What the fuck is wrong with a woman who considers herself a blogger and only blogs but a few times a year? I don’t want to indulge my Mormon guilt by self-flagellating too much here, but I really suck at keeping up with things. I have a few excuses, all of which I’ll enumerate upon, but suffice it to say that I’m vowing to write more. Also suffice it to say that I probably will not write more.
First, what’s going on – a brief update. I’ve been working my ass off in the gym because I’m working towards a physique competition! I’m really excited about it, but it’s in June – which means I have to be incredibly disciplined over the next four months. I have a trainer and I get up at five every morning and my diet sucks. That is all on that subject. Just watch out for me on the street, because if I’m raging on pre-workout (plus the fact that I can’t drink or eat empty carbs) and I catch you coppin me a mean mug, I will kick your ass.
Actually, not really. I know being fit doesn’t make me a badass, but humor me and let me keep that illusion, yeah? Because I’m actually actively working in the opposite direction of badassery when it comes to my career. You see, in July, I will sojourn to the great city of San Francisco for a three month “bootcamp” course in software engineering. That’s right. I am about to join the ranks of incredibly weird people who don’t shower very often and build peanut butter castles in their parents’ basements. Perhaps I shall also move back home with Dad and get my hands sticky with ground-up legume goo. Just kidding. People in the tech world are, for the most part, pretty cool, as am I, and my Lizard gut feels good about making this change. I’m flying out to SF for an interview next weekend, and have another interview a couple of weeks after that. I am not ashamed to admit I literally cry when I think about leaving some of the most groovy people here in Chicago, but I’m ready for a big change and life must go on. I love Chicago, and I’ll be back all the time.
I’m sure you’re all curious about Lois – she’s doing well. I almost beat her senseless today when I came home from work because she ate roughly $50 of beauty products. Don’t worry – the products are all natural, so Lois and her indefatigable bowels of steel are perfectly fine. I’d like to also mention that only a couple of weeks ago, I hosted a brunch party for my girlfriends. The night before the big day, during the darkest hour of the early morning, Lois ate a dozen and a half carefully made cupcakes off the counter – complete with wrappers. Again, I was sorely tempted to make her suffer, but because I love her, and because she is stupid, and because it’s not her fault she is stupid, on both occasions I shut myself in my bedroom and walked myself through self-calming exercises until I could once again behold her visage and feel the love bloom within my heart.
Anyway, the real reason I’m writing today is because I recently reestablished contact with a very old friend who I knew in college. I know Rhett because a long time go, in a galaxy far way, Rhett wrote an article on me because of my controversial column in the USU Statesman. Rhett claims our conversation was his first critical look into Mormonism. And what do you know – Rhett has left the flock of the Lamb of God and is only the most recent person in a string of apostates who have come to me and shared their stories. I’m not going to be stingy with words here (partly because I enjoy swearing, but mostly because it’s true): Rhett’s story of leaving the Church is really sad. Really fucking sad. His wife left him. He became incredibly depressed. He lost his job and his blood family currently thinks he sucks. His entire concept of life, the afterlife, and everything in between has been torn down and now he has to start, as an adult, from scratch.
And the saddest thing about Rhett’s sad story is that is it just one of SO MANY SAD FUCKING STORIES about people leaving the Mormon Church. It’s been such a long time since I left the Church, and I’ve intentionally removed myself as far as possible from Utah culture, so it’s been easy to put out of mind the fact that this kind of fucked up shit happens all the time. I probably don’t need to iterate for most of my readers the details of what happens when people leave the Church, but for those of you who don’t know, this is basically a small sample of what happens to the average apostate in their journey out of the Church. We’ll make up a sample dude – let’s call him Nephi.
Nephi is a 25 year old faithful Mormon man, who wakes up one fine day and is reading up on his online Mormon literature. He sees some news stories about the Church’s recent policy change regarding the disallowing of baptism for children who live in households with same-sex parents. This new doctrine makes Nephi a little queasy, because to his understanding, the sins of the parents are not supposed to fall on the children. Utah ain’t easy on its LGBT families, and kids of gay parents already have to deal with a lot of doody (Nephi hasn’t started swearing yet). Young men can’t hold the Priesthood without getting baptized, and not being able to be a baptized, priesthood-holding member of your Church can be a pretty conspicuous thing in Utah. So is being a non-baptized young woman who can’t go to the Temple with her friends. So Nephi feels a little uncomfortable, but he doubts his doubts before he doubts his faith and carries on.
Well, one click leads to another, and pretty soon Nephi is tumbling down the black rabbit hole of internet information. One of the pages Nephi comes to is a Wikipedia page detailing the wives of the Prophet Joseph Smith, the supreme commander of early Mormonism. “What the fetch?” Nephi mumbles under his breath as he reads that Brother Smith not only married multiple women, but that some of those women were as young as fourteen, and some were already married to other men. Nephi did not know this. The weird feeling in his gut grows stronger, but Nephi tries to ignore it and goes on with his day.
A couple of weeks later, Nephi (who is a great reader) is perusing the shelves at his local library. In the religious studies section, he comes upon a book called Rough Stone Rolling – a forbiddingly large tome which is a biography on Joseph Smith and early Mormon history. Nephi’s curiosity is peaked. Surely this can’t be bad – it’s not anti-Mormon literature, look! It was written by a Priesthood-holding member. So Nephi takes the book home and mentions it to his wife, who is a good, god-fearing woman.
Nephi finds out some very troubling things as he reads his new book, but he can’t put it down. All the claims are backed by documentation, much of which is held at Brigham Young University (where Nephi and his wife met and married at the ripe old age of 21). Was it true that Joseph Smith looked at rocks in a hat while he translated the Book of Mormon, and not, in fact, at the Golden Plates themselves, as the LDS Church teaches? Was it also true that Joseph Smith was tarred and feathered, not because the persecuting mob hated Mormons and were acting under Satan’s influence, but because Joseph Smith had pressured a man’s wife into eternal marriage and sexual relations? Was it really true that Joseph Smith ran for POTUS (coulda given Trump a run for his money, amirite)? The Mormons were building an army! The Mormons slaughtered a band of immigrants as they crossed in southern Utah! The United States Government threatened to disallow Utah statehood because of polygamy, immediately after which God conveniently revealed that polygamy was to cease until the afterlife
Cheese and rice, these are serious accusations. But the evidence is easily verifiable – the information on the internet is one of the Mormon Church’s biggest enemies. And Nephi is no fool – he happens to be a geneticist who loves his cold, hard facts. Nephi experiences an alarming amount of anxiety over these things he learned, and returns the book to the library without finishing it. But he can’t stop thinking about it. So he goes to his bishop.
In his bishop’s office, Nephi confidentially reveals his concerns. The bishop, who in fact already knows most of what Nephi has learned, emphatically and somewhat callously tells Nephi that’s what he gets for reading “anti-Mormon literature” and to pray and have more faith. The Lord’s ways are higher than ours, and Satan has a sneaky way of making false history look like fact to throw doubts upon us. Stay strong, brother Nephi.
So Nephi goes home and he prays. He prays and prays and prays, but though he sweats right through his garments so fervently does he appeal to God’s grace, he receives nary an answer. So Nephi makes a major decision – he tells his wife. As often happens in these situations, because every Mormon secretly has their doubts and insecurities regarding their religion, Nephi’s wife reacts with ten-alarm bells. “How could you do this to me? To us? To God?!”
At this point, you might be thinking, Bullshit, Liz. You’re making this up. I solemnly swear to God – no, I solemnly swear upon Buffalo Trace whiskey – that I am not and that this shit happens every day in Utah. People confess their doubts and the reaction from their friends and family ranges from deranged anger to obsessive fixing of a situation that cannot be fixed.
So, driven further downward by his wife’s behavior, Nephi sinks into a depression and his performance at work begins to seriously suffer. At this point, Nephi is fairly convinced that the Church isn’t true. So he starts doing more research, and what he finds absolutely astonishes him. All it takes is a little digging for him to discover multiple wide-spread sex abuse coverups in the Church. Then he reads this article on the Corporation of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, which Nephi didn’t even know existed. Nephi knew the Church had money, but gosh dang, it has that much? And for an institution supposedly focused on doing the will of Jesus Christ, the Church spends a pathetically small amount of its finances on helping its fellow men. That doesn’t exactly give Nephi the warm fuzzies.
Thusly, Nephi turns from confusion and sadness to disgust and anger. Ten percent of his hard-earned money has gone to the Church for his entire life, and for what? He went on a mission and dedicated two years to bring people to this? One day, while Nephi is getting dressed, he picks up his white temple garments out of his underwear drawer and looks at them carefully. He’s worn them every day since he received his temple blessings six years ago. They promise him safety and security, and they might even be bulletproof. But Nephi puts his garments back in their drawer. He never wears them again. His wife notices.
Several months later, after Nephi has stopped going to Church and paying his tithing, his wife informs him that she is leaving him. Nephi is devastated – he dearly loves her – but he isn’t surprised. Since Nephi became inactive, they have found very little common ground, and she doesn’t want to be with a man who won’t baptize her children and have millions of skybabies on their own planet in the afterlife.
The gravity with which Mormons approach the situation of their loved ones leaving the church is almost comic in its intensity. But consider it from their perspective: You have to be a righteous Mormon to earn a spot in the afterlife. If you love your spouse and children and they decide to leave the Church, you just lost your chance at eternal happiness with them in it. There’s a lot at stake.
So this sucks. Nephi decides to resign from the Church, and his bishop, who knew Nephi from way back when Nephi hoped to grow a foot or two, contacts his goodly parents and informs them of their son’s decision. They’re pretty fucking upset about it and can’t bring themselves to speak to Nephi. Meanwhile, Nephi is on to real swear words, and finds he has a taste for fine bourbon. He oscillates wildly from despair and anger to a newfound ecstasy in the realization that he has complete ownership of himself and his decisions. Nobody is actually in his mind, reading his thoughts. He doesn’t have to spend hours upon hours doing useless Church callings, and he suddenly has 10% more in savings.
But Nephi is in for a long, slow haul towards acceptance and self-love. Mormon guilt and weird sex inhibitions will plague him for the rest of his life. Every so often, Nephi catches himself feeling bad for masturbating to porn or speaking about the Temple covenants to his new friends, who drink coffee (and amazingly aren’t miserable criminals because of it). Most of Nephi’s new friends are also ex-Mormons, because all Nephi wants to talk about is the Church, and nobody else really gets it. His family still thinks he’s marching merrily down the path to fire and brimstone. His wife has served him divorce papers.
I wish I could tell you that every Nephi who leaves the Church has a happy ending. Let’s say our Nephi does, and that over the course of the next few years, he achieves powerful self-actualization and finds a real badass chick who likes bourbon and thinks Nephi is fine just the way he is. But not everybody’s stories end that way. A lot end in suicide or overdose, particularly for LGBT Mormons, even more particularly if they’re young. A lot fester in this never-ending spiral of depression, self-hate, yo-yoing back and forth between trying to go back to Church and then leaving again.
And for what? So a group of old, white men can maintain the powerful status quo and make a shitload of money off lying to people who depend on them for their faith and happiness. That’s really what it comes down to. There’s not a snowball’s chance in hell that the Mormon hierarchy actually believes the Church is true. They can’t. Even if they did before they got into the upper echelons of leadership, at some point they have to realize that God isn’t actually talking to them. Peruse the internet – Apostles are, in fact, paid a substantial salary with major benefits, and the internet is rife with rumors that they are granted enormous personal loans which are written off as losses for the Church. It’s hard to comment on speculation like this, but some truth trickles down through the layers of membership. As in any other power structure – follow the money and you’ll find what you need to know.
And that’s why me, and Rhett, and my Dad, and my best friend Leslie, and most of my brothers, and most of my high school friends, and so so so so SO many more people cannot just “get over” leaving the Church and move on with our lives. In some ways, the Mormon Church and the process of leaving it will continue to shape who we are for the rest of our lives. It stays with us forever because it has such a powerful impact on our personhood and it makes us angry that the Church continues to hoodwink so many otherwise good and sane people. And every time I hear stories like Rhett’s, it takes me right back to where I was eight years ago, as a confused 17 year old who just couldn’t believe the Church’s shit anymore.
Talking about leaving the Church is important. It’s incredibly cathartic, and it never really gets old. Sometimes I need the reminder that Rhett’s experience and my experience and the experience of so many others continue to happen all the time, and that conversations about it also need to continue to happen. There are so many of us and there’s always more to say. But in the meantime, for anyone this is happening to, know you’re not alone. And also know that it is deeply, deeply uncool that you’re suffering for doing the right thing – which you are doing. I hope I can assure you that, as someone who has been there and back again, there is life on the other side. A life that involves whisky and pornography and no guilt, and it is pretty awesome. Hang in there.
Now, it’s getting a little late, and I have a training session at 6 tomorrow morning. Subscribe, leave comments about your experience with Mormonism, and keep an eye out for a project I’m working on. I can’t say what it is yet, but it has to do with Mormons and swearing and it’s going to be really fucking funny. Stay tuned!