Friday, October 28, 2016

My Faith Journey: The Last Year - Part 3 of 4

Life is an epic journey, full of failures and successes, ups and downs, light moments and dark. It reads like a novel, with many chapters and infinite opportunities.

Like a bookmark or turned down page, November 6th will mark one year since I openly announced the ending of one chapter of my life. I haven't shared the details about my faith journey with many people, because many have not asked. Now, here, in my little corner of the internet, the time has come for me to share my story. I do so to give myself a moment of reflection before I turn the page, and so those who care about me can better understand why I walk my current path.

___________ ____________ _____________ __________

THE LAST YEAR

When 2015 began, I had a plan to bring back the religious light and joy that filled the first half of my membership in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and that plan involved making New Year's Resolutions.

I used The New Year as a starting place. I set a goal to read my scriptures again every day, even though it was difficult to find the time. I set a goal to pray every morning, on my knees, even if the kids woke up early and started destroying the house. Also, I set a goal to follow more church accounts on social media, so that I would be uplifted even when I was zoning out on my phone while scrolling through Facebook and Instagram.

The scripture reading goal worked out okay. I have always viewed the scriptures as embellished stories, sometimes historically based, sometimes not, and only sometimes containing valuable lessons. I never read them literally. People didn't literally move mountains. No one literally angered God by building a tower to heaven, resulting in scattered people and language diversity. Nope. Those stories were written by people long ago to explain the inexplicable that was found in nature. So, there's that. Still, I made time every night to read, after the kids (and sometimes even The Cowboy) were asleep. Reading my scriptures was a familiar, comfortable habit, but it didn't bring me greater light or religious enthusiasm.

The prayer goal was a joke from day one. Squeezing in a quiet moment with God every morning was literally impossible. After staying up to read and pray before bed, I woke up in the mornings with no energy or time to spare. My kids were my priority and an Eternal Father in Heaven could not take precedence over what was happening here and now. So I prayed when I could, but it wasn't first thing every morning.

The Internet goal was working out, though. I liked seeing uplifting quotes, beautiful pictures of temples, and church news mixed in with my friends' photos and stories on social media.

One night I was reading the comments on a photo posted by the official LDS Instagram account. A comment was made by someone with an account called Mormon History and I thought, "Ooh! Another inspiring account to follow!" So I checked it out. I scrolled through the posts and quickly realized it wasn't published by official church resources. This was what the church would call "Anti-Mormon" because it didn't paint the church in a positive light. However, the history I found here was supported by quotes from early church books and church leaders, so how could it be classified anti-Mormon? The information there revealed a little more than I had previously learned from my Institute church history classes, though. Why this discrepancy? Why did I suddenly feel that I didn't know as much as I had been led to believe after my deep investigation and years of learning about the LDS Church? I had very mixed feelings during this initial discovery. I had never allowed myself to look at anything that might possibly by considered "Anti-Mormon Lies" because Church leaders cautioned STRONGLY against doing so, but these posts weren't full of lies. I found truths in the words I read. How could truth possibly be harmful to me or to the Church?
I had to understand this. I had to learn more.

I'm hungry for knowledge. I love to research the Hows and Whys behind new discoveries in my life. That is why my investigation into the church when I first converted was so incredible and uplifting. Back then, I spent hours every day learning as much as I could from the church about the church and it was beautiful and emotional. Suddenly, in 2015, it occurred to me that it was time to learn as much as I could about the church from all of the evidence available to me. I'm not sure why I didn't do so earlier, in my days as a new convert and undergrad student, when I was constantly practicing my skills of impartial investigation, observation, gathering evidence, and making logical conclusions. I guess I reserved that for school and kept the church in a separate, emotional space.

So, 2015 was a year I allowed myself to use my critical thinking skills and dare to ask hard questions about my religion. It was a year of endless searching, reading, and discovery. Thanks to the Internet, there was (and is) an abundance of well documented research and information available at my fingertips. I sat at my computer and read original papers written by Joseph Smith Jr. I read the words of a Prophet from the original Book of Commandments that filled me with disgust. I read old articles that were published in the church magazine, the Ensign, that blew my mind. I read through the newly written essays on the LDS website, clicked the links in the footnotes, and found that I came to very different conclusions than those presented by the church. I discovered changes made to the scriptures that altered fundamental teachings. I learned of contradicting timelines of events. I read transcripts of temple ceremonies and learned that core pieces had changed many times. I learned about Masonic temples, multiple versions of sacred first visions, the Priesthood Ban against Blacks, and disturbing details about the Prophets' polygyny and the resulting polyandry for several women.

It became clear to me that the history and foundation of the church that I loved so dearly was not everything I had been taught, and I had been taught many of the difficult truths during Institute classes. However, in 2015, I learned that those Institute lessons had been carefully filtered, and the bits that had been left out were too large for me to ignore. It felt like I had been lied to by my best friend.

Still, that was the past, right? The church of 2015 wasn't so bad. It was my spiritual home and I loved it there. I continued to go to church and do all of the Mormon things, but I started to see more problems than just the history. I learned about current events that didn't sit well with me, I contemplated the complete lack of financial transparency, and I wondered when the last time a Prophet or Apostle had spoken the words: I have received a revelation from God. I learned of malls and offices being built up while people all over the world starved or went homeless.

I couldn't unsee the imbalance, injustice, and untruths. I experienced cognitive dissonance as I tried to reconcile my increasing awareness of problems with my long-held belief that the men running this Church I loved were inspired men of God.

Do you remember my shelf? It was that spot in my mind where I quietly tucked away the difficult church issues that didn't sit well with me, so I could focus on the good instead. My shelf got heavy with all of the issues I discovered, and eventually it broke. Crap scattered everywhere. I was wading through all of the problems constantly, I couldn't ignore them and I couldn't pretend that the good outweighed the bad anymore. I had to stop lying to myself, and I had to find me again beneath the church mess that had exploded all over my world. 

I realized that my religion and I were no longer compatible. I went through the stages of grief as I processed the huge loss of my church from my life. It was painful, akin to the loss of a dearly loved friend or family member. My feelings were raw. I felt alone and I didn't feel comfortable talking to most people about my pain, anger, fear, and loss. Thank goodness for my Cowboy. He allowed me to be vulnerable with him. When I needed him most, he was there to hug me and hold me up. Our relationship grew stronger than it had been in years. 

I also found support in my earbuds as I listened to podcasts and discovered the stories of so many people who had traveled paths similar to mine. I found support on Facebook among groups of people who were also leaving the church and looking for ways to thoughtfully transition on with their lives. I came to realize that I was not alone, and that meant the world to me.

As I regained some composure, I started to rediscover myself. Extra earrings that were removed in an effort to conform went back in, and with each burning sensation that comes with the piercing of skin, I regained a bit of my dignity. Swear words that were silenced in an effort to obey started coming back out, and with each fierce piece of adult language I uttered, I regained a bit of my voice. I would no longer be the meek woman who sat back quietly, ashamed of myself for my silence, while people scoffed at the idea of human evolution. I would never again endure the disgusting taste of shame in my mouth after voting against my conscience in an effort to be obedient to an church who didn't know or love my gay aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. I rediscovered the kiss of sunshine on my shoulders. I once again felt the peace that comes from believing that all humans are filled with goodness and that they need not berate themselves or seek righteousness from an external source.

I knew that I could no longer find peace and joy inside The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. Still, I didn't know how to simply walk away from an organization that I had once loved, so I intended to fade away from it slowly. I planned to attend church part-time, to support my still-believing husband and stay connected with my church friends. I love my ward family and I didn't want to weigh them down, so I fully intended to quietly slip away without making waves.

Then November 5th came along and changes in church policy were leaked all over the internet. The first change defined homosexual marriage as a serious transgression alongside rape and murder, and grounds for excommunication from the church. Another change barred CHILDREN of homosexual couples from becoming baptized members of the Church until they turned 18 and "specifically disavow the practice of same-gender cohabitation and marriage."

After a year of learning heavy truths and planning my slow exit from the church, that policy change was the final straw for me. I could not see Christ's love in it, no matter what justifications people tried to provide. No. I could no longer fathom the thought of people associating me with an institution that would enact such blatantly bigoted policies. My intentions of slowly fading from church went right out the window. The following day I made a bold declaration on Facebook that I no longer believed in, supported, or sustained the LDS Church. I was done and I wanted everyone to know.

TO BE CONTINUED...

3 comments:

  1. I don't know how it felt as a convert, but as a born-and-raised it was a terrible betrayal. 30 years of weekly lessons, 4 years of early-morning seminary, 14-credit-hours of BYU religion classes, and somehow no one ever mentioned rocks in hats, polyandry, contradictory versions of the "first vision", coercive statements to teenage girls to enter polygamous marriages, and on and on.

    It was infuriating to realize the Churh has and continues to intentionally mislead people about fundamental aspects of its history.

    I also see no way a supposedly Christian organization can defend a policy explicitly telling children they are not welcome.

    It's been a year and the anger phase still wells up strong. Sigh.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I feel you, I still have a lot of anger too.
      It's a shame I didn't realize that I could have been talking to you about all of this stuff while I went through it. If you ever want to get together to talk with other people who get it, I'm part of a local Post-Mormon meet-up group with some really great people.

      Delete
    2. We were on different timelines. It wasn't until the Nov 2015 policy leak that I felt strongly that the Church, meaning its doctrines, policies, and actions, were definitively incompatible with my own conscience. I'd already felt it on one level, but I tried to ignore it (resulting in Sundays mostly just being unhappy and stressful for a long time). But the clear line-in-the-sand nature of the exclusion policy was just that; and I knew which side I stood on.

      I waited though to see what clarification might come, surely it was a mistake that would be corrected. But after the Church doubled-down, declaring the policy to be revelation I knew it was here to stay, and so I needed to go.

      It was after that realization that I decided to take a look at the Church from a more academic viewpoint. And, as you know, once one strips away the whitewashed narrative things get ugly fast.

      Delete