Showing posts with label bible study. Show all posts
Showing posts with label bible study. Show all posts

Saturday, January 12, 2013

A Tale Of Two Seminaries (Part Two)

Note: This post is part of a two-part series.  Part One can be found here

         After the schism, I was sent to the seminary class held at the ward building. I was pretty torn up about the matter – I had known the bishop’s family for years, which made the exclusion all the more painful. I felt, more than ever, like the apostate leper. But attending a different seminary class – without all of the attendant baggage – helped me to resolve my feelings about my apostasy. Bit by bit, I made my peace with my lack of beliefs. Full activity – seminary, Mutual, Sunday School, Young Women’s – helped me realize that my atheism was not due to a flaw in my moral character. The longer I attended, the more I understood that I just didn’t believe.
          The following summer the stake president became aware of the situation regarding the separate seminary classes and intervened, making the decision to send me back to the class taught by the bishop’s wife. This was a pretty intimidating situation; I was being told to return to a class that had made it clear my presence was not welcome. I was angry and confused about the situation, which was exacerbated by the fact that my psyche was beginning to crack under the burden of living a double life. I was in a very dark place at the time and the complication of the seminary situation only made the issue worse.
          The school year started and I began attending seminary class at the bishop’s home. The situation made me very tense and edgy; my mood was going downhill rapidly. Then, one day, I read a touching story in Newsweek; the story of a couple that had adopted a disabled child from Russia. The story had a happy ending – the child was smiling and laughing. I figured the fact that the parents were gay would probably be a side-note, a slight complexity that still didn’t take away from the fact that the child was happy and in a stable home, as opposed to living life in an orphanage. I was scheduled to give the spiritual thought in seminary the next day – I figured this story was as spiritual as it could get.
          Naïve, I know. But this was a story that helped me believe in humanity at a time when I was in desperate need of that faith. I had been through hell the past few years, as I navigated the roller coaster of emotions that come after losing your faith. During the last few years, as I went back and forth, back and forth on my state of disbelief, I had watched my sense of self-worth slowly erode. Being a closeted apostate among Mormons is the loneliest feeling in the world; the events of the past year had taught me that I couldn’t trust the people I grew up with.
          The next morning, I went to seminary class. When the bishop’s wife asked me to give the spiritual thought I opened my copy of Newsweek and began reading. About a third of the way into the article, the fact of the parents’ sexual orientation was introduced; that was when a very deep silence entered the classroom. I became acutely aware of the thinness of my voice and the slight wobble of my words. I pushed on with the story, determined to finish. I could feel my hands shaking and my heart pounding in my chest but I refused to stop. I did not want my voice to be silenced, not this time. And so, I pushed on.
          When I finished reading, I looked up from the magazine to meet the eyes of my teacher. I have never, in all of my days, seen such a look in anyone’s eyes. Perhaps it was hate, perhaps it was fury, or perhaps it was anger. Either way, I felt a chill that sunk down to the bottom of my toes.
          The bishop’s wife flicked her hand at me in a dismissive gesture and said “Well! That child will certainly grow up to be open-minded!” I almost laughed but caught myself. The teacher was right. Her comment, although it didn’t ease the tension in the room, helped me see clearly again.
          I never went back to church or seminary after that; I was tired of living a double life. I was tired of feeling ashamed of who I was and dishonest about my beliefs. The time had finally come to stop living a lie and start with the business of living my life.  

Friday, January 11, 2013

A Tale Of Two Seminaries (Part One)

          I lost my faith when I was sixteen, when I was still living at home. For this reason, I tried to keep my apostasy quiet. However, my increasing doubts and disillusionment did not go unnoticed. I lived in an area where Mormons were in the minority; there was one other Mormon in my grade in high school, a girl by the name of Beth*. Beth and I grew up together, bound by geography and the isolation of upstate New York Mormons. 
          Beth was my oldest acquaintance and, bound together by our shared classes and early-morning seminary, she was the person that saw me the most, even more than my parents. Therefore, when my faith began to splinter, she was the first person to pick up on the fact. I tried to be discreet about my beliefs but every once in a while, a negative comment would slip out. I told her I felt uncomfortable with the idea of actively trying to convert others – her response was a fixed smile and the statement “So you’re telling me you don’t believe in the premise of the Church’s mission?” We stopped talking about the matter after that. A few months later, when I became upset in seminary about a General Conference talk – I said that the speaker’s promises were not grounded in reality – she lashed out at me, asking me what my problem was.
          Once again, we let the matter drop, at least until a few weeks later. At the time, Beth’s uncle was the bishop; the other students in the seminary class were comprised of the bishop’s family, the seminary teacher’s family, and me. A few weeks after our disagreement in seminary, the bishop’s family came in, announcing they had formed their own seminary class, with the bishop’s wife as teacher. There was no announcement, no warning; they simply gathered their scriptures at the end of class and said good-bye.
          Later that night, I went to the seminary teacher’s house to talk. She was visibly upset; she started crying while I was there, asking me what she had done wrong. There was a very painful feeling in my chest as I comforted her; I felt torn between privacy and honesty. She had been our teacher for two years, prodding us to complete scripture mastery and showing sympathy when we fell asleep in class.
          I wanted – so much – to confess to her of my disbelief, to let her know the fault was not hers, but I still could not utter the taboo words, especially not in light of Beth’s reaction to my unorthodox views. I was still confused, still uncertain; I knew I didn’t believe in God but I still hadn’t figured out that my disbelief didn’t make me a bad person. Part of me still believed that my apostasy was due to a defect in character. I had moved on from the belief but the guilt and shame still lingered. And so I couldn’t bring myself to voice the words “I do not believe”, not even to let a woman I cared about know that the blame was not hers. I still regret my cowardice; she was a good woman who did not deserve to get caught in the cross-fire.
          And so our seminary class was fragmented; I spent the next year attending seminary class in the next town, until the stake president intervened, sending me back to the seminary class taught by the bishop’s wife.

*Name has been changed