Today marks the one year anniversary of the day I informed the ward bishop that I did not believe Joseph Smith, Jr. was a prophet, or that the LDS church held the truth about God and life. I admit that I felt and feel rather bad for the bishop. Our ward was being combined with another and the new bishop had asked me to come in to be extended a calling. We had never met before, but I felt that the time of transition would be less difficult for just about everybody if I informed the Church then of my decision rather than lying to him and accepting the calling only to ultimately inform him later. His reaction was about what I expected: shock, disappointment, subtle accusations, trying to induce guilt, etc. What surprised me about it was that I responded; I spoke up, and with very reasonable things to say. For most of my life before that point, I had been scared to speak up: often ashamed that I did not fit the expectations. I had felt that there was somehow something wrong with me because I did not believe with ease. But finally, at that moment, I had found my voice. I was no longer spewing out the expected answers, echoing the scripted responses, repeating with obedience the things that had always been rewarded. This time, I was saying what I truly, in my heart of hearts, felt about these things. I was finally being honest - with myself and with all who would hear me.
This is a change for which I have longed over the years. For far too long, I was torn between the fear of being wrongfully judged by those who would not or could not listen, and my own increasingly potent conscience. What a horrible battle it was! But now, finally, I can wake up knowing that if nothing else, and even if I have to stand alone at times, I am standing tall. The battle for me has ended the only way it could; I know that I am speaking and living authentically.
I find it a tragedy that the LDS church does not allow for difference of opinion in such matters. The members are taught that if an individual knows little of the Church and does not accept it, he or she "is not ready." And if a person knows of the Church and yet still cannot accept it, he or she must be deceived, must not love God, must be unwilling to show a little faith, or must be selfish and worldly. As near as I can tell, according to LDS doctrine, it is not possible for a person to be of sound mind, of reasonable spirituality, and of an honest nature and yet also disagree with the Church's claim to absolute divinity. It is impossible for one to simultaneously "know" he or she is right and also allow for someone else to dissent without attempting to cut down his or her capacity for seeking and finding unfiltered truth. The few active, believing members who do not look at me with condescending eyes are those who realize that they have chosen to believe what they do, but that they could also ultimately be wrong. Isn't that the more accepting stance? Isn't inclusion closer to Christlike charity than exclusion? Is it possible that I am not possessed by demons, that I have not been deceived, but that there might actually be some substance to my concerns?
Walking off the beaten path for the last year has not been easy, but I've gained new perspective on my surroundings, and seen things from angles that many LDS will never see. My biggest regret is that I did not step away sooner to find the path that I fit best, or to pave my own.