Thursday, June 28, 2007

a letter from the bishop

The letter from the bishop came the same day as the other letters. It was typed, and over one page single spaced. Reading almost made me want to write him back to explain things. His writing was sincere, if confused and firmly within the Mormon paradigm. I won't quote the letter here in full, but I'll summarize and editorialize.

He expressed sadness, and asked that if we were offended by him (what it is with people thinking people leave for being offended?!?) to let him know and forgive him--humans are fallible, the church is True. I disagree. Frankly, it had nothing to do with him at all. He didn't drive us away, and he couldn't have helped us stay.

He then mentioned free agency, saying God never forces us, so he's respecting our decision. Good man. He may think we're using our free agency poorly, but at least he didn't berate us about it.

I could tell he read our letter carefully (even though we didn't write it carefully), because he told us exactly in what circumstances he will break confidentiality on this matter (he'll tell the Elders quorum and Relief Society presidents to take us off their lists). My concern with confidentiality was that somehow my father would be notified (he is a stake president), but the bishop referred to our friends in the church, and hoped that we would be able to keep up those friendships. We had many acquaintances in the ward, most of whom we lost long ago, once the weekly social contacts were dropped. We did have a few real friends in the ward, most of them non-believers whom we still contact (hi!), and the rest NOMish or Cultural Hallish people (those who are "in the church but not of it").

He took time to thank us for our past contributions and service in callings. That was nice, though I regret all the tithing.

Then came the lecture about the Three Reasons People Leave the Church.

1) They are sinning.
2) They were offended and fail to forgive.
3) "They cannot reconcile the theories and philosophies of men that they embrace with the teachings of Christ as taught in the Church."

To his credit, he didn't accuse us of sinning, or try to guess which "philosophy of men" tricked us away. Instead, he wrote, "I believe that you are intellectually honest. However, not knowing your issues I won't attempt to persuade you to reconsider your actions..." He them encouraged us to write down our concerns and come back to the list in 10 or 20 years, and that by then, "the issues that bring you to request leaving the Church today will have been resolved and you will have satisfactory answers and enlightenment" enough that we may want to come back. (Or not.) When I read that, I joked, "Oh, the church will allow women the priesthood in the next couple decades!" Not that that was the only thing that pushed me to leave.

I thought, over all, the letter could have been much, much worse. I wasn't emotionally affected by the letter like I would have been in the past, when things were still raw. I wasn't mad that he wrote even though I asked him not to. I kind of appreciated it, and it almost made me want to explain some of the issues to him--to explain that these aren't issues that I will just forget about in 10 or 20 years. These aren't issues that the church will fix in the next little while, if ever.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

it's official

As of May 22, 2007, we were no longer LDS--legally. Now, the church thinks so too. We got the letters in the mail yesterday.

June 12, 2007

Dear Sister FTA:

This letter is to notify you that, in accordance with your request, you are no longer a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.


Should you desire to become a member of the Church in the future, the local bishop or branch president in your area will be happy to help you.

As if.

My husband got a matching letter in the same envelope. There was nothing for or about our son, though, which concerns us. Is he off the records too? Is the primary presidency still going to try to get him to church? He was the biggest reason we officially resigned, so to not have anything about him is worrying.

We got the letter sooner than we expected. The stake president, bishop, and Salt Lake received letters May 24 (delivery confirmation is a beautiful thing), so June 12 is pretty fast from what I hear. We just used the standard form letter from MormonNoMore. The one change I made was in the stake president's letter, in which I stated "waive the church's standard 30-day waiting period." This seemed to do the trick better than the "with no waiting periods" in the form letter. I know this made a difference, because the bishop also wrote us a letter in which he mentioned a call from the president regarding the waiting period waiver. I'll save the bishop-letter commentary for another post.


I look Mormon. I have no tattoos, only one set of ear piercings, no "extreme hairstyle." I dress pretty plain, nothing goth or too skimpy or stoner or anything else that would send up red flags for a conservative, devout Mormon. I grew up here, so my accent isn't off. I'm seven generation, so I'm not asking anyone, "What's a ward?" or "What's that pointy white building on the hill?" In other words, I am an ex-Mormon in hiding. My husband joked, "So, you're going stealth?" At least he has a goatee, so no one is mistaking him for the elder's quorum president.

Some of the time, I like being stealth. No one treats me like pariah, people talk freely around me, I don't get nasty looks in the grocery store aisle. I'm just one of them. But I'm not. Which makes it kind of fun, in a way. Like I have a little secret that no one suspects.

Some of the time, though, I really want to do something to look different. To let them know I'm not one of them, and I'm okay with not being one. Get a second piercing in my ears, a nose ring, or a tattoo. Wear sleeveless, or even spaghetti strap shirts. Order a drink in a restaurant. Walk to the park with a coffee in hand. Part of that is wanting to distinguish myself from the devout Mormons. Part of that is wanting to announce my membership in the DAMU, among the disaffected. I walk around town thinking, Somebody here has to be a nonbeliever. Somebody here has got to be a DAMUite. My husband and I joked about getting T-shirts made that would announce our status to other DAMUites, but not clue devout Mormons in to our alternative paradigm. "Friendly neighborhood atheist" or "happy heretic" may be a little much for Utah. A shirt that says "DAMU" or "FLAK" would do nicely, I think. Everyone would just think it's some new name brand they've never heard of, but fellow DAMUites would know, and smile. Because, though I look Molly Mormon, I am really one of you.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

ethnocentrism of Mormonism

The other day, I was slyly invited by a devout Mormon to a two-hour lecture on printing presses that turned out to be an ethnocentric testimony-fest. It started with Gutenburg, which was actually pretty interesting. (Except for the part where Adam was credited with inventing writing. Adam. Wow. The naivety astounded me.) Once the lecture moved on to Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine, and the war for independence-as-setting-the-stage-for-the-Restoration, I was rolling my eyes. When the lecturer was getting all spiritual about Thomas Paine and Common Sense, I wanted to interject, "He was a deist, man! A deist! Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin! The whole lot of them! All deists and atheists!" But I held my tongue, and endured the religious patriotism by fantasizing about the chaos that would ensue if I spoke my mind.

When the lecture moved on to full-blown Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith worship, I was ready to walk out. He talked about the printing of the Book of Mormon like it was an act of God, instead of just a bunch of men working hard on a poorly-written fantasy novel. I wished he would have asked me "What do you think of that?" and that I could have answered, "I think Joseph was a fraud." But I never would have. Whether that's out of respect for the people I was with or just plain cowardice, I don't know.

To the lecturer, and apparently the whole audience other than me, the invention of movable type, the discovery of the New World, and the creation of the United States were simply preparing the world for the printing of the Book of Mormon. And you know, "without the Book of Mormon we could not have the True Church of Jesus Christ on the Earth." (If only.) The ethnocentrism astounded me. The lecturer thought Mormonism was at the center of the world. What astounded me more than that was the thought that I used to think so, too. Once I let go of that notion two years ago, the world suddenly made so much more sense.

Perhaps the most disturbing part about the whole thing was that my son was there, hearing this drivel about the alloy used in the gold plates, the restoration of the gospel, and the hand of God in the Book of Mormon printing process. Thankfully, he was bored to death and not listening. I tried to take him out during the whole Book of Mormon part, but someone else kindly offered to entertain him outside so I could listen. No doubt to try to get me to feel the Spirit (TM).

I didn't.

Afterward, when we were alone, I asked little FTA what he learned.

"Nothing," he said, with his tough-preschooler attitude.

"Nothing?" I asked, feigning astonishment, but hiding relief that he didn't retain anything about the gold plates.

"Something about the Mormon book," he added. I thought, Okay, so we were going to have to do some damage control. But I smiled that he didn't even know the title, when kids his age are encouraged to carry copies of it with them to Sunbeams.

"See, about that. The guy back there? He was talking about the Book of Mormon like it was a history book. But I don't think it is. I think it's just a imagination book. A pretend story. You know? Like Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood. Because there's no evidence for it to show it's a history book."

"Yeah! None." He spread his arms expansively, and spoke in a exacerbated tone beyond his age, " 'Cause, evidence? Where is it?"

Thursday, June 21, 2007

out of the mouths of babes

"Look, there's a church. And another church right there. There are tons of churches in this place. Because so many people here believe in Jesus. There's one on every block!"

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

quest for coffee in Utah Valley

Preparing coffee at home would make our hosts uncomfortable. On our first morning in Utah Valley, we decided to spend some quality family time, just the three of us, on a search for coffee. Now, we happened to be in Provo at the time, so we knew out quest would be difficult and dangerous. My husband remembered a coffee shop he had visited last time he was here, many moons ago. We drove by the spot, not too far from BYU, but it seemed to have died.

Coffee drinkers: 0; Mormon culture: 1.

Next, we drove up the hill to Orem and remembered a Barnes and Noble with a Starbucks inside. Sweet. We ordered grande coffees, and chilled in the store reading stories to our son until we had our fill of caffeine. We could almost feel like we were back home. Except that the only other customers ordered hot chocolate and soda.

Coffee drinkers: 1; Mormon culture: 2.

That coffee moment in the bookstore lasted us a while, but on Father's Day, when everyone else was at church, I headed out to find a coffee for my husband. First, he googled "coffee and The-town-we're-in, Utah" and came up with one place. One. Googled Barnes and Noble to see if there was at least a Starbucks hiding in one. Closest one twenty minutes away.

Coffee drinkers: 1; Mormon culture: 3.

I went for the one place, a converted house, and got the last cup before the place closed up for the day. Good coffee, too.

Coffee drinkers: 2; Mormon culture: 3.

Any recommendations?

(I don't know how long it's been since I had an adult beverage.)

Monday, June 18, 2007

"come back"

This came in the mail just before I left town.

Dear Brother & Sister FTA:

I have been asked to acknowledge your recent letter in which you request that your family's names be removed from the membership records of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

I have also been asked to inform you that the Church considers such a request to be an ecclesiastical matter that must be handled by local priesthood leaders before being processed by Church employees. Therefore, your letter and a copy of this reply are being sent to President Name F. Removed of the County State Stake. He will have Bishop Name F. Removed of the Local Area nth Ward contact you concerning the fulfillment of your request.

In view of the eternal consequences of such an action, the Brethren urge you to reconsider your request and to prayerfully consider the enclosed statement of the First Presidency.

The enclosed pamphlet has a picture of the Christ statue from the Salt Lake Temple Square Visitors Center, and is entitled "An Invitation." Inside, Hinckley, Monson, and Faust stare out at me with staged smiles.

An Invitation to Come Back

We reach out to members of the Church throughout the world in a spirit of love and brotherhood inspired by the Lord Jesus Christ.

Our interest and concern are always with the individual man or woman, boy or girl. Our great responsibility is to see that each is "remembered and nourished by the good word of God" (Moroni 6:4). If any have been offended, we are sorry. Our only desire is to cultivate a spirit of mercy and kindness, of understanding and healing. We seek to follow the example of our Lord, who "went about doing good" (Acts 10:38).

To you who for any reason find yourselves outside the embrace of the Church, we say come back. We invite you to return and partake of the happiness you once knew. You will find many with outstretched arms to welcome you, assist you, and give you comfort.

The Church needs your strength, love, loyalty, and devotion. The course is fixed and certain by which a person may return to the full blessings of Church membership, and we stand ready to receive all who wish to do so.

Sincerely yours,
Hinckley, Monson, and Faust
The First Presidency

I knew that even though I asked for no contact from the church other than a letter of confirmation of name removal, I would get the letter and pamphlet above. So I wasn't surprised or bothered much. I took it as confirmation that Dodge got our letter and started the process. We also cc'ed the stake president and the bishop, so hopefully things are moving along. If either of them have tried to call us to discuss "the eternal consequences" of our resignation, I wouldn't know, as we moved and discontinued our phone number.

I laughed at the "eternal consequences" line, and was annoyed at the "if any have been offended, we are sorry." I told this to my fellow non-believing friend, and she said, "I find that so ridiculous that they could possibly think I could be so petty as to go through all that hell of leaving just because someone said some comment that offended me!" No doubt.

Oh, and "the happiness I once knew"? It was a fantasy. I prefer the happiness I currently have, thanks.

Friday, June 15, 2007


Little fta sitting down for dinner with his cousin

Cousin: I want to say a prayer. You want to say a prayer?
Little fta: No.

Watching Last Comic Standing

Comic Try-out (paraphrased): The debate between evolutionary scientists and intelligent design is totally unbalanced. The evolutionists are saying things like, "Nuclear fusion reactions in the sun's core fuse hydrogen into helium*." While the intelligent design side says, "That's a good point. But the sun feels like a warm hug...from Jesus."
FTA and Mr. FTA: laugh
Mother-in-law: Uncomfortable sigh

Uncle-in-law: Boy, it sure is great to see you guys. But you live so far away.
FTA: Yeah, it is a bit far.
Uncle-in-law: genially You know, that's a choice to live so far away from Utah.
FTA: pointedly Yes, it is.
Uncle-in-law: Oh.

Looking at this picture, entitled While Emma Sleeps

Mr. FTA: Check it out.
FTA: Whatever. Such a fantasy. What was he really doing while Emma slept?
Mr. FTA: She needs to be about 14 or 15. That'd be more accurate.
Both: laugh cynically
Mother-in-law: overhearing part of the conversation What about 14 or 15?


Thursday, June 14, 2007

the elephant in the room

When are we going to talk about it? How will it come up? Should it come up? Is there ever a good time to bring it up? The conversation will, inevitably, be awkward and painful. And will having the conversation even help in the end? Will it make things better? Or will both parties just leave the conversation feeling the barrier between us even more keenly? Why have a conversation that will bring tears, leave us in tears, and only widen the gap, strengthen the barrier, make the elephant's shit smell even worse?

It just doesn't come up. It doesn't. As if we skirt the issues as far as possible, and if anyone makes a comment that comes close, we all just let it slide. Pretend it didn't happen. Roll our eyes, feel a little uncomfortable, then move on. I love talking about the issues. I love it. It's interesting and cleansing. It's helps me move on, and gets me to think through things. I've talked with devout Mormons, ex-Mormons, jack Mormons, never-Mormons. I've been variously neutral, angry, happy, impassioned, and calm in those conversations.

But with devout Mormon family? How will that turn out? I've only tried to make minor comments, hoping they would bite and we could have a good conversation, philosophy of religion style. It's never worked. I either get frightened looks, uncomfortable silences, or lectures about the nature of God's commands. Could it ever been calm?

How long can I let it all slide, without being bowled over by the dominant Mormon culture and beliefs? Where's that balance between adopting their language and asserting my own?
I grow stronger in my own identity and new paradigm; how much of that do I show--for my comfort and sanity--and how much do I hide--for their comfort?

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

the Family Underground (the F.U.)

This is the first time with the whole extended family since leaving the church, so there are things I've noticed this time that I never noticed before. Like how there's a Family Underground: smoking, late night drinking, visits to bars. No one in the family is comfortable drinking in front of the patriarch and matriarch, no one is comfortable admitting that they drink. It seems to be one of those open secrets; surely, everyone knows who drinks and who doesn't, but the non-drinkers never say anything. The drinkers have coded looks, or talk in private to arrange drinking times and places. They pass by and whisper, "Still on for tonight?" Absolutely.

An interesting thing is that is seems that only the adults know about our leaving. The Jack Mormon parents, for example, directly invited me over for a drink. But when I had the glass in hand, their kids were sure their parents had corrupted me. I caught another cousin, one from a temple-going family, checking out what was obviously not a garment line through my white shirt. The question is this: Have they not told their kids because they don't want to gossip, or have they not told their kids because they want to protect them from us?

But it's also interesting that the adults do know. I don't know how they know exactly, who told them and how. I'm trying to decide if it's worth it to bother to ask someone. It just seems too weird to gossip about how the gossip goes around. Whatever the gossip buzz, I like the Underground. It's just sad that it has to be underground.

Monday, June 11, 2007

the family

The family I'm with, my husband's extended family, is predominantly Mormon, with three families temple-going Mormon, one family Jack Mormon, and another an ex/nevermo couple. I knew this since I joined the family, though no one every really talks about it. Someone must have told my once, and that was it. No one asks why the one family doesn't attend or why the one doesn't believe. In fact, I wasn't even sure until this trip what they general statuses were until the Jack Mormon mom told me she still believes but just can't stand the time commitment, and someone else told me with ex-Mormon "hates the church." Everyone just enjoys or tries to enjoy each others' company. For the most part, they do, and I do. I've found I have little desire to talk to anyone about my leaving.

Major religious talk is basically avoided, though, of course, there are mentions of Young Women's or Family Home Evening or missionaries. I don't mind that at all; it's just a part of the culture. There really isn't another way to talk. There is an assumption, though, that we all hold the same set of values. Mostly, we do. Everyone thinks it's a good thing to be nice and to be honest, for example. But there are values that we don't all hold, like it's a good thing to go on a proselytizing mission for the LDS church. I just let things like that slide; it's not worth the argument.

Prayers are usually not said over meals on this trip. When they are, I just stand there quietly, eyes open, and smile at my son, who seems to be amused that everyone is thanking their Pretend Friend for the food when he knows perfectly well it came from the store, and the farms before that. Thankfully, activities were scheduled for all Sunday, not even leaving time for church-goers to pop out to the local meeting house. Whether or not to go to church with family has been an issue in the past and will be in the future; I'm happy that it was just a non-issue this time. I doubt any of the regular church-goers mind missing one week on vacation anyway.

There are some obvious clashes between one of the temple-goers and the ex-Mormon, though some of that is personality differences, I'm sure. Some of those personality clashes come out as Mormon-related comments, though, and it seems that the whole religion issue exacerbates it. For example, the Mormon complained about having a whole brood of children to haul around, and the ex-Mormon commented angrily, "No one's making you crank them out. If you crank 'em out, you take care of them." (There were already in the midst of a heated fight.) I tried to stifle a laugh. Later, when the ex-Mormon wasn't around, the temple-goer made a terribly rude remark about how the ex-Mormon completely lacks principles and rules. It made me mad, but I held my tongue. I hold my tongue too much; I'm just not a confrontational person. But it gets me through.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

impressions on returning to Utah

Driving in, I loved seeing the mountains again. Especially the ones in Utah Valley, the ones I saw every day growing up. They are so imposing, high and jagged, circumventing the whole valley. I oriented myself using those mountains; Y-mountain always to the east, a snow-capped, higher range behind and above it. Utah Lake is there, stretching across in the west, with the low, un-forested mountains beyond.

In childhood, I found comfort in being surrounded by their familiar ridges. My world was encased in that valley. Rarely did I venture north to Salt Lake or south to the wilds of southern Utah. Rarely did I go through the passes and canyons to other mountain valleys. My world was simply there, in that pink bubble, the cultural center of Mormonism. Now, the mountains seemed impossibly large, ready to fall over. I stared in awe at the folds and ripples of rock in the canyons, amazed that I never appreciated the millions and billions of years of geologic time, earthquakes, wind, and water that created that beauty.

As I drove down I-15, I saw indications of the Utah Mormon subculture. Five church steeples in view near one exit. New, impossibly large homes spreading across the western valley and up the foothills, farm land and orchards gone. Billboard after billboard garishly advertising luxury homes, Mormon movies, minivans and SUVs. Some were obviously advertising to the Mormon market, hitting up 8-children families to build bigger homes. They made me laugh, a slightly smirking laugh. It was so specific to this market, so Utah.

This is the home of my childhood, of college. I don't feel it is my home now, but still it has that familiarity, that comfort. At the same time, it is different. I am different. So much has changed.

So much has changed.

Friday, June 01, 2007

What does ex-Mormon mean, Mom?

litte fta: What does ex-Mormon mean, Mom?
fta: An ex-Mormon is someone who used to be Mormon, but isn't anymore.
little fta: So we're ex-Mormons.
fta: Well, dad and I are ex-Mormons, but you're not an ex-Mormon, you're just a kid!
little fta: disappointed face
fta: Kids aren't old enough to be a religion, you were never Mormon.
little fta: But I went to church every week for a long time!
fta: Yeah, but you were never baptized.
little fta: What's that?
fta: It's a way of saying, "Okay, this person is part of our church now." Christians do it.
little fta: How come I wasn't baptized?
fta: You were too young. Mormons wait until the kids are eight. I think that's too young.
little fta: How come you were baptized?
fta: My parents think that's not too young. But I think it is too young. I think kids should just be kids, and they can choose a religion when they are grown-ups.
little fta: I'm not too young. I want to choose now. smiling facetiously
fta: You do?
little fta: Yeah, I want to be...wall.
fta: Really? I thought you wanted the Flying Spaghetti Monster as your god.
little fta: No, not anymore. I don't want any gods.
fta: But how can you choose? You don't even know what all the religions are yet.
little fta: Yes I do! There's Christian. And wall.
fta: There's also Muslims, all sorts of Christians, Buddhists...
little fta: Dude-ist! What's Dude-ist?
fta: Buddhist, not Dude-ist.
little fta: Oh, like Buddha. What is that?
fta: Well, I don't know that much. But it's about giving up things you want, because those things only make you unhappy. That's what they think, so they try to stop wanting things. I think.
little fta: shoots at me with his watch, pointed like a gun
fta: Honey, no shooting.
little fta: It was just a water gun! See, just water!