07 Aug

Why I Left The Mormon Church

Posted by Jenna, Under Religious

I went through my Awakening and stopped believing in the truth claims of Mormonism sometime in 2012, but recent events have pushed me to the conclusion that it is time to officially ask for my name to be taken off the records of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. If you’re feeling the same way, the process for resigning from the LDS Church is described in detail here.

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Why now? In May of 2014 three Mormon individuals who are prominent online figures revealed that they had been sent letters  indicating the formation of disciplinary councils to determine whether they would be allowed to remain within the LDS church, or be excommunicated. John Dehlin of Mormon Stories, Kate Kelly of Ordain Women, and Rock Waterman of Pure Mormonism. I cried when I heard the news because I consider excommunication to be a spiritually violent act. It strips away all of the promises and blessings contained in the baptismal and temple covenants, including the promise that the individual can live with their family after they die. Unless those baptismal and temple convents are restored in the future, the excommunicated person is sentenced to an eternity alone after death. The LDS church refers to the council that determines excommunication as a “Court of Love,” which is ironic in a sad sort of way, since excommunicating someone is the equivalent of kicking a family member out of your family circle and not allowing them to participate in family gatherings unless they conform to your demands. That doesn’t sound like love to me.

I don’t believe in the exclusive teachings of Mormonism anymore but that doesn’t prevent me from feeling a deep sadness for the individuals who do believe and have this tactic used against them (and it’s happened to more than the three individuals I mentioned above). As I wrote in a guest post on The Mormon Child Bride, the discipline of these individuals has me feeling I am only wanted if I stop seeking change for the better and simply conform. There is a part of me that still loves the culture and tradition of my childhood, but I interpret the actions of the Church to be a very clear message that the LDS Church is exclusively a space for those who are willing to sit still and obey. I thought that Mormonism might put up a Big Tent sometime in my lifetime, but recent actions and dialog indicate they are headed in the opposite direction.

I’ve thought about resigning for a long time, but haven’t yet felt certain that it was the right time. I know that my family will view the action with great sadness, and will also possibly feel hurt by my decision. I write this post with no malice toward any individual. However, as the media has covered the disciplinary measures against the three Mormon activists named above, I’ve watched the last remains of my belief in the possibility of reform in the Mormon church be washed out to shore.

I reject the Mormon Church of today that discourages the free exchange of ideas and the pursuit of truth via intelligent discourse. For this reason I am making public my resignation from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints because it is the firmest way I know how to take a stand against an organization that uses such aggressive and hurtful tactics against members who are advocating for changes such as equal opportunities for women (Kate Kelly, excommunicated in June of 2014) or greater compassion and understanding for LGBT individuals (John Dehlin, threatened with disiciplinary measures several times over the last decade). That is not an organization I can bear belonging to, even if it is in name only.

I know there are others out there who have reached a breaking point recently. If you would like to share your story I will publish it here under a “Why I Resigned” series. I value having a place to share my story and want to provide that for others if they are so inclined. I know this post and all others related to this topic will be difficult for my believing friends and family to read and I hope they will keep in mind that this is exclusively about me and my relationship with Mormonism and has nothing to do with my feelings about them or our individual histories. A lot of love and support has been extended my way throughout my journey out of Mormonism and it has meant so much to hear from those who love me for who I am, Mormon or otherwise.

52 Comments


  1. I didn’t realize they kept your name somewhere. I left the church after my 18th birthday. Haven’t once regretted it.

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    Jenna Reply:

    No one really knows, because the organization is extremely opaque.

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  2. thatconfusedreader says:

    I don’t understand. In one breath you say, “I went through my Awakening and stopped believing in the truth claims of Mormonism sometime in 2012…”

    and then a few sentences later…

    “I consider excommunication to be a spiritually violent act. It strips away all of the promises and blessings contained in the baptismal and temple covenants, including the promise that the individual can live with their family after they die. Unless those baptismal and temple convents are restored in the future, the excommunicated person is sentenced to an eternity alone after death.”

    If you don’t believe in the mormon teachings, then why do you believe the church has any bearing on your after-life?

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    Jenna Reply:

    I am trying to be the kind of person who feels pain for others when they feel pain. Doesn’t matter whether I think their beliefs are valid or not. It’s a spiritually violent act because it hurts my friend (well, I guess Kate Kelly probably doesn’t really know who I am, but we are Facebook friends so I’m using the term loosely.)

    I do not think that their is an afterlife, or that what Mormonism says about it has any real effect on me. But this isn’t about me, it’s about people who are still on the inside and are being suppressed or persecuted.

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  3. So, I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately and since you wrote this post…I figure I’ll ask you about it.

    Why do people that leave the Mormon church have such an obsession with why they left/that they left/what made them leave? Why not just leave it all behind? There’s the posts that you’ve written so far, but there are also messages boards all over the internet, and then the series that you want to start. Why is any of that necessary? Wouldn’t it be more “free-ing” to just live your new life and not concern yourself with the past?

    I get that it was a big part of your life, but if you really are concerned about the feelings of your family and friends, I would think you would make it a private matter, rather than drag it out over this public forum.

    I’m not meaning to be hostile, so I hope that’s not how it comes across. It just seems to me that Mormonism is one of the few religions whose former members see the need to flounce so dramatically and who often become obsessive about ridiculing their former Church. I’m just wondering why that is.

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    Jenna Reply:

    I wrote this post because I wanted to add my voice to the growing movement of dissent and opposition to the current path of Mormonism. It’s really the only way I have to make a difference, even if that difference is minuscule.

    I am not surprised by your comment, because I have found that people who have never been a part of Mormonism do not get why we talk about leaving so much. When I posted about this upcoming post in a group of former Mormons though, everyone understood what I was doing, why I was doing it, and what it meant.

    This isn’t the sort of post I write for a broad audience. If it’s meant for an individual, they will get it, and otherwise I think it’s okay if it’s sort of confusing and weird. Leaving Mormonism is hard and I want others to know that they aren’t alone.

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    D. J. Reply:

    Stefani, I was born into a very orthodox Mormon family. I didn’t realize how much my identity was dependent on Mormonism until I realized that none of it was true and I started down the path of leaving it. Just to illustrate how all-encompassing mormonism is I’ll describe what my life looked like at the height of my involvement:
    - three one-hour meetings every week, one of these meetings was for young women age 12-18 where we were given strict boundaries on sexual activity, substance use, how often we should be praying, told that we needed to get married and have children and stay at home with those children, etc… There was no aspect of my life as an adolescent about which the church didn’t have something to say.
    - three hours every wednesday night spent with other youth ages 12-18 where we participated in an activity which was often directed towards teaching us who/how/where to get married.
    - a week of church camp every summer
    - a week of youth conference every summer
    - a week of a national “Especially for Youth” conference every summer.
    - waking up at 5am every morning to attend a seminary class at 6am
    - regular meetings with an ecclesiastical leader where I was asked about my sexual activity, my substance use habits, if I believed in Joseph Smith, if I supported the mormon prophet.
    - My father, along with holding a demanding job as a physician, was also “called”to lead the mormon church across an area spanning half of two different states. I never saw him and to this day, I don’t really know him well.
    - Family scripture study, prayer, and inspirational message every evening
    - Once a week family nights that included a religious message.

    In all of these meetings and activities I was told who I was supposed to become, what I should believe. I was reminded of the terrible consequences that would come if I left the true gospel.

    If you want to understand more about why it takes so much processing and re-processing and support from reddit and facebook groups and therapy and therapy, and more therapy for members to leave the mormon church, look into any textbook’s list of defining characteristics of a cult – mormonism hits nearly every marker. Sometimes the way people need to process their leaving is by speaking out about how hurt they were in the hopes of helping others.

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    Louise Reply:

    I left the Christian church with hardly a backwards glance and don’t find myself thinking about it at all. However, it took me many many years to leave my abusive marriage, and I find myself wrestling with memories and questions and anger and grief daily for the last year. From the sounds of things, my abusive relationship and the Mormon church have quite a few things in common. It is not a surprise to me to find that a survivor of dysfunction/abuse needs to do a lot of processing to get over it. There comes a time when it’s the moment to face squarely ahead without looking back, but it can’t be imposed. A person has to work through *what that shit meant* (and what it means now).

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    Emily Reply:

    Both Jenna and D.J. have done a really good job explaining different reasons why individuals who leave the Mormon church feel the need to publicly share their resignation and discuss issues they have with the religion. I publicly came out as an ex-mormon Nov 2012. Stefani, you bring up a great point, which is that this type of public announcement is not often found in other religions. But let’s consider instances where other individuals have left a different religion and have felt the need to say something publicly- those that have left Scientology, those that have left the Westboro Baptist Church (Fred Phelps and his hateful signs) are two that come to mind right away. What do those religions have in common with the Mormon religion (in my opinion)? They are all extreme religions, some might call them cults, that completely take over your whole life. They are not Sunday only, see you at Christmas and Easter, religions. They require complete devotion in all aspects of your life. So when a person finally breaks free from that religion, there is a lot of process and there is also often a need to publicly declare that you’ve left so that church leaders and still believing members do not constantly hound you, trying to reactivate you. Until you’ve lived it, it’s very hard to understand, but hopefully this has helped you understand a little bit better why ex-mormons do what they do.

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    Mallory Reply:

    Just to give a different side to all this “they don’t let you leave because Mormons are just a big, scary cult” nonsense….I’m a devout LDS person, born and raised, with several members of my family who no longer practice or attend. There was no dramatics, no major announcements – they just decided they no longer felt strongly about it (or perhaps never did), stopped regarding themselves as part of the church, and lead different lifestyles now. I tend to find that many (not all though) that make a big production out of leaving the church are those that have some investment in an online presence and feel the need to explain it to that online ‘audience.’ Otherwise, I’ve never known someone in real life who made a big deal about leaving the church or ever expressed any degree of difficulty in doing so. Sure, family might be disappointed and other church members might want to see what they can do to keep you around, but hey – - – you want to change cable TV service or cancel a gym membership and they fight tooth and nail to keep you around. They don’t make it easy. I guess my gym could be called a cult too!

    Look, yes, the LDS church is a 7 day a week/365 day a year belief system. And I can appreciate that removing yourself from that, depending on your level of previous belief, is going to be a huge adjustment for awhile that would vary from person to person. But this throwing around of the ‘cult’ word is completely off base and only serves to point out the irrationality of the person who uses it. These people confuse the sadness that friends and family may have expressed to them upon leaving as some kind of oppressive guilt trip meant to control them in some Lifetime-movie-esque way. You want to stop being a Mormon, you can stop being a Mormon. I have nothing but love for those friends and family in my life who have parted ways with the church because they have done it with maturity, respect, and tolerance for the beliefs of others (including those they just left behind). Those are lovely people to be around no matter the belief system (or lack thereof).

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    Luman Walters Reply:

    Imagine you found this cake that is the most delicious thing that you have ever tasted. Would you horde that cake for only yourself, or would you want to share it with all your friends and family? Just like that delicious cake, leaving the churchl is something that needs to be shared because it brings so much joy.

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  4. I was born and raised LDS, graduated from BYU, married in a temple ceremony and then left the church completely (name withdrawn) 2 years later. That was ten years ago and I have never for a second regretted my decision. I had been questioning my beliefs since high school and was fortunate to meet my husband who was on the same path. Together we decided we didn’t believe the fundamental teachings and we couldn’t support many of the beliefs that felt discriminatory to us. Everyone on both sides of our families are still Mormon, but watching things occur within the church for the last decade has just cemented our choice to live outside it and raise our daughter the same.

    Reply

    Jenna Reply:

    It’s so wonderful to be on the same page as your spouse when it comes to religious beliefs! I’m grateful for that every day.

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  5. Slow clap. It’s been really interesting to read your journey – I’ve been reading the whole time. I always admired your dedication to your religion even though I didn’t relate/agree with aspects of the Mormon church. And I’ve REALLY admired your courage to go through this tremendous spiritual change publicly.

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    Jenna Reply:

    Thanks Caitlin. xoxo

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  6. Serious question: if you no longer believe it’s a true church, why is there any emotion attached to formally requesting them to erase your name? Cultural/family reaction aside, of course. It seems here like you talk an awful lot about how excommunication strips away certain things, but if those certain things aren’t real, then does it matter?

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  7. I have found your entire religious journey both interesting and inspiring to read. If it is something you would both be willing to talk about, I would like to hear TH’s thoughts on all of this.

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    Jenna Reply:

    I would like to read that too! Maybe someday. I’m the extrovert in our relationship though :)

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  8. I can relate to this in so many ways. I have left the church awhile ago, but I cried with my friend when we heard the news about Kate Kelly and John Dehlin because she is a believer and she believes that members can change the LDS church for the better. The leadership has made it clear that they are not interested in such change.

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  9. TK Harrison says:

    I am not nor have I ever been Mormon, though lived in Utah for seven years. But there’s a few questions above that have not been directly answered. The biggest reason to get your name removed from the LDS books is based on numbers. Right now, Jenna would be considered a Jack Mormon (not sure if this name was coined by the mormon’s or the non-mormon’s). She is on the books as a member but no longer participates in LDS functions. So, when the bean counters tell the world how many LDS are a part of their organization…Jenna and her family are counted. As well as every Jack Mormon on Earth. These numbers matter a great deal when you hear the marketing info about how big and growing their religion is. Missionaries also use those numbers when knocking on doors. Bishops use these numbers when visiting the homes of non-mormon’s in their ward (I do have firsthand experience of this). I have no clue if other religious denominations count their beans in the same way but I know my denomination does not as our numbers are counted differently.

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  10. Totally of topic but I LOVE this shot of you!!

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    Jenna Reply:

    It’s a film selfie, so I’m particularly proud of it. Those are hard to do!

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  11. Stephanie says:

    Wonderful post and something I can relate to — I have very recently requested my name and membership withdrawn from the denomination of my family for very similar reasons. It was apparently discussed and voted on at a board meeting and I recently received a letter confirming my membership withdrawal – I could no longer be a part of a group that was unable to practice equality, even in name only – just as you said. When I received the reply it was sort of a sad finality — even though there are many, many things I do not agree with regarding doctrine, etc., I wish it didn’t have to be this way. I felt it was imperative for me to make a distinct break from the “group” and clearly part ways so as to not be complicit in spiritual abuse.

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  12. I always find anti-religion posts to be so destructive to humanity. As a member of a 12 step program, I would never dream of telling another member that the way they’ve decided to define their higher power was wrong, even if my higher power looked different.

    No matter how someone decides to worship, whether it’s the mormans, Hindu’s, Buddhists, or their own version, is right! People find strength (especially in addiction) in leaning on someone or something greater than themselves. People find peace in their hope for an after life. Why take that away from them if you don’t agree with them. I feel like when you post things like this you are trying to convince people to leave a church that you decided was “wrong”.

    Reply

    Amanda Reply:

    This is an interesting perspective. I’m an atheist. I was raised Catholic and have spent a lot of time thinking about religion and God and taking theology classes, and I honestly do not believe in a higher power. I would like to – I think it would make things a lot easier; but I do not.

    I struggle with expressing my true feelings about religion for fear of offending people who do believe, but I often find that that courtesy is not extended to me as a non-believer.

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    Anonymous Reply:

    What about believing in God makes life easier? I converted to my religion a few years ago and have yet to experience an easier life. Same ups, same downs, some struggles as when I identified as an atheist and then agnostic.

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    Anon Reply:

    People in this country distrust Atheists more than any minority. If you come from a religious family leaving said religion makes life much more difficult. My Catholic mother lets me know weekly she is “praying for me” despite my being very clear that I do not ascribe to her belief system. I can’t go anywhere without people saying “God bless” or “Have a blessed day!” It doesn’t bother me when it is said with good intentions, but it is a reminder of how a life without religion often means being an outsider. Believing, really believing in an afterlife is comforting. It makes life easier. Who would be afraid to die if you followed all the rules and believed in your heart you were going to heaven? People have said to me “But if you die and that’s the end, you would never see your children again!” Yes, and that is sad. But it won’t matter to me anymore because I’ll be dead. People act like you’re a robot when you lay it out like that. Yes, life with religion is easier.

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    Anonymous Reply:

    “People in this country distrust Atheists more than any minority.”

    Really? Are Atheists pulled off planes because they happen to resemble a middle eastern terrorist? Are they followed in stores because they are assumed to be shoplifters? Are they not hired for jobs because they’re viewed as lazy or sneaky?

    I am sorry that your family cannot respect your decision to no longer be Catholic, but Atheists do not suffer the same level of distrust and discrimination that people of more visible minority groups do.

    And I suppose that believing in an afterlife is comforting. As a (reform) Jew, my faith does not necessarily concern itself with life after death, but more so with living in a way that promotes justice, family, and peace. I would remind you that there are millions of people who believe in God and are not Christian; the beef you have seems to be directed at Christians and their theology, and less so to anyone who believes in God or has spiritual beliefs. It is entirely possible to be a rational, death-fearing, critically-thinking person who believes in God and chooses to live their life a certain way by following certain guidelines and traditions.

    Reply

    Ally_cat Reply:

    Yup several recent studies have shown that in the US, atheists are one of the most distrusted groups.
    http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/religion/story/2011-12-10/religion-atheism/51777612/1

    http://atheism.about.com/od/atheistbigotryprejudice/a/AtheitsHated.htm

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    Ally_cat Reply:

    I also think that belief in God would be in a way ‘easier’, and what I mean by that is how comforting it would be to believe that I would see my loved ones again when they have died, that my faith and following of rules laid out for me would result in heavenly rewards, that bad people are punished in the after life (for those that believe in a concept of hell), etc….

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    Jenna Reply:

    When I believed in heaven I felt so guilty all the time, because my efforts were never good enough. I could never be perfect. Now instead of following someone else’s rules and standards, I get to make my own. I think it makes life a lot more enjoyable and so the trade-off is worth it.

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    Trina Reply:

    Jenna, if you truly understood the God that I know and worship, there is never guilt, judgement of others, or fear. There is no attainment of perfection or we wouldn’t need Christ. There is only amazing love and tolerance. I don’t judge the behavior of others either in or outside the church. Only pure love as Christ taught. (And I am Mormon). If someone taught you to feel guilt or judgement, they didn’t understand the gospel either, but I can’t judge them for that as we are all on our own path to understanding.

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    Kris Reply:

    Very true, Trina. There was a period of time in my young adult life where I didn’t understand the nature of God and what he expected of me. (I used to have an elaborate fantasy of arriving at the Pearly Gates and being turned away because I didn’t do my visiting teaching – laughable, right?) The God I have come to know through sincere prayer and study is a loving, kind, generous and peaceful Father. When I don’t reach my full potential now, I don’t feel guilt – I feel a desire to try harder next time. I’m not going to be perfect tomorrow, but if I’m better today than I was yesterday, that’s enough for Him.

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    Amanda Reply:

    My brother recently died. It would be nice to believe I would see him in an afterlife.

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  13. Jenna, thanks for sharing your story. As a I hear about people having trials of their faith or leaving a faith/converting to another within Christianity, I always ask them this question: isn’t it Christ we are supposed to conform to? Even Christ himself said that we would have no part with Him if we failed to follow His commandments. I remind people, and want to remind you with all sincerity, to not put blame on any organization, whether it be the LDS church or someone else, that teaches what Christ asks us to do. Whatever your decisions may be in life, if you are conforming to Christ’s teachings, you’ll be on the right path. I hope you find peace.

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  14. Jenna, I just want to say that I admire and respect your decisions so much. And I can’t imagine what you’re going through. I actually have Mormon relatives and one of them has recently started questioning his place in the Mormon church. He converted to Mormonism over 30 years ago but in the past few years has started down the path of finding out the truth. I hope you have a great support system around you who can encourage you and guide you if and when you need it. I don’t know if you’re familiar, but there is an entire community on Reddit dedicated to this particular thing. I don’t know if you are interested in something like that but it might be a good place to find other like-minded people. Here is the link – http://www.reddit.com/r/exmormon/. Best of luck to you in your new spiritual journey!

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  15. Honestly, I see nothing in this post that is worthy of complaint. It is not a strike against those who believe in and cherish organized religions. The post merely contains some of the reasons that Jenna chose to divorce herself from her previous faith, and there is no suggestion that others need to follow suit.

    Also, many people with a fairly massive life shift like to talk/write about it. How else can you explain the popularity of numerous wedding and baby blogs?

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  16. I am happy you are following your heart Jenna. I am glad to see you have so many who support you in this journey because I am sure it has been a heart wrenching journey out of the church with many times you have surely felt unsupported. But it is also hard to read posts like these, although I enjoy the honesty, because of the judgmental comments made about the church the other way. It makes me sad that just as you feel judged, it seems you and most of your readers are judging those of us who “haven’t discovered the truth” and belong to this horribly hurtful and oppressive “cult.”

    Sometimes I wish life weren’t so hard and that we could all understand and respect each other a little better. If people in the church truly feel these negative feelings I hope they are comfortable to leave. And it would be nice for those of us who do not (and I think a lot of the issues you bring up in this post may not be well explained or understood) to have a little understanding and compassion from others for living the best way we know how. It isn’t an abusive church. It isn’t a horrible cult trying to steal away your life. Unless you let it be (by not believing and continuing to stay, for example). If it is, you should leave! By no means feel forced or compelled into this! Members are asked to giving everything — our time, talents, etc in exchange for peace and happiness. If you aren’t getting these in return then it is right to end such a one sided relationship.

    I wish your comments could stop painting the rest of us like we need to be saved, be felt sorry for, or even like we are complete idiots. We are all making choices to live the best we know how. I wish you could stop feeling judged for leaving. I wish I could stop feeling judged for staying. And I wish we could all let everyone do the best they know how without putting our own feelings into it.

    Too bad that is so hard to do!

    Love to all in their faith journeys, whether toward or away from faith!

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    Alisha Reply:

    Love this. I feel the same way.

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  17. Uh oh, the last paragraph was meant to say “your commenters.” That really changed the meaning!

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  18. I think this is great. I have to say that since you left the church I’ve enjoyed reading your posts even more, but that’s just the Atheist part of me :)

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  19. Hi, Jenna! I always viewed excommunication from the LDS church as a loving and merciful process. My mom has had two female friends request that she sit with them during their disciplinary hearings (a hand to hold during what can be a very tearful and difficult meeting). Only one woman was excommunicated (infidelity that she wasn’t willing to cease), and my mom explained to me that through excommunication this woman would no longer be bound to the covenants she made in the temple. Therefore, her repentance in the next life would be significantly less than someone who committed a similar sin and did not complete their repentance process or never confessed. Has that not been your understanding? We will all have to repent for the sins we commit, but those of us who have made covenants are held to a higher standard. The higher you climb, the further you fall, I guess.

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    Jenna Reply:

    I don’t see how advocating for equality is a “sin.”

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    tf Reply:

    The sin she committed was gathering and convincing people the churches stance on the priesthood is wrong. Of course if you tell God he is doing things incorrectly what do you expect? There was nothing wrong with her questioning and wanting answers it was how she was going about it that was wrong. Especially after she was asked on several occasions to stop protesting on temple grounds and she didn’t listen.

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  20. I respect the people (Kate, etc.) you mentioned for both their feelings and their attempts to change things. But honestly, the LDS church is a private institution that clearly states what it requires from its members in order to hold membership, and Kate wasn’t abiding by those requirements. She was publicly denouncing the church’s teachings. I honestly am not sure why she didn’t just decide to leave on her own if she is so displeased with the church’s position on ordination. The church had every right to request that she leave. An individual doesn’t get to pick and choose which parts of the LDS church’s teachings he or she will abide by; you’re either in or out. If you’re displeased with one or more aspects, why stick around? Why not seek a different church/religion that you agree with completely? I mean, I understand that it can be hard to leave, especially if your family are members and you’ve been raised in the church. But honestly, the LDS church states its requirements for membership plainly, and Kate wasn’t abiding by all of them. And when that happens, the church has a right to deny her membership.

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    Ally_cat Reply:

    Alisha, there is no way it is so cut and dry. Members should be able to belong to a religion and question it and push for progress at the same time without being forced out. The LDS religion did not allow for black people to have the priesthood until 1978. The members who were ” displeased with the church’s position” on that matter — should they have left? Would the church have had every right to “request” that they leave?

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    tf Reply:

    There is nothing wrong with questioning. The problem comes when you gather people to try and convince God his church needs to change.

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    Ally_cat Reply:

    change like to allow people of other races the priesthood?

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    tf Reply:

    This is about the priesthood not race.

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    Ally_cat Reply:

    you’re right, it’s about allowing other genders the priesthood. Previously, other races.

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    tf Reply:

    There is a difference between praying to God with questions and “wrestling with God” through prayer and gathering others to protest his church at his holy temple.

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    tf Reply:

    She wasn’t asked to leave because she was displeased or didn’t agree with something. She was asked to leave because she was protesting AGAINST the doctrine of the church after she was asked multiple times to stop.

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