I’m the only child of two fantastic parents, whom I love very much. They also happen to be LDS. Growing up I wanted nothing more than to emulate their lives, which in my perspective included a loving family, successful careers, and full church participation. I took it as a given that the LDS church would be part of my life forever, it wouldn’t dawn on me that there was an alternative until recently.
I did well in school growing up so there was never any doubt that I had the credentials to be admitted to BYU. In my family as well as in the church at large BYU is seen as a golden standard for a young person, so I never even considered another University. My mother is also a BYU alumnus, and this further strengthened my drive to go there. I was admitted to the University and began my education in the Fall of 2007 and I never even thought twice about whether or not it was the right decision for me.
After my Freshman year I left to serve a mission for our church as many young people do, but for me this was a turning point. As many close to me know I had struggled with depression throughout much of my adolescence in addition to struggling with my belief that the church I was a part of was true. I was told by leadership and family that a mission would solve everything, it would make me closer to god and it would help me become a happier person. Nothing could have been further from the truth. I left the mission that is intended to be 2 years long a year early because my depression progressed to the point where I could hardly function on a day to day basis.
I came back home and entered counseling which was actually very helpful to me, but for the next year or so I struggled with self-hatred and feelings of inadequacy. If a mission couldn’t “fix” me what hope was there left for me?
I discovered hope the day I realized that I didn’t believe in the church. I’d always thought the church was true and that the fact I couldn’t feel good about it was a personal inadequacy, even though for all my youth I lived by all the church’s teachings. But one amazing day I had the thought “what if it’s nothing special and I’m actually an ok guy? What if I’m not the problem, but I’m trying to feel truth about something that’s simply not there?” Reframing the question in this way I almost instantaneously knew that the church was not what I believed it to be and was not a healthy place for me. It’s as close to a “moment of clarity” as I think I’ll ever come.
Since leaving the church my depression has been entirely absent from my life. I live almost exactly the same now as I did back then, but not having the mental struggle of trying to force myself to believe something that never felt right has made my life immensely better. However the timing of my “exit” was less than ideal.
I left the church mentally about a year after I came home from my mission, but I had the problem that I was a BYU student and could never make my new beliefs known. I had other ex-mormon friends who thankfully made me aware of BYUs policies concerning those who leave the church, so I knew I had to either leave the school or keep my new beliefs to myself.
Many critics would say if we no longer believe in the church we should just leave, and make room for the “good Mormons” who want to be there. But the unfortunate reality is that leaving the school is an incredibly difficult thing to do. At BYU we’re required to take religion credits that don’t transfer to other institutions, so if I had decided to start my education over somewhere else I would have been set back at least a year if not more. Family and societal pressures in the LDS community look down on those that leave the church, so leaving BYU comes with the added “outing” of yourself as a non-believer, 2 very terrifying things to do at the same time.
I chose to keep my beliefs hidden and finish my education at BYU. I had two very difficult years of hiding my beliefs from friends and family, all because I couldn’t risk being exposed to the institution. I would lose my job (IT for the university), my home (BYU contracted apartment) and have to restart my education if the university found out about my new beliefs.
So for two years I pretended to be a believer. I went to church the bare minimum so they wouldn’t notice my absence. I lied to church leaders about my intentions and beliefs to avoid detections. When asked I prayed in classes so people wouldn’t question my refusal, even if that’s what I really desired. It wasn’t easy keeping up the charade, but it’s something that was necessary for survival. I won’t even say it’s something I’m proud of, I believe honesty is important and I don’t like deceiving others.
I graduated this past April, and have since told friends and family about my non-belief. I’m very lucky in how loving and supportive my family has been, and I feel amazing to now be able to be honest about the person I am. I now study at the University of Utah and am progressing towards a Master’s degree in a field that I love. Life is great and I find that there is nothing I need to hide about myself as I did at BYU.
BYUs policies kept me from being honest with other people in all instances, and exercising my rights to choose my religion for myself. Living a “double-life” is not easy and it is not good for the mental health of anyone, let alone in a church where youth often struggle with mental health issues. I hold no resentment to the church at large, it’s just not something I choose to have as a part of my life. I do however feel that BYU creates a toxic environment for people such as myself who need to explore their faith.
A revision of their policies will allow more young people the freedom to determine their own lives, and I believe ultimately it would help the church keep better relationships with young adults as a whole. No one should have to lie about their beliefs, and BYU could improve the lives of hundreds of their students with a simple policy revision.
I support a Free BYU. I support honesty, understanding, and love.