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Post-Mormon Mette: Doing the Work

I admit, I’ve struggled over the last eighteen months, since deciding to stop attending my Mormon ward, to find community, let go of anger and a sense of betrayal, and to keep friendships with those who appear to still be interested in me (not a majority, but an important minority of my old Mormon friends). I had a real revelation a couple of weeks ago (and yes, you still get those post-Mormonism, even if you don’t call them revelation or ascribe them to God — I’m on the fence on this one) while I was on the phone with a dear Mormon friend.

The revelation was pretty simple: she’s doing the work. The same work I’m doing. The work of being human. The work of seeing other people more truly. The work of learning real compassion instead of judgment. The work of apologizing for mistakes and doing better. The work of acknowledging that there will always be gaps in the way we see the world. The work of making difficult decisions for yourself that are going to make people mad, but must nonetheless be made. The work of calling out bad behavior on the part of people who may or may not welcome feedback and may or may not punish you for it socially.

I did a lot of work when I was still trying to stay in Mormonism. I’m not talking about when I was a devout, mostly unquestioning member who accepted every calling, believed every testimony and thought that bishops who prognosticated the future must have some kind of gift. I’m talking about the years after my faith crisis when I desperately tried to stay by standing on my head, seeing the best in multiple piles of shit, closing my mouth whenever I was in adult meetings, and slowly learning to talk real to a very, very small group of other Mormons — most of whom left before I did.

Once upon a time, I was a Benson scholar and the scripture chase champion of the entire school. I was deemed one of the twelve best Mormon women leaders of my year. I prided myself on seeing Mormon doctrine on womanhood as akin to French feminism, which values essentialist feminine ideals and elevates them. I decided that sexism was just as pernicious outside of Mormonism (in my graduate program at Princeton, for instance), but no one there even acknowledged it existed. I was a Gospel Doctrine teacher. I was in the Primary Presidency. I was also a nursery leader in later years, and finally, the Sunbeam teacher, because that was the last place my bishop could think to put me where I wouldn’t cause problems. (Hint: I still sang all the songs wrong, so that Heavenly Mother was included.)

I’ve said it before and I will say it again: it’s important to acknowledge your real feelings of anger. It’s important to stop forcing yourself to eat the shit of the patriarchy. It’s important to be real and stop putting on that happy, smiling face of Mormonism (if you change to meet a frown . . . ). Sometimes I recommend that people take at least a year off relationships with other Mormons after finally leaving. But after a year or so, after a lot of processing, a sweetness can come to you as it has come to me.

As long as Mormons aren’t trying to get me to come back, as long as they can acknowledge the problems that are real, I don’t need to make them into the enemy. I can sit and have a real conversation about the work we’re doing on different sides of the fence. I don’t need to proselytize them out, either. They’re doing the work. That’s all that I can ask anyone to do. See clearly, act with integrity and compassion, and speak the truth.

There are probably a dozen reasons why I was able to stay as long as I did (compared, for instance to two of my sisters who left much earlier) and why I couldn’t stay any longer (compared to two sisters who are still in). Some of those reasons are clear to me now and some are probably still waiting until I’m ready to hear them and can see myself more painfully honestly. Sometimes I’ve pointed the finger at people who remain and call them blind or cowardly for staying. And this is not always a lie. But it’s not fair to those who are still doing the work, my real friends and sisters in this cause of being human. So today, I lift my coffee cup to them (I don’t do alcohol yet) and say, thank you.

Thank you for hanging on to me so tightly. Thank you for giving me space for a little while to process and rage. Thank you for doing the work with me. Thank you for seeing me clearly and seeing my goodness. Thank you for letting me vent to you, even when it hurt you. Thank you.

Written by

Author of The Bishop’s Wife mystery series, The Mormon Sabbatical Podcast, Princeton PhD, fiction editor at Exponent II, autist, she/her

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