I come from a long line of Mormons. My family tree can be traced back through the settlers who colonized Utah, through the pioneers who crossed the plains, through the Saints who were persecuted in Ohio and Missouri. Each generation is filled with steadfast and faithful Mormons, many of whom uprooted their entire lives to follow what they believed God wanted them to do. I have the accumulation of those decisions running through my veins, so it was with that same desire to be true to myself that I decided to leave The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Making a decision that your entire family disagrees with is hard enough, but stepping away from a religion that has been interwoven into your family tree for generations doesn’t come without its consequences. It wasn’t until I left the church that I realized how much I had sacrificed to stay in it. Being Mormon may have been my family’s identity, but it destroyed my ability to find my own.
From the moment I was born, my entire life was mapped out. Get baptized at 8, receive the priesthood at 12, serve a mission, marry a good Mormon woman in the temple, have kids and perpetuate the cycle. There was no true freedom for me but, of course, I didn’t see it that way. I saw those expectations as milestones, when in reality they were millstones.
Being born in the church reduced my life from endless possibilities to a small sliver of those paths that, in the end, all looked the same. I would never be able to have all those possibilities back without an uphill battle against my family, my community and my culture. I wasn’t able to just be me — I had to be a version of myself that fit the Mormon mold.
Not having full control over my own life wasn’t even the most depersonalizing part of being Mormon. Even more insidious was how the church supplanted my ability to trust myself. Over time, I was taught to ignore my inner voice and, instead, rely on the church’s framework for making decisions. I didn’t get to decide what it meant to be a good person, the church did.
To be good was to go to church every week, to be a temple recommend holder, to read your scriptures every day. My framework for being a good person wasn’t based on my own beliefs or values but on the church’s. I wasn’t an individual — I was simply a receptacle molded into whatever shape the church found satisfying.
When I eventually decided to leave the church, I anticipated a crushing sense of loss. I had ripped out a foundation that had been growing underneath me for generations, and I expected my entire world to crumble. But it didn’t. For days and weeks, I waited for that sense of eternal dread I had been told always accompanied a “faith crisis,” but what I felt instead was liberation. For the first time ever, I was in full control of my life. I no longer had an oppressive and punitive system telling me how I had to live if I wanted to be worthy of love and happiness.
For so long, I thought leaving the church meant leaving behind a part of myself, but that wasn’t true — I simply stepped away from an institution that no longer aligned with me or my values. Just like my pioneer ancestors, when I walked away from the church and chose myself, I took a path I had never walked before. And maybe unlike my ancestors, it’s a decision I haven’t regretted since.
Tanner Call is a former Mormon who graduated from Brigham Young University and currently resides in Maryland. He and his wife both enjoy their lives away from the church and use all their extra time and money to travel, eat good food and pamper their dog.