Leaving Mormonism after 19 years

I suppose it's ironic that I became inactive while attending BYU, after having worked like a fiend to get there. I was not expelled: I left after two years because it hurt too much to stay. I had always been the ideal little Mormon girl, but attending BYU showed me how impossible it was for me to stay for life in the traditional role for Mormon women. Nothing specific happened, mind you; it's just that, ironically, my heart and my feelings led me out of the church, the same way your heart and your feelings are supposed to give you a testimony of the truthfulness of the church. The Mormon Church works well for some people; it doesn't for me, regardless I wish that wasn't the case.

Being raised in the church from the age of 4, I hardly noticed how completely my privacy was being invaded because it happened as a matter of course over the years. It wasn't really until I went to BYU that I was able to get some perspective and say, "Wait a minute," and think things through a little. At 8 years old, I had the usual baptismal interview (alone) with the bishop. Even as a child, I never felt worthy. What if the bishop said I couldn't be baptised? What if I had to tell my father that (who was baptising me, and probably more nervous than me about the whole thing)? Of course, the bishop let me be baptised and my father had to do it twice: my big toe came up on the first try.

At 12, I went through an interview to go to the temple, and then there were the usual "personal progress" meetings year by year as a teenager. And the interview for admission to BYU. So, growing up in the church, I was "conditioned" to let those in authority into every corner of my life, probably in preparation of doing so throughout adulthood. I was conditioned, year by year, to think it a *privilege* to be interviewed by these men, and never to question why it was always a MAN interviewing me, never a WOMAN. Even the interview for getting my patriarchal blessing seemed a privilege, though in hindsight, that bit of Mormon Channeling should have been a service to *me*, and I was made to feel I should feel privileged that God's Medium was agreeing to talk to me. In short, living in the church was never about *ME*. It was about living up to someone else's expectations and being watched every moment of my life.

I was conditioned from childhood on to take take as gospel every suggestion whether it was doctrine or culture...meaning, it didn't really matter if a "teaching" was in the scriptures or just part of Mormon tradition. I didn't know such a life was dysfunctional and unhealthy until I was out of it for years. I *sensed* it at the Y when I was finally out of the "womb" (home ward) and surrounded by strangers. That's when I began having problems. As long as my stake president was also my dentist and I baby-sat for the bishop, life was comfy. Those invading my life were family, people I'd known for years, so it didn't feel bad at all. But BYU...ugh.

The first thing that struck me was walking around campus and having bright-eyed, hypnotized-looking fellow students say, "Hi!" to me like demented Barbie/Ken automatons. "Why are you talking to me?" I thought. "I've never seen you before in my life and never will again." The second thing that struck me was that, within three months, countless freshman co-eds in Snow Hall (my dorm in Heritage Halls) had gone through Candlepassings and planned to leave school once they were married. Now, these are supposed to be terribly happy times (sort of like a variation on the intro credits to "My Best Friend's Wedding," honoring The Girl Who's Gotten The Gold Ring At Last), but for me they caused nothing but bewilderment and no little embarrassment. I was the daughter of converts, and I knew next to nothing about the traditions at Temple Tech. I thought I was there to get a degree, not to get engaged. (Silly idea, yes?)

Anyway, a Candlepassing occurs when the girl gets her ring. She tells her Head Resident about the engagement and a sign is posted on the door into the dorm saying, "Candlepassing tonight at 7:00," or whatever. At that time, all interested parties gathered in the common area upstairs. A candle was lit by the head resident, with the ring tied to the support. The lights were turned out, and the candle was passed from girl to girl until, after the suspense supposedly became too much, the girl blew out the candle and we all descended on her, squeeling in excitement and congratulations. After witnessing two of these things with strangers, I bowed out for the rest.

Other experiences. 1) Being asked FIVE TIMES to marry someone I'd known less than a month. Five different guys. 2) Shelving Ken Russell (a borderline porn film producer) picture books in the BYU library and wondering why they weren't locked up as "Naughty - Must Ask to See" books, when the sweet little novel "The Dracula Tapes" about a very protetive vampire (with no explicit sex scenes) had been locked up. (What, one's questionable British film art with Richard Chamberlain and one's entertainment with fangs? The star of *Shogun* couldn't possibly have a European career as an art porn actor? Dunno.)

Then there was the constant bombardment of religious meetings--firesides and ward activities and charity performances (I sang)--in addition to the classes and workload (honors program) nearly did me in. At the same time, I was trying to pass self-taught math classes with little counseling as I hadn't time to go to the labs. It got to the point where just reading the BoM again for the required religion class made me sit in the middle of my bed and cry because I kept thinking, "I've read this on Sundays, I've read this in Seminary, I'm reading this now, I'll read parts of it again this Sunday, and hear parts at endless firesides and meetings until doomsday, but WHERE IS MY TESTIMONY!!!" I'd said I'd had one for years, said the same to get into BYU, but I didn't. I wanted one, but the Spirit never visited me. I followed all the rules and read that little book endless times, but I never got any burning anywhere. If wishes were angels, I'd have had a whole group of them in my bedroom, falling over themselves to tell me the church was true.

I cracked under the pressure of everything, I think. Of being Mormon 24-hours a day at 17 years old, when: 1) my father was telling me to get a degree in anything I wanted; 2) BYU tradition was telling me that didn't matter, what mattered was getting to the damned Candlepassing; and, 3) the church had me all of the time.

It was too much. It felt very wrong, and I can't even tell you all of the reasons why. They were emotional and soul deep, not logical or based in words. I fled back home to Arizona and finished up at another, local university with a degree in English (writing emphasis), much happier and more relaxed. At this point, I was still trying to be active in my home ward and was relieved that no one ever asked why I left BYU. I suppose they assumed the worst, that I'd been expelled for immorality or something. After all, who would be crazy enough to leave BYU on their own? It's supposed to be heaven on earth. Shortly after I went home, I stopped attending all of the meetings and never went back, though I've preserved friendships with about three people from my childhood. To this day, no one has ever asked why I left the church: it's Not To Be Mentioned, by mutual silent agreement. Don't rock the spiritual boat.

So...I suppose that going to BYU made me leave Mormonism. For me, the upshot is that some people don't mind being told what to do every moment of their lives. Others do. The total invasion of my life finished things for me. In the end, getting married in the temple to someone I didn't love just wasn't worth it.

Another problem I have with the church is that I simply don't believe that Joseph Smith ever had a true vision of Christ, much less of God. I believe that Smith deliberately deceived a great many people regarding the church he established on this earth. I don't believe he had an intimate relationship/vision with or of Christ. I don't believe he made Christ the foundation of his religion. I believe he was more interested in making his own ego, fantasies and fantasy fulfillment (e.g., polygamy) the foundation of his religion.

For me, it's as simple as this: either Smith saw the vision and the church is true, or he didn't and the church is false. If he did not organize the church with divine help, then the foundation of the church is a lie. The LDS church claims to be the only true church on the face of the earth--restored by God and Christ, via a vision & a few angels (and it seems that God and Christ both ditched out of the equation after that initial vision). Either this is true, or it is false. If it is false, then Christ had no part in the church's organization and Mormon claims of being a Christian church are false. If it's not a Christian church, it's a Smithian church.

Lutheranism, Methodism, Catholicism...yes, they are Christian churches. But where Mormons break from them is at the point Joseph Smith entered that grove and began praying. Only the Mormons claim to have continuing divine revelation, direct from God and Christ. Do they have it, or don't they? And if they have it, why are they so many versions of the first vision? Why doesn't the current prophet act as a prophet of God, receiving ongoing revelation and relaying it to the masses, rather than as the president of a huge corporation controlling millions of lives and dollars, and addressing those millions twice a year only to rehash what's been said over and over, over the past decades? There's nothing new being presented. "The Lord told me to tell you...." Nope. None of that today.

Another problem I have is that the Mormon God I was taught to believe in would offer loving aid and answers to meet the needs of his children. It was logical to me that the church would then change to meet the needs of its members, as God would offer revelation to help his children. But I discovered years ago that the LDS church--not God or Christ--stopped responding to my needs, that the church had no interest in answering those needs for me or any other LDS woman. To me, the church is more like a huge corporation than a church. Those with higher degrees and profesional experience receive higher callings, just as in the mundane work world. Elders are middle managers--ward clerks and scout leaders: High Priests and Seventies are upper management -- bishops and stake presidents. And if you're a successful entrepreneur worth lots of $$, or a BYU professor who keeps his nose and his publications clean, you get to be one of the elite in Salt Lake City.

The LDS church claims to be led by men of God. They are supposed to receive direct revelation from Him. Yet this is a church that turns away from the needs of both its men and its women, a church that will not acknowledge the child abuse/incest that goes on between some of its members--abuse that destroys children and steals their childhood, that creates wounds they carry the rest of their lives. Women in the church--some women, by no means all--are just as scarred and scared, just as abused. Yet those in authority will not deal with these issues. Nor will they deal with women who feel it extremely unfair that they are still to be "subservient" to their husbands, that they are not equal to their husbands, not even in the eyes of the LDS God. Mormonism is a patriarchy. For some, this is an acceptable way to live. For others, it's a torture chamber. Their treatment of homosexuals seeking help is appalling. While I am not gay, I was involved with a gay member of the church, and the hell he was put through--even as he begged for help--was appalling. Instead of self-acceptance for EVERY member, the church teaches conditional love: IF you do this and this and this, the church/God will love you and find you worthy. If you do NOT do this and this and this, you are damned for all time--starting here and starting now. This is not Christian. It is not of God. It is of man. To claim that it's God's will that people be hurt this way is emotionally, mentally and spiritually abusive. What true god would give you the free agency to choose, and then punish you severely for not choosing what he wanted you to do? That's conditional love and manipulation, ruling by fear rather than affection. It's the rule of kings and countries, not of God.

I haven't the words to make you understand the sadness, frustration and sense of betrayal I was left with after 19 years of membership. I don't consider myself a rebellious person. I never said, "Forget this, Heavenly Father, I don't want to live the gospel, I don't want to be with you forever." I said, "Heavenly Father, this church is causing me pain. These men are not hearing me. These men have hurt me and others. I feel these men are lying to me--that they have lied countless times in the past." I left the church because it no longer "felt right" for me to remain in it. Ten years after leaving, I was emotionally able to begin researching to try and find out why it had felt wrong. Then, and only then, I discovered that I could not reconcile the history I was taught in Seminary and Sunday School with the history I discovered after leaving the church. I could not reconcile Christ's teachings of compassion and kindness and taking care of each other with events I witnessed to the contrary inside the church.

We all hear, over and over again, "The church is perfect, the men running it are not." But those men were placed in authority over me. If I bowed to their authority, then I placed myself *below* them, I relinquished my personal power to them and upheld their imperfections, even as I said, "I give you the right to tell me how to live my life." I said, "It is all right to be imperfect, to hurt the people you are supposed to serve, even as you are demanding perfection of them." Why would God place in authority men who hurt his children? If they are not men of God, they have no business being in authority over anyone.

If a religion doesn't make you happy, if the bad experiences outweigh the good, then it is not the religion for you. It is a belief system that doesn't work for you. That's where I find myself now. Mormonism stopped working for me when I was 18 years old. Its leaders did not address my concerns, my sadnesses, my questions, my desperations. I was told to sit down, shut up, and all would be revealed in the afterlife. In the meantime, I was supposed to swallow my misery, obey the commandments, and live like an obedient little chicken married to a Mormon rooster and produce lots of little chicks. It wasn't enough for me. It stopped being enough a long time ago.

There were 100 little experiences along the way while I was growing up that made alarms go off in my head. My parents allowed me study many things, secular as well as religious; they encouraged me to use my mind, to think things through, and were never disturbed when I brought home books that would have made my bishop screech: books on the Inquisition and historical witch- craft and ghosts come immediately to mind. Instinctively, while growing up, I knew there were some things better left undiscussed with members of the church. For example, as a child I loved dinosaurs and believed they roamed the earth millions of years ago. My Seminary teacher told me it was wrong to believe in dinosaurs because they were part of evolution. This earth wasn't millions of years old, it was only a few thousand. So God didn't approve of my believing in dinosaurs, didn't approve of me studying the evidence. The dinos had to go.

What is truth? The Seminary teacher, or the layers of the earth? Are all of the paleontologists lying? I had to make up my own mind about that one. I chose the dinos, and stopped talking to my Seminary teacher about them. Why create trouble for myself? That was one skeleton in my closet, something I had to hide from "the devout." But why did I have to hide part of myself to be myself?

And the Book of Mormon...is it a myth to be believed as though it were fact, or are the events in it truth? If it is truth, then why is there no archaeological evidence of the Nephites, etc.? Why are the animals mentioned in the BoM animals that weren't on this continent when the events in the BoM took place? Oh, I could go on, but the deeper I dug, the more rotten the foundation seemed, until I couldn't look away--or go back. And when I studied all of this, years after being inactive, I wanted to go back. I wanted the church to be true. But my heart ached with the suspicion we'd been lied to by Joseph Smith, and church authorities following him.

I desperately wanted the LDS church to be true. I wanted nothing better than to curl up between its doctrines, rest in the palm of God's hand and say, "I'm home." I wanted that when I was 15, 19, 21, 25, 30. I'm 37 now. By the time I was 19, I'd read the BoM three times. I attended church for 15 years. I went to the temple to be baptised for the dead, worked myself numb through church/school projects to be accepted into BYU. I prayed and lived as perfectly as I could while I grew up...Oh, how I prayed. I wanted a testimony of the truthfulness of the gospel as much as I wanted to be married in the temple--and you know how much a young Mormon girl wants that.

Silence was my answer from God, for years. I used to lie awake nights, on my back, crying and reaching up into the darkness asking, "Heavenly Father, why won't you answer me? What am I doing wrong?" I fasted and prayed. The burning testimony never came. I wish it had. The little girl in me felt very lonely without it, and for a very long time she asked, "If God wants me to know the church is true, why won't he tell me? Why is the veil so thick?" It took many years, but I finally got the message. "No burning of the bosom; no testimony; no truth in that book. Look elsewhere." I did. I have. And I found a lot more truths--FOR ME (and that "for me" doesn't mean anything will ever be truth for you; each of us finds his/her own)--in personal meditation and non-Christian philosophies.

If that's rebelliousness, then I guess I'm rebellious. But I tried. All the way to BYU & beyond, I tried. The best I knew how. Now, I'm at the point where I've decided the bumper sticker is right: the universe is a very big place and "God is too big to fit in one religion." That's why there are tons of religions, philosophies, belief systems. Whatever works for you is okay. What's NOT okay is to profess to have the truth (knowing you're lying while you're doing it), and convert millions to your false truth. That's deception. Some of us believe that's what Smith & other leaders have done. When you reach that conclusion, it's difficult to stay in the church and live what you think is a lie. The books, *Conversations with God 1 & 2* are helping a lot. For the first time in my life, I'm seeking a personal relationship with God and Christ. My experiences with Mormonism have made me shy away from any organized religion: I'm too unwilling to let any into my spiritual journey, and am determined to "go within" to find what works for me. I've had it with people who want to tell me how to live spiritually, how to be worthy of God's love.

The Mormon church left me with one legacy I appreciate: I've never smoked or done drugs, and I don't drink. I think I'm healthier for it, so I can't say my childhood spent in the church was a total waste. There's good and bad in everything, I suppose.

Peace and light,


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