“What is it like to leave the LDS Church while at BYU?” you ask.
Well, I am in the process, and I can tell you that it is many things. It is absurd, because I was born into “orthodox” Mormonism and never ever anticipated a transition like this. It is a relief, because I have finally released myself from what others think and say. And it is marvelously difficult, because it really did affect how people treat me. Telling my friends was scary, but most of them were kind. But even as they tried to be understanding, at least five of them bore intense testimonies to me at the end of our conversation. Didn’t they know I had heard those things before, and that I was meticulously trying to explain my own beliefs—the product of a thousand sincere questions?
I left the Church because I think the power structure upholding it—one that values men over women, majorities over minorities, and uncharitable exclusion over warm inclusion—is seriously bad juju. For example, while I was a student, my college bishop frequently expressed unsolicited concern for my relationship with my boyfriend. The advice became ongoing, and he would say things like, “Remember, if you ‘mess up’ [have sex], you’ll have to tell your husband about that one day, and you just never want to have that conversation.” This is only one of dozens of my uncomfortable experiences with leadership.
Another example. At one point on my mission, both my companion and I struggled with depression. During one local meeting, some visiting missionary leaders decided to take over the lesson our local leaders were prepared to teach. As they taught, the missionaries looked at and spoke to my companion and I. The theme of the lesson was, “If you’re not always smiling and cheerful, you’re not truly living the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
This imbalances of power in leadership signaled to me that the LDS Church couldn’t be inspired by the God that it believes in. It also seemed so typically patriarchal and old fashioned. I became increasingly surprised to learn that when I had kind leadership, my voice was heard in the ward. But when my leadership didn’t care to hear differing opinions, I felt silenced and ignored. Those are my conclusions, and if they’re not yours, they’re not yours—probably simply because we have different lives and backgrounds.
That being said, I first learned about goodness from Mormon people. I grew up in Provo with some really cool family and friends who wanted to make an impact on the world with the love they brought to it. Especially my Mom. When I was a kid, she would bake hot, fresh bread and have me deliver it to pregnant moms down the road so that she (my mom) wouldn’t have to take the credit. And my Dad was the same. He took us kids out to visit families who’d recently experienced a loss or to shovel our neighbors’ driveways. I knew Mormons to be friendly, thoughtful people who give loads of time to genuine service.
So when I made the nerve-wracking decision to “come out of the BYU closet,” I still had a lot of confidence in my LDS school and community. I eventually sat down with an academic advisor and told him, “I am here because I left the Church and would like to pay non-member tuition.” But during the next ten minutes, he carefully explained, “In your situation, you actually will not be able to attend classes at BYU this semester, or ever again. A lot of people disagree with this policy. However, the reasoning behind it is that you do not comply with the part of the honor code which states, ‘Excommunication, disfellowshipment, or disaffiliation from The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints automatically results in the loss of good Honor Code standing.’”
What?! I thought. I grew up here. I’m a tutor doing research at your Writing Center. My beloved friends and professors are at this University! For heaven’s sake, I was conceived on this campus! But I had heard rumors about things like this happening, so I asked if I could finish my classes online instead of as a day student. My advisor replied, “No, sorry, to be able to graduate from BYU, you will need that honor code standing.”
And yet, no one—not a roommate, a friend, or a faculty member—has been able to explain to me why I do not belong with other BYU students. I’m from here, I’m a competitive student, I’m a contributing employee, and I’m willing to pay the price for non-subsidized tuition. So when I’m told I’m taking the spot of some poor student who wasn’t accepted, I’m thinking, This is my home, my community, and I have a real place here. I’m not in anybody’s spot but my own.
You may wonder if I had considered that very tempting and tormenting decision to “fly under the radar” and just pretend to be a member. But “pretending” I was a confident member seemed exhausting and, for me, unnecessary. I had decided I could handle the increased cost of transferring to another university, so I wasn’t going to cover up my real feelings and thoughts if I didn’t have to. It seemed so unlikely I’d ever be able to “pretend” away things like the panic attacks I had each time I went to church.
(Note: To those who do fly under the radar, I recognize we’re all in unique circumstances and I have massive respect for you.)
So yes, I was awkwardly “invited to leave BYU,” despite my adherence to the honor code in every respect but belief. BYU didn’t tell me when to leave either, or give me any guidance besides, “You can attend UVU or SLCC!” So I just kind of mosied out at the end of 2015 summer term. I said a tearful goodbye to my beloved job, my coworkers, my academic scholarship, and my senior year of classes. And I set out to find a new job, in a new town, at a new school where I hoped to find a few open, empathetic arms.
I don’t think belief is something you choose. You form your beliefs and assumptions about the world based on your experience. You can’t physically harm anyone with beliefs, and they’re part of who you are and how you experience the world. It’s been weeks now since most of this happened, and here I sit with my computer, my heart pumping and hands shaking, wondering, “Will they get where I’m coming from? Will they scoff at me? Will they hate me? Will they hear me?”