But Does She Still Go to Church?

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Four years ago I ran across an old Mormon acquaintance on Facebook. I’d always liked this woman. Back in the day (1990’s) she’d seemed relatively open-minded. A quick glance at her wall suggested she was still one of the “good ones.” Fourteen years ago, I wouldn’t have considered reaching out to a random person in the old ward, my feelings still raw from leaving Mormonism. But times had changed, and I had changed—for the better I hoped. I sent her a friend request along with a brief “catch-up” message that included the caveat that my husband and I hadn’t been to church in over 20 years. She could reply or not. Her choice.

Happily, she accepted my request and wrote back that same day, filling me in on her adult children, some of whom had also left the church behind. Buoyed by her cheerful reply, (and never one to turn down the opportunity to boast), I typed away about my own kids:

Our son is settled in Austin, TX where he has a job he likes, a nice home, and, most importantly, a wife and three children he adores. Our daughter spent a couple of years working and travelling in Europe, but now she’s enrolled in a doctoral program at Rutgers. She’s also married, and to a great guy.

I hit “send” and leaned back in my chair, bright and twinkly with the satisfaction that I’d come so far in my recovery that I could enjoy an equally respectful relationship with an old Mormon acquaintance—assuming she was one of the “good ones.”

A reply popped up in my sidebar. I eagerly opened it:

So glad to hear that your children are doing well. But do either of them still go to church?

My twinkly mood fizzled out like a burst lightbulb. I flashed back to those tortured days after we’d left the church. Back when we still yearned to please our LDS family and close Mormon friends.

I’m not sure what irritates me more:
That, even now, to a believer, our lack of church allegiance means any of our accomplishments—even my son’s happy family life—is considered “worldly success.”

Or that, in spite of her well-meaning put-down, I still think of this old Mormon acquaintance as one of the “good ones.”

Yesterday, our daughter called to tell us she had just successfully defended her dissertation. Never one to turn down the opportunity to boast, I posted her accomplishment on Facebook, drawing accolades from across my humble friends list. So far nothing from my old Mormon acquaintance. But if she does weigh in, I’ll be prepared with an apt disclaimer:

I’m afraid she still doesn’t go to church. So rather than “Sister Banta,” she will have to settle for “Dr. Banta.”

6 thoughts on “But Does She Still Go to Church?

  1. It hurts more coming from one of the good ones. I’m sorry your friend couldn’t simply be happy for you. Rest assured, we are.

  2. It’s so sad when rightful celebrations are muted. I’d often felt that members of my family couldn’t be truly happy for me because they couldn’t truly believe I was happy outside the Church.

  3. Frustrating. I have often felt that my mother isn’t really proud of anything I’ve done in life because I left the Church. And ironically, my oldest sister feels like our mother doesn’t care about anything she’s done in life EXCEPT that she’s remained an active Mormon.

  4. Thanks, Johnny! Yes, because she’s such a nice person, I held out hope. But it seems that even the nicest of true believers can’t think outside the bubble. Monya and Leah–you can have fun, but it’s not “real fun,” right? Success likewise. A few years ago, when attending church with my MIL, a youth speaker waxed philosophically on “spiritual maturity,” something I was led to conclude I lacked but he had in spades. Frustrating indeed!

  5. That is so sad! It reminds me of my own experience — I so wanted to demonstrate to my own parents that I can be just as successful (maybe even moreso) on things that matter, on our shared values, without the shackles of “the church”. But I lost that battle.

  6. Some 20+ years after he left the LDS Church, having raised 2 great kids and nearing the end of an excellent career, my husband received a letter from his believing LDS mom. She had recently heard a talk that she thought applied to him. Attached to her letter was that talk from Elder Ballard that included the line: “If you choose to become inactive or to leave the restored Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where will you go? What will you do?”

    Sigh. I’ve come to the conclusion that the best explanation is: “I was offended and I wanted to sin.”

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