LAURA: Ten years ago, I was a young, bombastic, budding activist. Pick a cause and you’d probably find me there, arguing passionately for whatever it was. I liked (and still like) underdogs. My heart bled (and bleeds) for people impoverished and assailed. Injustice sparked (and still sparks) my rage.
Five years ago, my LDS faith began to deepen and shift. At first, it was quiet and safe and looked like what I expected spiritual growth would be. I’m an external processor by nature (meaning I need to talk through things for them to make sense to me) and sharing my experiences both in church and online helped me integrate my growth.
However, I started experiencing seismic shifts in my soul. Studying the scriptures and church history left me with information I couldn’t reconcile. Out of anger, confusion, and desperation, and a need to process everything I was feeling, the activist in me compelled me to speak and to act. The black-and-white culture and all-or-nothing rhetoric from the Church left me without an ability to nuance my way through what I was learning.
Where my voice was previously welcomed, or at least tolerated, it was now labeled as dangerous and apostate. After church, people would “correct” me because I’d said something uncorrelated or quoted a past church leader disagreeing with the current narrative. Online, I was told I was “inviting the devil in” because my questions caused controversy or “contention.” Family events grew increasingly tense as my inability (or refusal) to keep quiet sparked arguments.
The only people willing to talk to me about my transition were either people with similar experiences or people who wanted to save me from Satan.
Eventually, the fights weren’t worth it anymore. I was hurting and grieving and my attempts to process my feelings and thoughts (externally, remember) were met harshly. So I stopped sharing with anyone who wasn’t also experiencing faith shifts. I was silenced by my family, my church, my friends, and ultimately by myself.
I learned things in that silenced place. I found nuance – which has allowed me to keep things I love even as I’ve tossed the bad – and I found grace – for my family, my church (both its leadership and its members), and myself. I’ve had space to let much of the anger subside. I am healing from the trauma that came from my re-positioning in the universe.
Today, I’m not nearly as overbearing or caustic. I’m still an activist, but a more thoughtful one. I’m more inclined to see hurt that needs to be healed than evil that needs to be conquered. I’m more aware of the gray and realize solutions are often complicated amid the messiness of life. I’m thankful for these lessons.
However, this silenced space has also cost me deeply. My children are being raised outside of a faith I love; I’m aware that my attempts to include Mormonism in our lives will fall far short of actually raising them Mormon. I’ve ended friendships. Many family relationships are strained as the list of topics that are off limits has grown. My husband and I agonize over how to enforce boundaries and who to share our faith journey with. My silence has cost me a closeness to things and people I love most.
I will hardly blame the Church for this wholesale. The entire American culture struggles. We are uncomfortable with things that are uncomfortable. We eat our feelings and suffer in silence even when people would love to step in and help us. We can’t acknowledge pain without demonizing the person who caused it and turn broken people into monsters.
By invoking God, though, Mormonism takes this one step further. We’ve turned disagreement into apostasy and controversy into contention. Anything negative is anti-Mormon and anything critical (true or not) works against God’s plan. There is little room for divergent voices. Lived experiences must fit in the box or be dismissed.
Members must squelch doubt and silence doubters. There is no space to hold space for pain. We are unable to acknowledge betrayal or damage caused by a whitewashed narrative or current human failings. Nuance is impossible.
This isolates us from each other and makes vulnerability impossible. It robs us of cultural and spiritual richness. It makes me, and many others, choose silence and estrangement. It destroys families.
I cannot believe this is what any of us actually wants.
I also realize that my silence might be part of the problem. I have created a life outside of traditional Mormonism. I no longer go to church on Sunday. I’ve distanced myself from people whose inability to understand hurts me and developed new relationships with people who can relate. I imagine some would declare I am not a Mormon anymore.
However, I don’t know how to un-silence myself without help from others involved in my silencing. I don’t know how to speak without bearing costs I am unwilling to pay. I don’t know how to build a bridge when people on the other side seem waiting with torches to burn it down. It is not enough for churched Mormons to invite me back if it comes with the condition of my continued silence.
I also don’t know how to stay entirely quiet. My focus has shifted to advocating a future of inclusiveness. I hold out hope that Mormon culture will evolve so that the literal believer and the heretic and everyone in between can come to church on Sunday, share their lives and souls and leave as friends. I yearn for us to trust Jesus to be the gatekeeper instead of taking that role on ourselves. I long for my people to care more about loving our neighbor than defending our narrative. I try to allow the traditional Mormon journey, along with its judgment of members like me, to be a neutral thing instead of a painful one. And I hope and pray and wait faithfully for a time when that grace can be extended to me, too.
I believe the day is coming when I can “come home” without having to banish parts of my soul or stuff myself into a box that never fit me well. When it does, I will be there with my family sitting in the pew next to the traditional believer, thankful that my voice is no less welcome than hers and thankful that her voice is welcome too.