Over a month ago I emailed the LDS Church my resignation request. A few days later I received usps confirmation of my request, along with the explanation that the matter would be handled by my last local bishop.
Two or three weeks passed and I still hadn't heard anything. So, I looked up my old ward and the phone number for its bishop. I called and explained to him (very cordially) that I had been told he would handle my resignation and I just wanted to know what the next step was?
But he told me he had actually sent my information to the bishop of my current local ward (don't know why the COB didn't do that in the first place, since I'd included my new address in the email, but whatever!). So, I looked up the information for my current local ward, found some phone numbers, and was finally able to track down my local ward bishop.
When I reached him, the local bishop and I also had a polite phone conversation. He said he'd just received my information and asked if we could meet. I agreed. I knew I didn't need to, but I kind of wanted to meet actually. And I'm glad I did. It was actually a satisfying, cathartic experience.
I was worried he would ask if we could start with a prayer, but he didn't. He asked me how things were going. I asked if he meant in reference to the church, or about life in general? He indicated both. In reference to the church, I gave him the short story:
I was the girl who always attended every church function and served in leadership positions. I tried to be 100% obedient. I began to feel especially unhappy soon into my mission, but knew that made no sense because I was trying to do everything "right." So I ignored it, or made sense of it only by reasoning that I was being too selfish and/or too proud.
For three years my unhappiness persisted and worsened. I ultimately decided to stop going to church, because I didn't like how I felt there. I didn't like how I felt about the people in my singles wards either.
Of course after I stopped going to church I didn't feel any happier....
Until I started counseling.
At this point the bishop indicated that he was glad to hear that, and that it seemed my unhappiness had not been my fault, and was likely due to more "clinical" reasons. I agreed.
I continued by explaining that within two or three months of therapy, I felt happier than I'd ever felt before, and that has continued to this date. Through therapy, I was also able to understand why I had been so unhappy in the church. I realized that while I recognized many good teachings and principles, there were several others that I found harmful and that I disagreed with. For years I had thought I was the problem, but through therapy I was able to recognize and know myself and feel confident in my personal views.
The bishop asked how things have gone with my family. I was happy to report that I have excellent parents and great siblings who have tried their best to understand and support me. He seemed glad. I explained that it is continually up and down, as the situation is still new for all of us, and I am sad that I cannot have the kind of relationship that I would like with them, but it is what it is - and it's better than it was before, since I am more honest and they are learning who I "really" am.
Throughout the visit, I felt the bishop was sincerely interested, thoughtful, and respectful. He truly approached the conversation as an exit interview; he never tried to dissuade me or condemn my decision. I appreciated that. I did not hide the fact that I am active in the exmo community online and that after leaving the church I also learned more about church history and have several disagreements with how church affairs have been conducted. But he merely listened, and didn't say anything judgmental.
He asked if I am happy and I said that I was. I wonder if he believed me. I'm sure he at least hoped that I am.
He asked me what my issues had been early on, and how he could help others with similar issues. I said that the first thing I recognized as bothering me was that I considered the church environment to be manipulative. I said that, for example, I thought it would be healthier if youth were taught to recognize their own feelings and questions and to explore them rather than to suppress them. I think when they are told what they do or should feel it pressures them to conform to the thoughts and feelings termed to be "appropriate."
I also said that I felt it would be more honest if the church did not make such an effort to "whitewash" history. He did agree that in recent years more information seems to have come to light which puts a more human spin on church founders (Yay internet!).
I lamented the general depression I sensed among sister missionaries in my mission. I talked about my relationship with a few close LDS friends, and how we're able to be open and honest about our views with eachother because we respect the other's beliefs and don't feel the need to persuade/convince. I talked about how I feel they are able to do something that people like me cannot do - believe in the gospel but live it according to personal conscience rather than according to every literal word of church leaders.
He asked what he might learn from me to help others, so I also gave a few other suggestions, like:
- it would be great if people like my mother didn't have to feel guilty or responsible for the choices of their adult children (he agreed)
- it would be great if people didn't think that all people who left the church were destined to live self-destructive lives (he agreed, saying that some people stay in the church and live self-destructive lives - a gracious concession)
- it would be great if young women were taught that they could find happiness in ways other than simply being wives/mothers...(again, he agreed).
He gave a few indications that he thought perhaps things would have been different for me had I not ended up in Utah. Perhaps.Though I'm glad things worked out the way they did.
He asked if there were values I'd gained from the church that I felt I would take with me. I said that I definitely feel that way, integrity being foremost. When I told him about my plans for the future (career/family life) he said he expected me to have an interesting experience and to do good. He said he thought I would probably live my life very much like a member, just outside of the church. I laughed and said that in some ways I would, but in many ways I felt quite differently about the approach to take. Still, I said, I will likely have Mormon friends and family throughout my life and see great value in those relationships.
He said several times that the door was always open whether or not I was a member. He said that should I need help at a future date (i.e. welfare), the church would be there to help. I think its the last place I would go (not that I plan to need help anyway, but I agree one never knows), but I thought that was gracious of him anyway.
As we parted, I felt so touched that I actually felt a desire to offer my services (Hey, if you ever need a Spanish translator for a ward member...). But I also knew that there are plenty of other venues where I can give service, and I didn't want to give the wrong impression, so I kept my mouth shut.
As I walked away, I did shed a few tears. I was pleased with the experience, and simultaneously happy and sad for myself. Sad for the persistent sorrow and the bitterness and the hurt and the feelings of betrayal and the years it took me to get to this place; happy to be trying my best to move on; and happy too to be reminded of the general goodness of the LDS people I know.
The irony strikes me. For years I had to remind myself that the people weren't perfect but the church was. Now I have to remind myself that while the church isn't perfect so many of its people are trying their best to seek after love and goodness.
My exit interview was a metaphor for some of the most important lessons I've learned about life and myself: This man was gentle, and loving, and supportive, and so many good things - but I've finally learned that 1) the good to be found in the church is a fruit of the good people in it, and not the other way around, and 2) their approval is irrelevant to my personal happiness.