Here is my story to contribute to your collection... I sometimes feel my purpose in life is to show compassion to others who need it, and the difficulties I've experienced in life thus far give me the capacity to be empathetic to those in similar crises.
I was raised Methodist in rural North Carolina, but always felt something was missing from my life. My best friends were Baptist-- kind, fun-loving, clean-living, and scripturally knowledgeable. I wanted to be Baptist until I met Dad's old army buddy and family on a trip to Utah and became even more attracted to the Mormon lifestyle. I wanted that sense of security that comes from a church that can answer all your questions (there's an explanation for EVERYTHING) and tells you what's right or wrong so you don't have to think for yourself. As an adolescent about to turn 17, desperately trying to fit in somewhere, life was confusing and scary, and I needed that guidance.
The church offered me a sense of identity. I received endless praise and encouragement when I continued to eagerly learn, absorbing information like a sponge. The sense of elitism (WE had the TRUTH that no one else had) made me feel special. For a while, the church fulfilled a strong need. I finally fit in.
DISILLUSIONMENT WITH THE LDS LIFE
It has been said that when you give someone the power to make you happy, you also give them the power to make you miserable. So it was with the church. I went to BYU after high school, and I met my husband at the beginning of summer school just after my freshman year. After three months (between summer school and fall semester), we were engaged; I had, of course received my "revelation" that it was the "right thing to do". So over the fall semester, when I had very serious doubts about the wedding and wanted to cancel it, I felt I didn't have the right because God himself wanted it for me, and besides, I didn't believe that anyone else would ever want me anyway. My parents tried everything to get me to take more time to be sure it was right for me, but I defied reason. I attributed the doubts to the stress of planning a temple wedding around my non-LDS parents. (I got a lot of grief from Mom during the semester about not being able to attend her only daughter's wedding!) And of course, we had to rush into marriage so that we wouldn't sin! So I was married at the end of fall semester, at the age of nineteen, nine months after meeting the guy.
Life was far worse than I'd ever imagined. We went to Texas immediately after the wedding for my husband's new co-op job (three alternate semesters), so I was isolated and had no one at all to turn to; moving back and forth between Texas and Utah made attachments nearly impossible. I had no self-esteem; the church had provided that for me, but now that I couldn't keep up with scripture study and prayer the way I had previously and couldn't seem to make my husband happy, I felt that I didn't even have the right to ask God for help. (You know - when you sin, the holy spirit is withdrawn from you!) I was consumed with thoughts of suicide daily (divorce was NOT an option because we were SEALED). I felt a tremendous vacuum inside. I figured out just how to fill that void...
After six months of marriage, our son was conceived. Besides, Pres. Benson had said that we should not postpone having children, being co-creators with our Father in Heaven! So... it was the right thing to do! The pregnancy was worse; my husband had basically abandoned me emotionally, then dealing with a baby was worse yet. Every time I had made a decision based on what the church taught was the right thing to do, I became more miserable.
REJECTING THE "GOSPEL"
Our marriage continued to deteriorate. I felt that if there was a God, He sure as hell didn't listen to me or care about me! When our son was just barely one year old, there was a split second when I seriously considered breaking a jar I held in my hands and slitting my wrists with the shards. Thankfully, I decided that life had to change, so I went to a counselor for a couple of months and began to understand that I was codependent and that I had to learn to take care of my own needs, not just everyone else's. My marriage began to improve somewhat too, as we started learning to communicate a little more effectively. (Though not necessarily perfectly!)
About a year and a half after my son's birth, I visited my parents in North Carolina. Throughout the previous course of events, Mom had read "The God Makers" and had purchased a spare copy for her book club. I noticed the spare on her bookshelf and began to read it out of curiosity. I suppose I was looking for a reason not to follow the church that had left my life in such ruin. Though the tone of the book was very hostile, there was too much evidence of lies and deceit to ignore. Soon afterward, I regained my faith in God and decided to leave the church.
I suppose in my haste I was trying to make my husband leave me, since I was so unhappy with him, but being codependent and having low self-esteem, I didn't feel that I could initiate the divorce myself. Well, he didn't leave me, but he did think that I was being hasty and not thinking things through. He believed - and still does - that if I'd really understood the true doctrine, I wouldn't have left. (For example, the doctrine teaches eternal progression, but many members expect immediate perfection!) I did feel uncomfortable at first - as though a bolt of lightning might strike at any moment; was I doing the wrong thing? The anxiety soon passed as my mind became more open to alternative ideas. It's been six years since I chose to leave the church, and I have no desire to return, nor do I regret for one moment my decision.
A TRANSITION PERIOD
A few months after my departure from the church, my husband graduated from BYU and acquired a job in Los Angeles. I think that he'd always secretly had his doubts about the church, and my departure intensified them. He saw that guilt trips were the norm in sacrament meeting talks, in contrast to the actual doctrine, and he had a hard time reconciling his feelings about seeing to his own needs and following the church. The entire four and a half years that we were in LA, he was inactive. I took our son to the Baptist church with me, which my husband allowed; he did, however, want him to stop going when he became old enough to understand what they taught!
After about a year in LA, I became disillusioned with the Baptist church; it seemed too dogmatic for me, as I disagreed with some of their ideas. So I returned to the more liberal Methodist church, pregnant again at this time. The kids and I were involved in the Methodist church until the very end of our residence in LA.
Two years after moving to LA - about five months after our daughter was born, I was exploring other religions, though I was still happy as a Methodist. I met a Jewish neighbor and became very curious about Judaism. Growing up in the rural South, I knew nothing about Judaism except that they didn't believe in the divinity of Jesus and the New Testament. I thought that the religion must be shallow. I was now finding out how wrong I was, and I began studying more. I became more and more fascinated, but never entertained ideas of rejecting Jesus or converting.
THE NEWEST DILEMMA
My husband was transferred by his job to Arizona. I shopped around a little for a church, but I felt uncomfortable; I wasn't sure what I really believed. I still called myself Christian, but was becoming convinced that modern churches were a large departure from what Jesus had started. I decided to learn more about Judaism, and one day last January (1995) I walked into a synagogue asking how I could learn some Hebrew and more about Judaism. Classes were to start in one week! So I took the classes that are geared toward converts: Jewish holidays, Jewish life cycle events, and beginning Hebrew. Over the course of the eight months that I was studying, I did a little reading on why Jews don't accept Jesus; it was a question I'd wondered about my whole life. As I learned some answers, those answers began to make sense. I can't really claim to be Christian any more.
I've been attending synagogue services about twice a month on average, but haven't converted. I'm not in any hurry to jump into another commitment yet. Besides - Jews don't believe that eternal salvation is dependent on membership in any organization. I'm accepted as I am without being expected to convert.
At the same time that I began my course of study in Judaism, my husband decided to become reactivated in the church - you know, a fresh start in a new place. He hasn't been attending church very regularly, but it's still tough to deal with. Only our son was "born in the covenant" - our daughter coming along after my departure, but my husband wants both kids to be raised Mormon. Having been raised LDS, he is very concerned with WHAT they believe, whereas I believe that God looks into a person's heart rather than at the sign on the door of their place of worship. So since the religion in question is more important to him than to me, I have reluctantly agreed to allow the kids to be raised LDS. It would be easier if they were older, but they are still young and impressionable - our son will be eight soon, and our daughter four. Our son doesn't know much of anything about the church and what it means to belong to it, but he'll be expected to be baptized in March 1996. Our daughter has been with me to synagogue more than to church, so she'll really be confused if her dad doesn't start involving her more in church! The situation continues to evolve as I continue working on reclaiming my life.
10/8/97 UPDATE Last January (1996), around the time that this story went to Eric's web page, I sent a letter to church headquarters in Salt Lake City explaining that my name was supposed to have been removed from church records in 1990, but I had found out in early 1995 that it had not been carried out. I asked that my name be removed -- for real this time. By mid-March, I was about to lose patience and talk to a lawyer I know at synagogue. But before I did anything, someone called and talked to my husband; he wanted to schedule an appointment regarding our son's baptism, but he also mentioned that the bishop got a letter in response to a letter I had written. (I had not told my husband about the letter!)
Well, I went to church the next Sunday with my husband, partly because our son wanted me to, and also because I thought it would be a good way to find out what was going on. Sure enough, when I was ditching Relief Society and sitting in the foyer reading, the bishop came along and asked me into a little room to talk. The First Presidency had sent him a letter along with a copy of the one I had written! (The nerve!!) He said that he felt bad that I didn't feel I could come to him if I really wanted my name off the records. He believed in the church with all his heart, and he kept asking if I was absolutely certain it was what I wanted to do. I told him yes. He asked me if he hadn't been correct in sensing that I might still be a bit unsure if I believed in the church or not; I said, "I think you were mistaken." I was surprised that I was able to find the words to assert myself and state unequivocably what I wanted. He said that he would get the paperwork going that week, but that if I felt the slightest hesitation, I should call him - and he added that he'd be on his knees that night praying for me. He said also that sometimes it takes a very long time to marry faith and logic. People who are very intellectual, he said, often have a hard time reconciling the two; we struggle with proof and logic and have a hard time making the leap of faith. I suppose he was right about that; I do have a hard time following anything that doesn't make sense to me. (But believing in the Mormon church???)
Well, it was scary for me to be caught like that. He sure sounded convincing. I don't know how to describe how I felt. It was almost like I believed that my eternal destiny was at stake if I was making the wrong choice. And the bishop sure believed that it was the wrong choice! There was still a lingering element of fear that if I was wrong, I would lose out on the greatest blessings I could have achieved if only I'd humbled myself and stuck it out. I hated myself for being afraid and unsure. I thought back to the evidence I'd read on masonic elements in the temple, the inconsistencies in Joseph Smith's stories, and such things, and I thought, "How could I possibly be making the wrong choice?" But there's always fear. Once you're in, it's like you're jeopardizing your whole eternal future should you choose to leave.
Nope, no one was saying, "Once LDS, always LDS. No matter what path you follow, you can always turn back." Nope, the bishop reminded me that all the blessings of the temple would be suspended. To come back, I'd have to be rebaptized. The look on his face was one of total devastation. He thought I just needed to take the time to believe, even if it took 20 years. He believed that it only takes humility and an open, searching mind. Yes, this was a bishop who believed in the church and cared deeply about those who are in it. But damn it, don't play with my mind!
I told the bishop that I didn't want to be a hypocrite, and I felt that it was hypocritical to walk around with membership in a church I didn't believe in. He said that if you're searching and your mind is open, you're not a hypocrite. He said it's only hypocrisy when you harden your heart and close your mind. Well, I was aware that my heart had been hard and my mind closed for quite a long time when it came to the church. Yes, it would be convenient for this family if I believed, and yes, there are advantages to living in a close-knit community; it's similar to an orthodox Jewish community in how close people are. But I didn't believe that it was right, and I didn't feel that I wanted to allow myself to be convinced!
Sometime in early June, when I had received no word as to whether termination of my membership had been carried out, I called the stake president to see what was going on. He said he'd call Salt Lake the next day to see what was happening. Well, I didn't hear back from him, so I thought I'd try to dig up some information myself. So I called information and got the phone number of church headquarters. I got in touch with the guy in confidential records, and he told me that my name was removed from the records on 21 April. "Yay!!! I'm NOT Mormon!!!" It happened one day shy of the 12th anniversary of my baptism. (They should have waited a day and made it really momentous!) "Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty, I'm free at last!"
I thought about how, now that I was no longer a member, then in the eyes of the church, my husband and I weren't sealed, nor were my kids sealed to me. It wasn't my intention to hurt my husband, but I knew I had to get off the fence. He had to know that I wasn't coming back and accept that, and I needed to take a stand in my own mind and stop living in limbo.
I was so glad to finally know. It had been awkward, when I encountered ward members (i.e. cub scout den leader), how they assumed I was a member. I didn't want to announce, "I'm not a member," if it wasn't entirely true. But I didn't want to say I was a member when I was so close to being out. So now I simply say that I'm not a member.
Since then, my husband has gone back to being completely inactive. Our son is in Cub Scouts through the ward, and home teachers are assigned to us, but that's the extent of this family's involvement in the ward, which is fine by me. Our son, still unbaptized, will be nine in March. Meanwhile, I continue to attend services at a Conservative synagogue about twice a month and try to involve myself as much as possible in Jewish holiday celebrations. The kids are even becoming more enthusiastic about participating with me in some holiday celebrations too. I have yet to complete my conversion; I 'm waiting until my husband is more accustomed to the idea so that I can practice Judaism without feeling self-conscious in my own home. But hey - no one is pressuring me. After all - it's not the Mormon church!
I count myself fortunate not to have one of those husbands who runs away to find a nice "Molly Mormon" because the current wife doesn't continue buying into the LDS belief system, nor does he berate me for disagreeing. It seems so ironic to me that my marriage was worst when we were both devout members of the church, and now that I'm becoming Jewish and he's inactive, our marriage is finally becoming happier and healthier. Creating an interfaith marriage where one did not previously exist has been, and continues to be, quite a challenge, but I would still not go back. My life is no longer plagued by worries of whether I'm "worthy" enough, doing enough, praying enough, reading scriptures enough, etc. I've never felt this healthy before.
As I said already, it is my belief that God looks into a person's heart, not at the sign on the door of his/her place of worship. What's important is that we find a place where we can be inspired to draw closer to him and better ourselves and the world around us. And if the LDS church is that place for some, so be it. It didn't work for me, but I wouldn't actively try to drag anyone out who wasn't already feeling that they were on the wrong path; it's an uphill struggle I wouldn't force on anyone who's happy where they are. I wish all the best to anyone who is struggling to jettison the emotional baggage, whether by learning to accept themselves within the church or breaking ties with the church altogether. Just remember that you're not the only one.