Two years ago, I had lunch with a friend. This friend expressed that they were having doubts about the religion that he and I shared. His doubts were specifically about the way that the church treated LGBTQ+ people.
He and I were a part of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. You probably know it as the Mormon church. The Mormon church teaches that we can love our LGBTQ friends and family, but that if they enter loving relationships that aren’t heterosexual, they are breaking the commandments of God and won’t be able to enter heaven. It’s a teaching that causes a lot of pain, especially for LGBTQ members of the church.
What this friend didn’t know is that I had plenty of doubts of my own. Mormons and ex-Mormons talk about our “shelf” – this is where you put questions that don’t have good answers. Put them on your shelf and we’ll find the answers in “the next life.”
My shelf was pretty heavy. Years of shame and feelings of inadequacy plagued me. I had also wondered whether a loving God would create LGBTQ children and then expect them to be celibate their whole lives.
We were taught never to read about the church from other sources, because it could shake our faith. So I had never looked at these “anti-Mormon” materials. My friend’s expressions of doubt finally gave me permission to look. I found an invaluable resource called the CES letter. It opens with a quote from J Reuben Clark, a past leader of the Mormon church:
If we have the truth, it cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed.
I assumed my “truth” would survive this investigation. I was wrong.1
That night began a monumental shift in my life. Within hours, I had decided that the church to which I had dedicated 32 years of my life was built on a false foundation. I left the Mormon church.
It wasn’t easy. If you’ve ever met a Mormon missionary, you’ve probably heard them talk about how our families can be together forever. It’s the big selling point of the church.2 The reality is that this doctrine is pernicious: You can be with your family forever, but there are many asterisks. You must pay 10% of your income to the church. You must follow many commandments (including those forbidding coffee and alcohol) and be willing to sacrifice much for the church. Only then can you be with your family forever, and only if they also follow all of these commandments.
So, when you leave the church, those who remain in the church see you as breaking up your eternal family. It can cause a lot of pain, and even ruin relationships.
I was lucky that most of my relationships survived my faith transition. Some got stronger. I feel so much gratitude for those relationships.
So, here I am. Lighter, happier, and free to think my own thoughts. While the transition was difficult, even traumatic, I am grateful every day for where it has left me.
If you’re part of the Mormon church and have been having doubts of your own, please reach out. I would love to be a safe resource. I will not try to pull you out of the church; I am here to listen and validate. Faith transitions can be lonely and traumatic. We need to support each other.
If you’d like to know more or have your own story to share, please reach out. I’m an open book and love to hear others' stories.
One reason this particular resource hit so hard was that it has footnotes back to resources on the official church website. The most damning of these resources are the Gospel Topics Essays. These are a series of essays which the church starting publishing around 2013, admitting to some of the historical issues in the church. I was previously taught that much of the content in these essays was anti-Mormon lies. There were also a bunch of historical issues I didn’t know about at all. But finding out that the church admitted that many of these “lies” were actually true really put the final nail in the coffin for me. ↩︎
Interestingly, most other churches have similar teachings, but with fewer asterisks. What church is teaching that you won’t see your loved ones in heaven? ↩︎