The recent accusations of apostacy levied against John Dehlin of Mormon Stories and Kate Kelly of Ordain Women by LDS Church leaders has me deeply shaken. After a restless few hours in a too-small tent in rural Croatia, I awoke to use the free wifi to see if I could talk to my family or browse Facebook. The first I heard about the news was from Tim, who I have not discussed the matter with at length but I could tell was a combination of angry and sad. It's no secret to anyone who knows us (or reads our blog) that we had been on-again and off-again Mormons for quite awhile. My faith in the Church had been tested and retested, first by my feminist awakening of the deeply-entrenched gender inequality then by the reactions I received by other BYU students when I tried to voice my dissent with the brethren over Proposition 8, then on the discovery of the revisionist history the Church touts as complete truth. Even after being tossed and turned on the waves of discontentment, I continued to believe, because so many of the doctrines were so beautiful and profound to me. I love the notion of eternal families, and I love the soul-satisfying concept we have Heavenly Parents who not only created us but are intimate with the details of our everyday existence. I had felt before what seemed like the presence of divinity in my life, of not only events that were too perfectly aligned in space and time to be chance but also a reassuring calm, a sensation I grew up thinking was the Holy Ghost literally residing within my body.
One common theme I have noticed in the reactions to the excommunication tribunals of John and Kate has been the realization of how hard it is for those of us who doubt the Church. We always hear that the real challenge is being a member of a church that demands so much of its members: we can't drink, we can't have sex before marriage, we even have to wear weird, magic underwear. Members usually take this all in stride, as a mark of their chosenness, their confidence that they are looked upon favorable by God, but it's often discussed how much "easier" it would be to just up and leave the Church and replace your three-hour weekly Sunday meetings with boating on the lake and use your extra 10% income for a nicer car. This is why I've been so struck by the posts of friends and strangers who are vocal in their struggle, who put into words the reality that I shared for so long. For me, staying LDS was by far the obvious and easy choice; the hymns were memorized, the rituals understood, the funeral potato casseroles perfected. The prayers were always the same, the people were familiar, the maroon carpet was even comforting in its own way. I have heard time and time again, that disbelief comes when we are lazy and uncommitted to the gospel, that if we do everything asked of us then we will have a sure knowledge of the truth.
But despite the comfort of our Mormon lifestyle, no matter how much I tried, I eventually could not reconcile what was happening in my head and in my heart with what was playing out in church buildings where I attended weekly meetings, or even what was spoken from the beautiful, hand-carved wooden pulpit from the conference center in Salt Lake City. I tried to drown out my questions with what I did know to be absolutely, 100% true: I loved Tim, I loved the two beautiful children he brought into the world with me, and I did not want anything to come between us. I knew Tim loved not only the gospel but the Church organization itself; no matter how much it chafed against my personality, it completely agreed with his. I knew how much he loved wearing a suit and tie all day on Sunday and reading his scriptures morning and night. Every Sunday, I donned a dress (though sometimes... I still wore Chacos) and tried to participate in my own way, to be true to myself while also being true to the commitment I made to Tim when I married him in the temple. I never was called to anything important, I rarely spoke in sacrament meeting or bore my testimony. I tried to fall behind, to fall in line with the others, to maintain my presence while still continuing to doubt, to question, and to continually renew my faith by reading the words of my feminist sisters who understood completely where I was in my life. After making Tim visibly upset one night not long after we married when I expressed how much the temple ceremony bothered and hurt me, I never brought it up again. I went with him quietly and reverently from then on, not ever wanting to hurt this gentle man who has brought so much happiness into my life.
The night Tim rolled over in bed and told me he was not sure he knew that the Church was true anymore was both the most terrifying and most relieving night of my life. I no longer had to pretend, I could release all of the doubts, all of the anger, all of the grievances without fear of hurting him. My thoughts I was often expressing anonymously in Facebook forums now were put into words, many many words in cars and busses, on long walks in our new home in Madison, and in rare and stolen nights when both kids fell asleep at a reasonable hour and we had the energy to grapple with our doctrinal questions. Despite my relief that we were now closer to the same page in our book of belief, I was sickened with the reality of what openly questioning and perhaps even leaving the Church would mean for us, for our friendships we had developed in Provo, for our families. Like Ash Mae wrote in her recent post, I have been Mormon my entire life, and had no idea what it would mean to raise a family and teach my children without the foundation of the gospel to build upon and settle on. I too had seen so many rainbows, despite the dark clouds surrounding me in my doubts and fear. And so, even after Tim confided in me his fresh crisis of faith, I kept trying to move my feet, to feel the beat... because it was so easy, and the words were so sweet. But eventually, I forgot the words to that song. The words that at one time came so easily and were so tender and thought-provoking now left me feeling empty at best and angry at worst--and now matter how hard I tried, no matter how many sacrament meetings I made myself sit through or conference talks I listened to, I could not remember.
And luckily, we found a new community and we have made new friends that have given us hope for raising our children in a religion that speaks to us. It's not so familiar and comfortable, but it inspires me on a weekly basis and leaves me feeling whole and renewed. I can see a light at the end of the tunnel in our faith transition, a light that felt far away two years ago but is rapidly approaching. We are working hard to reinstate rituals that were lost when we left the Church; dinner prayer has been replaced with holding hands and saying in unison: "we are thankful for being, we are thankful for being here, we are thankful for being here together," an affirmation of truths that warms my heart when I hear Atticus saying the words and look into the happiness in Tallulah's eyes because I know they both truly feel the connection we have developed as a family, a connection that does not need the hope of being together forever to bind us, because we have this perfect moment in time that will never be stolen from us. Our three-hour Sunday block has been replaced by dropping Atticus off with his religious education teachers who adore him (and the feeling is definitely mutual!) and leaving Tallulah with a couple of teenage babysitters who can't get enough of her in a bright and sunny room, while Tim and I have an entire hour to sit together, hold hands, and listen to the words of Michael, or Kelly, or Sara enrich our lives with their wisdom. Tithing has turned into charitable contributions, in addition to what we regularly give to FUS. Temple trips have been replaced with meditation retreats.
Although it's been hard, and there has been conflict, both in our marriage and in our relationships with others, we look back and are both extremely grateful we have been able to support each other through this transition rather than leaving one person to navigate the stormy waters alone. We made a difficult, but surprisingly refreshing, decision several months ago to have our names formally removed from the records of the LDS Church. We knew awhile ago we were most likely not coming back, despite the hope of friends and family. Hence, technically I'm not even Mormon anymore, and was surprised by how deeply saddened and hurt I was by the actions of Church authorities towards two individuals I see as inspiring doubting members to stay IN the Church, and are far from apostacy. I was deeply saddened, and then I was simply angry -- angry that women and men I knew and loved so deeply were in their homes, sitting on their couches, sobbing and wondering where on earth they belong, and what on earth the Church would have them do? They try so hard to be good and faithful, and yet they are rejected by their own leaders time and time again. They are not given a formal voice within the organization, their requests are not actively engaged with, and they try through small acts of defiance (wearing pants to church, calmly asking for admittance into a meeting they are barred from) to signal to Church leaders they aren't happy with the status quo and would like to see changes. And for these small acts of agitation, and for their vocalizing of grievances shared by thousands of faithful Saints, they are denounced and punished. They are square (or triangular, or hexagonal) pegs trying to fit into circle holes within their ward families, and realizing that they thought the circle thing was just a cultural phenomenon, and that the Church itself needed and wanted all shapes and sizes of Saints, but actually now are being told they really do just want the circles. And I guess I wrote this post to say that I get it, that I love them, and that I know they will make a decision that is right for their souls and their families (if they have them). I support the decision to remain LDS, as well as the decision to leave or take a step back. At this time, if you are questioning or a feminist or support marriage equality, both are difficult and have profound consequences. There is beauty to be found both within the Church and without, and I have no doubt these women will find it, grow it, and spread it throughout their communities, and wherever life may take them.