is ruining society, the propaganda starts to fall apart. I sincerely hope that more people realize this. That families can stop throwing their vulnerable teens into the street and we can just take the opportunity to enjoy our family and friends.
5. I found the courage to finally go to graduate school. I have always wanted to further my education, but as that ‘model Mormon mommy’, I felt so much pressure to stay at home. Even at work, I on multiple occasions had patients or co-workers make me feel guilty for working outside of my home. I wanted to go back to school, but I felt like it was nearly an impossible dream. How could I possibly do such a thing when I had genealogy and temple work to do, callings to fill, casseroles to make and I received so much pressure that what I needed to be doing was having more babies, regardless of the fact that pregnancy and the post-partum period have proven to be hazardous to my physical and emotional health. These people did not care about my well-being or my desires to help people on a greater level. It was most important that I was obedient, fertile and I used all my energies to ‘build up the kingdom’. No, again, I feel like I can break free and be myself. I’m going to school and I’m really good at it. Good enough that I have earned a small scholarship. By relocating for school I am providing my kids with more learning opportunities than they had in Utah. And I am teaching my kids by example the importance of education.
4. I am far less judgmental, and it is relieving to not hold so much contempt for people I don’t even know. As a Mormon I looked down on people who had tattoos, people who smoked, people who dressed immodestly, people who let their garments show. I was continually given messages that I was better than people who participated in these offensive behaviors. Now those things don’t bother me so much, and I recognize that I’m not better than these people. Some tattoos are beautiful and awesome. I still find the smell of cigarette smoke unpleasant and as a nurse I can give dozens of health reason why people should quit, but I recognize the reasons that many people choose to smoke. I feel like I am in better position to help my patients (or their parents) quit smoking if I come at it from a ‘Let’s help you quit when you are ready so you can feel better’ stance than a ‘Don’t you realize how terrible smoking is?’ shaming attitude. One attitude will help people improve their lives, the other is more likely to have them retrenching into their comforting habit. I feel like the modesty rhetoric is silly. If there is a God, I sure hope that He is more concerned with hungry children than bare shoulders. I have more compassion with their health problems and find it easier to suspend judgement. I have more compassion for people who go through a faith crisis. I remember growing up my dad had struggles with his faith. He stopped going to church for years because he felt that people around him were judgmental and he had serious issues with the God of the Old Testament who advocated such terrible behaviors as genocide, mauling small children with bears, commanding people to kill their own children and being angry with people who refused to murder innocent women, children and animals. At the time I resented him that he didn’t just have more faith. Looking back, I am proud of my dad that he found these ideas morally abhorrent, because they are. Not being a ‘yes-man’ to ideas that you feel to be wrong takes courage, especially when everyone around you just bows there head and says ‘yes’. I recognize that people have faith and struggles with faith for different reasons. As long as they do not use it to hurt other people, I can allow them that. Resentful feelings don’t help me or them.
3. I don’t worry as much about the harmful messages that my kids are no longer learning in church. I don’t want them to be taught the harmful things that I was taught. No one is telling them that they are sinful or ‘an enemy to God’. No one will be teaching them to hate homosexuals. I will not tolerate them being told that they are better than people of other races. My girls will not be told that they are responsible for other people’s thoughts. My son will not be taught that he is better than or has special powers that girls do not. My girls can feel more free to pursue an education if that is what they want. My children will not be asked probing sexual questions by older men behind closed doors. No one is telling them that girls need to be obedient to boys.
(On a side note, while I was going through my faith crisis, my daughter was approaching the age of 8. We told her that she could make her own decision about baptism. She decided on her own that she did not want to be baptized because the LDS Church treats boys differently than girls, and she did not want to be a member.) Yes, there will still be people that give my children messages that I don’t approve of, but it is much easier for them to reject those messages when they don’t come packaged as ‘from God or his representatives’.
2. My relationship with my husband is a hundred times better than it was when we were members of the LDS Church. We both feel more comfortable with each other. We both feel like we can be more open with each other. We communicate better. We understand each other better. We finish each others thoughts. We support each other. I love him, am absolutely crazy about him and every morning I’m thrilled to wake up next to him. Every single aspect of our marriage has improved. We are a team. It is a sobering thought that I almost let religion come between us. I sincerely considered leaving him because he had concerns with aspects of the LDS Church that are legitimately concerning. We made it through a really difficult time together and now our marriage is the best that it has ever been.
1. I am turning into the woman I have always wanted to be. I’m no longer the wallflower that keeps my opinions to myself. I’m not afraid to be passionate about issues that concern me. In order to get to a place where you care less about what people think and more about what you feel is right you have to dig deep. It takes some soul-searching. It was a path to self-discovery. I found that I am strong. I am sassy. I’m not afraid to laugh at things that are somewhat inappropriate. I go on more adventures. I enjoy my life. And I’m doing my best to make the most of it. I am no longer afraid to call out people for being unkind. Before I was ‘mentally out’ of the church, I never would have dared to give a lesson in priesthood on rape culture. Good Mormon women just don’t do things like that. But it is important that those boys are made aware that sometimes things they say are really harmful, and recognize that they can help others. I had several of the priesthood leaders thank me for what I said to them. It’s an uncomfortable thing, but it needs to be said. By recognizing the leaders who were preaching their shame rhetoric had no real power over me I felt empowered to help other people. Why shouldn’t I speak up? I was nervous, but I found that ‘Yes, I can do this!’
I am going to become a skilled advanced practice nurse, I’m going to build a rewarding career where I help people improve their health. I am learning to speak up and become involved in healthcare policy in my community, because I really care about people having the opportunities to be healthy. I care about doing my part to improve the circumstances that effect health. I feel that healthcare providers have valuable opinions and information to contribute. I feel strong enough and brave enough that I can speak up to help make changes that will improve the health of the people around me.
That Sunday I sent in our resignation letter. I had to contact them FIVE times and it took them an entire year to do it, but last week they finally sent us our letters saying that our resignation had been processed. It feels good to finally be done. Now all of this doesn’t mean that becoming a post-Mormon makes life perfect. It doesn’t. Graduate school is still hard and expensive. My kids still get sick on occasion. We still have bad days. We have bills, car-repairs and other everyday problems just like most people. And yes, it was really difficult to drop our social support system and the way of life we had known since birth, but I would not go back to where we were. The journey was painful, but enlightening. We are happier and stronger for it.
Off to the side of one the local children’s hospitals in Colorado there is a garden. In the garden there are multiple quotes etched in stone. Most of them are about hope and love. There is one quote that I felt particularly resonated with me about my journey.