Guilt & Apostasy

Guilt has been a prevalent topic for me this week.  I find the topic of guilt absolutely compelling. Guilt is such a motivator for so many people, Mormon and non-Mormon alike.  Guilt is what drove my ex-husband from the church months before he'd ever touched another man.  Guilt is something I personally have not experienced at all in my journey away from the church.   

After posting this a few days ago, I got an email from my mom.  For the first time, she expressed her feelings about my 'leaving' the church.  I'll just sum it up for you by saying she has mourned my departure from it.  I don't ridicule her for this.  I don't in any way want to invalidate or belittle her very real and deep emotions on this subject.

What I do want to bring up in my post today is a specific part of her email that I found fascinating:

She believes that Guilt is part of the reason I couldn't stand being in the church building on Sunday or set foot on the ground of Temple Square in Salt Lake City back in April.  Guilt on my part.  Guilt for my dissent.  Guilt for no longer adhering to the Word of Wisdom.  Guilt for being sexually active with someone I am not legally and lawfully wed to.

What fascinated me was that even after I have written here on my blog, in more than one post, my feelings of hurt and deep disappointment with the church, 'guilt' is still the place she goes.

On the one hand, I see my anxiety and severe, negative physical reactions to being on church grounds as a result of the betrayal and loss of trust I've felt with Mormonism.

On the other hand, my mother, and I'm sure many many other active Mormons, sees these negative reactions as a product of my guilt.

I learned a few years ago in therapy that guilt is not only the opposite of constructive, but it is simply a cover emotion for something deeper.

To be fair, my mother did state that she believed my guilt was only part of something bigger- remembering.  Remembering somewhere deep in my soul that it's all true.  That my involvement in the 'one true church' was the best part of who I was, once upon a time.

I was breaking this all down with Jeremy last night.  He vocalized something I found thought-provoking, and I asked him to write his thoughts down for me.  His thoughts were less about guilt specifically and more about what active, faithful Mormons think of those who are no longer practicing/believing.  This is what he wrote:

As an ordained missionary in the New York New York South Mission I often found myself conducting a sort of "damage control" with people I spoke to concerning common misconceptions about Mormons. I often found myself baffled at how badly misinformed the average person was about the LDS experience. "How many wives will I get if I join yer church?" "You don't believe in Jesus!" "I heard you worship Joseph Smith" and my favorite, "My cousin who is a Mormon says he has to keep his garments on when he has relations with his wife" (I'm not making that up)

All of us have experienced it at one time or another; having to course-correct a friend or perhaps a stranger whose collective knowledge about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints comes from Christian literature and South Park. It can often be frustrating and time consuming for members of the church to have to deal with these objections, but we do. We patiently respond, with love and with kindness so that we may in turn open the lines of communication and share our testimonies. 

Fast forward ten years.

As a 
 non-practicing, non-believing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints I have found myself having to defend my motives from active members of the church concerning exactly why I left the faith. I often laugh at the irony of the position I find myself in, when a member of the church tries to inform me of the real reasons I left as if they have a Urim & Thummim which peers into the deepest chasms of my soul. "It's because of the anti-mormon literature" "Have you been looking at porn?" "You weren't reading your scriptures daily" and my personal favorite, "Well then maybe you just weren't living it right." (No true, Scottsman)

Ladies and gentleman, I hope I have made myself clear that I have experienced life on two very opposite sides of the veil, and I have something I would like to say; We need to start a dialogue between members who are still active, and members who have, as is often whispered about them, "fallen away" (another misleading myth about apostasy). If you are an active member, I ask that you please put yourself in the shoes of the outsider for a moment. The outsider who on my mission thought that Mormons did not believe in Jesus. The outsider who since my exodus thinks the only possible answer is that I must have given into influence of the adversary. 


My purpose in this is not to mock faith nor challenge your testimony. I come to you now with the same sincerity I carried with me on the streets of Brooklyn ten years ago to tell you in no uncertain terms that many of the conclusions which you may have reached concerning your brothers and sisters who have left the faith are quite malformed. 

~Elder Jeremy J. Minagro
New York New York South Mission 2000-2001


I don't draw any conclusions here in the post about this conundrum, because it's just the start of a conversation.  Again, my mother was very loving and gentle in her words that she emailed to me.  I think that gentility is paramount in starting a dialogue between the believers and former-believers of Mormonism- a dialogue which I think most people on both sides of the fence aren't interested in having and would rather avoid.

Comments

  1. Boy, do I relate to this! Thanks!!

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  2. Misinformation and a tendency to regurgitate the stories or explanations from generation to generation is what finally compelled me to resign my membership with the church yesterday. I am all for family and service and spirituality. But, it's not really about that anymore, it's about one lie or do over covering up another, and another and another. Your perceived guilt is a perfect generic response to those that don't want to be out of conformity. Thinking for yourself is just not encouraged. Praying is, and if you come up with the non conformist answer, pray again, until you get it right.
    Definitely not bitter, it just got down to an issue of integrity.

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  3. When my oldest daughter decided to take a break from the church, "guilt" was her biggest issue. She said to me, "This church is driven by guilt... how productive is that? Is that how Heavenly and Jesus Christ want us to go through life? I say 'no way'! I refuse to live my life like that". It's amazing what we learn from our children. I think I'd always felt the same way she did, but she was the first to articulate it and REALLY get it.

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  4. I love that you openly, without any seeming agenda, started this dialogue. I embrace that you are sharing things with all the openness and truth of your experience. Without questioning that, I simply contribute my own experience. My parents both joined the LDS Church when they were teenagers. The church was the answer, the solution. As I grew up, my parents divorced and there were a lot of sad days. Through the sadness, my connection with the LDS Church gave me hope and consistency. And based on my singular experience, I choose to stay. I am single and in my 30s--perhaps if I was married or divorced I might not have such a positive feeling toward the church. I feel edified reading your blog because it is so raw and so filled with truth. But I base my choice to be apart of the church on my own personal experience. It was my joy in times of horrible sorrow. I can't forget that. Just sharing my dialogue in this conversation.

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  5. I can picture you blasting Queen's, "I want to break free" while drinking wine and baking naked. I love this new you. Oh, also, BYU is stupid and they deserved to lose tonight.

    Check this out: http://mormoncult.org/

    Have a glass of wine, get naked, bake, think of me and watch this: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eM8Ss28zjcE&feature=related

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    Replies
    1. Naked baking!!!! It's every Mormon's deep, dark secret dream! Oh m goodness, I love that video.

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  6. You wrote this beautifully and with an open mind and good heart; I really like who you are! It sounds like you were experiencing an allergic reaction when visiting the church which is completely reasonable. When something has damaged someone but they re-subject themselves to it then of course there will be an emotional response (panic, anxiety)sent as a gift from the subconscious mind trying to get the person away from more damage.

    Jeremy's comments are so insightful and appreciated.

    I have so much more to say about all of this but like you wrote "this is just the start of a conversation". Thanks for starting it!

    xo!

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  7. Jerm Mynigro's CuzinSeptember 21, 2012 at 9:27 AM

    Question everything....at all times. I cherish every thought that you and Jeremy have poured into this blog. I learn......yes.....learn from my dear friends in various religious, atheist and anti-theist walks of life. I've learned that if God uses guilt as a tool to make us do His will, then that's not the God for me. I have lots of "opinions" about the current Mormon "religion"......and I ramble.......Jerm knows this. LOVE YOU MAN! Keep up the good work of finding and expressing you! We all need to.

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  8. Christopher in SeattleSeptember 21, 2012 at 9:38 AM

    Great post. I was raised pretty hard-core mormon and also happen to be gay. That was so much fun. There is so much misunderstanding about why a person leaves the church. I had a family member say that I was leaving because I couldn't tolerate being around 'righteous' people. Stuff like that was really hard because I was on such tenuous ground emotionally at the time.

    And the guilt thing, I very much resonate with that also. I really stressed out about whether my guilt feelings were some sort of sign from god that I was doing the wrong thing. I realize now it had a lot more to do with conditioning (some even say brainwashing) that I was reacting to. Anyway, I could write on and on about this but I appreciate your post.

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  9. Thank you Jeremy for sharing this on FB.

    I too am a 'fallen' member who has a mother that thinks I am full of guilt. The funny thing is I find myself still correcting people about what Mormons believe. Many have asked how I can do this. My answer is simple, just because I don't believe the doctrine doesn't mean that I don't know what it is.

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  10. Great post! Thanks for writing - both of you.

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  11. Ashley,

    I agree with so much in the post. We are all too quick to judge other peoples decisions, to question their motivations. As I was reading today I found this quote about guilt and it made me think of your post.

    "We must constantly guard against the temptation to assume that where there is a difference, there must also be a defect. Too often we not only berate ourselves, but each other as well, saying, 'If you were really a righteous woman, you would/wouldn't be doing what you're doing!' If we are honestly doing what we feel we must do for ourselves and our loved ones, and are doing so because that is our choice, ratified by the Spirit, we have the right to feel good about ourselves and to be free of feelings of guilt. There is a world of difference between being guilty and feeling guilty, and women are far too prone to allow themselves to feel guilty when they're not living up to someone else's expectations of what they should or should not be doing." Ida Smith

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  12. Ashley & Jeremy have made well-reasoned, temperate statements that are quite beyond my feeble emotional responses. Where I curse, they calm. Where I scream, they whisper. Your approach is better and I wish I could emulate you but you have a lifetime of teaching where I have only a lifetime of emotional squalor. I believe this is the Mormon faith's greatest gift to humanity. Even if I disagree completely with everything else about the (rant deleted).

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  13. conditioning, brainwashing, ya. A simple re-wiring is in order. Therefore, no more guilt.

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