My mother converted to the church shortly before I was born, but my father did not. I attended church off and on until I was about 9 years old when I started going every Sunday and to all the activities. We wanted to be baptized but my father said all of us children (there were 5 of us) had to wait until we were 16 and could decide for ourselves if we should join. I was 12 years old and we were living in Council Bluffs, IA when my parents were divorced. Shortly thereafter my older brother, my sister, and I had the missionary discussions. My father still refused to give us permission to be baptized, but our stake president said we could go ahead in order that my older brother who was only 14, could receive the priesthood so that our home would have the priesthood in it. We were trebly marginalized: being a divorced family, poor, and not from Utah, we were on the fringe of the ward.
I went through the Young Women's organization where I faithfully attended all the meetings and activities and was very active in seminary (I won the stake scripture chase my third year). In Young Women's I found the church spent a lot of energy indoctrinating girls. I received numerous lessons and talks about how women should stay at home and raise children. I once told a seminary teacher how bored I was staying home from school all summer babysitting my little brother and sister, and she told me I should get used to it for when I was older. I had my share of psycho adult leaders. One YW president loved to spend the whole time talking about herself and her life and how she already knew she would have 4 babies, 2 girls and 2 boys. My sister and I never liked her. One year when we had the stake YW basketball tournament and our bishop was the coach, he was so obsessed with winning that he only allowed the same 5 girls to play in all the games just so our team would win, and even though the other teams let everyone play regardless of skill level. After that year I wouldn't play any more and haven't touched a basketball since. When I was older (out of YW's) and helping my little brother with some scouting things I came to realize how many more opportunities the young men and boys are given than the young girls. They have both priesthood and scouting, while girls get to look forward to being taken to the temple and having little babies. And Heaven knows how Girl Scouting, unlike Boy Scouting, is uninspired and filled with liberals. I decided that I didn't want any daughter of mine to be limited in this way.
When I was about 16 one of the young women in my ward got pregnant and by way of scaring the rest of us, (I call it scaring because I don't know why else they would do such a thing), they called a special fireside for all the young people and she had to get up in front of us all and tell us what she had done and apologize.
As I was thinking about going to college, I decided early on I didn't want anything to do with BYU. I wanted to go to a real school. Church leaders and my stake president told me I should think about BYU and that my primary purpose in life was to get married and have children. I knew better than to listen to them and headed for MIT to be a scientist.
About this time I met my future husband, who was not a member at that time.
He headed to Boston to go to school also. It only took about 9 months to realize we were meant for each other. But I was determined (thanks to the church) that the only way to be married was a temple marriage no matter what. Given an ultimatum, my future husband took the missionary lessons and was baptized. He never really embraced the church whole-heartedly. He is one of those dreaded intellectuals, but he was willing to give it a chance. He has a natural desire to learn a lot about the things that interest him so he did a lot of reading, both church books and otherwise. He read such books as No Man Knows My History and B. H. Robert's Studies of the Book of Mormon early in his membership and realized that the historical claims of the church were inaccurate. I, still believing strongly in the church's story, thought such books were biased and wouldn't read them myself. I'd been to most of the historical church sites in Nauvoo, Far West, and New York, and I never thought to question it too much.
During our college years we were not very regular about our church attendance and when we did go it would only be to sacrament meeting. My then-fiancÚ hated the Cambridge University Ward. He thought everyone was hypocritical and superficial. I wanted to go because I felt guilty if I didn't and I was still set on a temple marriage. I thought if we just got to know the people in the ward we would like them. I used to beg him to go with me to church, but he would always promise next week, but I was never gung-ho enough to go without him.
My last year of college my fiancÚ left Boston for law school in D.C. Alone in Boston I went to church some of the time. I was made assistant district leader. But the ward was kind of far away and I was often out of town.
We got married in the Washington D.C. temple after I graduated from MIT.
It was a mess for us. My husband's family couldn't come and they were hurt and much of my own family couldn't come, either. The only people there were my mother and her husband. My husband still blames me for everything and I blame the church for teaching me there are no alternatives.
Right after we were married, our stake president wanted to discuss sex with us. He told us that rather than continue the old approach of inquiring into every prurient thought, the church would leave it to our discretion what sexual practices were permissible. Reading between the lines, I gathered that oral sex, if not church-sanctioned, would be okay. This was too creepy for words, coming from some old guy we hardly knew who had but weeks before been asking my husband about masturbation. It was also too little, too late, for resurrecting the idea that sex between married people is okay. Being told to be fruitful and multiply is one thing, but after years of being told that sex is forbidden, evil, unclean, and transforms the woman into some revolting thing like "used gum" or a "half-eaten cookie," it is unrealistic to think that normal sexual functioning could result from such constant negative conditioning. I have the church to thank for [that] problem in my life.
We took out our endowments about a week before the wedding. By this time I had very little enthusiasm for the church, but I was willing to go through the motions. We stopped wearing our garments immediately. They were just too uncomfortable and ridiculous. It was my husband who pointed out why should God care about what kind of underwear you wear. The temple ceremony itself was nothing like I expected. I thought it would be a spiritual experience, but it wasn't. I think the outfits are silly and I almost laughed when I saw the hats the men put on. Right there in the ceremony I had to hide my smile! I didn't see the point of the secret handshakes. It was just too ridiculous for me. Furthermore, I don't like the idea that a woman needs a man to bring her to God. It seems that women are prevented from having a direct relationship with God. I only went back to the temple twice after this. Once to get married and once in Salt Lake where I saw the live version. (Satan was the most interesting person in it!)
My husband was the assistant ward clerk of our new ward in College Park, MD. The ward was filled with poor immigrants, primarily from Southeast Asia and Africa. It was definitely a struggling ward. And even though the ward right next door was filled with rich white people with an abundance of active families the church would do nothing to strengthen this ward by redrawing boundaries. Further segregation into Spanish and Vietnamese branches didn't help. Compounding the problem was the practice of the missionaries, who would pursue immigrant families that would allow their children to be baptized, apparently so as to give the children access to some American culture, but the end result was always inactive kids. Between this policy and the mobility of the immigrant population, the records of the ward were filled with names of people that had not been seen or heard from in years. Of course this meant poor attendance and therefore, little money coming into the ward from Salt Lake.
During this time we shared a house with a borderline Mormon couple (and some other people). They stopped attending soon after we were married. This couple was very unusual. The wife had been coerced into joining by her husband, a life-long member, so that they could be married. She didn't want to believe any church doctrine, and I don't think she even believed in God. The husband was so liberal in his leanings that "Liahona" doesn't begin to describe him. He had a complete collection of old Sunstones and Dialogues, which my husband eagerly devoured. The husband said something about the church which I think was very perceptive: the church, he said, needs a Gorbachev. Like the old Soviet Union, the church has been run by old men, the last remnants of the old guard. Sooner or later a younger man must come and begin the process of liberalization or else the church will collapse under its own weight. He had a great fascination for Joseph Smith, and I believe would have been happier being a Mormon in the 19th Century rather than today. Interestingly, this family also had an interest in polyamory, and has since gone on to have poly relationships. We were still living there when he told his steadfast-in-the-church, stake patriarch parents about their poly situation. They were crying and telling him that he wouldn't make it to the Celestial Kingdom.
As for us, we continued attending sacrament and going to the church one night a week. My husband would work on the membership records and I would type certificates. This eventually became my calling. Then 9 months after we were married we completely stopped going to church. We moved to Chicago 2 years ago. It took around a year for someone from our new ward, which we have never seen or visited, to call us. For some reason they have only called me and not my husband. I always feel intruded on and annoyed when they call. It has been about 3 1/2 years now since we last went to church except for those occasions when we visit my mother in Utah. I have spent a lot of time thinking about life in and out of the church.
My family has since all moved to Utah. My sister, who once seemed ready for a serious intellectual challenge in college, chose BYU instead. She was tired of being different and just wanted to fit in. My older brother, who didn't leave for his mission until he was 24, moved out to Utah also. My mom remarried my last year of college and headed to Utah. She was afraid of the gangs in Omaha and wanted the safety of the Utah mountains. She clings to the Mormon faith despite being a Democrat and having major problems with narrow-minded, conservative people. She is someone who can overlook the serious cultural and political deficiencies in the church because she is so committed to the doctrine. I, however, could not.
It wasn't until I left the church and starting living like a normal person that I realized how much the church had damaged my psyche. I realized that I had grown up being afraid of a lot of things in life. I was afraid of sex, people, alcohol, and my body. I also had a fear that the end of the world was about to come and I wouldn't have a chance to live a whole life like people before me. My mother used to tell me when I lived in Boston to be prepared for some major disaster. She has since learned not to share with me her end-of-the-world fantasies because I find them so disturbing. We used to have firesides about the second coming when I was in high school.
I am still learning not to be afraid of life.
I don't know if I'll ever join another church. Maybe I will eventually, but Mormonism has ruined it for now. I grew up thinking that God wouldn't hear your prayers if you didn't pray the Mormon way. It's only recently that I see that isn't true. When we were little, my mother refused to let us go to our friends' church with them. I was led to believe that there must be something wrong with them. Mormonism reinforced this by teaching that there is no other true church, and no one will get close to God without being a Mormon, and without, apparently, knowing the secret handshake.
I feel that the Church leadership is not inspired. It would be laughable, if not so pathetic, that Packer could actually say that the three greatest threats to the church are homosexuals, feminists, and so-called intellectuals. As someone who is 2 out of the 3, I find this revolting. Neither could I stomach the recent purge that forced out several intellectuals like Paul Toscano and D. Michael Quinn. This was particularly troubling in light of the iron grip the church keeps on its own history, preventing free inquiry into its origins, as if it had something to fear. In the end, the two statements that "The glory of God is intelligence," and "When the Brethren speak, the thinking has been done," are simply mutually incompatible.
I really dislike having grown up thinking I was so different from the rest of the world, and could never be a part of the world. You can't have normal relationships with people because you are always thinking that what you believe is correct and what they believe is false. I think it is arrogant to presume that you have some god-given right to change people's beliefs.
I am not sure I ever had a true testimony of the church. I thought I had a something of one at one time. But I could never think of much to say about it other than the standard lines everyone says. I always disliked bearing my testimony or feeling like I was supposed to. I never seemed to feel very much about the church like other people did. I always looked to others who seemed convinced the church was true.
I have found being outside the church to be very freeing once the guilt went away. The Joseph Smith story was so ingrained in me that it has taken quite a while before I was even willing to consider that events might not have happened as the church describes. Recovering is an on-going process. It was good to read other people's stories. I feel sorry for the people whose beliefs have taken them down unfortunate paths. I still have not told my family that we don't attend church. I'll leave that for another day.