April 14, 2010

Quitting Mormonism Begins with a Single Step, Part One


Yeah, not many people know that I'm a Mormon. I don't really tell people. Except in bars while I'm drinking, because I like the reaction it receives. The reason I don't tell people is because I'm not a Mormon.


I was baptized as a wee child of eight years old, living in Utah. On the night of my baptism, I went to the church with my family, put on a special white gown, then met my father (also clad entirely in white) in the baptismal pool. While an audience of friends and family watched, he held my back and my forearm. I plugged my nose for dear life. He spoke the instructed words, then my dear ol' jack-Mormon dad dunked me into the water. I was proud that I didn't screw it up by lifting any part of skin out of the water before the prayer ended. I had heard stories about kids who had to be dunked again, as a result. One time was enough for me, thank you.

I was also very proud at having been baptized. That is a special time for every 8-year-old Mormon child. I received a congratulatory card from a relative that said, "The Lord works in mysterious ways." I liked that card because later that year, the U2 song, "Mysterious Ways," was released.

Whenever I read that card, I heard: "The lord moves...in mysterious ways! It's all right, it's all right, all right!"

I liked going to church and listening to stories from the Book of Mormon. I enjoyed watching Mormon cartoons (I especially liked the story of Nephi). I bragged about how my dad's second cousin was Stewart Peterson--a famous actor in the Mormon movie circuit. I even read the pamphlets about what a good Mormon child does not do ("Mom, what is necking?").

But over time, I started to pull away from the church.

The stories and ideas stopped clicking with me and I started questioning more:
"Why do they baptize dead people?"

"How can people create worlds of their own?"

"Why can't I drink Pepsi?"

"There are three Heavens and many gods and other planets with people on them? Whoa..."

But this new curiousness didn't stop at Mormonism. I began reading about the beliefs and practices of other religions too. And still more and more stopped adding up.

Why do more people not know of the link between Christianity and Zoroastrianism?

What happens to the people who have never heard of Jesus and can, therefore, not accept him as their savior? Do they still go to heaven? And if so, why do they get a free ride, while I don't?

What about all the religions that were around before our modern ones? How could they be wrong, when they came first?

Is a sinful Christian more likely to go to heaven than an Atheist who leads a good life?

And so on, and so on...

But I didn't create this post so I can go on and on about my increasing lack of beliefs. Oh no, I have a purpose.

By the time I was a teenager, I was a full-blown Agnostic. Even before I knew what that was.

I no longer attended church. I didn't believe in Mormonism...or any one religion for that matter. I picked and chose from various religions, like a spiritual buffet. "Oh hey, I like the idea of reincarnation!" "Karma? Yes, please!" My thoughts evolved into a cohesive blend of worldly teachings, ideals, and values. And that was just fine with me.

But it wasn't fine with the Mormon Church.

Just after my 18th birthday, five hundred miles away from home, I received my first post-Utah, LDS-visitor. The young men asked for me by name, then politely introduced themselves to me. They noted that I hadn't attended church for a while, and wondered if I had any questions for them. I explained that I was no longer a practicing Mormon. They were taken aback, but remained nice as can be and eventually left.

Weird, I thought while laughing. I wonder how they found me...

But then, less than six months later, I received more LDS visitors. Again, they asked for me by name, again they introduced themselves, and again they noted that I hadn't attended church for a while. I said that I was not a practicing Mormon, and they left.

Years went by. I moved to different cities, got married, got divorced, moved again...

And they always found me. Within 2-3 months of moving to a new place, the Mormons would show up at my door and send me various newsletters or birthday cards. At one location, the visiting teachers even left banana bread on several occasions.

(Note to the Mormons: pay attention. The way to my heart is through free food. Keep this up and I may consider going to a sacrament or two.)

On one occasion, a kindly visiting teacher knocked on the door while I was out of the house. My then-husband answered and immediately said, "She can't talk to you. She isn't allowed." Oh, to have seen her face. I imagine it would have been priceless. She showed up again less than a week later. Her eyes were full of concern while she whispered to me, "Are you...okay?"

With each visit, I always explained (while matching their politeness with my own), "I'm no longer a Mormon. I'm never going back to church. Sorry."

Then one night, I was visited by an evil being.

Okay, she wasn't really evil. But she was certainly grumpy. It was the visiting teacher for my new neighborhood. Here we go again, I thought. I opened the door and politely gave my I'm-not-a-Mormon spiel.

"Yes, you are," she replied.

"Excuse me?"

"You were baptized, so you are still a Mormon."

"I'm not a Mormon if I stop practicing.

"You are in our records as being a member of the LDS church."

"That's ridiculous."

"Like it or not, you can't just quit. You would have to write to your bishop. Until you do that, you are going to stay a Mormon in our records and you are going to continue receiving visits."


The next day, I looked into what it takes to stop being a Mormon.
Turns out, the process is notoriously difficult.

And absolutely warrants a photo-blog-journey as documentation.
So, stay tuned for Part Two.


Joshua said...

Oh yeah! This is going to be so GOOD!

Adam said...

It's almost certain that the reason they kept showing up were your parents were updating your address. We eventually found out that our in-laws were behind the inevitable visit from our "visiting teachers" whenever we moved to a new place.

Kelli said...

Adam, I know it wasn't my parents (one is a Jack-mormon, the other doesn't know where I live). But I'm guessing my extended family was the cause of at least some visits.

I wonder if the LDS church has some kind of informant at the post office's address change department.

Ronnica said...

The practice of keeping people on the roles even when they don't want to be isn't just a Mormon thing, but it's ridiculous.

I think companies can pay to be notified when their clients move (probably the same for the church). I know I got a letter from Blue Cross Blue Shield to that affect one time.