Leaving the Fold
James W. Ure, editor
In every cry of every man,
In every infant’s cry of fear,
In every voice, in every ban,
The mind-forged manacles I hear.
[p.57]The interviewee is attractive and smartly dressed in a suit and scarf. She is well-known and highly accomplished in her profession. Arranging for this interview has taken time; she was reluctant and insisted upon complete anonymity. She lives and works in Salt Lake City.
Where were you born?
I thought we weren’t going to ask that.
However, I’ve lived here most of my life.
Most of your life in Utah. And your parents, were they active?
Yes. A hundred percent.
Both of them?
You were one of how many siblings?
[p.58]The oldest or youngest?
You attended local schools?
Were you a regular attendee at church services from earliest memory?
And your parents, were they married in the temple?
What about their parents? Were they also active and pioneer stock?
You were baptized at eight like most of us were. And you lived basically a life of an orthodox, young Mormon child?
Totally. Absolutely. Yes.
I regard any church, but especially this one, as sort of like a train rolling on its way to Paradise. And there’s all these people on this train, and you’re on this train, and everything’s fine, and let’s just stay on the train and we’ll go straight to heaven. The only trouble comes is when you fall off the train.
So at some point, something happened to your train.
No, the train is still going on as usual, but I fell off.
And why did you fall off?
The thing that happened to me was divorce. So there I was off the train. You’re not going to heaven.
Why did this divorce cause you to fall off the train?
Because it’s all set up. You don’t have to worry about what you’re supposed to do in life. You know.
If you’re active?
Well, yes, you’re just on the train. You know what that means, you know the rules. But if something goes amiss, such as this—you get divorced—then you have to rethink everything.
[p.59]Why is that?
Well, you have kind of messed up. You know what you’re supposed to be doing, and getting a divorce is not part of the plan.
But is anyone that perfect that they can’t deviate from the plan a little bit?
You know what we’re talking about. How can you get a divorce and stay on the train? You can’t. Now what do you do?
What does the church say about divorce?
The official statement? The whole point of being on the train is that you don’t have to worry, that you’re somehow protected from bad things happening in your life if you’re good. You stay on the train, you do what you’re supposed to. Divorce is not supposed to happen. If it does, you’d better look to see if something’s wrong with you; you made a misstep.
Have you been treated as a third-class passenger since you got divorced?
How? Can you give me some examples?
Suddenly you’re no longer invited to dinners with all the couples.
Did the bishop outwardly change in any way toward you?
Well, I moved.
Yes, it was entirely different socially, economically, every possible way. Suddenly I was socially sort of an outcast.
This occurred in the past ten years?
Yes. So you look at what your choices are. What if you can’t get married again? What if you can’t replicate that? What if you can’t find somebody who also has a ticket on the train?
In other words, temple-worthy.
Yes. Then you have to go in, cancel what you did …
What do you mean, cancel what you did?
… and do something else. Well, what you did was supposed to be irrevocable.
[p.60]Oh. So you’ve got to get a temple divorce?
Yes. And the new person you’ve got has to cancel whatever he was in. Then you put together this kind of melded family, and theoretically you can now be on the train again.
In your mind, even if you could do all that, would you feel like you were worthy of a first-class ticket?
Worthy—leave that up to God’s judgment. But see, what happened is you fell off; you didn’t go the distance.
The difficulty for you in all of this is while you may not be active right now, you have a deep faith, it sounds like.
I feel that human beings are evolving, that we’re not like we used to be, that we have actually learned from our heritage and we’ve grown and we’ve expanded. And we’re now in a period of accelerated evolution, so that we’re learning and growing and expanding very much faster than we ever have before in the whole history of mankind. We’re not Stone Age people.
In some respects organized religion is like training wheels on a bicycle. That’s all humanity can handle at first. And the basic structure that I got from the church, living a good life, not stealing, not cheating, being kind, being good, being compassionate—being very Christlike—that’s deeply embedded. Somehow you have to get basic teaching, or you grow up adrift. Once it’s there you can ride your own bicycle. But the church always wants to make sure that you need that organized structure called the church. So it’s always set up that you need them to get to your destination. You need somebody and you need something that they have to offer that you can’t get on your own. When you begin having a direct spiritual experience with no intermediaries, you might start thinking, “Hey, heaven is for everybody, not just the people on this particular train.” It’s whatever exists for all—how many—six billion of us?
Do you consider yourself a spiritual person today?
Oh, yes. Yes, I’m a really spiritual person and I always have been.
Do you pray to the same God you did when you were active?
Well, it’s the same God. God hasn’t changed. We just don’t have a very good understanding of what God is; we just don’t know. Our hu-[p.61]man minds have not really come up with a good way to comprehend it. That’s so enormous.
Do you think during your divorce you were treated any differently than your husband was treated by church officials—your bishop, whomever?
I don’t know because we split up. I do think it is easier for men.
This is that nun’s existence you talked about.
I don’t have any statistics for this, but the feeling I get from women is that they just can’t find good people to marry and get on the train with. This is putting us in a difficult situation. If there just aren’t enough partners to go around, what do you do?
Is there any possibility the church would ever change or modify?
How could it? How can they modify the man, woman, children, nuclear family thing? It’s this great chain going back to eternity—hands holding hands all the way back through time.
Maybe they could recognize that the nuclear family is not what it has traditionally been. In the real world, we are not forever and always a nuclear family.
But that is exactly the opposite of what the church teaches. The whole point of doing all this is so that you will stay together as a family forever.
That’s right, that’s the ideal.
Not the ideal—that’s it. That’s the whole …
But look how exclusionary that is when the reality is that the ideal doesn’t exist for a large number of people who have been baptized.
See, I don’t even want to believe that. I would like to believe that all these wonderful families are going to go on forever happily through eternity, and that just a few people have fallen off the train, like me.
If divorce isn’t supposed to happen, how did it happen to you?
I can’t tell you. For purposes of anonymity, I can’t.
Okay. During this divorce did you seek counseling from your bishop and church officials?
Yes. But they had no answers.
[p.62]It’s not supposed to happen.
What could they say? Here were two really nice, terrific, wonderful people—what could they say? They just didn’t have any answers.
Did you go for any other kind of help, therapy?
Did they have better answers? Did it hold some promise; was it helpful?
No. There were no solutions.
Did it enable you to better cope with what had happened?
I didn’t cope at all well. It was the greatest disappointment of my life that my marriage didn’t work out. Because that’s the one thing I wanted most growing up. I was going to be the one to do everything right. I was going to make no mistakes. I was going to marry absolutely the right person. I’d absolutely followed the rules perfectly. So I was really upset when it didn’t work.
At that point, did you become inactive? Did you stop going to church or do you still attend regularly?
I kept going for a while.
So you continue to try to get onto the train?
No, I’ve accepted that I won’t get on it. It’s going on without me.
What’s going to happen to those of you who aren’t on the train when you die? Where will you go?
The train is going to Sandy [a Salt Lake City suburb]. When you think about it—here’s the father and a mother and the kids together forever. So they have to have a house to be in and a yard and a dog, and that’s Sandy. Right? So that’s where they’re going. Now the trouble is everybody’s going to be twenty-five years old for the next billion years.
Now obviously, the view of heaven as a giant Sandy with all your animals, kids, grandparents, everybody all together doesn’t work. If we’re all twenty-five years old, all looking good, all healthy, all equally powerful, all the same age, then you have nothing but peers. You don’t have parents and children anymore. This takes some figuring out.
[p.63]But what happens … Will you go to the celestial kingdom having been divorced?
You will if you do two things: Get married again to somebody who can get on the train, or don’t get a temple divorce from your first spouse. You can get divorced just as long as you don’t break that bond. And still follow all the rules.
So then you wind up in Sandy with your first husband, even if you marry again?
Oh, wretched reunion.
But you’ll be perfect; you won’t care.
You won’t care?
You’ll be able to love anyone. Right?
How does this make you feel?
Obviously, I don’t think it’s going to be like that ultimately. But wouldn’t it be wonderful if we might be able to get whatever heaven we believe in? And the belief, the faith, will create it? And that’s a possibility. I can imagine that a lot of people in different parts of the world—if they ended up in Sandy they would be miserable. They don’t want to be there. They wouldn’t love it.
Some people don’t want the heaven that the church has outlined. They wouldn’t be happy in it. A lot of people have been monks all their lives; they never married. They don’t particularly want a wife and children to go through eternity with. I do believe in God. I just think the most amazing thing is that we even exist.
And why is there something instead of nothing? I mean, all reason says that there would be nothing here—that you and I wouldn’t be sitting here talking today. Reason and logic say there can’t be anything—especially not people. Especially not thinking, evolving people. There can’t be … [She pauses.]
The idea of sentience?
[p.64]Yes, it’s pretty amazing, isn’t it?
We can’t exist, but we do. I think the very fact we’re here talking about this, thinking about this—and even have the consciousness to think about it says, yes, there was a creator, there was a plan.
Would you like to add anything?
I think we’ve lost sight in America of what makes people happy. And what makes people happy is loving each other and being with each other. People are all that make life worth living—not a job, not a career, but each other. That’s what we care about. When we think about the end of the world, when we think about a war, bombs dropping—Where’s Marge? Where is Ezra? That’s what we care about. That’s what our hearts care about. The rest of this is peripheral, extraneous. So it’s our human relationships that matter. Having a community of people who are trying to do good and trying to live good lives … Our American society is falling apart without that.
I think the reason for our existence is to love and be loved. And it’s absolutely true. Such a basic truth, and the minute you learn that, then the train feels a bit narrow. It’s too small. Because if you really know that, you don’t have to love only people that are just like you. You can expand that. And this is what I mean about accelerating evolution. You can expand that love to encompass the whole world. I think I’ll stop there.