Sage: My first memory of the day the ‘Policy Change’ hit was watching a plane taxi onto the runway at the Salt Lake Airport. I watched it take off and grow small – soaring above the Utah mountains with their sun-washed glow shining pink and vibrant in the morning air. I remember having a single, simple thought, “This is going to be a good weekend.” I then saw my wife returning from the Airport restroom – tears welling in her eyes.
Rachel: That’s the moment I can pinpoint when everything changed. That’s the moment when any hope of reconciliation disappeared. Mentally, emotionally, spiritually I was crushed.
Sage: We didn’t even have to say a word to one another – we both knew the time had come to officially resign from the LDS Church.
Sage: At my most faithful I remember thinking how protected I felt from life’s greatest trials. I recognized it as naive, but the logic seemed sound. Death of a loved one? The afterlife and doctrine of Eternal Families covered that. Financial woes? Church assistance and the welfare program would never let us starve. Debilitating disease or accident? The priesthood with its healing blessings could assist and if that wasn’t in God’s plan then the Atonement absolutely WAS. Yes – with the Church in my life, no trial could ever be too hard to bear – no sacrifice to great. What I never even contemplated in that youthful ignorance – what I couldn’t fathom in even my darkest dreams – was that my greatest trial, and indeed my greatest sacrifice would actually BE the CHURCH. When lessons were taught about being willing to ‘give all that you have’, I never assumed that it would or could include the Heavenly Inheritance I had been promised from birth – Eternal Life, my Eternal Families, the Worlds Without End.
But many years ago, that possibility became real. As my wife and I became Activists for the LGBT community and felt great purpose and spiritual strength in that service, we found our deepest, most profound struggle was with the Church we loved and the ever widening distance between our own moral center – what we felt was ‘right’ – and what the Church taught and openly declared. But for years, we thought we were making progress. Rachel joined the One Voice Choir – we started a website called Mormon Allies – we attended Mormons Building Bridges Marches and Affirmation conferences. All around us it seems like a path to reconciliation was on the horizon for the amazing people who were born into both a Church and a Sexuality that were fundamentally at odds.
Then it all came crashing down.
Rachel: It’s interesting that while Sage was coming to his own conclusions about the meaning of sacrifice, I was also silently contemplating the meaning of obedience. I had always been taught to ‘do what is right, let the consequence follow’ and by doing so, I would be blessed. But, as I’ve matured and seen good people around me making good choices – even when doing so meant giving up something dear to them – I began to realize ‘choose the right’ isn’t always that simple. I started to value doing good over simply obeying leadership at all cost – even though earlier in my life I wouldn’t have seen a difference between the two. But now it’s clear to me that very often doing what’s right – what some would consider Christlike – and truly showing love and empathy toward my fellow man can, in fact, put you at odds with the leadership. And that was something I finally found the courage to accept. It was a sacrifice I was willing to make.
But first maybe we should lay a foundation of how we came to these conclusions.
Sage: My mom used to call me ‘the spiritual one’ when I was young. She said that God talked to me in a more direct, profound way than most people. I took that mantle seriously. As a youth I lived my life as righteously as I could – and would descend into deep jags of guilt and/or depression every time I made a mistake or didn’t live up to that standard I believed, deeply, God had set for me. In college I would pray for literally hours at a time, spending the better part of the day dialoguing with my Father in Heaven about what I was eating for breakfast, how excited I was to serve a mission, how I hoped there’d be time before Jesus returned to find a wife. In addition to obedience, I loved knowledge. A particularly good Institute teacher at BYU-I (Ricks College at the time) showed me how complex and fascinating our own religion and its history could be. I took those twin zeals of obedience and study full force into the mission field where I served with gusto among the people of Salt Lake City (yes, my mission was in Utah – no i wasn’t disappointed – yes i’m from Oregon originally – yes I ate a lot of brownies).
I loved my mission. It taught me so many important lessons about hard work and human nature, about giving your life in the service of others and how to get along with people even if they drive you crazy. But like all good missions it was hard. Salt Lake was unique in the hardships it presented. We were well fed, we were surrounded by fawning members and even those that disliked us were at least willing to share a glass of water or let us use the restroom. No, the difficulties weren’t physical – they were spiritual. There were hundreds of those difficulties, little moments of doubt and questioning. But after all these years there are three distinct moments of my mission that have stayed with me – three moments that struck my heart like a tuning fork and resonate to this day. They would warrant an entire essay each, but these bullets will have to suffice:
- My companion admitted to me, in the depths of the deepest self loathing and disgust I had ever seen, that he was gay and hated himself for it. My reaction surprised me… I didn’t hate him back. In fact, all I felt was empathy and love and promised to help him in any way I could – including keeping his secret, which I continue to keep to this day.
- A beautiful Catholic family from Mexico accepted us into their home. We proceeded over the next few weeks to utterly dismantle their religion using carefully selected scriptures and historical data. When they were at their most broken and distraught, that young father looked me in the eye and asked me if I were in his position – required to give up the only faith he had ever known, his family relations and even his employment in order to make the right choice, would I do it? I without hesitation told him ‘Yes’. Not because I thoughtfully considered the weight of his question, but because I naively believed i’d never actually be put in such a position. The callousness haunted me then, and it haunts me still.
- One of my greatest, most spiritual experiences was teaching a ‘golden’ investigator named Clint. My companion and I felt the spirit course through us as we testified how his dead mother was waiting for him on the other side. We felt the spirit so strong as he shared his experience of seeing past the veil and hearing his ancestors tell him the Book of Mormon was true. But it was all a lie. We learned after his baptism that his name was not Clint. He was in fact a serial con-man who had been baptized 3 other times that year – and often used the opportunity to sexually assault missionaries. He was wanted by the police. And even worse – his mother was still alive.
As deeply as the experiences above would eventually shake me, they couldn’t compete in my mindscape with what was inarguably the greatest blessing of my mission – meeting (and 3 months after being released marrying) the love of my life. She was all the proof I needed that the Church was true, my mission service had been accepted, and I was now being rewarded by a loving Heavenly Father.
Together our commitment to the Church was magnified even further. Couples prayer, scripture study and temple attendance, along with callings of ever increasing importance, made it clear that our priorities were to God first, each other a close second. Soon our first daughter Maebe was born, then four years after that our son Bowie. Life seemed perfect – the path was set. Sure there were cracks – little moments of doubt in the truth claims of the Church, but we felt that we could weather them because we TRULY believed that no good, obedient, caring person who put Christ’s teachings at the forefront of their lives could ever find themselves at actual odds with the church and faith that claimed to be led by that self-same Christ. But secretly, and often suddenly, more cracks would appear – deeper and more poised to fissure and spiderweb than either of us could have ever anticipated.
Rachel: Like many Utah Mormons, I come from pioneer stock. I’m related to Parley P. Pratt through both my mother and father. But unlike most Utah Mormons, I came from a pretty liberal family. My parents voted democrat and even sometimes green. We had a copy of “Rules for Radicals” on our bookshelf. One of my most memorable childhood moments was getting into a debate with my cousins Achievement Day leader over the republican and democratic parties. I was 10. It was at that moment I realized, maybe for the first time, that we were different from other mormons.
I grew up in a pretty diverse neighborhood (for Utah standards at least). Our friends came from a variety of backgrounds both culturally and religiously. That was just how it was. I didn’t know anything different. I’m really grateful for that. I was a good kid. I wanted to please my parents, leaders, and teachers. I was a good student, a little bit shy, and full of love. I had great leaders in my ward growing up, and my church friends were amazing, most of us are still connected in one way or another. I still love and hold a deep gratitude and respect for each of those people. They taught me so many great lessons, and helped me become who I am today.
In my teenage years, I was still a pretty good, kid. I think the hardest part of those years was wanting to be treated like a grownup but not wanting to take the responsibility of being a grownup. I guess I wanted to have my cake, and eat it to. I made some serious mistakes, but never fell away from the church. In fact I really grew stronger and had my testimony strengthened by truly going through the repentance process. Looking back I wouldn’t change a thing, but in hindsight I’ve realized that I had a lot of questions about life and the world, and the answers I was given as a child, even though they were acceptable to my kid self, I realize now were not really answered at all.
After high school I went to Utah State University in Logan. I loved it up there. It had a great LDS community but wasn’t too ‘mormony’ (i.e. it wasn’t BYU). I had decided sometime in high school that I wanted to become a Landscape Architect and I was very driven to achieve that goal. My other goal at this time, like most mormon girls who go away to college, was to get married and start a family. I knew I could achieve both. I was trying to be the ultimate woman. And I think I did it exactly how I planned it. I got married, but not too early (I was a junior), I graduated and worked for a year (not too long), then I had a baby, and went to part time for a year until I was able to stay at home full time – I had made it to mormon womanhood! I was raised with one ideal of womanhood (which to this day I deeply respect), but I was also exposed to other options. I think this is something that women in the church (including myself), are struggling to understand.
Let me back up just a bit to talk about mine and Sage’s “courtship”. I met Sage while he was serving on his mission in Salt Lake City. I was on break from school for Christmas. My parents had invited the missionaries over for brunch. We talked a few other times at church, and at the ward christmas party. He had told me he was planning on going to Utah State after his mission, and so we exchanged email addresses before I went back up to school. Over the next 9 months we wrote to each other, mostly about spiritual stuff. It was a very unique experience to get to know one another. We were so grateful that we were able to build a spiritual foundation for our relationship. Although now looking back at our letters, I can see how undeveloped a lot of our beliefs and opinions were (I’m sure I’ll say that same thing about this in 10 years too).
After having two kids (a girl and a boy), moving into the perfect neighborhood, life seemed pretty good. And yet, I was starting to feel this cognitive dissonance. What I was taught in church, and what I felt inside weren’t always lining up. I was starting to collect more and more unanswered questions. As I pondered these questions, I would tell myself that even though these things didn’t make sense, the church is still true. Then one day, I realized that I hadn’t asked one very important question, a question that might answer all of these other questions. What if the church wasn’t true? Or at least what if it isn’t what I thought it was. It was like I was a child all over again, realizing that I was still a different type of mormon.
For some, our decision to leave may seem hasty, or coming out of the blue. But there’s always more to every story – and the following is our attempt to illustrate some of the major (even if they seemed minor at the time) ‘cracks’ to form in our testimonies of the church. This list is not comprehensive. There are many more things that led to this decision, and in time we hope to share more of those experiences with you.
Deep Crack 1 – Prop 8 and a Disagreement
Sage: While there have been many troubling things I experienced and learned about the Church none were ever as impactful as a feeling I felt in the summer of 2008. That feeling, in one word, was ‘disagreement’. Those not raised in a fundamentalist religion such as Mormonism will find it hard to understand just how profound the all-but-forbidden act of disagreeing can really be. It almost sounds silly now – but the thought that I could hold a different opinion from what I was told to think was a major moment in my life and one that I emotionally fought against. But when the Church required political action from its members in California (where Rachel’s parents were living at the time), including donating money, picketing and canvasing neighborhoods in opposition of Gay Marriage, i found myself (silently) disagreeing with those actions. I wasn’t yet a Gay Rights Activist – but I certainly couldn’t condone the Church in this instance. And it tore me up inside.
Rachel: I still remember the Sunday that our bishop read the letter over the pulpit to us. It had something to do with Proposition 8 that was on the ballot in California. We were told to support this political action however we could. I was so confused and troubled by this. Since when did the church get involved in politics? Doesn’t D&C 134:9 state that we believe that religion and government should not be mingled so that one religious group isn’t privileged over any other? Didn’t my parents, sunday school teachers, and primary songs teach me to love one another? What about my LGBTQ friends and neighbors? People that my family loved and served? It just didn’t seen right, but even so, I did my duty and researched the issue. I read stuff from both sides and came to my own conclusion. I disagreed with the church. Maybe for the first time. It was difficult but I was not afraid to share my feelings on the subject. I got into some pretty deep discussions with a friend at work. He had a brother that was gay, and yet he still supported Prop 8. I talked with my mom and dad and sisters, and we all had our own take on it. The thing that I noticed though for people who supported Prop 8, it was a matter of obeying the prophet. For me, it was a matter of doing what was right. If the shoe was on the other foot, I would hope that people would treat me equally too. To this day, I don’t regret my decision to disagree.
Deep Crack 2 – The Question of God
Sage: This is an exceptionally personal experience, and it’s tough to share for how raw and real it is to me, but I feel I must to help others understand how a person with as deep a conviction in the existence of God and feeling a real tangible relationship in Him can move to a position of utter unbelief.
One summer, several years back, I had gotten heat-stroke during a camping trip. I woke up in the middle of the night, feeling ill and needing to go outside and pee. I left the tent and only made it a few feet before instantly blacking out. I woke up two hours later, my head only inches from a huge rock, staring up at the starry southern Utah night-sky. I had passed out before in the past – multiple times in fact – but this time was different. This time there was nothing. No dreaming. No internal light-show as the synapses reset. No me. For two hours I was gone, utterly gone, and I didn’t even realize it at the time. I thought about that rock. What if I had hit it. What if I had died and that nothingness was what I was still experiencing to this day.
It was my first time really truly contemplating the reality of death and the very real possibility that it is the end. The real end. I spent the next year in utterly silent desperation and terror. I would fluctuate in and out of dread and depression – waking up each morning hoping that the fear was just a dream. That the thing I feared the most – oblivion – was all in my head.
Nothing I did abated those feelings. Most of the ‘standard church answers’ actually made it worse. Scripture study only brought up more questions, temple service was anything but peaceful, prayer only felt more and more one-directional. Two years ago that fear reached its apex and I finally decided to get the answer, once and for all, if God was really there. I mean after all…I had felt him! I had felt the tingling presence of the spirit many times. This would be no different.
It was the middle of the night. I waiting until there was utter silence in my house and with tears streaming down my eyes, lying next to my gently sleeping wife (who was still unaware of any of these feelings inside of me), I began the most fervent, pleading, desperate prayer I had ever given. It was a simple prayer and a simple request – I needed to feel God’s … if not love – at least his existence. I didn’t want to doubt any longer, i didn’t want to be afraid.
I laid in that bed for 4 hours, until the dawn began peeking through my window. And the most I can say about that experience is that the silence that permeated my heart and mind was so deep, so utterly without form or void, so empty, it still rings in my ears. It was the silence of empty space, the silence of the cold universe.
And irrevocably, involuntarily I lost all belief in God’s existence and all that that entails.
And yet still I continued my unwavering obedience to the church. In fact, my call to be Elders Quorum President was what I felt was the final vestige of hope in my continued membership in the church – the ability to serve and influence others to serve out of real love and empathy for their fellow man.
They didn’t know they were being taught by an Atheist. Their tears and handshakes and praises for a job well done made me think it might not matter if I was – but deep down inside I knew how wide the void had become between my personal views and those of active believing members.
Rachel: For me, it’s hard to have a discussion about God without contemplating the dilemma of being a woman in the church. This is a dilemma that for many people goes unseen, and undisturbed. I have been taught my whole life to be like Jesus, and that one day I will become like my Father in Heaven. There’s a major issue with this. I am a woman. There were times in my youth when I actually contemplated this paradox. True, I was taught that I had a Heavenly Mother, but I wasn’t quite sure what her role was. I heard some theories on this, like she is actually the Holy Ghost, because after all the Holy Ghost is the comforter, and that’s what Mom’s do – they comfort us. I had even heard that the physical earth is our Heavenly Mother (the earth is referred to as our mother in a number of scriptures, but did they literally mean that or was it just symbolic?). And there was of course the doctrine of Polygamy. Maybe the reason we don’t talk a lot about our Mother in Heaven is because there is more than one? All of these theories scared me. If that is my destiny, then maybe I don’t want that. But we just don’t have any real answers to this. So I tried to ignore these facts, and reassured myself that even though I didn’t have all the answers, it would all work out in the end. Not only do women not have a female/mother figure to emulate or aspire to, but we have also been taught to not talk to her. What if my father and big brother told me that I wasn’t allowed to talk to my mother? What a tragedy that would be. It seems unnatural and not right. But that is what I was taught by the prophet of God.
So where does that leave me? The easiest way to describe how I feel is this: I don’t know what the answers are to the questions about the nature of God. But what I have come to realize is that the God I was taught about since my youth doesn’t exist – at least not in the way I was taught. I’m still trying to figure out what that means for me. And I’m open to the possibilities.
A final story I’d like to share happened a few months ago. It was one of the last times I sincerely tried praying and I ended up having a very profound experience. I was up in the mountains, all by myself. I thought, this may be as good of a time as any to pray. I felt a sense of excitement that something might happen, but an even greater sense of fear that I would feel nothing. So I knelt down and started praying. I started by pouring my heart out in gratitude, and before even a minute had passed, I was interrupted by a fellow traveler on the trail. We ended up talking for a few minutes, about what a beautiful day it was, where we were heading to, and such. We soon departed ways and I decided it was time to head back down the mountain. I didn’t run into anyone else on the trail that day. As I contemplated my failed efforts to pray, I was pulled more to the idea of humanism. I don’t know if there is a God out there for sure. Some people have experienced him, but many haven’t. But there is one thing that I am sure of. That we are all here. Together. We can make life beautiful for one another. One thing that I do still believe is that we are the ones that answer each others prayers. We are the ones that need to be finding solutions to save each other and our earth. If it truly is up to us, then we gotta start working together.
Deep Crack 3 – Rachel’s breakdown
Sage: This crack is a happy one. Difficult, but ultimately one of the best things to ever happen to our marriage.
Rachel and I have always had a happy relationship. We’ve never really fought, our tastes and tempers and sense of humor are so similar. It’s our friendship that we have cherished as much as our spousal relationship. Yet for too many years we were both experiencing that which I saw in an old quote book “There is nothing as lonely as being with someone you can’t talk to“. I was terrified to even attempt to discuss and potentially ‘infect her’ with any of the issues I was struggling with. I didn’t want her to worry. I didn’t want her to see I was weak.
It turns out she was experiencing the exact same thing. The details were different, but she was struggling in ways both as profound and parallel to mine.
It was a day i’ll never forget when we were in the shower together, silently, when suddenly she was overcome with grief and began sobbing hysterically.
She said she had a terrible secret she had to tell me.
That hour we spent together – naked and vulnerable, sharing the feelings we’d had bottled up inside for YEARS, the sick irony of struggling with the same issues two feet from the person that could help the most – it was one of the most sobering, beautiful moments of my life.
We’ve never kept secrets from one another since – and we’ve never been happier.
Rachel: This has become a very important moment in our marriage. It has created a new level of communication and bonding that has been incredible. One of the most interesting things that has come out of it is what I will call the unveiling of our scars. I think as a mormon I felt at times that I had to be perfect, and that my husband was perfect. Revealing that your aren’t flawless is humbling, and learning more about my husbands imperfections makes me love him even more.
Deep Crack 4 – My Release
Sage: I was a good elders quorum president. Instinctual flinching from concepts like ‘pride’ makes it hard to say, but yeah, I was damn good at my job. I served the elders in my jurisdiction, both active and in-active and never-active, as bravely and boldly as I could. I gave my heart and time to them completely. I taught through example and insistence the twin virtues of acceptance and love. My good councilors and I devised monthly service and self improvement challenges. We reshaped and restructured home-teaching and peaked it at 89% completion.
And then one Sunday in June of 2015 we marched with the Mormon Building Bridges organization in the Salt Lake Pride Festival. Less than a week after that, my replacement had been called.
The Sunday I was released, only a few short weeks after that fateful march, left me shaking and sobbing on my living room floor. My last shot at making the church work in my life had failed. My final words to those good men I served with was to ‘Love. Just Love.’.
Rachel: As I stated in my resignation letter, I truly felt that it was our mission to make the church a more inclusive place for all the people who don’t fit the regular mormon mold. So when Sage was released simply because of his support of same sex marriage, it was a devastating blow that brought us back to reality, reminding us that we weren’t the ones in control of what happens in the church. All our progress can (and was) wiped out in a single action by someone higher up on the totem pole. It’s a humbling experience to say the least.
Deep Crack 5 – Dirty Maebe (What about the children?)
Sage: My release gave my Wife and I the space and time to discuss our future trajectory. We knew we needed space – we knew we needed to step away. But for how long? And how far? Only a month or two away was or daughter’s 8th birthday. My whole life I had pictured myself dressing in white, taking my little girl by the arm, and dipping her below the waters of baptism. Now the thought filled me with angst even though I was worthy. I hadn’t sinned. I was still an active, fully temple-worthy endowed member. We had decided together, my wife and I, that we would at least move to that point and then re-evaluate. But first – we needed to ask Maebe.
We sat her down, our sweet, whip-smart, precocious almost-8-year old and asked her if she wanted to be baptized. She hesitated a bit then said ‘yes’. We told her that was good, we wanted it to be her choice. And then we asked her why. She looked at us for a long time with those brown doe eyes, and then, with a tremble in her lip, she said “Because i’m dirty.”
It was then than we knew with a surety that we needed to step away from the church as a family.
So we spent the next few months traveling, feeling more connected and healthier as a family unit than we had in a long time. The same experiences our younger selves would have scoffed at – such as finding ‘spirituality in nature’ or ‘more connection to family at a campsite than in a chapel’ turned out to be actually true! And despite the shock and confusion at my release and our leave of absence, our ward family was awesome – supportive and giving us the space we needed. Of course it was still difficult. But we were figuring things out – making things ‘work’.
Rachel: Just before we left the church I had spent a month substituting in the primary. Up until that point I always felt like we needed to stay in the church so we could raise good kids (it worked for us, so it should work for them, right?). It was an eye opening experience to see how much my beliefs had changed. I felt like most of the activities and messages were not the important lessons that I wanted my children to be learning. It was becoming clear, that raising our kids in the church would require us putting an addendum on many of the lessons they were taught. Was learning the names of the temples really going to make them better kids?
I think this concern became very evident when we sat down to talk to Maebe about baptism. We had not taught her that she was dirty, but I began to notice that over and over again, she would say that she was bad. I’ve heard stories from others about how they felt this way as kids because of what they were taught at church and it just breaks my heart. I know not all people have this experience, but I could see it happening in my own daughter. I was also beginning to have concerns about the messages my daughter would be receiving in regards to her gender role in the church. Gender defines part of her identity but it doesn’t confine it.
I too had concerns for my son Bowie. What if his sexuality becomes something that the church teaches is wrong? Even if it isn’t something that affects him personally, I still don’t want my children to feel that way about our family and friends that identify as LGBTQ. Again, I would have to continually adjust the message I wanted them to hear, and I’m sure that that would become confusing to them as well.
Why We Left
Which brings us to the Salt Lake City Airport. Rachel and I were waiting for a flight to Denver, a weekend excursion sans kids to clear our minds and reconnect. It was a day after the news broke. The Church was modifying Handbook 1 and instituting policies that would, in summary:
- Forbid the baptism of children, giving of the priesthood to boys, or the blessing & confirmation of infants – if said children had a parent or parents in a homosexual relationship
- Requiring those 18 and older to denounce their parent’s same-sex marriage and the homosexual lifestyle if they were to serve a mission or receive these ordinances
- Required the excommunication of adults in legal and lawful same-sex marriages
Somehow we had missed it in the whirlwind of preparation for our trip – but when Rachel saw it blowing up in her news feeds, she rushed to find me. We both, in that little terminal, huddled around our phones and began parsing what was happening. We felt sick with anger – and horrible sadness for the terrible things this change was already doing to hundreds of people we knew that would be directly impacted. Beautiful, Christlike people that thought progress was being made. Sweet, spiritual, talented men, women and children that now saw the stark ugliness of the Church they loved and had desperately wanted a place within. I saw in my minds eye the lives that would be lost – the innocents who would (and sadly at this point already have) consider taking their life to be the only option to escape the ‘curse’ of their sexuality.
It was right then and there that we resolved to remove all traces of what could be construed as fraternity or support of the Mormon church from our lives. That day, that moment, was when the cracks, already at this point widened to canyons, became arterial cuts. We no longer believed in the Church. And more poignantly – we no longer loved it.
And that is how, after 33 years of faithful service, deep devotion, a mission and temple marriage, we penned the letters necessary to remove our names and resign from the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter day Saints.
This new chapter of our life is scary. We know there will be struggles – there always are. We will be feeling the pain of this loss for a long time to come – perhaps the rest of our lives. But we are at peace. We are genuinely happy. And we will continue to serve our fellow man as best we can.
We are the Turks.
And this is our story.