Tuesday, June 14, 2011

The Guilt of an Apostate

I was just over at Blissful Heretic's Chronicles of a Truth Seeker, and her post about all the guilt Mormons wrap up around someone who leaves the church really hit home. 

My sister left the church several years ago, and our mother still occasionally sends her letters and/or emails, lovingly urging her to reconsider.  To compound the difficulty of the situation, my sister hasn't been attending any other church, the rare occasion being when she'll get up early on a Sunday morning and accompany our father and stepmonster (term of endearment, trust me) to their church.

Our mother is intellectually brilliant, but she's also batshit crazy. We have few positive feelings about our stepfather, for good reasons.  So to tell Mom that now I have joined the ranks of the apostates is like giving her a plate of extra creamy fettuccini alfredo: instant heart attack.  She knows I've been inactive for a long time, and since I'm not yet taking my name off the rolls at the urgent insistence of my husband, I suppose things can remain in that state of limbo.

My husband and I also have some very dear friends who have supported us through everything--infertility, the loss of our babies when the IVF failed, etc.--and whom we have supported through everything--serious financial difficulties, a chronically ill child, the death of that child.  And now that I've left the church I wonder how to tell them.  I know she will love me and support me anyway. I don't feel so secure about her husband, and I positively dread telling the kids--not because they wouldn't love me and support me anyway, but because I don't want to be put in a situation where I could be accused of having led them astray (read the post about patriarchal blessings for more deatils). So do I tell them, or do I keep it a secret? The fact is that I'm liable to run into at least one of their kids while he's out with his friends, and since I frequently wear tank tops (hey, it's hot here!), he's going to figure out sooner or later. I'm inclined to tell my friend, but I've got squidgies in my stomach when I think about it.

The church has attached such stigma to people who leave it. We aren't allowed to leave it in peace. We're called apostates, and word goes around that we're anathema maranatha. We left because we were offended. We left because we prefer sinning to being holy. We left because we weren't strong enough to face whatever trials God saw fit to give us.

I love the Clash, and one of their songs comes to mind: "If I go there will be trouble; if I stay there will be double. So come on and let me know, should I stay or should I go?"  The trouble, for me, of staying would indeed be far greater than the trouble of going. I've set my feet in the path that is right for me, and I'll trust in whatever providence there may be to guide me. I'll make mistakes, but that's nothing new. Maybe I'll do things right from time to time, which is also nothing new. I love the feeling of freedom that's been with me. I love not arguing with my husband, even though we're having discussions so intense that I'm perpetually exhausted, even though we're headed inexorably toward divorce, even though neither of us knows what steps we're going to take next.

Thanks, Blissful Heretic, for giving me food for thought.


  1. I was nervous to tell people too, particularly my family, only because I did not want to hurt them. I took the opportunity to tell my mother when there was a family temple wedding and I chose not to renew my temple recommend -- did not want to lie about what I believed and the thought of paying the corp made me want to hurl.

    Although I was very respectful, loving, and honest without going into too much detail about doctrinal issues, my mother did not take the news well and her reaction was very predictable: Rally the allies (i.e. my sisters and anyone else who validated her "side") and spread the dirty gossip like wildfire. As crazy as everything was back then, I have to say I love the fact that I firmly created some very clear boundaries. Of course, few TBMs talk to me but I find that works for me too. I much prefer authentic relationships with people who love and accept me for who I am. I am free. They are the ones who are uncomfortable.

    That being said, I know it's not an easy decision to make and everyone has to find their own path and do what works for them. I sincerely wish you the best.

  2. I used to to be caught up in the cognitive dissonance of whether or not to tell certain people that I had left the church. Like you said, it just seemed like too much trouble. However, one day it dawned on me that I have to live my life they way I want to live it. I shouldn't shield things from loved ones just because I might hurt their feelings. Will it be hard at first? Sure. All you can do is just hope that they'll be accepting. If they are not, at least you don't feel like you're living a lie.

    I, too, suffer the random bouts of "I want my whole family together in the Terrestial Kingdom" talks with my mother and grandparents, but it's finally gotten to the point where they're not insistent. In the end, it's YOUR choice. I can't tell you what to do in your situation. (You know your family better than anyone.) Just be true to yourself.