Like many people in Utah, I grew up Mormon. I went to church every week, and the LDS church became a big part of my identity. Most of my family still belong to the Church, and I still love them despite this, but it’s hard sometimes. Despite popular belief in the secular community, there are Mormons who think critically, and try to be good people. But that’s not enough for me to believe the religion is morally just. Growing up in the Church was painful for me. But surprisingly, I was one of the lucky ones. I know so many people that have had worse experiences.
The Church uses shame the same way many churches do. And there’s a lot to unpack about not having sex before marriage, or waiting to date until you’re sixteen, and modesty, and all the other unequally enforced by gender.
Needless to say, none of this abstinence-only doctrine is healthy for a teenager growing up. I didn’t even know what masturbation was until I’d already done it. No one told me anything about it. All I knew is that it was some horrible and evil thing for which I’d need to “repent.” My parents taught me early about sex and my body, which I appreciate. But they never mentioned that bit, probably because it’s seemingly the most shameful thing a young man can do. That shame was visceral and painful for me, I thought I was past redemption.
As for the doctrine itself, it’s okay to not want sex until you’re married, but it’s not okay to shame women for their choices. And it’s less okay to shame women for being raped, which has happened several times on BYU’s campus. Women who report their rape are prosecuted for breaking honor code long before the rapist sees any consequence. Even though the church shames both men and women for being sexual before marriage, the shame is not equal, nor is it equally given. This reveals a truth behind almost all organized religion; it has its roots in controlling women.
The obsession with virginity is horrible for the young women in the Church, and I heard no mention of it for young men. I’ve met women who were basically forced to vow to their youth leaders, not to have sex before marriage. That double standard alone is awful, but there are other effects this mentality has. I read an article from someone with a similar experience. She was traumatized by sex on her wedding night. Her identity was deeply invested in her virginity and the idea that sex was evil, as a result it took her years to recover, and tell her husband about her trauma. He was, luckily, understanding about her need to unpack that emotional baggage. She’s happy and no longer religious, but what if her husband was the entitled, domineering chauvinist that I’ve seen so many Mormon men become?
At worst, the LDS church encourages toxic masculinity, and at best, it doesn’t do anything about it. And don’t even get me started on the Boy Scouts. There are very few organizations that I have a huge personal vendetta against, and the Boy Scouts are top of the list. They were my primary source of toxic masculinity as a teen, and I’ll never forgive them for that. But I digress.
For all their talk of shame and repentance, they make no effort to call out their most horrible members, and that’s a huge reason why I left. One of my Youth leaders made a rape joke while we were doing Boy Scout activities. At the time, I wasn’t even informed enough to understand the joke, but everyone else just laughed.
But that joke is only the beginning to the misogyny I was exposed to. I once attended a two-hour long meeting about modesty, and the entire message for the teenage women attending was “Bikinis make you look fat, so don’t wear them,” plus an extra message for the boys, which boiled down to “This is how you should hold a woman when you dance, so you don’t get Tempted™.” Besides women having to safeguard men’s sexuality, even the doctrine itself states that men should “preside over the home,” which is suspect, no matter how it’s interpreted. As a result, the men who grow up in the Church often feel entitled to power. With this power, these same men can violate Church rules cruel with nothing more than a talk with the bishop and a slap on the wrist to “repent.”
Moving on to politics and our modern political climate, anyone who’s paid any attention to the Bible or the Book of Mormon would be vehemently outspoken against Trump. The Sermon on The Mount, the words of Jesus, specifically calls upon people to support the impoverished and help those in need, and this would absolutely include immigrants. In the Bible, Jesus states (through a lovely camel metaphor) that it would be very, very difficult for a rich man to get into heaven; he’d have to crawl on his knees and give up his possessions. Jesus himself was a Jewish man of color from the Middle East who was murdered by the police with his mother watching.
Unfortunately, the leadership of the Church gets trapped in the same moral dilemma essentially all churches face. They must either stick to their beliefs and alienate many members, or they stay quiet and allow members to do horrible things without resistance, in order to keep making money from tithes. The LDS Church, like most churches, has chosen the latter. They’re making money from shopping centers and have ties to the pharmaceutical industry, and they were happy to release statements against the legalization of marijuana in Utah. I recall them being very ambivalent during the 2016 election, and always saying they “won’t tell you how to vote.” Forgive me if I don’t believe weed is more dangerous and satanic than the Trump presidency; I think it’s clear here that money is driving a great deal of Church leadership decisions.
Because of this, I won’t believe leaders are morally-just until they call out every member who voted for Trump, and every member who uses the Church to abuse their family, and tell them exactly why they need to repent. Because there’s no question there—these actions are unquestionably in violation of Church doctrine. You can’t be a “good Mormon” and abuse your family, or support Trump, and yet I’ve seen countless examples of men who do exactly that. I personally know a man who abused his family horribly, forced them to go to church while he stayed home and lounged, forced them to dress a certain way, and demanding that his growing children religiously fast, while he ate whatever he pleased. And yet, through all of that, he’s still a member in good standing with the Church. And I’m sure he still believes that he’s a “good Mormon.”
But let me be clear here, I don’t think the Church should be blamed for the behavior of single members; there are horrible people in every church. But the fact that the Church rarely says anything directly about this behavior, while they have time to say things like “[Satan] also seeks to confuse gender, to distort marriage, and to discourage childbearing—especially by parents who will raise children in truth” is rather telling. Until the Church directly calls abusers out, making it unquestionable that people like him are evil and do not belong in the Church unless they repent immediately, I’m not going to be happy. They have no issue demonizing people who are just living their lives and existing as gay or transgender individuals, or even women who don’t want to marry or have children, but when it comes time to call out the real horrors that members enact every day, they seem to have very little to say. Metaphor and ambivalence have no place when people are using your words and your doctrine to traumatize their own children.
I think there are good things about the Church and its members, and I think the message can be used for good. I appreciate the Church’s hand in a select few parts of my life, like helping people in seminary, the silly Church dances, the opportunity to learn about accountability, and the background that kept me away from drugs and alcohol during my formative years. But I’m sorry mom, I’m never going back. I don’t believe, and I never did. I never “felt the Spirit,” I just convinced myself to fit in to a culture. And that culture hurt and isolated me, and made me feel like my depression was my fault. So I’m done (and very happy about it).
Editor’s Note: All articles for Her Campus at the University of Utah are the opinions and beliefs of the writers and do not reflect Her Campus at the University of Utah, the University of Utah or Her Campus as an international magazine.