It’s now been almost two years since I received my endowment, and these have been, without question, the least religious two years of my life.
I was not a closet feminist before my temple experience. I was quite upfront with my bishop about the fact that I think there’s no good reason for women not to hold the priesthood, and how I pray the Proclamation on the Family is uninspired. I took the temple prep class four times over the course of several years, and drove a series of teachers crazy with questions. (Why are ordinances necessary, anyway?)
But in spite of my grievances, I was committed to the church. Of course, even if divinely inspired, it’s an institution run by humans, and it’s fallible, and I don’t expect to agree with every word that comes out of every church leader’s mouth. But I was convinced through personal experience that God is loving and trustworthy and involved in the church, and I could forgive the church’s mistakes for that reason only. I guess I figured, rights will eventually be wronged; God is so good, and so loving, that he’s worth making some compromises for.
The temple blew me away.
At first I tried to convince myself that I just needed to bite the bullet and focus on the good and not the bad. I went back a second time, alone. I sat in the celestial room and wept and begged God to explain to me how he could be so cruel. I got no answer. And I never returned.
As angry as I was (and am), apostasy did not come easily or immediately. Far from falling out of the church, I feel I’ve jumped out, gradually weaning myself off religious practices that came to seem tained by this–what shall I say?–institutionalized declaration that women are not entitled to the same quality of relationship with God that men enjoy; that God does not trust women to the degree he trusts men.
It took me several months before I could bring myself to stop wearing garments, and I sobbed the night I first took them off, begging God to understand that I simply cannot endorse what they represent. For the longest time I vowed repeatedly to stay away from church services, but found myself showing up anyway. In my pre-temple life, I made an effort to fast every Sunday and read the scriptures an hour a day. Now I can’t remember the last time I fasted, or took the sacrament, or got on my knees, or opened the scriptures. I’ve forced myself to give this all up. And there are times, not so infrequent, when I really miss the religious life.
To this day I am as convinced of the reality of God as I am of anything. But I’ve lost my faith in God’s goodness, in his love for me, in his desire for my well-being and happiness. Call it a lack of faith (I do), but I don’t trust God anymore. I can’t worship God from within a framework that is profoundly personally demeaning.
I feel that for a long time I’ve made painful compromises because I value my relationship with God. I’ve been willing to forego “the right to act in God’s name” on account of my two x chromosomes. I’ve spent my life reading androcentric scriptures. But there’s a limit to the compromises I’m willing to make, and the temple is light years beyond it. My autonomy is sacred. Anything that threatens it I consider sacrilegious. I’m not going to cede my autonomy to a fallible male with a fallible ability to recognize God’s will simply because God is unwilling to enter into a formal relationship with me directly. If God doesn’t want me, I don’t want him.
I think I’ve encountered just about every reaction you can imagine to this ongoing religious crisis. To those who say, “Honey, one day you’ll understand why God commands what he does,” my tendency is to reply, “Yeah, after I’ve been lobotomized.” (Did I mention I have a problem with being condescended to?) Then there are those who are eager to uncover the “real” problem: am I not keeping the law of chastity? Do I have trouble with the Word of Wisdom? Other people explain to me how the church actually doesn’t subordinate women, because they have wonderful mothers, or wives. (How nice for them!) One good friend suggested to me that the church is all about vicarious relationships: Christ did something for men they couldn’t do for themselves, and then men do something for women. It’s a gallant effort, and I appreciate the intent, but hierarchy is implied. Christ is able to lift men up because he’s above them, and better than they. Why are further intermediaries needed? Why wasn’t Christ’s ateonment enough to fully reconcile women to God too?
One woman even accused me more or less of setting myself up to show everyone how much more sophisticated I am than they are. She was extremely intelligent, she informed me, and she had no problem with the temple: therefore, neither did I. (I don’t claim superior intelligence. I don’t deny that there are people smarter than I am who have no problem with the temple.) Over and over I hear that it’s not a big deal. What can I say? It’s a big deal to me. I’m not trying to judge those who love the temple or deny their spiritual experiences there (I have good friends in this category), or those who have made peace with it in spite of reservations. But I do wish people could accept the sincerity of my crisis.
Near the end of the movie _The Interpreter_, Silvia asks the leader of Matobo something to the effect of, “How could you give so much, and then take away even more?” I would love to put this question to God. What’s so difficult about the entire issue is that I’ve felt God’s love, and I no longer know how to make sense of it. Just the thought that there’s even a possibility that the God who claims to love me expects me to accept *this is a knife to the heart.
Please observe the following guidelines in commenting on this post: 1) this isn’t the place to discuss Kiskilili’s spiritual failings, 2) though former church members are welcome to respectfully add their thoughts on this particular issue, this isn’t the place to talk more generally about why you don’t like the church or why you left it, and 3) please steer clear of specific discussion of the temple ceremony. –ZD Admin
- 26 January 2006