Hi, I'm Eric
I was a mormon.
Many years have been spent writing and rewriting this letter to my family. In April it was delivered to each one of them along with a very personal preface. After having given them some time to read, reply and talk to me about their feelings on this matter I've decided to publish this to any interested in reading. Not to be degrading, insulting or to hurt any feelings but rather to give courage and hope to others that have been in a similar situation as I was. If I was scared enough to bottle this up for so long, to live in the closet and afraid to express my real feelings and beliefs, then I'm sure many others with good hearts and intentions are doing the same. This post is for you.
The title and reference to "Coming Out" is because much of the courage to deliver this message is due to the many LGBT friends and stories I've come across where I would hear about the level of relief they experienced by letting their friends and family know about their true nature. My life was a lie to loved ones. The inner peace was something I so strongly desired and I couldn't let it continue. My only regret to this point in time is that I didn't tell them sooner. This letter is being made public so hopefully others (closet LGBT, closet non-religious, closet religious, closet anything) can have the courage to develop themselves into the good person they are, while being honest with those around them. Your loved ones deserve to know the real you.
This is the letter (slightly modified so names and some specifics make more sense for the public)
Why I left More answers about 'Why I left' the mormon church
Two siblings shared a story (deseretnews.com/article/865619596/…) from the Deseret News regarding Rich Millar. Much of this letter has been sitting on my computer for a long time but I just haven’t gotten around to finishing and sending it. I’ve only had conversation with Dad about my beliefs and the things that led to why I stopped going to church and why I haven’t returned. You might have a hard time understanding the things I have to say but please keep in mind Rich Millar’s ninth lesson, "It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." – Aristotle. He also states that “we need to try to understand each other’s point of view fully before casting judgment or doubt.” So I think you deserve to know these things so you can understand what’s in my head and what’s in my heart.
As you know, I was a very good child growing up. There was literally nobody in my high school graduating class that didn’t know me and didn’t hold my opinions in high regard. I was even asked by the student counsel to help organize the ten year class reunion because they believed the jocks, the gothic kids, the band nerds and the a Capella group, the islanders and even the Hispanic cliques would reply more favorably to me than they would to anybody else in our graduating class. I respected everybody and was respected. I had no enemies. I was a very good student, friendly, always cheerful and more than willing to help anybody in need. I never skipped a day of class in school or seminary. I read the scriptures almost every day and prayed morning and night. The first time anybody ever heard me utter a swear word was at the age of 24 while going through my first divorce. Needless to say, I was a good hearted and obedient child. I had a huge internal drive to be a good person, to do good things and to make others happy.
Having set that stage, I had only one internal battle throughout my life: I didn’t know if the church was true. I desired with my whole heart to feel a conviction that it was. I felt like someday all my hard work in being this good person would pay off with the strongest testimony of the truthfulness of the church and that I needed to continue doing the things I was taught were right because eventually I would be able to stand and bear testimony that I honestly felt inside me that it was true. There were two key events in my life that weigh heavily on my mind and heart that I would like to share with you.
The first event happened at the age of 16, the summer after my junior year of high school. During the Christmas season, our stake leader challenged all the youth to read The Book of Mormon before the youth camp that summer. He made many promises that testimonies would grow and anybody that had a real desire to know if its truthfulness would come to know as stated in the last chapter. I felt like this was it! Finally my prayers would be answered! I would get to wake up on Sunday mornings and want to go to church to worship God. I would want to read the scriptures because God wanted me to. I would want to live my life the way I had been living it because I would know that God wanted me to do it and not because it was expected of me! I was so thrilled to be on the doorstep of being blessed with an amazing testimony and a feeling that I was in the right church and believing that it was restored through Joseph Smith. It took me three months to finish reading The Book of Mormon. I still had three more months before the deadline and I was excited to get on my knees and have an answer, a feeling, a desire to keep reading and learning more about the Savior. I knelt down by my bed and prayed knowing that promise to me would be upheld by God. I felt like I was talking to an empty room. I stayed on my knees for a long period of time waiting. Waiting to feel the happiness and joy that I got when I would play bassoon or go motorcycle riding or when I would finish a big project or when I would visit with the WW2 vets in the ward… I waited in a dimly lit room for an answer. After hours passed, I felt so sheepish for getting off my knees and awkwardly crawled into bed just like every other night after I pray. Maybe I’ll get a real answer at the youth conference?
It took me two months to finish reading the book again. Same thing that night but I didn’t wait as long on my knees before getting into bed because I had accepted that I would probably get an answer later on. I finished it again for a third time the day before the big Stake Youth Conference and I was thrilled to go have my first real spiritual experience involving the church. On arrival, everybody was informed that they wouldn’t be able to participate in any activities until they finished reading. I was one of only a few kids out of the hundreds in attendance that was able to participate in anything from the first day. The second day passed and at the end there was still a huge amount of people reading at dinner so they could get started with the fun stuff. The third day was coming to a close and most of the youth had finished by that time. Now came the final testimony meeting. I did let people know that I had finished reading; however, our bishop was the only person I actually told that I read it cover to cover three times. I sat next to him as we listened to some spiritual lessons. Now was the time for whoever wanted to get up to bear their testimony about the church and about how they felt about The Book of Mormon. The bishop nudged me, but I stayed sitting and somebody else got up. When they finished, another nudge… I stayed in place. He put his arm around me and whispered “are you going to bear testimony?” My reply “I don’t feel it.” He kissed me on the head and just gave a little squeeze with his arm around me.
I didn’t feel anything but emptiness and disappointment after that week. “I’m a good kid, I do what I’m supposed to and I go the extra mile any chance I get. Why can’t I just feel like this is all true? Why can’t I even just think that this is true?” were the thoughts that plagued me. I wanted to share my experience with the family but how could I tell the people I loved that I didn’t think the same way they did? So I bottled it up and just let it pass. I’ll just keep doing what I’ve always been doing. It isn’t hurting anybody but me and I would rather go through this pain silently than break my family’s heart by telling them the truth.
This is not the second event but I think it’s an important experience I went through to help you know what’s in my mind. I was accepted to BYU and went for a year before receiving my mission call to California. I don’t know how many people I spoke with but many of my companions would get so frustrated after a chat on a person’s doorstep. My companions would be so easily bothered because they “knew” they had the ultimate truth about God and these people were not accepting it. The people we spoke with would tell us they weren’t interested, that they thought their church was true, that they thought Mormons were weird, or a myriad of other reasons they didn’t want to continue conversing with us. When we would leave a home because the people were happy with their religion, my heart ached! I came across many people that would tell me they felt good about their church and I wanted to feel that same feeling about mine. I went on my mission because it was what I was supposed to do and because regardless of what I thought, I knew many people of the LDS faith were extremely happy with the doctrines and maybe I could teach those doctrines to others so they could feel that same happiness. Not the happiness I felt, but the happiness that I’ve seen in my family and friends. I never lied in a testimony while I was teaching. I would bear testimony of what I did know: that the doctrines make sense and that the plan of happiness can help them feel better about the questions they had in life if they accepted it.
The second and pivotal event came at age 24 I had been married for over two years to a beautiful wife. I had been lying to her for our entire marriage. I continued pretending like I believed everything and eventually I had a small conversation with her about not attending church one day. Because I had been doing everything right my whole life, I wanted to do an experiment by skipping church to see if I felt like something was missing. That was a short conversation when she looked at me like I was possessed. When other circumstances led to our divorce I was crushed because I did love her with all my heart. People told me to go get some counseling to help with the pain. Knowing how much love my bishop had for me, that he was there for me through my first tough time and didn’t pressure me, he was a psychiatrist that I really trusted to help me. I was scared to go the first time but the first thing he did was give me a big hug. We sat down and before I had a chance to say anything he told me something very important: he loved me. He doesn’t care what I’ve done or what I think or if I was gay or straight or atheist or democratic. He loved me and wanted to help me be at peace with myself. For the first time in my life I really felt like I was with somebody I could open up to. He has the same desire to help me become myself, just like I have the strong desire to help people see better through my profession. It was during these sessions that I opened up to him about my experiences and my feelings about the church. He bore testimony that he does feel like the church is true but he can comprehend that I might not. We spoke for hours about childhood repression and how I have an overwhelming desire to make others happy, even if it involves lying to them about my true feelings. We discussed that it is okay for me to feel like the church might not be true and that the only way I could know was to really find out for myself, with no outside influence. We agreed that it would probably be best if I moved away from Utah to really become my own version of Eric.
Just a few weeks later I moved to California. I went to church for a few weeks, became friends with some of the folks in the singles congregation and was attempting to independently find out whether or not this was something I wanted in my life. I felt like the church was a good social outlet and it was a good group of people but I didn’t have any different feelings about God, Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith or anybody else. One Sunday I decided not to go to church. Instead I went for a 30 mile bike ride along the coast. The next Sunday I bought a surf board and tried learning to surf. I didn’t feel like anything was missing. I was actually feeling very good about myself and my self-esteem started to skyrocket because I was actually doing everything for myself without the influence of family or friends. For the first time I honestly felt at peace in my mind and heart.
I haven’t returned to church because I haven’t felt like I should. I’m still the same good person I’ve always been. In fact I’m betting my career and going into hundreds of thousands of dollars of debt in order to open my own business that I can truly make a difference for people needing glasses by opening a shop without the corruption of salespeople or insurance companies. I’m living my life the way that is best for me.
There may be a day when I have an urge to go back to church but I’m not going to do it because of the pressure from others. I think the church is not true because I’ve always been promised that if I really wanted to know with an honest heart, I would be told or have a feeling or get a sense that it was even a possibility. That never happened but if there is a God and he has a bigger plan that involves me going through these trials only to come to a knowledge later in life, I will be accepting of that.
For now, I’m following what feels right for me. I apologize if you feel any shame because of some of the things your brother and son has done or said but please remember that ultimately I need to do what’s right for me. Unlike the original article (edit, originally had a FB link but can't in this sub) posted by Millar and like many people that leave the church I’m not doing it because I want to have fun sinning. I’m doing it because I never believed in it and I’m going to be true to myself. Some of the sinful things are fun and like Millar said, “Whether it is money, food, sex, drugs, alcohol or something else, the result is the same. There’s a time, purpose and place for all of these things. And used in the right context or time, each one of these things has its merit.” My definition of a time, purpose and place for these things might greatly differ from your definition. I might do or say or post things that you might feel are wrong but I’m living according to my own moral code. I’m living my own version of a good life even if it doesn’t correlate exactly with what you think is good. I don’t push you to leave the church because I don’t believe in it, please in return have that same respect for the difference between our beliefs.
I love you and your families with all my heart. I’m sorry if this disappoints you but I thank you for being understanding. Similar to Millar, it is very scary to open up this way but ultimately this is my testimony in what I believe and I’ve felt like I should share this with you for quite some time.
Thank you for reading. As stated before, this letter is to help those in a similar situation to have the courage to stand up for themselves and live the life they feel is right without bending to the pressure of what their family deems right. Religion, sexual orientation, political affiliation or even something as simple as the expectation to study a certain subject in school; do what's right for yourself and humanity.