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A lot of people have asked me when I left the Mormon church. It's a long story and it hasn't ended yet. I grew up a very devout believer, though I'm not sure I was ever as literal as some of the other Mormons around me. Nonetheless, I believed in the historicity of The Book of Mormon, and even if I rarely tried to hand out The Book of Mormons to non-Mormon friends and never served a mission for the church, I was married in the temple and considered myself a faithful member. I attended the temple regularly, was a "prepper" and kept a full year's food storage for my family, as well as practicing living on it.

I loved many aspects of Mormonism, including the sense that there was a simple (if long) list of rules for becoming perfect, because I had always been excellent at checklists and rules. It was how I excelled at college. I was convinced of my own special calling from God to be a writer, that I had something unique to offer to the world. I suppose I will always be grateful to Mormonism for giving me this gift, which pushed me to try harder and keep writing when many others would have stopped and given up. I am so very glad I had as many children as I had, and never felt as if being a mother took away from my ability to follow my own dreams. I very much believed that it was important for both my sons and daughters to see that they had a mother who hadn't given up her own life for theirs.

I thought that I was on the right path. I was so certain of myself and so superior in my pity of those who didn't have "the truth" of Mormonism. I look back on myself in my late twenties and thirties and can see that this certainty was a great part of my safety and my mental health at the time. Sometimes I wish I could go back to that, because life was easier in many ways then. I never really let myself consider what it was like for black members of the church or for gay members. I, like many Mormons I now criticize, simply shrugged and decided that God had His own reasons for what the church said and did and that I should simply "follow the Brethren."

All this until 2005, when I went through a massive crisis of faith triggered by the loss of my sixth child (Mary Mercy) at birth. A lot of the Mormons I meet who have gone through a faith crisis were tipped into it by historical issues (polygamy, anachronisms in The Book of Mormon, race and the priesthood) or social issues (LGBT suicides or gender inequality), but I will say that mine was very selfish and is harder to explain. I simply found that the Mormon God that other Mormons kept telling me about was not a god I found I could worship any longer. I couldn't worship a god who caused my daughter to die to teach me a lesson. Nor could I find comfort in the idea that she was waiting for me in heaven. My world had turned upside down and all the security I had once loved about Mormonism was gone.

For a time, it became easier to believe that there was no God at all. And because I also could not contemplate the idea of navigating a massive change in my family life, I spent five years as an atheist within the Mormon church. As a result of that, I gained a unique perspective on why Mormons believe and act the way they do, seeing them from this outsider perspective.

In 2011, I decided that I wanted to try to believe in God again. I honestly felt lonely as an atheist. I wrote The Bishop's Wife as part of this attempt, trying to conceive of a Mormon woman whom I might one day be, thoughtful, skeptical, critical, and incisive. I wanted to be able to reject the parts of Mormonism that seemed horrible to me, but to keep the parts I loved. I wanted to be a Mormon, but not the way I had been before, and not according to some outline that someone else had drawn.

I am not sure what to say about this project. Many readers assume that I am Linda Wallheim, and while there are certainly some things about Linda I admire, I have found myself drifting further and further from her faithful, even apologetic point of view. I haven't formally left the church, but it has been more and more difficult for me to attend. I see the historical issues and the social issues as problematic, but for me, it still comes back to my experiences with God.

As I have learned to pray differently, I've had some very profound experiences with the divine. In 2018, I began to feel pressure to write these down in poetic form. I have never considered myself a poet and I don't consider my poetry to be very poetic. It's plain language, telling stories about my experiences with God, but it has been revolutionary to me. I've begun to reject the Mormon idea that other people stand between me and God and have more qualifications to speak to God than I do, or that I should listen to their advice about my life. I've also come to be extremely skeptical about Mormon ideas of "worthiness." While I'm very good at these sorts of lists and find them very attractive because they're so straight-forward, the God I've encountered of late doesn't care even a tiny bit about the clothing we wear, the food or drinks we consume, or even whether we are good or nice. God doesn't need a special building to come into our lives. God comes to us as we are.

Why do I think I am entitled to speak about Mormonism if I don't believe in the Mormon God anymore? I think that because I've lived through many kinds of Mormonism, I'm able to speak about it in a way that few others are. And I'm going to admit that in some weird way, I feel "called" to this work. I don't always like it. I sometimes wish desperately that God would stop waking me up in the middle of the night, demanding that I write down this bit for a poem. I'd appreciate it if writing were a more 9-5 (or 10-2) career as it used to be.

I also wish that I didn't spend so much of my emotional energy worrying about hurting my own family members and dear friends when I talk as honestly and as fairly as I can about Mormonism. I'm still uncomfortable with those who call Mormonism a "cult." I think that's a reductive view, though I also see many cult-like things in Mormonism. I once loved the church, and it is still very easy for me to recall those feelings. I also still have many people around me who are invested in Mormonism, some who are trying to change it from within as I once thought I could, and some who simply accept it for what it is.

Am I going to be excommunicated for what I write about Mormonism? It's certainly a possibility. What has already happened is the kind of gentle shunning that Mormons do best. But luckily for me, I've made this move so slowly that I have many friends on both sides of the membership divide and while I've made sacrifices, they are fewer than others I know.

If you're interested in my journey, you can read some of the blog posts I've written over the last few years since the publication of The Bishop's Wife Here are some highlights from Huffington Post from 2015-2017:

1. Are We Mormons A Cult?

2. Do Mormons Believe in Magic?

3. Mormons Think Eve Was Right.

4. Could God Be Gay?

5. Are Mormons Christians?

6. Why Does it Matter If You're Excommunicated From the Mormon Church

7. Why Theists Need Atheists

8.13 Ways to Protest the New Policy

9. Many Of Your Assumptions About Mormons Are Untrue

10.Are Mormons Heretics?

Here are some of the essays I've written at Jana Riess' blog at Religion News Service.

1. My Mormon Family May Not Be Forever

2. Mormons Don't Know Everything

3. My Visiting Teacher Saved My Life

4. Why Don't You Leave

5. Drink a Coffee, Save Your Mormon Soul

I've done several recent interviews about my life as a Mormon and about The Bishop's Wife. Here are some of them:
1. NPR interview

2. Frank Stasio WUNC interview

3. Doug Fabrizio interview

Copyright Mette Ivie Harrison 2017 all rights reserved.
Last revised December 6, 2018.