Let’s still be friends, okay?

I’m back! From New York! Where I saw THIS. Whew! Anyway, sorry for the long layoff. What follows is a post that I put up in another internet community that I have been part of for a long time, but it was also intended to be something for my family to see. So, family, if you have made it here, this is for you.

As many people now know, I am no longer involved with the LDS church. I realize that probably comes as one hell of a surprise (pun intended) to a lot of people. A year ago I was wrapping up being a seminary teacher and still talking about that experience. And now I am somewhere else completely.

I don’t want to go into all the whys and wherefores in this setting, though I am willing to tell people privately if they ask. But basically I have been chewing on major concerns about the church for at least ten years. Like a lot of you, I had a lot invested in the church both figuratively and literally. It is my heritage and my entire family and virtually everyone I know is a faithful LDS. This is not something you discard lightly or over minor issues, offenses, or other trifles. For this reason, I spent years trying to establish a “middle way” or “middle path” for myself where I could participate in a believing way without getting overwhelmed by the things I could not reconcile or didn’t believe. I know a lot of people can relate to this. Maybe everyone.

During this long process I held callings and for most of that time kept my recommend current. As time went on I continued to encounter more things that I could not provided satisfactory orthodox explanations for. A few things that bothered my conscience. The best I could do was to put them on the shelf and focus on what was good in my church experience. Many of them I talked through on CUF and on CG to try to get ideas and to try to refine my thinking. Sometimes it worked, but most of the time they were headed for the shelf. Pretty soon I needed a bigger shelf. But somehow it seemed easier to do this in internet land rather than with intimates. Perhaps that was not fair of me.

In 2008-2009 I was gospel doctrine teacher in my ward. 2008 was the BOM and 2009 was the D&C. I actually really enjoyed both because I like to teach. I knew that I was teaching as a not totally orthodox teacher, but I figured I could get around that by teaching just the things I did believe. It seemed to work. In a class of adults if you can spark a conversation you can just sit back and moderate it. Then in the fall of 2009 I began teaching seminary. This is a different deal. With sleepy teenagers, basically none of whom want to be there, you really have to be super prepared and know your stuff. I was teaching the BOM. This experience was, I think, the final straw for me.

Apart from being a personal struggle in terms of the grind, as I went through and studied the BOM in-depth I was confronted on a daily basis with lots of material that I simply didn’t believe. The volume of things on the shelf was now so large that I couldn’t any longer just skirt around my disbelief. I had to teach things I didn’t believe to do the job I said I would. I thought about quitting, but I didn’t for a number of reasons. First, I said I would do it and it is hard enough to find a teacher in the first place let alone mid year. Second, my parents are in the ward. And what am I going to tell my wife? People lose their marriages all the time over this stuff. I decided to grind it out.

Maybe that was a mistake, and maybe the kids deserved better. But I gave them the content of the manual and did not teach them one unorthodox thing and did it with as much seeming sincerity as I could muster. But I was a fraud and I knew it. And it was making me miserable. I even tried to make hopeful comments to people in a variety of settings to see if I could convince myself that maybe it was okay. But the more I said the less it rang true.

At the end of the seminary year I told Gabe that I was churched out and needed a couple of weeks off. So during that month we laid low and took a couple of weekend trips. I had agreed to teach a young adults gospel doctrine class somewhere near the end but after having only one student come for two weeks, I basically blew it off going forward (not my finest moment). Somewhere in that period, not sure exactly when, Gabe through several long talks (unbidden by me) revealed that she no longer believed the church to be what it claimed to be and wasn’t sure if she wanted to go any more. For me, this was an immense relief. I hadn’t even really thought through what I would do if I didn’t have my marriage to worry about. Gabe was not firm on not wanting to return. She was still figuring out if she still wanted some involvement. And in fact, she actually went once or twice after that but has not been in many months and does not plan to return. But she made it very clear that no matter what I decided to do, it would have no impact on our marriage which was the most important thing to her. She was disappointed that I had actually worried she might leave me over this. I similarly told her that I would support any decision she made, including returning to full activity.

As I write this, I have never been back. I don’t intend to return. As my crowded shelf fell apart and I finally felt I had the freedom to really look at things without there being consequences I couldn’t live with, I became even more convinced that the church was not for me. I just don’t have faithful views of any of the basic foundational LDS beliefs. On the other hand, I have not resigned nor do I intend to. I don’t see what the point would be.

I have not known how to “break” this news. Basically I chickened out for a long time and said nothing. You don’t exactly send announcements on expensive stationary. I’m not sure there is any good way to do it. In some places and with some people I have hit them with it without enough warning. And not expressed myself very well or with the tone I would hope I would. I’m hoping what I am writing here is going to shed some light and in some cases open a dialog.

Here is what I want you as the reader to know (I assume my family will see this and that is totally fine). I am not your enemy. I am not the enemy of your church. I am not looking to do harm to you or it. I do, without question, harbor some negative views about both the institution and some of its teachings. Were this not so I would still be there. And yet, I respect it. I respect its members as being the good and exceptional people I have known my whole life. I am grateful to have come from a family and a tradition that cared enough about me to impart to me something they and it sincerely believed to be of the utmost importance. I will make not any attempt to refute that idea that it does much good and that many find people find peace, tranquility and purpose within it. But I don’t. And yet, I am still the same person, for better and worse, that I have always been. I still care deeply about my family and my friends. I still want to live a good life and to do good. To love and make this shared experience of living the best I can for myself and others. I still believe that the teachings of Jesus, with one or two exceptions, represent the very highest aspirations of mankind as we learn how best to live together and love each other.

I know that to some the very fact that I no longer believe will be hurtful and in some cases offensive. There is no explanation or rationale I can offer that will change this. The church teaches that people leave because they are lazy, weak, offended over something silly (personal or doctrinal), are sinning or desire to sin or are under the influence of Satan. Believe what you will about whether the last one applies to me, but none of the others do. They really don’t. They don’t apply to most people who leave. I can’t avoid that people will speculate about the real reason I have left, but all I can tell you as sincerely as I know how is that I have made a decision, after a lot of thought and after many years of resisting it, that makes the most sense to me. I don’t judge or criticize the way anyone else approaches their faith or questions of faith. We all have to make decisions we can live with. But for me, I am doing what is right, consistent with what allows me to have integrity in my own heart and mind.

I’m not asking for understanding and I’m not asking for anyone to pin a gold star on my shirt. What I am asking is whether people can consider bracketing our differences over these issues and having a relationship with me based on shared experience, mutual respect, and mutual interests. Or at least not allowing these differences to be impediments. To that end, I am going to do my very best not to volunteer opinions that might offend, except when asked and except in settings that exist for the purpose of frank discussion and for assisting people like me in adjusting and not feeling isolated (not CUF). Processing this change and my Mormon experience in conversation with others is helpful and important to me. I can never leave it alone because it is who I am. I realize not everyone will understand or agree with that. That is okay. Even so, I am personally committed to expressing my views in a way that reflects the respect I feel for my LDS family and friends and, again, to not volunteering these views where they aren’t wanted. This is an issue that it is easy to take personally. Hell, football is easy to take personally. I get it. But if you can, please try to see me through the lens of your experiences with me (again, for better and worse) and not through the lens of any stereotype. It’s just me here.

Last, this transition has been very hard for me on a number of levels and at times has been emotionally intense. If during that time I have offended family or friends through what I have said or not said (I’m also looking at my internet pals) I am truly sorry. I have a lot of history with you all and I hope to have more. I will be happy answer questions people have in person, on the phone, on Facebook, CUF or any other appropriate medium. I reserve the right to answer privately. Thanks for reading this.

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One Response to Let’s still be friends, okay?

  1. Debbie says:

    Great post Matthew. I’ve been a seminary teacher for four years now and it is the best and the worst of all callings. It’s the best because you learn so much about the scriptures and their origins. It’s the worst calling because the things you learn are really hard on your testimony. After learning more and more about how the church is run and church history, I no longer believe it is God’s true church. My testimony has been stamped on, beaten down, and battered until the life was strangled out of it. Teaching seminary killed my testimony. Good luck to you.

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