Leaving the Fold
James W. Ure, editor
A child said What is grass? fetching it to me with full hands.
[p.117]Betty Condie’s list of accomplishments is lengthy. She has degrees from Utah State University (B.A.) and Arizona State University (M.A.), and has taught in public schools in Utah, Hawaii, and California.
She first became active in the Cache Education Association and today is associate executive director of the Utah Education Association. She was twice elected president of the UEA where she was a policy leader and a spokesperson on educational and professional issues. She was also UEA vice president for two years.
At one time she developed a two-volume course of study for LDS schools of the South Pacific. She has been active in National Education Association activities and has headed three professional exchange delegations of educators to the People’s Republic of China.
Recognized as woman of the year by the Utah Business and Professional Women, she has been a panelist on numerous television and radio programs. In addition, she has served on the State of Utah Income Tax Recodification Task Force, the Utah State University Council on Teacher Education, the Governor’s Reform Steering Committee, Utah [p.118]Federation for Drug Free Youth Advisory Board, the ERA Coalition of Utah, Mortar Board Alumnae, and the Women’s Legislative Council.
In an office decorated with oriental rugs, cloisonne boxes, temple rubbings, and paintings from her travels to mainland China, Betty sits amid banks of looseleaf binders with titles like Education on the Internet and The Team Building Process. “I’ve developed such a passion for the Orient, and I’ve not been able to accumulate enough Chinese art,” she says. Both a computer and typewriter rest at arm’s length. Her blue eyes and sandy hair are set off by a scarf of black, white, and tan worn over a tan sweater and slacks. She wears large gold earrings. On her desk sit a Brackman Brothers coffee mug and a teacher’s brass apple. Her hands are at rest on her desk top and remain there throughout the interview.
May I ask when you were born?
I was born in 1932, in Brigham City, Utah. My grandmother lived there, but I grew up and my parents lived at the time in southeastern Idaho. Preston, in Franklin County. So, you know, that orientation is toward Utah. It’s like being a native Utahn to be born in southern Idaho.
Were your parents active in the LDS church?
Yes. I come from a family of very active church people. My mom was really active; my dad was; my sister is. I have only one sister.
Did you attend church as a child?
I did. I was married in the temple. I was all those things you are supposed to be when you are raised a Mormon woman.
Now you’re inactive?
And I have been for approximately twenty years.
What were the circumstances of your becoming inactive?
When I look back on it, I think it was a long, gradual process. It took a lot of accumulation of data—maybe even a subconscious pro-[p.119]cess that I wasn’t aware of until the 1960s. I remember exactly what caused me to start consciously questioning Mormonism. It was reading The Feminine Mystique by Betty Friedan. Has anybody else told you that?
When I read that book, I realized Friedan had put into words many of my own thoughts and feelings. I didn’t know until then that anybody else had that perspective. [She laughs.] It went from that into questioning a lot of church teachings, principles, and doctrine, basically surrounding equity, both gender equity and racial equity. Reading The Feminine Mystique heightened my sensitivity to feminine issues, sensitivities which I think were always dormant, somewhere in my thinking and in my mind. I started thinking about the church’s stand on women and the church’s stand on blacks. I said to myself, “I don’t think God is a chauvinist and I don’t think he’s a racist,” and to belong to a church which has what I interpreted as chauvinistic and racist doctrine didn’t square with me. I was quite uneasy about it and it really caused me to question. I started to question some of the things that I’d always been taught from that kind of a perspective.
It was a difficult emotional and intellectual thing to go through. It was a questioning process which lead me to feel unsure about things I’d always believed or thought I believed or pretended to believe. It was a very conflicted process, I think, because I was saying, “I don’t believe what my parents believe. I don’t believe what my grandparents believe. I don’t believe what my sister believes. I don’t believe what my husband believes.” That’s a difficult kind of a thing to go through—rejecting those things—when all your family and most of your friends believe otherwise.
Were you able to talk to your family or your husband about it?
You know, I didn’t. I didn’t ever talk about it. And I’m not sure why. Perhaps it was because I didn’t think they would understand and it would be too hurtful for them. It was really a very internal process for me. I didn’t talk with my mother or my sister or my husband. Gradually I began not attending church meetings. My ward teachers commented on my absence, as did my husband, but it just happened without any real open discussion about it.
[p.120]Was there any pressure to become active again?
I guess I’ve always felt there was pressure. Not a lot of pressure, but the people who were home teachers to my family during part of this time were really good personal friends and they did directly say, “Betty we’ve noticed that you’re not attending church.” They may have asked, “What’s the problem?” But I felt that I really didn’t owe them an explanation. I guess I felt I didn’t owe anybody an explanation, because I never gave one to anyone.
Did this isolate you from friends and family?
I’m not sure I felt isolated. I guess I did. When you’re active in the church, basically all your friends are people in your ward and people who are active, especially when you live in a predominantly Mormon community. And I was living in Smithfield at that time. I think that feeling a bit isolated is what led me to become more active in the Utah Education Association. I took a role and sought elected office in my local association and then state association, as well, because I found there some relationships and some friends who weren’t active Mormons. I think I substituted that activity and those relationships for my church relationships and activities.
Were these people you could talk to about your feelings?
No, I never talked about that, although I felt a comfort level with them. There was a void there. When you’ve been doing a lot of church activities and then cease them, you fill the void with something else. It’s transferring attention and focus from one thing—the church—to another thing—in my case, the education association.
Eventually the energy you redirected toward education took you to a high position.
I ran for and was elected president of UEA. I became more involved, not only with the state association but with others around the country. The position has a national focus. There were lots of meetings and conferences with my national counterparts. That gave me a whole group of acquaintances and friends who had something in common with me. In that way I really filled the void that leaving the church created.
[p.121]What happened to your relationship with your family?
My relationship with my husband deteriorated and eventually led to divorce. It was nothing really overt, it was nothing angry, it was nothing that was really awful at all. It’s just that he was—is—a very devout Mormon who needs an active Mormon wife to be happy. When we were living in Hawaii, on the BYU Hawaii campus, he was president of the student branch. That’s equivalent to being a bishop. And he’s a high priest. He’s all those things that come with working your way up the priesthood positions in the church. He needed a wife who’d do these things with him and go to church with him, but it wasn’t something I was comfortable with. So it left him really out there. Hanging in the wind, so to speak. It was his desire to have a mate who’d be an active church member that led to our divorce. My inactivity had a huge impact on my marriage. In fact, it basically was the end of it.
Hadn’t you been married in the temple?
How did this resolve itself?
I really never dealt with that. My former husband did find an active, devout woman whom he married a few years ago. I got a letter from his stake president, saying your former husband is going to be married in the temple. I can’t remember the details of it, but basically it told me that if I had anything to say about the marriage which was going to take place, I should contact him. I didn’t do anything about it; I just ignored it. In retrospect, I should’ve written back saying it was wonderful that he’s getting married. He’s a kind, wonderful, generous man who deserves to be happy.
There was no temple divorce?
Not that I know. But I think doctrinally he can be married to more than one woman. So it’s my assumption that he’s married to me and he’s married to her and plans on living with both of us in the hereafter. But I don’t know.
Which brings me to the question, what happens after you die?
That’s a very good question. I guess I don’t disbelieve in the hereafter; I don’t think I do. But I can’t define it except to say that I believe life on this earth is not the end of existence.
[p.122]You don’t think it’s celestial, telestial, terrestrial?
It could be, but I doubt it. I don’t know. I’ve never been interested in doing theological reading and research to define that. I guess I’m comfortable not knowing.
What about your basic belief in the tenets of Mormonism.
I’ve never had a strong belief in those tenets. The things I learned when I was young, growing up in the church, are not totally erased, but they’ve faded. There’s a portion of it still there. But, basically, I never had a testimony of the church.
Some individuals in the church have been blamed for interpreting doctrine in a way that drives some away. Was that ever a problem—the lay clergy?
Yes, I think it was. It’s one of the many things that accumulated over the years to cause me to disbelieve. I know there are a lot of people who profess to be good Mormons who are not. Who may be criminals, in fact. Who may be liars and who may be cheats. But they go to church on Sunday and profess to live the gospel. I remember, when we were living in Hawaii, leaders in the church weren’t very inspiring people sometimes. When I had to go after a temple recommend, I remember being asked personal questions about my relationship with my husband and I thought, you know, I just don’t think this is necessary. It struck me as being not the right thing, and not an obligation I had. Did God want me to have to be interrogated by a person whom I didn’t consider to be any more spiritual than I am? Why should this bishop who is no better than I question me? It was also a feminist thing. It was the whole male authority thing with the church.
Are you a spiritual person?
I don’t know the answer to that question. I have non-religious friends who follow spiritual leaders or gurus not affiliated with organized religion, but I don’t do any of that. I don’t go to other churches, and I don’t really seek out something else to believe in. I guess you could say I don’t know if I’m spiritual or not. It depends on how one defines spirituality.
You seem to have a lot of serenity.
I feel comfortable with myself, my values, and my beliefs. I’m okay with whatever is. If there’s a hereafter, it’s okay. If there isn’t, it’s okay. [p.123]I don’t feel stressed out by not knowing and by not having something I deeply believe in terms of a hereafter or a God. I think I’m spiritual in the sense that I believe there’s a higher power. I don’t reject God. I don’t reject Jesus. I don’t reject Christianity. But I’m not sure about the efficacy of strong religious beliefs unless one is also a truly good human being.
Did you have children?
Yes, I have four children. And my experience with them growing up in the church also contributed to my leaving the church. I could see gender bias operating. I have three boys and one daughter. The Mormon Church provides significant opportunities for men and boys throughout their lives. From Cub Scouts to priesthood programs to intramural athletics. My boys were always involved in camping and jamborees and all sorts of activities. The church basically provided nothing for my daughter. That’s part of my feminist objection to the church. Males and females are acculturated in the church for the roles the church perceives they should fill as men and women. I just felt so strongly that my daughter was short-changed as a young woman in the church, while my boys were catered to. Programs were very strong to turn boys into leaders and prepare them for the priesthood. And for girls the message is: you know your place, Relief Society. Even Relief Society decisions have to be sanctioned or approved by male church leaders. That was part of the gender bias I saw.
For example, when I was active in Relief Society and was a counselor in the ward, a couple of things happened which confirmed this for me. I went to a meeting at the home of the Relief Society president one afternoon. There were just the two counselors and the president and we were doing some planning. I wore pants. It was before the church really approved of women wearing pants, and she [the president] asked me not to wear pants again. She said that as a Relief Society counselor, I ought to set a good example and not wear pants. That struck me as weird. Another instance I recall is a musical program for the centennial of the Relief Society organization. They asked me to be in charge of the program called “Melt Down My Pewter.” It was a program that came from the church. No doubt it had been approved by the priesthood. It was supposed to be produced in every stake in the church. It really was quite a good program. It included music, dance, [p.124]and drama. So I produced this program. We presented it one evening and it was really very good. In fact, it was so well received that afterward people wanted to schedule a second presentation so others who hadn’t seen it could come. I remember the Relief Society president saying, “Well, I’ll have to check that out with the bishop.” She checked it out with the bishop, and he felt one performance was enough. I thought, This is so crazy to have an auxiliary organization for women (which in itself signifies inequality) and they can’t even make their own decisions about their own activities without getting priesthood approval. So there again was that authority/power problem. It was another example of the status of women in the church—subservient.
Do you expect any changes regarding women in the church in the future?
Perhaps, in time. Just as it became impossible not to recognize that blacks are equal to whites, perhaps gender equality will some day prevail. It’s obvious that doctrine changes as social and political climates change. We’ve seen that what is “truth” at one point in time may not be “truth” indefinitely. Gender equality is a problem in many churches, as you’re well aware. Some churches have decided that women can be priests. But real equality is something that’s going to be slow in coming. I listened to some of the last LDS general conference sessions. I notice the authorities of the church still say to women, “Now, don’t work outside the home unless you absolutely have to. If you’re a single mother, you need to provide for your children, but not unless you really have to should you work outside the home.” That kind of persistent mantra tells me doctrine is not changing very fast. I certainly don’t expect that doctrine regarding women holding the priesthood will change for a long, long time. But I think eventually it will have to.
If I were president of the Mormon church, what would you say to me?
I guess I’d say that before I really want to participate in the church, I’d have to feel more comfortable that this church didn’t have practices and doctrines that discriminate against certain people. Of course, right now, it’s mainly discrimination against women because the racial issue has been dealt with.
Back to your children for a moment. Are they all active?
My oldest son is active. He went on an LDS mission and he remains a very devout and active member of the church; so does his wife and so [p.125]are their five children. My other three are not. They’re just like me. [She laughs.] Sometimes I feel, Oh, gosh, what if I’ve made a mistake here. I’ve been an example to them and they’ve followed me and there may be a hereafter and we’re all going to be some place we don’t want to be because I was wrong. [She laughs again.] So I have moments of thinking I may have botched it up for them. But that’s assuming the responsibility that they aren’t active because of me and I don’t accept total responsibility for their choices.
How do you deal with your active son and his wife? Do you support them?
Yes, I do. When he was made a bishop, I went out to California where they live because I knew it was really important to him. They just understand that I’m not active and I understand that they’re active. There’s mutual respect for our differences. I often go to church with them when I go out there, because I respect their beliefs and want to show my support for them.
Do you have any conversations about this?
No. I basically don’t have conversations with anybody in my family about my inactivity and my beliefs and disbeliefs. Partly I think because I feel like that’s an individual decision, and I really don’t want to impact others’ personal beliefs too much. We do have some pretty heart-felt conversations, but it’s rarely about the church. It’s like avoidance behavior with my active son. I believe that old axiom about not discussing politics or religion because you just end up angry. The relationship’s better if we just avoid the topic.
Is the same true with your inactive children?
No. With my inactive children, we’re more on the same wavelength, and I know I won’t say anything that offends them because they have the same belief system that I do about the church. So we can talk about it from time to time, but we don’t spend a lot of time discussing religion.
What would you guess actives think of inactives?
My guess is that they’re sorry for us because they believe we’ve gone astray, and wonder how we could do that after knowing the truth. I really believe that they feel pretty bad for us. And they’re pretty constantly trying to save us from ourselves.
[p.126]How do you deal with that feeling of pity?
Sometimes I wonder if the attention active members pay to me is based on anything except trying to activate me. I have some very good neighbors who’ve been very friendly to me since I’ve lived in the neighborhood. They’re all very active members, and they’ve been very good friends to me. I wonder a little bit about that attention. But whatever the motivations are, I appreciate their attention. I have a wonderful neighbor who does home teaching. He brings his son over and we have some good conversations. He’s a great guy. I like him a lot. So the ward has been pretty civilized, so to speak, about how they approach me. I’ve had the Relief Society visiting teachers also call and say, Could we come and visit you? I know they’re calling because that’s part of what they’re expected to do, but they’re great. I enjoy talking to them, and I enjoy their friendship. I’m not hostile to active members or to the church.
Do you get anything out of your meetings with them?
Yes. I think they like me and I like them. We’re interested in each other and our neighborhood. I respect and adore them and I like visiting with them.
Have you remarried?
I saw your ring and wondered.
Oh, it’s just ’cause I’m so used to wearing it. I feel kind of naked if I leave it off. Sometimes I wear a ring. Sometimes I don’t. My actual wedding rings were stolen a few years ago, so when I wear a ring on that fourth finger, left hand, it’s not sentimental, it’s habit.
Can you foresee ever becoming active again?
You know, I think I can. Although I can’t define it very well. I’ve sometimes wondered if as I grow older, and I feel a need for support, and I no longer have a job, and I’m retired—if, in fact, I won’t need something else to take the place of what fills up almost twenty-four hours a day for me right now. So I can foresee possibly a time coming when I’m retired and I’ll want to have some kind of activity. Perhaps it could be church activity. I don’t know. I think it’s a remote possibility.
[p.127]Never say never.
That’s true. But I’d be very surprised if that were based on anything I could perceive happening in terms of my belief in the principles of the church—my belief in the truthfulness of the church. Because one thing I used to resent a bit was that a church could say, “We’re the only true church.” Such a small percentage of the total population of mankind belongs to “the true church” and there’s only one such church? That bothers me quite a lot. It seems preposterous to me that any church should proclaim itself “the true church.” There must be a lot of truth in a lot of churches. It’s pretty egotistical to think you have a corner on all truth and light. And it’s just a bit of a problem for me that a church would claim that.
If it is “the true church,” I ask how is it possible for injustices to occur? Take the Mark Hofmann incident. In another state, selling his bogus documents would’ve resulted in a trial. Why didn’t that happen? It would have been embarrassing to many of the high officers of the church. Often, when somebody else commits a crime, if they’re not tied into the church, or it doesn’t reflect badly on any of the officials in the church, they throw the book at them. It seems to me it’s pretty corrupting to have a theocracy, which is basically what Utah is. The church has always seemed to me to have two different kinds of sinning. One is financial sinning, or white-collar crime, and that’s not a big deal. You can be a counselor and cheat your ward members out of half a million dollars, and it doesn’t cause the ripples one would expect. Financial sinning, fraud, or scam occurs quite often and sometimes involves pretty high members of the church. It’s either swept under the rug or they’re sent away to be a mission president. The other, seemingly more serious, sinning is sexual indiscretion. Good people are disfellowshipped for these sins. “Sin” is not treated the same. [She pauses reflectively.]
You know, when you asked did I ever talk to my mother and my family about my inactivity? My mother knew I was a feminist. Do you remember when the Sonia Johnson stuff was going on? Sonia was from Logan, Utah, and I’d gone to school with her brother (actually they were from Preston, Idaho). So I had a special interest in that. And either Sonia or some of the NOW [National Organization of Women] members went down to the temple and chained themselves to the temple gate or something like that during a conference session. My [p.128]mother called my sister and said, “Was Betty there? Was Betty one of those women?” [She laughs.] So, you know, she knew, even though we really didn’t talk about it. She considered me pretty radical.