Hello, I’m Erin Gluth Spencer. I was born and raised in Houston, Texas. I love being a Texan! My twin sister and I were among the proud Texans hanging not one, but two, Texas flags from our Taylor Hall dorm room at BYU in Provo. I have fond memories growing up in the church while in Houston. I remember numerous ward functions: softball games, auctions, road shows, Halloween parties, chili cook-offs, Eagle Scout Courts of Honor, Primary Pioneer Day activities, youth basketball and volleyball tournaments, multiple dances, youth conferences, hot humid weeks at girls camp, weekly youth activities, early morning seminary (which I actually liked) — not to mention countless testimony meetings, Stake Conferences, and General Conferences. My family was always involved in whatever was happening. The church was very much a way of life and definitely shaped the lens in which I saw the world. My ward family truly felt like a family in every sense of the word! I still consider these friends to be very dear to me.
Living in such a large and diverse city, most of my childhood friends were not of my faith. There were only a handful of church members attending my various schools. My parents were converts to the church. They joined as a result of missionaries knocking on the door. We still share a close friendship with one of the missionaries and his family. He and his wife came to see me off at the airport as a missionary, as well as attended mine and my siblings’ Temple Sealings. They will always be very special friends to my family!
The church gave me a sense of identity as to my relationship with God, but my identity was also largely shaped by the diversity around me — in my family, in my many types of friends, and in my young adult experiences. I always strived to make good choices, but I also recognized myself as being a bit more mischievous compared to most of my devout LDS friends.
In some ways, my childhood/youth experiences felt rather atypical for someone being raised in the church. My parents had a loving but stoic way of parenting which included the expectation of little complaining, taking responsibility, independence, perseverance, and trying your best. This model of trust, as opposed to micromanaging, was very effective for someone like myself. In some ways home felt relaxed compared to some of the rigidity I sometimes sensed at church. My parents didn’t always defer to standards established in church culture. For example, my mother encouraged sleeveless homecoming dresses and dating… which I really appreciated as a teenager!
My dad lost his belief in the church when I was very young, but retained a belief in Jesus Christ. We prayed as a family and read from the Bible, but never from the Book of Mormon. Included in some of my favorite family gatherings are my grandparents’ cigarettes and Miller Lite Beer. I actually loved this “non-Mormon” family environment in a comforting, liberating kind of way. I’ve always felt relatively at home with the “non-Mormon” mold. As a member of the Church, I felt a responsibility to be a good example for the gospel… to be a light for the truth. All of the goals I had for myself as a child aligned with the church- attend BYU, serve a mission, earn a college degree, get married in the Temple, and become a mother. I accomplished all of them, and pretty much in that order!
Now at 40 years old, I find myself living in Northwest Arkansas with my family of 6. My faith journey began 2 1/2 years ago. I’ve applied an equal amount of passion into new discovery as I had into a lifetime of service in the church! I’ve taken my studies and decisions seriously and feel I have used the most responsible resources available to understand and properly contextualize Mormonism in early nineteenth century America. I enjoy studying church history so much that I’ll go as far as to call myself a huge nerd! I’ve made so many amazing friends on this journey, both locally at home, and also by attending different conferences such as Sunstone, THRIVE, and the John Whitmer Historical Association.
My faith journey hasn’t been easy. There have been a roller coaster of emotions along the way, but I’m happy to say that I feel very much at peace with where I’m at today.
What parts of the Mormon experience were most important or useful to you?
The Church community was the most useful part of my experience. My ward family served as a social outlet as well as an emotional one. There always seemed to be an endless number of ward functions which included service projects, youth activities, and meetings of all kinds. I watched my mom serve as the President of many women’s organizations. I saw her continually serving the sisters of the church — delivering meals, filling food orders, planning for girls camp, decorating the gym, organizing meetings, making phone calls, loading and unloading the car for various events, etc. The friendships I made in the church have been long lasting. There is a genuine feeling of love and concern for one another. There’s a great feeling of comfort knowing ward members are there to help you or your family if needed. Help is literally a phone call away! When I attended BYU, I appreciated the feeling of unity and commonality I shared with my peers. In the dating realm, I realize that this feeling of commonality can easily be mistaken for compatibility. Nonetheless, I feel like the church created a feeling of unity, respect, and understanding, even when I was amongst strangers.
What doctrinal or theological parts of Mormonism did you believe that were most important to you?
The Apostasy and literal Restoration of Priesthood Keys from John the Baptist, Peter, James, and John, were the foundations of my testimony. The priesthood authority is what made the Church Jesus’ living Church on earth. Those historic events are what “make” the prophet and apostles mouthpieces for the Lord today. This was important to me because I trusted the counsel I received from leaders and believed they spoke for God. I interpreted scripture as they interpreted it. The Church’s interpretation of these Bible verses especially validated the truthfulness of the gospel:
- 2 Thess 2:1-3 — Wxplains the need for an apostasy, or “falling away.” We’re taught this meant the removal of priesthood power from the earth. Joseph Smith was needed to restore that power.
- Ezekiel 37:16 — We’re told that the “sick of Judah” is the Bible and the “stick of Ephraim” is The Book of Mormon.
- John 10:16 — “Other sheep I have which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice…” We are taught that this scripture is referring to the ancient inhabitants of The Americas. After His resurrection, Jesus appears to these people and establishes His church among them. This is the pinnacle scene in The Book of Mormon, 3 Nephi:11
What spiritual experiences did you have as a Mormon that sealed your orthodox commitment to the church?
As a child, I was taught that Heavenly Father hears and answers our prayers. I believed He knew me perfectly and understood the thoughts and the desires of my heart. From a young age I prayed often throughout the day for help, comfort, guidance, or to express gratitude. I felt like Heavenly Father was always there, listening and waiting to bless me with whatever I needed. There were many times when I felt my prayers were answered. Sometimes they were answered in very specific ways. One of these experiences was as a new missionary in upstate NY. I felt like I needed to know if Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. While in the MTC, the Brethren continually urged us to pray and seek to receive a witness from the spirit as to the divinity of Joseph Smith. I yearned to receive that witness! As I walked through the Sacred Grove on my own, I prayed and finally felt a warm feeling come over me. I had finally received the special witness I needed to bear sure testimony of Joseph Smith to those I taught on my mission. It came just in time. This confirmed to me that Heavenly Father was indeed there and that what I was being taught at church was true. Although I knew that millions of people throughout the world prayed and also received answers from God, I somehow felt that my relationship to Heavenly Father was unique. I thought that as a member of Jesus’ Church, I was blessed with an added knowledge of the truth and with special experiences. I was told that I was “elect” and saved for these latter days. I believed that I was especially faithful and was needed to help build God’s Kingdom on earth.
How did you lose your faith in Mormonism?
The Book of Mormon Broadway Musical was coming to town. I hadn’t seen it. All I knew was that believing members seemed to take offense to it. As opening day approached, I noticed many local members warning others in the community not to go see it. They warned that the musical was not reflective of our beliefs. I probably would have had a similar view on it, except I happened to know an LDS friend from home who had actually been part of the original Broadway cast. Clark Johnsen had attended BYU and served a mission himself. I was more than curious to know what his thoughts were on the musical and what his experiences had been like! I decided to find an article or an interview online for more insight. There were a number of interviews and articles about Clark’s experience, but what interested me the most were a handful of short youtube videos he had posted called “a gay mormon perspective.” Clark shared his experiences growing up gay in the LDS church. He had everything good to say about the church! He loved the gospel. He gives a very genuine account of his experiences, feelings, and overall journey from childhood through adulthood… including what brought him to Broadway. I felt very connected to what he shared because he too had a firm testimony of the truthfulness of the restored gospel. There was an overall feeling of his constant search for happiness and the lengths he was willing to take to find it. He felt an overwhelming sadness facing the reality that he couldn’t be happy in the church, but he couldn’t be happy without the church. Like so many others like him, he ultimately had to step aside from the church for his own mental and emotional well being. Unfortunately, he had seen other gay friends in the church take their own lives, and he didn’t want to end up down that same road.
I hate to admit it, but until listening to Clark’s experiences I had never before seriously considered my own personal feelings regarding the church’s policies on gay issues. I automatically deferred to the Brethren to know God’s will concerning these matters. I distinctly remember President Packer saying in General Conference that people are not born gay… that a loving God would not :do that” to a person. I was surprised to hear him say that, but didn’t question the teachings from an “Apostle of the Lord.” I noticed this particular statement was removed when Conference addresses were published in the Ensign. I imagine that many of our gay brothers and sisters were hurt by such a statement. I knew in my heart that the church’s position on gays had to be misguided. I didn’t lose my faith over this issue, as I know that there are so many other faithful members who are also LGBT allies. This did however give me a space to think for myself.
Around that same time, I discovered Mormon Stories Podcast — Clark Johnsen’s Mormon Stories interview was one that came up in my search, along with Lindsay Hansen Park’s Year of Polygamy interview. At first thought, I wondered if Lindsay had practiced polygamy for a year? What was this?! I’ve always been turned off to polygamy being practiced in the early church. I hated the idea of possibly having to someday share my husband in heaven. I decided to listen to Lindsay’s interview, and I was mind-blown by what I was learning. She used Todd Compton’s book, In Sacred Loneliness, as her source to present on each of Joseph Smith’s plural wives. Todd Compton is cited on the church’s website in their gospel topic essays on polygamy. After reading his book, which included several firsthand accounts from the women themselves, I was able to easily come to the conclusion that these practices were not Godly. I couldn’t believe that an angel with a flaming sword threatened Joseph Smith. I found the tactics used to enter into relationships with these women, many of them already married, to show a pattern of manipulation and using position to threaten girls into doing things they wouldn’t otherwise do. I was liberated feeling that polygamy was a human mistake and not a heavenly law. It’s troubling to know that the practice of eternal polygamy is still very much alive in LDS temples today and that the sealing ordinance allows for men to take on more than one wife. I feel like much abuse, physical and emotional, has come from the practice of polygamy throughout the history of the church. Not only in the LDS branch of Mormonism, but in the many other branches of Mormonism that still exist today.
After considering a false claim to an angelic visitation by an angel with a sword, I considered what other angelic visitations might be in question as well. This led me into an exciting deep dive into church history. I discovered brilliant church historian scholars like Dan Vogel, John Hamer, Brent Metcalfe, Dale Luffman, Todd Compton, Kathleen Melonakos, and David Bokovoy. I never knew such people even existed! Their scholarship has been instrumental in helping me understand Mormon scripture as well as historic events. Through my research, I understand many of the historic truth claims, such as the historicity of the Book of Mormon and angelic visitations, to be non-literal in nature. For others like myself who want to still find meaning in the church, one would focus more on asking themselves what do these messages mean, instead of did these things really happen. It’s difficult for the church to create a space for non-literal believers because the Brethren’s authority has been tied directly to historic events — historic events that unfortunately can easily be questioned in the 21st century. Rather than stay in the church, many are having no choice but to slowly disappear merely because there is no acceptance for other non-literal points of view.
What parts of Mormonism were harmful to you?
The most harmful element was also what I thought brought me the most joy. That was the idea of families being together forever. My birthday wish was always that my family would be a “Forever Family.” This was because I grew up in a split-faith home. My dad had been baptized. My parents had been sealed in the temple, thank goodness! But my dad was a non-believer. This caused me a lot of heartache growing up because of what I was taught about those who “fall away.” I was under the impression that my dad had somehow been deceived by Satan. I was worried that my family wouldn’t be together forever. I thought maybe my mom, siblings, and I would ultimately be in the Celestial Kingdom, but my Dad would forever be somewhere else… in one of the “lesser kingdoms.” Even as a young primary child, this is how I understood the Plan of Salvation, which was supposed to be the plan of happiness. I knew that my Dad had to somehow accept the “truth” in the millennium for us to all be together in the Celestial Kingdom. What if this never happened? I felt like crying at church whenever we sang “Families Can Be Together Forever.” As I grew older, I concluded that everything would work out. I didn’t know how it was going to work, but I knew that somehow we would all be together forever. I knew my Dad was an honest seeker of truth and that a loving God would not keep us apart! I continually lived with a hope in my heart that one day he would accept the truth and return to the church.
Today, I mourn the loss of always feeling that my dad needed to be different or “better” than he actually was. I mourn the loss of not having my dad present at my wedding… witnessing him standing outside the temple for all four of his children’s weddings. It actually breaks my heart. While traveling along this faith journey, I’ve felt it especially difficult for me to sit through primary with my children. There were many times we would sing “I love to See the Temple” or “Families Can Be Together Forever.” The idea was that you can be with your family forever IF you are married in the temple. IF everyone stays on the covenant path. The message is clear — families not sealed in the temple, or that are not on course, may not be together after this life. I find this to be a hurtful message and one that can cause pain and heartache for even young children. Being a Forever Family is a beautiful idea with a very conditional love model attached. What about families with divorced parents remarried and sealed to new spouses? What about mixed-faith families? I assume that most members have either non-members or non-believing family members somewhere in their family. People are worrying and hurting over what their forever family will or won’t look like. In recent years I have heard Church leaders urge members to get to the temple, “before it’s too late!” What are these messages telling us? What do these messages tell us about our non-believing or non-member family members or friends? In the words of the ever faithful Carol Lynn Pearson, “If God will work it out, why not make it as easy as possible for those here now?”
How do you now explain the spiritual experiences that you had as an Orthodox Mormon?
It’s easy to observe that people often grow up to reflect the culture in which they were raised. For instance, I believe if I were born and raised in India, that I would most likely have grown up Hindu, not as a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I would likely read from the Bhagavad Gita, not the Holy Bible or Book of Mormon. I would likely be just as certain that the truths of Hinduism are the path to God as I’ve been about Jesus Christ being the only way to salvation. I’ve come to respect and understand that spiritual experiences are part of being human. People of all religions have powerful spiritual experiences — one person’s experience is no more valid than that of another. I’ve learned that spiritual experiences are not unique to members of the LDS Church, nor are they more special. I recognize that spiritual experiences are not limited to religion. Many non-religious people are spiritual and also have spiritual experiences. For example, people often feel very connected to a higher power while in nature or listening to beautiful music.
While learning about spiritual experiences, it was important for me to observe that human emotions can be controlled or misguided. For example, many people have had powerful spiritual experiences which tell them to follow a dangerous leader, a leader that brings harm or even death to his or her followers. Christianity is the predominant religious culture I was born into in North America. I was taught by my parents and other trusted leaders about Jesus Christ. As a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I was taught that I could know the truth of all things through the Holy Ghost. I learned that truth could only be discerned through spiritual means (feelings) – not by the wisdom of man. I regularly heard trusted friends bearing testimony that they knew the Church was true. In Primary, I remember my teacher teaching us what the Holy Ghost felt like. She said “that warm peaceful feeling you feel is the Holy Ghost telling you these things are true.” I sought to feel that warm peaceful feeling again and again. Each time I felt peace or warmth it was easy to generalize that to mean that everything about the church was true. As a missionary, I was instructed to ask those we taught to pay close attention to their feelings. I’d help them recognize the spirit by telling them that the good feelings they were feeling was the Holy Ghost testifying of truth. I remember having many spiritual experiences. I yearned for those experiences, I anticipated the warm peaceful feelings, I knew I was supposed to feel a certain way at certain times, I wanted to feel certain emotions at certain times… and I often did. I’m not saying that spiritual experiences are of no validity, or that people don’t receive answers to prayer. I have come to understand for myself that we as humans often, especially in religion, can interpret normal or heightened human emotion to mean whatever we were taught it’s supposed to mean. Whether those be good feelings or bad feelings. For me, I also recognize how we ourselves have the ability to answer our own prayers in ways that make most sense to us and our surroundings. I think it’s natural for people to also interpret events or coincidences in their lives to mean something of greater purpose than they might actually be. Since my faith transition, I can still feel those same peaceful, warm feelings from time to time. I recognize them now to be a natural part of my human experience and part of the beauty of life.
What was transitioning out of Mormonism like for you? What was most painful about it?
The first feeling I had was worthlessness. I felt like I was really good at being a stalwart member of the church. I mean, a real all-star! I could teach any class, I felt like I knew the scriptures inside and out, I could give a pretty good talk, I’d occasionally go on appointments with the missionaries, and my testimony seemed unwavering. On top of that, I had completed early morning seminary, graduated from BYU, served a full-time mission, worked as an EFY counselor, been married in the Temple, attended the temple enough to have everything memorized, and I was a busy mother of 4 young children. I was 11 years into my career as a full-time Mormon mom! Instilling testimonies in the hearts of my children, serving in my callings, and taking care of the house and two dogs was almost more than I could handle. My plate was full! I felt a great amount of worth feeling like I was doing what God wanted me to do. I was doing what I was told God wanted me to do. I had been told numerous times by Church leaders how special I was. How beautiful I was. How needed I was. And how valiant and strong I was. When my literal belief began to crumble, so did my feelings of self worth. Almost instantly I went from feeling important, beautiful, strong, and valuable, to feeling devalued, worthless, and alone. I hadn’t realized that the church was largely what made me feel like a beautiful worthwhile person. My identity in the Church made me feel worthwhile and also worthy of love.
As a teenager, I had recited the Young Women’s theme hundreds of times. “We are daughters of our Heavenly Father who loves us, and we love Him… We will be prepared to strengthen home and family, make and keep sacred covenants, receive the ordinances of the temple, and enjoy the blessings of exaltation.” Well, now what? What use was I now in my eternal marriage? I felt like a disappointment to my husband as I was well aware we had been married with all the expectations of raising a family in the Church. He was very confused at what seemed to be a sudden 180, and understandably so! I remember sitting awkwardly in sacrament meeting one Sunday, mourning the personal loss of the unity and comfort I had felt there for so long. I felt sadness thinking that if people really knew what I believed, or didn’t believe, they might think differently of me. Possibly lose respect for me, feel threatened, or even feel bad for me.
What was most healing or joyful about the transition?
As I continued to study and become more sure of myself, the feelings of worthlessness soon disappeared. It felt good to network with other people who had gone through a similar experience. I loved learning things about Mormonism I had never known before (because I thought I knew all there was to know). A whole new world had opened up to me that I didn’t know existed. It’s a similar feeling I get while watching my favorite movie, The Wizard of Oz. Dorthy’s black and white world is changed as she opens the door and steps into a new world of vibrant color. It feels exciting! I feel like adventure and discovery await. The most joyful part of this journey has definitely been meeting so many amazing people and forming new friendships. I’ve been able to connect with many people who have had a similar journey. I’ve especially enjoyed getting to know those serving in Community of Christ and other branches of the Mormon movement. I don’t feel like I’ve lost any of my friendships, only gained new ones. Above all, I feel completely at peace with myself and my personal beliefs.
In what ways did church leaders or members make your transition more difficult?
Unfavorable messages given by Church leaders about those that leave have caused heartache during my faith transition as well as in my split faith home growing up. The brethren could help make it easier on individual members and families by discontinuing discouraging messages about those that leave the church or choose other paths. In his most recent General Conference address titled, “Come and Belong,” Elder Uchtdorf shares that, “We are God’s beloved children. Even those who reject Him. Even those who, like a headstrong, unruly child, become angry with God and his church, pack their bags, and storm out the door proclaiming that they’re running away and never coming back. When a child runs away from home, he or she may not notice the concerned parents looking out the window. With tender hearts, they watch their son or daughter go – hoping their precious child will learn something from this heartrending experience and perhaps see life with new eyes — and eventually return home.” Messages like these from leaders, though well intended, convey a hurtful message that a person leaving the church has lost their way, rejected Jesus, and is angry with God. It’s implied that this person is likely oblivious that their leaving is causing pain for others. The message also includes loving parents (as there are many) hoping and waiting that one day their child will come back. It is clear that the path that the child has taken is apparently the wrong one. Their child is now on a path that leads to “heartrending” experiences. The hope is that as a result of his or her hard learned lessons, they will change and return to where they ought to be. These messages are damaging to both believing members and non-believers — especially within families! Family members have the potential to turn against one another instead of loving unconditionally and accepting differences. Too many families, like mine, have experienced severe heartache because a child or spouse loses their faith in the Church or begins to see things differently than they once did. Such changes in belief are interpreted to mean that a person has been led astray, deceived, become hard hearted, prideful, or angry. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if instead of judging our loved ones, we could seek understanding… yearning to know them fully? Should we be standing by feeling sad and hoping that they change and become the person we think they should be? Isn’t it best for us to celebrate whatever journey comes…. accepting and viewing our loved ones as whole and good, just as they are? To me, this is love which knows no bounds.
Locally, my church leaders and ward members have been, and still are, very kind. It seems surprising, but I haven’t had any conversations about my faith journey with anyone in my ward or stake. Nobody has asked me any direct questions about what I might be going through. I feel like people have made efforts to show they care. I’ve been hesitant to reach out to friends, not wanting to cause pain or offend. It would have been very beneficial to share my story with at least some of my close friends, especially in the beginning. It’s nice to feel known by your friends, and it’s also important to know that you have friends that care about what’s happening in your life… whether that be in or out of the church. I understand that it can feel scary and also threatening when someone close to you experiences a change in belief. I feel messages we receive from leaders can contribute to this fear. I’d hope to see this improve in the future. It’s easy for both parties to possibly feel judged.
Were there church leaders or members who were helpful to you? If so, how?
There are no leaders or members who have asked me specifically about my faith journey over the last 2 1/2 years. I do sense however that ward members and friends try to show they care.
What resources were most helpful in your transition out of Mormonism (or Orthodox Mormonism)?
–Mormon Stories Podcast –In Sacred Loneliness, by Todd Compton –Year of Polygamy Podcast -The Book of Mormon -The Holy Bible -The Book of Abraham, Doctrine and Covenants –The Book of Mormon’s Witness to Its First Readers, by Dale E. Luffman –Dan Vogel’s youtube videos –Authoring the Old Testament by David Bokovoy –Mormon Enigma, Emma Hale Smith, by Linda King Newell and Valeen Tippetts Avery –The Ghost of Eternal Polygamy, by Carol Lynn Pearson –Sunstone –THRIVE –John Whitmer Historical Association –Latter-day Seekers Facebook Group –Feminist Mormon Housewives Facebook Group -Gift of The Mormon Faith Crisis Podcast –Joseph Campbell and The Power of Myth -National Geographic series, One Strange Rock –National Geographic series, The Story of God –Community of Christ Toronto Congregation -Scholarship and insights by Brent and Erin Metcalfe, Dan Vogel, John Hamer, Lachlan Mackay, Joe Geisner, Susan Staker, Devery Anderson, Tom Kimball and Dan Wotherspoon. –Dear Believer: Why Do You Believe (youtube video)
What significant mistakes did you make in your transition?
In an effort to continue supporting my husband in his desires to attend church as a family and teach our children, I continued attending on and off for a couple years. As each weekend approached, I found myself feeling a lot of anxiety over church. I felt very conflicted and distressed. It would have been better for me to honor my emotions and discontinue attendance much sooner than I did. Granting myself the freedom to take time away to process would have helped me greatly. I also wish I would have learned to use “for me” type of statements in my communication with believing friends and family from the start. I find it’s a major game changer in respectful communication. ( i.e. “For me, I’ve experienced it this way… )
How has your leaving Mormonism affected your family relationships, friendships, job, neighbor relationships, social life, etc.?
Relationships within my immediate family have been affected the most. After witnessing the hardships a split faith marriage had on my parents growing up, it was literally my worst nightmare come true finding myself in one as well. We have all had to overcome a lot of fear. I’d say this journey is a courageous one! For any devout Latter-day Saint family, the Church is the heartbeat of your home. Same with your eternal marriage. There are expectations laid out beforehand as to what life will look like… forever. When one spouse changes course everything changes! We’ve had to try coming up with a new marital contract which is not solely based on the Church. We’ve had to try to rebuild on the foundation of acceptance, respect, common values, and unconditional love. We have made great strides over time! I do feel closer to my children as I have released the need to control or mold them to certain beliefs. I’m enjoying watching them grow and develop into their own unique selves. I savor the unique traits of each of them individually, and accept them for exactly who they are! I have no need for my children to “turn out” any certain way. I want them to become who they want to become. I encourage them to discover their own relationship with God… whatever that looks like for them. I feel my most important job as their mother is to love them the best I can, provide opportunities, share some of what I’ve learned, and cheer them on! Overall, parenting feels more enjoyable to me now.
I’ve become closer with my two older brothers who have also experienced a faith transition. I feel closer to my Dad and understand him more than I ever have. My relationship with my Mom has always been close and certainly not conditional upon the Church. I know these changes haven’t been easy for her because of her faithful convictions, but I know she wants me to be happy, above all else. My twin sister, Kristen, and I have been able to walk this journey together. Her support has been everything!! The two of us have connected with many new local friends who have experienced faith journeys of their own. I’ve retained all my friendships in the Church, and have created a new family of friends out of the Church. I feel like I’ve only gained new friends. We don’t live in a predominantly LDS area, so my social life, relationships with neighbors, kids’ friends, work colleagues, etc, have gone completely unchanged.
How have you navigated communication and relationships with believing family and friends? Any tips to keeping those people in your life?
I’ve been open with my thoughts and feelings from the very start of my faith journey. Although I haven’t always been the best at knowing how to convey my feelings, I’ve never kept them bottled up or hidden from my spouse or children. Living authentically is a must for my emotional health! I’ve tried hard to be true to myself and also respectful of the feelings and beliefs of devout family members and friends. My biggest fear and worry was causing heartache for my Mom, who is a very devout member of the Church. I didn’t know how to tell her about what I was experiencing. I knew she would love me no matter what, but I still didn’t have the words. I decided that I was going to be authentic in my own life, and she would most likely observe some changes that would naturally come up in conversation. I think it would have been better to take a more direct approach with my Mom earlier in my journey. It would have saved a lot of worry for her and myself. I believe a simple, honest, and encouraging conversation is the way to go. I feel sooner is better. Reassure those close to you that your shift in belief is not going to change your love for them… your relationship does not hinge on the Church. All you can do is decide what kind of relationship you want with your loved ones and be sure to do your part even if the effort is not reciprocated. Each person has to decide what is and isn’t beneficial or reasonable for their own mental and emotional well-being and will need to draw boundaries accordingly.
Which (if any) of your former Mormon beliefs/behaviors have you retained after your faith crisis?
I feel like most everything has changed and I see life through a new lens. I still believe in having love one for another, following The Golden Rule, which is to “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” and also help those in need. When it comes to behaviors, I like the idea of having Family Home Evening where there is a day set out of the week to learn something new together and do something fun. It doesn’t necessarily have to be of a spiritual nature. I still find value in family history and learning about my ancestors.
In what ways have your beliefs/behaviors changed after your faith crisis?
I feel more settled even though I don’t have all the answers. I’m more at peace with myself and have developed more confidence to make decisions for my life. I believe that I’m a whole and good person just as I am now. I no longer judge my feelings or emotions as being “good” or “bad” they just are what they are. I allow myself to feel whatever emotions come and try to understand why I’m feeling that way. I believe my needs and desires are important. I take the time to put my personal well-being above all else. I’m okay saying no to things that do not enrich my life. I no longer feel the need to rely on other people to tell me what’s best for my life, what I should be doing, how I should be spending my time, or how I should think, act, feel, and behave. I feel comfortable navigating those decisions for myself. My actions are no longer motivated by the need to be obedient, check off boxes, or please others. My motivation comes from a personal desire to show and communicate love, be a good citizen, and a good neighbor. I work to improve myself in various ways and want to enjoy life the best I can. I’ve let go of trying to control things I have no control over. Rather, I focus on accepting each day as it is and am willing to adapt to whatever challenges come.
What are your thoughts/beliefs now about God and Jesus?
I believe God is that which exceeds all understanding — the source of life in the Universe. I view God as natural, not supernatural. I feel God is part of everything in the earth, including in us. I believe everything (plants, animals, natural elements, human life) work together as one. I refer to God as a power, not a person or interceding entity. I believe that the earth, even in all its chaos, is exactly how it should be. In the words of Joseph Campbell, world’s foremost expert on mythology, “The world is perfect. It’s a mess. It has always been a mess. We are not going to change it. Our job is to straighten out our own lives.” As my views on God began to change, I mourned the loss of an all knowing God who understood me perfectly. Here is a poem I wrote about this transition:
“When it hurts, God is nowhere. I look up, but can no longer reach up or out. I want a God. Someone, something to care, to love, to understand me perfectly. Someone who understands everything nobody else does. It’s what made everything right in the end. I hoped God would make me stronger, better than I somehow am. Refine me. When something wonderful happened, God made it happen. It was easy to make God the reason. If something bad happened, God also made that happen, allowed it. For purposes never to be completely understood. Just trust anyway. God had the power to make all things possible. I loved feeling like nothing was impossible. I waited on God to know what to do, what to say. What is okay to feel? Where to go from here? Waiting for instructions. I felt sad when I waited and all powerful God didn’t help make things possible.
I waited longer. Always waiting. Didn’t comfort, didn’t save. I felt confused at times when I worked tirelessly for peace and comfort, and none was offered. I was the one creating comfort. I felt inadequate when I wasn’t good enough… strong enough. I wasn’t worthy. Wasn’t acceptable. I was scared to learn my weaknesses and mistakes would separate me from God. God might even withdraw if I didn’t do better. Disappointment and shame happened. I feel alone when I look up, and then back down, only to myself and the beauty around me. I tell myself that the strength I need will only come from within my scarred, broken, hurting soul. I’ll wait. I’ll get stronger. I’ll be courageous, like I always, always, always, have to do. I’ll look in instead of up. I’ll move my life forward. Each day a gift, knowing tomorrow is never promised. Eternity is now. I’ll make great things happen. I’ll find answers to questions that need answers. I’ll make myself stronger through hard work. I’ll find peace in knowledge. I’ll find comfort in friends. I’ll share my soul with those who care, in order to be known as perfectly as possible. I’ll take risks. I’ll create experiences, and learn from my mistakes. No limits. This will refine me. I acknowledge that I’m not ultimately in control of the good or the bad that comes. I will only try to make the world a better place however I can. I will work tirelessly for confidence- loving me for me unconditionally. When pain and uncertainty come, I will accept them as they come. I will not expect to be saved from grief, but will adapt to it as needed. I will not feel the need to be constantly more, but love myself as I am. Just as I am. I will love others for just who they are too. No unclean thing. I will offer forgiveness as a gift to myself. Letting go. Does God still have a place? A role to play? Can God be “I don’t know?” I don’t need to know. Can God transcend all understanding…Can God be love? Then God, please come close – no longer somewhere far away in space, or somewhere I can’t see. Not a Father, Son, Him or He. But something within me.”
How do you now make sense of death and the afterlife?
I observe that all living creations undergo a natural life cycle. All living things, including the earth, sun, and stars live and die. I’ve embraced the realization that I could die at any time. Also that this could be the only life I have. I hope for more, but I’ve come to peace with the realization that it could be over when it’s over. I feel there is a sacredness in the not knowing. It allows me to make the most of each day focusing on the present moment and treasuring special moments while they last. I’m not living for an afterlife. I have become more proactive in creating meaningful experiences for myself in the here and now.
Without the church telling you what is “right” and “wrong,” how do you establish your own sense of morality/right/wrong?
The feeling to have to replace the church with “something” — I didn’t know what — was a very real desire. A desire mostly rooted out of fear. I was especially conditioned to believe that my children needed a church youth program of some kind to teach them “right and wrong” behavior. Without it, wouldn’t they begin drinking, smoking, having sex, or experimenting with drugs?! What would keep them safe from harm? I recognized that I knew numerous non-members/non-Christians, that had turned out just fine without the influence of the Church. Did I somehow believe that LDS people turned out better or became more successful than others? I easily concluded that LDS individuals, though often high achievers, are no more successful in life than people from other cultures or denominations. As time passed, I released the feeling of having to control my kids’ decisions and embraced the reality that my children were perfectly capable of making wise decisions on their own, without being motivated by spiritual obedience. There are numerous resources that instruct and teach us about healthy living and what’s best for our bodies. What are professionals saying? What advice do they offer? As a whole, I recognize that the world is full of really good people trying to help, inform, and make a difference for good! I encourage taking advantage of all these helpful resources.
Do you still value “spirituality” in your life (spirituality defined as “connection to something bigger than yourself”), and if so, what are your main sources of spiritual fulfillment?
I do feel spiritually connected to something bigger than myself, especially in nature. I find taking time for a daily meditation helps me feel connected to myself and to the world around me. I try to carve time out of the day to be outdoors. Exercising, intentionally feeding my body nourishing foods, and listening to music feels spiritual to me as well.
To what extent have you found healthy and meaningful community to replace the role of the Mormon ward/stake in your life?
Thankfully, I still feel a sense of healthy community in my home ward/stake. I don’t feel like I’ve lost any friendships and know there are caring people there for me if I need anything. I feel like one of the greatest gifts of this journey has been the many new friendships made along the way! I have a large community of support online and in my local community. I’ve met many dear friends through Sunstone, Community of Christ, John Whitmer Historical Association, and THRIVE. These friendships have become dear to me.
What meaning and purpose does life have to you now that you no longer believe in Mormonism?
I feel like the purpose of life is the meaning that one attributes to it. I don’t believe that there are specific things required by God for humans to accomplish while living their life on earth. Literature professor, Joseph Campbell, describes my feelings well. “People say that what we’re all seeking is a meaning for life. I don’t think that’s what we’re really seeking. I think that what we’re seeking is an experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonances with our own innermost being and reality, so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.” For me, the purpose of life is to seek the feeling of being alive. I want to create experiences that are meaningful while also trying to make the world a better place any way I can.
If you are a parent, how has losing your faith in Mormonism affected how you parent?
As a devout member, I felt a big responsibility to instill testimonies into the hearts of my children. Molding them to gospel teachings took constant effort. The thought of them leaving the church at some point caused fear and sadness. This was troubling because I knew that no matter how hard I tried, keeping all 4 kids on the “covenant path” was ultimately out of my hands. My job was to do all I could do. That meant checking off a lot of boxes over the span of 25 years to make sure they stayed on track! Keeping my children on the straight and narrow path gave my life a lot of purpose. I believe it was my main purpose. When my beliefs changed, I began to perceive my role as a parent in a different way. Membership in the Church and motherhood gave my life purpose, but it was no longer what made me important or worthwhile. I feel like motherhood is very special, but is especially glorified in the church and is viewed as a woman’s special calling. I don’t feel like I’m any more special than any other female that has given birth on this planet over millions of years. I view it largely as biology. Without feeling like I have to continually mold and control the beliefs and behaviors of my children, I’m able to appreciate them more for who they are – enjoy them more! I accept them for exactly who they are and feel my job is to love, support, and cheer them on the best I can. I no longer fear them going “off course.” I feel happy to celebrate whatever path they choose for themselves. I trust that they are more than capable of making wise decisions on their own.
If you are married or have a significant other, how has leaving Mormonism affected this Relationship?
My faith transition came as an unexpected change for both me and my husband. It has been extremely challenging trying to learn how to navigate a mixed-faith situation. Especially with children. The unknown feels scary and it takes a lot of courage to rebuild a new marriage – one not based on the Church. It hasn’t been easy for my husband to see me lose my belief as the expectation was that we would live a life in the church together. This was the plan. We’ve learned that life naturally takes unexpected turns. People evolve over time, learn new things, and perceive things in new ways. In my opinion, the greatest gift of a Mormon faith crisis is the opportunity to practice unconditional love. For me, that means loving someone for exactly who they are and not wanting them to be anything but their authentic selves.
How has leaving Mormonism affected your mental health?
Overall, my mental health is better. I still have rough patches, but no longer have any feelings of guilt, shame, or inadequacy that may accompany failure to complete tasks, committing sin, or feeling like I’m not measuring up in some way. I’ve become free of judging my feelings as being right, wrong, good, or bad. I feel at peace with my beliefs, with who I am, and how I’m living my life.
How has leaving Mormonism affected your sexual health?
My change in belief has been very liberating sexually, on several levels. I feel free from a lot of controlling ideas about a woman’s body and modesty. I believe our bodies are a gift. A gift to be enjoyed and celebrated in whatever way one sees fit for themselves. I don’t believe it’s impure for a man or woman to feel physically attracted to someone for whatever reason. I believe sexual attraction is the most normal thing in the entire world! I enjoy picking out and wearing clothes that express how I feel on the inside. I think sexuality is something to be explored and should also be fun and exciting.
In my experience, the Church’s overemphasis on modesty created more of a message of objectification for me growing up. I was continually taught that my body is a temple. I needed to dress modestly in order to respect my body and help prevent males from getting impure thoughts. In actuality, this taught me that my body was a kind of sexual object that needed to be covered and controlled. I remember Elder Oaks giving a talk where he said …”young women, please understand that if you dress immodestly, you are magnifying this problem by becoming pornography to some of the men who see you.” I remember Elder Tad Callister saying in a Conference address, “The dress of a woman has a powerful impact upon the minds and passions of men. If it’s too low or too high or too tight, it may prompt improper thoughts, even in the mind of a young man who is striving to be pure…Women particularly can dress modestly and in the process contribute to their own self-respect and to the moral purity of men. In the end, most women get the type of man they dress for.” What did this mean exactly? Men can’t control themselves… it was my moral responsibility as a woman to somehow help keep their minds pure? My body had the power to evoke evil thoughts? In addition to the continual warnings by the Brethren concerning the evils of pornography, the strict messages on modesty made pornography feel especially threatening to me. When it came to porn, a woman’s naked body has all the potential for evil. These ideas served as a barrier for truly being able to celebrate my body and embrace my sexuality as I would have liked. The garments were also a barrier to expressing my true self. The clothes I wore everyday were not an accurate reflection of my personal style or how I felt about myself inwardly. I didn’t feel attractive wearing them… at all. As in many other religions, a woman’s sexuality is often controlled by the requirement to cover up in a prescribed way. I feel garments serve this purpose in Mormonism.
What aspects of your life are better after Mormonism?
I really enjoy the new found freedom to try new things and have new experiences. There’s a beauty in discovery… I’m doing things because I want to, and I’m not doing things because I want to. Either way, I feel empowered.
What is your life still missing? In what ways could your life still be improved without Mormonism?
I don’t feel like there is anything currently missing in my life.
What final advice would you give folks who are transitioning?
At first, you might wonder if you will ever be truly happy again. Things will get better! I encourage anyone going through a faith transition to continue learning. Continue to seek for understanding. Continue putting the pieces together. In my experience, doing this has given me a greater depth of understanding beyond the pain, betrayal, or anger I may have once felt. Being able to place things in their proper context, especially when it comes to Joseph Smith and early church history, has brought a lot of clarity. If you are in a mixed faith situation, be patient, get help if needed, and also draw healthy boundaries for yourself.
Note: This post is part of the THRIVING Beyond Orthodox Mormonism project. See here to browse other profiles. To submit your own THRIVE profile, click this link.