On the last day of 2007 I received not one but two letters confirming that my name had been removed from the records of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and that if I’d like to re-enlist I just need to talk to my Bishop. It’s been awhile in coming since the Stake President put off his approval for three months, where they’re encouraged to procrastinate only thirty days in the event one changes their mind. I think my request just got lost on his desk. Local leaders are increasingly busy.
No big epiphany, no lifting of a burden, not even a sigh of relief. Nothing significant, really, other than maybe now young Aaronic Priesthood holders, boys in the very neighborhood that disconfirms us, won’t be put in the awkward position of knocking on our door Fast Sundays asking for offerings. If it happens again I’m going to invite them in for pancakes and high definition football.
The letters (the effort was duplicated for some reason) or rather their significance pales to the other letter my wife and I have received, the scarlet “A.” True it’s intangible, but the stigma reflects in the faces of former friends, home and visiting teachers, Elders, neighbors, Relief Society Compassionate Service Leaders, siblings, ex-spouses, parents, and all the folks they’ve gossiped with that roam the aisles of our favorite grocery store (our cultural hall these days). The “A” isn’t the same as Hester’s. In latter-day Puritanical Boston it represents an indiscretion more deplorable, even unforgivable, the dark and dismal state of apostasy.
It’s a religious Latin term turned Greek, no less insolent, meaning defection. Draft dodgers come to mind. In the realm of the Saints it seems a bit less final and deliberate, even somewhat benign, “He fell away from the Church.” A falling away. Some kind of loose footing, sandy perch, slippery river rock lead to the passive demise, maybe even Satan himself. If you believe in that sort of thing. I don’t. There’s enough evil in the hearts of men to trump the worst that imaginations can conjure about a mythical impetus for bad. Delve deeper into doctrine though, and anyone knows I could not have made a more malignant choice.
Gravity had nothing to do with my apostasy. Instead, my current status in (out of) the Church is the result of a lifetime search and the courage to live by what I found. I actively left.
Our circle of friends includes a kind of clandestine sort, wonderful people who’ve kept their ecclesiastical defection off the radar in fear of so many reprisals – social, familial, economical, cultural. My spouse and I have experienced those as well, but in the past thought that it didn’t matter how others evaluate us. We’ll take the consequences and the benefits of the choice we made to leave the Church, but as the volleys of reprisal reach closer our own ironsides we see the wisdom in flying a more innocuous flag.
Two glaring results from this that baffle me. One, I’m a happier person living the man that I am. I’m a happier parent, a happier companion, a happier communicator, because I’m not pretending anything else anymore. My wife sees this. My kids see this. I’ve been conditioned my whole Latter-day Saint life that I’d be weeping and wailing and gnashing my teeth. Two, the unconditional love of Christ no longer applies to me as made apparent by those who profess it, but choose to disconfirm this defector almost as if apostasy were contagious.
It’s not. And neither is compassion. No one defaults to charity. It, like being happy, is a choice and maybe later a habit if engaged with a purer impetus than that ol’ judge, the self.