When asked why I left the Mormon Church I often don't have a fast and easy answer. There was no single reason I left. There was a lifetime of experiences, a lot of personal study, a lot of truth seeking then one day I found that my questions were bigger than the answers. I found my time in church on Sunday was no longer uplifting it had become a place where I was drained of every ounce of my strength. My leaving didn't happen over night it happened over years. There were some last straws that broke the proverbial camel's back and there were definitely some defining moments that made leaving easier.
The following experience is one of those defining moments. Not a reason for my leaving as much as a clarifying moment when I thought 'why the hell should I stay'. My last trip to the Temple turned out to be a pretty good finale to my Mormon life.
First the story leading up to the event.
"As your stake president I don't feel I can sign your recommend today. It's clear that you don't sustain the leaders and you don't believe in the main tenants of the gospel."
"What I am trying to tell you, President Marshall, is that though I respect the church leadership I would just like to see the church, as an entity, take a stronger stance on domestic violence... I know of individuals in my ward who deal with spousal abuse and child abuse in their homes and they are getting no support from the church."
The door to the office shut behind me and it hit me that, for the first time in my life, I was being denied the approval I needed to enter the Temple to practice one of the most important principals of my religion. I was a bit stunned and shaken up by this interaction I had just had. I stood in one place for a very long time trying to comprehend what had just happened. How can one man have this kind of control over my life?
As I thought about my conversation with President Marshall; about the problem of domestic violence in the church I recalled a conversation with my friend Karen I had three months previous.
"Wow Karen, has anyone else read your journals? I had no idea you and the kids were going through this. Why don't you leave?"
"Craig will find me." Karen tells me; her hands visibly shaking. "He said if I leave he will find me and the kids and we will pay for it. I'm pregnant again and I do not want to put another child in this situation. My therapist at LDS Social Services has read my journals and has heard everything. He thinks I should stay and make it work. But it's not going to work."
"I can't believe anyone at LDS Social Services would read this and tell you to stay. Your therapist must be a crazy person."
"I'm going to leave as soon as the baby is born. It will be summer and the kids will be out of school. My job will be changing too and I can transfer to another city."
"You need to involve the police; this is serious, bad stuff Karen. I don't know if you are safe waiting it out."
"I think I'll be okay; Craig is working nights and is only home when we are all away. I don't want to call the police until the kids and I are safe."Two weeks after my initial interview with the stake president I tried again; and every two weeks for the next six months. Each interview proving to be more frustrating than the previous one. For some reason President Marshall has an issue with me and somehow believes I'm not worthy because, as he sees it, I don't sustain the leaders.
"Who is the head of your household Jill?" President Marshall asks during one of our interviews. "Is your husband at the head of your household?" My reply was evidently not what he wanted to hear. "Both my husband and I are at the head of our household. It's important to both of us that we lead together and our children see us as equals." I paused, then I asked "President Marshall did you receive a letter from Elder Marion D Hanks on my behalf?" I knew he had because I had written Elder Hanks a few weeks previous explaining the situation and asking him if he thought what the stake president was basing his decision on was a legitimate issue. I had received a copy of the letter Elder Hanks had written to the stake president urging him to reconsider his stance. Elder Hanks wrote ...I know Jill and I know her heart. I vouch for her worthiness and her honest desire to go to the Temple.
President Marshall folded his hands on the desk in front of him. "I did receive his letter and my decision stays the same. It's obvious to me you have a problem with patriarchy and if you don't honor the Priesthood you are not sustaining our leaders and you are not worthy of a temple recommend." I was astonished. "I can't believe, President, that because I am speaking up for women and children who are being abused and violated that you are concluding I am unworthy. We have been meeting for six months and I still have no recommend. What do I have to do in order to prove my worthiness and get your signature on this piece of paper?"
Three months and four interviews later I am in the church foyer waiting to talk to President Marshall. I'm a little uncomfortable because Craig, the abusive husband of my friend Karen, is also waiting for an interview. I'm not sure if Craig knows of my friendship with his wife. I'm pretty sure he doesn't; Karen would be the last person to let on that anyone knew of the situation.
"Are you waiting to talk to President Marshall" Craig asks. "Yes, you too I suppose." Craig flashes his Temple Recommend. "Yes, waiting to get my recommend signed; just got the Bishop's signature." I distract myself hoping to end the conversation with this vile man. First of all I can't believe with what the Bishop knows about Craig that he would sign his recommend. Karen has met with the Bishop, as well as her therapist at LDS Social Services, many times seeking advice only to be told to do what it takes to make her marriage work.
Why do I even care, I think to myself, this experience has been horrible I can't believe these men are inspired. Well maybe President Marshall will withhold Craig's recommend. I can't imagine he would sign his recommend seeing how he has given me such a difficult time. It doesn't take inspiration to figure out that Craig is a total douchebag.
The door to the Stake President's office opens and Craig walks in and, no kidding, twenty minutes later walks out with a signed recommend. "Must be my lucky day" Craig says as he gives me a look that somehow tells me he knows of my friendship with his wife. My stomach wrenches and I have to look away. The irony of the situation is baffling to me. Here I am, for close to a year now, trying to get my recommend signed and the reason I can't get it signed just walked out of the president's office with a little slip of paper stating his worthiness is greater than mine in the eyes of President Marshall, ergo the church, ergo God.
My thoughts are racing; President Marshall obviously doesn't know Craig. Craig must have lied saying whatever it took to get his recommend signed. They aren't difficult questions after all. Yes, yes, yes, no, yes... the answers are simple enough.
I walked into the President's office and see the man who I have been contending with for the last several months in a strange new light. For the first time I notice the framed license on his wall stating that he is a licensed therapist working for LDS Social Services. This is too coincidental, I think, I'll have to ask Karen who her therapist is.
"You know Brother Planter?" President Marshall asks. "Yes he is in my ward. I'm good friends with his wife Karen; we know each other quite well." My reply seems to strike a chord with him and for some unexplained reason I leave his office that day with my recommend signed. 'Must be my lucky day.'
The recommend in my hand didn't seem like a gift or a prize it seemed like a worthless slip of paper. I wanted to wad it up and throw it into the trash. So much had happened over the last year. Karen had a baby boy and was still planning her escape from an abusive marriage. I had made my own self discoveries and was dealing with the idea of being gay and still remaining in my marriage and the church. I laughed as I thought about what President Marshall might think if he knew that story. By this time I had figured out that these men who had jurisdiction over my worthiness didn't need to know everything about me. Besides it was not a sin to BE gay only to ACT gay.
At least now I can go to the Temple with Linda. Linda had been telling me how she wanted me to go with her because she was doing work for her ancestors. I guess I could muster the spirituality to go with Linda this week; ward temple day was on Saturday. I left the President's office and headed down the hallway to attend Relief Society meeting. I sat down next to Karen. "Karen, who is your therapist at LDS Social Services?" I asked. It didn't surprise me when she told me that it was President Marshall. I didn't hear a word of the lesson that day... something about charity or some such thing.
Linda and I met on Saturday morning and headed up to the Temple. My heart wasn't completely in it but I knew it was important to Linda and I thought I could dig down deep and create a spiritual experience. We arrived at the Temple and eventually made our way to the room where we would be for the next hour or so to participate in, what is considered by believing Mormons, a sacred ritual.
Fast forward to the end of the session where they ask for people to go to the front of the room and stand in a circle for a prayer. Linda, myself and several others walked up front and stood at the alter.
In way of explanation for those not familiar with the ceremony. There needs to be an equal number of men and women in the circle so when there is a man or a woman by themselves, without a person of the opposite sex with them, they will call someone up from the group to balance the numbers. Male, female, male, female around in a circle the man to the right and the women to the left in couples.
On this occasion I am without a male partner. The man conducting the session asks for a male volunteer to stand with me in the prayer circle.
Now, you may think I'm making this up but I'm not; this really happened. I'm standing there waiting for someone to come stand with me in the prayer circle and up walks... wait for it... wait for it... yes, you're right up comes Craig. What are the chances I guess it was 'my lucky day'. Up to this point I hadn't noticed him, but now here I am standing next to him in the prayer circle.
I hear the officiator say "If any of you have unkind feelings about anyone in the circle we ask that you withdraw..." What do I do, I do not like this man I have VERY unkind feelings towards him. Oh well, pretend... just like you have been doing all of your life... pretend. After a few more words we are asked to take the hand of the person next to us in a symbolic grip called the 'patriarchal grip' (Ironic ~ right?).
I wanted to leave the circle. I wanted to stand up for Karen, and all the women like her, and somehow call Craig out for all of the physical and sexual abuse he had perpetrated on his family. But I didn't. I stood there with Craig to my right holding my hand in the patriarchal grip. I'm not sure if he was aware that I knew what kind of a man he was, but somehow I think he did know and this was his way of being in control and having a bit of power over me. If I did sit down he would know for sure that Karen had told me things and this might put her in danger so I suppose pretending was the best thing to do.
The prayer circle finished up and we proceeded to the next part of the temple session. Eventually Linda and I are in the Celestial room where on a more typical day I would have felt calm and peace. Now I'm feeling very uncomfortable and all I want to do is run from the room screaming. I quickly exit and return to the safest place in the Temple; the ladies locker room.
Somehow, in that moment, I knew this would be my last visit to the Temple.