tmp_12161-3746675779_216821f16d_o-565359803Writ­ten in Jan­u­ary, 2012:

In Decem­ber of 2011, my hus­band, Justin, and I respect­ful­ly resigned from our call­ings and stopped going to church. It’s been a long, tir­ing, enlight­en­ing process. I’ll start with the day that real­ly got us going down this path.

It was a Sun­day in May or June of 2011. I got ready for church and came down­stairs, where Justin and our 3‑year-old were hav­ing break­fast, to find the TV on. I was imme­di­ate­ly angry and so frus­trat­ed with Justin. We’d had con­ver­sa­tions about try­ing hard­er to keep the Sab­bath day holi­er, and as part of that, I did­n’t think we should watch TV. Obvi­ous­ly he dis­agreed, but instead of say­ing so, he would give me the impres­sion that we were on the same page about it — until Sun­day rolled around, where he would bla­tant­ly dis­re­gard my wish­es and be bel­liger­ent about it. It was prob­a­bly the third Sun­day in a row where we were fight­ing about it. We went to church, came home 3 hours lat­er, and were still con­tentious with each other.

This scene is vivid in my head: we’re still in our church clothes; Justin in his white shirt and tie, lean­ing with his back against the counter, emo­tion in his face. Instead of con­tin­u­ing to fight about it, he final­ly explained why he was act­ing the way he was. He was strug­gling with mul­ti­ple doc­trines of the Church that did­n’t seem right to him. And he felt guilty about strug­gling with them, and about shar­ing them with me at all, since it had the poten­tial to make me have doubts as well. I tried to put him at ease about that, mak­ing sure he knew he did­n’t have to deal with it alone, and cer­tain­ly not to feel guilty about things not adding up to him. I knew that guilty doubt­ing well, and I knew that thus far, it had been what kept me from ever doing the study­ing that I prob­a­bly need­ed to do to get the rock-sol­id tes­ti­mo­ny I wanted.

Let me go back about a year. We were liv­ing in Wis­con­sin, and I had been think­ing a bit more about polygamy — an issue that has always bugged me, but always end­ed up back on the shelf because I could nev­er get any­where with it. I’d get the same faith-pro­mot­ing answers every time I brought it up. They did­n’t sat­is­fy me, but I was scared of fac­ing my hon­est feel­ings about it.

Noth­ing about polygamy made me feel good. I remem­ber being very hes­i­tant to even speak to Justin about it — because doubts are so dis­cour­aged. (I can even remem­ber, a few years ear­li­er, my sis­ter-in-law bring­ing it up in a set­ting where there were a lot of us around. My in-laws were there, and my ears perked up. I was sur­prised that she would talk so open­ly about her con­cern with it, and since she had, I was very inter­est­ed in what my father-in-law would say about it — I con­sid­ered him to be a very expe­ri­enced, knowl­edge­able mem­ber. But as I recall, the answer was the same as always: we don’t under­stand it — just trust that it will be known to us some­day.) It nev­er helped that when I read the Book of Mor­mon or the D&C, I was con­stant­ly think­ing things like: why, when the slow, metic­u­lous process of engrav­ing words on met­al plates was the only way of pre­serv­ing his­to­ry, was the record so repet­i­tive and super­flu­ous? And how it always kind of seemed to me, if I was being hon­est with myself, that Joseph was using the guise of prophet to build him­self up to a posi­tion of author­i­ty and pow­er over all these peo­ple being addressed. And how when rev­e­la­tions did­n’t work out the way they were sup­posed to, there was always a con­ve­nient rea­son for that, like some­one was­n’t being faith­ful enough — even if the rev­e­la­tion placed blame on Joseph him­self. I just saw it all as so sneaky. But! It’s wrong to doubt. “Doubt and faith can’t exist togeth­er.” So don’t doubt. I was just being too cyn­i­cal, too ana­lyt­ic, being too seri­ous and giv­ing it too much thought. For the record, Justin was­n’t the one telling me that. He was always great about try­ing to help answer my ques­tions. There were always answers that made me able to put polygamy (and my var­i­ous oth­er doubts) on a shelf and car­ry on.

It was also dur­ing our time in Wis­con­sin that I heard some­one give a talk in church that real­ly took a weight off my shoul­ders. I’ll get to that in a minute.

In 2005, I was 19. I “reac­ti­vat­ed” (my par­ents divorced when I was young, but we had at one time been a ful­ly active Mor­mon fam­i­ly. Some of us stayed active, some fell away and reac­ti­vat­ed lat­er) in the Church for social rea­sons – with only a hand­ful of mem­o­ries of church atten­dance. I remem­ber telling my active Mor­mon broth­er — anoth­er per­son I’ve always con­sid­ered very intel­li­gent and strong in the LDS faith — some­thing along the lines of it not feel­ing hon­est to go back to church just to find clean­er-liv­ing friends. He assured me that there are plen­ty of peo­ple in the Church who have social tes­ti­monies — but that the aim is that you work to have a real tes­ti­mo­ny. So I start­ed going. It was at the end of my fresh­man year in col­lege. After the semes­ter end­ed, I was back in my home­town to work for the sum­mer — but stay­ing with a friend of my moth­er’s, since my par­ents had moved away. I had han­dled my old friends very poor­ly (I just cut our friend­ship off cold turkey, on the advice of that same old­er broth­er) so I had very few friends left after becom­ing active. I was so, so lone­ly. I was ready to scrap the whole thing and go back to my “old life.”

And then I met Justin. Oh, my dreamy Justin. Son of our for­mer bish­op, who my fam­i­ly revered. He was an upstand­ing, though maybe casu­al, LDS guy — not to men­tion extreme­ly attrac­tive — and it did not take me long to fall head over heels for him (I’m still head over heels for him.) Sud­den­ly I had a rea­son again to stick around, to do this Mor­mon thing. So I did. I worked at it, I fol­lowed the rules, I learned the cul­ture, tried to learn the cur­rent teach­ings, tried to catch up for all my years of inac­tiv­i­ty. While I nev­er came to have a sol­id tes­ti­mo­ny, I had com­mit­ted to it, and I would be obe­di­ent. And I assumed that all of the peo­ple I loved and respect­ed who had tes­ti­monies weren’t wrong — that I would be able to have that same tes­ti­mo­ny if I tried hard enough.

Justin and I got engaged and were mar­ried in the tem­ple 7 months after we met. Nev­er hav­ing gained a sol­id tes­ti­mo­ny, I lived with a mea­sure of guilt at hav­ing gone through the tem­ple at all. I felt like, with­out that cer­tain tes­ti­mo­ny, I had­n’t been com­plete­ly hon­est in answer­ing the tem­ple inter­view ques­tions. I tried not to feel too ter­ri­ble about it, because even with­out the tes­ti­mo­ny, I was good about liv­ing the stan­dards and being obe­di­ent. I wore my gar­ments. I obeyed the Word of Wis­dom. We paid a full tithe on our gross income. So on and so on. Still, I always had this feel­ing that when I entered the tem­ple, I was a bit of an impos­tor because I could­n’t say that I knew with­out a doubt that the Church was true; that Joseph Smith was a prophet; that I believed in and sus­tained the lead­er­ship today as prophets, seers, and rev­e­la­tors; etc. What I could say was that I did­n’t not believe. I just was­n’t sure. And I felt like you ought to be sure if you were going to say “yes” to those ques­tions. Any­way, a guy gave a talk in Wis­con­sin about how every­one’s tes­ti­monies are on dif­fer­ent lev­els, and though you should be con­stant­ly striv­ing to strength­en them, it’s okay if you’re not 100% sure. Phwew! So I was alright. Car­ry on. Keep pray­ing for a tes­ti­mo­ny, read the scrip­tures, work at it, and some­day, I would know for sure.

I give you all that infor­ma­tion so you can under­stand where I was at with the Church. I want­ed to believe in it (the man I loved believed, my fam­i­ly believed, many peo­ple that I had a lot of respect for believed (and if all those peo­ple believe, it has to be true, right?) — and it was the only place I knew of that held the same stan­dards I did on cer­tain things at that point in my life), I had com­mit­ted to it, and I would strive to be a good, reli­able, obe­di­ent, knowl­edge­able mem­ber. I was­n’t great about dai­ly scrip­ture study. Every once in a while I’d do it for about a week. Some­times I read the Relief Soci­ety les­son ahead of time. We were always great about night­ly fam­i­ly and indi­vid­ual prayer if not the oth­er prayers in the day. I was­n’t per­fect at all of it, but I was always keen­ly aware of the things I ought to have been doing. So that’s where I was at: I was com­mit­ted, and I was try­ing to be bet­ter and better.

So, back to 2011, when Justin laid out his doubts and con­cerns. I knew what he was feel­ing — the guilt of hav­ing doubts and the pos­si­bil­i­ty of spread­ing seeds of doubt by speak­ing about them — so I tried to remove that bur­den of guilt by telling him: It’s fine. Do what you have to do. For bet­ter or worse, he had a green light and he went about try­ing to learn more and make sense of things, and, specif­i­cal­ly, to gain a tes­ti­mo­ny of Joseph Smith. He checked out Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling, by Richard Lyman Bush­man, a prac­tic­ing Mor­mon, his­to­ry pro­fes­sor, and Har­vard grad­u­ate. He start­ed doing some read­ing online. More books. All kinds of his­tor­i­cal facts came to light that had nev­er been told to us before. After a few weeks, I stopped wait­ing for Justin to get his issues resolved (as more issues reared their ugly heads) and I joined the trek. I don’t want to speak too much for Justin, but I know that through this stage I con­tin­u­ous­ly thought things like: “Satan is out to deceive us. Satan would have us think that these things weren’t of God. Satan does­n’t want us to believe. There’s an expla­na­tion for a, b, and c.” And hell, Bush­man him­self was still a believ­ing, prac­tic­ing mem­ber, so what was wrong with us for being shak­en by it?

But every­thing was also speak­ing to that oth­er side of me, the side that won­dered if all this “Satan tries to lead you astray” was a mind game. I had always sus­pect­ed that there were more psy­cho­log­i­cal and emo­tion­al fac­tors at play than actu­al truth.

And so I got to a spot where I had to just stop, try to shirk off the Church’s indoc­tri­na­tion, and feel things out for myself, by myself, with what felt right and true to me. That in itself was a hard place to come to, because I think as a mem­ber, you get the sense that you aren’t to trust your own thoughts and feel­ings. Just hold firm to the iron rod that is the Book of Mor­mon and the brethren’s teach­ings, and you’ll be fine. Don’t wor­ry about any­thing else. But slow­ly, I took hes­i­tant steps back­ward, to look at this whole thing objec­tive­ly, to con­sid­er it from an out­sider’s point of view.

It’s been quite the ride, and has real­ly made me appre­ci­ate that seem­ing­ly juve­nile cliché, “Be true to your­self.” For both of us, but espe­cial­ly Justin, who had always had a decent­ly sol­id tes­ti­mo­ny, it has been and con­tin­ues to be a very emo­tion­al, con­fus­ing, dif­fi­cult process. Start­ing in ear­ly-to-mid 2011 and last­ing until now, it has been an extreme­ly exhaust­ing “jour­ney.”

Writ­ten in Octo­ber, 2012 — 10 months after leaving:

I stopped writ­ing this in Jan­u­ary and nev­er shared it because it was all still so over­whelm­ing — all of it was so fresh and still churn­ing. I still had a lot of emo­tions about it, and my hack­les were still up. I did­n’t know what all to address. I want­ed to defend myself, but also be respect­ful of var­i­ous audi­ences. I was­n’t sure who my audi­ence would be. I was scared of and sen­si­tive about var­i­ous fam­i­ly mem­bers’ and some old friends’ reactions.

The “jour­ney” con­tin­ued. In Jan­u­ary, we still had not “come out” to our fam­i­lies entire­ly. I told my fam­i­ly in March. Justin told his fam­i­ly in August. We’ve had some rough con­ver­sa­tions with fam­i­ly mem­bers and I’ve had con­ver­sa­tions with at least 2 friends about our dis­be­lief. One remains my friend, the oth­er does­n’t seem very inter­est­ed anymore.

After you leave the Church, there are still months of fall-out. What all do I believe; what do I not believe? What are my stan­dards and val­ues? And because I’m mar­ried, these were ques­tions that we worked through togeth­er. What kind of peo­ple do we want to spend time with? How much of the Church’s cul­ture do we want to cling to? How do we nego­ti­ate our friend­ships with mem­bers, and more impor­tant­ly, our rela­tion­ships with fam­i­ly who are mem­bers? Unfor­tu­nate­ly, those were the hard­est and most painful lessons to learn. Most­ly because we caused pain in the way we’ve dealt with the sit­u­a­tion, but also because they’re com­plete­ly new at all this, too, so some of them haven’t han­dled it well, either. Some of those wounds are still open for me, and I think for Justin, as well. Sure­ly for them, because it seems that they will nev­er under­stand us and our deci­sion — so it con­tin­ues to hurt them. I think time will put that stuff behind us. And a bit of expe­ri­ence will, hope­ful­ly, help us to han­dle those dis­cus­sions and rela­tion­ships bet­ter in the future.

I real­ize now how lit­tle I know, and that’s what makes oth­ers much more valu­able to me. There are few things I take a sol­id stance on now, and when I do, I still try to remem­ber that just because that’s how I feel about it, does­n’t mean I’m right. And I’m gen­uine­ly inter­est­ed in oth­er peo­ples’ points of view, their expe­ri­ences, their opin­ions on things. Because I real­ize that there is no one right way, and I can learn from every­one around me. I’m still an intro­vert, but I love peo­ple more than I ever have before.

We’re still cross­ing some for­eign ground — still deal­ing with some issues that nev­er would have risen had we stayed active in the Church. Some of it has been hard. I try to be patient, and thank good­ness, Justin is very for­giv­ing of me. Though dif­fi­cult at times, it’s total­ly worth it. We’re run­ning our show now — our life is more authentic.

When I was 19, I need­ed the relief of the Church answer­ing all my ques­tions. As a few years passed, I began to real­ize that I did­n’t nec­es­sar­i­ly agree with all their answers. I can’t begin to explain the relief of not hav­ing to fall in line; of not hav­ing to be obe­di­ent to a bunch of men (and a few women) I’ve nev­er actu­al­ly met. Or to try to believe in two divine men that I per­son­al­ly could nev­er con­nect with.

Many of our friends from the places we lived in the past still don’t know that we’re not active. I’m sure it will trick­le out slow­ly. Some­times I’m tempt­ed to make a pub­lic (Face­book or blog entry) announce­ment. I don’t like that any­one would apply the usu­al apos­tate stereo­types to us and I start feel­ing like I want to set the record straight. It’s both humor­ous and frus­trat­ing to me to think that most of our ward like­ly thinks we’re just lazy — while they charge ahead in the faith, com­plete­ly unaware of the many eth­i­cal and his­tor­i­cal issues with the Church they devote them­selves to. Even those we’ve explained our­selves to (like­ly) just pity us and think we’ve been deceived. That’s hard to think about, too. But it is what it is. And we’ve been out long enough and moved on just enough that now, I don’t want to give it the kind of weight that a pub­lic announce­ment would hold. A year ago, this was all so huge. Now I just kind of think: “Huh? Oh, yeah. We’re not Mor­mon any­more. That’s old news.”

It’s not entire­ly old news. We are still being chis­eled at by some loved ones – some­times a text or an email from them can set us off for a day or two, reviv­ing all the anger and frus­tra­tion. I’ve begun to dis­tance myself from the sources of con­flict – mean­ing I’ve left cer­tain online groups and lim­it­ed my expo­sure and par­tic­i­pa­tion in dis­cus­sions. I’m tired of the neg­a­tiv­i­ty and I’m more and more ready to move on.

Justin’s not quite ready to have his name removed. I would do it in a heart­beat, but I want us to be uni­fied in it. I’m very much look­ing for­ward to being unat­tached from The Church of Jesus Christ of Lat­ter-day Saints. I’m eager to “put my mon­ey where my mouth is.” I’ve come a long way in this process and I think I’m in a pret­ty healthy place with it, but I’ll be grate­ful for that closure.

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John Krok
October 9, 2015 8:40 pm

Hi Sarah, I’m amazed at the sim­i­lar­i­ty of your expe­ri­ence and feel­ings you and Justin have had in the jour­ney of “doubt” as with mine and I’m sure we are not alone, it’s just that we feel alone by not being com­fort­able to share our thoughts with oth­ers. Thank you for shar­ing your sto­ry. I hope I can share mine in this forum. It’s find­ing the time and moti­va­tion to do so, but I’m encour­aged by peo­ple like yourselves.