for a time, i was involved with the lds church.
the reasons are varied–some simplistic, some complex–relating largely to a new relationship and the desire to fit into a place i was wholly unfamiliar with and bewildered by.
the reasons and background, however, don’t matter.
what matters is this: however brief it was, i have found myself feeling grateful for my time spent participating in the lds religion.
growing up, my attitude toward the church was primarily one of sadness: both my parents were raised lds, so the basic ideas and framework of the church were familiar to me. having spent a large portion of my childhood in a small town rife with lds men and women, i had several friends who were mormon, and was regularly invited to attend various events with these friends.
what was unfamiliar to me, however, before moving to utah, was the all-encompassing, inclusive nature of the lds church. although i’d found myself learning more about other religions (visiting various religious sites, or simply reading about different beliefs), never before had i lived in a land where compliance was not simply enforced, but expected. upon walking into my first classroom my first day at my university, i was immediately faced with the question, “what ward are you in?”
thus began the awkward process of explaining i was not, in fact, lds, and feeling the distinct weight of disappointment on my classmates’ faces. i was an outsider, and i was made very aware of it.
but no matter: i made a few friends–most of them lds, two of them not. i was not entirely inundated by requests to attend lds events and classes, but was able to politely decline at least one request per week.
i felt no anger toward the church. again, only a distant sadness, knowing how it was started, knowing what it taught, and knowing how it had treated beloved members of my family.
and then i entered into a relationship, a year after moving to Utah, with a man who was decidedly lds in his leanings, and who made it something of a mission to make sure i was the same.
again, i’ll not go into particulars here, as the particulars don’t quite matter. the choice i was faced with was this: convert, or lose the person i loved.
as i’m sure you can imagine, i chose to convert.
initially, things were smooth. i met with missionaries. i began reading the book of mormon. i smiled. i was quiet. i accepted that my clothing choices needed to change, some–and as silly as it may seem, that sparked some anger in me. to be told my shoulders were indecent unsettled me. but again, my relationship was more important to me than baring my arms, so i complied. my shorter skirts were tucked away, and my cardigan habit doubled.
lessons continued. everything in me resisted. i didn’t believe this. there were so many things that didn’t make sense, so many beliefs that demonstrated character of a God that was not the God i knew–and quite frankly, not a God i liked.
this new God felt that women were lesser than men.
they were wombs to be filled, and little else.
they were subservient creatures, created to carry men.
they were expected to share their husbands (prior to complying to federal law, yes)
above everything else i questioned and felt uneasy with, the standing of women hurt. it confused me. i read the bible again and again, trying to reconcile this view of women, this view of family, and of marriage.
again and again, i came up short.
it didn’t fit.
but again, i didn’t want to lose him. so my smiles remained, though perhaps a little more strained. i continued going to church every sunday, though many teachings resulted in me gritting my teeth and practically screaming to run out the door.
and then, there it was: every time i had a lesson, the question of when i would be baptized. and pressure. unbearable, unbelievable pressure. from him, from others, from the missionaries.
when? when will you be baptized?
i stalled, for a while. i ignored the questions.
more and more, though, it became apparent: schedule a baptism, or schedule a breakup.
i scheduled the baptism.
and i can recall the day so clearly. i’d made my own dress, a misguided attempt to busy my hands, distract myself, take some control of my situation.
i remember standing outside just before, shaking. i called my aunt, terrified of starting a family feud by not inviting her, and told her when it was happening.
and then it was time to go inside.
i truthfully don’t remember much more from that night. i remember people smiling. i remember going to dinner, feeling violated and alone and scared, locked in this idea of who i was supposed to be, despite not knowing that girl–not knowing her at all.
i remember feeling guilt. guilt for abandoning my beliefs for a boy, guilt for not feeling happy or excited, guilt for so many half-truths and outright lies. i remember going home, crying, and falling asleep alone.
soon after, i left utah. and for the life of me, i can’t find any other way to describe it: i felt like i could breathe. for the first time in a year, i wasn’t stuck in a bubble of fear, confusion, and self-loathing. i gained space, and i gained clarity. and it soon became abundantly clear: i could not do it. i could not continue being a part of a church that upheld demeaning women as being family-focused and uplifting.
and so, with far more dramatic flair and far less transparency than i should have had, i abandoned all pretense of it. and as it turns out, i didn’t lose my relationship. ultimately, what i’d lost was my self-respect, my strength, and my resolve.
and ultimately, the lds church gave it right back.
you see, prior to this, women’s rights and sexism weren’t much but a blip on my radar. although i loved politics, i was far more interested in debating legal issues, rather than social ones. i knew i hated being treated like an object, and i knew i felt frustrated with the tropes surrounding both men and women, but i didn’t make the space for it in my head and heart that it deserved.
reading the doctrine and covenants gave me the clarity i needed, and afforded me the slap in the face that was long overdue: women deserve equal treatment. women should not be regarded as lesser beings, as less-than, by virtue of having a vagina and ovaries.
women are human beings, deserving of dignity, respect, and freedom. their worth is not and should not be pigeonholed into whether or not they are married, whether or not they are mothers, or whether or not they are breadwinners, just as men should not be judged by marital status, fatherhood, or how much they provide. these things are small, insignificant facets of human personalities and backgrounds, and are not indications of worth.
although i am still working through a lot of residual anger, some of it has settled for the simple reason that, were it not for my time in the lds church, i would not be where i am today. were it not for that day i read the d&c, where a supposed message from God told emma smith that failure to allow joseph to take multiple wives would result in her destruction, a spark was lit in me. a spark that has brought me to some incredible writers, some incredible movements, and the beautiful, liberating determination that human beings–all human beings, regardless of genitals, nationalities, or otherwise–are equally deserving of freedom, dignity, and respect.