This post is the first of a series I’m running on the Mormon Expression Blog. Visit there to see more comments and other Mormon themed posts by various authors.
Where did I come from? Why am I here?
Area code 801? Who could be calling me from area code 801? I was born in Utah and even went to BYU but I only maintain a couple of relationships in that state and their names weren’t appearing on my caller ID. I knew Utah was a big telemarketing center so not knowing who it was, I just didn’t answer the three or four days in a row that they called.
Then, curiosity got the better of me.
“Is this XYZ?”
“This is President ABC calling”
Gulp. It was my former mission president.
I hadn’t talked to him since I had attended a mission reunion probably 10 years earlier. I’d certainly never talked to him on the phone. I liked my mission president in a distant-leadership-respectful sort of way. Our mission at the time was among the world’s top baptizing and it had been a very “get-em, dunk-em and move on” environment and that always made me uncomfortable but I didn’t know anything else. I was an average missionary but easily baptized over a hundred souls (but who’s counting, right?). My president certainly wasn’t among the worst that I’ve heard of, but I was never one of his golden child missionaries either. That’s due to an experience I had with my first companion, but that’s too good of a story in and of itself to tell here.
I knew immediately why he had called me.
I’d recently told one former mission companion about my disaffection from the church. This companion had obviously gone to our mission president for help. President ABC was now a General Authority and I was shocked that he actually took the time to call. After my initial surprise, I quickly regained composure and stunned myself even more that I was neither nervous nor unsure about my position or my conclusions. Again, the conversation that followed could be the stuff of another post, but he mostly asked questions and listened. He was very respectful and I held back too in my habitual deference to him. But it was the conclusion that blew me away.
This man who had taught me to bear my testimony boldly and to deliver a baptismal challenge on the first discussion ended the phone call by telling me that his testimony remains intact because he always comes back to the fact that Joseph Smith named some middle-eastern object in the Book of Mormon … and got it right (sorry, I don’t remember the actual example he used).
Really? That’s it? I was speechless … and the phone call ended with his promise to follow up with me on another detail of our conversation (which he never did).
I won’t even get into how I should have responded, but suffice it to say that as a scientist by profession, his logic was way askew. I had expected a powerful touchy-feely testimony close, not the shaky-logic, fact-based but easily-refuted linguistic evidence close!
I don’t remember if I said this to him or not, but why would I give that sort of re-consideration to the LDS Church which had gotten so many other things wrong? Why not reconsider Catholicism or Islam? I’m sure I could find a thread of fact-based evidence on which to hang a testimony of those faiths as well. The obvious answer was simple – because the LDS Church is the one I was born into, the one I knew. It was familiar and comfortable.
I was accused on my mission several times of only being a Mormon because my parents were LDS. I resented the implication that my religion wasn’t a choice but something akin to a genetic disease. In my mind I told myself that I had experienced “the world” during my first year in college and determined all on my own to follow the LDS church and come on my mission. But did I really? Did I explore Humanism for a year? Did I take up Yoga and try to find peace or happiness in one of the gazillion activities available to me? Not really.
What I had actually done is set up a false dichotomy for myself. Either follow the LDS church, serve a mission and marry in the temple or partake in the hedonism around me at college for the rest of my life.
I see LDS gay men who do the same thing. They have a period in their lives where they supposedly live “the lifestyle.” They go to gay bars, have random sex and even dabble in drugs and alcohol. Some of them even found partners who did all this with them. In essence they lose self-control for a year or two. None of it fulfilled them and so they ran back to Mormonism. In their minds they use that period of decadence on one end of the decision scale and balance it with how they behaved and felt during an LDS youth conference years before and those become the two choices. They’re still miserable after they return to church, but at least they’re not addicted to drugs or having dangerous sex and they swear they’ve explored the other side and know they’re at a better place. And in one sense they are right. They are in a better place and just slightly less miserable…but they’re definitely not content or at peace. Those are not the only two choices in life. Being gay does not mean drugs and promiscuous sex. And there are far more choices in life than being a temple worthy Mormon or a gay-gone-wild college student.
In fact, let’s be honest. The only reason I believed as I did or that most of you believe as you do is because Scientologists didn’t get to our ancestors first. If I had been born into a Catholic family, I have no doubt that I’d have been as touched by the rosary as I was by the temple. Faith would be just as powerful in another belief system and the instinct would be to not question the religion of my birth. I’m not saying everything would be exactly the same without LDS faith, There would certainly be differences…but it would be neither “up” nor “down”, not better or worse…just different…and that alternate reality would be the one we all tell ourselves is meant to be… and that alternate reality would have been the one my mission president feels has blessed his life and taught him things.
Some of the most interesting people I know have been the ones who have “strayed” into life paths somewhere in the middle. These are places I never even considered or thought possible when I was younger, but apparently there are ways to be a good, honest and productive person outside the LDS faith. There are ways to remain LDS and still be compassionate, liberal and a lover of truth.
But be honest about how you got to where you are.
I only write about being a former Mormon and my frustrations with it … because great-great-grandpa Peter and his wife jumped on the Mormon train rather than the Jehovah’s Witness bandwagon.