Growing Up Mormon
My Truth in Religion
Kids Being Kids
Let me first premise this post with a little perspective. I haven’t been to church in nearly twenty years. Around the time I was graduating high school my parents got a divorce and us kids never really returned (stigma and all). My parents continued to attend irregularly while my grandparents stayed very active as they always had been – serving a mission in Puerto Rico and completing temple work on the regular.
Growing up Mormon felt normal - until it didn’t. When I was in first and second grade we lived in Romeo, Michigan. One day a little friend of mine told me she wasn’t allowed to play with me anymore. When I asked her why, she said it was because I was Mormon.
Fast forward to middle and high school. I was known as the weird girl and a prude because I didn’t drink alcohol or swear or hook up with boys. I was a mystery. No one really understood why I didn’t just go ahead and do what I wanted like everyone else.
A typical week during high school looked like this: Seminary was every weekday morning beginning at 6 a.m. High school students from surrounding cities attended these morning classes. Wednesday night was youth group. On Sundays, sacrament and Sunday school lasted three hours. Families would attend sacrament where we’d meet as a congregation, then split into youth groups for an hour and then even further into smaller age groups for additional classes.
Do You Believe?
Church was all I knew and I’m glad I was raised with high morals and a sense of accountability but as I've aged, I realize I don’t need church to tell me what’s right and what's wrong. I’m capable of being a good person on my own.
And although most Mormons are incredibly kind and giving, I always felt like an outsider being judged. Part of that judgement - all the rules. A never-ending list of rules that you needed to follow in order to be accepted or get into heaven or whatever you’d like to call it.
To me, being Mormon was very similar to Christianity. Mormons believe many of the same teachings as Christians but take everything a step further. For example, Mormons don’t believe in just one heaven. They believe there are three levels, where you reach certain tiers depending on your “goodness”.
Mormons believe in baptism but they are baptized at eight years old instead of birth. That way, sins are truly washed away. Mormons even believe in baptisms for the dead. Someone like me would enter a Mormon temple and be baptized in place of a person who is no longer alive, giving them the chance to join the church. (The other day I was telling a friend about my experience being baptized for the dead when I realized how insane it sounds.)
Like Christians, Mormons believe in no sex before marriage but go much further in discouraging any type of physical contact. Even after marriage, partners wear sleeping garments to keep themselves modest. And of course, masturbating and pornography are total no-no’s.
Mormons are not supposed to swear or gossip or speak ill of others. They are not supposed to be suggestive in their dress. They are not supposed to harm their bodies in any way including tattoos, cigarettes, alcohol or even coffee/soda (caffeine). To this day, I’ve never seen my parents take a sip of alcohol (or coffee) which is pretty nuts. And Mormons are definitely not supposed to be gay.
At my age, I'd hate to believe people follow these rules for the wrong reasons. I’ve never been one to follow blindly or believe in something without proof. I guess that’s why I’ve ended up where I am - curiosity and my inquisitive nature. I just think there’s a point at which you have to let go of what others tell you and trust your gut.
I must also admit, I don’t remember many of the teachings despite an excess of 4,000 hours of religious lessons. It could be partly due to my horrible memory or that I’ve blocked so much of it out. There were a lot of things that never made sense to me.
Mormons believe one can be sealed to their family so that after they die they’ll be together forever. They also believe that marriage is not ‘till death do you part’ but continues on in heaven. But if there are three levels of heaven promised for those who behave accordingly, what if I’m sealed to my family and promised to be with them forever except that my family member hasn’t reached my same “level” of heaven?
Why did Jesus turn water into wine but we aren’t allowed to drink it? Historically, why did Joseph Smith allow for polygamy (even if there were an excess of male members) but now it’s only practiced by outcasts of the church? (True Mormons haven't practiced polygamy since 1890 and no, my dad doesn't have multiple wives.) Who is Joseph Smith anyway and how'd he become a modern day prophet?
As with any extreme religion, there are often negative consequences. I’m a firm believer that if you control children too much they will eventually rebel and lack the tools necessary to handle the situations they get into. This could manifest in a number of ways. For me personally, I began drinking and doing drugs around the age of 21. It was an incredibly dark time in my life and I’m lucky I made it out alive.
Another manifestation is my sexuality – on a number of levels. For the most part, I was taught sex is bad and wrong and not meant for pleasure but only to procreate. I was completely against pornography and masturbation (until recent years). I struggled in my relationships not knowing what I liked or what was okay to enjoy.
When I dated men, I hated sex. I thought something was wrong with me. I had decided, sex just wasn’t for me and I’d spend the rest of my life avoiding it. It wasn’t until my first experience with a woman that I knew I wasn’t broken. I thought, OH MY GOD. THIS IS WHAT IT’S LIKE. Being gay didn't exist as a kid. I was never taught what it was to be gay - and how can you be something you don’t know exists?
I’ve spent the last several years feeling out my sexuality. It didn’t help much that I chose to date people who were unavailable emotionally and incapable of providing me with what I needed - patience and understanding (see my coming out story in, Come on Out).
Today, I can proudly say I’m coming into my own and I’m happy with where I’m at. I’m happy I was raised Mormon but I’m even happier with who I’ve decided to become. I'm a constant work in progress but I truly enjoy personal growth and challenging myself to see where it takes me. The sky is the limit if your heart is set on moving forward.