Born a Catholic, I withdrew from my practice in my early teens. I spent the
next 10+ years as a spiritual atheist, finding divinity and profound
connection in the natural world and all things around me. My practice of
spiritual expression changed greatly when I met a certain lovely lady,
devout in practicing the tenets of the LDS faith. While I fundamentally
disagreed with the Judeo-Christian ethos, I was drawn by her spiritual
gravity and invigorated by her passionate communication of her
convictions. She and I were smitten <3
Her faith was a critical element to her, and I sought to make a life with her.
Thus I made a good-faith effort to understand and support her spiritual
needs. In doing so, we attended LDS services regularly at the Salt Lake
20 th Ward, and I was welcomed into a very loving and accepting community
(one like I never saw in any other LDS community in the years that
followed). I found an LDS spiritual mentor whose earnest faith, liberal
views, immeasurable analytical mindset, and honest heart helped me to
hone, repackage, and operationalize my atheistic spiritual practice into the
prism or strictures of LDS mythology (I don’t mean this pejoratively), faith
hood, and faith expression (crudely speaking, on how to effectively strive
to attain the ideals and aims of the LDS faith).
Despite a critical and seemingly irreconcilable ideological divide between
my convictions and the teachings of the Church, I took a leap of faith and
joined the Church. I shared some common faith beliefs with the Church,
those of love, charity, service, brotherhood, compassion, faith, and eternal
connection to all matter in the universe. I held faith that my cognitive
dissonance with the teachings of the Church on gender expression, gender
equality, and sexual orientation expression would someday reconcile.
Further, at the more fundamental level of mythology, I wanted to believe
that my faith would go beyond a metaphoric interpretation of the Gospel
and Godhead into and into a literal testimony. Despite the prevailing views
of lovely lady’s family, I joined the LDS Church in earnest faith. Much to
their chagrin, we were shortly thereafter married in a civil setting (and not
the Temple, although that happened a year later).
Attending BYU and Living a Life of Cognitive Dissonance
My next two years living in Utah County in Orem, Utah were some of the
hardest years of my life. I met some really great people during that time,
but felt alienated and was not able to express myself. In my experience, I
felt stuck in a culture that prided blind adherence to religiosity, narrow
interpretations of doctrine, rigid policing of gender and sexual norms, and
an opposition to diversity of thought and being. I longed for a community
that extolled the fundamental precepts of love, tolerance, and charity, one
that valued curiosity and diversity.
I felt closeted in all aspects of my life at BYU and in Utah County:
- As a bisexual man, I quietly endured weekly sermons from Church
leaders, parishioners, and peers on the moral failings of
homosexuals and their deviant behaviors (and more often than not,
these sermons preached outright profane bigotry); and I was afraid
to voice my views for fear of retribution.
- As a nontheist (one who does not believe in God), but who strove
earnestly to believe and adhere to the Church teachings, sharing my
non-traditional views with this orthodox culture typically resulted in
fierce social rejection, so I faded away to avoid shunning.
- As a family who strove for gaining higher education before growing
our family, we were openly shunned in our community and shamed
at the pulpit (in front of Church leaders). Thus, we quietly and
tearfully endured with what leaders recognize as long suffering.
- As a family who was later found to be infertile, our sexual
reproductive status was the common-second question asked in
introductions with fellow parishioners, another painful daily reminder
of our awkward misalignment with the predominately pro-natalist
- As an imperfect being who felt isolated, I felt continually patronized
by the lectures from leaders, parishioners, and peers who
proclaimed that all my ills would be solved if I essentially prayed
harder and lived more faithfully; that those who didn’t follow the
straight and narrow path were getting their just deserts through
expulsion, excommunication, or banishment to eternal darkness.
- As a person who felt unable to explore and express my views
openly, honestly, and critically, I feared losing my degree, temple
recommend, and social standing in an LDS context (in school,
family, and career).
- As a person who sought a safe and open means to explore, edify,
and cultivate my faith, I felt that the BYU Honor Code could be used
as a means to suppress, silence, and remove me from a university
that sought to promote faith and reason.
In my closet and without anyone to confide in other than my wife, we
counted down the days to leaving Utah County… And my faith slowly
dwindled day by day.
Accepting My Testimony in a Life Beyond the Church
Less than two years after I graduated, I decided to leave the Church. I felt
in my heart the following to be true; truths in my mind that were
irreconcilable with my experience in the Church:
- We are all interconnected and interdependent; I believe we are
stronger when we join together rather than reject/tear each other
- Nature values and thrives on diversity in all living things and ways of
being; I believe we as a people should encourage diverse and
contradicting viewpoints as it often makes us stronger.
- If God truly exists, I believe She/He would love all living beings and
not discriminate on them based on the way they were born to love.
- All major faith disciplines promote universal elements of spiritual
goodness and truth for those who connect with a particular faith, as
such, I believe:
- The practice or operationalization of one’s spiritual faith should
be complemented by religious rites and not vice versa.
- Further, the culture of faith or operationalization of spiritual
practices by religion via the masses should not overwhelm the
spiritual/religious freedom of the individual’s practice of faith.
- Lastly, the cultural expression of one’s faith isn’t one size fits
all; faith practices like people evolve and change over time,
and one moment or cultural context at this point in time isn’t
going to fit everyone.
My Hope for Those Who Question Faith at BYU; and For BYU
For those who question their faith, I hope that my story provides a context
- That you are not alone,
- Things will one day get better, despite where your journey leads you.
My hope for the Church and BYU administrators responsible for upholding
the values of free conscience, free will, and religious expression is that
- Promote a safe and open environment of tolerance, love,
exploration, and free exercise of religious expression (or lack thereof
if one so chooses)
- Encourage faith and conscience rather than retaliating or disciplining
students who question/explore their faith in earnest
- Seek administrative reforms for those who disaffiliate so they will be
able to pay non-LDS tuition while still complying with the Honor
Code, rather than face possible expulsion from the university,
eviction from their homes, and/or termination from their work.
In the words of Joseph Smith, “I teach them correct principles, and they
govern themselves.” I hope the BYU Honor Code will soon gain greater
alignment with the spirit of faith rather than rigid adherence to doctrine.