Bio: Jenn is a former Latter-day Saint who grew up devout in the faith.
I didn’t leave the church because of things I discovered about its history—I had known those for many years and obeyed all leader directives to ignore anything critical about our faith.
I didn’t leave the church because somebody offended me—as a returned missionary and BYU graduate who married a fellow RM and worked for the church while raising a large family, I was treated quite well in the religion compared to most women.
I never left the church over human rights issues like abuse, racism, misogyny, LGBTQ rights, or financial concerns about the church’ use of tithing. I truly believed that those of us who follow Christ could improve the church from within, and I still do—keep on keeping on, everybody!
And I didn’t leave the church because I wanted to sin; teenage “experimentation” with cuss words and caffeinated sodas are the worst sins I committed when Mormon. It took me a long time just to experiment with iced tea after I officially withdrew my membership!
My parents raised me with daily scripture study and weekly FHE; I am a seminary graduate and former seminary president. I published articles in three church-owned magazines. I held high callings at a young age.
I enjoyed so much respect as a Mormon that when I decided to leave the religion—for reasons so personal that they are too sacred to me to share here— that I was actually joyfully looking forward to cultivating a happy interfaith family.
Two of my siblings had left the religion before me, but they were just “inactives” and one was more of a Jack Mormon. Still, everybody in our family and social circle remained kind and gracious towards those siblings; even my devout LDS husband got along with them just fine. I assumed that my faith transition would receive the same warm and supportive responses that my siblings had received.
But I was wrong.
My family life, extended family life, marriage, and social life were all permanently shattered when I left Mormonism.
Why the difference? Why was I treated differently than my siblings?
I am still trying to answer that question. Maybe you can help me, dear readers—
As a devoted wife in a decades-long temple marriage, I was mindful of my husband throughout my faith transition. Although he mostly shushed me whenever I tried letting him know that my beliefs were changing, we still got along great and loved our life together. At least I was loving my married life—was he only pretending, because I was a faithful Latter-day Saint? Was he only ever attracted to my Mormonness?
Because my attempt to gradually introduce my husband, John (*not his real name), to my new beliefs never caused any major problems. But when I gently mentioned maybe, possibly getting my name removed from the records of the church, he blew a gasket. I had never seen him so unhinged. I was scared to be alone with him after that, and rightfully so—from that moment on, John was violently angry in my presence, even when I discussed banal topics like car inspection or what to make for dinner.
Next, I reached out to my closest family members—first to my mother, who has always been a close confidant, and a sibling very close to me in age who has always been one of my best friends. My mother shut down, refused to talk to me, and instead sent me Ensign articles about holding more firmly to the iron rod. My sibling became angry and forbid me from ever visiting their home or seeing their children.
For a long time after, I was in denial about these reactions. I figured that my husband and relatives were just reeling from shock and would get over it. I assumed it was a phase they would eventually grow out of with time and as I demonstrated that I am still the same spiritually strong woman I have been my entire life. Dear readers, it has been almost five years since I left the church, and still my nieces and nephews are not allowed to talk to me, see me, or even interact with me on social media.
My husband, John, obeying the counsel of his parents and our bishop, filed for divorce. This shattered me in ways too painful and lengthy to mention here. Only one realization helps me understand John’s reaction—
John and I both saved ourselves for temple marriage, so we have only ever been intimate with each other. Or so I thought. Because looking back, I now realize that, despite decades of marriage, we never truly slept together. We performed intercourse, but then we immediately put our garments back on, as we had been commanded to do by temple leaders and bishops during temple interviews. We never slept truly side by side as a couple, we never spent more than a few minutes as “one flesh” (Genesis 2:24, Matthew 19:5, Mark 10:8, Ephesians 5:31) because the garment of the holy priesthood was always between us, all day and night & every day and night, for decades. In all those years of marriage, John and I were never truly alone, never one flesh except during intercourse, therefore we were never truly intimate.
Our only true intimacy was with this high-demand religion that cloaked us and clothed us in separateness.
My friends’ reactions to me leaving the church were all pretty much the same as my family’s reaction.
I still grieve the losses of these relationships. These losses hurt just as much as my divorce, even more in the case of my family who has known me and supposedly loved me since infancy.
But, every Mormon in my life did do one puzzling thing, even as they technically cut me out of their lives: they *publicly* expressed unconditional love and support for me.
For example, when I went public with my “I am leaving the church” Facebook post, I was shocked as my husband, siblings, friends, and parents—who had emotionally eviscerated me in private—all posted loving and supportive comments to my “coming out as exMormon” announcement.
At a family gathering soon after, they all lavished me with loving behavior and inquiries into my well-being, as if they cared deeply about me. But they stopped contacting me individually and their children were noticeably absent from this annual family gathering that typically included children.
I racked my brain for the first couple of years, trying to understand why I was being treated so differently from my inactive and jackMormon siblings. Was it because I had made a more permanent change by having my name removed from the records of the church? I doubted this, because a dear family friend of ours had been excommunicated for cheating on her spouse, yet we all cheered her on and loved on her as she worked her way back into the fold and eventually returned to full activity. The day she returned to the temple for the first time, we all showed up to support her.
So why aren’t my LDS family and friends being as loving or supportive to me in private as we were to other “black sheep” in our family and social circles? Why am I being treated differently?
I have a few theories, but maybe somebody on the outside can help me understand what I am not seeing.
My theories include:
1) Maybe, being a (now former) church employee, RM, BYU grad with high callings, perhaps more was expected of me? “Where much is given, much is required”(D&C 82:1-4) might be the principle at work here. My inactive siblings neither served missions nor held high callings nor worked for the church.
2) Is it because my faith transition ended my marriage to John, an upstanding priesthood holder of high rank, potentially harming his rise in the priesthood? My inactive siblings remained married, plus their spouses never held high callings.
3) Is it because I removed my name from the records of my own volition, rather than having my membership taken away by a leader? Is it more wrong for a woman to excommunicate herself than when a leader excommunicates her? Is that why our excommunicated family friend was treated with so much more love and generosity than I received?
4) Or is it maybe because as Mormons, we are conditioned to perform so many performative acts of love, that I am actually seeing the reality of how “lost sheep” get treated in private? Certainly, when I examine my past treatment of inactives and exMormons, there was always an agenda, and my kindness was definitely performative, but with pure motives (I was hoping to win them back into the fold and/or earn “how great shall be your joy with them in the kingdom of our father” per D&C 18:15-16). Maybe I was just as two-faced in my public versus private treatment of those who “stray,” without even realizing it?
I don’t understand my family and friends’ behavior yet, so I am just focused on healing from my grief for now.
In my dreams, I am still married to John and as supportive of his church career as he is of my divergent spiritual journey. In my dreams, my age-adjacent sibling is still my best friend, my parents still approve of my life’s work, and we all enjoy our large love-filled family gatherings with the inclusion of new, interfaith prayers, talk, and activities.
But for now, I am just dreaming. Accepting my new reality as an exMormon experiencing covert shunning, this new normal, will be my life until we learn, grow, and learn to do better.
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