Why I Left
I believe myself to be one of the rarer types of ex-mormon, to have left the church with no true hard feelings and wish well upon most members I’ve met. There are genuine Christians within this religion who honor the “love one another” law above all else and are kind, valuable members to the collective healing of our world. That being said, the first memory I can recall of me questioning the church’s truth occurred when I was not quite or just over 9 years old during sacrament meeting.
For context, earlier that year I had lost my 16 year old sister to a car wreck and had gone from my bubbly, chatty personality to a more silent one which some young boys in the church took as an invitation for bullying. Rude comments about my dead sister and casual bullying were common enough that the missionaries knew to sit next to me when they were around and keep the boys silent. Then one of those boys turned 12 and gained the Aaronic priesthood, allowing him to bless the sacrament and administer it to the rest of the church.
There I sat in the pews, watching the boy who told me my sister deserved to die for turning down his older brother, bless the sacrament and bring it to me. I sat there and realized with a bizarrely calm clarification that the church believed him to be worthy of the priesthood, of moving up and gaining new titles of honor within the church, while I had already gone as far as I could go when I was baptized. Simply because he was a boy and I was a girl. I want to say now, knowing what I’ve learned of gender fluidity, that the deciding factor to be more accurately described as he had a penis and I had a uterus.
For many years I struggled with myself over the church. Spirituality was important to me and continues to be. Religion seemed, at the time, the only way to express spirituality, to learn and to grow. I studied the scriptures, listened to the leaders, and tried to understand why so many people thought this was a good system. Surely, I was missing something. When I tried to express my concerns about gender equality with other women in the church, they quickly assured me that they did not feel any separation from power by the separation of lessons. Men learned the priesthood, how to receive inspiration for others, and be leaders while women learned… honestly, most of my classes were about baking cookies and caring for a family but other women got more out of it than me.
Yet, for me, the church soon got boring. The lessons repeated themselves and since I did have a uterus without any desire to marry or have kids, there was no where for me to grow. In high school, I tried to see the value of the church by bringing my non-mormon friends to events with me only for them to demand I never invite them again due to the quote “weird cult energy.” Then, in college, I tried again, this time with a very religious woman who thought the mormons were “creepily quiet” and questioned why everyone was so sober over songs of eternal love.
I had another dramatic moment with a man during sacrament in college. The night before, he and his roommate had invited themselves over to our apartment to watch a movie none of my roommates nor I wanted to watch. They were loud, invasive, and obnoxious but none of us said anything because they were also our home teachers (male members of the church assigned to women to “protect, teach, and comfort”). One guy in particular, let’s call him Jake, joked about how childbirth couldn’t be that painful and women were just weak. That crossed a line for me and I started to snap at him but stopped myself (which I regret) and exited the situation, waiting in my bedroom until they left. My choice to remove myself from their invasive, disrespectful humor must have created in Jake a great need to prove his power over me.
Due to my gluten intolerance, I always sat in a specific spot during church so I could receive a gluten free piece of bread for sacrament. Since men took turns administering sacrament, Jake as well as every man there, was aware of this agreement. Even if they didn’t know me by face, they knew where I would be sitting. The morning after I’d walked out on Jake and his uninvited movie night, I went to church to find him in my seat while his friends took up most of the rest of the row. All but ensuring I would not receive my gluten free sacrament.
For context, let me explain that, in the mormon church, sacrament was like a recommitment of everything we promised when getting baptized. It was a renewal of our faith, devotion, and forgiving of our sins. The only reason anyone would refuse a sacrament would be if they were feeling unworthy or needed to confess a sin to the bishop first. By orchestrating this dominance of my space in church, Jake sent the very clear message that he didn’t believe I deserved sacrament for the previous night’s actions. It was immediately after this meeting that I said my very first cuss word. “Jake is an ASS!” I shouted to a parking lot, empty apart from my supportive and all equally fuming roommates, as soon as we exited the church. They laughed and I think we rebelled against the don’t-make-others-work-on-Sunday rule as we grabbed Sonic on the way home.
I’ll never forget how the church reacted to that event. A male friend stopped by and administered the sacrament to me personally which was a kind gesture. The close friend to Jake, who was also a friend of ours, pulled me aside and apologized. He said he feared he was the one who ate the gluten free piece and didn’t think Jake’s “joke” very funny. The women had a significantly less one-on-one approach to comforting me. Multiple groups of girls came up to share in my shock at the sacrament, let me know that they’d seen it, and would be “keeping an eye on him.” Side note, women are treasures.
Later that month, Jake stopped by our apartment alone to give his home teaching lesson to one of my roommates/sister and me. Only, he decided to stray away from the recommended lessons and read us out loud an essay he’d written about why women were created solely to serve men. My sister wanted to yell at him and I, regrettably, held her back. We listened to him preach like two full tigers might watch an injured deer taunt them, then we let him out, and never let him anywhere near us again. Looking back, the woman I am today would have done a lot more to Jake, would have taught him a lesson he’d never forget or at most, made sure the church was fully aware of his antagonism but the me of the past was in complete shock, caught off guard, and, I truly believe, did her best.
After writing the last few paragraphs, I might surprise you in saying I didn’t stop going to church until after I graduated college and it had nothing at all to do with the treatment I’d received from a few toxic men as recorded above. Since I had earned my degree, everyone assumed marriage was the only thing on my mind. They asked me who I was dating, what I was looking for in a husband, and how I was “getting out there.” This forced me to realize marriage had never been on my task list and if I wasn’t going to get married, I really had no place there. After years of internal efforts to force myself to love church, I stopped going. The most shocking part was that I wasn’t sad. A solid 70% of my stress disappeared the second I made that choice. No longer did I have to flirt with boys and pretend to be interested in dating, no longer did I have to sit quietly while leaders ranted about women’s modesty and chastity. And since I wasn’t going to church, I didn’t have to worry about getting into the “top tier of heaven” of which only married people were worthy to enter.
I still have some family members who are loyal members of the church and recognize with appreciation how their local church has helped them. To me, God is everywhere and a personal connection through spirituality allows for better inspiration so a religion is only as good as its local community. Mormons and I tended to clash, even when I tried to be one, so friendships and supportive community through the church were never really available to me. By leaving, I opened myself up to genuine support from people who valued me for me, who helped me grow, and supported my belief that my spiritual abilities were continuously growing.
If there is a community you’re trying to force yourself to fit into, it might be a good idea to step back and ask yourself these questions:
1. Why do I want to be a part of this community?
2. How does this community help/support me?
3. Do I feel safe to be my authentic, unfiltered self here?
4. If I must change to fit into this group, is it supportively pushing me to be more authentic or pressuring me to conform to a standard unity?