A few weeks ago I was having a conversation with a friend about some local politics.  She's Mormon, but considers herself a feminist and definitely leans liberal.  We were discussing a proposed bill that would criminalize women for having miscarriages if they engaged in 'reckless' behavior, and the conversation soon turned to sex education (or the complete lack thereof) in Utah.

She often complains about how, as a high school health teacher, she has to navigate the murky waters of the Utah education system, specifically regarding sex ed.  She wants to be able to give her students appropriate and accurate information, but is forbidden from doing so.  "The crazies say that teaching about how to have safe sex just encourages kids to have sex," she says.  "The people that argue against it aren't educated on what is actually taught in schools.  They say they want to talk to their kids themselves, but they don't!  They're embarrassed or don't know anything themselves."

From here our conversation progressed to the Mormon church's often twisted views on sex, not only regarding teenagers but also between married couples.  She told me how bothered she was by a friend's husband who "doesn't believe in birth control."

Then she got kind of quiet, contemplative.  She took a breath and asked, "Did you know that Joseph Smith had twenty-nine wives?"

"Yes," I replied.

"And did you know that eight of them were married to other men?" she asked.


"Four were married to men who were in church leadership."

"I know."

"This really upsets me," she confessed.  "The whole principle of polygamy is based on getting to the highest level of heaven.  Those four women could have gotten there without Joseph."

I took a deep breath.  My mind was going about a million miles a minute.  Yes! She's finally waking up! I thought.  She's finally realizing the church has been lying about its own history!  It's only a matter of time before she realizes it's complete bullshit!  I racked my brain for information I could use to help her see the truth.  I mentally organized quotes from church leaders, articles citing DNA evidence, the publication dates of the various accounts of the First Vision.  I had always thought that she was far too logical and analytical to continue swallowing everything the church was feeding her without questioning it.  By the same reasoning, she would not simply accept anything I told her if I didn't have the sources to back it up.

At the same time I was trying to keep myself in check.  I knew that if I were to start barraging her with information that disproved the church's claims she would do what she had been trained to do since Primary - retreat as quickly as she could, and turn to her "testimony" to help quiet any nagging doubts.  I had to let her come to me, to ask me questions, to decide for herself that she was ready for the answers.  So I picked my next words carefully.

"Well," I began, "I guess it all comes down to whether or not you believe that it actually is a principle to get to heaven or if Joseph Smith was just acting on his own desires."

"The more I learn about the early Mormons the more ashamed I am," she blurted out.

I nodded.  I understood exactly what she meant.  "Personally, I find Joseph's sexcapades one of the least troubling things about Mormon history."

"The teaching of blood atonment, and confessing your sins in front of everyone?  That's not okay," she said.  "I was always taught that polygamy was because there were a lot of single women that needed a man.  But that's not true.  There were three times more single men that women in Utah.  I also have a huge problem with the lower status of women.  HUGE."

At this point I couldn't resist anymore.  "What it really came down to for me was that I realized the church was asking its members to approach it completely backwards.  In the real world, it would be 'is the church true?' and then you read the scriptures and study the doctrine and figure it out.  But in Mormondom, the church tells you, 'The Church Is True! And anything that contradicts that or disproves that is the devil.'  Their logic is that because the church is true, only the church's version of history is true. Because the church's version of history supports its truthiness, then that must mean that it's true."

I was so excited to finally be having this conversation with my friend.  She knew that I was no longer attending church, but we both had politely ignored the topic with each other to avoid getting in any kind of argument.  She is not the type of in-your-face Mormon that is difficult to be around, and she never felt threatened by my apostate status.  We both strongly believe in "live and let live."  So I was thrilled that she was examining the church on her own, and that she had felt comfortable enough to discuss it with me.

In my fantasy world, I imagined that my friend and I would continue this conversation over the next few days or weeks, and that I would be able to help her step out of her world of Mormonism and into the light.  Reality, however, did not match up.  I suggested that she take some time to do a little thinking and research, and that I would do the same, and that we get together for dinner the next day, both better prepared for the conversation.  She initially agreed, but ended up cancelling our plans last minute.  We rescheduled, and she cancelled again.  A few times I have tried to subtly bring up Mormonism in conversation so we could segue into it, but she knew what I was doing and refused to take the bait.

Part of me wants to grab her by the neck and shake her, remind her that she was harboring serious doubts only a few weeks ago and that it's not healthy for her to just suppress those without really examining them.  But part of me knows that leaving Mormonism is a personal journey, and one my friend will have to take almost entirely on her own.  I hope that eventually she won't be willing to ignore those first pangs of doubt anymore.  I hope she will be anxious to talk again, and that she knows that I'll be here to listen to her.

But until then I just have to wait.


And not push her.

Even though I really want to.



Anonymous said...

I'm not Mormon, and I don't know a lot about what you're discussing here. But I have found myself in a similar position to what you've described, in terms of other topics. In moments like this, patience is SO HARD. You want so badly for someone to see the light tha you want to shake them, but you know if you're not patient and quiet you'll drive them away. It's maddening! And I wanted to say thanks for inspiring me, through your example, to be more patient.

Anonymous said...

Oh I totally know where you are coming from!! I had a similar experience with a family member recently who is trying to decide whether or not to go on a mission. I want so badly to get him to realize the truth before he goes off to be further brainwashed for 2 years straight! It's hard sitting back and waiting!

John Andersen said...

It takes a lot of courage to leave the Mormon Church.

And often otherwise courageous people can't do it because of other concerns like if they leave, they'll lose their "meal ticket."

So yes, it needs to be a personal journey.