Should I Stay or Should I Go?

by Amelia

I have a long history of struggling with the church, but recently I have felt much more peace in my relationship with it.  Until the last couple of Sundays.  The last two weeks I have gone to church and sat at the beginning of sacrament meeting in a state of simple happiness to be there, recognizing some of the good and beautiful things about the church.  And then had my happiness wrecked.  Mostly by things to do with gender inequity.  But also to do with the kind of unthinking acceptance and rote recitation of beliefs that happens there.  Both Sundays, I left church upset.

Sometimes I want nothing more than to just walk away.  I’ve been very close to doing just that in the last couple of years.  But I’ve hung on, even during my hiatus (six months without church, except for Christmas and Easter).  I’m not always sure exactly why.  There are the belief issues.  I do believe the vast majority of the church’s doctrinal teachings.  But I mostly don’t believe its exclusivity claims.  And I sort of think God is beside the point.  I could see myself, as a detached individual, much happier in another faith community.  Quakerism.  or Reformed Judaism.  But I think the thing that keeps me coming back to the Mormon church more than anything else is that I’m not a detached individual.  I have a family I care about and considering them is at least part of the equation.  And I have a history and identity that has been very much shaped by the church.  I don’t think it would be an easy thing to simply change that—emotionally, spiritually, psychologically.  There’s just too much involved.  (This leaves me wondering about the psychological well-being of people who convert to Mormonism; I’ve never really thought about that before.)

So.  Here I am.  I go to church pretty much every week.  I sit with a friend who shares my ideas about gender and other issues and who has similar problems with the church.  When something ridiculous comes out across the pulpit (like the idea that it’s inappropriate and perhaps even destructive to use logic in order to understand life), we roll our eyes at each other and/or snicker and/or dissect it later.  And that makes it tolerable.  Sometimes I find things of value at church–of value in terms of my spiritual well-being.  Mostly I don’t.  The bad days are the days when I can’t wrap my head around being a part of a culture with which I so very deeply disagree and which I sometimes find not only hypocritical but horribly damaging, especially to girls and women.  Yesterday I sat and listened to two women go on about “women of faith” in terms of women’s ability to bear children and feed people and how doing so fosters the spiritual health of others; and I got angry that we reduce women to their sex organs and their ability to nurture.  We’d never do that to men, not in the same way.  And the thing that hurt the most was looking at my friend’s dear sweet little baby girl and thinking about how devastating these ideas could be to her.

I came home from church sad.  Just deeply sad.  I felt better after a nap (napping is a good thing).  And then I thought about it all some more. Tthe talks on “women of faith” did reduce women to their roles as mothers/wives and nurturers, but they did so at least partially in an effort to praise the work of love done in those roles.  It wasn’t just a simple reduction of women to vaginas and uteruses (uteri?).  And while I don’t think I’ll ever hear a talk at church about “men of faith” that focuses exclusively on their capacity to father children and bring home the bacon in quite the same way as the talks I heard yesterday did to women, I know that men are reduced to inadequate concepts and symbols, too.  Often in destructive ways.  And my friend and her wonderful husband will do what they  can to raise their daughter as an individual with great contributions to make, not just a body to bear children and comfort others.

Mostly I thought about the fact that I’m not sure these problems are avoidable.  If it weren’t the Mormon church’s particular form of potentially destructive identity formation, it would be another.  Changing organizations and communities wouldn’t necessarily solve that problem.  On some level, the problems I have with the church are problems I would have with any organized religious community.  Or with any non-religious community.  I think they are problems of human nature.  And therefore they are unavoidable.  So I think it’s probably an exercise in futility to run around looking for the “perfect” community in which I would fit and would not find such problems.  I imagine I could find such a community–until I got to know it well enough to see its own problems.  I suppose I could try to find a community in which my beliefs and ideas were the norm, rather than “edgy” and questionable.  But some part of me (maybe a long-dead Calvinist ancestor?) resists such ease, thinks that it is a cop-out.  And there’s the fact that some of the people I know who think very much like me and are part of those other traditions are as deeply bigoted and narrow-minded as some of the Mormons I know with whom I do not share beliefs and ideas.

So that leaves me with the question of my conscience.  There are ways in which Mormonism and the church and its culture deeply violate my conscience.  And I find myself wondering what it means about me that I would let myself remain a part of a community that does so.  Wouldn’t it be better, more honest and a demonstration of integrity, to remove myself from such an organization and community?  I mean, I wouldn’t maintain a relationship with an organization that participated in the sex slave industry, no matter how much good it did or how deeply enmeshed I was.  (I know that sounds an extreme comparison and in some ways it very much is.  But I think the kind of damage that more ordinary organizations can do is sometimes more insidious and every bit as devastating.)  I’m not really sure how to answer the question of conscience, in all honesty.  Sometimes it seems that the only way to answer it is to do a cost-benefit analysis and stay if the benefits outweigh the costs (which, for me, they mostly do).  Other times that seems disgusting in its moral pragmatism.  But then I remember that any relationship, either with individuals or with organizations, is going to require some degree of moral pragmatism, so why balk at it in my relationship with the church?


It’s a complicated mind mess I’ve gotten myself into.  I can get lost in it for hours and hours.  Sometimes with the consequence of days spent swinging between anger and devastation.  But then sometimes I realize it’s really very simple.  Change what I can.  Love people.  Find the beauty in the world.  Recognize that the world is a deeply flawed place and that no matter how much the church claims access to divine guidance and an elevated “truth” status, it is part of the deeply flawed world.

And I try to remember the seagull I saw flying down High Street, to hang a left onto Congress, one gray afternoon in Boston.  It was a totally ordinary thing, a seagull flying in the streets of Boston.  But it struck me as strange–a bird seeming to follow the confines of human structures, flying between high rises and complying with the dictates of streets.  Strange and simultaneously beautiful.  Because there, in the middle of human imposed order, that bird couldn’t help being beautiful and unexpected in spite of its conforming to man-made limits.


Amelia has recently relocated to Salt Lake City for her new job selling college textbooks (a job she loves). She's a 9th generation Mormon redefining her relationship with the church (the church she both loves and hates). She's passionate about books, travel, beauty, and all things cheese.

You may also like...

49 Responses

  1. jeans says:

    It sounds like you have found the answer that’s implicit in your title, really. I would just add that, as difficult as it sometimes can be to stay, that we (we the church) need you, and that the departure of even one sensitive, thoughtful smart woman diminishes the church immeasurably. That may not be the sole best reason to stay, but feel encouraged that you make it a better place just by your presence and by your pushback, and by your engagement and lack of apathy.

  2. Caroline says:

    Yes, indeed. The church absolutely needs you.

    And as to your question about your conscience and staying within an organization that violates core principles, I ask myself those questions all the time. I think, for now, I’ve come to understand that a clear cut answer to this is impossible.

    What I’ve learned from my ethics classes is that making decisions based on principles is the classic modus operandi. But making decisions based on relationships, something that feminist ethicists have advocated, is just as ethical. It’s just a different approach. And choosing to stay, based partially on relationships and based partially on a desire to help the church progress and become more inclusive combines both principle and relationship. That’s what I see you doing at the moment, and I don’t think there’s anything more noble.

    “Change what I can. Love people. Find the beauty in the world. Recognize that the world is a deeply flawed place and that no matter how much the church claims access to divine guidance and an elevated “truth” status, it is part of the deeply flawed world.”


    And I’m so glad you’re there at church on Sunday. Things are so much more bearable with you beside me.

  3. bonnie says:

    I have to echo the previous two sentiments. Please stay. I want my grand daughters to be taught by you in Young Women’s some day. I’m probably a lot older than you, but I struggle with the same haunting questions. I choose to stay, because I honestly feel like I can do more from inside than outside the Church–more to help girls grow, more to help boys see things as they really are and more to give a voice to those who believe like me, but dare not speak up. So, I stay.

    Yesterday, I participated in a Sunday School class for 15-16 year old. The teacher invited my husband and me in to talk about marriage. I told the youth that what is really great about marriage is that my husband is my helpmeet. He has helped me earn two degrees, have four children, raise four children, and succeed in a very demanding profession that requires a lot of traveling. He then talked about all the ways I support him. I’m pretty sure those kids (all boys, by the way) had never heard that a man could be a helpmeet before. Ha Ha.

    One day at a time!!

  4. kia says:

    Thank you so much for your thoughts. I too find many of the things people “teach” in church completely exasperating.
    One thing that has helped me (in addition to having like-minded souls to roll eyes with) is the essay by Eugene England “Why the Church is as True as the Gospel.” Essentially his thesis is that the very imperfection of the church is what helps to purify us as individuals. Having to deal with (and sometimes stand up to) church members whose lifestyles, ideals, and ideas are different from ours is actually what leads us to be more Christlike.

  5. Carol says:

    Thanks for the insightful post and comments. I stay because no other religion teaches me in such a profound way about my divine worth. Yes, we’re still working on understanding the true value of women and not discriminating by gender, marital status, race, or any number of other criteria. We’re imperfect. We make mistakes. But the core teaching that we are children of God and that He loves us infinitely resonates with me.

  6. mb says:

    Well articulated.

    It reminds me of another scenario I grappled with as a mother. I had children enrolled in the local schools in our rural area where budget cuts had reduced what those schools could offer. Like many mothers I was working hard to compensate where I could for my children’s education and dealing with the fact that there were some deficiencies that my resources and my community’s resources would not stretch to ameliorate. Then one women I worked with decided to move across the country to the suburbs of a big city so that she could put her children in different schools; just “plug them in”, as she said, so that she wouldn’t have to do so much work to teach them what she wanted them to know.

    I thought about that. I don’t know if the private schools in another state that she paid for after she moved did allow her to relax her workload in educating her children. It sounded tempting. But I decided that where I was living was beautiful and had much to offer in other ways and as much as I might be tempted by an easier route, I found the often tiring challenge of engagement in my children’s education that my situation required of me was worth the effort and, ultimately, rewarding. I would not have made the choice to leave that she did.

    And then it occurred to me that God doesn’t send his children to an earth where his constant care and involvement are not required, nor where they would be surrounded only by people who want to help them learn what he hopes they will learn. He is seriously involved in helping his children navigate difficult life experiences in the face of huge misunderstandings they encounter.

    So, if he staying involved and working with unfathomable love in order to be helpful to us in difficult situations, then it stands to reason that I should be interested in lovingly working in generally good but flawed situations too. And that includes my church.

    So that’s what I’ve tried to do. And it’s been good.

  7. Hammie says:

    Oh man. This is the question I face all the time.

    The problem with me now, is, that I don’t think I do still believe all the core doctrinal stuff. I lean a lot more towards agnosticism these days. While I still want to figure out some things about spirituality and the divine, I have started rolling my eyes not just at the ridiculous things people say in church (this Sunday, it was that a man should never have a business meeting alone with a woman), but at the whole proposition of an anthropomorphic god. God is a Great Cosmic Male fully equipped? Deflates my hopes a bit, to say the least.

    BUT, there’s still that inexplicable draw. I don’t even know what it is that brings me anymore. The new ward I’m in provides very little of the community support that I thrived on in other places. I worry that I stay for the wrong reasons, like I’m looking for confrontation. But then, on Sunday, I had a woman approach me and say she loved it when I came and commented, and really appreciated my perspective. So then I feel this huge obligation to stay in the community so that I can act as the voice of reason that I am so hoping to hear there.

    Ugh. Like you said, Amelia. One can get lost for hours and hours.

  8. corktree says:

    What a beautiful ending paragraph, and such a refreshing way of looking at our restrictions and imposed limitations. I think that’s all we can hope for in sticking around, that we are able to let our beauty show despite feeling trapped.

    For different reasons, I have taken my own hiatus from church meetings recently, and it is making it harder to want to return, but more because of my feelings of isolation. Up until recently, I have been able to let go of the things that others say because they haven’t articulated them well enough to be worth my frustration. I am more frustrated overall with the system that makes them feel so smug in their rightness, but I don’t think they themselves are harmful. I could be wrong…

    My question is…how do you go about finding like minded women to sit through it all with? I try not to be narrow, but I honestly can’t imagine sharing these thoughts with anyone in my ward of at least 500 (active) members, and that thought only pushes me further from attendance, even though I really want to own my church experiences for myself. I want to go to partake of something filling, but experience has made me afraid of walking away empty handed.

  9. Sterling Fluharty says:

    Some scriptures say conscience is the light of Christ,
    A sword of truth under which good from bad is sliced,
    An eternal standard determines if we feel joy or remorse,
    But perhaps this path to peace is not the only viable course.

    Conscience is a matter of free exercise the scriptures also say,
    Nobody but us should dictate how or where we find our way,
    Our Church even says follow your conscience when voting,
    So conforming to our own sense of right is worth promoting.

    Not following our conscience is one definition of hypocrisy,
    Agreeing to be bound by the decisions of others is democracy,
    Many chafe at the boundary maintenance of organized religion,
    Trade religion for spirituality and mix self with social just a smidgen.

    The majority believes humans yearn most for a greater sense of self,
    Some ask if the idea of humans as social creatures belongs on the shelf,
    Connect with the divine by either turning inwards or serving others,
    We question whether we are just humans or actually sisters and brothers.

    There is something subversive in what we as Mormons believe,
    We have eternal potential of which we can scarcely conceive,
    And yet we let strictures and structures arrest our imagination,
    Is our community inherently flawed or are we the new generation?

  10. Jana says:

    As someone who became too weary and wounded to stay, I still applaud those who have the strength to do so. If anyone can do it, Amy, you can.

    Sending love and support your way.

  11. Jenne says:

    I too have sought out the more intellectual, liberal community that is not as emphasized in the sociality of the LDS Church. I was raised Unitarian Universalist as as I came into my own as a Latter-day Saint, I began to miss the UU community that I in some ways I felt more comfortable in. However, in the last year, I’ve found the community of feminist, liberal, intellecutual, diverse Latter-day Saints I didn’t know existed, here with the women of Exponent and in other places (admittedly mostly on the Internet).

    However, I’m also in the state of my life where I positively marvel over the instrumentality of women’s’ bodies to the plan of salvation. So I think I may have an insight in to where the women you overheard were coming from. In their conversation, they may have been overly focused on the topic they were discussing, without extending the caveats and recognition that being baby making machines and nurses are all that we are good for–when for us, its the caveats where we find the most comfort. And also for the two women, they may feel perfectly happy to fulfill that role for their rest of their lives without reaching out to the other aspects of femininity and equality that the gospel promotes.

    And come to think of it, I think I may have done the cost-benefit analysis of comfort in the church vs not attending too, yet without consciously giving a name to it. I did come to the (conscious) decision, though, that I was no longer attending church activities for social reasons because of the amount of stress I encountered being an outsider and that I would attend solely for my spiritual edification. My logic was that the 3 hour block on Sundays was not for social interaction anyway as it detracts from the Spirit during (and between) the meetings. Now I make a game out of infusing my comments with politically charged, feminist and non-mainstream thinking.

  12. NG says:

    Loved jeans’ comment. Here’s the thing. I had a friend like yours in our ward. We weren’t terribly close but she was the one other person who would point out the hypocrisy that was often handed out over the pulpit, the one person who would stand up in Relief Society and remind people of the real intent of the Gospel. I felt buoyed up by her presence and less alone when I knew we were on the same page. She finally decided she couldn’t in good conscience attend church any more when she disagreed with so many people in it and left. And now I feel really alone. Which, granted, isn’t enough of a reason for her to have stayed, but the ward community also suffers because she is not there to bring her unique perspective of the basics of the Gospel to people’s attention. When I’m seeing things clearly I realize, like you, that much of the nonsense that gets handed out as “gospel” is really stuff picked up through years of cultural bias in society. On a bad day, I think it’s much more than that. But either way, I see that if it’s going to change, it’s going to require people like us to stay here and change it.

  13. Lacy says:

    Loved your seagull moment.

    Also loved your articulation of this debate I’m sure so many of us have.

    I visited Boston for the first time this fall and thought, as I attended church there, that I’d died and gone to the Celestial Kingdom of Block Meetings. Seriously. So, not that this is really much comfort at all, but some places have a lot further to go in the collective further to go.

  14. Rebecca says:

    I think many of us have been there Amy. I love that you have the audacity to put it in words. Not an easy thing. Someone mentioned the Eugene England essay. That helped me a lot a couple of years ago when I was feeling more of this. I’m moving more towards an acceptance that we are all in different places, have different life experiences, and are all as imperfect as can be. The church is a place to refine us for sure. I’m still finding a lot of good there, even when I can’t agree with someone’s words, sometimes I can appreciate their depth of feeling or just accept that their life experience is not my own and that’s alright too.

  15. Amelia says:

    thank you, everyone, for the thoughtful responses. it’s good to hear from some like-minded souls…

    a few thoughts:

    caroline, i’m interested in the brief gloss you give of feminist ethics being concerned with relationships rather than exclusively with principles. do you have any readings you could point us to as good starting points?

    i’m very interested and committed to the practice of ethics enmeshed in relationship. i have this theory that the reason eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil brought about death is because that knowledge is too extreme–too absolute in seeing things only as either good or evil, without recognizing the ways that circumstances and relationships transform that knowledge. maybe i’ll write it up someday for a post. it’s something i’m still thinking about. but my point is that i deeply believe that god does not simply act on knowledge of principles; i think s/he acts based on knowing us every bit as much as on knowing principles. why should we be any different?

    thanks for sharing your experience, bonnie. it makes me so happy to know there are couples like you and your husband helping young people understand that true equity makes marriage work, not conformity to prescribed roles.

    i appreciate your experience, too, mb. i find myself making the decision that tracks along the same lines as yours–the decision to do the hard work to thrive in a place that is not very accommodating to me and my needs. but i do want to say that i understand the people who make the other decision–the decision to remove themselves from a place where they find it too difficult to thrive, where their needs are too often disregarded or unmet. i hope that no one reads what i have to say here and concludes that i think those who have chosen to leave have chosen wrongly. no one can know that except the person making the decision, and i respect those with the strength to leave as much as i respect those with the strength to stay.

    hammie, the doctrinal questions are really sticky ones. when i say a believe in the vast majority of the church’s doctrinal teachings–well, maybe i should qualify that by saying i believe in my understanding of those teachings. 🙂 like i said, i kind of think god is beside the point, so i’m mostly with you on the agnostic thing. and i don’t much care about the stories we’re told as part of the doctrinal teachings, including the atonement; i only care about the stories insofar as they help me understand principles and how to apply them. i’ve certainly spent lots of time wrestling with doctrinal concerns.

    i also understand the motivation to stay and be the commenter who speaks up for the minority. i’ve been in that position many many times in the last 15 years and i have been thanked repeatedly for making the difficult comments. it’s one of the reasons i stay, too.

    corktree: this, “I am more frustrated overall with the system that makes them feel so smug in their rightness,” is very familiar. i hate that smugness. and i really try not to be smug myself. sometimes i succeed, but i’m sure there are times i do not. as to how to find people who think similarly…well, i’ve been lucky. also, i’ve managed to find people through other venues. a friend i knew through online presence and then through school introduced me to the friend i now attend church with (thanks jana and caroline). most of the women i have close friendships with now are people i have met not through simply going to church, but through grad school and participation in local mormon studies groups. i suppose it in some way boils down to networking. i’ve found similar friends by seeking out those women whose comments i appreciate, too. another reason to stay. maybe making my “edgy” comments will bring me new friends. 🙂

  16. Amelia says:

    jana, thanks for your support. you applaud my strength to stay; i applaud yours to leave. having ventured down that path a ways, i know how incredibly difficult it must be to make a break with the church and to do so with the kind of grace you and john have displayed.

    jenne, i appreciate your commenting about the role that women’s bodies play in the plan of salvation. i completely agree with you about how powerful and amazing that is–that LDS doctrine makes room for an important place for the human body, rather than emphasizing the disembodied spirit the way many christian religions do. i would expand your comment to include the male body and the human body more generally. the centrality of the body in LDS doctrine has long been a topic of great interest to me. maybe material for another future post. the problem i have is that the kinds of talks i heard on sunday don’t acknowledge the role of the female body as a part of a larger whole; they emphasize only that body. and that’s pretty much all we ever hear about women’s role. i have no problem with acknowledging the body’s importance; i just have a problem doing it exclusively.

    and like you, jenne, i’ve moved away from using church as a social mechanism. i do still find some friends there, but as i explained above the fact that those people are mormon is more a coincidence of circumstance than the groundwork for a friendship. i’m not friends with them because they’re mormon; i’m friends with them because they’re interesting, intelligent, funny people with whom i can have great discussions. that mormonism is something i can discuss with them is great. that they can understand my experience in the church is wonderful. but i would be friends with them without the mormon connection, too. my problem is: now that i don’t really see the church as my primary means of socializing, what do i replace it with? i really don’t know.

    lacy: boston is hands down my favorite place to be mormon. at least in my experience so far. maybe someday i’ll head back that way.

    several of you mentioned gene england’s essay about the church being as true as the gospel. i need to read it again. anyone able to point me to it online?

    again, thanks for all the comments. i’d love to hear anything more you have to say.

  17. Michael says:

    As an active celibate gay man of 47 years who converted to the restored gospel at age 19, I ask this respectfully and in sincerity; where are you going to go? Despite the cultural weaknesses and idiocy found in many cultural practices (and I can definitely relate to that part of your post), the restored gospel is within this church.

  18. Amelia says:

    see michael, i simply disagree. the principles of the gospel are available in many, many places. i don’t accept the church’s exclusivity claims and i see no reason why i couldn’t go elsewhere. the only thing that really, truly keeps me is the deep family connections i have to mormonism and the fact that it is my history. the mormon church offers nothing that i could not take with me elsewhere, except my family’s acceptance. i know the responses to that–the temple, the book of mormon, the priesthood, prophets, etc.; i just don’t place anywhere near the value on those things that mainstream mormons do.

    so there’s my answer. i would and could go anywhere i wanted to and still have as much access to god and the gospel as anyone in the mormon church.

  19. Michael says:

    If you feel your spiritual needs are better met somewhere else then by all means I wish you the best. I would counsel you not to let family connections to stand in the way. I have lived as a Latter-day Saint for many years with a full Irish Catholic family surrounding me. It is not difficult to do. I respect and attend religious family events even though they don’t always reciprocate. It’s not a big deal.

  20. Paul says:


    I appreciate your dilemma. Others have stood in the place you stand, and have departed in different directions. Neither happiness or misery is guaranteed, regardless of direction.

    Regarding ethic, good and evil, I’ve lately discovered that the phrase is a merism. “This is a figure of speech whereby a pair of opposites are used together to create the meaning all or everything, as in the English phrase, “they searched high and low”, meaning that they searched everywhere. So the tree of the knowledge of good and evil they take to mean the tree of all knowledge. ”

    Dunno if this helps.

  21. Amelia says:

    michael: i’m glad that it has not been too difficult for you to convert to mormonism but remain on good terms with your catholic family; it makes me happy to know that there are families in which such a significant change is not seen as an abandonment of all that is true and good and therefore an unavoidable condemnation of the person who changed. however, i don’t think most mormon families–at least not of the died-in-the-wool variety my family is–would accept a child’s changing her religious identity with such equanimity. my parents had a hard time dealing with me dating someone who was not mormon; i can’t imagine how they would respond any better to my becoming not mormon myself and quite frankly i can imagine them responding much moor poorly. so i’m glad your own experience has been generally positive and not that big a deal, but i don’t think that experience is necessarily representative of what it would be like for a mormon to make a similar conversion. after many many hours spent thinking about this over the course of several years, i have concluded that i am better off in terms of my family relationships not making a formal change of religious community; instead, i find more informal ways to make the change while maintaining my status as an active mormon.

    paul: i like the concept of merism that you introduce here. i’ll have to think about it more extensively in the context of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. thanks.

  22. Melanie says:

    I, like Jana, made the decision to leave. It was “easier” for me in that I didn’t have family ties to Mormonism and I was new to a particular ward so it was easy to disappear.

    When I take the time to think about it, it’s something of a catch-22. I have met many loving and wonderful people outside of the church, and as a single woman, had positive relationships with men I wouldn’t have otherwise had. I’ve pushed myself to develop myself professionally and have had many, many experiences that I wouldn’t have had in the church. My Sundays are peaceful and quiet, entirely mine. I no longer have to cringe at remarks coming over the pulpit that hurt my spirit. I have grown into the person I wanted to be and have fulfilled dreams I had tried very hard to deny. I am open to life in a way that I wasn’t before.

    At the same time, so much of who I am was made during my sojourn in Mormonism. Moving to a place with a small LDS population, I have felt a sense of isolation- nobody here really understands what that part of my history means to me or how I see the world because of it. I have been faced with ethical and moral situations I would have never encountered; “freedom” has left me open to experiences that caused me terror, made me sick, and compromised my values (in the quest of trying to figure out what I did value, of course). There have been times that I have ached for the loving arms of the community, for the affirmation that came to me in a good testimony meeting or Relief Society lesson. The loneliness that I felt at so many church meetings and events is not gone, but it has taken a different form.

    It comes down to this: I believe in the infinite nature of the Atonement, and I believe that Our Loving God gave me permission to leave. I have no regrets. But I also believe deeply, powerfully, completely, that He would not have abandoned me if I had stayed.

    Blessings to you as you negotiate the “high rises…and dictates of the streets.”

  23. Stella says:

    Amelia, Thank you for this post. I could have written it myself. I have decided, in my mind, that I don’t need to stay and I don’t need to go. Generally I’m not super active, but I have a desire to go and commune in my old way once or twice a month sometimes. Sometimes I’ll go four times in a row, sometimes I won’t go for three months. I am so happy with this decision. I’ve been very honest about it to the members in my ward. I go to a tiny branch in Switzerland now and I find I like to go more because the church is different outside of Utah, and even the states. There isn’t the same kinds of pressures, and when I come, they are happy to have me. It’s been really freeing to realize that I call the shots, that I don’t have to act from guilt or pressure, that I just decide what I am feeling.

    Many would try to say that that can’t work. That I’m not a “good” mormon. Lots of people have a problem with the way I approach it, but in the end, it’s not between me and “people”…it’s just between me and me (and God 🙂

  24. Stella says:

    I shouldn’t say “old way” I don’t think that’s accurate. Like people have said, especially Melanie before me, there is that longing of a beautiful community that the church has provided me my entire life. I feel like I find those things outside of the church system but I still like to find them in the LDS church too.

  25. Completely Understand says:

    Similar situation here: I was never-married, nearing 40, dyed-in-the-wool LDS family, past member of three wonderful Boston-area wards.

    For me it came down to the stifling need to live an authentic life; the courage to disengage from stances I beleved to be personally and universally harmful; and the will to become an agent driven by her own conscience, and not the “foolish traditions of ( her) father.”

    I have never looked back and have no regrets.

  26. Completely Understand says:

    Forgive the typos! I’m using a smart device…

  27. Jenne says:

    Amelia, you asked that one you leave using the church as a social mechanism, where do you go?

    I thought for a while to turn to my local UU congregation for sociality but found that I was only welcome if I adhered to a don’t ask don’t tell policy regarding my Mormon status. Evidently I left the “welcoming community” of UUs behind when I became LDS.

    Since then I think I’ve turned to what everyone else who do not have a religious community for fellowship does, is to be social in my everyday life and get to know my neighbors, talk to people out at the community, and now that we have social networking sites galore, I find sites that share common values, seek out those who live locally to me and meet them in an attempt to develop friendships. My favorites are because you can find all sort of shared interests with people, and’s online discussion boards. I’m beginning to pursue social events related to historical reenactments during the medieval period (SCA/LARP) and sewing and quilting.

    I’ll offer another critique to LDS culture in the United States, there this assumption that members of our wards have to be social with each other to the exclusion of socializing with people outside of the church. How in the world does effective missionary work get done if we are so insulated as members within our ward family that we don’t associate with non-LDS people?

    I would submit that the answer to where to turn to social relationships is to the world around us. I grabbed hold to the teaching in this months Ensign to “be in the world.” I have forgotten that many times and appreciate applying it also to be in the world of communities and social relationships that are everywhere to be found, especially not just in the church.

  28. Completely Understand says:


    I am utterly baffled by your comment here, as I quote:

    ” I thought for a while to turn to my local UU congregation for sociality but found that I was only welcome if I adhered to a don’t ask don’t tell policy regarding my Mormon status. Evidently I left the “welcoming community” of UUs behind when I became LDS.”
    Are we to understand by your stated experience that as a non-LDS person, you visited a UU church, but you were made to “feel uncomfortable” —and were somehow chastised–for talking about Mormonism?

    I’ll just say that in my considerable experience, ha ing attended both LDS meetings and UU meetings consistently for two years simultaneously, UUs welcome learning about other faiths and most Unitarian Universalists come from other faith traditions.

  29. Completely Understand says:

    Maybe it’s the “…when I became LDS” statement that I don’t understand. I can’t successfully determine the context of Jenne’s post because it is quite confusing.

    Sorry for the sidebar.

    Amelia, as someone who was once in your shoes ( and I vaguely remember you from a Cambridge ward!) I would suggestgoung with your heart and living your authentic life, searching elsewhere forcommunity if necessary. Quakers? Unitarians? Freethinkers?

  30. larryco_ says:

    “And, in the end, the love you take is equal to the love you make.” -the Beatles

    First of all, life is way too short for you to be caught up in a “complicated mind mess”. My suggestion is to run away daily and visit the Lord at The Sermon On The Mount (Matt 5-7). It’s call for a simplified life and quiet discipleship is far from “days spent swinging between anger and devistation”. Forget the dogma around you and picture the lilies (or seagulls), take a deep breath, and love much.

  31. Alisa says:

    I’m a person who can tolerate a surprising amount of indecision. I like what Stella said about not needing to choose one way or another. Is it possible to see this as a jouney with many little decision points rather than one big final decision? Perhaps to try taking another break, or try living the TBM lifestyle. Or, go 50% of the time and suplement the other Sundays with something else spiritually uplifting of your choice?

    I go to my LDS ward for family, tradition, and community. I also like to attend the UCC (a progressive Protestant congregation) when I want to focus a little more directly on Christ and His message or celebrate something on the liturgical calendar that we don’t do in the LDS Church. I also like to do some eastern meditation like Deeksha. So far, this seems to work for me, although I don’t avoid frustrating moments all together.

  32. Kelly Ann says:

    This is a great post and a great discussion.

    I left after Prop8 but have journeyed back to varying degrees over the past year and a half. I am in a congregation that is incredibly accepting and that makes it easier to stay. But am I fully immersed – not really. I like the idea of being allowed to choose daily what I am and am not comfortable with. Saying I go does not mean that I believe everything or support everything. But the community and the spirit keep me around as well as the active discussion I have had here and elsewhere regarding all of my questions and concerns. And I back off when I get in over my head. I also like Eugene England’s talk.

  33. Craig says:

    If you’re not happy in Mormonism then you should find somewhere you can be happy.

    It’s not your job to keep others from having to confront change by not leaving, and it’s not your job to stay in order to be a positive influence on the narrow-minded minions of an inherently narrow-minded institution.

    You (we all) need to do what makes you happy and what is right for you. What others think or believe doesn’t really matter, or is less important than your beliefs and your feelings. You’ll never be happy if you stay because of someone else no matter how important they are to you. It’s just not worth it. To be a part of an organisation/church which “deeply violates your conscience” isn’t healthy. I think most of us wouldn’t put ourselves in a relationship with a person or people who do things of which the same would be said, so why do it with your church?

    I understand that it’s not quite that simple, and there are significant reasons for staying. All I’m saying is that I understand your concerns, and experienced many of them myself before I left the church.

    I think you’d be surprised at how many people there are out there who might think like you and have very similar beliefs. The feeling of ostracism and outsiderness I think you feel in Mormonism is something you can walk away from. The richness and diversity of life outside of Mormonism is really unbelievable.

    In the end, you have to do what makes you happy and healthy. You may never find that perfect community, but there are many groups and people out there who will respect every part of you and affirm you as a whole and complete person just as you are. I promise that there are people and communities out there which are a much better fit for you (and indeed for all of us).

  34. Jenne says:

    Completely understand; in response to your question:
    “Are we to understand by your stated experience that as a non-LDS person, you visited a UU church, but you were made to “feel uncomfortable” —and were somehow chastised–for talking about Mormonism?”

    I was told directly by the minister of the local congregation that I was welcome as long as I did not state my affiliation with the LDS Church. I converted the Christianity and was baptized into the LDS Church when I was 17, after being raised and coming of age in the Unitarian Church (different state, different congregation than where I live now). Even in my home UU congregation, for a while I was not welcomed, but that has changed over the years as they’ve seen me retain many of my same UU sensibilities. As Brigham Young says, “we accept truth wherever it can be found.”

  35. Completely Understand says:

    Wow. That’s quite strange, Jenne, considering that Unitarian Universalism is non- creedal and non- denominational. I personally know atheist UUs, Jewish UUs, Mormon UUs, ex-Mormon UUs , former Catholic UUs, and Multi-faith UUs. Can you explain what was said to you when, as a non-Mormon UU, you brought up the topic of Mormnism? I was always met with respect and curiosity when I brought up my LDS roots. One of my ministers had also been rises Momon and often used LDS teachings in his sermons. I have never, ever heard of what you describe and find it rather avsurd. Maybe you misunderstood the minister?

  36. Completely Understand says:

    Also, Jenne, are you claiming that the LDS church is more unitarian than the UUs? That has nt been my experience. I am glad that I attended both congregations simultaneously for two years before I decided to completely break from the LDS Church.

    I found that I could actually put my money where my mouth was when it came to social and moral issues about which I felt particularly strong. I did not have to feel apologetic or ashamed about my views’ being in conflict with an old white male’s majority views which would decades later be couched as “just their opinion; they were speaking as men, anyway.”

  37. Completely Understand says:

    My prior comment is still in moderation for some reason. I still wan to assert that Unitarian Universalism is a non-creedal, non-denmnational religion. I know scores of congregants who fellowship in various UU churches who are either current or former LDS, Catholic, atheist, agnostic, pagan, Jewish, etc.

    That a teenager would get kicked out of a UU church for joining the LDS church and expressing her affiliation with it seems quite…unusual.

  38. Jenne says:

    I would agree that my experience in unusual; however it is not very usual for a UU teenager to turn LDS either. I would like to point out that I feel that you are putting words in my mouth, Completely Understand, as I did not say that I was kicked out of the UU Church after becoming LDS. However, I was made to feel unwelcome, and then in later years when I sought to reestablish fellowship in a different UU congregation, I then was also not treated in the welcoming manner I came to expect from my experiences growing up as UU. I must say I’m confused by your vehemence directed at me for stating my experience and I’m not clear as to why you are belaboring the point.

  39. wendy says:

    My comment does not directly engage with some of the thoughtful points you raised in your original post. Rather, it’s the observation that many people of the LDS faith ask themselves “Why did I bother?” at the end of a Sunday’s worth of meetings. Some may feel like there was nothing inspiring in the 3 hours spent at church. Others may have spent most of the time wrestling with a baby or serving in (thankless) callings and therefore feel drained. Some may feel excluded or like they don’t belong to their ward for various reasons. And some may question whether the fundamental doctrines discussed in church truly resonate with what they believe to be true (which I totally get; I had to have a long venting conversation with my husband recently over the Old Testament lesson on Jacob, for instance).

    For a long time I really resented my inner-city ward. I felt like there were too many takers and not enough givers. I judged people’s crazy testimonies and questioned if this was the ward where I wanted to raise my children (despite living in a great neighbourhood and close to great schools). As I worked in difficult callings, while dealing with young children, as my husband was taken away with demanding callings, I would often come home after church and ask “Why did I bother?”

    I have since found that the closer I draw to God through prayer, and the more I study the words of Christ, the more I enjoy my ward. The crazy comments don’t bother me in the same way. I feel concern and even love for the people in my ward. I see Sundays as a scheduled opportunity to serve others rather than my weekly personal testimony refresher.

    So, church is not always this faith-affirming experience. But then, every once in a while, you are blessed with a Sunday where a talk, or a song, or sometimes it’s just a comment that will speak to you and feel true. And so you keep going . . .

  40. amelia says:


    i’m really glad that you’ve made your peace with your own ward. that you have come to understand how you can foster your own spiritual health in such a way that you are glad to be a part of the ward you live in.

    but you do realize exactly how judgmental and harsh your comment is by implication, right? i know you had no intention to point your finger and judge others. you did nothing of the kind, not explicitly. but your comment implies–and does so very clearly–that those of us who walk away from church wondering why we bother going are 1. not close to god; or 2. too selfish to realize that church isn’t all about our own spiritual enlightenment; or 3. some combination of the two.

    i get it. i do. i completely and totally understand the point you’re making. and i agree. in part. belonging to an organization is never solely about what the organization can do for you, not if that organization is a community one in which everyone contributes to help everyone else, as the church is. i very, very much agree that we should go to church and try to hear others charitably and with as little judgment as possible. and i completely concur that as one studies christ’s teachings and draws closer to god, one is more likely to relate to others more charitably.

    but really? church shouldn’t be seen as a weekly opportunity to refresh and revitalize one’s own testimony? you really think that god intends that we spend three hours in church “learning” and “studying” the gospel, but doesn’t really intend that we should walk away enlightened spiritually? what the hell is the point of us sitting in sunday school and relief society then? if the point is for us to learn to appreciate others complete with quirks and bizarre beliefs, as you imply, then surely we needn’t waste our time pretending to “learn.” why don’t we do something productive instead, like assemble hygiene kits to send to developing nations or sew quilts and blankets to donate to local NICU wards? or any number of other opportunities to make a positive difference in our world. why would god want us to participate in a pretense of study and learning just so we can do what we could in other circumstances which would be constructive in every way? i just don’t buy the conception of god as devious experimenter who makes his children do mostly pointless things in order for them to “grow.”

    yeah. i realize i’m being vehement. but i’m sick and tired of the mormon tendency to point our fingers at those who dissent or who struggle and say, “they must not be doing what they should to maintain their relationship with god, because if they were they would be happy and fulfilled and blessed by the way the church is rather than critical of it; they would recognize that even if everything is not humming along exactly right, the good far outweighs the bad and all of the bad is just quirky human nature, not problems that should be solved.”

    so yeah. call me insensitive. or whatever. but i don’t buy that shit. i really don’t. like i said above, i’m glad that you have found peace in your own relationship with god and with your ward. i very much believe that there are many people who have found a very similar peace. but i don’t believe for half a second that your experience and their experience is THE experience to be had and that anyone who doesn’t have it just hasn’t quite come to terms with the way things are.

    you know what i think? i think that you’re completely correct: church should be a place where we learn to see people for the good in them, not just for the asinine comments they make and their irresponsible life choices and their unwillingness to step up to the plate and help out. church should be about learning to coexist with people who are different (sometimes radically different) from ourselves. it should be a space in which we try to set aside our own fogged spectacles, and see life a little more clearly.

    that said, that needs to go both ways. the majority needs to set aside their fogged spectacles and try to see the minority more clearly. those who are “true-blue” mormons with nary a question of faith or practice need to be willing to accept those who are “edgy” and questioning and critical.

    and i believe the radical idea that church should be as much about us walking away with our spiritual cups running over as it is about us trying to make that the case for others. can that happen as a result of the kind of approach to church you talk about? yes. of course. but only partially. there is absolutely *nothing* wrong with going to church not only hoping but expecting that we will walk away having felt some amount of spiritual enlightenment and refreshment. that all of those hours we sit in sunday school and relief society and sacrament meeting are meant to actually lead us to a greater understanding of christ’s gospel. i really don’t think expecting that is all that crazy. or a sign of a relationship with god that’s out of whack.

    i understand the point you make. i can interpret it charitably. and i don’t think you meant any insult by it at all. just as i don’t think the church has a nefarious committee sitting in salt lake brainstorming ways of manipulating people into staying actively involved in the church. but i do think that’s what this argument boils down to–manipulation of people’s insecurities and guilt so that they remain active in the church.

  41. Deborah says:

    Wendy said: “the more I study the words of Christ, the more I enjoy my ward. I feel concern and even love for the people in my ward. I see Sundays as a scheduled opportunity to serve others rather than my weekly personal testimony refresher.”

    Amelia said: ” But then sometimes I realize it’s really very simple. Change what I can. Love people. Find the beauty in the world.”

    I see these comments as coming from the same part of the soul, just using different language. I think when Jesus said, “Wherefore I say unto thee, Her sins, which are many, are forgiven; for she loved much,” he could have easily spoken of institutions as well as individuals — that’s the path of change and healing, if we can move ourselves collectively toward greater empathy for others.

    It’s hard to go searching for relief and come home empty, Amelia. I have had those weeks and months — when it’s hard to fathom staying and harder to fathom leaving. Sending love ‘cross country.

  42. Caroline says:

    Wendy said, “So, church is not always this faith-affirming experience. But then, every once in a while, you are blessed with a Sunday where a talk, or a song, or sometimes it’s just a comment that will speak to you and feel true.”

    Wendy, I articulated this same idea last Sunday, when I was trying to figure out my reasons for going as well. Thank you for sharing your experiences with feeling this way.

    You know how much I admire and love you. I don’t know the solutions to these problems, but I do know that your integrity, your passion, your immense capacity to love is what the Church needs. And I am so hoping that once in a while, it can give something beautiful back to you.

  43. wendy says:


    I’m sorry if you felt judged by my comment. That was not my intention. I could just really relate to your experience of being frustrated by Sunday services and kind of hating your ward, and thought I would share how I got past that experience.
    My main point is that a testimony cannot be built just on 3-hour Sundays (at least mine hasn’t). Discussions in RS and Sunday School can get the ball rolling, but I feel that the real benefits and faith-affirming experiences come when you’re by yourself, trying to figure out what is true. I was not implying that you weren’t doing anything outside of that 3-hour block on Sunday. It just seemed that your original post focused on the discomfort and anger you felt at church, so I thought it was what I [could] comment on.
    And I’m not a “true blue” Mormon as you have assumed. In fact, I don’t know anyone in the Church who doesn’t on some level have doubts; some people are more open about discussing them. When I talk candidly about doubts as an RS teacher, I always see women nodding their heads and the discussion opens up surprisingly. That’s the whole point: it’s difficult to have faith in some parts of the Gospel. I have had a number of trials of faith and have experienced similar anxiety to what you are feeling. Can I not participate in the discussion if I have a testimony now?

  44. amelia says:

    first, Wendy, please let me reassure you that you have absolutely no reason to apologize. it’s not your fault i went on a rant. 🙂 also, please know that your contribution is always welcome at the Exponent. always. as is anyone else’s. you just happened to say something that pushed my buttons after a hard few weeks at church. and that’s something i’m not particularly proud of. but i suppose we all do things we’re not particularly proud of on occasion…

    i do stand by the essence of what i had to say. but i truly, genuinely meant it when i said that i understand the point you’re trying to make and i actually agree with it in almost all of its particulars. and i also meant it when i said that i’m very glad that you have had this experience. i’m glad when anyone finds a way to make their peace with their religious tradition, regardless of whether that involves staying or going.

    i completely agree that a testimony cannot be built exclusively on sunday meetings. it’s really not possible. and i don’t expect it to be that way. generally my experience has been that conclusions usually come when i’m alone in a state of contemplation, but the beginnings of growth for my testimony often happen in conversation. because someone says something that prompts me to think about an idea in a new way or that compels me to look at what i thought was true from a new perspective. so while i agree that there is a great deal of strength and opportunity for individual and solitary testimony growth, i think that solitary reflection almost always arises out of interaction with others, at least for me. it’s that which i hope for at church–thoughtful conversation and interaction that can catalyze new spiritual insight. and i really do think that we should expect that of church.

    i agree with you that it’s unlikely that anyone in the church is completely without doubts; as you say, there are many things in mormon teachings that are hard to accept easily. however, i know a lot of people who do not openly acknowledge such doubts, who would *never* openly acknowledge such doubts and who see such open admission as an admission of sinfulness or inadequacy. and that troubles me. a lot. i think it’s what the church, at least culturally and, i would argue, institutionally, aims for: eliding doubts and questions in favor of affirmation of “faith” and the “trueness” of the church. and it makes me very sad. and it makes me very weary. and it makes me wonder what place there is for someone like me who not only has questions but who believes that those questions are the essence of the spiritual journey we are on as human beings, that such questions are not at all secondary to or in opposition to spiritual progression but vital to such progression.

    i’m tired. so very tired of going to church and finding such superficial treatment of such profound and beautiful and wonderful principles and teachings as are found in the gospel of jesus christ and in the scriptures. i know that there’s a great deal of room in the church for other kinds of spiritual experience, the kind of interactive experience you talk about. i want that experience. but i want more. and i need more. and i think god has promised us more. i think he has promised us more even in the format of church meetings as it stands today. i’m tired of sitting back and trying to let hurtful things roll off my back and never (or almost never) really being rewarded with even a kernel of spiritual wisdom or insight that can flourish.

    i’m sorry i was so vehement in my response to you. i didn’t mean to be judgmental in my own turn. (funny how that’s such a universal trap, judgmentally calling others judgmental.) i just want my bit. my little piece of the church. and it hurts to love the church as much as i do and to believe its teachings as deeply as i do and to be made to feel week after week that there’s no place for me there. or worse, to walk out week after week indifferent.

    should i be more proactive? probably. but i’m not sisyphus. i don’t have the strength to push that damn rock up the hill and watch it roll down again over and over. and i don’t like feeling like that: worn down and helpless and hopeless. because in all honesty, i can take pretty much everything of value the church offers me elsewhere. i could get the kind of interaction you describe at almost any church. and maybe i could get the food my soul craves, too. without being told that i’m to blame (even if only implicitly and inadvertently, though often it’s neither implicit nor inadvertent but explicit and very intentional) for craving it, as if it’s some kind of inadequacy to want the spiritual nourishment i want from my religious community.

    anyway. i’m sorry i responded poorly. i don’t deny the harshness of some of what i said and i don’t deny the truthfulness of what i said, but i really did not mean to make you feel unwelcome or as if your contribution is invalid or unacceptable. please come back. please comment. the church, and exponent, needs your contribution and experience as much as it needs the rest of ours.

  45. wendy says:

    Amelia, thank you for posting. I have been worrying about offending you all afternoon.
    In the end, I think my original response was about saying something slightly different than what the conversation had focused on in an effort to widen the discussion and seem smart amongst all these smart contributors. And I wanted to participate in the “edgy” discussion too. Sigh. What if I really do have the ego of a high school student?
    I think it’s really healthy to talk openly about doubts, and I have had positive experiences with this in the Church (although sometimes I’m a little vague on purpose before I know how people will react). But we need to question in order to learn and grow. I have always gotten the most out of scripture study when I start with a question. We need others to help us answer questions, and provide us with questions. I know you’re feeling weary, but I think you should try to be more proactive in building the kind of church community you crave. Lead a book club on “The Beauty Myth” or “Imagined Communities” (saw your post on that one; never thought of applying that book to Mormonism). I’ve taught a few seminars on body image/acceptance for Enrichment and have snuck in plenty of feminist principles. And now, nobody says anything to me about my body or anyone else’s (even when I’m pregnant)! We can teach others.

    There are many unique benefits and disadvantages from being raised in the church. One of the principal disadvantages, to my mind, is that being raised in the church (or any organized religion, for that matter), distorts the process of personal conversion. Whereas an investigator can consider the gospel with the mindset, “I’ll see if this is true,” I think being raised in the church causes us to consider the gospel with the mindset, “I hope this is true.” Because the family and social pressures really do compromise our ability to objectively evaluate the gospel (and you can multiply that ante several times for women as we are raised to be such people-pleasers). And so you are left with this nagging feeling: Do I believe this is true for the right reasons? Would I have converted to the church if not raised in it? I’m so inspired by people like my girlfriend, who converted to the church and thus had to completely change her group of friends and has had strained relationships with her family ever since. Is her testimony more meaningful than mine because she had to sacrifice something to belong to the Church, whereas I would only start to sacrifice the same kinds of things if I left it?

    In the end, I think being “raised in the Gospel” is not about brain-washing as some would contend. I think it’s about giving people enough of an incentive to be patient with the process. Because of my family’s commitment to the Church, I didn’t do anything rash and took a wait and see approach. I lived with some cognitive dissonance for a while and saw a (non-LDS) therapist for some perspective. I asked for help with my unbelief.
    But being raised in the church doesn’t mean we are any less entitled than non-members or converts to those converting spiritual experiences. And because I waited, I had them.

  46. gina says:

    Shouldn’t one’s participation in any faith-community be based on their conviction of it’s veracity? :\

  47. amelia says:

    if only it were that simple, gina. i wish it were.

  48. dwg says:

    If the church is so destructive to” identity formation” how is it that I have met some of the smartest, most capable, and profoundly deep thinking women in the LDS church? If we are so sexist, how is it, that the men in our church are far more caring, sensitive, kind and nurturing than most men I have met outside the church? You seem to belong to a different organization than I do. And since when is the quality of nurturing something to be reduced to? Don’t you need nurturing? I surely do, and thank goodness there are women in our church who can and do value that quality. Is it there only value? of course not, and I’ve never heard it suggested that it is. But as you look from a worldly perspective at “traditional roles” as being some sort of prison, there is vast liberalness built into them.

  1. March 23, 2010

    […] So I just try to cling to my simple testimony, the peace I have found returning to church, and not get so fed up between the difference between my expectations and reality that I leave. […]

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.