I never thought it was right to call up a man and try him because he erred in doctrine, it looks too much like methodism and not like Latter day Saintism. Methodists have creeds which a man must believe or be kicked out of their church. I want the liberty of believe as I please, it feels so good not to be trammeled. It don’t prove that a man is not a good man, because he errs in doctrine.” – Joseph Smith Jr. The Words of Joseph Smith, pp. 183-184
When I think about students getting kicked out of BYU for losing their faith in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, I feel sick to my stomach. That’s not a metaphor—I feel legitimately nauseous thinking that a school that claims to promote morality and Christ-like love can be so very cruel.
I assume, for the sake of giving BYU administrators (or church leaders or whoever makes these kinds of decisions) the benefit of the doubt, that they simply do not understand the absolute torture that one often experiences when doubting their faith. So let me try and spell it out for you, BYU.
People like me, who lost faith despite a lifetime of devotion to the gospel, didn’t seek out anything negative about the church. I, for example, began my journey by wondering, “Is it really true that the prophet can’t lead us astray? What about the things Brigham Young taught, like blood atonement and the sinfulness of eternal marriage?” (As documented in the church’s own books and records.)
So I studied. A lot. I read everything I could make time for about church leaders, past and present—through LDS.org, church-approved history, and resources like the Journal of Discourses. I read the church’s controversial gospel topics essays. I read FAIR Mormon looking for ways to justify and rationalize the horrible things I could read right there in church-“allowed” material. My mental gymnastics became more and more complicated as I determined that I would find a way to retain faith no matter what it took, and as my beliefs were forced to contort and bend, so did my emotional wellbeing. I became broken.
I could go on and on and on about just how awful this process was, but there are other posts on this site that do that well, so let me just talk about the aftermath for a bit.
When I realized that no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t believe Joseph Smith was a prophet anymore, I told no one for about a month. I didn’t want to hurt people close to me, and I was terrified of how they’d react. I silently suffered, kept my mouth shut, and maintained the pretense of being a faithful member of the church. I continued doing everything I was “supposed” to do, all while masking the most excruciating inner turmoil I’d ever experienced.
There are others I know who stay silent for considerably longer than a month—sometimes years, and even decades. They go through life with zero testimony, despite wanting one with all their heart. And they don’t tell anyone, because they are so. Afraid.
My best friend had panic attacks at work when he lost his testimony. I watched him suffer after having also watched him try harder in the gospel than anyone I had ever known. My husband sobbed—legitimately sobbed—for three days straight, traumatized at the idea of having to admit to his family that he didn’t believe in the religion he was raised in anymore, despite his best efforts to always do the right thing. I still cry about it occasionally, despite being in a much happier place than I was a few months ago—because people I love think I’m a bad person for trying my best and getting a different answer than they got seemingly without trying. (When compared to the hellish study and desperate seeking I went through.)
So, BYU, when I imagine going through that experience with the added fear of getting kicked out of my degree program and losing my job and my housing, I truly wonder how people cope. I wonder, in the gravest, saddest way, if I would have coped. Because what I experienced felt like my limit. No, it felt greater than my limit. No words can do justice to what it feels like to have your entire belief system crumble through no fault of your own—to watch it crumble because of how much you cared about it to begin with.
When you operate under the premise that you are the One True Church, and The Single Best Way To Live, you often encounter limits to your compassion, whether you realize it or not. The current policy of kicking out BYU students who lose faith, regardless of if they broke any rules or how hard they tried, is evidence of that. So I would ask you, BYU, to search your heart for at least a desire to understand these tortured students, who are already in an intensely vulnerable and broken place. They’re already losing what probably feels like their lives. Don’t add to their misery. Don’t blackmail your students. You can’t always force belief, so don’t coerce them into lying—that’s not what you stand for. I would hope.