Saturday, January 17, 2015

Long Overdue Post--Take Two

Last week I wrote a post that was basically just word vomit brought on by my strong emotional reaction to a friend's story of growing up gay in the closet and then finding a "solution" in forcing himself to marry a woman and so he could have a family and remain "righteous". I can't think about it too much or I'll go back to that emotionally charged place--and clearly I can't think straight there. Suffice it to say, that post was incoherent and rambly and didn't really accomplish what I was going for in my "long overdue" post, which was to articulate some sort of closure regarding my relationship with the church.

So let's try this again.

I left the church almost nine years ago.  It was a slow process of realizing that I just didn't believe the basic tenets of LDS faith anymore and having an increasingly difficult time participating in meetings when everything I heard and sang and read seemed to conflict with my actual beliefs. So eventually, I did just admit to myself that I couldn't do this thing anymore.

In the years that followed, I had random periods of wanting to try again (usually once or twice a year). And then I discovered my "hope testimony" strategy a few years ago. It was definitely good enough to get me through the meetings. It wasn't enough to ever get me to commit to full activity in the church, though, and when I finally acknowledged the toll it was taking on my family, it wasn't enough to keep me even trying anymore. But I still had conflicts. Because somewhere inside of me, I still wanted to make Mormonism work for me and my family. My friends posted pictures of their babies' blessing days or their kids' baptism days (or elaborate baptism invitations) and I found myself wishing that I could have made it all work. I wished that I had never left the church and could just be a happy, normal Mormon.

Last summer, during and in the wake of Kate Kelly's excommunication and all the brouhaha over Ordain Women, something changed inside me. I was engaged in a lot of online and offline conversation about every aspect of it. Nothing new there. But after the dust of debate settled, things were different. I didn't feel any inner conflict about not going to church on Sunday. I didn't feel any pangs of envy when I saw my friends' family pictures at baptisms. I felt totally--and happily--separate from it all.

I haven't really understood what it was exactly that changed, until recently. The other day, I finally realized that when I initially left the church, that was because I broke with it spiritually and intellectually. It didn't resonate with me anymore, I didn't believe it, and I never felt any conflict over that. I never felt any twinges of my old belief, and I never really wanted to. Even when I was trying to be active with my hope testimony, I was totally content with long-term hope and no actual belief. That was because I was so completely comfortable with not believing.

So I broke with the church spiritually nine years ago, and I've never looked back...spiritually. But I never broke with the church emotionally. Until last summer. Prior to that, I was very caught up in my love of the institution and the community and the way I was raised. I hated the idea of not passing those things on to my kids. I was proud of my affiliation with Mormonism, because I viewed it as so good. If I'm being totally honest, maybe I subconsciously viewed it as an institution that was perhaps even superior to the average church, just one that I couldn't get fully on board with. That's why I was trying so damn hard to hope.

But last summer, when I saw this other, nasty side of Mormonism, it destroyed my romanticized vision of the community. That's not to say that Mormons aren't great people. I still love them. So much. But they aren't a community I want to be a part of any more than any other community, which used to be the case.

The Ordain Women materials played a specific role as well. Reading through the 1st Conversation, particularly Patriarchy Bingo, was kind of traumatic for me. A tiny excerpt:

"The leaders whose names you memorized and whose words you read were men"

"More money and time was spent on boys in your ward than girls (Boy Scouts, Young Men's activities)"

"You were taught that young women must help control male thoughts by removing temptations through modesty."

"If you looked for spiritual guidance, it was usually from a man."

In the eight years since I had left the church, I was very comfortable being critical of Mormon dogma as well as the institution. And yet, they had done such a good job of conditioning me that I was still largely okay with women's roles. (WTF, right?) When people questioned me about it, I responded with things like, "Well, no, women don't hold the priesthood, but they're very honored and respected. The leaders always speak very highly of them."

How foolish I felt when I saw it with new eyes. I realized that when the men were saying things like, "God had to give men the priesthood because he knew we needed it. Women are naturally more righteous and close to God. They don't need the priesthood," it was the same as when I eat a candy bar that I don't want to share with my toddler but I make a disgusted face to make her think it's no good. Then she won't keep asking for it and I can have it all to myself. ALL the ways that men--and women!--talk about gender roles in the church are super patronizing.

Then I started realizing how very few women speak in General Conference or sit on the stand there (HOW did that never scream out at me?). Never have we studied in Priesthood and Relief Society the teachings of Eliza R. Snow or Emma Smith. We simply don't quote women--the men especially don't. The fundamental message the church is sending with all of this is that men's ideas are more important than women's ideas. And guess what? That's not a message I want to send my three daughters--OR my son. And it's a message that is built into the very structure of the church. I can't simply teach against it with my words and then condone it by actively bringing my kids there every single week to have it reinforced.

Reaching a point where I could see that bringing my kids to church was actually harmful to them is what finally helped me break emotionally from the institution and its traditions. Not only am I okay with not passing on some of the things I grew up with, I don't want to. I don't want any of those ideas to be a part of my kids' upbringing.

Another thing that influenced my emotional break was the Uncomfortable God essay by "Cate". It's so filled with badass rhetoric, I don't even know which parts to highlight. I have read it several times, trying to pick out the best parts and I just can't. It's the whole thing. The whole thing resonates with me, and it helped me see the church for what it is. Seeing it for what it is made it a lot easier for me to leave it in my past where it belongs.

So there ya go. My spirit and intellect broke with the church nine years ago, but I was still hopelessly attached to it by my emotions. When that attachment finally broke last summer, all of the blinders came off. So I'm done. I will always love the community that raised me. And I will always claim Mormonism as my heritage (and there are still elements of it that I am very proud of). The church has a lot of good, but all of it can be found elsewhere--without the judgment and shame and sexism and oppression and cruelty toward gays and everyone else who isn't the way they're "supposed" to be.


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  3. Adrienne, I'm happy for the peace you have found. I just wanted to let you know that your blog saved me when I was deep in crisis mode, fearing my marriage might be permanently damaged and feeling stuck in a pit of confusion. I typed "agnostic mormon" into Google in desperation, not knowing what I would find but hoping there was something out there. Up came your blog. That led me to StayLDS and Mormon Matters. I'm now finding my own way back to peace. I think my way will be deeper into the church. I hope I can make it work. Thanks again for putting yourself out there like this and being authentic about your beliefs.

    1. Ben, thank you so much for your comments. They really mean a lot to me. Faith transitions are so difficult and complicated, no matter where we land. I hope you all the best in navigating yours. :)

  4. Hi! I've been reading your website (found it today), because I am someone who has take on my own path, but was raised LDS, married in the temple (not married anymore), all that good stuff. I have a date this Monday with a woman who is an Agnostic Theist LDS, and when I searched that, I found your blog :)

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts here.