Tuesday, February 11, 2014

My Truth

Disclaimer: This post will be offensive to active, believing Mormons. I do not mean to offend, but I am speaking my truth. Proceed at your own risk.

"Was it ever right to sacrifice one's truth for expedience?" (The Invention of Wings, by Sue Monk Kidd)

I have just finished reading the aforementioned novel, based on the true story of two sisters from Charleston, South Carolina, born to a wealthy, slave-owning family. These sisters grew up to become the voices of abolition and women's rights in pre-civil war America. The story was an emotional read for me, coming on the heels of viewing the movie, "Twelve Years a Slave". Slavery was an abomination, an evil perpetuated on a class of people who were perceived as less than human, not deserving of any more respect and consideration than that meted out to common farm animals. Less than, in many cases. I have no familial connections with slavery, either as a victim or a perpetrator, but I feel great empathy for those affected by this immoral, corrupt, vile, 'peculiar institution'.

As I read the story of these two sisters, and the parallel, fictionalized, account of their family's slaves, I was struck by the inhumanity on display throughout the country. The religions of the day were for the most part not only supportive of slavery, but used scripture to back up their rightful claim to own human beings. And those religions who were vocal in their opposition to this evil (such as the Quakers) were unfortunately still all too eager to keep women in their place: at home, keeping house and tending to the children. The plight of women in this country could not be compared to the plight of slaves, but neither had any rights, and both were regarded as property. We've come a long way, baby.

The Mormon church had its beginnings in the 1820's and 30's, right around the time the book's events took place. As I read this book, I thought about what was happening in the early history of the church, and I wondered why a God who loved his children would be so preoccupied with hot drinks and proper authority, ignoring the very real misery taking place in other parts of the world. The world He created, and populated with His children. Blacks, whites, men, women. All are alike unto God, right? Apparently not.

I realize that I've boiled Mormonism down to a bland porridge of trite commandments, and that the early Saints faced their own very real heartbreak and misery. But, what I can't understand is why God, being all-knowing and loving, would not have instructed the prophet of a new dispensation to oppose oppression in all its forms, including, and especially, slavery. And if He was really the head of this church, as the title claims, and He loved all His children equally, including those of the female variety, why not correct the attitudes of the day that preserved the second-class status of women? He had the perfect opportunity to do it right, create an organization that gave each and every member an equal voice and place at the table. And yet, He didn't. And the only conclusion I've been able to reach is that this new religion had no more truth than any other that existed at the time. Or has existed since. It was as man-made as the Rotary Club.

Which brings me to the point of this post. One of the book's heroines, Sarah Grimke, made the statement I quoted above: "Is it ever right to sacrifice one's truth for expedience?" She was on the brink of leaving her old life in Charleston behind, permanently, as she embarked on a speaking tour for the American Anti-Slavery Society. She would be acting in opposition to everything her family stood for, publicly proclaiming her support for abolition, as well as equal rights for women, a platform that was in its infancy in American politics. She was an embarrassment to her family, and a pariah in polite society. And yet, she knew her truth, and she could not keep quiet, even though the cost would be heavy to bear. Am I willing to do the same? Can I speak my truth out loud, even at the cost of relationships that I hold dear?

My truth is this: I do not hold the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints to be a divinely inspired organization, nor do I believe it has authority from God to speak in His name. I do not believe in the God of the Mormons, and I do not believe that the man at the head of the church is a prophet who speaks in His name. I do not believe that the ordinances of the Mormon church are required for salvation. I do not believe in salvation, nor do I believe in the divinity of Jesus Christ. And I do not believe that I will be relegated to a lesser kingdom in the hereafter for my inability to believe in its existence. I do not believe that the Mormon church is true.

Believing as I do, I can no longer be content to be numbered among the saints. The easy thing, the expedient thing, would be to coast along as I have, keeping my truth to myself, unwilling to sacrifice my reputation, or my family relationships. But allowing the church to claim me as a member speaks louder than any words I could utter. Being counted among them gives them my support, and my acquiescence, and my approval of their policies and practices. Being a member says that I too am opposed to equal rights for all, be they women, or gays, or lesbians, or bisexuals, or transgenders, or, worst of all, intellectuals. Being a Mormon is not consistent with who I am, and what I believe about humanity. It has become an indefensible position, and I am no longer willing to sacrifice my truth for expedience.

I have formally resigned my membership in the Mormon church. This is a radical step, one I did not envision four years ago, but it is the right step. And it is the right time for me to stand up and proclaim my truth. I will always be a Mormon by heritage, much as a Jew is always a Jew, but I am no longer a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am now just me. And very happy to be so.

Disclaimer #2: This is the story of my path, and I do not believe that it is the right path for all. I do not believe that there is one universal approach to religion, or truth. I do not condemn those who choose to stay in the church. I realize that there is a price for authenticity, and everyone gets to choose just how much they are willing, and/or able, to pay.