slipping out from under the radar
So the new year is here and I'm no longer attending church. For those who didn't see that coming (and who care about such things) don't sweat it: it's something I've only blogged around the edges of over the last year, mainly because I sometimes have trouble remembering who reads the blog. Incidentally, if you're (you know who you are) reading this and we have mutual real life (as opposed to web-based) friends, try to resist the urge to gossip. It would be kind of good to tell people myself when I visit home in a couple of months.
So why am I mentioning it now? Well, I just had an interesting experience. A few days ago the ward Relief Society president sent an email because she hadn't heard back from me on whether or not I wanted to be a visiting teacher this year. I explained that 'for various reasons' I wouldn't be able to accept that role. She then (in a kindly-intentioned fashion) sent me some alternative options that would allow me to still be involved (eg would I be willing to write a letter to two sisters each month?) So finally I just explained that I didn't think it would appropriate for me to take on any VT role, because I wasn't planning to attend church anymore.
I've already told some people about this and their reactions have been interesting to say the least. My mother told me that she would support whatever decision I made. Some weeks later she asked me if I was still planning to leave, in a rather timid voice. I asked her if this upset her and she said no, but that it made her feel lonely (she's now the only active member in our immediate family and we have no members in our extended family). I explained to her that I would always support her decision to attend, that she was welcome to discuss church and/or church doctrine with me anytime, and that I would never think she was silly for being a member of the church. And I won't. If I thought it was silly, I could never have been a member so long. There are a lot of basic values I learned at church that I will always respect and try to live.
Two friends were a little sad about it, but calm and accepting. Three other friends (to my great surprise) informed me that they either hadn't been active for some time, or were attending but also experiencing serious doubts/issues that had them questioning their membership.
This week was the first time I had explained my absence to someone I knew for sure was fully active and 100% believing. I've heard about some people having bad experiences with former friends when they left the church and so when she immediately asked if she could visit me I wasn't sure how that would go. I said yes because I consider her a friend and because I was happy to give her an opportunity to ask questions if she wanted to.
In the end it was a strange conversation - although she didn't question my decision, and was very tactful in asking about my reasons for leaving, there was a quiet tension in the air. Her opinions on the range of topics we discussed came from such a place of absolute faith that there was really no place for us to meet in the middle. Though I had just explained that I no longer believed the church to be true or have any authority to act for God, she still used quotes from latter-day prophets or recent leaders of the church to make her points and asked me questions I found odd, like whether or not I was still reading the Book of Mormon.
None of it was bad, none of it was accusatory or judgmental. She was actually really nice. It still felt odd and made me realise just how far past the point of no return I am. I no longer wish I could just reverse it all and go back to the Matrix. Well, actually I never wished that (I'm very much a red pill kind of girl), but there was a time when I first realised I no longer believed Joseph Smith and that was painful to me, because I knew in my heart that it was the beginning of the end. Now, an introspective and confusing year or so later, it's just a reality to deal with. Ironically it's the church that taught me to be so uncompromising about truth. I can't pretend I believe and I've realised that being open about it (while still attending) is just a recipe for a sucky church life (no calling, no temple recommend, no realistic chance of a successful romantic relationship with a member, etc). I'm glad I have friends who've been accepting rather than not. I know some people aren't that lucky. I guess we'll see what happens from here on out as more people find out.