6/16/14

It's OK to Leave (Guest Submission)

This is a guest post in response to the possible excommunication of Kate Kelly and John Dehlin.


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.


21 comments:

Allie said...

Beautiful, Meredith.

arianenewell said...

What an understanding heart and mind!

Michael Adam Ferguson said...

Sigh. It's so hard, sometimes, to imagine a life without those things we took upon ourselves as the primary definitions of our identity. I love you for your empathy, compassion, understanding, and patience you give to others.

brc said...

Thank for for touching on all the concerns so comfortingly and thoughtfully. Beautiful and true.

i also left two years ago and it has been good for me and my kids and I'm glad I did. I wish I had had more exposure to that option earlier.

Steve Christensen said...

And...perfect.

Steve Christensen said...

And...Perfect. Meredith, you did a beautiful job.

Clarice Zamira said...

So, so beautiful.

Shans said...

Thank you. I can't say that enough! I needed to read this today.... you have no idea. I've been struggling a lot lately. A lot. Not knowing where I belong or who I am outside mormonism even though I never felt I belonged in it. I needed to hear that it's OK. And that I'll be OK. And even though I've lost so much, there's still so much to gain. So again... Thank you!

Natalie said...

Thanks

Brittany said...

like everyone else said, beautiful. perfect article. i needed to read this and the part about having kids, especially. that's been my main concern. "what about them?" "will they be good kids still?" "am i damning them a lifetime of hell?" "am i shutting them out from something that they could need?"
it's hard to know.

jayneamanda said...

This is a message that needs to be shared with not only the Mormon and ex-Mormon community but all of the world. It is a message of hope that can't be found in any one religion or for some in any religion at all. Thank you for this message it truly is inspired.

Annie Rasmussen said...

It's okay to stay.

Several years ago, I went through a crisis. I remember feeling like I was crushed beyond repair. I sobbed in the temple. I came home from church, suddenly unable to stand upright. I felt like parts of my soul were frozen. I felt confusion, but mostly I felt PAIN. It was overwhelming.

And I stayed. And it was okay.

I stayed, and my heart slowly unfroze. I humbly offered my services in callings I was given. I made myself vulnerable to relapses in pain. They did indeed come. I learned that they, too, subside.

I stayed. It was okay.

Over time, I came to realize that almost everyone in the Church goes through a crisis of faith. I can't say that I stayed 100% for the right reasons at the time. But I knew in the core of my being that there is a God, that there is life after death, that there is life before conception, that there is truth separate from myself. And I found that faith was what I felt for the other things that I didn't know, but was willing to hope for, gamble on. Stay for.

I came to understand that peace comes line on line, the way understanding does. So does healing.

I stayed. It was hard. But now, I am healed.

Curtis Penfold said...

Brittany, many would argue that they left because they didn't want their kids to grow up in what they saw to be a toxic, slut-shaming, anti-masturbation, ethnocentric, misogynistic, homophobc, transphobic environment.

Just saying.

Loved this piece a lot, though. The decision to leave or to stay is a difficult one for sure.

Starswirl said...

One of the best things I've seen in our neighborhood is that just because you lose faith in the LDS church, or choose to quit attending for any reason, doesn't mean you can't still be friends with those people you knew there. I think the main key is that you have to be calmly honest on what you want in your life.

We have many neighbors that are either nonmembers of the LDS faith or they have quit attending and may not believe in the teachings anymore. We invite them to come to the neighborhood parties and activities. We help them move. We make dinner for them when they have a baby or are sick or have surgery. We watch their children when they need our help.

I have many friends that live a different lifestyle than I do. As long as they aren’t pointing out why they are right and I am wrong, we get along great! I get just as defensive as most people do if they attack what I believe. I’m working hard to get better with this. Everyone deserves to be treated with respect.

I think when anyone can represent themselves with confidence in what they want in their lives and don't try to justify it people generally will respect it. It seems to me that it is when we feel we have to justify anything that we are setting ourselves up for conflict. No matter what our desires are we have to show respect to others and don't condemn them and they will most likely treat us the same way. The golden rule really can be a good rule to follow.

Holly said...

I have long said that I needed no training in enduring to the end--by nature, I like to finish things. Instead, I needed training in judicious giving up, which is not what I got from the church.

It's not only OK to leave, it's a religious truth--one of the first human beings were ever taught--that only by leaving the garden will you really learn and grow.

If you want to leave, know that doing so can bless you far more than staying ever could.

alison said...

I absolutely loved this.

Hayley said...

This was beautiful. Loved it so much.

Hayley said...

I loved this. Thank you.

pam osorio said...

Well written. Thanks for sharing.

Rex Lindsey said...

It's okay to stay. It's okay to go. That is the essence of agency. The choice in and of itself is simple, really. Imperfect people (which we all are) make it more complicated than it has to be.

The choice to stay or leave hinges on the Book of Mormon. Either it is true or it is all BS.

I believe it to be the true. That it is the word of God and one of the tools used by Jesus Christ to restore his church in our time. That is why I choose to stay.

If I thought it were BS, then I would leave the church. Simple as that.

I am not in the church for friendships, out of social pressures, because of my spouse, for my kids, or anything akin to any reason other than I believe it is true. To hide behind any of the excuses seems silly.

At its core, the choice is simple. Let's keep it that way.

Natalie Scott said...

"If you want to leave, know that doing so can bless you far more than staying ever could."

Holly, also if you want to stay, as I have, it can bless you far more than leaving ever could. That is the point to this post. We all have to be true to ourselves and embrace the truth we find, whatever it may be, respecting the fact that others find it in different ways than we do. :)