So you Want me Back at Church?

So you say want me to come back to church?

Why? Do you really want ME? Do you really love me and want me to bring my whole self to church, just how I am right now? Or do you want my body there and not my mind and spirit? Do you need me to believe your creed and perform your checklist? Do you need me to bite my tongue about anything outside the whitewashed sacralized narrative?

Will you give me space to speak my mind even if I disagree with ward members, and especially if I disagree with church leaders? What if I cannot in good conscience sustain church leadership? Will you shame me if I don’t conform?

If I tell you the temple is painful for me, will you tell me I must not understand? If I tell you I spent over a year going weekly to an early morning session trying to work through the pain, pleading with God for peace, but the pain got worse? Will you tell me I didn’t pray hard enough or attend often enough, or in some other way my effort was not enough? Will you blame me if I didn’t feel the way you feel there?

Will you let me talk about my doubts? Or will you say doubters have weak character and are deceived by Satan? Will you say I am wandering toward the great and spacious building if I admit I no longer believe?

Will you judge me if I show up differently; dress differently than you? What if my shorts are a few inches above my knee? What if my shoulders show? What if I wear pants to church? What if I have more than one pair of holes in my ears? If you want me to look like you and act like you, you do not want me.

Will you tolerate my position that scriptures are not literally true events? Can I say that although I was taught the book of Mormon was a history of people on the American continent, I find that historical, archaeological, linguistic, genetic, botanical, and other evidence, does not support this claim? That when I read them, the stories seem farfetched and more like bedtime stories or tall tales than history? If you want me to keep silent about my disagreement, you do not want me.

Will you judge me if I stay home from meetings I am uninterested in, or that seem useless to me? Can I say a church meeting is useless, or will you choose to be offended?

Can I say “no” when you want my free labor?

Will you be okay with me expressing a belief that women should hold the priesthood and participate in all levels of church leadership? That women have been historically suppressed and undervalued in the church, their power and authority stripped and circumscribed by male leaders? Will you say that I just do not understand the special role of women (to support men and rear children)?

If I came to Sunday school can we talk about real church history? About Joseph Smith’s use of seer stones? His drinking alcohol? His land speculation and banking fraud? His coercion of underage plural brides? He was a complex character after all. Will you say I am expecting too much of leaders and they are flawed? Will you expect me to keep silent about my concerns? Will you expect me to be less flawed than church leaders?

If I am with you, will I be able to speak out against harmful practices the church has engaged in? Will I be able to ask for the church to change? To be more loving and accepting of those who are different? To apologize and make great efforts to support those they have victimized in the past? Or do you expect me to pretend all is well in Zion?

Are you willing to mourn with those that mourn? Will you listen if I tell you of my internalized shame and self-hatred from the teachings I grew up with in the church? That I never felt I could do enough or be good enough, no matter how hard I tried?

Will you listen when I tell you I spent decades in prayer and wrestle with God, looking for a firm testimony, and seeking to reconcile things like a God that loves men and women equally with a God that will ‘destroy’ a woman who won’t accept polygamy (D&C 132)?

Will you listen if I tell you I experienced trauma learning truths about the LDS church that I had loved and given all to? That I sought out and studied reliable sources and have spent the last few years processing my grief and pain. That the church’s modern social policies disappoint and pain me, and that historically it has made so many mistakes that I can’t believe it has any more direct leadership from God than any other institution?

Will you listen if I tell you I prayed before I stopped attending church on Sundays? That my decision was confirmed through a feeling of peace that it was okay to separate myself from the religion of my upbringing. Will you listen if I tell you God is not found only in the LDS church, and not only on Sundays in a chapel?

I am pretty sure, when you say you want me back in church, you don’t want me at all. You want a version of me that doesn’t exist anymore. It was an external shell that masked my true self, full of questions and doubts, who sat quietly in church and parroted the ‘correct’ answers. She couldn’t speak up because she knew it wasn’t okay to make waves. She did all that was expected of her. She submitted and submitted and she slowly died. After considering who I am now, do you want me back at church after all? If you do, make it a safe space for people like me. It isn’t.

Chiaroscuro

Chiaroscuro is a play of light and shadow. Finding noisy messy lovely life in all the shades between.

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36 Responses

  1. Kimberly Anderson says:

    The perfect answer to the most self-serving statement ever made. Thank you.

    • Agreed. Perhaps it translates to “I would like you to conform to our community norms so that we don’t have to feel awkward about having a neighbor/friend who has a different worldview.”

  2. Dave says:

    You should look into Presbyterian Church USA. We are an all inclusive Church where you don’t have to leave your brains at the door to believe.

    • Chiaroscuro says:

      thank you for the invitation. still feeling very bruised by religion right now

    • Gilgamesh says:

      PC USA has had its own issues in the past, as have all religions. The PCA and EPC exist due to the divisions within PC USA. Plus, the comment that you “leave your brains at the door” is disrespectful to those who may have wrestled with the same issues in the OP and remained active in the church.

  3. Marcela P says:

    We should be friends

  4. EmilyB says:

    Thank you for this. I don’t like it either when leaders say women are valued and that they want less actives back, but refuse to hear us. We need apologies for abuse, or to hear that leadership is not okay with the teenage rapes committed by mormonism’s founders, (because when powerful men command girls under 18 to marry them it is not consent, it is rape). Our black members deserve apologies and to see more sweeping changes! And we also need to be allowed to talk about how leaders’ messages about LGBTQs are hurting our loved ones—I mean just the other day Oaks dropped another bomb during his talk at BYU Hawaii; when will it stop? Those of us with more love in our hearts, who lead like Jesus, should be allowed to lead and heal with our more loving styles like Christ did. This is our church too—our female ancestors suffered the most in it, as have we. Is leaving really our only option, especially after all our decades of service and many thousands of dollars in tithes and offerings? We really do deserve a voice. Other churches give women a voice, leadership roles, and laypeople committees to help make decisions, ouster bad leaders, or otherwise help run the church. But I left because for all my hard work and sacrifice, I could never make my voice heard. Thank you, exponent, for being a space where our women can finally speak and be heard!

    • Anon says:

      Bravo. I called Joseph Smith a rapist.

    • Andrew R. says:

      ” Our black members deserve apologies and to see more sweeping changes!”

      I am intrigued by this. I am not aware of what sweeping changes are required by our black members. Please enlighten me. Are they church doctrine/policy/procedure based, or member based?

  5. Brittany says:

    So well said. “I am pretty sure, when you say you want me back in church, you don’t want me at all. You want a version of me that doesn’t exist anymore.” Once you have been through this much pain, there is no way to truly come back, and people who have not been through it cannot understand. Thank you for sharing.

  6. Larry Wiliford says:

    You are exactly the person I want in my church. Many of the questions you are asking are the same ones I have asked over the years. I am still trying to get the church to become what it professes to be. You are the kind of person we need in the church.

    Rev Larry W

  7. Wendy says:

    Your words are powerful, chiaroscuro. Thank you for speaking your truth; we hear you.

  8. Grace says:

    This is exactly how I feel. I can’t love this enough! Thank you for posting.

  9. Violadiva says:

    Such a great post. Thank you for these words. Xoxo

  10. Dorris says:

    This was beautiful and as if you stole the words from my heart. Thank you for this.

  11. Lily says:

    Ok, no. I go to church to worship with like-minded believers and to be refreshed. I don’t go to listen to someone’s problems and hangups, particularly, as you make it sound, that I am supposed to just shut up and listen to you complain.

    I would be more than happy to support your, be your friend, hangout together, talk and talk about all the issues you describe anytime – except at church. Why is it hard to understand that people with a different view than yourself need a safe place to worship?

    • Chiaroscuro says:

      Actually what I said is that I could never open my mouth about how I felt at church. NEVER complain or talk about what was paining me. I had to keep silent. And I never asked anyone else to shut up. Just to make it safe for people who don’t believe (if they are actually wanted there). Thanks for demonstrating why it is not safe for unbelievers there. Which is precisely why I choose not to attend. And what I’m trying to show to those who would keep asking me to come back.
      Its fine if that’s what you want at church. That is what you have. And so if people like you are asking people to ‘come back’ (who no longer are like-minded), you will see why that is a problem

      • Lily says:

        I have no problem with anyone not attending the Mormon Church, particularly someone that does not believe in its principles. But any person, in any religion, should be able to go to their house of worship and not have to defend their beliefs.

    • Chiaroscuro says:

      No one is asking anyone to defend their beliefs. This post is written to help church members be introspective about why they are asking ‘inactive’ people to come back to church, to reflect on whether they really want them there, and to reflect on why some people need to choose to separate from the church. It is not asking anyone to change their beliefs or defend their beliefs.

    • Andrew R. says:

      I do find this response a little bit difficult to understand.

      Yes, we go to church to worship. However, we are baptised because we choose to “mourn with those that mourn”, “comfort those that stand in need of comfort”, etc.

      Some of our best Priesthood lessons have come as members express their concerns, needs, difficulties with what being a member of the Church means.

      I too go to church to worship, primarily by taking the Sacrament. But I also go because I have faith that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is contained within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. And because I have hope that if I follow “my” path in it I will return to my Heavenly Parents. I don’t know this, and sometimes I am far from knowing it, but for me there is no other path – this is the one I choose to believe. And, if I can help others on the way – I believe that is what I am expected to do.

      I ask others to come back for the same reason I keep going, because in my mind it offers the best possibility I know of of returning to live my Heavenly Parents.

    • Redd B. says:

      Lily: “I would be more than happy to support you, be your friend, hangout together, talk and talk about all the issues you describe anytime – except at church.”

      My wife could have written the original post. In her case she spent fifty years of her life in the church before leaving. Some things she never accepted – such as the church’s teachings on polygamy, particularly D&C 132. She was never comfortable going to the Temple, though she went and only stopped attending the last five years of her time as LDS. Some things became unbearable over time – particularly the treatment of women as second class due to not having the priesthood. She started rethinking the merits of church attendance when our home-teacher, struggling himself, mentioned to her that one shouldn’t have to take drugs to attend church.

      Problem was there was not a single active LDS sister she could talk about with any of the issues she was dealing with – inside or outside of church, because for the LDS it is all church.

      So, if you really are willing to talk with members who struggle, albeit outside of church, that’s a start. Because my wife has been out for a year and a half and no active member has EVER asked her why she left.

      • Anna says:

        I had to laugh about “one shouldn’t have to take drugs to attend church” because that was exactly my situation for 30+ years. I got depressed and got myself on meds and into therapy. After a year or two of counseling, i got frustrated with talking about church in my therapy sessions rather than my abusive childhood. I went inactive. I started feeling SO much better. I stopped the meds and ended my counseling. Then a few years later, I imagined I missed the religious connection, so I went back to church and pretty soon, I was depressed and suicidal again. I got myself on meds and into counseling. I went inactive. I started feeling SO much better. I ended counseling and went off meds. A year or so later my husband pressured my back to church. After I while, I was depressed and suicidal. Rinse, repeat.

        Now, I come from a sexually and emotionally abusive childhood, so it was not immediately obvious what role church was playing in this, but I just could not maintain the things I learned in counseling in a church where the best one can do isn’t good enough and where women are second class. Once, after a session of dealing with church issues in counseling, my LDS FS counselor tried to make another appointment and I flippantly said I didn’t need counseling because I was going inactive. Yeah, I was just starting to get the picture. It took a few more times of going back to church and becoming depressed and unable to deal with my childhood abuse, before I fully understood that the church uses shame and “blame the victim” to keep members on the straight and narrow. I decided that the church is emotionally abusive, and just like I cannot have my abusive parents being an active part of my life, I also cannot be active in an emotionally abusive church.

        By going to counseling, I was trying to change me to fit into the church, but no amount of changing me made the church a healthy environment.

  12. amywest111 says:

    Gosh, this resounds so deeply. Thanks for sharing. Sometimes I feel like the only thing that will give me comfort is knowing others are feeling these things too and I am not alone . . . On that note, how do you get through it? How do you recover? For me, that is the hardest part. Casting off the damaging beliefs that have hurt me for so long. Leaving is the chance to say no to the abuse and the hypocrisy, but it still hurts quite a bit.

    • Chiaroscuro says:

      It absolutely does. And it takes a lot of time and inner work to come to peace through that kind of journey. I hope you have someone safe you can talk to, if not, seek that out first

  13. Rich says:

    This🙏❤️

  14. David says:

    I cannot speak for this denomination but the answer to the author’s questions for the Church of Jesus Christ in Christian Fellowship is yes. Come as you are. Bring your doubts. Share your pain. Ask your questions. All we ask is that you offer the same courtesy to everyone else in attendance. You’re more that a number, you’re a child of God. And that’s enough.

  15. Kris says:

    We all walk a difficult path. This is mortality. I am a tbm, but I struggle with my own problems, financial, health, children. My energy is not unlimited. Do you reach out to me and understand that while I wish the very best for you, i, too, need help and prayers? Your problems are hard, so are mine. Let’s all help carry each other’s burdens, and not be overly self centered.

    • Chiaroscuro says:

      the point of this post is to ask people to be self-reflective about why they are asking people to come back to church, and if that is really what they want. a lot of people that have stepped away from church activity are hurting because they no longer belong and fit in to the community they have loved and sacrificed for. it is not helpful to imply they are ‘overly self centered’.

    • Chiaroscuro says:

      Also, this space is for women to share their experiences and support each other. if you want to write about your own problems and struggles, please submit a guest post. I am absolutely on board with carrying one another’s burdens.

  16. Nathan says:

    Thanks for your words. I feel many of the same things regarding the temple, shame and testimony. I always feel so bad about myself and it makes it difficult to attend church. I’m trying to be
    more vulnerable at church to reduce shaming culture and harshness toward doubt.

  17. Chelsea says:

    Spot on. I stopped attending church when it became clear to me that I wasn’t wanted there.

  18. Teresa Hart says:

    I love this article, so spot on. I am by no means a traditional Mormon so I get the side eye a lot. Nevertheless I speak my mind. I don’t attend much except for holiday and less formal
    Gatherings like ladies nites. I have a long time friend who has been my visiting teacher
    For about nine years, we used to meet several times a month, go to the park, or get some lunch, fun and causal. She is very traditional and has held some pretty high offices. I have never hidden my views in any way with her. Recently she has become very ill, she is nearly
    80 years old. So we haven’t been meeting or writing to each other email. I let her and her husband know I would be happy to come over and just set with her to give him a break.
    I could read to her or do some errands. I got a polite no thanks, but she has never let me do
    Anything to help her, which I found odd. Someone told me that if you want to get credit
    For you service you should not take anything in return, seems silly. And just a little bit
    Better than thou but I thought to myself, don’t be silly like that.
    Then the last time I saw her after months of not being allowed any communication she said to me “it is time for you to get back to church, take the temple prep class and get to the temple” I have made it clear to her over the years why I don’t go to church often, and that I felt no calling to do anything with the temple. It felt like she knows that she doesn’t have
    Long, and it is time for me to pay back for all the work she has put into me. Check off
    Teresa on my to do list for heaven credits. It made me very sad.

  19. Mimi says:

    Oh. I feel this. So much this. And I attend as a shell of myself for my husband.

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