By Emmett O. Rabs
Being part of a community which houses so many people experiencing a faith transition in one form or another (away from Mormonism, away from Christianity, away from God), it can get pretty hard being an active member of the Church. If you are an active member, thoughts about you from one who is struggling range from the relatively benign, “you just don’t understand how hard a faith transition is” to, “you’re just too naïve”. I am here to say that neither of these sentiments is true—at least not in my case. With so many folks that I converse with on a daily basis transitioning away from Mormonism in one form or another it can be really hard for them to see (despite knowing my history) that I went through a faith transition already…by myself…when I was 15 years old.
I was raised in an Irish/Italian-Catholic family in NY. I went to Catholic School; I made my communion and lived a life pretty similar to most Catholic people within my sphere of influence. I had never heard of a Mormon and had no idea what one was. After the death of my grandfather I felt a deep internal need to be closer to God. I had always loved God and had never questioned the existence of God before. As I searched, and dug deep it became clear to me that what had once felt like a warm glove now felt like a cold fish. Every once in a while I would look for some other way to connect to my religion and through my religion to God but there was nothing.
Finally, in October (7 months after my grandfather’s death) I was doing my homework with the television on. A commercial came on for the Book of Mormon. I had never heard of the Book of Mormon before, but the commercial said that it was another Testament of Jesus Christ, and since I believed that Jesus was the Son of God I figured I would check it out. Two weeks later I was on bed rest after having an appendectomy and received a phone call from someone named Elder. He asked if he and his “companion” (whatever that meant) could drop the book off to me personally. Without asking my parents I said, “Sure, why not?”; visitors were always fun to have. We set an appointment for October 30th. They came, and gave what I would find out was the “1st Discussion” and it pretty well blew my mind. All the connections that had existed in my brain for a long time but weren’t taught by Catholicism all clicked for me. I was baptized less than 3 weeks later.
I was fortunate that my parents did not try to stop me from being baptized when they could have. They did not support me either, they simply remained neutral. No, my trial, the painfulness of this transition came in the form of my best friend at the time (one of very few that I had) and one of my sisters. My best friend told me that I was betraying Catholicism and that he could not and would not be friends with a Mormon. When I chose to get baptized anyway he simply never spoke to me again. My sister became increasingly hostile toward me and was one of only 2 members of my immediate family not to attend my baptism. She accused me of trying to get her daughter to read the Book of Mormon (said child was a little over a year old) and she snidely asked me what number wife I was going to be. This continued for some time until it came to a head and we did not speak for over 2 years. There were other little deals with extended family members but not much I really care to mention for the purpose of this writing.
You may dismiss me by saying “Oh, well Catholicism is not a lifestyle religion the way Mormonism is.” You’re right, Catholicism is not a lifestyle, but it permeates every facet of life just as much as Mormonism does—especially for those who are Irish or Catholic in NY; especially for those who spend their formative school years kneeling to kiss Jesus’ feet every day when they enter school; especially for those who (while you were singing about popcorn popping on apricot trees) wrestle with concepts like transubstantiation, original sin, purgatory, hell, and confession.
I love all of my brothers and sisters of the human race, and I am mindful of their struggles. In fact, the struggle to reconcile The Church and The Gospel is one I fight every day. I offer you my love, and my grace for your hardships; all I ask is that you not belittle mine. I have been there even though I don’t discuss it a great deal. I know what it is like to be the only one in a family that takes a different religious path “bucking” the faith of their ancestors. I have been the one with sleepless nights, and fear about discussing religion with those closest to me. I have also been the one who has been unable to discuss religion with those closest to me because I do not believe as they do and they know it. I have been called a member of a cult the same way you have been called an apostate. I have been told I am going to hell just like you have. So let’s embrace each other, and hear each other, and most of all not judge each other. No matter what our faith looks like we have each other in the here and now and that is reason enough for love.
I’m sort of embarrassed I’ve never even considered this parallel. Thank you so much for sharing your experience and your perspective.
Thank you for sharing that. It’s a good reminder about how often we judge people based on the circumstances we currently see. We rarely know anyone’s whole story and don’t have the right to come to conclusions about what their motivations, etc.
So thank you again – for the reminder, and for being so open about yourself.
That was such a beautiful post, thank you.
Thank you. That was beautiful.
Emmett, thank you so much for reminding all of us of the myriad ways one can go through faith transitions and crises. It helps bring meaning to each of our own faith journeys. I am increasingly made aware of the many people who carry their faith struggles privately instead of reaching out towards others–not with shame or embarrassment, but with courage and conviction.
Several Sundays ago in my home Mormon ward, I shared a brief and very general comment about my personal struggles with The Church and my efforts to reconcile gospel teachings with my own faith and spirituality. I said that one thing I did know was that we had a Heavenly Father and a Heavenly Mother who both loved all of their children and were conscious of our well-being as our parents. After the meeting two women separately approached me, both of whom rarely say anything, are quiet and yet considered to be strong in their faith. One simply cried and said, “Thank you.” The other said, “You and I have more in common than you realize.”
This brief experience reinforced my purpose to speak up frequently, to not let Priesthood Authority, with all of its good and its not-so-good much of the time, stop me from speaking out and sharing more in church meetings. I have seen rogue priesthood leaders use their power to run rampant, taking down the sweet inner souls of both young people and adults in a misguided and often mean-spirited (which they would describe as being the Judge in Israel) effort to “make them do the right thing”, leaving destruction and devastation in their wake.
As we reconcile the basic, do-not-question and traditional tenets of our religion with what we know to be gospel truths, we can only become more loving, conscious, and Christlike. Thank you for sharing!
Thank you everyone. I decided to write this post because I have seen so much hurting in communities of Mormons pushed to the outer fringes because they do not meet some aspect of what Mormonism looks like. This post was my extended hand; an olive branch handed over from someone who has also been there.
Indeed, all are alike unto God. Beautiful message. Thank you for your story. I want to love better. This helps.
I remember someone once saying “In order to be truly converted (to any religion), one must be willing to give up the religion of one’s childhood.” For some that means giving up one religion in favor of another. For others it means giving up innocent childhood understanding in favor of less comfortable truths within the religion of one’s childhood. Either way there is pain and loss. God bless us all to have compassion for ourselves and others.
It could have been me telling this story. So recognizable. Thank you for expressing this so well.
Emmett, I have been thinking lately about the iron rod and how we’re supposed to grasp with both hands, but I like to think of myself as holding on with one hand while I reach out with the other. What a beautiful story you’ve told here. I am honored to be your friend in real life and on the interwebs.
Emmett, well spoken. I appreciate your perspective!
Emmett, just found this post from the Wheaties nominations and loved it! Thanks for sharing your beautiful story. It’s a perspective I don’t often think of.