I was born into the Church, but not exactly.
On the one hand, I was born to very young LDS parents in Provo, Utah. My father is a returned missionary. I spent the first three years of my life living on the campus of BYU. I lived in Utah, mostly in Salt Lake City, until college. My family has always been a church-going folk. My mother is particularly devout, but we'd all get up and go to church for three hours every Sunday for all of my life. When each of my mother's four children turned eight, we were baptized.
On the other hand, I was not born into the church. Both of my parents were converts from other states who migrated to Utah. We had no pioneer heritage. We didn't have recipes for green Jell-o with carrots or for funeral potatoes and, even if we had, they wouldn't have been passed down from generation to generation. We, as a family, are very culturally different from many of our neighbors. Both of my parents are Democrats. Both of my parents are intellectuals who raised their children to be independent and to value critical thinking and education. My mother is a lawyer. She's the breadwinner, rather than a stay-at-home mom with eight kids. A lot of Utah Mormon culture is effectively stuck in the 1950s ideals, but we were a family for the 1990s.
When I was ten, we bought our first house. My mother and siblings still live there. The neighborhood was already established. Only a couple of families really had children anymore and these children tended to be number five or six of seven or eight. Everybody knew everybody and had stories about everybody else's older brothers and sisters, many of whom were on missions, or had already moved away.
I wasn't part of that. For years, I was “the new kid” and I felt it. Girls preferred their old friends to becoming buddies with me. Boys ignored me outright. However, it's also true that, even if I hadn't been perpetually the new kid by virtue of not having been born in the neighborhood, I'd have been different anyway. I was outspoken, always the first to raise my hand when a question was asked in Sunday school, I preferred adults to other children, I played video games and read fantasy books. In the end, that was probably enough to leave me feeling alone.
These differences became especially clear in Sunday school when I turned twelve and was moved from the children's age group, Primary, to Young Women's. The youth of the church do a lot of things together, notably camping trips and ward basketball or volleyball tournaments. Young men get together weekly to do Boy Scouts. Young women do the same to do a variety of things including community service, cooking lessons, sewing little pillows to give away, and trying on wedding dresses. Both young men and women are supposed to be working towards a big award. The criterion for these awards are arranged not unlike a badge in the Boy or Girl Scouts, but are meant to be a culmination of what the young person in question is supposed to have learned. For the young men, this is literally the Eagle Scout award. For young women it's something called the Personal Progress Award.
I relished the yearly camping trips, but was less than interested in the young women's activities or in the sports. I hardly ever went to these things. This lead to me going to church every Sunday, but being almost completely socially disconnected from the other kids in my ward. We went to school together. We went to church together. But I never had a single friend in my ward.
When I was about thirteen, I started to really suffer from depression. I was eventually retroactively diagnosed with psychotic major depression. It was at this point that I first started questioning my faith.
I had a lot of issues with the social structure of the Church, or how it looked to me. I didn't like the fact that as members we were encouraged to make friends with non-members and to invite them to things like ward basketball but that we seemed to not spend very much time with our non-member friend and favor the fellowship of our ward mates. I also didn't like that we were taught “every member a missionary,” but that we should be careful of who we made friends with so that we were not lead astray. These policies seemed to me to encourage false, demeaning, casual pseudo-friendships with non-members, created for the sole purpose of evangelizing. It seemed callous to me to try and reach out and touch non-members, but never let them get too close for fear that they might bring us down to their level.
I was also angry, personally angry, all of the time at the members of my ward. I was suffering. Couldn't they see that I was suffering? Shouldn't the Holy Spirit whisper to them, “Carrie's going through a hard time. Maybe you should sit by her at lunch”? What made me even angrier was the fact that some of the same boys who teased me most brutally at school would be sitting in the other pews at church. How dare they be so mean to me and then show their faces in church on Sunday, I thought. How dare they? I was appalled that a church based so much on fellowship and on community could let its youth ignore me like this.
Now, bear in mind that I was fourteen and I was primarily angry at other fourteen-year-olds. The adults of the Church were a rather different story. My family was going through a very hard time at that point. My sister had just been born, my mother was overworked, my grandmother was living with us and was slowly dying of renal failure, and my parents were separated. I think we must have gotten a home-made dinner two or three times a week from the folks in our ward. They spontaneously arranged themselves to help us out, and it was great.
More generally, I was also uncomfortable with the Church because I'm a girl. The leadership of the Church is entirely made of men. Men lead wards, they lead stakes. They lead the whole apparatus. They have the gift of the priesthood, both the Aaronic and Melchizedek, neither of which are allowed to women, ever. Women lead their own organizations, both the Young Women's and the Relief Society, but are ultimately beholden to the leadership of men. This made me uncomfortable for obvious reasons. Are men really better than women in the eyes of God? If not, why do men have both the priesthood and leadership positions? I don't want to serve my husband. I want equality. Is that even possible with this model? Does God want that? How can I love and serve a god who doesn't want that?
I was comforted by my belief in Heavenly Mother, an equal counterpart to the male God, but I still had a lot of questions and no one could provide me with any answers. Sometimes people told me that the ability to be a mother was equal to the ability to hold the priesthood. Sometimes people told me that men were actually given leadership positions and so forth so that they could learn the skills of responsibility, which women already possessed; that men holding the priesthood and leadership positions was actually a sign of the superiority of females. A lot of the time I was told that the person I was asking wondered the same things and we would just have to wait until we died to ask God directly. I was impatient. I felt snubbed. I could wait to ask God, I supposed, but I didn't feel okay about the fact that I was going to spend my entire life wondering and feeling unimportant. Why weren't there answers to my questions now?
Eventually, I got over it. A cross between medication and some very charismatic seminary teachers led to me to go through a really passionately faithful period when I was between fifteen and sixteen. I can't really explain this period and am always surprised when I remember that it happened.
It ended because I switched to an alternative high school where seminary was not offered and where almost none of my fellow students were LDS. Being out of touch with things like Seminary and having my more alternative views supported made me feel more distant from the Church. But it wasn't necessarily that I felt as though distance was growing between me and the Church, it was more like the fissures that were already between us were beginning to have more and more spotlights shone on them.
But I didn't leave the Church. My struggles with my faith were renewed, especially now that I could see how badly the Church had treated my newfound friends, but I didn't leave. I still went to church every Sunday, though I often felt uneasy. Eventually, I began to skip Young Women's altogether and walked home, instead. I decided, after a lesson on how I should support the priesthood holder in my home because his life is difficult, that it was useless, misogynist drivel and I wanted no part of it. I considered myself a conscientious objector. But I didn't leave.
I didn't leave, even when I fell in love with another girl.
That was the most difficult part for me, the part I struggled with the hardest. I'd always known I was bisexual. During the periods of my faith, I still embraced and accepted my attraction to females as part of who I was, but I never thought it would be a problem. After all, I wasn't a lesbian. I couldn't choose who I was and was not attracted to, but I'd be fine, wouldn't I? I'd just choose not to act on my feelings towards other females, only date men, and eventually marry a returned missionary. It was gonna be great.
And then, suddenly, she was my girlfriend and I was so happy with her, but I couldn't be happy with her, because it was a sin. And I knew it.
I apologize if, at this point, my narrative becomes somewhat disjointed. I don't know how to describe how I felt. I was still LDS, to my mind. I still went to church, I still was the first to raise my hand in Sunday school, I wanted my patriarchal blessing, but the things I'd done had invalidated my recommend for it, and I knew that. I believed, really and honestly, what I was supposed to believe.
But I wasn't what I was supposed to be. I was this insignificant twit, this intellectual, this liberal, this homosexual who would spend until late Saturday night with her girlfriend and then go to church the next day. I felt wrong, I felt disconnected. I felt hurt and alienated, not just from the fellowship of my church, but actually alienated from God.
I felt like I couldn't practice what I wanted to because I wasn't right. I felt like I should be different, but I wasn't different and I couldn't bring myself to be how I was supposed to be. For all of my suffering, I couldn't bring myself to change. Writing this, I wonder if, maybe I wasn't so faithful after all. Maybe it was a sham. But, then I remember that I was angry, too. I was angry at God for giving me these feelings--these pure, beautiful feelings--and then telling me that to act on them was a sin. I was pissed. I was militant. I was hurting and deeply sad, but I also felt vindicated and justified. If God was going to do this to me, fine. I'd fall. Because this wasn't fair and it wasn't right and I wasn't going to be good out of fear.
But I still didn't leave. I finally left when I went away to college and here's why: it was easy. It was so easy. I was in a new place with new people. None of them were LDS and none of them had to know about my history, even if they were. Being physically away from the Church helped me get mental distance and helped me focus on other things. I pushed away from my heritage, slowly moving from a non-practicing, guilt-worn believer, to someone who is confused and still wounded and then, finally, to where I am now: uncertain, but steady. I consider myself a Deist. I find it comfortable to believe in a higher power, but I no longer deliberately connect myself in any way to my former religion. It feels pretty good. I don't have all the answers. I don't think I have any of the answers, actually. What matters is that I'm not hurting anymore. Religion doesn't keep me awake at night. I'm pretty comfortable.
I haven't set foot in an LDS church since leaving the fold, but my links to the religion still aren't severed. I find myself defending the Church a lot, like I still owe it something. I find myself thinking with “eternal perspective,” wondering how much I'll regret my decisions if and when I'm judged for them later. I can't let go of theism to save my life.
Mormonism snuck under my skin during my eighteen year run as a Latter Day Saint and, as far as I can tell, it's not going anywhere fast. I get nervous when people like Mr. Camping say the world's ending because I'm terrified that he's right and I'm doomed. I tell myself that I'm a good person and that I try not to hurt people and to love them, but the standards of my youth have stuck with me. Deep down, I still think I'm a sinner. I still feel like I'm wrong. I know I'm not keeping the commandments that I'm supposed to. I still feel like my Heavenly Father is looking down at me, disappointed. I feel like I'm wasting my talents because I don't practice a religion that I've found to be harmful to myself and others, whose doctrine I often reject utterly, and which has left me feeling spiritually damaged.
I don't like the Church, I don't like how it makes me feel, I don't want to be there, but I sometimes can't resist the idea that it's where I ought to be.
 Those of us who are between the ages of twelve and eighteen.
 A given congregation in the LDS church is called a "ward." It consists of the people in a specific geographical area. Sometimes, these areas are huge if the LDS population in them is quite small, other times they can consist merely of the families living within a couple of blocks.
 More info than you could ever want here.
 A stake is a group of wards in the same rough geographical area. This can be an entire town, or a neighborhood depending on the concentration of members.
 Wikipedia should tell you all you wanna know here and here.
 LDS high school students are encouraged to take seminary classes. These essentially function as a sort of Bible study course during the week. In most places, if seminary is even available, it's necessary to take it before or after school. In Utah, however, seminary buildings are often located just off of school grounds and seminary may be taken essentially as a non-academic credit during school hours.
 The goal of every good, Mormon girl.
 A patriarchal blessing is “a page of scripture just for you.” There's no set age to get one, but most folks get them in their late teens, or before going off on missions.
 Certain ordinances in the Church require a recommend. These tend to be the more important ordinances, like the patriarchal blessing, marriage, and going to the temple in general. You get a recommend by talking to the head of your ward, the bishop and having an interview. You are also interviewed before baptism. In my experience, the interview is more or less to confirm that you are a believing and practicing member of the Church. You are asked if you believe in Heavenly Father and in Christ as Redeemer. You are asked if you believe that Joseph Smith was a prophet. You are asked if you obey the Word of Wisdom which is to say, if you do not imbibe alcohol, illegal drugs, coffee, or tea and if you adhere to the Ten Commandments. Ordinances that require a recommend are only supposed to be performed on or by the worthy and the purpose of the recommend and the interview is to confirm that you are among their number. Physically, the recommend is a little slip of paper signed by your bishop. In cases like the “living ordinance” recommend for marriage, your Stake President must also sign your recommend. All recommends expire after a specific amount of time.
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