Why Mormonism Worked For Me

I am sometimes frustrated when I hear people talk about how great Mormonism worked as a “first part of life” experience. They enthuse over stake dances, road shows, youth activities, scouting, the Young Womanhood program, Primary songs and programs, moving help, fast offerings, the bishop’s storehouse, counseling, and more. Many current active Mormons who see the same problems I see argue that the church is changing (which it is, albeit slowly and not always in the right direction) and that we have to be patient because it’s a big worldwide organization, and that their children are having good experiences in the church. So what’s wrong with all of that?

What’s wrong is that the people who are served by the church as it currently stands are the groups that are easily served by the rest of society because they are dominant groups. If your kids love Mormonism and the youth programs, they are probably straight and cisgender. They are also likely white and able-bodied. And I have to say this also, they are likely male. Mormonism works great for those who look like the current leadership of the church. Unless you happen to think that accepting your superiority or the centering of theology on your own dominant, privileged group is wrong and you wish that your children were being taught to look to the margins for clarity and real empathy-learning moments. And unless your children happen to be outside of the dominant groups.

Mormonism worked for me as a child and teen in part because I’m white, straight, and cisgender. I think many men I know, even those who are ex-Mormon, have some fondness for the way in which they were taught by Mormonism to be leaders. From an early age, young Mormon boys are told that they are going to have the priesthood. They see twelve-year-old boys passing the Sacrament and collecting fast offerings. They see them going on camping trips with the best of the Mormon leadership. And if they’re not abused by those who are in power over them (always a risk), they will likely come to see all the good parts of being the focus of all of Mormonism’s energy, because young men are the most important target audience. They are the future leaders of the church.

But it is this very focus on the male experience that is so problematic because it also teaches young men that they don’t need to spend time listening to women of any age. It teaches them that what they think God says to them must be the truth. It teaches them not to look outside of themselves and their cohorts for answers. It also teaches them to feel superior to any group who is not their own, which can result alternately in pity and philanthropy or scorn and disgust.

Mormonism taught me as a white, cisgender, straight woman that I was special and that God had a special program for me. It taught me that all my focus on externalities was good. Mormonism taught me that outsourcing my spirituality and moral compass were right things to do, instead of grappling with the complexities of an ever-changing world and the technology in it.

I was happy when I was Mormon. I really was. I felt safe and secure. I felt superior. I felt like I knew which way was up and what I was supposed to do with the rest of my life. I was following the path and I don’t remember spending much time questioning that. I liked that. I often feel lost in the world as I am now. I miss those certainties of Mormonism. I have so much fondness for the way of life that I lived for so long.

And I also see that it was wrong and damaging to a lot of other people around me who I judged as simply making wrong choices or being unfortunate and in need of my compassion. I never once considered that I might be the one who was in need of pity and compassion. Why would I think that? I mattered. I was one of God’s special children who had been valiant in the premortal life. And now that I’ve stepped away from Mormonism, I see all of that focus on my experience as selfish and all of my sense of security as one of the most dangerous and selfish things of all.

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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