Sunday, January 22, 2012

My own Mormon Story (excuse the length, I didn't realize how complicated it was)

I recently discovered a group of people led by a man named John Dehlin.  He, and others who help in his work, interview people who have struggled with profound differences with the Mormon church, but who are still Mormon in some sense of the word.  I still haven't listened to a podcast, but I participated in a conference yesterday that, as I mentioned in my last post, has profoundly changed me.  When you meet someone at one of these events, within a minute or two of your introduction, you are sharing your deepest, most personal story of how you have been impacted by Mormonism.  It was amazing.  It was freeing.  It was interesting.  It was educational.  It was so many things, I haven't been able to process through all of them yet.  It has also inspired me to write my own story.  I am terrified as I write this, for in this blog I have mostly ranted and shared emotions.  I learned yesterday at the conference that it is important to share our stories, to be honest, and to have the tough discussions.  I begin this here in my blog that only I read, but it is still so hard to face.
So here it is- my story.
I am a Mormon.  I was born into a Mormon family.  My ancestors are all through church history- Mormon history is my family history, and I have always been proud to come from the Pioneers.  However, in contrast to this pioneer heritage, I also come from a family of fence-sitters.  Most of my family members have been inactive, active, and we are all at various stages of activity in the church.  We have many non-Mormons, and only a few orthodox Mormons.  I grew up in California, where I apparently had a liberal version of Mormonism, and then spent my teenage years in Utah- the Mormon bubble itself.  Until I moved to Utah, I was very active in the church.  Once I moved there, I became less active and hung out with friends that the church would not have approved of.  It was as a teenager that I started to see that I had some very different views from the Utah Mormons I found myself around.  In order to be accepted at church by my peers, I had to dress a certain way, hang out with certain people, and do certain activities.  I didn't buy into this, so I was a social outcast even when I followed every rule.  I had friends who were gay.  I had friends who were bisexual.  I had friends who were not Mormon.  I loved my friends!  I figured that Jesus would love them, so why shouldn't I?  The people I was "supposed" to be friends with were cruel and judgemental, and I would not submit myself to that.
When I was 18, my high school boyfriend and I made a choice, one little, tiny, life changing choice that resulted in our daughter.  After I made it through the devastation of this situation, we went to our bishop, who showed us love, compassion, and gave us hope that we could still be good people.  This bishop married us and, a few years later, was the first person we told when we were sealed in the temple. 
We moved to Texas, and I found myself going to church because I no longer had friends or a support system.  I became very active, and eventually my husband did to.  One little boy later, and we were able to go to the temple.  I had many doubts about the temple garment, but my bishop assured me that they would pass and that everything would make sense once I went.  The first thing they asked me to do in the temple, of course, was to take off all my clothing (including my underclothes).  I was horrified and it was only through the reassurance of my mother-in-law that I went through the first ordinance.  There were some beautiful things about the temple ceremony, but there were many things that were confusing.  Nobody would ever talk to me about them outside of the temple because they were too sacred.  For the next few years, I was always nervous to go to the temple because the temple workers seemed so annoyed with me that I couldn't remember all the correct phrases to say and when to say them.  The temple scared and confused the heck out of me, but my leaders just told me that the more I went, the more I would understand.  So, since I can not stand to be inadequate at something I want excel in, and since nobody would give me any guidance, I just quit going. 

Interestingly enough, as my husband and I had struggled to become worthy to go the temple, we had grown closer in our marriage.  Our second temple trip, and the very frequent reminder of multiplying and replenishing the earth, led us to our third child.  We were happy for the first time in our marriage.  It was great.  It lasted about a year.  It turns out that we had very different views of what the patriarch of the home meant, and very different views on how women should be treated and what they should be allowed to do.  So, in the end, the final straw in our very rocky, very tenuous marriage, was the church itself. 
After ten years of marriage, I was heading for divorce.  I knew in my soul that this was what God wanted of me.  I had spent years praying that we would make it.  We had gone to counseling.  I had spent years praying that I would be able to find the strength to submit my will to my husband's.  I had spent years praying that I would be in love with him.  And I spent the final year praying that I could just see him as I know Christ sees him.  None of it worked for me.  Finally, I did the unthinkable.  I prayed and asked if I should get a divorce.  I knew God would tell me no.  I knew he would somehow realize my pain and give my strength to carry on.  But He didn't.  I felt through my mind a great certainty and an answer that I needed to prepare to leave my husband and my marriage.  It was the worst crisis I had ever encountered in my life- for I am a child from a broken home- and I know exactly what I was doing to my children.
I tried to go talk to my bishop.  But it was summer, and he was out of town a lot.  I kept getting put off, kept getting put off, and I finally decided that I wasn't important enough for his time.  We went through a divorce.  I lost many friends.  It seems that divorce is much like leprosy and people are afraid of catching it- or at least that is the only answer I have come up with.
I carried on.  I threw myself into my work, into my children.  I continued going to church, accepting and serving in callings.  Eventually I started to date. 
During this time, I had researched surrogacy and was planning to be a surrogate for my aunt and uncle.  When they (miraculously) got pregnant on their last IVF attempt, I still had a strong sense that I needed to be a surrogate.  I found a beautiful couple that wanted a child, and I proceeded with the journey.  I told the women I served with in the stake primary presidency about the surrogacy, and I was shocked and hurt by their sudden and rude reactions.  Not only did they say hurtful things, but they went and, as I see it, "told on me" to the bishop.  He hauled me in to his office, and we had a talk.  He prayed that we would have the spirite with us.  He read to me the line from the bishop's manual that said, "the church strongly discourages surrogacy."  I asked him why that was.  We had a long conversation, in which the spirit presided, and I left that meeting with his words of, "I support you and so will many other families in the ward.  However, there will be those who have read these words and will not."  I was filled with hope and peace.  I was so glad he had felt the spirit and that we had been able to have such a wonderful conversation. 
I delivered two precious babies and carried on with life.  I found out that my ex-husband had been excommunciated.  I don't feel that the leaders had the right to tell me, nor that I had the right to know.  However, they told me before I could refuse the telling, and I dealt with the information.  He was apparently quite remorseful, and began the process of getting back into the church.  In the meantime, I was released from my last calling, and was growing away from the church.  I did not feel the love or support that I once had, and so I stepped back.
I was dating a wonderful man, a non-member, and I had grown away from the church.  By this point, about a year into our relationship, I knew I loved him and wanted to spend my life with him, but I was not ready to get married, as I was still afraid of the pain my first marriage had caused and very cautious about moving too quickly for my children..  Of course, not getting married quickly led to other problems, and I made the choice to be with him- in every sense of the word.
My children attended church with their father every other weekend, so when I was called and asked to come meet with the bishop, I figured it was in reference to them.  The executive secretary would not tell me why, and I suppose he probably didn't. 
Here is the crux:  I went in to meet with the bishop (the very same one who had told me that he believed my surrogacy was a good choice).  He prayed, and in this prayer, he asked that he would "be able to say the things that needed to be said", no mention of the spirit, no mention of anything normal.  I knew something was wrong. 
He asked me if I wore my temple garments.  I told him I did not.  When he asked me why, I told him I had never understood them, did not like them, and I frankly couldn't remember why I wore them, so I stopped.
He jumped right in to his next question, which of course was if I was having- I don't remember the exact words- but basically something to the effect of having sexual relations outside of marriage.  I told him yes.
He asked, and these words I remember exactly, if I wanted to talk about it.  I stated very clearly that I did not (how disgusting is that?  What would I have said?  Yes, it was great, thank you). 
I asked him why he was asking me these questions.  I asked him who told him these things.  He would not tell me. 
He went on in a rage, he was cruel, he was mean, he was distant, and the love I had previously known from him was gone.  I was now the enemy, and I could feel his animosity through the weight of his gaze.
He told me that I was wrong to be a surrogate (Yes, I realize this was a complete 180, and I was in utter shock).
He told me that I "mocked God" (which broke me as nothing I had ever lived through had).
He told me that he was going to hold a committee to determine what would be done to me.  He told me a group of eight or so men would be there- and me.
I told him I could not endure something like that.
He told me other things, but I don't remember.  I was broken; I couldn't speak; I wanted to; I wanted to say something; I wanted to beg for his love; I wanted to smack him upside his head, but I didn't.  I simply sat there and let him assail me with such verbal abuse as I did not know the man possessed. 
I left there, got into my car, somehow got home, and I remember my husband coming out to the car, but I couldn't get out.  I could't stand, I couldn't move my hands from the steering wheel, I just sat there, sobbing, shaking, and unable to speak.  He turned off the car and asked me to come in.  It was impossible.  I don't remember how long I sat there, but I remember the horror.  You know when a tornado runs through a city, and you see people standing there, holding a door handle, or a book, and they are looking at their entire lives gone- you see them looking where their house was, and nothing is left except a foundation?  Well, mine was the opposite.  Instead of a foundation with no house, I was sitting in my car, looking at my house wonked out on the ground, the entire foundation torn and ripped asunder. 
The bishop had destroyed my faith.  I completely understood that I had done something wrong in Mormon belief, and I completely understood that I could have a consequence.  However, when I was treated so cruelly by a man who had once loved me, when I, a woman who loves God with all her might, was told that I mock Him, when I was told by a man who had supported me that the very thing he had supported me in was wrong, when I was treated with enmity, I broke.  I am a strong woman, I have endured many hardships and pain in my life, so for me to break, well, that was something. 
Later that afternoon, he and another man brought me a letter detailing the events of this "discipline committee" (which I knew nothing about, this isn't something you are taught in Sunday School), they smiled and handed it to me.  I repeated that I would not be there.  NOBODY called.  Nobody came by.  I was left alone in my pain.
Later that week, a letter arrived in the mail.  I didn't open it for a few weeks.  I couldn't open it because it didn't matter.  I was broken by the way I was treated- not by an excommunication or a disfellowship.  I could have handled either one, but the treatment I had faced at the hands of the bishop had caused me to question his authority.  I knew in my soul that I had recieved personal revelation that I should be a surrogate.  Apparently someone higher up than him had received revelation that I should not.  I knew that the love I shared with my now husband was a love given to us by God, and I did not regret it (which was bad, because you are supposed to regret "sin").  How could my revelation be in direct opposition to the leaders of the church?  Surely, one of us must be wrong.  And since I only know my own revelation and know the Spirit confirmed it, I know that I am right in this matter.  How could a man who speaks to God be wrong?  I love God, I do not mock him.  How could men of God throw stones at me, when Jesus spared the woman taken in adultery?  I no longer had faith in the authority of the priesthood leadership, so the contents of the letter didn't matter. 
A few weeks later, I opened it.  I was excommunicated.  And it hurt, but I didn't cry about it.  They had already taken my faith, what was a membership in an organization that breaks people?

I had so many questions.  Why, when I went to my leaders for help (about garments or divorce) was I ignored or told that it would all work out?
Why is there no consistency in Mormon leaders' decisions?
Why weren't my leaders there for me when I had questions?
Why were they only there to judge me?
Why did the bishop change his mind about surrogacy?
Why, when I was not attending church, did they call me in to ask if I was doing very specific things?
Why did they lie to my ex-husband and tell him that I was trying to remove my children's names from the records?
Why, when I showed my ex-husband tangible proof of this lie did he still side with them?
Why are people cast away when they are at their most vulnerable?
Why don't they love you even when you do something wrong?
I will never know.

Next month will mark the second anniversary of my excommunication.  I have spent the last two years living.  I have married my husband.  I have loved and raised and cheered my children on in their endeavors. I support them in the choices they make, whether they are in the church or elsewhere.  I have carried another surrogate baby.  I have loved and worshipped God.  I have tried to live as an example of my brother Jesus Christ.  I have lived with hope that I will find happiness in religion once again.  I have lived with a void where my faith in Mormonism once resided.  I have lived with the pain of losing my foundation, the rock I built my life upon.  I have lived without the friends who abandoned me. 
Recently, I have allowed myself to question many things about my beliefs.  I have realized that there are many things about Mormonism that I have always lived in opposition of.  I realize that I just put away my doubts and questions because I was happy as a Mormon.  But now that I don't have that good feeling from the Mormons that people use to rationalize their beliefs ("but it must be true because it makes me happy"), I have given myself permission to doubt.  I have given myself permission to judge for myself whether something is true or not.  I have been forced outside the box of Mormonism.  I have been forced to step away and look at it without the lens of Mormonism.  And it is good that I have, for I see so much more truth now.
A few Mormon men destroyed my faith in their church.  I have learned and grown so much from this experience.  Do I wish I didn't have to face it?  Yes.    Do I wish I could go back to simply believing and having faith and a foundation?  Yes.  But I can't.  I can't be that person again.  I won't be that woman who is broken by a man with no right to break her.  I will be strong and teach my children that they are not that person.  I will teach them that no man has the right to break them.  I will make them strong through my weakness.  And I will strive every day to be a better person, a better member of my community, a better human being.
I will stand for those who are broken, and I will defend those who are not strong enough to defend themselves.  I will never again be a victim.
I am still a Mormon pariah, but now, I want to be.

A gay mormon changed my life

I went to a conference yesterday put on by Mormon Stories.  It was very powerful, and I am profoundly changed. I am working through those feelings now, but there is one story that has hit me at the very core of my soul.
It is the story of a man- a sweet, kind-looking, and humble man. 
He stood before us to bear his testimony, and this is the story- from my memory and in my own condensed version:
When I was a young boy, I felt an attraction to other boys.  I knew that it was wrong. 
I went to college, and before my mission, I told my bishop that I had these feelings and attractions to other boys.  He told me that if I went on my mission and served, if I did God's will, I would be cured
I went on my mission.  I did my best.  I came home.  I was not cured.  I felt I had failed.
My bishop told me that if I just got married, I would get better.  So I got married.  I had two children.  I was not cured.  I was not better.  I was still gay.  But I still loved the church.

Now, this man, his wife, his children- an entire family- will pay the price. 
As this man spoke, something inside of me broke open.  Maybe it was compassion, empathy, love.  I don't know for sure, but I now know that this, if nothing else, will keep me forever from rejoining the LDS church.  This beautiful, amazing, and faithful man has had his entire life destroyed because his Mormon leaders treated his innate sexuality as an illness, or a disease, or something that could be overcome.  His suffering has been prolonged, and innocent children and an innocent woman (whom he was counseled not to share his illness with) join in his suffering.  And this man still loves this church.  The actions of his leaders disgust me.  And the saddest part of all is that there are so many others like him, and so many leaders just like his.

How can an organization that claims to be of God do this? 
I have only one answer, and it is devastating.
This organization can not be of God. 
How can the Mormon people allow their religious organization to condemn faithful and true believers?
I believe there are a plethora of answers.  Maybe they honestly believe their leaders are God's mouthpiece and don't question them, maybe they don't know any gay people, maybe they don't want to think about it... I don't know. 
God is love.
God is compassion.
God loves ALL people.
It breaks my heart to see a church that I once loved destroy people who so desperately cling to their beliefs.  It enrages me.
As a member of the LDS church, I was taught to stand up for those who were different.  There is even a Primary song that says, "if you don't walk like most people do, I'll walk with you..."
I am making a stand.  The Mormon chruch has broken many people- my people- and I will stand with them.