It's OK to Leave
by my friend, Meredith Hudson LeSueur
There is stuff going on in Mormonism. And a lot of people are hurt. Some are hurt because they don’t belong and some are hurt because others they love don’t belong and want to leave. I’ve read some compassionate pleas for those who feel cast out to stay. Although, I chose to leave the Mormon Church two years ago, I have never advocated for anyone to choose the same path. How could I? I want people to trust that I know what is best for me, and so I must trust that they can do the same for themselves. But now I feel called to add my voice to the discussion. Not a plea, not an argument, but just a calm assurance that despite the fear, the sadness, the heartache, it really is OK to leave.
It’s OK to leave.
I know you probably feel lost, or as if your core identity is shattered, scattered, and broken beyond repair. Who will you be without Mormonism? But what you don’t know yet is that Mormonism may not be your core identity, it may just be the iron rod that has connected each beautiful part of you until now. The rigid back brace supporting and strengthening, but also sometimes realigning and restructuring, the ever-emerging pieces of your eternal identity. Now that the brace is broken, you will eventually heal your backbone. You will find a way to connect the scattered pieces of your heart into a whole. And the whole will be freer to grow, to explore, and to rejoice. It’s scary, it is. It means accepting you as a mosaic of tiny gems, instead of one perfect, polished stone. And it’s a lot of work. But it is also amazing, thrilling, beautiful, complex, and the only way to really know who you are, every bit of who you are.
And most importantly, leaving doesn’t mean abandoning your past self. It doesn’t mean denying your Mormon experiences. Even if you had powerful and meaningful experiences that brought you into faith, every step in life has brought you to where you are now. Don’t question or regret your past, because life is always moving forward. Just because it was true before, doesn’t have to mean it is true now. If we grow, why can’t truth? Or rather, maybe the same truth just looks different now. If you had clear eyes open to new experiences and interpretations then, why should you close off your instinct now? The only solid truth you have is your own heart and your own vision. Most likely the spirit you felt then and the spirit you feel now are the same. Because they are you. God is you. God speaks through you. I’m confident the spirit and god are bigger than Mormonism that teaches of them– just like love and life are bigger than the words we have to describe them.
It’s OK to leave.
It is scary and may seem insane to leave a community of saints that take care of each other, especially when they do it as practically and purposefully as the Mormons. It’s daunting to leave a community where people cook you dinner, teach your kids, and help you move. It’s ok to be afraid to live without a ready community or instant social group waiting for you wherever you move. But unsurprisingly those communities exist outside of the church as well. There are hundreds of communities waiting to embrace you and love you for who you are, with no questions asked. There are neighbors, other church groups, political action communities, PTAs, health and wellness communities, intellectual and creative communities. They may take effort to find, they may take more work to maintain, but in my experience they will be deeper and more rewarding precisely because of this.
And these can be places where diversity of thought isn’t just tolerated, but encouraged. There are places where being different isn’t a “quirk”, a marketing piece, or something to be fetishized by a group drunk on conformity. There are places where difference is celebrated, even praised. The LGBT community is a rainbow of acceptance. The world of science depends on conflicting ideas. The world of art and culture applaud difference, uniqueness, individuality. You are not alone. You are human. You are beautiful.
It’s OK to leave.
If you have kids, they will be fine. It is hard to imagine your kids growing up not understanding where you came from, something so much a part of who you are. Take heart in knowing it’s a sentiment you share with giants. You share it with brave immigrants and their first generation American children. You share it with families with first generations attending college. And you share it with all parents, since every generation loses something in translation from the past.
And they will probably be better for it. Think of all the time and energy you will have for positive development when you don’t have to “de-program” the negative messages of body shame and judgment. Your kids will be lucky to learn early how to look to themselves and the humanity in others to find truth--an important asset in the even faster-paced future. If you love god, teach them about god. God is in your heart. If you love Jesus, teach them about Jesus. Jesus is in your actions.Your kids will be OK.
It’s OK to leave.
You might feel like leaving the judgmental, rigid group will mean it will only retrench and tighten without you. Maybe it will. It’s a monument to your love for Mormonism that you want to stay to teach others, to serve. You may fear you are their only access to empathy and open-minded Mormonism but enlightenment is actually all around them. They will have a gay grandson one day that will open their eyes. They will have a feminist daughter-in-law who will force them to see the world differently. They will start to soften their heart to the Uchtdorf talks without you, or maybe because of you. Because they will ache when you leave. But they will be OK.
And so will you. Even though you’ve learned charity by serving ward members that challenge your patience, you don’t have to be Mormon to surround yourself with opposite-minded people. Your ability to love others who are different than you will still be challenged daily by family, neighbors, your children’s teachers, your coworkers, and your best friend from high school. You can nurture real Christ-like love for them, build a strong and purposeful community with them, and enjoy the wisdom and growth that comes from confronting differences daily and moving beyond them.
It’s OK to leave.
You are not giving up. You’ve been told all of your life there is one way to stand up for righteousness, but that just isn’t true. Standing up for things you believe in will always be hard and will always be right. Mormonism doesn’t have a patent on integrity. More than likely the constant struggle to fit what you instinctively believe into a pre-determined theological narrative is just slowing you down. Plus, all the injustices you’re already fighting against within the church also exist outside of Mormonism and you are more than ready to fight them globally. Global feminism needs you. The global environmental movement needs you. LGBT people around the world need you. You’ve trained by fighting against the voice of god, or against those who think they speak for god. You’ve spoken your truth against eternal odds, and that takes real courage. Think how much easier it will be to fight opponents who only have history, or opinion, on their side. You’ve practiced by moving mountains.
It’s also, of course, OK to stay.
If you still feel called to stay, for your unique and deeply personal reasons, you have a world outside Mormonism cheering you on. I’m honestly cheering you on. I live in Utah, so any positive change in the church only benefits me, but mostly I just want you to be happy. But friend, also understand that if your heart changes, there are people waiting to welcome you and help you find your way in the greater world beyond. We will rejoice to have you with us. You are already with us. Because you are human and we are all family.