“But what about evolution?” I ask, my brow furrowed as I question what I think is an obvious contradiction to what the missionaries just taught me.
“Well, we don’t have an exact answer to that,” says Elder Grisham carefully. “But if you pray about it, God will open your mind and tell you the truthfulness of His church.”
The Mormon family whose living room I am in smiles at me encouragingly, as if they know something I don’t. They are really nice people. I trust them.
Fast-forward 6 years, a degree from BYU, and a temple marriage later, and I am asking a friend of mine about polygamy. He is faithful, blunt, and pretty smart; I am lost, afraid, and hurting. It’s been a confusing few months.
“Why do you think Joseph didn’t get Emma’s permission to marry Fanny Alger like it says to in D&C 132? And why would he marry women who were already married when it says polygamists can only marry virgins?”
My friend is visibly irritated.
“Seems like you’ve been reading too much anti-Mormon stuff online,” he snaps.
“No, this stuff is recorded in the church’s own history,” I explain. “It’s not anti-Mormon at all. It’s fact.”
“We weren’t there, ok? We don’t know exactly what happened. It’s not our place to judge.”
End of conversation.
“How can we believe the prophet will never lead us astray when prophets have taught things the church now disavows?” I earnestly ask my husband’s family.
“The prophets haven’t ever lead us astray,” says my father-in-law, with a sharp undertone of irritation—something I’d grown used to by this point. “God has said He’ll never let that happen.”
“The prophets from Brigham Young to Harold B. Lee all taught that blacks weren’t righteous enough for the priesthood!” I exclaim, my frustration barely hidden. “They taught that interracial marriage would always be a sin! They were completely racist!”
“I went to Nigeria in the 60s,” pipes up my husband’s elderly grandmother. “The negroes were still running around naked! They were absolutely not ready for the priesthood of God. No way! But they cleaned up their act and became worthy, and the Lord graciously allowed them to have priesthood privileges.”
“The church doesn’t even accept the racist theory that they weren’t good enough anymore!” I almost shout, after attempting to explain the Race and the Priesthood essay put out by the church to her. But it doesn’t matter what I say. My ugly unfaithfulness is showing, and I am only driving a wedge between myself and the family I had just began to feel accepted by.
“I don’t know how you even have time to focus on all this negative crap,” says my father-in-law. “Don’t you have better things to do?”
It is like being punched in the stomach.
Time goes on, and my ever-expanding questions are continually met with dismissal, frustration, patronization, and anger from faithful Mormons. They don’t accept the questions, let alone have answers for them. They tell me I need more faith. They say I have forgotten what matters, that I am too focused on the negative. They provide me internet links to platitude-saturated talks, terrible arguments I have already read in the hours I’ve spent poring over faith-promoting answers, and videos with beautiful music but little substance. They dismiss my issues without hearing them. They say the church welcomes questions. Apparently not mine.
I feel broken. Why can everyone else make it work and I can’t? What’s wrong with me?
After months of pleading with God and agonizing over seemingly bottomless problems with the church, I hear that my best friend is leaving it. My hope that there are solutions to the things that trouble me constantly is dashed greatly as it dawns on me that someone with more faith and diligence than me can’t get the answers he so desperately sought for years. I determine to continue living the gospel regardless of the testimony I don’t have, and pray that this is simply a period of awful, heart-rending testing.
It’s not. No matter what I do, things only get worse. I wonder if there is even a God at all, and if there is, why He won’t answer me. What am I doing wrong? I reach the point where even picking up The Book of Mormon is laborious and almost painful. I now doubt its ability to provide me any sense of relief or inspiration. Doubt. That’s the buzzword, isn’t it? That’s the plague that others will soon tell me I have chosen to inflict upon myself. The word they will springboard off when explaining how I should have stayed in the boat, no matter how big its holes are. Doubt. The state of mind they will so casually dismiss by saying I should ignore it by using it.
I hide most of my raging, deep pain and frustrations, but occasionally, they come up. They frustrate my friends, terrify my husband, and enrage the screaming, hurting voice inside my head.
Then, I am not in the boat anymore. I didn’t choose to leave it. I was wrenched from it against my will. Lucky, because otherwise I might have died in that bloody boat. It is a joke, surely, when they suggest that I was capable of “swan diving into Babylon”. You can’t swan dive when you’re underwater. And there is no summer home in this place. No “eat, drink, and be merry”. Only grief, mingled with hope that there’s hope.
I can no longer pretend I am sailing, or even afloat in this thing. I have no boat. All I have is my ability to swim. I am a strong swimmer, but it’s not easy. I haven’t used my limbs in a while.
After a while, I rediscover my love of swimming. I feel happier and more energized being able to navigate the waters without relying on a sinking ship. I no longer recognize the island I once believed was perfect. It is completely different to me now. I don’t belong there. And I wouldn’t want to. I can no longer believe ugliness is beautiful when I have seen the full spectrum of the magnificent.