Anyone who knows me or reads my blog knows I’m a feminist and that I have some trouble with the doctrines and practices of the faith I was raised in.
But I lived to tell the tale, and it’s a complex one. Despite the church’s uncomplicated position on feminism (Boyd K. Packer, who was recently celebrated as an exemplary Mormon, stated that gays, feminists, and intellectuals are the greatest threats to the church), I did gain some good things–along with my inferiority complex.
1. I learned how to adhere to a strict code of conduct.
Sure, it went a little too far sometimes. The first time I pulled into a McDonald’s drive-thru on a Sunday, I was too sick to my stomach with the terror of breaking the Sabbath to enjoy the French fries. But Mormonism taught me all about self-control. It’s not about distracting yourself from that extra donut at work or forcing yourself into your cardio workout. The set of behaviors you want to achieve needs to be built into your identity. I wasn’t just devout; I was proud. And every time I opted out of an R-rated movie or an invitation to drink, I proudly told people it was because I was Mormon. It wasn’t that I couldn’t–I just didn’t.
2. I learned to be open about my identity and values, even if it meant getting laughed at.
So you can imagine how teenagers reacted to a skinny white girl in glasses who told them through a mouthful of braces that what they were doing was unethical and she would never do such things because she was Mormon. Right? They all but rolled on the floor laughing. My classmate Katie in U.S. History class doubled, even tripled, her invitations to do crack, smoke pot, fuck boys–just so she could see my reaction again. I was legendary by senior year. And not in a good way. But I didn’t know that. Because I was proud of who I was and what I believed. It made it hard when I stopped believing the doctrines–I just couldn’t keep quiet about that, either–but it served me well. Being taught to speak truth to power, whether it’s the cool kids at school or the Mormon leadership, serves me well to this day.
3. I grew up with leadership training.
Mormons are big on leadership. Every Mormon in the U.S. dreams of raising the next president. The Mormons I grew up around were entrepreneurs or ambitious types in the healthcare and tech industries. Granted, they were always male, but while the Mormon church may shortchange women when it comes to religious power and authority, you have to hand it to them for equipping girls with the same skill set as boys. They held out on me when it came to the priesthood, but from toddlerhood on up, I was expected to speak before the congregation once or twice a year and deliver talks I had prepared myself. I held leadership positions in the Young Women’s organization and even was president for a year, working to include, motivate, and represent the girls in my ward.
4. I felt responsible to a community and was keenly aware that I represented more than just myself.
I think all religions do this better than my current persuasion of secular humanism. One of the biggest problems I see in American society is the lack of individual responsibility and concern for the common good. I work in a public library, and trust me, a lot of people come through those doors unable to comprehend the fact that the space and all the books in it are collectively owned. Mormonism taught me that I am only one piece of a greater whole and that I am responsible for my impact on that whole. This doesn’t mean give up your seat for a pushy narcissist, but it does mean when you go out into the world, you stand for something. Whether or not you want to. You either stand for self-absorbed nihilism and the mindless destruction of resources, time, and people–or you stand for compassion, integrity, and an ethical life. But you have to choose. And because of my Mormon upbringing, I know this. I’m lucky.
5. That said, I am more than anyone’s limited perception of me. We all are. We all possess more than the small-minded selves we can be at any given moment.
Mormonism is given over to magical thinking. So is modern celebrity culture. But if I’m going to accept a mythic interpretation of reality, I would rather believe we are all so much more than we seem to be. And not when people are looking or when we’re wearing the right Prada gear. Do not your alms before men. I still believe that.
So. Yeah, I take issue with a lot of Mormon doctrine. We broke up for a reason. But that doesn’t mean I toss out the baby with the bathwater. Hardly. I may no longer be a proud Mormon. But I am proudly ex-Mormon and for more reasons than one. I still hold many of its gifts with gratitude, even as I still struggle to heal from the scars.