Would I have stayed as a liberal mormon?
The answer is yes. If I could have been a liberal, non traditional mormon, I might have continued to be mormon.
There is no space for openly liberal mormon in the Utah LDS church. There certainly wasn’t when I left. I did not see then (over fifteen years ago) anyway to be a liberal, feminist mormon.
I distinctly remember a conversation about temple marriage in my young women’s class. I remember saying that I knew I wanted to get married, but not necessarily in the temple. I remember seeing and hearing shock from fairly open minded young women’s leader and class.
My memory might be flawed, but what this instance taught me was that there was no in between. It was either all true or all false. The goal is/was marrying (a man) in the temple and if you disagree with that, don’t speak up about it. If you disagree with polygamy, misogyny, racial statements, authorship of the Book of Mormon or Abraham, treatment of GLBT people, definitely do not openly talk about it at church.
Many (most) agree that it is perfectly fine to express private doubts, even about such “optional” things like temple marriage, but not publicly. It’s not as if I were saying that no one in the class should have a goal to marry in the temple. But I knew, even that long ago, that it wasn’t right for me.
I was tentatively stepping out in the liberal mormon, third wave mormon, new order, middle way, uncorrelated, internet (before the internet was widely adopted) mormon fray – and it was obvious that being open and honest about my beliefs was not acceptable.
Even now, over fifteen years later, I’m not sure that it’s acceptable.
I use this example as one in a host of boundary testing measures. I was testing the boundaries to see if I could make it work – to see if I could be more gray than black and white.
I think it’s not stressed how difficult it is to leave mormonism. Maybe it is stressed, but honestly, I believe most mormons would stay if they could. These are people who have strong familial, friendship, emotional connections to mormonism. One doesn’t quickly turn one’s back on one’s family, friends unless there are good reasons. I believe most people would try and make it work if they could. If there wasn’t the assumption that everyone is either with us or against us. President Hinckley’s assertion that it was “all true or all false” was not terribly helpful either, to people who want to find a way to reconcile their knowledge with faith.
I’ve mentioned before that I grew up in a suburb full of Roman Catholics. Catholics seem to have much more tolerance for lax members, as Joanna Brooks suggests. If you didn’t show up for church, nobody cared. If you lived with your boy (or girl) friend, you wouldn’t get called in front of an all male church court and told you were excommunicated. If you wanted to confess to a priest, you could. But you wouldn’t be routinely interviewed – it was personal initiative. I could be mistaken about how liberal Catholics could be, it just always seemed very different than in the LDS church.
Hindsight is 20/20. But if there had been a clear path for me, one where I was not regarded with suspicion and derision, maybe I would have stayed. Maybe I could have seen a more nuanced view of mormonism are that was unrelated to truth claims. Perhaps I could have stayed to fight for women’s rights, GLBT rights, racial equality from within.
Some people continue to press for more openness – more “uncorrelated” mormonism. Just like with WAVE, I wish them luck. I doubt I am the only person who wanted a non traditional, non fundamentalist mormon faith.
I think if there was a path, without someone being labeled an “apostate” or excommunicated, many more people would remain mormon.