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