Mette Harrison
May 31, 2019 · 3 min read

I’m Sorry For What I Said When I Was Mormon

I think this is a T-shirt, but it’s just what a lot of ex-Mormons end up feeling about their lives as Mormons. When I posted about a draft of this essay on my Facebook page, I got a lot of responses from Mormons who now feel embarrassed, chagrined, and downright horrified and humiliated about things they said or thought about those around them.

To some extent, I feel this, too. I was judgmental and self-righteous. I didn’t think I was at the time. I thought I was just trying to do what was right. But what I didn’t understand was that it’s impossible not to judge others by the same measure you judge yourself. (I think there’s a Jesus quote that says something like that, too, funny how that works.)

If I won’t allow myself to drink coffee or tea, every time I see someone else drink those, it’s going to remind me I don’t do that, and the reasons why I don’t. Likewise for attending church regularly, for accepting callings, for wearing my garments, for going to the temple, for mothering in a particular way. I think I believed that I could see other people not following my rules as exempt because they didn’t believe in them. But then, what about family members who had left Mormonism? There was just no way around it. Being Mormon means that you’re going to think you’re doing what’s right — and that other people aren’t. The “worthiness” culture instills it into you.

Here are some of the things I’m sorry for:

1. Thinking that AIDS was a judgment from God against gay people.

2. Believing that other people’s family problems were a result of the mother not staying home or the father not being the provider.

3. Imagining that mental health problems were a consequence of sin.

4. Judging people who got divorced as not as good as people who stayed married.

5. Thinking people who were addicts were just weak in character.

6. Believing there were different degrees of heaven for people who loved God the best.

7. Thinking “self-control” was the key to happiness (I mean, sometimes it can help, but still . . .)

8. Refusing to call myself a “feminist,” because those were men-haters.

9. Judging myself better than other people because I liked rules and didn’t ever get tempted to color outside the lines.

10. Seeing all my own flaws as virtues and everyone else’s virtues as flaws.

11. Judging people for having sex before marriage, which was clearly the worst possible thing.

12. Believing that abortion was the “sin next to murder.”

13. Thinking there were certain sins (which weren’t mine) that you could never really repent from.

This is just a small list, but it’s the beginning of my apology to the rest of the world. I’m sure that if you’re reading this, you have your own list ready to go. I can’t really go around and find all the people (AA style) who I harmed and tell them I’m sorry about my judgments because I honestly don’t have relationships with most of the people I judged. And most of the people I’m struggling to have relationships with right now are people who still believe all these things. The people who have given these up would just laugh, I suspect, and tell me they did the same thing once.

“You know better now, so you do better.” That’s what we live by as ex-Mormons.

Nonetheless, if by chance you have felt judged by me, I sincerely apologize (though you aren’t required to forgive me). I won’t try to excuse my behavior, but if an explanation helps, please know that it was how I was raised and it was the only way I knew how to live in the world. I was terrified of changing myself and my worldview, and honestly, it was at least as bad as I thought it was going to be when I finally did all that work. I was a coward and truly, if anyone was weak, it was me.

Because apologies are often more for us than they are for those we have harmed, I’m opening up the comments here for anyone who’d like to apologize without re-opening old wounds. It’s good practice anyway.

Mette Harrison

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Author of The Bishop’s Wife mystery series, The Mormon Sabbatical Podcast, Princeton PhD, fiction editor at Exponent II, autist, she/her