For many years after I stopped believing in Mormonism, I continued to attend regularly. Many friends who were not Mormon asked me why I was doing this. It was a hard thing to explain, but I’m going to try to now.
It was unfathomable for me to not be Mormon anymore. My parents, siblings, nieces and nephews, my own children, husband, and in-laws, were all still Mormon. How could I do anything else? I just couldn’t see how, even though I’d had two sisters who exited Mormonism in the fifteen years leading to my own disaffection.
Why not talk to them? For one thing, I had no contact with those sisters. This is one of the things that frequently happens. Mormon culture is very successful at branding those who leave as “other,” or “anti-Mormon.” They’re dangerous, so you don’t talk to them, even if you want to leave and are looking for advice. And they, too, often cut off ties to protect their own sanity, because if they don’t do this, they end up having to constantly deal with attempts to reconvert them.
It wasn’t until I was trying to re-engage with Mormonism six years after my initial faith crisis that I discovered other Mormons in faith crisis. We often tend to stick together because the trauma is so unique, long-lasting, and inexplicable. The loss is so enormous that people outside of Mormonism just can’t comprehend it. “Just leave,” they say. But the older you are when you are disaffected, the harder it is.
But there’s the other reality. Once you spend so much of your life as Mormon, you can’t help but continue to see all the good things in it. The community, the service, the devotion. It’s not all bad. So why not try to salvage the good and keep going? This is what I did for a long, long time. Sometimes I wish I could still do it because I admire the people who are working for change within the church so much. But ultimately, I’ve chosen my own sanity over continuing to bang my head against that particular wall.
There may be unique circumstances for each of us. Some people have family members or ward members who make it easier to stay and engage in a nuanced way. Others feel a direct calling from God to do this. I felt that even when I tried to talk about my new experiences with a God of unconditional love and a feminine God, I was told I was wrong or simply shut down. My attempts to wear a rainbow ribbon were not productive, either. Only one person ever asked me about it, and the following conversation wasn’t particularly encouraging.
The general sense I got was that most Mormons preferred I stay away and that they didn’t understand why I would want to stay anymore than non-Mormons did. Maybe I just find change more difficult than other people or maybe Mormonism just consumes more of your life? A non-Mormon friend of mine who moved to Utah tried to invite other couples to his home, but never found the invitations returned because Mormonism took up all of these couples’ social lives.
I recently listened to a podcast where the host explained that LGBT Mormons who simply left tended to need therapy briefly before they got on with their lives. Those who tried to stay were always in need of therapy.
I’m not LGBT, I wonder if I should have left sooner. Did I waste the last fourteen years of my life, trying to stay in a religion that will never really change, never make room for me? Would I be that much further along in my recovery if I’d ripped the bandage off more quickly? And if so, should I be trying to de-convert those I love around me? Would it be kinder to them?
Honestly, I can’t imagine wanting to cause anyone else a faith crisis. I hear some ex-Mormons who seem as zealous in their reverse missionary work of de-converting people from Mormonism and it makes no sense to me. I recoil from the project (as I recoiled from the idea of missionary work as a Mormon frankly). Let other people be happy in their own way. How can I know what that way will be?
But maybe they are right and I am wrong. Maybe I should be helping people tear off the bandages faster instead of examining the wounds so carefully and wondering which of them made me stronger and which made me weaker, and how all of them work together to create this messy person I’ve become, and who I love and believe God loves, as well. For now, I will simply be writing essays and letting people find me as they are ready, or perhaps later than that.