Cool Mormon, Not Like A Regular Mormon

I was an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints for all of my life until I turned thirty years old. Some members might object to my use of the term “active.” There were a few stretches in college that I didn’t darken a church door for months at a time, but I was always trying. There was always a Book of Mormon on my nightstand. I always prayed. I always answered the door to the missionaries and picked up the phone when my visiting teachers called. Before I ever left the fold, I was already on my way back.

When I made it back to regular church attendance, I tried even harder, but I never saw myself as a full-fledged member in good standing. All I could see were the ways I didn’t measure up to what I thought were the church’s standards:

  • I went to church but not every week.
  • I taught Sunday School but I prepared lessons at the last minute.
  • I did my visiting teaching every month, but I let my companion plan it.
  • I prayed every night but not on my knees, and never in the morning.
  • I read the Book of Mormon every day, but nodded off a few verses in. I still hadn’t taken Moroni up on his promise that if I read the book all the way through and prayed, with sincere intent, I would know it to be true, but that was only because I didn’t need to; I already knew.
  • I subscribed to the church magazines, and read those too, but never all the way through.
  • I listened to General Conference every six months, but skipped the Saturday morning sessions for brunch, and there was always at least one talk that made me furious.
  • I quit living in sin but I never confessed anything I did.
  • I quit using drugs and getting drunk but there were so many slips that I rewrote the Word of Wisdom to make room, as Brigham Young did, for beer and sparkling wine.
  • I quit drinking coffee but I couldn’t stay away from tea. The truth is, I never tried. After (aspirationally) giving up every other earthly vice, I figured the church could meet me on the other side of the veil and pry my hot cup of leaf water from my freshly resurrected hands.
  • I wore skirts that went to my knees on Sunday but bared shoulders and legs all summer long.
  • I wore a prairie diamond ring from Nauvoo, but never donned the undergarment.
  • I put the Family Proclamation on my wall, but the wall was inside a closet.
  • I got married but not in the temple.
  • I planned Family Home Evening and family scripture study and family prayer but my husband was never going to join the church.
  • I had a baby but I couldn’t quit my job.
  • I was a Mormon who cursed, laughed at dirty jokes, read erotic fiction, and watched R-rated movies and all the shows that aired on HBO.

Mormons pride themselves on their ability to be in the world, but not of the world. Even when I was most ashamed of the church, I was proud to be a Mormon. I also believed it. I knew my purpose was to build God’s kingdom on earth, but I was so afraid belonged better in Babylon.

I know better now. Looking at that list, at all those things I thought were so bad, I see that there’s nothing on there that’s so shocking; they just didn’t fit with the vision of Mormonism that had been bestowed upon me as a child. And why would they? I was a child and as soon as I wasn’t, I was supposed to start having children and raising them up in the church. I never would be exposed to a more mature version of the faith.

Looking at that list, I see so many things that I’m sure other Mormons did; I just didn’t know. And why would I? I kept myself at a distance because I was afraid of what would happen if other members of the church knew the real me. It’s not all on me, though. They kept themselves at a distance too. If anyone ever struggled with the things I did, or laughed at the jokes I did, I never knew, because no one ever told me. That was the fellowship I needed, and the kind of faith I needed, too–the kind that could stand to talk about sex and sin and sorrow (“and all other instruments of faith and sex and God in the belly of a black-winged bird“) and how to move forward through it all. If I ever went back, that’s the kind of fellowship I’d give.

I stopped going to church five years ago. I pulled my name off the records last May. It’s only now that, for the first time, I can claim my former status as an active member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints because the time and separation finally cleared it up for me: that’s exactly what I was. I was not a perfect Mormon, but I sure did live the hell out of my faith.

2 thoughts on “Cool Mormon, Not Like A Regular Mormon

    1. Thanks for sharing! I never know if people from other religious traditions can relate. I’ve attended a mainstream Christian church since leaving Mormonism and felt so much less pressure to be perfect because the scope of acceptable behaviors is so much more broad. I think it’s possible to focus on progress not perfection in Mormonism but it was hard for me! Also, at a certain point I think the emphasis on progress can be detrimental as well. Life is spiralic.

      Liked by 1 person

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