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. Continue reading