06 May

I’m Coming From Where I Have Been

Posted by Jenna, Under Personal, Religious

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I was raised in a tiny town. It seemed to me that everyone was either Nazarene, Catholic, or Mormon. Growing up I never heard anyone vocally identify as a democrat. There was one African-American in my school, otherwise everyone was either Latino or White.  I didn’t personally interact with a gay person until I was out of college. I tell you these things to try convey the lack of diversity in my hometown community because it played a pivotal role in shaping the person I was throughout my early and mid twenties. During my freshman year my roommates teased me for taking a Women’s Studies course at BYU. They said I was going to turn into a “dirty feminist” and I fought back not because I wanted to defend Feminism, but because I too thought that feminists hated men while secretly wanting to be like them in every way. I knew so little and I was wrong about so many things. Mormonism wasn’t just one hour of church on Sunday, it was my entire lifestyle and culture for a quarter century. I don’t blame my past for my actions, but I am the person I am today because of my personal history.

This journey that I’m about to describe was initiated, in large part, by my blogging. Between the posts on Mormonism that I used to write each week and the questions that were sent my way via Formspring, there were so many aspects of Mormonism that I had never considered. Ever the stalwart missionary, I set out to find the answers for my readers so they could understand why joining the LDS Church would be the best possible thing that every single person out there could do. That’s what Sunday School lesson after youth devotional night after annual temple trip had taught me to do. I relied pretty heavily on the FAIR LDS Wiki, an apologetic resource with the tagline “Defending Mormonism.” I liked that this was a place full of people taking a look at difficult issues and trying to make sense of them from a faithful perspective. Over time I was exposed to things I didn’t know about, things that felt a bit jarring, but the apologists at FAIR were always there to help me make it all fit together within my belief system.

Slowly I started to feel like it was okay to learn about Mormonism from sources other than those approved by the leadership of the Church. I know this limitation isn’t what every LDS person believes regarding reading and studying about Mormonism, but it was the framework that I personally was operating in and I think this is a framework that is encouraged by the current LDS curriculum. At one point in my life I limited my information to very specific sources because that is what felt safe, and I was terrified that something written or shared with ill-intentions would deceive me and make me question my beliefs.

 

My online missionary efforts pushed me out of the circle I had drawn for myself. For the first time in my life, I was asking questions that I had never dared to even think before.  Mormonism encourages congregants to build their faith upon their own testimonies, but also encourages members to “shelve” things that are difficult to answer. To quote myself from just over a year ago, “I have several boxes on a shelf in my mind, and I want to sort all the issues out . A box for the things I know, a box for the things I’m puzzling through, a box of ideas that others accept which I’ve rejected, and a box for things I will never understand no matter how I search, ponder, and pray. This idea of a “box on the shelf” is not a concept of my own invention, it’s a pretty common idea passed around within Mormonism. We are encouraged to build up our faith like a house, laying the bricks that form the foundation, and then moving on to the pillars and windows and shelves, fortifying along the way. If we don’t have a strong testimonyof something, we put that idea in a box on the shelf and come back to it again later.” As I started to seek out answers to questions I had previously shelved I realized I wasn’t finding answers that worked for me. Pieces of information that used to fit perfectly together like a puzzle were jutting out uncomfortably. I was no longer sure. This was extremely upsetting because feeling sure was a critical part of my faith. Once a month members of the congregations I belonged to would get up and talk about not just what they believed, but what they knew. I would get up a few times a year and say “I know God lives. I know we have a loving Prophet. I know the Book of Mormon is a literal story of a people who lived in America. I know the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is True.”

 

The trouble is that once you see it, you can’t unsee it. And once you’ve seen it, keeping quiet, saying nothing, becomes as political an act as speaking out. There’s no innocence. Either way, you’re accountable. – Arundhati Roy

I used to know things, and then I had come to un-know them.

Acknowledging the unraveling of my faith was something I was not ready to do yet, and so I doubled down. I thought unshakable faith was attainable to me if I met certain standards. I maintained a public scripture blog to motivate me to read the Word of God more frequently for longer periods of time. I prayed morning and night, trying out different approaches that would help my prayers become more in-depth and meaningful. I committed to attend the temple more and sent out emails asking for women in my ward who would be interested in doing babysitting swaps. I was going to be as perfect as possible in all areas so that God would speak to me directly and answer my questions. This was the formula leaders had assured me would be the solution to my problems. But the answers didn’t ever come from the scriptures or the temple. Reading the Old Testament confused me and sometimes left me with a revolted feeling. The God of the Old Testament is mean. What the hell happened in the Heavens between Malachi and Matthew? I would pray and pray in the temple but there was no clarity of thought.

Occam’s Razor: The simplest explanation is usually the right one.

I wasn’t getting answers from the sources that the LDS Church told me to turn to (scriptures, prayer, temple), so I dove deeper into apologetics. I started reading historical documents. I devoured “The Rise of Modern Mormonism.” I started listening to podcasts like Mormon Matters, Mormon Stories, and Daughters of Mormonism on 2x speed because I couldn’t take all the information in fast enough. I rejoiced at the thought that there were other people like me out there. Unsatisfied with the answers that previously satisfied them. Overwhelmed by questions and unable to find answers from the usual sources.

Mormon Matters did a podcast on something called Fowler’s Stages of Faith. In his book, Fowler describes his theories regarding developmental processes related to faith. The processes are broken up into stages, and you can find an excellent summary of each stage here. The Stages concept spoke to me because the stages are intended to represent different states of being–a way to conceptualize where you are at any given moment. They are not organized in a pyramid as if certain stages are superior to others. As I reflected on my recent dive into my faith I discovered I had reached Stage 4 without knowing it. For me Stage 4 manifest as a faith crisis. It meant not knowing what I believed anymore. It meant asking lots of questions and not knowing if I’d ever find answers. While I never want to go back to where I once was, I sometimes miss the comfort and certainty that I experienced in Stage 3. I realized that for me the only tenable approach to belief would be to keep reaching forward and searching for truth from all credible sources.

All of this is what led me to write my Awakening posts. My thinking had changed and I wanted to be understood in my new place. I have to remind myself on a daily basis that understanding and acceptance won’t come from everyone no matter how patiently or clearly I explain my position. That’s okay. I can be at peace even if I am not widely understood or accepted.

The Hyde Park ward in Chicago was the best possible place to experience all of this. I found a group of friends just like me, asking the same questions and struggling with the answers they found. Or more often than not, the lack of answers. We would get together and talk for hours. They shared heartbreaking personal stories. They endured estrangement from their families in a variety of ways. They were the kind of friends you find once in your life and I love them dearly for the myriad of ways they supported me and made me a better person. The Hyde Park ward in Chicago is the greatest ward in the world. I will always sing the praises of that congregation and the people in it.

Any real change implies the breakup of the world as one has always known it, the loss of all that gave one an identity, the end of safety. And at such a moment, unable to see and not daring to imagine what the future will now bring forth, one clings to what one knew, or dreamed that one possessed. Yet, it is only when a man is able … to surrender a dream he has long cherished or a privilege he has long possessed that he is set free for higher dreams, for greater privileges. – James Baldwin

I wish I had recorded in detail how it happened because if you asked me to talk about my problems with the LDS faith (absent the many issues I have with church culture, which are a separate thing entirely) I wouldn’t even know where to start. I had been raised to think that my beliefs were the “Capital T” Truth, but so many facts I uncovered undermined my previous views and my confidence in them. How the Book of Mormon was translated. The extent of Joseph Smith’s polygamy. The source material for the Book of Abraham. The origin of the Priesthood Ban that prevented Blacks from holding the priesthood. How women were phased out of offering Priesthood Blessings. I’m not sure how to or if I can talk about these issues in a public way because I know doing so could be considered offensive and antagonistic by some of my LDS friends and family members. This blog is not just a place to share my ideas, it’s become a way to communicate with friends and family and their participation means a lot to me. I love when those I’m close to mention things they have read on my blog, because I see their participation as a way of communicating that they care about me. If they feel like this space is going to become one where they are confronted with information they want to avoid, I worry they will eschew content produced by me altogether. Some who have left Mormonism have even experienced friends and family who disown them.  I don’t want to be seen as some sort of Pied Piper, attempting to lead away any and all that come within the sound of my voice. I am trying to straddle a fine line with this post, communicating why I have left without explicitly detailing the deeper issues that are so troubling for me. I do this out of respect and love for my family and friends, and I hope that is conveyed properly here.

What I can tell you is that the temple is no longer the respite that it was. It has become a reminder of many of the things that leave me feeling frustrated and unhappy about the LDS Church. An LDS leader once said that each time he attends the temple he learns something new. I was having the opposite experience, each time I attended I felt more confused and didn’t have anyone to turn to.  Why was I spending so much time reading the same scriptures over and over when there was so much to learn about the world from a variety of sources? Why had I listened to messages telling me that my greatest role and primary purpose was to have children? I’m no genius but I’m so much more than my ovaries. Church services became frustrating. Why do we spend so much time and effort on perfecting prayer, obsessing over “modest” dress, and looking up the names of the deceased and so little time discussing tolerance, poverty, disease, ignorance, malice, racism, and sexism? Church services became something I endured, trying my best to ignore comments from my fellow congregants such as “I think one great sin of our day is having too much knowledge.” WHAT DOES THAT EVEN MEAN???

Mormonism is no longer a refuge for me. It’s a minefield.

A commonly held belief among many Mormons is that people leave the church because they were offended, because they wanted to do things forbidden by the church, because they are lazy, or because they read anti-Mormon literature and were led away by false information. None of those things apply to me. My break from Mormonism means I have the opportunity to make different choices without the guilt that was previously associated with them and this is going to affect what I wear, how I spend my time on Sundays, or what I drink with dinner. I realize that this will be an opportunity for some to write me off as someone who wasn’t righteous enough and gave in to the natural man. I have accepted that this may be something some people may believe about me no matter what I say in my own defense. Living authentically and openly is more important to me than avoiding any malicious or untrue statements that might be made about me because of choices made about my lifestyle.

I do not want to imply that the way I have done things is superior to other approaches. For some, asking the questions I have asked and reading the things I have read isn’t the right thing. There are also those who have asked the same questions and done the same reading and arrived at very different conclusions (Richard Bushman is an excellent example of this). Their personal approach to Mormonism makes them really, really, ridiculously happy. You know the laughing families in the Mormon TV commercials? For some people, that’s a real thing made possible by their LDS belief system. They have personally found answers to questions that make life difficult, and they are better off because of their membership in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

So now you know. I am no longer the person I used to be. I’ve wanted to talk about this for a long time, but the way Mormonism is set up my faith is not mine exclusively. I am part of a chain, and being the broken link is a devastating thing for my parents. I know they spend a lot of time praying about me and my children. Sitting them down and telling them I no longer believed was one of the scariest things I’ve ever done, but I don’t regret it. Just like I don’t think I will regret this blog post. For me, authenticity is paramount, and for the last year-and-a-half I have struggled with a desire to preserve my relationship with my family while simultaneously living what I view as an authentic lifestyle. I know my parents and family are good, kind, loving people though, and I believe we can find a way to make our relationship work with this new version of Jenna.

So what do I believe? An atheist is someone who actively believes that there is no deity. That is not me. I like Wikipedia’a definition of Pragmatic Agnosticism: The view that there is no proof of either the existence or nonexistence of any deity, but since any deity that may exist appears unconcerned for the universe or the welfare of its inhabitants, the question is largely academic. I don’t know if God exists. My best efforts to get answers have gone unheeded. And so I’m going to take all of the energy I used to devote to worrying about the Divine, and do my best to funnel it toward worrying about the people I can physically see and affect through my actions in the here and now.

One of the best parts about where I am now is that I feel like I hold a new power over my own destiny, over my own thoughts, views, and opinions. Before if you were to ask me, “How do you feel about the death penalty?” I would turn to the words of the LDS Church leaders and parrot back what they said. What were my opinions on birth control or the role of women or marriage equality? Before 2012 my thoughts were a duplication of the words offered by men (always men). I had believed that the only way to be happy was to be baptized at 8, to visit the temple at 12, to marry a man with the priesthood in the temple. Check, check, check. I heard leaders say “Children are one of the greatest blessings in life, and their birth into loving and nurturing families is central to God’s purposes for humanity. Those who are physically able have the blessing, joy, and obligation to bear children and to raise a family. This blessing should not be postponed for selfish reasons.” And so I started having children right away, because it seemed like the only sure-fire way to know that I wasn’t delaying for selfish reasons was to do my best not to delay at all. I put no thought into having a career, because I assumed I would not have one. My role, as defined for me by the LDS Church, was to nurture our children. My husband would take care of providing for our family. While no one was physically forcing me to make any of the choices that I did, it has been a great relief to distance myself from any strong social and emotional forces that emphasize narrow prescriptions for the way one must live in order to find happiness. I can’t go back and undo any of the choices I’ve made (and when it comes to my husband and children I have absolutely no desire to do so), but I have the freedom and responsibility to figure things out entirely on my own from now on. I can research issues and form opinions on them. Being true to myself is crucial to my emotional well-being, and it feels wonderful to be approaching the world on my own terms.

The thing I am most grateful for? A strong marriage. I am in a partnership with a man I respect, love, and admire more than anyone, and anything, else. This post is my story, not his. But in all of this he stands by my side. We both know how lucky we are to have that after going through something like this.

This doesn’t mean I will never be an active Mormon again. Mormonism is my tribe, and it will always be a part of who I am. Faith is a journey, and certainly not a linear one. What I’m typing up in 2013 is where I am now. I can’t even begin to predict where I will be physically, emotionally, or spiritually in 2023 because in 2003 I never would have predicted that I would be writing this. An enormous weight that followed me around as I agonized over these questions has been lifted. I am no longer guilt-ridden. I am happier than I’ve ever been. I am not an envelope opener.

I’m not an envelope opener
By Tova Benjamin

God appeared to me when I was very young.
He whispered to me through the mouths of dumpy woman in straw like wigs and sang to me, together with shuckeling men in black hats, and long beards.
God came to me, in the form of my community – a cross-word puzzle of streets where everyone was somehow connected because we all claimed to have a piece of God inside ourselves. I listened to the trees boast this claim, listened to the ants tell me how the leaves fall to the ground to protect their children, and I listened as my teachers looked me the eye and said:
“Chelek Elokie Mimaal Mamesh, you are a literal piece of God above!”
I asked, “How did it get there?”
They said, “He blew it into you, through your nostrils”
I asked, “Is that why Jews have such big noses?”
I still don’t know the answer to that question. But I do know, that it takes a community to keep a child in line, to infuse a love of learning – it take a community to raise a child, and it takes the same community to ruin another but I don’t know anything good that doesn’t cause harm. Because God made this world like my mother makes soup. With too many vegetables – and he sprinkles in salt like my brother, too much. But you can’t take out the extra salt without throwing the soup away too, and my community liked things salty.

In elementary school the nine year old girls would wear men’s style uniform shirts because the woman styles showed off too much of their underdeveloped bodies and Sex-ed wasn’t taught. Boys were only told masturbation is a sin and the girls think that God magically places babies in their bellies after marriage and don’t know what a period is. Until they get theirs, and think they’re dying. When I was young they said “Tova! Respect your body, your body is a precious gem!” So for the high school play they duct taped our chests so our breasts wouldn’t bounce around on stage, I wondered “Is this what God wants?”  I pictured him in heaven making cookie cutters, and I saw that my ideas were too big to fit inside.

When I told my teachers I wanted to go to college, they told me that college is wrong and the principal said it’s unnecessary, there are too many outside influences. So I argued with the Rabbi, I said “What if I don’t JUST want to have nine children?”
The Rabbi stroked his long beard and said, “Would you have an envelope opener do anything else, other than open envelopes?”

YES. I would use my envelope opener to open up the packaged potential inside of me and I would use my envelope opener to file my nails and put on my shoes so the backs don’t bend. I would engage in pirate sword fights with my envelope opener, and spread butter on bread.
I would take my envelope opener, thrust it in the ground and draw a circle around it to make a sundial to tell the time, and I would see – that I’ve spent way too long, flattening my hair, so it would fit into God’s cookie cutters.
So I left. I left the crossword-puzzle of streets that I could no longer figure out the answers too, and when I left, I left my envelope opener there too with a note for God. It said, “Hey God? There are other ways to shape cookies.”

 

167 Comments


  1. Wow. This is an intense and brave post. You have articulated so many complex thoughts here in such a clear manner. Thank you for sharing.

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  2. Kate B says:

    Jenna, I just wanted to say “well done”. That was a beautifully written and heart rending post. I am not a Mormon and raised amongst diversity and with a clear view of humanity at the heart of everything. I’m not even American. But as you know, none of that is important, so these well wishes simply come from one person to another.

    I’m sure the road may be rocky, and there will be twists and turns, but it is your road, and there will be others along the way who will be there, and will “get you”.

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  3. Phew! Thanks for writing such an honest post. I’m sure people will want to weigh in, but mostly I just think you’re brave for putting it all out there.
    Nice job.

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  4. What a marvellous entry. I feel liberated just reading it, as though your relief at coming to this decision is mine as well. I feel like cracking open the champagne to celebrate (is that weird?) I have been reading your blog since you were Mrs Avocado, when you were doing your re-caps on weddingbee and I was planning my own wedding. Your posts about preparing for T1′s birth completely changed my thoughts on birth, leading to a lot of my own research, and 8 months ago I had my darling girl in a way I might not have considered were it not for your inspiration. Your “My Awakening” posts had me quietly cheering you on, as I think there was part of me that had always wondered how someone so caring, compassionate and intelligent could hold some of the views you did, and when your thoughts started to evolve (as you so eloquently put it) it seemed like a natural progression to me. And yet, for various reasons I have never commented on your posts. But this one has moved me to give you a virtual high five, a virtual hug. It is not easy to leave behind a belief system, a community, a culture, a lifestyle. It might be the hardest thing we ever do. And yet what other option do we have when it no longer fits?

    I had the same conversation with my parents as a 16 year old, although I’m sure I wasn’t as polite as you. They were disappointed but they also understood, because they had the same problems. They have found a way to combine their Catholic faith with their socially progressive views, even though some days they are so angry at the church they don’t take communion or they skip going to mass for weeks on end. But they continue to have a relationship with God and with other Catholics who share their views and whose faith leads to a view of the world based on social justice and empathy rather than judgement and ignorance. You may well come to a similar place in time, but you might not. Either way I’m sure everyone who knows you will see – immediately or eventually – that you continue to be a good person simply striving to live the best life you can, which is all anyone can ask of us.

    And so from another mum (among other things! We are more than our ovaries :)) living on the other side of the world, a massive heartfelt “thankyou” for a brave, articulate, thoughtful post about what it is that makes us human.

    PS Sorry again for reading for 4+ years and never saying thanks for a great blog.

    Liz Reply:

    Dot, you have said what I’m thinking almost exactly (although I’m not a mother yet). I, too have been reading since Weddingbee. Jenna, there has always been something about you that kept me coming back to read, even when so much of what you said I disagreed with. I even thought of you on Friday night when I went to see Book of Mormon, remembering how you said you wouldn’t want to see it and wondering, since it seemed you were on somewhat of a different path recently, if you would reconsider and end up enjoying it.

    I never know whether to call myself agnostic or an atheist, but really does it matter? Isn’t that the point? That labels often overshadow what is truly in our hearts – to be good, kind, thoughtful citizens of the world who do our best to support and promote social justice. You have shown that through your writing, especially as of late. Where I may have felt that reading your blog was a guilty pleasure when I first started reading 4 years ago, I haven’t felt that way in the last year or so. I stopped reading you as a Jenna the Mormon and rather as Jenna the person. So, I apologize for the prejudice I had for you when I first started reading, but I’m ever so glad I stuck around.

    Jenna Reply:

    We came thisclose to flying to NYC this summer to see the BOM musical, but can’t stomach the $300-400 ticket price ! I really really want to go (and have listened to the soundtrack several times, it’s cathartic) but if we’re going to be paying that much for tickets it would be nice if we didn’t have to be paying for food, transportation, etc as well. Maybe it will come back to San Francisco again?

    Liz Reply:

    I hope so! It’s so hilarious and quite moving too.

    (Also, sorry if my comment makes me sound like a jerk. I didn’t really say that the way I thought I had. I think you’re awesome.)

    CharlieSue Reply:

    Yes! I just read somewhere recently that it’s coming back here in the fall!

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  5. So so brave. I commend you!

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  6. I was raised Unitarian, and the general principles of the faith are that we support everyone’s right to a “free and responsible search for truth and meaning.” I feel like this post is the very definition of that. Good luck with your journey.

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  7. nonmommy says:

    Best post you have ever written. Ever. Good luck on your journey.

    sarah Reply:

    Agreed! So incredibly brave and beautiful.

    Amy Reply:

    I agree completely!

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  8. Ashley says:

    I find it hard to find the right words…. but thank you. Thank you for sharing your journey, thank you for being so honest. It’s really been an honor to read your blog and watch your journey.

    Putting in the time to learn about the beliefs you were raised with and deciding to go in a different direction is an amazingly difficult process and I can’t even imagine to what it would feel like. Being able to admit it all in such a public forum is brave and amazing.

    For what it’s worth, I recently started attending a Unitarian Universalist church. From what I’ve been told, the experience you have varies greatly depending on the congregation. What you might find, is a group of people who are, what I call (and self-define as), seekers. People who are all looking for the answers, and not necessarily finding them in typical places. People who want to get together every Sunday and talk about the big stuff without claiming that anyone has the answers. In the congregation we attended, that meant people who identified as Jewish, Christian, Hindu, atheist and more. I appreciated the sense of community, but also the conversations about the big stuff and about making a difference in this world (our congregation was very focused on social justice). It might be something of interest to you…

    On the bigger side though, just THANK YOU. I’ve stopped reading a lot of blogs (trying to take back a little of my time for me!) but yours always stays on the list. Thank you for reminding me why!!

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  9. Cheyenna says:

    That was beautifully and very thoughtfully written. I am proud of you for working to find what works for YOU. I can imagine that this was an extremely difficult thing to share. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for your honesty. I’m proud of you! Diversity is beautiful. Hugs!!

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  10. Wow, what a brave, beautiful, well-written post. Jenna, I’ve loved following your journey over the last few years and seeing how you have grown and changed. Thanks for sharing this – and I think you articulated your thoughts perfectly!

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  11. just chiming in to say i agree with all of the above: thank you, this is intense and honest and brave. and i sent you a much too long thought via DM on twitter, but sending you giant hugs!

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  12. Cheyenna says:

    That was beautifully written and very thought-filled. Thank you for sharing such a personal journey. I’m proud of you for looking for and finding what works for YOU. There is so much beauty in that. Hugs to you!!

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  13. Wow, excellent and brave post. It is hard to grow up in a faith that teaches you not to probe too hard, and then come as an adult to find that you can’t help peeking in places that you’re not supposed to. I feel like I experienced an evolution too, but mostly in the outer orbits of how my faith plays out. My core remains the same (I believe that God is all-powerful, that God is good, and that God is faithful – and I still remain faithful to the ideas encapsulated in the Apostle’s or Niceaen Creed), but how I choose to respond to the issues in the world around me, in politics or science or culture. So I can still worship in the same churches, alongside people who hold my core, and then try not to talk to them about politics. :)

    Anyway, back to you – I have felt for a long time that you would be more comfortable outside the Mormon church, regardless of my disagreement with it (though many of the issues you mention in the paragraph that begins “I wish I had recorded…” are making me so happy that you finally see through – a book I love in its thoroughness in discussing those things is James R White’s Letters to a Mormon Elder http://www.amazon.com/Letters-Mormon-Elder-James-White/dp/1599251191/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1367843582&sr=8-1&keywords=letters+to+a+mormon+elder). There seemed to be a disconnect between LDS Jenna and this other Jenna that kept peeking out in your posts, and I hoped that someday you would be able to resolve that conflict.

    I hope you don’t mind my saying so, but I would encourage you to look into some of the mainline branches of Christianity. We certainly have our own problems and hypocrises, but I think that if you do find that you still believe in God and want to find a way to relate to Him and be in community with other believers, we have a lot to offer you (and a lot more flexibility in culture!). My particular branch is Reformed/Presbyterian, though I don’t agree with everything that is accepted by the consensus (leadership is done by large assemblies of pastors and locally elected elders, not a board or president), I personally find it to be the most logical, most historically accurate, and most “speaking-to-my-soul-ish” of all of the various flavors available. Even my husband, who is a student of the ancient world and has lots of opportunity to bump up against so-called historical problems with Christianity, has never found anything yet that truly shakes his faith.

    Sorry for the book – anyway, congratulations on your “coming out” and I will be praying for you and your family (immediate and extended) as you live in this new normal.

    Kelley Reply:

    I just found your blog tonight and could not stop reading about your journey! Jenna, you are such an amazing woman and I truly commend you for your bravery in searching for the truth. I too would recommend just checking out a non-demonmination Christian church, I bet the thought of being stuck in another “organized religion” sounds scary right now, but there is so much freedom in Christ, the real Christ of the Bible, not the “Christ” that the LDS church creates. Blessings to you and your family, I am so inspired by you!

    tf Reply:

    oh geeze. the LDS people read the same bible you do, and believe in the same Christ. there isn’t more then one and nobody is creating up anything.

    Tiffany H Reply:

    tf – sadly they do not, I am an ex mormon who was raised in the church for much of my young adult life. I am in agreement with you Kelley, they do serve a different God.

    tf Reply:

    why do people make things up about a religion they don’t even belong to? i love learning about different religions. it fasinates me how many actually have lots of similarities. The lds church believes in the same Christ as the rest of Christianity.

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  14. Heather says:

    Wow – I have to agree with the folks before me… thank you for being so honest about your journey. I am glad you have found a place where you are happy in your faith journey. And I do think it is a journey. Similarly, I was born and raised in a christian, church going home. And did not begin to seriously question anything in my faith till I was in college. I ended up coming full circle back to my faith, my church, my values. But I appreciate the courage it takes to ask those questions and make decisions that may hard based on the answers you find.
    I am curious about your husband in all this. You mentioned that he has been really supportive of all this, which is just awesome. But is he in a similar place? If I remember correctly, he joined the LDS church based on your involvement and possibly as a ‘requirement’ (not sure the right word) for marriage? I ask only because I feel that it is important for couples to share the same faith and particularly for how you raise your kids. Just curious about things from that perspective.
    But again – thank you for being so honest about something so personal.

    dankrist Reply:

    TH joined the church well before he and Jenna met at college, just to clarify. It wasn’t something he did “for her.”

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  15. Celeste says:

    I’m sad for you, that you went through this, but happy for you, that are at peace with what you’ve discovered. I’m an active believer in my faith, but have seen many people fall away as we’ve started our own families and left sheltered homes. Good luck to you!

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  16. Thank you for this post. I have followed you since WeddingBee and am thrilled to see you articulate what I think many of us have felt in your changing voice. I come from a different background but am in about the same place. Love your family and journey on!

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  17. I’m very proud if you for writing about your struggle. I’m sure it’s been a difficult road. Enjoy the road ahead.

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  18. Wow. I hadn’t read your blog actively in a while (or anyone’s, :) ) and so I was unaware of your changing voice, but just wow.
    I left the church 10 years ago. I don’t regret it. I too, for a while, said that it was part of me, but unfortunately, the shunning I received for being where you are made it easy to leave all the way. I hope you fare better. You are courageous.
    And btw, kinda sounds like you are a humanist now. Not a bad place to be, really.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Secular_humanism
    If you ever want to talk… :)

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  19. Hi Jenna – I have been reading your blog for a long time, and I was raised in a very tolerant, multi-religion family, but my best friend in high school was Mormon. Our friendship has disintegrated after high school and through college, mostly because it is hard for me to conform with the many of the things and ‘rules’ you described above. I accept people who are religious, even though I am not, but it is difficult for me to accept limits placed on people because of a ‘rule’ or the answer ‘that is the way its supposed to be.’ I think so many people have the potential for greatness or thoughtfulness, but too many don’t use the mind that they have. I think it takes an extremely inteligent, confident and mature person to question your whole life the way you did and it is extremely rare. I don’t know you in non-internet life, but I’m proud of you and if you lived closer, I would definitely say, let’s get together!! :).

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  20. Sad for your loss and very happy for all you have gained. You are introspective and brave.

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  21. Christy says:

    Thank you so much for writing this. I was really fascinated by your Awakenings posts, and I really applaud your thorough examinations into your faith. Wherever you end up on your journey, I am certain you will take no step without the same thoughtful consideration.

    Good luck on your journey, and keep us posted.

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  22. Wow, Jenna, this is a post I never would have expected from you a few years ago. It’s so brave for you to come out about this and I really enjoyed reading it. :) I went through a similar realization at about age 10–but on a much smaller scale since the mainline Protestantism I was raised in was much less central to my family and community. It’s hard to admit to yourself and even harder to the ones you love but I’m glad you did. Hugs and good luck as you continue the journey.

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  23. This is wonderful.

    As a lapsed Catholic, I went through the same thing a few years ago. It was a scary time.

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  24. Caitlin says:

    Thank you, Jenna, for being so open. Your words speak to me as I have been on a similar journey.

    I was born and raised Roman Catholic, in a very culturally Catholic family. I didn’t really think about what I believed until college (I received all the sacraments but free thought wasn’t really encouraged). My husband of 4 years and I were even married in the Catholic Church. Yet I had been questioning and drifting away from the church for the last 10 years. My daughter was born in January, and during my pregnancy it became more urgent for me to determine what I believed, what I wanted and how I wanted to lead my children. Telling my family was the hardest part and many have not accepted this change well. We are dedicating our daughter in our local Unitarian Universalist church at the end of May, and I finally feel at peace. I feel like I have found a place I can explore and express who I am. Like you, I have found myself to be an agnostic and a humanist. Thank you for sharing your journey – I really needed to see that others have struggled with this as well.

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  25. There is so much here but I just want to comment on how wonderfully you’ve written. I know it will still hurt some–it is impossible for it to be otherwise–but your care and thoughtfulness in your explanations is something I know you’ll be proud of in 2023. :-) Bravo!

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  26. I feel, when as a liberal humanist sort I started following you 4 years ago, somehow your inner spirit was already evident. It was evident – not obvious but evident – that you would some day get to this place. If only because you are such an explorer and so wiling to step forward.

    I wish you and your family great happiness. It does exist without dogma, as you now know.

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  27. Elizabeth says:

    Jenna- I want to echo the thoughts of the other commenters above. You are so brave to have gone through your religious journey, and to do so publicly is courageous and commendable. Thank you so much for sharing! I have been reading since before T1 was born (though I’ve only commented a couple times), and it has been educational and exciting to follow your journey. I grew up Unitarian Universalist (apparently you have a sizeable UU following!), and really loved it. There is a great emphasis on exploration of all faith traditions in the youth program, to help young adults discover their own personal truths. Best of luck to you and your family in navigating your future!

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  28. Jenna – What an incredible post. I absolutely commend you for your bravery, honesty, and authenticity. I left the church at 19 after seeing the hypocrisies. I now consider myself to be an agnostic. I feel like I can live my life much more authentically without having to be defined by a Church that I don’t agree with in every aspect. I wish you the best in your continued journey to discover your most authentic self.

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  29. I am impressed by your willingness to explore your beliefs and questions. I really respect that, along with your openness!!

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  30. Andrea says:

    I have always questioned faith, God, and religion and because of this I have always ALWAYS longed for the comfort of a strong unshakable faith. I just never got it. But it’s because of this unrecognized desire that I feel I can somewhat relate to this statement, “Acknowledging the unraveling of my faith was something I was not ready to do yet.” and I definitely fell for you.

    I was born and raised Episcopalian (AKA Catholic light), and was in classes to get “confirmed” at around 13 years old (kind of like most churches equivalent to being baptized since we baptize at infancy) and I kept asking questions until the leader lady told me that basically if I didn’t believe what she was saying I didn’t belong there. That was the beginning of the end for me.

    It is hard Jenna. I’m glad you feel at peace.

    Erica Reply:

    I also grew up Episcopalian and laughed when I saw you also refer to it as Catholic light! :-) So true!

    Michelle Reply:

    Catholic Light – all the service, none of the guilt! :)

    Andrea – bummer that the leader lady said that b/c she wasn’t actually speaking for the church! Because I wandered and dabbled and researched the history and the teachings of so many religions (and subsets of) but what really solidified my identifying as an Episcopalian is the fact that we have doctrine, not dogma. Priests who will answer questions for the church teachings (and not personally held beliefs) will tell you that we put the best collective wisdom and most agreed upon things in the book of common prayer, but when you really boil it down, its between you and God. The church is attempting to guide or help as best it has figured out and giving advice, but the choice of doctrine and not dogma was the acknowledgment that this is all based on stuff we can’t proved from lifetimes ago and this is our best guess at what happened and how the interpretation of that might help us live our lives.

    All that being said, SOOO not trying to “convert” you back or anything – just such a bummer that she so screwed that up for you and treated you like that. :(

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  31. Turtle says:

    All good wishes to ou as you keep learning about yourself and your world.

    One question I have is if this is a common experience or lds missionaries or if you think there was something particular about your position as a sort of Internet missionary? I ask because just the other day on the train in Chicago I watched as two young men–couldn’t have been more than 18 or 19– tried to talk to so many different (ages, races, genders, undoubtedly sexual orientations) people on the train about lds, and I was struck by how young, inexperienced, and naive thy seemed ( I’m not implying his is because they were lds, I was all of those things at 19 also). I feel like it’s interesting that the lds church encourages men at that formative age to go out and convince others when they themselves are so undeveloped. I just wondered if you have any thoughts about this and the connection between our work trying to convince others what you believed here and his eventual evolution?

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  32. There were almost two full years when you and I both lived in Hyde Park, about six blocks from each other. I saw you once, with T1 in his stroller (the same stroller for which I later registered, based on your recommendation), but I figured it would be creepy to say hi or something and I honestly told myself, “besides, I’m not Mormon so she wouldn’t talk to me much, anyway.”

    I should have said hi. Maybe we could have talked. I now see that we have much more in common than I used to think. My small-town cradle Catholicism is not so very far from your small-town cradle Mormonism.

    My wish for you is that you and TH will continue to gain strength from each other, and keep having those conversations with each other about all of this. That all this will continue to bring you closer to each other. A spouse who encourages your spiritual growth is an amazing gift.

    I still identify as Catholic, but there are moments… there are moments when I’m doing it in spite of the Church, because I’m pretty sure it would rather be rid of me. And there are days when I wonder why I even try. Real, deep honesty is exhausting some days. I wish you strength.

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  33. I’ve enjoyed following your journeys through Mormonism. I have many of the same concerns as you, although I think I grew up in a much less black-and-white Mormon context and thus have had fewer issues dealing with all the shades of gray that you discover as you mature and start thinking. I’ve also never felt pressured to conform to a Mormon mold–in fact, if I did feel that pressure I would generally do the opposite thing. So thankfully I feel like the life choices I’ve made have truly and authentically been mine, whether they appear very sterotypically Mormon (marrying young, having a “large” family of 4 children) or very much not typically Mormon (getting a PhD, being a female academic, delaying children for many years). I really enjoyed some of the perspectives in the Givens’ book “The Good Who Weeps.” The noted that doubt isn’t something to avoid, but something to embrace, that the choice to doubt has to be equally compelling as the choice to believe. It’s not going to be clear or obvious, and if we’re waiting for that big huge Answer, it’s kind of the wrong way to approach life. I also love that they emphasize that life isn’t a test that we’re either going to pass or fail, but a place to gain experience.

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  34. I don’t have anything to add that hasn’t been said, but just wanted to thank you for sharing your experience! I loved reading how you came to your present feelings and while I know it is a difficult and at times unsettling path, I imagine this is just the beginning of a beautiful journey that will feed your heart and soul!

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  35. A very thoughtful post. Just remember, if you ever doubt yourself, that religion does not equal morality and kindness. I’m not saying that the two cannot go hand in hand, depending on the individual, just stating that they are disparate.

    My FIL and wife are very active in their church and generally show themselves off to be the perfect shiny type of people. These same respected and devout individuals turned their backs on their first born granddaughter. Why? Her father resulted from a one night stand, AND didn’t finish school in 4 years, so he is obviously very embarrassing. These people acted like he and his child didn’t exist, so we had to end the relationship.

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  36. I’ve read your blog for a long time, but of course I don’t know you. Still, I’m SO proud of you.

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  37. I think this is one of the bravest blog posts I’ve read in a long time. Especially with the connection to your family, both immediate and extended, as you mentioned. This is a beautiful thing to read about, about someone being so thoughtful and so introspective about how they live their life. Both a spiritual and a physical life. I applaud your strength and your courage on your journey, and hope that whatever is brings you, above all, you feel at peace and happy with your decisions.

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  38. incredible + brave post

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  39. Yvette Urteaga says:

    Wow, I’m sure that was an incredibly difficult post to write. I admire your courage and look forward to reading more if you choose to share it. Faith is such a personal thing and there is no right or wrong in my opinion. Keep asking questions and developing the answers that you are comfortable with, even if they don’t fit into a pretty box.

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  40. Jenna, I admire your determination to learn and question when so many just sit back and do as they’re told. (And I don’t particularly mean in the LDS faith… I mean in general, with religion as a whole.) In the 5-ish years that I’ve known you, I feel like I’ve watched you grow and learn and become the person you were always meant to be. I’m so proud of you.

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  41. Jenn R. says:

    Wow. You have changed so much since I first started reading your posts on WeddingBee. Even though we had very different lives, I kept reading because I always felt we had something in common. I guess it shouldn’t be a surprise that there was a “different Jenna” there all the time.

    Congratulations and good luck. I’m sure there will be some backlash – not only from readers, but also those closest to you. I hope you’re able to find some form of faith that offers you strength and comfort, while allowing you to embrace your humanist ideals.

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  42. Wonderfully written.

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  43. Karen @sugarspicelivin says:

    Jenna, I can’t believe that I have been able to follow you along on this whole journey. You are such a great and amazing person, wife and mom. I really do admire you for being your authentic self. Huge hugs. So proud of you!!

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  44. jennifer says:

    Fantastic post. I hope you find a wonderful balance with your family. Regardless, congratulations on finding your way.

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  45. Leaving aside everything else that I may disagree with you on, I just want to say how fantastic I find this post. I mean seriously, Jenna. I know my opinion comes fraught with so much weird/bad history that it understandably counts for naught with you, but I’m gonna give it anyway.

    First, it’s some of the best writing I’ve seen you do, IMO. Thoughtful, measured, and well-composed, and the effort and time you put into it is apparent. And whatever the subject, no matter who agrees or doesn’t, that’s just something I want to voice appreciation for as a reader, in this day of lazy blogging. I just really enjoyed the flow of your thoughts. And I hope that doesn’t sound condescending, because I really mean it as a sincere compliment. It’s great stuff.

    And second? Shit Jenna, good for you. I can only imagine how scary this declaration is. I’ve made something of a blogging career out of taking easy shots at religious beliefs, but FWIW, I know that losing one’s faith is an incredibly traumatic and confusing experience. And you just went balls-out. And you backed up where you are now with genuine reflection and authenticity, and some rather impressive fearlessness. I really respect you for it.

    My favorite lines – “I can be at peace even if I am not widely understood or accepted.” and “it feels wonderful to be approaching the world on my own terms.” YES. YESSSSS.

    Last thing I want to say – I realize that proselytizing to you about non-religion is essentially the same (if inverse in spirit) thing Mrs. W did a few lines up. And I think you’re showing that you’re doing pretty darn well figuring out your path on your own, thanks very much. That being said, I can’t resist giving you a virtual high five for what you didn’t say explicitly, but that you’ve very clearly started to see, which is …

    You can be good without god.

    Bottom line: this display of critical thinking and introspection made my morning, Jenna. I know we’re not gonna be BFFs anytime soon, but mad respect to you today, really.

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  46. This is an incredibly brave post, Jenna. I think that you’ve handled it tactfully while stil being honest and that is a great thing. I am really, really proud of you :)

    I think that the little anecdote that you finished that with is…so…perfect in that Tova Benjamin is voicing a desire for a different path but that she is still a part of her ‘tribe’. The environment she came from (Chabadnik) is hugely conservative and similarly can disown and even mourn their children as dead should they stray too far from the fold however, more often than not these days, these people still remain tied to their culture, their tribe, will still having the freedom to explore.

    My father grew up in an Evangelist Baptist family. My grandfather was a lay preacher, four of my cousins are ministers, many of my aunts and uncles have been missionaries in India, Pakistan and more. My father, at age 11, refused to be Baptised. The Holy Trinity ‘didn’t make sense’ to him. it wasn’t that he didn’t respect it. It wasn’t that he didn’t appreciate it. It just didn’t…make sense. Despite their faith my grandparents said they wanted him to choose his beliefs without duress. So for years he was an atheist with radical political views and lifestyle choices that made his family uncomfortable…but they never, ever turned their back on him. When he was 25, he met my mother. She was a 32 year old Jewish divorcee. She fell pregnant at 34, they got married when my mother was 16 weeks pregnant, my father told his parents I would be raised Jewish. They stood by him and welcomed by mother with open arms. When my mother’s father died, my father struggled with not being able to mourn him in the culture his children were being raised in. Four years later, he converted to Judaism. Through all of it, his family stood by him, even though they didn’t understand it. In the end, my grandparents were just pleased he believed in any kind of God and that Judaism, with its traditions and its routines, gave my father a kind of peace that he’d never had his whole life.

    Does my grandmother pray for our souls nightly? Yes, but that’s because her belief is that if we accept Jesus as the saviour we will join her in Heaven. That isn’t going to happen but I think at the end of the day she’s just happy that her son found something that made him happy. Just as your parents, I am sure, will be happy if you are truly happy.

    I guess my point with that little essay about my Dad is that it can and does work. Families learn about something outside of their comfort zone when the chain breaks. Is it heartbreaking sometimes? Yes. But it can be a beautiful thing too.

    I think it is great that TH is being supportive and that you’re growing closer through this rather than growing apart. That’s a testament to a great marriage, I think.

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  47. Caitlin says:

    You go girl.

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  48. Jenna, this is so beautifully written and moving – may we all be so fortunate to have such introspective growth over the years. Brava! I wish you all the luck in the world in your journey forward as you redfine your relationships with your family and friends in light of your changing world view.

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  49. Danielle says:

    “Wow!” is all I can say. I believe one of the commenters above said it perfectly, so I am going re-post this snippet by Bonnie because it’s exactly what I wanted to say: “You have articulated so many complex thoughts here in such a clear manner.” Indeed, you have! Very beautiful and thought-provoking writing on a complex topic for sure. I am inspired by your bravery as I find myself struggling a bit in my own Roman Catholic faith.

    Can I ask you what is different for you now? I don’t know if you plan on writing a post on things like this…but like alcohol, coffee and the like? Cursing? And about how you plan to raise your children? I am fascinated by others’ experiences with this since someday I may have to think about the same thing with my future children.

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  50. Sheila says:

    Kudos, Jenna, for sharing your story so beautifully. I will keep you in my prayers, hoping that you find what you are looking for.

    Even though we have never met, you seem like a friend, and someone that I would probably love to chat with in real life. I have been reading you since Wedding Bee, having found you through Kelli Nicole’s blog. She photographed some of my former neighbors who were Mormon.

    For what it’s worth I wandered around for years, not knowing what I believed in until I encountered Jesus and accepted him as my Lord and savior. What I believe in: Jesus and walking in love. What I don’t believe in: religion.

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      I'm a farm-raised almost-crunchy stroller-pushing picture-taking lifestyle-blog-writing gastronomy-obsessed divine-seeking thrift-store-combing cheese-inhaling pavement-pounding laughter-sprinkling lover of individuality and taking chances.
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