Late Sunday night my sister and her family stopped by. They were headed back from a family outing, and since they were close, thought it would be good to stop in and see us. As we were sitting in the living room chatting with them, my daugher whispered to me, “Have you told them you were released?” I shook my head, but then started thinking about it. Why not tell them that I was released? I didn’t have to go into the whole backstory; I could just say that I no longer held the calling that I had held previously. That’s a fairly common occurence in the Mormon church. You get callings, and you are released from callings. Totally normal. Nothing to be afraid of. I could say I was released without saying that I no longer believed.
So as I was talking to my sister a little later, there was a lull in the conversation, and so I said, just as casually as I could muster, “Oh, I was released from the bishopric today.”
“So, you got caught drinking Coke, huh?” she asked with a smile on her face. Mormons believe that drinking alcohol, tea, and coffee are not only bad for your health but are also prohibited by command from God. Adherence to the prohibition is one of the requirements for Mormons to be able to worship in the temple. Some Mormons, including the family I was raised in, take the prohibition on coffee and tea as indicative that caffeine is bad for you, and thus also abstain from caffeinated drinks in general. While they understand that doing so is not a requirement, and that many Mormons do not espouse the same view, those who abstain from caffeinated drinks do so almost religiously, and accept the practice as fair game for poking fun of themselves and of the culture of Mormonism.
I laughed. But then she commented, “Wow. That was a pretty short calling.” I told her that it was a little less than a year, and so she asked, “So did they dissolve the entire bishopric?” I told her it was just me that was released, and she asked, “So did you ask to be released?” I wasn’t sure how to wiggle my way out of the direction the conversation was taking, so I just said, “Yes.” She asked why.
“I’m not sure you’ll want to hear all the details,” I told her, not wanting to lie and say something like, “I just needed more time with my family,” or something that wasn’t entirely true. She ensured that there were no children around to observe, and then silently mouthed her next question: “Are you gay?”
I didn’t know what I was supposed to say next except, “I lost my testimony.”
I was surprised by how well she took the news. She didn’t look shocked, she didn’t express disbelief or even concern, she didn’t condemn me or lecture me or accuse me. She asked how Jill was taking it, how the children were reacting, and what I intended to do. I asked her what she thought about it, and she just said, “Oh, my husband and I have talked about it a lot. Think of how much more time and money you would have if you weren’t a member of the church.” She didn’t claim to have any doctrinal or historical objections or concerns with the church. It was mostly, for her, a matter of pragmatism. That surprised me.
I told her that if the church were true, there’s just about nothing that I wouldn’t do to follow it. She asked me for details about why I thought it wasn’t true, and I told her that I didn’t know if I should say anything or not. She told me that she thought she had a strong testimony but that she was terribly curious. So we went into a room alone and I told her a few things.
“I’m not going to risk my eternal salvation on something that I’m not sure about,” I told her. “It’s not that I think the church isn’t true. I know it’s not true. I asked to have my name removed from the church. I wouldn’t risk doing that if it was just something that I wondered about.”
“So what makes you sure it isn’t true? Is it Joseph Smith?”
“Yes. That’s what it comes down to. If Joseph Smith was lying, then everything falls down. I’ve had a ton of questions about the church, but each one, you just set aside and say, well, if it’s God’s will, then nothing else matters. But the only way we know it’s God’s will is because Joseph said it was. If Joseph wasn’t his prophet, then suddenly all these questions that I’ve had have answers that make sense instead of having excuses that allow me to accept them.”
I talked with her for about 20 minutes after that. I hadn’t been prepared for it, and so I’m sure I probably didn’t make much sense. I didn’t even mention, I realized later, some of my biggest concerns. But there are so many concerns and questions and problems that I still filled the 20 minutes almost entirely with me talking, and her only asking a few questions or making a few comments here and there.
After my sister and her family left, my wife said, “I hope you’re happy.”
“What do you mean? I didn’t want to start that conversation.”
“Why did you tell her you were released?”
“I didn’t know she would ask for the reason why.”
“But you mentioned it anyway. You want her family to leave the church? Our children love her children. You want her children to be out of the church and provide a bad influence for our children? You want her children to have no morals, no standards, no direction in their life?”
I was dumbfounded. This is an area I’m going to have to learn to walk very carefully. We talked for a long time about it, and I think the best thing for me to do is just zip my lip. People will find out, sooner or later, but if I am seen as proselytizing, it’s going to make my wife suspect that I have ulterior motives. Even though I told her that I have no intention nor any desire to convert anyone to my way of thinking, I think it’s hard for her to see that I’m sharing the things I believe with others. Especially when, as she pointed out, people respect me. I can’t win doing that. I can’t be seen in any way trying to defend, explain, or even share my point of view, because she is so sensitive about ensuring that our children continue to believe in the church.
The next day I emailed my sister and apologized to her. I explained that I didn’t intend to “convert” her, that indeed I hadn’t even intended on sharing with her that I had become disaffected. I told her that I saw the church as a force for good in many parts of my life and in the lives of others, and that I thought people could benefit greatly from it. I asked her to forgive me if I had come across too strongly in expressing concern over certain areas of the church.
She replied back that she still felt she had a testimony of the church, and that she didn’t disrespect me or anyone else who was not a member of the church. She said she still had a few questions about why I left and where I was headed next. I have to be very careful of how I respond to her, so I’m taking my time in composing and reviewing my next email. I don’t really understand how this should work. I don’t want to be a dream stealer for anybody. I do think that believing in something is a powerful thing, and I don’t know if everyone would rather have something to believe in, or if they’d rather know the truth. I’m not even sure, really, what I would prefer. I place a lot of importance on knowing the truth, but there are some things about life that are very uncomfortable if God doesn’t exist, which more and more I’m coming to believe is the truth. Who wants to live in that kind of world? I don’t blame anyone for wanting to believe, and I don’t want to take anything away from anybody. I think if they are ready and willing, they will come to the truth on their own. Otherwise, I don’t want to be responsible for robbing them of faith.