I Was a Good Mormon Wife ... Until My Husband Stopped Believing in God
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Sean was as supportive as an atheist could be. He even went with me for the first hour of church to help with the Squirmy Ones. But when he’d leave early, I’d cry in the bathroom, feeling completely alone. I never said that word aloud: Atheist. My heart clenched just thinking it.
We rarely talked about religion, yet it consumed us. When Sean replaced his temple garments — the sacred underwear he’d promised to wear day and night — with boxers, I couldn’t take it anymore. It was too much betrayal. I called up a neighbor with a husband like mine and cried. But instead of empathy, she offered questions that stunned me into silence. Was Sean addicted to pornography? Watching R-rated movies? What sin had brought him to this terrible place?
My tears stopped. Her questions were so off-base that they seemed absurd. She was sincere, and trying to help, but she believed what the Church teaches — that a man would only leave because he’s disobeying the commandments. She couldn’t understand this was a rational inquiry. She saw everything as the result of sin.
This started my brain twitching. I knew Sean was still a good person, that he still maintained the same moral standards he had when he married me. The Church was wrong about him. What else might they be wrong about? I shoved the thought away.
But I wanted to understand him. This was Sean, the man who stood by me during years of clinical depression. The man who pretended to be a dinosaur while he chased our shrieking sons around the room. He wasn’t some heathen. I couldn’t believe that. I wouldn’t believe it. He’d always been a skeptic, and even though I didn’t agree with him, I knew intellectually that he’d never make this decision without careful consideration of the facts.
As summer shifted to fall, I often found him hunched over his iPad reading everything he could find on Mormon origins. I started to join him in his nightly bath, and the information would seep out. He’d pause from our usual safe topics and bite his lip. “I’m sorry, but I just have to tell you. Did you know that …” and then he’d tell me what he’d been reading. About how Joseph Smith mistranslated some Egyptian hieroglyphics that are part of our canonized scripture. About how he translated the Book of Mormon while looking at a stone inside of a hat.
I listened half-heartedly, questioned his sources, though I wasn’t about to go looking at them myself. Our prophets had made it clear that anything written outside church documents was suspect and anti-Mormon, fabricated for the sole purpose of destroying faith. Yet Sean continued, until one night it was about polygamy, my archnemesis.
“Did you know that Joseph Smith married a 14-year-old girl against her will? Did you know that he’d send men on missions and marry their wives in secret when they were gone?” I sat there silent as he kept talking, a horror growing in my gut. I knew that if Sean was right, then Joseph Smith was a fraud. I saw no difference between his acts and the modern-day acts of Warren Jeffs, whom I abhorred. And if Joseph Smith was a fraud — then what did that make the Church?
I left the bath early and went straight to bed, feeling a magmic pressure building inside me. The scholar in me couldn’t let it go. I had to know.
I already did know.
When I finally broke down a few weeks later, Sean was the one to hold me as I wept into my pillow and traipsed down the familiar road to despair, wondering what my life even meant if the Church wasn’t true.