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Why I’m Not Going Back

I started this year (2019) on a sabbatical from Mormonism. I originally imagined that I might just take some time off, deal with my anger and frustration, and come back, healthier and more able to deal with the problems within Mormonism in a productive way. In reality, stepping away from Mormonism meant losing so many of the things I was afraid of losing for so long: the sense of community, the sense of being blessed as part of God’s chosen people, the certainty of knowing who God was and what my purpose in the world was, and also, a whole lot of friendships. More than that, stepping away from Mormonism led to my marriage becoming very difficult, and nearly all my family relationships becoming strained in one way or another. Even some of my best friendships with those who understand the problems in Mormonism are circumscribed now by the sense that I am out and they are still in.

Saying all this, you’d think I’d proceed to end my sabbatical and go back to Mormonism with some humility. But no, that’s not going to happen. Part of that is because the things I’ve lost are irretrievably lost. I can’t regain them. But it’s more than that. It’s that on this side, I can’t see anything that I would gain in returning, at least not anything that still matters to me. I don’t believe that Mormonism is the “One True Church.” I don’t believe that the temple ordinances are anything other than a ritual that might be meaningful for those living people involved in them, but have no meaning for the dead, who are, in fact dead. I don’t believe in a celestial kingdom where the extra-faithful go to get a reward, or who will be with their families forever (however good or bad this sounds to me now). I don’t, in fact, believe in any after-life at all.

Furthermore, I don’t believe God punishes those who don’t obey the words of the Mormon prophet. I don’t think that Mormons’ rules of life (Word of Wisdom, chastity code, modesty code) are the key to having a better life. I don’t believe that there is a “one size fits all” strategy to being better humans. I don’t believe that Joseph Smith saw God and Jesus in a vision. I don’t believe that The Book of Mormon was a translation of an ancient record (though I still love it as a beautiful piece of fiction). I don’t believe that women have a special and distinct and subordinate role to play in the world and in God’s church. I don’t believe that anyone has the authority to tell me what God wants me, as an individual, to do with my life.

I don’t spend any time or energy trying to reconcile the God I have experienced in my life (all-loving and accepting) with the God that is preached to me from the pulpit in General Conference. I don’t spend time or energy trying to tell other people that the prophets and other leadership of the church have a special mantle even if they are shitty human beings most of the time. I don’t bother with trying to proof text the Bible with my own personal beliefs because the Bible can be used to support just about anything. I don’t worry about whether or not Jesus was resurrected because as far as I can tell, Jesus has all the same problems that Joseph Smith has.

Do I celebrate the changes to the Mormon church that Russell M. Nelson’s health and vigor has brought to this organization of late plagued by the problems it has created for itself by its gerontocracy and the theory that God will “take” anyone He doesn’t want to be the prophet in old age? No, I honestly don’t. Changes here and there to the wording of covenants women make in the temples, a minor tweak in their anti-LGBTQ policies, the rejection of scouting, missionaries being able to wear slacks and call home more often, two hour church, temple sealings offered without a year wait, and now, women being able to act as witnesses to rituals — none of these have any effect in making me want to return to Mormonism.

Because the problem I ultimately have with Mormonism is its authority structure, and as long as anyone has to wait for the “prophet” to tell us how to treat those we love or to reject terrible practices that lead children open to abuse or to admit to problems with racism or sexism, I’m not interested. Maybe Mormonism cured me of any desire to be part of any religious organization ever. I don’t think so, though I’ve yet to really try out any other churches fully. The truth is that I don’t need someone else getting between me and God and Mormonism is still all about that, especially old white cis/het dudes being special witnesses of Christ. Since when did God need anyone special to manifest Their divine power?

Do I have anything nice to say about Mormonism? Some days, I do. I see how Mormonism was part of the fabric of my life and unless I’m going to waste energy on hating myself, I have to embrace the reality that Mormonism led me (in part) to who and where I am today. So, thank you to Mormonism, and goodbye to Mormonism. I’m moving forward and I’m not spending a lot of time looking back. I don’t need to go back to your paternalism and your fear-based culture to be happy anymore. I don’t need to worry about sad Mormon heaven. I’ve got this. I’m taking what I like with me because goodness isn’t copyrighted, even if The Book of Mormon is.

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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