My background is somewhat interesting. My father was not religious and my mother was raised Catholic. They divorced when I was eleven and my mom remarried a practicing Baptist. Despite intermittent attendance I just could not get into that denomination. At age seventeen I started dating an LDS man who was significantly older than me and shortly thereafter was baptized against the will of my parents (who also did not agree with the relationship, but I had turned eighteen and I knew everything, especially since I had been given the "true" gospel.)
Initially, I thrived as a Latter-day Saint. I live in a part of the country where LDS aren't especially common, but I found a warm and welcoming community of Saints. I knocked the socks off of missionaries with my eagerness to learn and willingness to obey. However, that zeal did not last long and I found myself slipping in and out of church attendance. At times I was outright rebellious and broke every rule in the book (so to speak). Eventually I would always come back to the fold seeking forgiveness. This cycle repeated itself many times over a three year period.
In August 2005 I made my first trip to Utah and was mesmerized! I loved everything about the area, from the beautiful mountains to the prevalence of the church. It was during this trip that I heard about President Hinckley's challenge to reread the Book of Mormon. His promise stated that "Without reservation I promise you that if each of you will observe this simple program, regardless of how many times you previously may have read the Book of Mormon, there will come into your lives and into your homes an added measure of the Spirit of the Lord, a strengthened resolution to walk in obedience to His commandments, and a stronger testimony of the living reality of the Son of God."
I devoured the Book of Mormon! I spent every minute of my free time reading and finished in approximately three weeks. I attended church faithfully, paid my tithing, discussed with my bishop going through the temple and going on a mission and waited for the blessings to pour out upon me. Instead, I sank into a deep depression. One night in September 2005 I lay on the floor and frantically prayed that Heavenly Father would rescue me or send one of his angels to save me. I felt that all was hopeless and I reached for the Yellow Pages and called the local suicide hotline but hung up when someone answered.
I sought help and was referred to a counselor through LDS Family Services. That counselor told me that I was allowing Satan to influence my mental health and then diagnosed me with a handful of disorders including major depression. He recommended that I see my family doctor for an antidepressant.
Meanwhile, I was studying anything I could get my hands on. I finished reading the Doctrine and Covenants as well as the Pearl of Great Price. I read through the new Preach My Gospel missionary training guide and even read a church history textbook cover to cover. Additionally, I was reading "anti-Mormon literature" to the chagrin of my bishop. In the spring of 2006 I decided that I had had enough and started researching how to separate from the church.
It was during that time of inactivity that I was out at a bar with a group of non-LDS friends and met a man who was an acquaintance of those friends. During the course of the night the group ended up back at that man's house and I had way too much to drink and was raped. The next morning when I was back at home and trying to process what had happened I called some LDS friends and left voice mails for them since they were in church. The bishop sent two of them over to pick me up and take me to the hospital. When I was released from the hospital I learned that approximately two dozen of my friends from church had come by to see if I was okay. Half of that number accompanied me to my apartment and the men gave me a blessing and the women sat with me as I cried and recounted the horrors of the previous night. I truly consider them to be saints.
I met with my bishop to discuss what had happened and while he was sympathetic, he asked if he could pray with me. In his prayer, he asked God to forgive me for the errors I had made which had led to my assault. I felt like he was blaming me for what had happened! Yes, I knew I had made some mistakes and hadn't kept myself as safe as I could have, but that man had absolutely no right to do what he did to me. I felt conflicted. I loved the friends I had made in the church, but I no longer believed in the gospel or the authority of the leadership.
After my twenty-first birthday my bishop asked if I had drank during my celebrations and I confessed that I had. He said the only way I'd be able to get back on track to receive my temple recommend would be to go to Alcoholics Anonymous. I went to one meeting and realized it wasn't for me. That was the final straw and I submitted a letter asking to have my name removed from the membership records.
At first my request was met with an onslaught of members showing up at my home asking me to reconsider, that Heavenly Father loves me and I can be rehabilitated. When I stood my ground the membership visits were replaced by missionary visits. They spoke more harshly with me and threatened that I would lose blessings and end up in Outer Darkness. Again, I stood my ground and began receiving phone calls 4-6 times a day from the bishop's secretary asking me to meet with my bishop for a Court of Love. I sent another letter reiterating that I was voluntarily resigning from the church and that any further contact would be met with litigation. Finally, I received a letter saying that my request would be granted, but I had to meet with my bishop to initiate the process to move my resignation up the ranks from branch to ward to stake to SLC. I said I would comply, but that I would only meet with my bishop and that if anyone else was present I would leave. I sat with my bishop and told him that I no longer believed Joseph Smith was a prophet, nor were any of his successors. I stated that I believed Joseph Smith to be a criminal and that his successors must have been complicit with the lies propagated by Smith. Three months later I received the letter stating that I was no longer a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
I've been out of the church for almost nine years. Luckily, I was one of the few former Mormons who actually became a Christian after leaving the church. Something deep in my heart has always told me that God exists and it didn't make sense to me that He would turn His back on me for leaving the LDS church. I remember the first time I really prayed after I left. I dropped all of the pretension and the "thee" "thine" "thou" and just spoke to God as if we had been best friends for years. I felt so much reassurance that I was doing the right thing. It was like I had taken a detour for three years and had finally found my way back to the path where He was waiting with open arms. At times I feel angry about the church, but I know that part of my story had to happen and that the reason is beyond my comprehension.
I'm married to a wonderful man who is also a Christian. For a while after leaving the church I lashed out and unabashedly shared my feelings on Joseph Smith and his legacy. That cost me a lot, as I was shunned by virtually all of my LDS friends. Over the years, though, I've gotten to a point where I can be respectful of their beliefs. I remember what it was like thinking that I knew the true gospel and pitying those on the outside. I know they all feel sadness over my decision to leave the church and stay out, but those true friends love me for who I am. I feel like God loves me for who I am and was always there for me, I just didn't know how to reach him.
January 7, 2015