Inoculating the Saints

The following is a comment I made on the Mormon Matters thread about whether the church should or should not teach the things it has so far not taught openly to the members.

I was born and raised in the church, with a long line of Mormon ancestry going back to Joseph Smith’s original group of followers. I tried hard to be good and always choose the right, and I did fairly well but somehow I got to BYU and the first real temptation struck. After falling into actual sin territory for a very short time (only two weeks) with a man I loved, I bid adieu to him when he moved abroad. A couple months later, I realized I was pregnant.

All I could think about was my high priest dad’s words from my childhood: “Any daughter of mine who comes home pregnant out of wedlock is no longer my daughter.” The morality code at BYU weighed heavily as well. What would they do to me if they found out I was pregnant but still attending BYU?? Worst of all I knew that I had fallen in the eyes of God and failed him miserably.

I left BYU and went home, ashamed and feeling disgraced and worthless inside. I went to church, and sought out my bishop to whom I confessed all and repented of my horrible sin I had committed in love, the sin that I had been taught by my parents, the general authorities, and my young womens leaders would leave me unclean and unworthy of a righteous returned missionary, as good and desirable to righteous men as a chewed piece of gum or a licked cupcake for all intents and purposes. I was given a year of formal probation, meaning I could not accept a calling or take the sacrament for a year. The shame and horror I felt when my younger brothers and sisters and peers at church watched me pass on the sacrament tray without partaking was excruciating and humiliating, and only enhanced my feelings of shame and unworthiness. I endured pain and horror when the Primary President, who didn’t realize I was pregnant, called me to ask me to be a primary substitute teacher. I had to tell her no, and she thought I was being lame because she had known me her whole life and she knew that I always helped out when needed, and she also knew I’d be a great primary teacher. I finally had to tell her I COULDN’T have a calling right now or teach in primary. She never talked to me again.

Nobody in the meager singles ward or in my family ward asked me to date. Why would they? Who wants a woman with a kid already on the way, fathered by someone else? That doesn’t exactly fit in with the ideal mate they are taught to seek to fulfill the righteous goal of two virgins marrying and creating an eternal family. So I worked and I lived and I survived. When I began dating my non-member husband, I felt self-worth and alive and desirable as a human being for the first time in months. He saw in me the good woman I had always been, and we were married when my son was 8 months old.

Then came the years and years of sitting through church, hearing time and again how my family didn’t quite measure up. I did not have an eternal family. I had chosen against the advice of the church, and taken a man for time only, not eternity. I would be sitting in Relief Society and be blindsided by the teacher asking for my point of view as someone who hadn’t been married in the temple. I was counselor in Young Women’s for years and the lessons there are particularly focused toward the ideal family and how women are supposed to support the young men to prepare and go on missions, to marry one and support his priesthood power, and be good wives and mothers in Zion. I faithfully taught those girls the lessons word for word, how anything less than temple marriage and being sealed to a righteous returned missionary and stay-at-home motherhood is exactly what they should strive toward to avoid the tragic consequences and unhappiness that befall those who do not do this. I taught those sweet girls how it’s even worse to partake of God’s sacred sexual gifts before they are sanctioned by God in the holy sealing ordinance. I endured the pain of being made an example of in the group lessons by the Stake President’s wife, who was the YW president, as she too would unexpectedly ask for my input as One Who Knows the consequences of choosing wrong. I knew that telling them I was happy or that life can be good with a good man, no matter what his religion is, was not something she would want me to say. I suppressed my pain during each of those moments and lessons, and did what I knew they would want me to, as I was still a good girl who wanted to please Heavenly Father.

I got assigned as a visiting teacher with no partner to a stalwart woman in the ward — the bishop’s wife. In our first visit while getting to know each other, she asked me about my husband. He’s not a member? Oooh. Then she asked me how old my children are. My son was 11. She asked how long I had been married. 10 years. “Oh, but I thought you said your son was 11…oh! that means ..Ooooh.” Pitying looks and uncomfortable silence. Another judgement made, after repentance supposedly took my sin away. Another opportunity to feel worthless in the eyes of my peers and feel residual shame over that one time I dared to sin.

Being in the primary presidency for years, I was expected to teach all those diverse children about eternal families and what they should strive for in their own lives, because anything less is not what righteous people do. I remember teaching about how families can be together forever while looking into the hurt and wounded eyes of Brother Z., the teacher whose impending divorce had just been announced the week before, and whose daughter was crying in the back row. I hid my own pain well, I thought. Until later that night when my son asked me, “How come WE’RE not sealed together forever?” How do you explain such a nasty concept to a child? Your father doesn’t believe the church is true, honey, and if we don’t go to the temple, then we aren’t sealed together forever. “But why not? He loves me, and I love him!” I know. I know. It’s God’s plan. “But where will we GO when we die? Who will I be with??” If you are really righteous, and marry your own sweetheart in the temple someday, you’ll be with her and your children! “But what about you and Dad?” Oh, don’t worry about us. It’ll all work out in the next life. I’ll be OK. “But will I see you there?” Pain like that eviscerates and is impossible to hid from your children.

There is something not right about the fact that in order to teach “correct” principles of the gospel, you must first minimize the importance of one of your family members, or place unfair judgements on them.

I endured 13 years of this kind of internal torture and pain. I knew I didn’t measure up and never would unless I could somehow get my husband to join the church and believe as I did. I tried my best. Didn’t happen. I wondered if I was expected to divorce him as a way to give all I had for the sake of the gospel, because I knew I couldn’t attain celestial life with my Father in Heaven without going to the temple and sealing myself to a worthy priesthood holder. Countless times I wondered whose second or third or hundredth wife I’d be in the next life. Without my husband of choice. I finally decided to have faith and get myself to the temple if he wasn’t going to go with me. My bishop had been pushing me to get to the temple. I took the temple prep class. I paid all my tithing. I was active, faithful, magnified all my callings, visit taught 100% every month. When the time came for my temple recommend interview, I was asked to bring my husband, and I figured it was so he could be taught a bit more about the temple.

Imagine my surprise when the bishop said he needed my husband’s permission in writing in order to allow me to go take out my endowments. Imagine my shock and horror when he refused.

So there I was, expected to remain faithful and find peace and happiness in a religion that constantly reminded me how I was not quite there and likely never will be, how I was lacking in many ways, how I was really less important than my non-LDS husband when it comes to matters of my own eternal salvation. And I did remain faithful. I defended the church when my husband said it was horrible that they’d require a grown, righteous woman to get written permission like a kindergartner to attend the temple. I believed when the bishop said the rule was in place to promote marital harmony. I somehow excused the church and tried to not resent my husband for simply taking the patriarchal baton the church handed him because I was a lowly woman who didn’t matter.

Then one day I heard one of my beehives from the class I taught in YW had left the church, and was super happy in her new faith. I was shocked, and so I googled the words “Why do people leave the LDS Church?” One of the first things I found was John Dehlin’s podcast that sought to explain to believing members and church leaders the truths that some members discover that causes them to leave the church.

Imagine my horror in finding out that the beloved prophet Joseph Smith (whom I had admired enough to name my son after, along with Joseph in Egypt) had married over 30 women, some of whom were still married to men he had sent on missions! Imagine my horror in reading the accounts of how he convinced Heber C. Kimball to give his 14 year old daughter to him in plural marriage by promising her entire family eternal salvation if they said yes! Imagine my horror when I found out that he did his plural wife thing behind Emma’s back, and denied it publicly when someone called him on it!!

I had been made to feel low and dirty and worthless for my two weeks of sex and my lifetime of keeping an “illegitimate” baby out of wedlock, all by the very church that had been founded by a guy like Joseph Smith???

How would inoculation or full disclosure have helped me? It would have helped more than anyone could ever know! I spent too many years of my life and my children’s lives and my husband’s life focusing on the ways in which I didn’t measure up, because every single lesson and talk and general conference was geared toward reminding me of the ways I differed from the Proclamation to the Family model. The church has lost sight of the very real life that Joseph Smith led, and rather than portray the man as he really was, it has instead created a perfected demigod out of him where instead I now see a charismatic lover of people who was not afraid to show it, who was not afraid to be human, and who was not made to feel like a worthless piece of chewed gum under the heels of Almighty God. If the First Presidency would show open acceptance and understanding toward those who are just as “different” and imperfect and non-ideal as Joseph Smith was, the church membership would certainly follow their lead, and heave a collective sigh of relief that finally, FINALLY, they can openly accept and love and embrace their countless friends, family, and loved ones who never did fit the tiny little boxed ideal that is promoted today.

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13 Responses

  1. mel says:

    Beautiful. SML, beautiful. Thank you.

    The very essence of the church, I think, makes this impossible to resolve. JS was an enigma and so is the church that spun out of him. A heart-breaking engima.

  2. SillyNut says:

    Oh, I feel your pain. I didn’t sin to the point of having sex when dating my H but we had a very difficult time keeping from that. I spent the next decade after that feeling awful for having been so weak…. and never being able to forgive myself. I can only imagine the pain and heartbreak you felt. And I’m glad that you have freed yourself from that degree of torment.

  3. Becky says:

    SML, thank you for telling some of your story here. My heart hurts for what you went through. Nobody should have to endure that. I am glad you found happiness and someone who recognized you for who you are.

  4. Hellmut says:

    You might have a point, Mel. Although when I was a teenager, we held the notion that our religion was superior because we did believed in a revealed rather than a mysterious God.

    More to the point, we have a choice today. Joseph Smith’s might make it more difficult to change but ultimately we have to take responsibility for our choices. We do have a choice to change. We have the choice to leave. And John Dehlin is right in one sense, the brethren have the choice to change the church.

  5. Eric Robeck says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, SML. It is hard to fathom the degree of suffering that is inflicted on innocent members by leaders (and parents) with myopic moral vision.

    It seems to me that the church has painted itself into a corner. Despite the world of good it would do to be more honest about the past and the fallibility of revelation, the current leadership has too much to lose. And the leadership selection process practically guarantees that no freethinking Mormon is going to make it to the top anytime soon.

    It is really very depressing.

  6. chanson says:

    Wow, this is an amazingly powerful story.

    I keep trying to come up with a comment, but I hardly know what to say. It’s beyond horrible that they would think it’s reasonable to expect you to cheerfully play the role of miserable-failure-don’t-be-like-me…

  7. CWC says:

    Well…just heart you, SML.

  8. hm-uk says:

    I’m so glad that you realized it was the institution that was flawed and not your family. Life is hard enough without having someone else constantly tell you that you’re doing it all wrong.
    I’m so happy that you’re in the land of the free…aka Outer Blogness.

  9. dietdrpepper says:

    I cried when I read this because that is exactly how I always felt at church being married to a nonmember. Like my family, my marriage wasn’t as good as anyone else’s because my dh didn’t take me to the temple. It didn’t matter that he is a good husband and father or a good provider or a brilliant man or just a plain old good person. I dreaded those temple marriage lessons like I dreaded root canals.
    I’m so sorry they made you feel so bad about yourself. I am so sorry you had to hear your son ask you the heart wrenching question of what would happen to his family in the afterlife.
    You are wonderful SML!

  10. Wayne says:

    When I was LDS i just accepted the fact that if you sinned you could not take the sacrament.

    Now I think about this ritual in a different context; it is odd that if you have sinned you do not get to do the one sacred ritual that is supposed to make one mindful of Christs sacrifice.

  11. E.F. says:

    Like SML, I married a nevermo and I can relate to this post. I feel like my marriage and my children are under constant scrutiny. My own family is guilty of this and a member of my family has gone so far as to tell me that my children aren’t being “raised right” because we don’t attend church.
    Thank gawd I don’t take my children to church!! I can’t imagine a teacher telling them that they wouldn’t be part of an eternal family because Mommy & Daddy haven’t been sealed in the temple.
    Reading this brought tears to my eyes. I’m sorry that you and your children had to endure this; It’s just disgusting.
    mwah. Love ya Sis.

  12. Hellmut says:

    Hi E.F.,
    Good to meet you. Wasn’t that a classic beam in the eye moment? I am sure you didn’t find it funny at the time but it is laughable how some busy body considers it his or her business to tell other parents how to raise their children without any awareness that his or her own behavior is out of bounds.

    Seriously, there are a lot of kind children in the Mormon corridor but manners are not a strong point of Morridor culture. The affected people are probably not aware of it but corridor culture induces children to treat women and non-Mormons with disrespect.

  1. September 12, 2007

    […] there’s Sister Mary Lisa with her painful, touching story of being pregnant out of wedlock and later married to a non-Mormon. She speaks of the pain and humiliation she endured for 13 years. A couple months later, I realized […]

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