Finding My Own Path
Growing up in Utah, it’s no surprise that I was raised Mormon. What is a bit surprising is the fact that my closest friends growing up were not Mormon. For some reason, the boys in my ward decided that it was their job to make my life hell. Unfortunately they persisted at this all through elementary, middle and high school.
Yet somehow I remained active in the church.
I didn’t go to ward activities, I made friends through 4-H and playing in the band. These two places of refuge helped me to develop self-esteem that my fellow ward members were so focused on destroying. These are the places where I learned from friends of many faith and belief traditions what it means to treat people with kindness and love. Messages that are supposed to be taught in church. But when church is not a safe place, it’s difficult to learn those lessons.
In high school I developed a strong belief in the teachings of the church. I attended early morning seminary classes every year where we studied the scriptures and teachings of the church. I felt secure in my knowledge of truth.
After high school I spent two years in New York as a Mormon missionary trying to get others to join the church. The feeling that I’d always had about being an outsider in the church did not go away. I hated knocking on doors and walking up to strangers on the street. I had been assigned to learn Spanish and work among the Spanish speaking residents of the areas where I was sent. I learned so much about love from that experience. I was (and still am) terrible at Spanish, and yet I met some of the kindest, most loving people I’d ever met. I regret that I was never good enough at Spanish to be myself around the wonderful people I came to love.
Before my mission I had church leaders and a few friends constantly pounding into my head that I needed to be preparing to be worthy of serving a mission. You know what that does to a person? It tells them that they are not good enough to be a missionary. I was going to church every week. I went to seminary every year of high school. My biggest vice was that I like hard rock. By the time I got to the missionary training center in Provo, I was convinced that I had no idea how to be a missionary. If I had to do so much to prepare just to be worthy to serve, despite all that I was already doing to be a good Mormon, clearly I would never be good enough.
What do you get when you combine a feeling that you’ll never be good enough, not knowing how to be yourself and a hatred for knocking on doors and walking up to strangers on the street? The longest damn two years of your life. You forget who you are. You lose parts of yourself that took years to develop. Hard-won self confidence goes out the window. I can honestly say I wish I had not gone on a mission.
Yet somehow I remained active in the church.
After college I moved to California to take a job and, frankly, to get out of Utah. I moved into a singles ward and eventually developed friendships with people who made me feel for the first time that maybe I was not an outsider in the church I’d been a member of my entire life. I consider myself blessed and extremely lucky to have met and developed relationships with some amazing people.
Then November 5, 2015 happened. The church made policy changes that specifically designate people in same-gender marriages as apostates. It also bans children of people in same-gender marriages from being baptized, and specifies that if they want to join the church after they are 18 they can, on the condition that they disavow the lifestyle their parents are living by being in a same-gender marriage.
While I am not gay, I find this policy deeply offensive. I do not want to claim injury that is not mine, and I acknowledge that there are those who have been impacted much more than I have by this policy change. I mourn with them. I’m deeply saddened knowing that a number of gay youth chose to take their own lives in the wake of this policy change.
As a life-long member of the church I’m saddened but not surprised by the part of the policy that officially designated people in same-gender marriages as apostates. That was merely a formality. Given the church’s involvement in trying to stop marriage equality laws form being passed, this came as no surprise.
What hurts is having a policy of exclusion. Having grown up as an outsider in the Mormon church simply because my peers were assholes, I can only imagine how much worse it must be to be excluded for who you are. What hurts is that children are being punished for the so-called “sins” of their parents despite the belief that “ man will be punished for his own sins. ”
This time, I did not remain active in the church. I stopped going to church. I don’t know how to reconcile the teachings of Jesus that we are to love everyone with this policy of exclusion.
While I stopped going to church, I still have two callings in which I continue to serve. Neither of them are callings that require church attendance, and both are callings where I get to serve those around me. I’ve chosen to continue serving in these callings because they help me be a better person, and they are helping me connect with individuals in meaningful ways.
An unexpected benefit of the past year without church attendance is learning that I have friends who care about me more than they care about me being in church. It was something I hoped would be true, but now it’s something I know.
I’ve had many discussions over the past year trying to make sense of the policy. While these conversations have been meaningful and have helped me deepen relationships, I still feel lost. I feel like the rug has been pulled out from under my feet and I’m still trying to figure out how to stand up again.
Now I’m trying to figure out what my path forward looks like after having been shaken to my core. I’ve always believed that spirituality is an important part of life, but I no longer know what that means.