I’m a Mormon. That is, I am a member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I could go into detail, but suffice it to say that there are various levels of participation of members in the church, and I have never understood why someone wouldn’t participate as fully as possible. My current calling is as a counselor in the bishopric. I’m at church every Sunday. Meetings start at 9am, and I’m usually done at around 5pm. With responsibilities over the youth programs, I’m also at church almost every Wednesday evening.
I skipped church this Sunday. I don’t know when was the last time I did that. As a teenager, I guess, when I skipped by default because my family skipped. I’ve been sick a few Sundays and stayed home. I’ve gone out of town a few Sundays and didn’t always make it to church because of travel arrangements. But this is the first Sunday I skipped. I did it on the counsel of my bishop.
This Sunday was Fast Sunday. A day where by tradition we Mormons share our testimony during our sacrament meeting. Again by tradition, the first testimony of the meeting is shared by the member of the bishopric who is conducting services that day, which by tradition is rotated on a monthly basis. June was my month to conduct, and this Sunday it was to have been my privilege to share my testimony of the truthfulness of the church.
Only I don’t have a testimony any more. Or maybe more correctly, my testimony now is that the church is not true. I started having questions about the church three months ago or so. Well, that’s not entirely true. I’ve always had a few questions about the church. Well, that’s not entirely true, either. I’ve always had a lot of questions about the church. Each question, though, I was able to, if not exactly answer it, at least excuse it enough to continue on with my belief. But three months ago I finally gave myself permission to consider the possibility, really consider it, that perhaps the church wasn’t true. I finally gave myself permission to seek truth, and to follow it no matter where it led. And I’ve slowly been finding that my questions have answers. Answers that have been hard to accept. Answers that have turned my world upside down. I’ve felt so lost and hopeless and alone as I came to these realizations. So betrayed and abused and deceived. I am only now starting to see light again, to feel that there is hope, that things can be okay even if what I’ve believed my whole life isn’t true. The future isn’t as bleak to me now as it was when I first set foot upon this path.
But a more immediate problem was how to share testimony of something that I didn’t believe. I first approached my bishop the first of May, as I realized that I probably didn’t believe any more. I asked to be released. He asked me to meet with the stake president, who asked me to read the Book of Mormon, pray, and “keep pulling the handcart.” I told him that I didn’t think it would do any good, but that I was willing to follow his counsel. But as June and my turn to testify approached, I knew I couldn’t do it, not the way they wanted me to, anyway. I told my bishop that I didn’t feel comfortable sharing the kind of testimony he would want me to share, and that if I were able to share something that I was comfortable sharing, I didn’t think he would be very comfortable having me share it. I presented several options, and the one he liked best was for me to simply not show up on Sunday, and he would conduct the services in my place. So I skipped church.
The day before church, I see Girlfriend in her garden, and I ask her about a text, and Wife drives up and sees us talking. Saturday was not a pretty day. I end up telling Wife that I had indeed had more contact with Girlfriend than Wife knew about, that one of the things I had talked to Girlfriend about was the church, that she knew I didn’t believe in the church and that Wife still did, and that, because of the things I had shared with her, as far as I knew Girlfriend and Mr. Wonderful had both stopped believing in the church, but that they didn’t want to make any waves and intended not to do anything drastic but simply stop going to church when they moved. Wife hopes I am happy that I caused them to lose their faith. I didn’t dare tell her that Girlfriend had first shared her questions about the church with me. Wife is already mad enough with her that she doesn’t need to think that Girlfriend was responsible for my questions about the church. And yes, I know I haven’t mentioned it yet, but our neighbors are in the process of moving. Mr. Wonderful told me yesterday morning that they were probably going to sign the final papers yesterday afternoon. I expect they did. Wife wants them gone yesterday. The figurative yesterday. Last year. Two years ago, maybe. The longer ago, the better.
Okay, back to Sunday. While my family was at church, I sat and wrote a letter. It was addressed to my bishop. In it, I asked to have my name removed from the list of the membership of the church. It’s a resignation letter. A resignation from Mormonism. A request to transition from being among the saved, the enlightened, the elite, to being just another person on the street who doesn’t know where he came from, why he’s here, or where he’s going after he dies. Why a letter? That’s the required process. It has to be a written request. I would have been fine asking him in person, but the rules are that it has to be a letter. I finished the letter only to realize there was no paper in the printer. There were piles of crinkled up paper on the floor beside the printer. None that would do for a letter like this, I felt. There was paper that had a few pencil or crayon marks on it here and there throughout the house. Again, not the most suitable paper for the intended purpose. I had to wait until Monday.
Yes. I went to Walgreens on Sunday. I know. Terrible. What can I say? I haven’t even left the church officially yet and already I’m a sinner. I drove right past our church, squelched the urge to wave at the surprising number of members who were cutting out after the first meeting, and pulled into the Walgreens which is situated almost kitty-corner from the church. While at Walgreens, I received a text from Girlfriend. “What was the fallout?” Yes, there had been fallout. But how could I talk to her about it, if all communication had to cease? I deleted the text without answering it.
Arriving back home with printer paper, I noticed Girlfriend standing at her kitchen window. I stopped and looked at her for a few seconds. Then I placed my hand across my mouth, hoping she would understand that I couldn’t talk, and I turned and went inside.
Before I printed out the letter I texted Wife: “I don’t know what you want. Should I be gone when you get home?” Earlier that morning she had suggested that a separation was inevitable. I wanted time to pack if she still wanted that. Her reply: “No way hon I just have to figure it out. Sorry for all of the drama. I have a meeting right after church w bishop so I’ll drop off kids and return.” I texted back: “K. I have a letter for him you can take with you for me.” I printed the letter, signed it, and placed it in an envelope. I didn’t seal it, in case she wanted to read it.
After church she dropped off the children, I gave her the letter, and she disappeared for about two hours. That evening, just as I was finishing up reading with the children, I received a phone call. It was the Bishop. He had received my letter with sadness and had talked to the Stake President about it, who wanted to meet with me and Wife to issue a release for me, to talk about the letter and our marriage. Wife and I sent the kids to bed and then we went for a little drive together, just the two of us. I asked her what she had talked to the bishop about, and she said, “Almost everything.” I didn’t ask for clarification because I suspected that I knew what that meant, and the next day she confirmed it when she said, “The bishop told me he is going to talk with Girlfriend.” She then told me that she wasn’t sure she should tell me because she expected me to run to tell Girlfriend about it and whose side was I on?
I thought for a long time about why I sent the letter. I mean, I know that I wanted to send it. I had been planning, however, to hand-deliver it the following Sunday, because I didn’t want to be released on June 10th. Girlfriend told me that they would for sure be in church on June 10th, but that would be their last Sunday. I didn’t want Mr. Wonderful to witness my release and start asking questions about it. It’s too easy to make wrong assumptions. June 17th or later would be fine. And who knows how quickly they would move with a letter delivered on June 3rd? At first I thought it was about the threat of separation. If I was going to have to disappear, I might as well just get everything taken care of at once. But when she told me she didn’t want a separation, and I still sent the letter, I realized that this felt like the one thing over which I still had control in my life. The one thing, at least, that was different from what Wife wanted. I wanted control, and to get a feeling of having control, I actually ceded control and did something that I would have done differently had I really been in control. Lessons, I realized, aren’t always learned with sufficient time to actually use them.
Tuesday I received word that the appointment for the Stake President would be Wednesday evening. I told Wife, and she said she didn’t want to go in and talk with him about it. I asked her, “If you didn’t want to talk about it, then why did you talk about it?” She explained that she was comfortable talking with the Bishop about it, but not the Stake President. Well, that’s too bad. Put the gears in motion, and they sometimes grind things you didn’t expect to be caught in the gears. And here we are, jumping into the gears.