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Thursday, June 20, 2019

15. Kate’s Story - How it Feels to Have a Faith Transition and Leave Your Faith Community

In introduction to my friend’s post, I will include a few things before we get to her thoughts. In my last post I discussed many of the positive aspects of the LDS church. I’m honestly happy that many find their membership in the church to be positive and helpful for them in their lives. Being in the church was largely a good experience for me. Some would then ask, “So why did you leave?” For me it truly came down to integrity. As the church teaches that it is the one and only true church on the earth, if there is sufficient evidence that it is not, I personally couldn’t continue pretending that it was. And it’s uncomfortable feeling like you no longer belong. That your participation in church is not really wanted or allowed. As well as, in taking a step back, you begin to see the negative aspects that are there that were not noticeable before you began looking critically. But choosing to leave is a very painful decision and process.

Which brings me to this post. To break the suspense, this article was written by Kate Waldie, previously Kate Leishman.  She has given permission to publish her name rather than remain anonymous. My father used to live across the street from her family and I would visit their ward when my brothers and I would stay with my dad every other weekend. I actually took Kate to my high school graduation! But I find it interesting that, looking back, I never would have expected her to one day leave the church. I will let her tell her own story but I think it is important to keep in mind that there are many in our situation that checked all the boxes of faithfulness until we decided, for one reason or another, to look deeper. We don’t choose to leave for no reason. We leave because the information that is available about the history of the church leaves few other options. Anyways, I’ll stop pontificating and let Kate share her experience.

When Dason first asked me to write this post, I took about a week to gather my thoughts and then sat down and wrote a looooong story.  It was the story of how I came to leave the church.

Frankly, plus or minus a few details, my story is Dason’s story.  It’s also the story of thousands of people who have left the church in the past few years.

What I really want to share, and for people to know, is how if feels to first have a change in faith, and then to decide to leave your faith community. This experience is mine, but I don’t think that I’m unique.  

I am a 36-year-old woman. I’m a wife and stay at home mom with a university-level education.  I was raised in the church, attended seminary and institute, was endowed and married in the temple, and I loved the church.  I based all of life’s major decisions on it and it was everything to me...until it wasn’t.

I didn’t lose my faith in a single moment, day, week, month, or even year.  It started with a sincere question, not unlike Joseph Smith.  Like Joseph, I read the scripture in James 1:5: “If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him”.  I asked God.  I sincerely asked Him.  

I asked Him to help me find the answer to my question (which quickly turned into many questions).  I asked Him to help me read with faith.  I asked Him for this every time I sat down to study.  I believed that there were satisfying answers to my questions if I put in the effort to find them.  

I’m not a writer.  I don’t know how I can possibly find the words to adequately describe how it felt to be me during this harrowing period of my life, but I’ll try.

The first powerful emotion I felt was confusion.  I felt so disoriented by the massive amount of information that I was reading straight from the church's own website.  Although I suppose it wasn’t as much the amount of information, but rather that it was new to me.  I felt confused.

I’d been an adult Sunday School teacher before and thought I knew a fairly complete history of the Restoration. I knew the doctrine and had studied both the scriptures and teachings of the current prophet.  This was not the history I’d been taught.  

I felt confused and then I felt betrayed and scared.  Really scared.  All of my questions seemed to boil down into one searing thought: “What if the church isn’t true?”. I was terrified to ask God for the answer to this question because I might get the answer that it wasn’t true, and I couldn't handle all that it would mean for my life and for my family.  

My husband and I have walked this journey together, for which I’ll always be so grateful.  I had him, and he had me.  For many months, he was the only person that I talked to about any of this.  I didn’t want ANYONE to know. 

I told myself that if we lived the Gospel to the letter, then surely God would help me find a faithful path through this.  

I didn’t want to alarm anyone, especially my family.  I also didn’t want to change the way anyone in the church saw me.  I’ve always been the faithful one. I was the annoying kid in seminary who always knew the answer.  My patriarchal blessing told me that I would be a great scholar and teacher of the gospel.  I was always the good one.  I wondered, if the people at church knew about my doubts, would I feel ‘less than’? Or worse, would they even trust me?

For the next year or so, this is what I experienced every. single. day. Crippling fear.  Fear that someone might find out. Fear that I wouldn’t be able to fix this mess.  Most of all, fear that I might ask God for an answer and that I either wouldn’t get an answer, or it would be different than what I was hoping it would be.  

I needed the church to be true.

One of the major problems that comes out of living in this limbo is the mental and physical exhaustion. It felt dishonest to go to church every Sunday and not share with those closest to me how I felt.  Sitting through lessons that weren’t exactly accurate or missed the point completely felt like I was a human pressure cooker, ready to explode. The force of it made me physically ill.  Migraines, stomach aches, and fatigue are just a few of the signs of the physical toll all of this was taking on my body.  

My mental health began to deteriorate as well.  The community of the church had always been my place, it’s where I belonged. Most of our friends and family are members. I told my husband many times that even if we decided that the church wasn’t true, we wouldn’t leave.  

How could we?

One Sunday, I came home from church and felt I was finally ready.  I knew what I had to do. 

I’d read all the things...the books, the articles, the footnotes, the arguments (always, by the way, from the “right” sources”).  I’d been fasting.  I went into our bedroom and closed the door. 

I knelt down on my knees and I poured my soul out to God.  

My prayer was a very personal one.  I’ll share that in it I asked God to tell me if I was being deceived. I literally cried to Him in the humblest and most sincere way that I knew how to answer my question, “Is the church true?”.

As a parent, I have learned a kind of love that I’ve never experienced before.  I know that sometimes it’s better for my kids if I let them struggle, work for, and earn things. It isn’t good to just hand them everything in life.  It was this logic that always kept me going when I felt like God wasn’t answering my prayers.  I had to put in an effort to get answers, and I had to work for it first.

This particular day I realized that if there was an all-knowing God who unconditionally loved me as a Father, that knew my effort, knew my heart, my sincerity, then He would know what was on the line when I asked my question.  

This wasn’t me asking for some trivial thing, I was asking the most important question I’d ever asked, the consequences of which could be spiritual life or death. I realized that if my own child came to me hungry, that I would never deny them the food they needed to survive. And I was spiritually starving. God had promised in James that He would give unto me liberally. Somehow in that moment, on my knees, I knew the answer.  

I let it wash over me, and then I stood up... and I felt at peace.

After my experience of praying and deciding that the church wasn’t true, we still carried on as we always had for some time.  We couldn’t make sense of leaving the community we loved.

This was an uncomfortable place to sit and eventually I had heard enough Sunday School comments, enough messages in General Conference, that even though I was told that there was a place for me in the church, in reality, the only place for me to be honest about where I stood would have been to be not trusted, not taken seriously, and ‘othered’.  We needed to leave. 

The thought was terrifying.

Something that I never realized before this all happened, was that leaving the church is an act of courage and integrity.  I always saw people who left the church as weak, people who took the easier road. I was wrong. 

Leaving the church is hard, but in doing so, I was doing what I’ve always been stand up for what I believe in. We decided that there are two main ways for people like us to exit the church.  

The first way is what we call ‘the slow fade’.  If we chose this route, we’d stop accepting big callings, slowly decrease our attendance, and eventually just fade away.  The problem with leaving this way is that people assume you just got lazy with your faith or wanted to go to Waterton on Sundays.  Almost like we got bored with the church or something. 

I didn’t want people to think that about me.  I wanted people to know this was a decision, an active choice.  

The second way is to just leave.  Be there one Sunday, and not the next.  Cold turkey.  The problem with this is that it can be shocking and abrupt.  Gossip about why you left and assumptions that you’re angry or ‘anti’ are very common.  

Neither of these options seemed appealing to us.  My husband and I are VERY non confrontational people.  We didn’t want to kick up a fuss, but we just couldn’t do the slow fade.  We told our family and closest friends that we were leaving and then we asked our bishop to release us from our callings...and we were done.  

I’ve always considered myself a fairly confident person.  I didn’t think I really cared what people thought about me, but I’ve learned that I very much care about what my friends and family think of me.  

In the weeks following our exit, I constantly wondered who knew, what was being said about us, and if we were going to have any relationships intact after this was all over.  I worried people would be nervous around me. 

Leaving the church is so hard, because even when you leave with no ill will, it still feels personal to the members who stay.  It can feel like a personal rejection. 

I wanted our friends and family to know that I’m still me.  I wanted to feel understood.  I wanted to show people that even though I don’t want to be part of the church, that I still want to be part of their lives.

It turns out that when you leave the church almost no one talks to you about it (I don’t blame them for this because I would do the same if I was in their shoes)...they ask your best friend instead.  

My dear friend has fielded the brunt of the reactions from our community.  She’s defended us, accepted us, and loved us. She’s invited us to her home with other couple friends so that they can get that awkward first meeting out of the way and see we’re still the same.  She drug me on a girls trip that I almost stayed home from because I didn’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable around me.  She’s loved me and made me feel normal.  I know that I’m really lucky and it’s rare to have had this friend to bridge my transition.

I actually have to give a big shout out to pretty much all of my friends.  They’ve given me a chance to prove that I’m ‘safe’ and have loved me. That is all we really need when we leave.  We don’t want to be a project, we don’t want to be pitied, we don’t want to be viewed as deceived, we just want to be loved for who we are and feel respected.

I haven’t really gone into the family stuff. It’s an important part of this, but I honestly think it would take its own post to do it proper justice.  I’m just going to say that it can be harder for families than it is for friends because of the doctrine of eternal families.

Our families have been loving and kind for the most part. My family is grieving and dealing with their belief that my choices are taking me away from eternity and from empty chair at their table in Heaven. I’m trying to give them space to experience their grief, but it’s heavy.  

Sometimes things are normal and easy.  Other times, it feels raw and so very hard.  It’s hard knowing that I’m the source of their pain.  They are wonderful and even through their grief, they are showing me that what is important to them is our relationship.

I feel emotional writing this.  It’s brought up a lot of memories and feelings that I’ve spent a lot of time trying to move on from. There’s so much more to say.

But here is what I hope:

If you are a believing family member or friend of someone who has left, just love them where they motives behind it.  Just love them and let them know that your relationship with them is the most important thing to you. 

If you are someone who has lost your faith, who is thinking of leaving, or who has left...there’s hope.  It doesn’t come all at once. Some days are harder than others. I’m still working on it. 

It sounds so cheesy, but I found this nugget of wisdom while watching ‘Call the Midwife’. It pretty much sums up how I feel now, so here it is:

“We can decide to be happy, make much out of little, embrace the warmth of our ordinary days.  Life unfolds as a mystery. An enterprise whose outcome cannot be foretold.  We do not get what we expect...we stumble upon cracks, are faced with imperfection, bonds are tested and tightened, and our landscapes shift in sunshine and in shade. There is light.  There is.  Look for it.  Look for it shining over your shoulder on the path.  It was light where you went once, it is light where you are now, it will be light where you will go again.”

Also, PLEASE read this. I love it and it’s definitely worth your time.

Thanks to Dason for asking me to write this.  It’s been hard, but it’s also been quite healing.  It’s good to see how far I’ve come from that terrified and confused woman of four years ago. <3

Monday, June 17, 2019

14. Positive Aspects of the Church

So, a bit of a change for this post. I had planned on posting very personal information about the things that have changed for me since my faith transition began. I actually had that article completely written with only editing and tweaking left, as I tweak and edit compulsively for tone (not always successfully, I’m sure) and content. I have since decided that I was being too vulnerable and I don’t think I’m ready for that. I still worry about being judged and about the reactions of others so I think that personal information will have to remain personal. I do intend on following through with the rest of the outline I gave last time, but now there are only two more articles for me to write after this one.

In my last post I discussed different options for belief once an individual knows the difficult history of the church, as well as what I now believe. After chatting with a couple friends, I would like to make some edits. First, I believe I made the apologetic view appear more open to adjusting their beliefs than I believe this view actually is. The apologetic view is extremely resistant about giving any ground when information does not match the official narrative of the church. For instance, I wrote that some apologists would admit that Joseph Smith got dozens of things wrong when making his translation of the Book of Abraham scrolls. I would edit this to say that the apologetic view would more likely largely ignore the mistakes and focus on the one documented account that the papyri scrolls were very long. So, the apologist would more likely say that there is a possibility that we do not have all of the scrolls and that Joseph did translate correctly. I stand by my comment in the past post that I believe much of the apologetic view is deceptive, as there is clear documentation of Joseph’s process in translating and his errors from the scrolls that we do have, including the facsimiles. Many of the areas I discussed in the apologetic view where I suggested that they would accept certain issues in the church would more likely fit better in the reconciled view.

Another edit I would like to make is that I gave four broad categories to belief, but when all is said and done, belief is really a spectrum. Some would choose to believe certain things from the traditional view as well as from the apologetic and reconciled, as well as any other variation of the three. And I do have friends that believe many things about the church but also take the critical view on certain subjects. In addition, I offered many views within the reconciled view that were very progressive. Not everyone that would take the reconciled path would be as progressive. There are many different ways for a reconciled belief to look and I regret if it came across as if what I wrote was the only way to have a reconciled view. But a new set of beliefs is necessary when factoring in the history of the church. For instance, many members do not know about Joseph using his seer stone in his hat to translate. This is historical fact. So, believing that he had the plates in front of him and looked through two clear stones solely and for the entirety of the process is not what happened. In this way, a change in belief is required to match history. This is what I mean by changes in belief are needed to reconcile with history.

Also, I hope that members of the church, as well as believers in other faith traditions, realize that I accept you for your beliefs no matter what they are. I accept that your affiliation with a church or belief system brings you happiness, purpose, a hope for an afterlife, and many other positive benefits. In my last post, I simply state my personal beliefs as well as how others have found ways to continue their belief in the LDS church while knowing difficult information about its history. I hope it doesn’t come across that I am belittling those that believe differently than I do as that was not my intention at all. I hope that your faith continues to bring many positives into your life. I suppose I just ask that my personal brand of belief is also accepted and considered valid.

Which brings me to the purpose of this post, the good that is in the Mormon faith. I’m sure I will miss some, probably a lot, so for anyone reading that would like to comment either on the blog or on Facebook, feel free to mention the positives you receive from active membership in the church.

1.       Purpose/Direction for Life/Spirituality
The church gives those that believe a path to follow throughout their lives. They receive comfort from their answers to difficult questions about the purpose of life and what they are supposed to accomplish during their lifetime. There is a peace that comes with believing you know the correct way to live.  I know that when I joined the church, it seemed to make sense. Many of the concepts taught matched well with what I thought a Christian should believe. The church offered a path towards the divine which, at the time, I thought was the path God wanted me on.

There is a strong hope for a life after death. Losses of family and friends, while still difficult, are accompanied with promises that you will be able to see those loved ones again. Death becomes somewhat less scary when viewed through this lens. In attending funerals, the messages taught were comforting to me. I have had extremely close friends pass away and I can honestly say that I wish I still had that reassurance that they are happy and that I will see them again.

Members of the church are some of the nicest, kindest people you will ever meet. The vast majority are very friendly, cheerful people, as this is ingrained in the culture of the church. There is a lot of value placed on continual self-improvement. Bettering yourself day-after-day will hopefully create better, more moral people over time. There is a specific structure regarding morality for those that find comfort in having set expectations. There is a code of health, specifically a ban on smoking, drugs, and alcohol, that can promote healthy lifestyles. I believe that many of these teachings are still ingrained within me now, even though I no longer believe. Sometimes I wish that I had never joined the church so that I would not have to go through the pain that I have described in past posts. But other times I am grateful for the person that I have become because I spent my early adulthood there.

There is an opportunity to have spiritual experiences, both shared and individually, through participation in church. Feeling closer to the divine is encouraged. This can strengthen an individual’s feelings of finding meaning in their life. When I attributed these feelings to God communicating with me, I believed that I was on the right track. This belief strengthened my resolve to do the things that I thought were right. Having shared spiritual experiences with others was powerful in a way few other things are. But again, for me, I had to re-evaluate what these experiences actually meant.

2.       Community/Organization
Community is an area that I find extremely positive about the church. No matter where you move, there is often an LDS church there. There is an instant support group no matter where you find yourself. Individuals and families with similar values offer a positive source of belonging and friendship. There are very few secular organizations that provide community the way a church does. Through major life events such as having a baby, a funeral, weddings, etc. the members of the church are there to offer help and support. My family has moved to five different cities since my wife and I were married in 2003. More often than not, we received help from church members to pack and unpack our belongings.

The LDS church is one of the most organized religions that I know of. There are set opportunities to provide service for people, both within and outside the church. Members of the church are often willing to give their time to help people move, clean their yard, and help wherever they can. Serving others is often second nature to members of the church. Disaster relief is often given by the church as well. I remember the encouragement we received from the church to assist after the flood in the Calgary area of 2013. High River was hit particularly bad and we were encouraged to help wherever and however we could. If an individual or family is struggling financially, there are opportunities for the church and its members to offer assistance. The church has a Bishop’s Storehouse, where struggling members can receive food and monetary support when needed.

There is a very strong organization for the youth. Activities occur weekly and are often based on having fun, learning skills, and building faith in the religion. This often fosters close friendships as well as opportunities to have adventures, such as camping, mountain climbing, cooking, etc., some of which would be difficult for youth to have if not for this structure. The church also puts on activities for the membership as a whole, which strengthens those bonds of community discussed earlier. I was introduced to the church through such activities. Many of my friends in middle school were members of the church, even before I decided to join. I loved attending these activities as a youth.

3.       Emphasis on the Family
This has been a focus of the church for as long as I can remember. Parents are taught to be good to their spouse and children and to raise them in positive, moral ways. It’s taught that priority should be given to family over almost all else. There are many positive messages given in church about how no other success in life can make up for failure in the home. Divorce rates for those that were married in the temple are generally quite low.

One evening every week is dedicated to a Family Home Evening (FHE), where the family prays, reads scriptures, and enjoys a lesson and activity together. I still find importance in this and therefore my wife and I continue to set time aside each week to sit down with our kids and teach them what we feel are important life lessons, for example: being honest, treating everyone with respect no matter who they are, working hard and not giving up even when things get hard, etc.  It’s also very important to us to spend quality time with our kids creating memories.  These are things I believe the church ingrained in us and I’m thankful for that.

4.       Leadership/Public Speaking
There are frequent opportunities to serve in leadership positions in the church. As there are no paid clergy at the local level, even the congregations’ leader, or Bishop, is chosen from the membership of that specific congregation and is changed every five years. I think any leadership position requires you to develop a skill in organization, commitment to your work and compassion towards others. There are quite a few different callings throughout a church ward that members are given that could help develop these skills.

Public speaking is also commonplace, as talks and lessons in church are given by lay-membership. You quickly learn to become more comfortable with speaking in front of groups of people.  From a young age, primary aged children give short 2-minute talks in front of their peers.  This definitely becomes a helpful life skill whether it be giving a presentation in school or being interviewed for a job. 

My two years serving as a missionary in California, talking to and serving complete strangers, again helped shape me in becoming more confident in communication. Missionaries in the church are assigned to, and required to be with their missionary “companion” at all times. You are typically stuck with this individual for between 1.5 - 3 months. Sometimes you are placed with someone you get along with but other times it is the exact opposite. You quickly have to learn ways to communicate and compromise because if you don’t, the time will be horrible. I wish I could say I never had companions that I disliked but that would not be the truth. But I also had great times with the several different missionaries I was assigned to. I have no idea if any of them are reading my posts but I hope you know that I appreciate you and the lessons learned while we served together.

5.       Progress with Transparency
While I have many concerns about certain aspects of the history of the church and the decisions its leaders currently make, I do acknowledge that the church is making strides towards transparency. The Gospel Topics Essays are at least a recognition that there are certain issues of history and doctrine that the church needs to address. The church history book “Saints: The Standard of Truth: is also a step in the right direction. There are many difficult issues that are not included in either of these resources but the church is making progress that I hope will continue.

As I stated before, I’m sure there are additional positive aspects of the church that I have not included. I hope that some would feel comfortable to comment and add their perspectives to this list. I, personally, had many positive experiences while I was a believing member. I don’t remember having major negative experiences while attending even though I have heard of others that have. I know that this blog can often come across as antagonistic or critical but there definitely were beneficial aspects of my membership in the church while I was still a believer.

With the completion of this post, I am now down to two more posts that I will write personally before concluding this blog. But I have asked five other people to write posts from their varying experiences. From what I have heard from those that I have asked to write, their posts are in different degrees of completion and I will publish them as they come in. Out of the five that will write, three are actively attending with only two of those three being believing members. The fourth one has never been a member of the LDS church but was previously attending another church before their faith transition.

The fifth will write the next post that I publish. It will be from a high school friend of mine that many of you may know. She has given permission to post her name, which I will do in the introduction to her thoughts next time. Her journey has been very close to mine as she was previously a fully believing active member of the church before having her own faith transition. I reconnected with her nine months ago through a local support group for those of us going through a faith transition. I hope that by posting her experiences, others can see the difficult process many of us go through when we find we can no longer believe in the truth claims of the church and also that my experiences are not unique. I hope that those that do know her can offer her the grace, acceptance, and support that we all hope for.