Serena Freewomyn

When Faith Dies: My Reflections on Leaving the Mormon Church

Filed By Serena Freewomyn | December 06, 2007 12:53 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: gay Mormons, Mitt Romney, sexuality and spirituality

Thumbnail image for 345px-Slc_mormon_tempel.jpg Yesterday, Mitt Romney delivered a speech on “Faith in America.” Supposedly, he was going to address the Mormon issue once and for all and lay the media’s questions about his religious beliefs to rest. But Romney only used the word “Mormon” once during the 30 minute speech. I believe this was a move the keep the audience clamoring for more. Why? Everyone wants to know about Mormons these days. As one Bilerico member recently told me, “Mormons are the new black baby.” So Romney, ever the politician, is parlaying his most interesting asset to keep himself in the media. All imho, of course.

Mormons are odd ducks. In a world that’s saturated with sex, drugs, and alcohol, Mormons abstain from all three. Unless you live in Utah, you’re very likely only to know one or two Mormons. And even then, you probably really don’t “know” Mormons.

Alex and I started a thread about Mormonism a couple of weeks ago in response to a news report that the LDS Church is softening its position on homosexuality. And this week, I’ve been spotlighting gay Mormons and former Mormons as a way to bring gays into the discussion, rather than just commenting on what the Church has to say about them. I’ve never been formally ex-communicated from the Mormon Church, but I no longer consider myself a member. And despite the recent spate of articles I’ve posted about the subject, I very rarely talk about being a Mormon anymore. So I’ve been asking myself, “Why do I care about how the media portrays the Mormon Church?” It’s a complicated answer.

I grew up in a small Mormon town in northern Arizona called Joseph City. The town has maybe 300 people and it’s named after the Mormon Church’s founder, Joseph Smith. Although my grandparents are converts to the Church, I grew up going to church every Sunday, reading the Book of Mormon and praying with my family at least 5 times a day. Being a Mormon was an integral part of my identity. It was all I knew.

Within the Mormon culture, family is everything. In fact, one of the fundamental principles of Mormon doctrine is that “family is forever.” Literally. The Mormon concept of heaven is much more drawn out than some ambiguous place in the clouds where people go when they die. In Mormon heaven, there is a literal place where you spend eternity with your family. Now I’ve been to some family functions that seemed like they took an eternity to end. But within the Mormon paradigm, forever is a really long time.

When I was interviewing gay Mormons for this series, all of the people I talked to mentioned the loss of family when they left the Mormon Church. (To read the interviews, click here and here.) I can identify with the sense of loss, because I was kicked out of the house when my mom discovered I was a lesbian. For a long time, I blamed my mom. But now I blame the Church. To me, it’s extremely ironic that a church that teaches you that family is forever would also say that you should abandon your children if they tell you they’re gay.

However, when I was conducting the interviews, I reflected upon all of the good things that I experienced while I was an active member of the Church. Mormons are all about community. If someone is sick, local ward members bring casseroles and help out with the housework. If someone dies, they do the same thing. If you move, you can always count on members of both your old and new ward to help load and unload the truck. And they’ll even cut your grass if you can’t do it yourself. When I had an accident earlier this year and couldn’t cook or clean because I had a broken leg, the first thing I thought was, “Damn! I wish I still a Mormon so that people would come and bring me food.” I really do miss that sense of community.

But since I’ve left the Church, I’ve learned to expand my definitions of family and community. I’m a big believer in chosen family these days. I’ve got 2 chosen moms who love me and we’ve created our own family traditions together. My best friend and I have a bond that is stronger than words can describe. Even though my family of origin has let me down time and again, my chosen family has always been there for me, especially during the tough times.

If I could have a conversation with any of the leaders of the Mormon Church, I’d tell them about my life so that they could see the negative effects that some of the aspects of the Church’s doctrine has had on my life, as well as the lives of other LGBTQ Mormons I’ve met. However, I don’t expect them to change. And even though I miss the casseroles and Jell-o salads (OK, so I don’t miss the Jell-o), I would never join the Church again because women have zero power in the Church.

I don’t know why it bothers me to see the Church portrayed negatively in the media, even though I criticize the Church myself. I think it’s like people who portray the LGBTQ community negatively even though I criticize our community at times. It’s a whole lot different to talk shit on a group that you’ve been a part of than it is for outsiders to say things about you. I still believe that most Mormons are really good people who just happen to be brainwashed by a handful of bigoted leaders. There’s a lot of good things about the Church. But, in my opinion, that doesn’t override the overarching message that you’re unworthy of God’s love if you happen to be LGBTQ.

In January, I’m finally going to give the Church my walking papers because it's time to make the break-up official. I may or may not post about that process. But please wish me luck as I take the plunge.

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It's interesting to hear about the experiences of a 'real' Mormon--I'm from Missouri, so there are plenty of Mormons there, but most of the ones I knew were members of the RLDS church, rather than the mainline one. While I wouldn't describe them as 'progressive', I was really suprised when I started to become nationally aware and found out more about the perception and reality of the official Mormon church in Utah.

Good luck with that in January, Serena.

I still believe that most Mormons are really good people who just happen to be brainwashed by a handful of bigoted leaders.

Ain't that the truth. Most people don't benefit from exploited difference except for those already in a position of power.

On another subject, I don't know if Romney's speech is really going to help him in the long run. I found the whole "Vote for me because I'm a man of faith and that means I'd be a better president" but then "Don't discount me because of my faith because that's not what we do in America" theme beyond stupid. But, then again, I'm not the target audience.

“Mormons are the new black baby.”

Isn't that the truth. *grins* Soon Madonna and Angelina will be cat fighting over who gets to adopt Mitt Romney.