hi, i'm kelly.
i'm a lot of things. but i'm no longer mormon.
I wasn't what you'd call "conventional" Mormon-material when I joined the church at the age of 20. First of all, I'm half-black, which already made me somewhat of a rarity in Mormondom, but I was also a girl who was about to become an officer in the US Air Force, and one who'd never given serious thought to marriage, motherhood, or other typical Mormony-woman things.
But many events conspired the summer prior to my baptism that I now realize made me ripe for a dramatic religious conversion (I actually was baptized by a non-denominational Christian church three months before becoming Mormon), including the death of my nephew, the severing of my first serious (albeit toxic) relationship, as well as having huge life-changes looming on the horizon.
So when I met some Mormons the summer before my senior year of college (including the one who would later become my husband), I at first eyed the religion with skepticism, but quickly dove in head first.
I was a "golden convert," joining after just two weeks of investigating.
The Mormon church became my identity, my new tribe, and my place of refuge, as I lost (and in some cases, left--something I still regret) most of my core group of friends; I was grateful that the church was very insular and gave me a new sense of community and family. For the first six years, I dogmatically believed everything about the church. In my mind, I was all in, and there was nothing that could divert my testimony. I remained an obedient Mormon until the day I left.
Why I left
In the end, there were many, many reasons I finally chose to leave, but my loss of trust (and ultimately belief) in the faith began six years after my baptism, when I learned that the Mormon church officially practiced what they believed to be "God-mandated" systematic racism until 1978. From 1852-1978, faithful black men weren't allowed to be ordained to the priesthood, and black men, women, and children weren't allowed to enter the temple or be sealed to their families, because Mormon prophets and apostles believed they were a cursed race.
Yes...1978...14 years after the US Civil Rights Act was passed, and after the rest of America was starting to get it right.
Being half-black, learning about the church's doctrines, revelations, and policies of racism hurt me deeply; they were incredibly personal.
Had my dad been Mormon, he would have lived with this policy for 20 years of his life. Growing up in the 1960s and 70s, he already experienced racism everywhere else; he would have also felt it at church, while still calling his fellow white church-members "brother" and "sister."
Had I been born just one generation earlier, I most likely wouldn't have married my husband, who is white, because the church condemned interracial marriage, and asserted it had a gospel-centered basis. I wouldn't (nor would my daughter) have been able to enter the temple, to be sealed to our children, wear the temple garments, or serve a mission. Our son, who looks like his dad, with pale skin, blond hair, and blue eyes, wouldn't have been able to receive the priesthood, serve a mission, be a home teacher, or ever be in a position of leadership over white church members.
As parents, we would have had to determine when and how to explain to our children why a God who supposedly loved us all equally had cursed us, why we were less worthy, and why we were a caste apart from our non-black brothers and sisters, which is what Mormon prophets taught as doctrine and/or failed to denounce well into the 2000s.
Our children would have grown up believing: "Those who were less valiant in the pre-existence and who thereby had certain spiritual restrictions imposed upon them during mortality are known to us as the negroes. Such spirits are sent to earth through the lineage of Cain, the mark put upon him for his rebellion against God and his murder of Abel being a black skin...but this inequality is not of man’s origin. It is the Lord’s doing, based on His eternal laws of justice, and grows out of the lack of spiritual valiance of those concerned in their first estate" (Apostle Bruce R. McConkie, "Mormon Doctrine", published and sold by Deseret Book from 1958-2010).
Those, and far more heinous "doctrine," are the things black Mormon parents ACTUALLY had to tell their kids...
What does that do to a person, let alone a child's, self-esteem and self-worth? What sort of God would allow His chosen and anointed prophets, seers, and revelators to dispense and perpetuate such filth in Christ's name for 150 years? How can a child feel love from a God who they are told feels this way about them?
These are also the things white Mormons taught their kids, as they justified why it was okay to treat black people differently. Those kids are now adults, and they're the ones leading the Mormon church.
I had never personally felt the sting and shame of racism in my life, until I felt it through the Mormon church.
I remained in the church for five more years after I learned about these things, but I went through periods of intense anger, confusion, betrayal, sadness, resentment, guilt, shame, otherness, self-loathing, and doubt. I still wanted to believe the church was true and made every effort to study the "doctrine" with an eye of faith and by using church-approved resources (as the church discourages using non-Mormon resources for study...), but the church had little to nothing to say on the history of blacks at the time and didn't provide answers or address it in their manuals or websites; white-washing, modifying, and withholding information is intentional and openly advocated by church leadership (https://byustudies.byu.edu/content/mantle-far-far-greater-intellect).
It all felt so wrong, but I would shove those feelings down. I'd go to church. Fulfill my callings. Read my scriptures. Fast and pray. Because I believed that if I left, I'd be sacrificing my salvation and my eternal family.
And then something would trigger those feelings or questions and the cycle would start all over again; each time with anger and bitterness more intense than the time before. I often felt sick with myself. Who was I? I belonged to an organization that taught and preached things I hated, but that I felt bound to; I was so entrenched--from family to friends to my own personal fear that I'd be defying God--leaving wasn't really something I even considered. For five years I experienced an identity crisis of massive proportions. Oftentimes, the worse I felt about the history, the stronger I supported the church--how else could I justify staying?
Well-meaning friends and church leaders would admonish me to "Just be patient and have more faith! You may not understand it now but answers will come!" I would then feel immense guilt, believing that the reason I was struggling with this (when it didn't seem to bother anyone else) was that my faith was weak.
In my final year in the church, I was in an incredibly dark, depressing place. Even reading the Book of Mormon became painful to me, as it's also filled with verses that assert that God cursed unrighteous peoples with black skin (2Nephi 5:21, 2 Nephi 30:6, Jacob 3:5, Alma 3:6,8, 3 Nephi 2:15-16, Moses 5:40, Moses 7:8, Moses 7:22, Abraham 1:24).
I was hurt that these things happened. I was hurt the church didn't apologize for them. I was hurt that the church ignored them. I was hurt that members ignored them.
I was angry that the church tried to cover it up by changing the history and sharing half-truths. I was angry that for 150 years prophets said the bans were doctrines received by direct revelation from God, but that today they say they weren't and now simply refer to them as "folklore" and "policies".
I know that church leaders will probably never directly admit to the origins of the racist policies, the doctrinal and prophetic conundrums raised by their 150 year existence, nor ever sincerely apologize for them (something black Mormons desperately want), because that would require them to admit that their prophets were and can be wrong.
After five years of mental gymnastics, of forcing myself to accept/justify/sustain things that I believed to be wrong, (ie: polygamy, the church's treatment of LGBTQ people and its policy banning their children from becoming Mormon, the church's involvement in discriminatory politics like Proposition 8 (which fought gay marriage in California), misogyny and patriarchy within the church, etc.), I finally gave myself permission to study the church and its history objectively, allowing room for reason, logic, and intellect as well as faith, and to be okay with whatever answer I came to regarding my beliefs about the truthfulness of the church.
That's when it all came crashing down.
I studied many topics, extensively.
I studied Brigham Young's endorsement and implementation of slavery in Utah Territory, the origins and justifications of the church's racist doctrine and policies, Joseph Smith's multiple and vastly differing accounts of his first vision, historical accounts of how the Book of Mormon was "actually translated" using a hat and a seer stone, the origins and inaccuracies of the Book of Abraham, the corruption, lies, coercion, and child brides during the years of polygamy, the innumerable changes to wording and doctrine within the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants, the many instances in which Mormon prophets contradicted each other, scriptures, and even themselves (Adam-God doctrine, the evils of birth control, etc.).
This information didn't come from "anti-Mormon" sources--most of it came from neutral, peer-reviewed sources as well as historical church publications, including Journal of Discourses, General Conference talks, document scans of past church leaders' journals, History of the Church, and archived Ensign articles.
The moment I first formed the words in my mind, "None of this makes sense because the Mormon church isn't true," I felt like a 10 ton weight had been lifted off of me. I felt free. I felt peace. I felt a happiness I hadn't felt in years.
Despite having had it drilled into me for the last 10 years that the Mormon gospel was the only way to peace and happiness, I finally considered the possibility of leaving,
and the thought filled me with unadulterated joy.
I did not leave the church because of sin, because I was angry, because I had a "faith-crisis," or because I gave up.
I chose to leave because I no longer believe in it. The church had become a place of anxiety, anger, and depression for me because it fundamentally contradicted who I am and what I believe. Leaving was a deeply studied, well-informed, much agonized over, conscious decision.
Leaving the church has been liberating, but it has of course been a tricky thing to navigate with family and friends who are still Mormon. Despite that, it's been an AMAZING decision for me and I have no regrets.
Life outside the church is good. Living your authentic life is good. Logic is good. Listening to and trusting yourself is good. You'll find that those who truly love you for who you are, and who are secure enough with their own beliefs and convictions, will stick by you.
I left the Mormon church a year ago, after 10 years as a member.
I'm happy I did.
Questions I've answered
What did the Mormon religion bring to your life?
I will never deny that in the 10 years I was a Mormon, I experienced many positive, happy, and uplifting times. I met so many wonderful and kind people; I found a strong and selfless community. I learned many ways and means to be a good person, to develop and maintain strong and healthy family relationships. Much of what the Mormon church teaches and preaches is positive, wholesome, and good.
But there is much about it that troubles me, and even scares me. There are insidious problems in the church, in its gospel, and in its doctrine. The church can bring a lot of happiness to people's lives; it can also bring sadness and the complete opposite of the Christlike love they preach.
There are so many well-intentioned people in the church, but I had even become so blind to how my words and actions could hurt others. There's an inherent pride in believing you belong to the "one and only true church on the earth;" the belief that what you have is right and what everyone else has is wrong or inferior; that you have a duty and obligation to educate and save anyone who thinks differently than you. I'm sorry for anything I said or did to anyone that hurt them, or made them feel judged or less than.
What advice would you give to someone interested in joining the Mormon Church? Or for that matter, someone interested in leaving the Mormon Church?
If you're thinking about joining the Mormon church:
To each their own. But I will say I wish I'd listened to my parents (it kills to admit that lol) and slowed my roll; done my due-diligence; really dug in and given the decision the academic and intellectual scrutiny it required. I wish I'd understood that feelings are fickle and they don't equate to truth.
If you're struggling in the church or contemplating leaving:
You're not alone!
For the past year I have been very cautious about who I shared news of my leaving with, as I don't want to hurt or offend anyone, cause rifts, or invite debate or reactivation efforts. But as the news has slowly trickled out, I have been amazed by the number of Mormon friends I have who have confided in me that they have also left the church.
For many reasons, people often choose to leave quietly or feel they have to go it alone; I get it and there's no reason or obligation to go public. But if you are having doubts or are contemplating leaving the church, I know it can be scary and it can be so lonely--I'd recommend finding at least one safe person you trust that you can confide in! I took the plunge and reached out to people that I knew had left and it was comforting to swap stories. The main reason I'm choosing to share my journey publicly now is that I want people to know they're not alone, and there's no shame in following your own path; there's actually a ton of joy in it :) Feel free to reach out: [email protected]