It happened again. I was collecting the mail when my former home teacher passed by and diverted his eyes. A couple of years ago, he would’ve smiled and stopped to chat for a moment. He would’ve asked how I was doing and reminded me to call anytime if I was ever in need. He had been a great home teacher…which is a rare commodity!
Now I am invisible.
I’ve lived in this Mormon neighborhood for over five years. I attended church every week and served diligently in whatever capacity I was called. I sang in the ward choir. I taught piano lessons to children in the ward. So it tugged at my heart when a former student spotted me outside and darted across the street to avoid meeting up on the sidewalk. This little girl who used to sit on the piano bench and chat with me, now ignored my greeting. She couldn’t hop on her bike and pedal away fast enough.
With one exception, the few ward members who proclaimed we could “still be friends anyway,” have been too busy to text, call, stop by, or even leave a comment on social media. I haven’t seen friends that live around the corner in over a year. I’ve stopped by a few times, but they haven’t been home or were busy at the moment. I’ve dropped off birthday and holiday gifts and count it fortunate to get a “thank you” text a few days later.
I’m not really surprised, but I am disappointed.
Mormons live a life of dichotomy. The LDS church professes love and acceptance, but practices exclusion. They preach fellowshipping the inactive and non-members, and avoiding apostates. They have an open-door policy to everyone…except those who fail to conform to the standards set by the current hierarchy. They expound the virtues of honesty from the pulpit, and then lie to protect the tarnished reputation of the church. What the church once claimed as “anti-Mormon lies” are now acknowledged as historical truths on their official website. Church leaders give lip-service to the importance of “gaining knowledge,” but warn their members to only read church-approved resources.
Non-Mormons (and some Mormons) who visit or move to Utah have expressed that it feels as if they’ve walked onto a movie set of “Stepford Saints.” Everywhere they look, they see the same harried families with pasted-on smiles. They exude the “all is well in Zion” persona while angst and anxiety roil beneath the surface. The church prides itself on identifying its members as a “peculiar people” because of their unquestioning devotion to its doctrine and leaders. And outsiders would agree! It IS peculiar to swallow and follow everything an organization states as truth without giving a moment’s thought to other possibilities. Peculiar and foolish.
In the Mormon Church, any original thought is frowned upon. Personal insights are discouraged. Utilizing critical-thinking skills is dangerous. Worshipping Jesus over the Prophet is scandalous and grounds for excommunication. Associating with people who “had the truth, but then left the church” is forbidden. Apostasy is contagious and puts one’s exaltation at risk.
That is why I am invisible on a street filled with people. I’m worse than a leper. Leprosy is a physical condition in a temporal world, whereas apostasy is a spiritual disease with eternal consequences.
I had a taste of this following my divorce. Women would sidle up to their husbands and take their hands when I walked into Sunday school class. I would be relegated to the table for single women at High Priests dinner functions. Receiving invitations to a couples Valentine dance sponsored by the priesthood quorums was laughable…once I pulled out the arrow piercing my heart.
One would think I’d have embraced my power of invisibility by now. I’ve had decades of experience growing up in a stanch Mormon family who valued its ability to live a dichotomous life. Smiles in public; tears in private. The image of perfection at church; abuse at home. Working toward the goal of creating an eternal family by tossing out those who don’t exemplify the required picture-perfect persona.
The creed, “Do as I say, not as I do” is alive and well in Mormon culture. My parents have kept their covenant to follow the example of church leaders and obey their words, no matter the emotional, financial or spiritual cost. Even if that cost is a relationship with a daughter. I am collateral damage in my family and neighborhood.
And so, as I move forward in this new life with Christ, I claim this declaration of the Apostle Paul as my own:
Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ 9 and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith— 10 that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, 11 that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Philippians 3:8-11, ESV)