I haven’t really brought up religion on the blog, but today I want to get my feelings out, and publicly support John Dehlin and Kate Kelly, even though they will probably never see this.
I was raised in the LDS church. I was baptized when I was 8 years old. I painstakingly wrote down my favorite quotes from the Book of Mormon and from the prophets and tacked them all over my room, my bathroom mirror, and my journals. Singing the primary (children’s) songs and grown-up hymns about love and faith and truth and being like Jesus spoke to my soul and made my heart overflow.
But as I got older I noticed that boys were treated differently than girls at church (and at home). I didn’t get to go to boy scout camp, participate in the pinewood derby, help pass out the sacrament (communion), or stand by the font when someone got baptized. I got lessons about how important it was to get married and have lots of Mormon babies. And I wanted that. I wanted that so very deeply, because I wanted to be good. I wanted my parents to love me and be proud of me (both the parents at home and the parents I was taught were in Heaven).
I threw myself into my callings, teaching and preparing music time lessons for the little kids, working in the women’s organization, visiting other members of my congregation, preparing and giving talks about how important faith is. I ignored those feelings of things being unfair, because God isn’t unfair. I must be wrong, and I just needed to try harder.
And then I started thinking about the lessons I got about how having sex before you’re married is like being a cupcake that’s been licked already. No one wants that cupcake. In college I met a lovely young woman that had had a baby at 15 that she gave up for adoption. She wasn’t a licked cupcake, she was smart and funny and talented and beautiful. But she felt like one. That wasn’t right.
And I started thinking about how I wanted to stand for truth and righteousness, but all of my examples from the scriptures seemed to be men. All of my church leaders were men. God and Jesus, both men. I didn’t know how I should do that as a woman (a still single, childless woman). And I came across a website that had rewritten portions of the bible and Book of Mormon replacing all the he’s and him’s with she’s and her’s and the boys names with girls names and God with Heavenly Mother. And I cried for days, because I never even realized how much it had hurt me not to be able to see myself there. That wasn’t right, either.
And then I got this job working in an incredibly diverse field. I had grown up in Texas, not Utah, but I was still pretty sheltered, pretty insulated in my Mormon world. Other people were part of “the world,” people to be a little bit wary of, and only friendly with if you thought they might convert. But as I got to know these men and women that I was working with, they weren’t bad at all. They were not interested in the Mormon church, but they were still really amazing people. Some of them didn’t believe in God at all and they still cared about their neighbors and donated to charity and joined the Big Brother program. Some of them believed in a different sort of God and they had as much faith and as much conviction as all the Mormons I knew. I had a hard time seeing how those people fit into the narrative that I belonged to the only true church on earth. The religious ones believed that about themselves, too. They had a witness of the spirit, too. It didn’t make sense. Why would God choose me and not them? How could my experience be valid but there’s be wrong? It was the same experience.
And then I decided I should go to the Mormon temple – the pinnacle of our worship. You have to be an adult (I was), and you have to be faithful and believing (oh, how I was), and I had been taught that I could go there to learn amazing, beautiful things about our religion and about the history of the world. Things too sacred to even talk about at church. Things that would deepen my relationship with God and with Jesus. I thought, maybe things that would help me rid myself of doubts. But I went and saw an Eve who was silenced. And very little about Jesus, who was the main thing I wanted to believe in. And the really important parts seemed to be promises I had to make to a husband I didn’t have, instead of to God. And promises to keep it all a secret. I felt betrayed that day, and not a little unclean.
It was getting a lot harder to ignore the unfairness, the inequality, the things that didn’t make sense. I was already trying my hardest – reading scriptures, fasting, praying, working in the temple, anything I could do to align my heart with what the church told me was true. And I wasn’t feeling any better, in fact I began to feel much worse about myself.
In 2008 we were asked to support a ballot proposition in California that would only recognize a marriage between a man and a woman. At first I was concerned just that we were being asked to participate in something so political at church. But as I read more about it, and heard from friends that loved their same-sex partners, I became more uncomfortable with a God that would call his children sinful. Sinful for love.
Not long after that I read that the church was buying land to build a luxury mall in Salt Lake City to revitalize the neighborhood. A mall with a dress code that would discourage the teenage and lower-income residents of downtown. Honestly, the black residents. The native American residents. A mall with shops like Tiffany’s and Rolex. And I became more uncomfortable with a God that cared about providing opportunities for the wealthy and for consumerism instead of welcoming the poor and the needy.
The little realizations that led to my disaffection with the Mormon church are too many to list. The lack of transparency, the role of women, the inability to seek redress from abusive priesthood leaders, the dishonesty in publishing the edited spoken words of church leaders, the focus on dress over kindness, the lack of meaningful advocacy. They snowballed. And I didn’t know how I could stay. I didn’t know if I wanted to stay. As friends lost their temple recommends (the ability to attend the temple), and their membership in the church for feeling the way I felt, and believing the things I believed, it became harder to hope that the church wanted me to stay, either.
For the past 4 years I’ve been what is considered “inactive” from the Mormon church. I don’t attend anymore. I don’t believe what they teach, or follow the rules they insist are required to be “righteous,” and I stopped going to the temple. The day I took of my ceremonial clothes for good, it felt as if a huge burden was lifted from my shoulders. It has been one of the most healing moments in my life. But I still get a call a few times a year, and I’m still considered a member of their church.
Yesterday I read the NY Times story announcing that John Dehlin and Kate Kelly, the founder of Ordain Women (a group that asks the leaders of the Mormon church to ask God if it’s time to expand the roles of the priesthood to women), are both having charges brought against them in a church court where the outcome will be disfellowship (the loss of privileges but not membership) or excommunication (the loss of membership and all privileges) if they are found guilty of apostasy.
I don’t personally know John or Kate. I “met” John after he reached out to me on facebook. He said I could talk to him if I ever needed to, when I was having a particularly hard time trying to stay. I started listening to his podcasts and reading his posts – I was amazed with the total lack of judgement he had for people, faithful, non-believers, and everyone in between. Although it wasn’t enough to overcome my own doubts, I credit John Dehlin’s work with my ability to leave with as little bitterness as I have. I’ve only recently begun to follow Kate’s words as I’ve watched videos of her speaking at the temple gatherings and on the Ordain Women blog, with great hope for the future of the church that my family, my mother, my sister, and my niece are still a part of. But I don’t know either of them, not really.
And yet, reading the news of their church discipline hearings is breaking my heart. Probably because I used to believe so very deeply (not so long ago) and I can only imagine how it would feel to have something this important to you taken away, without consent, and for the reason of standing with integrity – something the church itself teaches us to do. And also because it feels all over again that the church I loved as a child and as a young woman, the church I still find it so hard to completely walk away from, has said once again that it doesn’t want someone like me. Because Kate and John express the things I believe and feel, too.
John and Kate, I know you won’t see this, but I’m so very sorry and please know that there are so many of us that are grateful to you, that admire your courage and integrity, and that believe in the work you do. You have made such a difference. You carved out a place for those that felt different, that felt like there had to be more still to come, that doubted but wanted to believe, or that didn’t believe but wanted to stay anyway. You and your families are in my thoughts. I’d love to send you a box of cookies since I probably can’t ship a casserole, and I was raised a Mormon, after all.
Reading that article yesterday was my tipping point. I have decided that this is not a church that I want to be a part of. Today I mailed a letter of resignation to the bishop in my area and asked to be removed from the records of the church. This isn’t the church I believed in when I sang songs about loving everyone or read stories about Jesus reaching out to the poor and the hurt. Not anymore.
This is a sad time in Mormon history.