Sunday, June 15, 2014

The Mystical Bonds

This is the third in a series of posts, originally published in the spring of 2013, that chronicle my decision to resign my membership in the Mormon Church and my confrontation with Church history that followed.

It’s amazing, the power that myth has over us. My marriage to my former wife was, as I have previously described, the central myth of my life, in the sense that it gave it meaning, purpose and structure. She and I felt and believed that it was God’s will that we be together, and this belief was supported and sustained by what we viewed as powerful spiritual experiences prior to our marriage. In much the same way as the miracles of the Exodus created and sustained Israel for centuries, even millennia, these pre-marital spiritual experiences were the glue that held our marriage together and gave me the faith to keep moving forward despite considerable obstacles.

I realized as I was writing this post that there were no further powerful spiritual experiences after we married. As is the case with countless other myths, we looked back to those original experiences as definitive, regardless of subsequent circumstances. I also came to realize that had my wife and I married under “normal” circumstances, our marriage would likely have survived only a few years – if that long. We had virtually nothing in common outside of the Church, and then there was the fact that I was gay, trying (honestly, sincerely and desperately) to be heterosexual. 

As I have written, the central myth of our "celestialized marriage" was supported, sustained and controlled by another myth, i.e., the truthfulness of Mormonism. I could never allow myself to question the doctrine of Mormonism and thus the truthfulness of the Church, because doing so would threaten this central myth. 

So, even though I was deeply unhappy in the Church and there were many things about it that I did not like, I never allowed myself to “go there.” I couldn’t afford to shake my core testimony because it was the one thing I clung to in order to bring sanity and meaning to my life of denial, conflict and shame (as a gay man). Paradoxically, it was also the one thing that shackled me to my life of denial, conflict and shame.

My coming out was the A-bomb that dealt a critical blow to both my testimony and the central myth that had governed over 25 years of my adult life. But though mortally wounded, my internalized belief system in Mormonism clung to life. Though I had lost any belief at all in the divine calling of the Brethren (the highest-ranking leaders of the Church), there were certain things that were very difficult for me to let go of. I frankly didn’t know what I believed with respect to the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith. I had no explanations of how both could not be what they purport(ed) to be.

And, not surprisingly, I found my belief in the temple sealing ordinances tenacious. The hold, the power, that the sealing bonds have on Mormons – whether currently practicing or not – is profound. Though there are many aspects of the modern “Mormon Myth,” I would submit that the concept of the eternal family lies at the center of the myth, in that it is the most powerful motivating force of the entire religion. And at the very heart of that center stands the temple, the nexus between mortals and the Gods where the sacred ordinances of eternal family creation are performed. 

So as I considered resigning, I was concerned about what effect this action might have on my already strained relationships with my children. Beyond this, I was concerned – at least for a time – about the temple ordinances that had “sealed” my children to me.  What effect would my resignation have on those ordinances, I wondered?  

But then, almost immediately, I realized that I was still giving credence to a belief system in which I had lost faith. I realized how deeply I had become enmeshed in a system that had taught me that my relationships with my children were dependent on rituals, rather than on strong, true and authentic emotions and experiences.

I pondered how I had bought into this system, which had encouraged me to subject my relationships with my children to its demands, that taught me to constantly judge my children and myself, that “ritualized” my relationships with them. How different things would be, I mused, if my religion emphasized that what “sealed” me to my children were not rituals in a building, but rather feelings of love and acceptance, of validation and caring, of tenderness and devotion.

And so, as the days rolled by in the summer of early fall of 2011, I examined my feelings anew. Why did I want to resign my membership? Because I felt like a hypocrite. Because I was tired of the feeling of looking over my shoulder, of receiving a letter summoning me to a disciplinary council. Because I knew instinctively that I needed to ‘throw off the chains with which I am bound,’ to use a scriptural term.

Beyond all of this, however, was the feeling of actually doing something proactively, rather than waiting for events to force my hand. Even though I still didn’t know what I believed about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon, I knew I no longer wanted to be a part of the Church. I knew I needed to sever that tie in order to move on with my life.

And thus in late October 2011, I sat in front of my computer, staring at the blinking cursor. Then I typed the last line of my resignation letter.
 “As I am no longer a member, I want my name permanently and completely removed from the membership rolls of the church.”
I printed out the letter, checked it for errors, addressed the envelope and left both lying on my desk. I went outside for some fresh air. The enormity of what I was doing weighed upon me. I felt physically ill. Mark, who was preparing to leave for work, was consoling, comforting and supportive. He gently encouraged me to go ahead and mail the letter right away and get it behind me to put an end to the suffering I was experiencing.

After Mark left, I folded the letter, put it in the envelope, sealed it, and stared at it for a few moments. Then, I got in my car and drove to the post box down the street. I was afraid that if I left it for the mail carrier, I’d change my mind. I got out of the car, walked over to the box, pulled back the lid and dropped the letter in. As soon as I did so, my feelings of nausea and anxiety left. I took two deep breaths, got back in my car and realized as I was driving away that I felt wonderful. I have never, not even for a moment, regretted that decision.

Even so, I still had a lingering belief in the Book of Mormon and in Joseph Smith ... I decided I would simply let this belief lie for the time being. But that was soon to change.

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