Friday, April 16, 2010

Thought We'd be on Fire Together

Almost as soon as I moved far, far away from BYU I began to miss Mormonism. I know I know, I wrote a whole long post about being so happy to escape it when I moved to Boston, and I wasn't lying, but still, I've been missing it. I missed it so much that I tried going to a different Church instead one Sunday a few weeks after moving here. I went to a service for the United Church of Christ, and frankly it was really similar to a sacrament meeting, but it just wasn't enough. It wasn't my church in the way that the LDS Church had been my church.

I miss that sense of community--the fact that in the Church you can move across the united states and have a place to go that is familiar and where there are people who are like you and who can be your instant friends. I miss that sense that I belong to this congregation, this people, this heritage, this religion.

I miss feeling like I have the answers. I miss being able to testify that what I think is right, and then have others value me for it. I miss the surety that comes when ideas are not just ideas, they are revelations.

I miss being able to go to the temple. I miss how beautiful it is, and how secluded it is, because not everyone can go there. I miss the rituals. I miss being able to make connections and correlations between the rituals and the scriptures and the prophets. I miss sharing those discoveries.

I miss doing something every week once a week that is familiar and consistent and social and spiritual and that reminds me of my childhood. I miss all the little nostalgic things about the faith--the song that was sung at my baptism, the Book of Mormon stories I know so well, the missionaries that remind me of my mission, or the artwork that makes me think of my mother.

Most of all I miss making my family proud. I miss being able to talk to them about what's going on in my life. I miss being able to relate to them when they tell me what is going on in their lives. I miss feeling like we share something that defines us and that sets apart--maybe even above--other families.

So yes, I miss Mormonism, but missing it doesn't mean I like it. Frankly, I am angry with the LDS Church. In so many ways I believe that it destroys families, which given its professed pro-family stance just makes me want to climb to the temple rooftop right next to Moroni and shout "hypocrite!" at the top of my lungs. I'm not just disenchanted with the people or the culture, I truly believe the structure, doctrine, and practices of the faith are inherently destructive and wrong and disturbing.

With the sense of community comes a self-righteous air of exclusivity that I do not miss. I don't miss the way they use shame and guilt to manipulate people. I don't miss the way they punish adults. I don't miss the way they exclude people or reject their own--I don't miss being rejected because of who I love. I don't miss the way they dismiss outsiders, because as much as I miss feeling like I have all the answers, I don't believe that it is possible to have all the answers. No one, not even me, is right all the time. And two people who believe different things can both be right. Or wrong, as the case may be.

While I miss the temple, I don't miss the lifestyle I was required to live to go there. I don't miss how it made feel excluded from the world. I don't miss the word of wisdom, and I don't miss tithing. I especially don't miss being told that I have to leave or give up the love of my life in order to be chaste. Really, I don't miss any of the commitments I had to make to go to the temple or while I was in the temple either. I don’t miss the way that marriage status is used in the temple as a requirement for exaltation and as a way to stratify the afterlife like a country club.

And most of all I don't miss the way that my family let allegiance to the faith hurt or supersede allegiance to each other, because frankly that is the biggest way that the faith destroys families. It pits them against each other and fosters a spirit of condemnation and manipulation.

This week I have discovered a Mormon Church that has all of those things that I miss, without all of these things that I abhor. In and of itself, that find is a small miracle, and you would think that I would be jumping up and down for joy over it. The Church is the Community of Christ, formerly known as the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. It uses the Book of Mormon, believes in the prophet Joseph Smith, and is organized in almost the same way the LDS Church is organized. The difference is that they don’t believe that are the only ones who are right—they accept as valid the baptisms of the Latter-day Saints, Protestants, and Catholics. There are no temple recommend interviews. They don’t require observance of the word of wisdom, and they don’t believe in D&C 132—the doctrine that sanctioned polygamy and now is used to stratify the hereafter and to tie marriage to exaltation. As of yesterday, the Church allows congregations to sanction gay marriage, and it has been tolerant of homosexuality for years. I even think my family would respect me more as a member of the Community of Christ than they do as a former member of the LDS Church. We have had RLDS friends who my parents have respected and spoken highly of, and we would go back to having things like the Book of Mormon in common. So really, this church is everything I miss without everything I hate, and there is a small, beautiful congregation in Lexington a mere twenty minutes away.

Why then, if it should be perfect, am I not jumping up to join them? I don’t know. It is tempting. It really is, but in the end I just can’t bring myself to accept it. Maybe I’m jaded by organized religion. Maybe I've become too skeptical and just can't believe even in the things that I long for nostalgically. Maybe I just don’t believe in God, or at least in the tangible, Zeus-like God of Mormonism. Maybe I am just too angry and hurt by Mormonism that returning to it, even a changed version of it, would be like rubbing salt into my wounds. Whatever the reason, I find myself still consigned to missing it and loathing it at the same time, despite the option of having what I miss without what I loathe.


Craig said...

You've only just left and only just started your new life/style. Give it time.

I think that as time goes by, you'll miss it less and less, because you'll start to feel at home in your new life, you'll have new friends, a new social structure, and a new world-view. Even just the 3+ years since I've left have made a huge difference for me in this regard.

However, I do admit that even I do, at times, feel a slight pang of nostalgia for Mormonism. As you say, not for the sexism and abuses of power and discrimination, but simply because it is the tradition I was raised in and participated in for 24 years, it is how I grew up, and was all I knew for most of my life. Some part of us will always be defined by that experience, especially because of how intense it is, and because there will always be people in our life we care about who will be Mormons.

It's also hard to really replace something that controlled or affected every single aspect of your life. Most other churches aren't nearly so invasive as Mormonism is (which I feel to be a good thing), which makes it difficult to find any one thing/organisation/activity to replace the void that does appear once someone leaves Mormonism.

Daniel said...

I suppose that's why post-Mormon support groups exist. Thanks Craig for the helpful encouragement.

MoHoHawaii said...

This is a very nice post. I liked it a lot.

Many of us have felt things like over the years. It does change over time. I've been gone for more than 20 years, and I still occasionally feel a pang of nostalgia. But then again I'm also nostalgic for my childhood. It was great when my parents took care of everything and I had summers to spend as I wished. They even planned the vacations and took me along. Oh, and the whole idea of Santa Claus was a keeper. :- )

Rob said...

Craig's right. Give it time, Dan. You're missing not just the Mormonism but the sense of security and safety that you grew up with. It just happened to have Mormon trappings. When you're first launching into the world as an independent adult, about to marry, living in a new place, these feelings are normal. Give it time.

Horizon said...

This is an interesting viewpoint I haven't yet had to consider in my own life but thank you for sharing it. I appreciate your straightforwardness. Being ingrained with a certain closemindedness in the LDS church, especially about the RLDS church, I think you have opened my eyes to not judge as quickly as I have been "trained."

Mister Curie said...

Fascinating post. I am currently trying to decide what physical presence I want the church to have in my life. I don't believe in the church, but I have continued to associate with it, closeting both my disbelief and my homosexuality on Sundays. I think it may be time for me to move on.

I think its great what the RLDS church has done. However, my studies in Mormonism have shattered even my faith in the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. In fact, even my faith in Christ is shattered. Perhaps Mormonism has destroyed me spiritually, perhaps it has just opened my eyes.

I think the advice on giving it more time are applicable to both of us.

Thaddeus said...

Daniel, if the LDS Church suddenly had a revelation giving homosexuals equal privilege in every way, would you join back up? Or would it still be too oppressive? Would tithing and the word of wisdom be your new stopping points?

Also, if you weren't gay, would it be safe to assume you would have stayed at BYU and remained in the Church?

Daniel said...

My objections to the Church are bigger than homosexuality, and so even if the Church accepted gay marriage, I would not rejoin.

I started to question the church, however, because I am gay. When I started dating Michael, I noticed that I was happy--and that contradicted a lot of what Mormons taught. This lead me to question and ultimately reject the church, choosing the lasting happiness and pure joy of marriage over the temporary gratification of Sacrament Meeting. So . . .

If the Church had accepted gay relationships when I was growing up, I would have never questioned the Church, and Michael and I would be married in the Boston temple and would likely still be Mormons. But that scenario only exists in an alternate Universe. In our Universe the fact remains that even if I did want to, I could not go back to Mormonism.