Sometime in the dark ages of my late teen/young adult life, Camilla Kimball (the wife of the LDS church’s president, Spencer) spoke about what she did with things relating to the gospel that she didn’t understand: she put it all on a shelf.
This was advice handed out over and over in Relief Society meetings and I imagine it was repeated to young men, too. If there’s something about the church you don’t understand, something in the way we do things and the why of it, just stick it up on that mental shelf. You’ll understand it later, if you’re meant to. If not, it’s God’s will.
The thing about putting things on a shelf is that sooner or later, you’ve put so much on it that the inevitable happens. The shelf breaks.
When the metaphorical shelf in your very real brain breaks, significant damage can occur. All the ignored doubts, the uncertainties, the outright WTF moments come crashing down at once. The things on that shelf are fragile as it is; they shatter like glass. It’s not a great way to deal with the very core of your spiritual identity.
I was lucky; my doubts came before anyone had a chance to advise me to construct this internal shelf, so I just chewed on them like tough, fat laden meat until I had to spit it out. My doubts came hard and fast early on; what the hell do you mean, Joseph Smith shoved his face into a hat to translate the golden tablets. What about that seer stone? And holy fark, THAT’s the excuse you’re giving me for why black men hadn’t been admitted to the priesthood until 1978? Because they have “too much to deal with, trying to get the world to see them as equal.”
I wish I was kidding. But that was only one excuse I was given. And given that 12-year-old white boys are anointed in the Aaronic priesthood, that kinda tells you what the church really thought about people of color.
Then came the revelation about the holy underwear and the stories woven around it were so fantastical that if I’d had a shelf, it would have bent.
Yeah, I dunno about now, but back then if you were talking to missionaries and were a potential convert, they didn’t tell you about things like the magic underwear. They probably do now because it’s so widely known, but back then few people outside the church were really aware of the bizarre undies. And they are bizarre.
Still. The bigger picture was what mattered to me, and to me at the time, it was the idea that revelation from God was still a thing. The church was just a conduit.
Then came BYU and the “ugh, you’re a CALIFORNIA Mormon” which left a nasty taste, but hey, bigots are everywhere, right?
But the thing that made my non-existent shelf crack was a Fireside chat we attended in Utah. We were already stepping away from most things church related and really only had our big toes in the water because of school, but for some reason we went to this thing, which is basically a church service where a few selected people get up and talk and try to be inspiring or motivating.
I listened as this young man stood up front, microphone in front of him, as he told us about this wonderful friend. He was a stellar example of faith in action. He volunteered. He served. He was the one you could count on to go help your grandmother with her lawn work without even being asked. He was the one who would show up, roll up his sleeves, and do the hard work, no matter how unpleasant. He was a happy, friendly guy, he’d served his mission, and he was what most men should be.
But…then he “turned gay.” Everything else he was no longer mattered. He was unworthy, and Speaker Boy thought it was a shame to have to turn his back on his friend, but no one should expose themselves to that kind of rank immorality.
I never attended another service after that.
I didn’t care if Joseph Smith conned people and started a religion; most organized religion is a money grab. I did care about how people were treated, and the long line of mistreatment of good people was enough for me to wave and say “‘Bye, Felicia.” Or I would have, if that had been a thing then.
Gay rights weren’t really a thing then; the few gay people I knew really just wanted to stay alive, rights beyond that were a future hope. But I damn well knew that someone doesn’t just “turn” gay and so what if they did? That doesn’t erase all the good they’ve done and will continue to do.
I kept paying attention, even if I had pulled my toe out of the water. Story after story, gay kids shunned by their families. Parents telling their kids they wished they were dead instead of gay. Smirks when some outcast kid DID kill themselves because of the pressure.
And it wasn’t just that. Other friends who left the church because they had doubts, too, were exiled from their families. This church that espoused family above everything but God accepted throwing people away because they didn’t fit the mold.
I could have gone the rest of my life without hearing another thing about the LDS church, but those people are persistent. We’d move, they’d find us. We’d be happily invited to attend a sacrament meeting (the sacrament prepared by worthy little white boys, of course) and welcomed back into the fold. I declined every time, but then came the Visiting Teacher.
Visiting Teachers were (I think, not positive, this has been discontinued) women who once a month visited other women for a short little gospel lesson and a chat. We were living in a ward where, I’d learned, the bishop’s daughter had been arrested for prostitution, the son ran away to avoid a mission, and the wife had an alcohol problem. I wouldn’t care, but…hell, I did.
They had my name, they had my phone number, assigned a visiting teacher to me, and she decided that I was A Project. She called relentlessly. “I need to come see you, it’s important.”
No, it’s not. I have to work.
And really, I had to work. This was at a time I was working at International Fitness Center, bouncing between the nursery and cleaning the locker rooms. I worked six days a week, usually 10 hours a day. I was not giving up the one day off I had to spend doing nothing with family.
After weeks of this woman’s persistence, I folded. I told her I had 45 minutes for lunch, she could meet me at work. The nursery would be empty, we could talk there.
Oh, no. It HAD to be at my home.
That was not happening.
And this is the moment she lit the spark that would eventually turn my I-just-don’t-care about the church into loathing: “You HAVE to see me at your home. I AM RESPONSIBLE FOR YOUR SOUL.”
Not even exaggerating.
I told her to never call me again, and if she did I would consider it an assault, and act accordingly. Now, to be honest, I had no idea what I would really do. It’s not like you can call the police and whine that someone woman wants to save your soul and she won’t leave you alone. I imagine there’s a lot of paperwork in that, and we were about to move from the area to a whole other state, so…meh.
I lived in my LDS Church Sucks bubble for a long time, never getting beyond that. They left me alone, so fine. I had no issue with most of the members, just with the details of the religion.
Then came Prodigy Online Services, then access to the Web and IRC, then websites…information bonanza. I’ve been poking around online since the late 80s, starting with a 300 baud dial up modem on Prodigy, creeping along at the speed of snails…and finding things. People sharing stories. People whose shelves didn’t just break, they shattered and the pieces drove right into their hearts.
There was the kid who had been stuck on his mission in South America; his mother was in a horrific accident and he wasn’t allowed to call home. Oh, they’d been happy enough to tell him she’d had the accident, but he was supposed to suck it up and keep working at bringing those converts in, and if he had to do anything, just pray. She died, and he was not allowed to leave. Why didn’t he just take off? Because the mission president had his passport.
He was nineteen; he didn’t know about American Embassies or just outright demanding it back with the threat that if they didn’t hand it over he’d file a kidnapping report. This was God’s work, and the MP knew about God, so. He stayed. For the remaining 18 months of his mission. By the time he got home, his family had moved through much of their grieving before he even got to start.
Another person… he had a girlfriend, they “sinned,” she got pregnant. He was never given an option in what happened. Neither was she. They wanted to get married; instead they were pressured into handing their kid over to LDS Family services to be raised by a good and faithful and more specifically a WORTHY married couple. They didn’t grasp until it was too late that they had options. They didn’t HAVE to comply. But they’d been raised that church leaders were never wrong because they were appointed by a calling from God, so what other choice was there? God is never wrong, and the church leaders speak for God, so what they wanted was the right thing. Right?
The stories went on and on and on.
Still, in my head it was all just another religion, and those *might* be anomalies.
Then came Proposition 8 in California. They church crossed the line between separation of church and state and actively waged a campaign to affect the outcome of the vote. They spent a metric chit ton of money waging a war against the rights of people who did not belong to their church and had no impact on their church, just to keep them from getting married. They sent letters to members “encouraging” them to vote against the proposition.
Bullshit. They TOLD the members what to vote for.
It’s one thing for a church to take a moral position on any given matter; it’s a whole other thing for them to actively campaign against it in areas that have nothing to do with their religion. You don’t want gay marriage? Don’t get gay married. Go forth in your heterosexual pairing and pop out babies like confetti, whatever floats your boat. You run a church that is against homosexuality, then don’t sanctify those marriages. That is your right.
And honestly…the church’s active interfering in public policy regarding gay marriage only scratched the surface of my now deep loathing of the religion. The fostering of family divide over personal issues only scratched the surface. Overt racism only scratched the surface. Magic underwear only scratched the surface.
You know what happens when the surface of something gets scratched enough? It’s pretty well ruined.
So maybe my shelf was actually a painting. And the paint got so scratched that the picture was gone.
And through the years, through all the little (and in hindsight, big) things that pushed me away, I couldn’t quite articulate the problem when asked why I’d left the church. It was a ton of things that would take far too long to explain and the people who wanted to know didn’t really want the answer. They wanted to be able to tell me I was wrong.
But deep down, yeah, you’d have to hog tie me to get me into a sacrament meeting.
More recently…hey, who’d have thought that a Missionary Training Center President would have what amounts to a sex dungeon in the training center? But it happened in the early 80s, the church was told about it, did nothing, and one of the victims has the asshat on tape admitting it. They’re still doing nothing other than “investigating,” which I assume means they’ll keep browbeating any victims who come forward by blaming them for participating because OF COURSE they had free will and all that, while the perp remains with the church, protected.
What else are they hiding?
Like I said, it’s all just the surface. There’s a hell of a lot more. We could discuss the three levels of heaven and how only the best of the best (and of course, wholly LDS because no one else matters) will reach the highest level. We could talk about the outright freakish temple ceremonies (look online for videos of temple ceremonies made by newnamenoah, have a good laugh) in which people are given a new name—but the wife never gets to learn her husband’s new name but he sure as shit gets to know hers. And hey, let’s talk about the 2nd Anointing, in which certain (read: rich and white) members are GUARANTEED their spot in the highest level of heaven no matter what else they do (the aforementioned MTC Prez…probably has it. As do all the apostles of the church. Which means they can screw the members but still be perfectly worthy of sitting at the celestial dinner table with God and Jesus, drinking the water that Jesus turned to wine, but Oh No! Wine is forbidden because OF COURSE IT IS.)
We could discuss a lot.
But the meat of it…if you really want to know…you can read at CES LETTER. (And fair warning...if you're a True Believing Mormon, you won't be after you read the whole thing. Your shelf will bend in ways you never considered possible.) (Oh, double warning...reading the CES Letter is enough to get your asterisk dragged into counseling with your Bishop or Stake President. They want to start damage control before you have a chance to think about it.) It’s a start. Even it’s not everything.
It really all boils down to one thing: this church is not, in spite of the face it presents to the world, kind.
A great many of its members are. They’ve very kind.
But the church is not, and I am really several kinds of ashamed that I was ever a part of it.