Content Warning: mental health, racism, religious shaming, sexism
My name is Sarah Newcomb. I am 43 and currently living in Dallas, Texas with my husband and four children. My husband and I were both born and raised in the LDS Church, and we married in the temple in 2000. Our children are ages 14, 12, 10, and 6. We left the LDS Church together as a family in May of 2016. I am the youngest of four children and the only one who has left in my family. My husband is the youngest of 6 children and also the only who has left in his family.
My Mormon Stories interview can be found here.
What parts of the Mormon experience were most important or useful to you?
When I was growing up, our family moved every few years due to my dad’s work. I know I benefitted from having one aspect of my life consistent. Thanks to the Primary and Youth programs, I always had instant friends – no matter where we lived. I loved the familiarity of everything at church.
What doctrinal or theological parts of Mormonism did you believe that were most important to you?
- Christ-like teachings/Christ-like love.
- The 11th Article of Faith – I felt strongly about accepting other people’s religious beliefs. When I would visit the reservation, and attend my Grandma’s church (not Mormon), I was moved by how faithful and warm they were.
- Trying to be honest in all my dealings, being a full tithe payer, and basically anything that kept me “temple worthy”.
- Temple marriage, supporting my priesthood holder, raising my children in the gospel, etc. I hung the Family Proclamation on my wall.
- Baptism and repentance.
What spiritual experiences did you have as a Mormon that sealed your orthodox commitment to the LDS Church?
I didn’t have experiences that sealed my commitment. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t have spiritual experiences. I just didn’t need them to seal my commitment. I completely trusted and believed what I was taught at church. It was 100% true in my mind, and I lived life accordingly. My commitment stemmed from being raised in the LDS Church and taught that it was the most true church on earth.
How did you lose your faith in Mormonism (or Orthodox Mormonism)?
In 2013, I was on bedrest with my fourth child. I wanted to be the best Mormon and mom possible, so I took the opportunity to study. I had zero doubt at this time and faithfully went into studying with excitement. I started by reading articles on the LDS Church websites. I had attended BYU-I years prior and took journalism classes. Because of this, I knew I could get more in-depth information by reading the sources cited in their original context. The irony is still not lost on me – it was at an LDS college that I learned how to verify church material. Almost everything had quotes from the Journal of Discourses, and so many excerpts were taken out of context. This was where everything went south for me. It was like a lid had exploded off a massive box, and I would never be able to close it again. But I was positive that the LDS Church was true, and God would help me find answers. During this entire journey, I refused to read anything “anti” – only approved materials. I had no awareness of podcasts, YouTube channels, or the CES Letter until the very end of my journey. I wasn’t on Facebook during these years, so any posts that might have clued me in were missed.
In December of 2015, my son was about to be baptized. I realized I didn’t want him to be. This marked the first time I was forced to acknowledge a major problem with my faith. I asked my husband for help – it’s worth mentioning that we had not discussed any real problems with the LDS Church during these years, because I felt strongly about supporting my priesthood holder. We had struggled in our marriage and life, and I was scared to rock the boat, but finally broke down to tell him about a few things. One was the Book of Abraham. Then, the Ensign article about the rock in the hat. I wasn’t prepared for how quickly he was done. Once my husband saw the Ensign article, he resolved to stop attending church. He made the choice I hadn’t been able to. By May of 2016, we were officially done and decided to resign our family from the LDS Church.
What parts of Mormonism were harmful to you?
A few months after we left the LDS Church, it hit me – I wasn’t a Lamanite. The theology that Lamanite ancestors had turned away from God was massively harmful to me growing up. I had been taught manifest destiny – that my ancestors had caused their own people, Native Americans, to lose their land and experience genocide due to unrighteous choices. I had been taught to view Native American spirituality as a remnant of our ancestors turning away from God. All of this messed me up pretty good.
Along with that Lamanite theology, I was also taught that my ancestors’ skin was darkened as a sign of their disobedience. As a child, I was unaware of the degree to which I internalized this ugly teaching. I just accepted and trusted it as fact. The older I grew, the harder it became to accept. Though always treated kindly, I was also often kept in my place as different. This became most obvious when dating, but it was woven through my entire Mormon experience.
Teachings around what it meant to be female in Mormonism was very damaging. Being told not to question polygamy was painful in my teens. Aside from polygamy, I didn’t think much about gender differences until I went through the temple. It was like being separated from God because my gender wasn’t good enough.
Ideas around forgiveness and repentance were also harmful. These beliefs are, at times, used against victims to protect abusers. I’ve experienced it, and watched others experience it. Beautiful beliefs get twisted far too often.
And finally, so much shaming around sexuality. Questioning children about their worthiness is unacceptable.
How do you now explain the spiritual experiences that you had as an Orthodox Mormon?
This is one of my favorite things to talk about regarding my faith journey! Mormonism had an answer for everything, and it was a strange sensation to leave the only life I had ever known, for the unknown. I no longer had any answers at all. I could not sit still and wait for answers to come to me. I went out searching for them just like I had during my faith transition. I needed to know everything.`
I was finishing my degree and decided on a whim to add Philosophy as a minor, because I was struggling with changing spiritual and world views. Learning about diverse belief systems and cultures made me love and appreciate the human spirit more than ever. Just like I couldn’t unsee LDS Church history once I read it, I could not unsee the connectedness of life and love around the world as I studied different cultures. So many religions, traditions, and celebrations – with the human spirit at the center of it all.
What I discovered brought an extraordinary amount of peace. The human spirit is beautiful. Humanity has so much love in it. Families in every culture want the best for each other and their children. Being part of the right religion, or getting into the right kingdom in another life, no longer mattered to me. Instead, I found myself celebrating beauty around the world and living my best life in the moment.
This new path influenced the way I viewed my spiritual experiences. All humans have spiritual experiences, not just a specific, “special” group. We are all connected; all life is connected. I accepted that no one human has all of the answers, and it was naive of me to believe otherwise. Even more, I no longer needed answers for every single question. I just wanted to enjoy the experience of being human.
What was transitioning out of Mormonism (or Orthodox Mormonism) like for you? What was most painful about it? What was most healing or joyful about the transition?
The process was painful. Would never have guessed that I would be where I am now. I was so faithful and sure about what my life would look like, from beginning to end. I had been so trusting of my church leaders. Betrayal, that was huge. Betrayal, combined with a loss of all I had known, sent me into a serious stage of mourning for about 18 months. I knew I was lucky to be out with my spouse and kids, but the women I had leaned on in life were all active members still. It was like experiencing the death of a loved one and having to grieve alone. More, it was like grieving a death while the people I needed and loved were judging me, telling me I was bad. It felt incredibly lonely, and this was compounded by the loss of friends and family who withdrew from me. I developed an anxiety disorder during my faith transition which took a few years to work out of my system.
The most healing part is still in progress, actually. My husband and I had struggled in marriage for most of the near 20 years we’ve been together. So many unhealthy beliefs and views about marriage, in addition to our own childhood traumas. We’ve been pushing each other pretty hard since leaving religion, both wanting a better life. Things have been changing for a few years now, and honestly, we weren’t sure we would stay together. Over the last few months, after lots of hard work, we’ve started to move in an amazing direction. We now have a marriage that we have never experienced before. In some ways, it is surprising us both. Incredibly healing to fall back in love.
The most joyful part has been raising the kids without shame! Wow, just wow. I knew I was a good mom before, but my confidence and happiness has skyrocketed. Instead of being hard on myself about imperfections, I feel incredibly proud of all I do. I also find myself cheering on my husband instead of pushing or adding pressure. The kids get more acceptance and less pushing or pressure too. They were fairly young (oldest was 10 years old) when we left though, so they never experienced the high pressures that come with staying longer term. I love parenting now!
In what ways did LDS Church leaders or members make your transition more difficult?
There were meetings about us after we left the LDS Church. Eventually, we were told that they explained our leaving as being offended. Never found out what had offended us though.
Were there LDS Church leaders or members who were helpful to you? If so, how?
No, we were on our own. Recently, it was discovered that a friend stood up on our behalf after the bishopric said we left due to being offended. Though four years have passed since leaving, it felt pretty great to find that out.
What resources were most helpful in your transition out of Mormonism (or Orthodox Mormonism)?
Not long after leaving the LDS Church, I found the CES Letter, which led me to the Jeremy Runnells’ interview on Mormon Stories Podcast. Once I found that podcast… Feeling less alone, like other people understood my same problems, was incredibly validating. In moments when I didn’t know how to process my anxiety, I would listen to story after story. So grateful for people sharing their experiences!
Also, laughter. I found the Infants on Thrones podcast, and it felt great to laugh at it all. Love them.
What significant mistakes did you make in your transition?
Overall, I feel pretty proud of the way I handled it. I know I can’t go back, but there is one thing I wish someone would have educated me on. Leaving the LDS Church was like leaving an abusive relationship, but there was no way for me to understand that at the time. And like leaving an abusive relationship there were lasting effects. I had trust issues like crazy afterwards (felt deeply betrayed by leaders), and it slowed my healing. Having friends and family treat me differently was painful too, and also added to my trust issues. Was and still is a little hard for me to trust. This is a pretty big deal because before my faith transition I tended to be very trusting, outgoing, accepting, and friendly. It is getting better though! Each year I am blown away by how much more I have healed.
How has your leaving Mormonism affected your family relationships, friendships, job, neighbor relationships, social life, etc.?
The first few years were extremely painful as familial relationships changed or ended. It was hard to accept.
I also experienced a lot of personal change and growth during my faith transition. Because active family members were not a part of that journey, it was hard for them to understand. This is a bit sad, because if they understood the growth, perhaps they would celebrate with me.
As far as friendships go – I worked hard for almost two years to rebuild relationships and make new ones. It took a while, but my efforts really paid off. Love my peeps, old and new!
How have you navigated communication and relationships with believing family and friends? Any tips to keeping those people in your life?
Respect and kindness. Those who have stayed in my life that are believing members, I gave them tons of respect and kindness from the very beginning. I wanted them to feel accepted and not judged. I wanted them to feel safe. Basically, I gave them the things I would want in their place, what I would want in return. Some relationships I have been able to keep, others have moved on. As long as I was happy with my actions and was kind then I was ok with any outcome, even if that meant I had to let go. As far as keeping a relationship, just don’t force it. Love them and if they want to do the same they will. At least you will know it is equally reciprocated and not forced. Love with no regrets.
Work on having healthy boundaries. Respect your own boundaries, and respect the boundaries of the people you love.
Which (if any) of your former Mormon beliefs/behaviors have you retained after your faith crisis?
None. To say the ones I’ve retained are “Mormon” beliefs or behaviors is to ignore the rest of the human experience. I learned so much from my Tsimshian tribe growing up. Not a single belief I’ve maintained is unique to Mormonism. Love, kindness, respect, honesty… they are all part of being human.
In what ways have your beliefs/behaviors changed after your faith crisis?
Apart from orthodox religious beliefs, not much has changed. I suppose I am more open-minded, but that was always just below the surface – I freely embrace it now. I feel more relaxed and happy with who I am. I do love humanity more than ever before, even with all its shortcomings. People are amazing.
What are your thoughts/beliefs now about God and Jesus?
Around the same time Philosophy was added as a minor to my degree, I had been studying texts that predated the Bible in another class. Similar stories existed long before Jesus or the Bible. While I especially love stories about Jesus, I no longer need them to be factual in order to draw meaning. There are many Gods, religions, and spiritual beliefs. I’ve come to appreciate and love the variety of belief beyond Christianity, taking value from cultures around the world. To me, there is not one “all knowing” group, but a collective and beautiful human experience with lots of variety.
How do you now make sense of death and the afterlife?
Less stressed about it, for sure. I am living for this life, instead of worrying about the next. No one has the answers. Accepting that was very freeing. There are people I miss and would love to see again, but I know they would want me to focus on living here and now. If there is more after death, I will be happily surprised. But I am not worried about it.
Without the LDS Church telling you what is “right” and “wrong,” how do you establish your own sense of morality/right/wrong?
My morality is not from the LDS Church. There were many things Mormonism supported that I strongly opposed. Racism, sexism, homophobia, purity questions directed towards children… I could go on. If anything, I left the LDS Church because it did not live up to my sense of morality.
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 value spirituality. I look for connection to all life around me. I do not limit myself to a specific group, but see the greater beauty, and often messy whole, of this existence. If I’m running, fishing, playing with my kids, meeting new people, etc., I live in the moment. Living authentically and connecting are spiritual to me.
I should add that four experiences in particular have kept me open-minded toward being spiritual (though not religious). I dreamt of each of my four children before I was ever pregnant. About a year before each pregnancy, I would have this dream. I saw their features and knew their gender beforehand. Those are the only four dreams I’ve had like that, and I cherish them.
To what extent have you found healthy and meaningful community to replace the role of the ward/stake in your life?
I just kept reaching out to people around me, and slowly rebuilt community. The most rewarding part was reconnecting with my Tsimshian tribe and going home to the reservation. All of the family relationships I had loved took up right where we left off. It was incredibly healing to move past the Lamanite myth, embracing my family and identity in a genuine way.
What meaning and purpose does life have to you now that you no longer believe in Mormonism?
Connecting with everything around me – living in the moment. Being kind, genuine, and helping where I can. Life is beautiful.
If you are a parent, how has losing your faith in Mormonism affected how you parent?
Parenting was actually central to losing my faith as I highly valued being honest with my children, and teaching them to be honest with me through my example of how I treated them. The more I understood about the issues with the truth claims in Mormonism, the harder it was to navigate while parenting.
Once we transitioned out of Mormonism we simply focused on our core family values, and it has been amazing. Beyond the transition I found I felt more connected, both to my parenting instincts and with my children. My husband felt the same. Each challenge we are now faced with is dealt with in a more organic and unified way, and we are able to really focus on our children’s specific needs – instead of being told what our children’s needs were in a religious narrative. Parenting isn’t easy, but I absolutely am loving it!
If you are married or have a significant other, how has leaving Mormonism affected this relationship?
For the better, though at first it was harder. We realized things were really unhealthy in our marriage, and stepped back to work on ourselves individually. Greater self-worth, better boundaries, everything… It was a difficult process. Even if we hadn’t stayed together, we ended up healthier. We were working on ourselves while supporting each other with any changes that came. In the end, the best change was that we found each other.
How has leaving Mormonism affected your mental health?
Well, leaving made me realize how messed up I was. Which, in turn, allowed me to get healthier. It is still a process though, and something I will always actively work on.
How has leaving Mormonism affected your sexual health?
I was ok before, but am much happier without religion being a part of my sexual health. My husband, Chris, carried more pressure and shame than I did, and it impacted our marriage. It has taken a while for him to de-program, but he is happily free from that now too.
What aspects of your life are better after Mormonism (or Orthodox Mormonism)?
This may sound weird, but I love that my brain is free now. Didn’t realize all the ways I had been keeping it caged up, and how limiting that was. I live more in the moment, which feels great. No more living for what might happen when I die! I also LOVE parenting. So much fun! Overall, I have much healthier boundaries and happier relationships.
What is your life still missing? In what ways could your life still be improved without Mormonism?
Hard to say, life is pretty great. Not anywhere near perfect – but happily, I will never need “perfect” again. If I had answered this question right after leaving the LDS Church, my response would have been community and support. The first two years out were really hard. It has taken a lot of work to rebuild a support system.
What final advice would you give folks who are transitioning?
Pay attention to how you feel physically. I was so busy mentally exhausting myself during this experience, often by meeting everyone else’s needs, that I didn’t always notice when my own were going unmet. Transitioning is different for everyone, and mine was intense. I live in my head alot (understatement lol), and believed I was doing great at the time. But the way my body held stress and anxiety was eventually a huge wake-up call. I found running to be perfect for me. Something about the rhythm and being outside was calming. My body began to process and release all of the emotions and pain I was holding in. Running is my meditation, basically. Movement and being outdoors did more than any other part of my journey. Find a way to meet the physical need of balancing your mind and body if possible.