I was born in North West England to committed Mormon parents. I was a good girl, quiet, obedient, kind, fair. In Kindergarten, sometimes the other children would come to me, instead of a teacher, to sort out disputes. I found school easy and enjoyed just being Me, as little children do.
At 7, I decided for the first time to read a little bit of my Book of Mormon. I was taught that this was a good thing to do, and I wanted to be a good person. The old fashioned language was so difficult for me that I’d always put it off, but now I decided I was going to read a few verses. I took my book into an empty room and sat down. As I opened the book, an incredible, strong feeling came over me. One so distinct and undeniable, I have only felt it like that once since. And the feeling was good! There were no words, just pure goodness! That’s the best way I can describe it.
At age 16 in Britain, it becomes legal to drink. My 16th year, there were lots of 16th parties – the tradition here. For the first time, these parties included people from the local boys’ school. Having been to a girls’ school my entire life, parties suddenly became a LOT of fun! Despite being the only Mormon, so the only one not drinking, life suddenly had boys in it and was therefore incredibly exciting! It was during this time I had to decide if my religious life was what I truly wanted. I tried a little bit of alcohol, kissed some boys…and decided I just wanted to be a good person. So from that point, I committed myself to be the most dedicated Mormon I could be. No more alcohol, no more boys who weren’t Mormons. I made a promise to my God that I would read my Book of Mormon daily for the rest of my life.
As I matured, I studied the scriptures hard and deep. I memorised 75 of the 100 seminary scriptures (I never did the Old Testament ones), and pondered their meaning relentlessly until I was satisfied I understood each. In my General Studies A Level (you take these before university), I took advantage of a religious question, and instead of answering it, wrote all about the church in an effort to convert the examiner. I told people in my form – the scary, popular ones – I believed in angels, told another friend about Joseph Smith’s first vision. It was terrifying but I was taught “every member a missionary”, and I wanted to obey every commandment. When my entire circle of friends got into clubbing and drinking, I ousted myself from the group. It was incredibly painful. I despised my last years of school. I was alone a lot, and also embarrassed by that. I did find new friends, but I felt like ‘the weird girl’. Instead of applying to British universities, where I would have to keep going through that, I applied to the church university BYU. However, once I got accepted, my dad offered me a job working for him instead. Perhaps he wanted to keep me in the country, I don’t know. In my mind, and probably his, girls didn’t need an education. We were taught a woman’s job was in the home. (I think the church has now stopped teaching that so much, but it did then).
I married at 19. The church taught us to focus on families, so I wanted to do what they did in Utah, and have a large one so I could “raise up seed unto the Lord”. My husband and I planned for 6 children, which probably isn’t even that big for Utah! But it is for Britain.
I loved raising children! LOVED it. Showing those babies new things, helping them realise things, explore their world. Adoring them. I couldn’t understand parents who didn’t devote their every second to it, and they probably thought the same about me!
I was extremely religious. My children missed out on most of their friends’ parties, because in Britain they’re so often on Sundays. They missed out on dance performances, clubs they desperately wanted to join, school fun days, swimming training (which meant they could never be competitive). I considered it a righteous sacrifice that we missed these Sunday activities, and thought I was doing the very best for my children. I stopped feeling put out that we couldn’t do as much fun stuff as non-member families, and began to feel sorry for them. Non-members were missing out on all the blessings we got for keeping the Sabbath Day holy.
That bothered me, actually. It seemed pretty unfair that they should be at such a disadvantage. I didn’t know how to deal with that. But I listened to my leaders telling me that we had these advantages because we followed God’s commandments. We were being rewarded for our righteousness before we even came to this earth – we had been saved for these latter days, because we had the strength and valour for the most wicked of times. We were “a chosen generation, called to take an ensign to the earth.” We, out of all the wicked, had listened to the missionaries and church leaders. Mormons, and Mormons alone, could get to the highest part of heaven. We were special, God’s “chosen people”, the “elect of God,” “the pick and flower”. My ego enjoyed these flattering teachings.
But my heart worried about everyone else.
The older I got, the more dedicated I became. I wanted to obey every single commandment to the fullest, magnify every calling, go to every ward, stake and multi-stake activity, keep my temple body fit, complete our genealogy, achieve a year’s supply of food plus more for neighbours. Keep a journal, study all my Sunday lesson materials, ponder my own lessons the whole week before teaching them, be a better missionary, be a better visiting teacher. Give free piano lessons, become a better ward organist, become a writer, earn enough money to buy an enormous house where I’d store and grow food for the entire stake (yes, it’s funny now!) Etc. In very small church units, as in Britain, the responsibility of running them falls on the few who are willing to muck in. I always had more to do than I could cope with, yet was still striving to go the second mile, as I’d been taught. I dedicated my all to my four children and my church, yet my house got messier and I just couldn’t ever get all my responsibilities done. I was so stressed I would fantasise about being hit by a truck, just for a break. I started to get ill, collapsing all the time, having crashes throughout each day, developing many food intolerances and what is likely an autoimmune disease (which doctors haven’t managed to diagnose). I had anxiety issues, chronic fatigue, fibromyalgia, arthritis…
My body gave me my break!
Best disability ever!
It was no longer possible for me to keep going at the pace I had been. My body demanded me to chill out a bit.
Despite my forced slow-down, I began to stress more over the unfairness of the church teachings. Sleep became troubled. The people all around me were going to be judged and condemned for not keeping commandments they didn’t know of! And they didn’t have the Holy Spirit to guide them, as we did, or the commandments to point them in the right direction! The only way I could think of to make this better, was that I was going to have to find some way to become famous so I could convert them all! (I don’t mind if you’re laughing. I’m laughing as I type it! I was absurd!)
My prayers got ridiculous. How could I just pray for my family? Every person in the world needed help! I was told we should pray for people by name, but if I always did that, surely it would be “vain repetition”? Listing my entire family, friends, our ward missionaries, our old ward missionaries, people I knew in need, people on the news in need, people who were in need last year who might still be in need – it got beyond ridiculous! I couldn’t miss anyone out! I couldn’t stop praying for them just because new people needed help. I started literally just saying “everyone in the world who’s in need”. Blessing everyone’s food when I blessed mine. Asking that everyone would get all the blessings I was asking for myself. Wondering how many people were missing out on what they needed, because I didn’t think to pray for those specific blessings.
Then I started wondering if I really had to say it every morning and night, or could I just ask for it for a whole week at a time? Why did I have to do it regularly? Did my regular thought-efforts make a difference to whether God would do it or not?
Then I wondered why I had to ask at all. He was their god, their father! Wasn’t he supposed to look out for them anyway? Why were we taught to ask for the blessings which he already wanted to give us? Why wouldn’t he just give them to us, without asking, if that’s what he wanted to do? Most people – in England at least – didn’t believe he existed, so would he not at least give them theirs, seeing as they didn’t know to ask?
And if he would, was I not putting people at a disadvantage by teaching them the gospel? Once they were no longer oblivious, they might forget to ask, so not get their blessings anymore!
I began to wonder why we blessed every meal. What were we actually asking for? A miraculous conversion of the substance so it was now organic and health-promoting? I asked other members of their thoughts and found out how it feels to be looked at like a rebel. I wondered how our bishop dared to ask God to bless the food – mostly cakes, donuts and meat, at our ward’s Munch and Mingle.
The more dedicated I became to Jesus’ commandments, the more stressed I was about all the unfairness in the world, and the more questions I had about church things that didn’t make sense. What did it mean to be sealed, when we were all God’s family anyway? Why were black people denied the priesthood for most of the church’s existence? Why couldn’t gay people have the relationship natural to them, like everyone else does? Would my husband really have a load of extra wives in heaven? That was only heavenly to him – I’d lose my best friend! What if he preferred them to me? How would the ones of us who weren’t the favourite feel being a lesser wife for time and all eternity? After my horrible school experience!
Why was it not extremely obvious to anyone else that the Word of Wisdom was telling us not to eat meat? Why did my leaders say the punctuation was wrong, and it didn’t mean that, when two verses after that showed it clearly did? (see Doctrine & Covenants 89:12-15). When did people realise Brigham Young had gone crazy and they weren’t to follow his teachings like blood atonement? How would we know if and when another prophet went crazy? Was it really more righteous to fight a rapist to your death, rather than just let him do it, when it wasn’t your choice anyway?
Before marriage laws were altered and same sex marriages accepted, the church wrote to each unit worldwide, instructing us to write to our political leaders expressing the church’s view, and to use social media to fight against the changes. I wrote to my local MP, but then it got difficult. How could I use social media to stand against gay marriage, when I had gay friends on there? It would be so incredibly offensive! Yet I wanted to help these people – I wanted them to be chosen people too, and have a chance at the highest kingdom of God, like Mormons did. In the end, I did not share all the church’s articles I felt I should have done, but I did share some of their posts declaring gay marriage to be evil and destructive to society.
Other members were more bold, and in an insensitive, intolerant way. I tried to diffuse the contention that pursued in the comments sections of their curt posts, trying to help the offended non-members see that the church only did it out of love. I searched the scriptures for references to back me up, and realised Jesus had never actually commanded against practicing homosexuality, and the Book of Mormon, which contained “everything (we) need for salvation”, and was “written for our day”, didn’t actually mention it whatsoever! I couldn’t understand why God would make such an important commandment so obscure!
I took my questions to the Lord. I didn’t doubt the church for a second, I just knew I didn’t understand. I hounded him in my daily prayers. Why couldn’t people live as gay, if that’s how they were? An old school friend of mine married her girlfriend once the law changed, and they were one of the absolute most loving couples I have ever come across! They adored the baby they had. Why was that evil? How could God split apart such an incredible family and cast them into hell for doing something they had no idea was offensive to him? It seemed ludicrously cruel! I believed the scriptures that said he would answer if we asked. I had zero doubt whatsoever. I became more and more frustrated that I was getting no answers, and pestered the Lord relentlessly with this and my other questions. I prayed in the temple, I prayed throughout the day. I fasted, many times. I questioned leaders, searched scriptures, searched Ensign talks.
Why was I getting nothing!?
I didn’t understand. I was doing everything! Keeping every commandment to my best ability. Searching, pondering, praying. Studying it out in my mind. I had so much faith – I KNEW he’d answer, I just couldn’t understand why he hadn’t already.
As I studied Jesus’s commandments, I tried to become more at one with people. I tried to put myself in their shoes, see through their eyes, so I could understand them better. Love them better. One particularly cold day, I went to Chester, shopping with my family. I think we bought some Christmas presents. I liked to do my token thing – give a few pounds – to the homeless people who were always on the street there. Talk to them a bit. But this time it was different. I put myself in their shoes. And for the first time it really hit me just what these people were going through. For the first time I noticed things. I spoke to two men. They were humiliated – the younger one could barely meet my eye. It was absolutely freezing, unbearable. I had spent the trip regretting not bringing enough warm things to wear, and yet these two men had to sit in it. And then as it got later, it would get worse. I didn’t know how they would bear it! How they’d ever fall asleep! If they’d wake up again! They were sat rigid already, cuddled into the things they had, which were obviously inadequate. I would soon get into a car and put the heating on, then drive home where it would stay dry, and put more heating on. They would sleep outside on stone, where temperatures would plummet. I couldn’t take it. How could I leave them there? They said the local shelters were all full, but they had their names down at one that would let people take turns there. This meant they’d get a roof every 2-3 nights. I knew the forecast, and it made a horrible dread in me. Society couldn’t just let this happen! What could I do? How could I change this? For the first time I desperately wanted to solve this situation.
I feel that this change in me was important – perhaps prerequisite – to my impending journey.
Not long afterwards, I was reading 3rd Nephi 26 (Book of Mormon). I was still begging God daily for my answers, and had been for well over a year now. I worried sometimes that I had “wearied him” with my pestering, and narked him off to the point he wouldn’t listen to me.
But he promised!
So I kept asking.
Anyway, I was reading chapter 26 and it talks about receiving the “greater things”. There I was, with my questions, desperate to know more than the “lesser things” I already knew. Desperate for understanding. And here was this promise, that once we had had our faith tried, we’d receive the greater things.
Well I wanted those greater things!
I wanted them!
And I knew I had the faith for them. I didn’t see how I could believe any more than I did! I couldn’t see how it was possible!
Then I felt arrogant. If the leaders of the church had not yet received these “greater things”, why on earth should I feel that I should get them?
Yet I felt I deserved them, had faith for them, WANTED THEM!!
So I pleaded for them.
Not too many days after that, I read Ether 4. It talks about the portion of the Book of Mormon that is sealed up, ready for when men have faith as the brother of Jared. This scripture struck me like 3rd Nephi 26 had! I was ready for these greater things! SURELY! I literally dedicated all my time, all my soul to doing everything I’d been taught! I knew I did far, far more than many of the other people in church with me. I knew I had more faith than many, from the things they said to me. That my lessons and talks were more sincere and more focussed on helping people understand, rather than making beautiful bookmarks and displays, sounding intelligent, sounding righteous, using ‘mormony’ phrases, saying things that people liked to hear. Ticking boxes. True, I couldn’t judge anyone else, or know their true desires – but I knew my own.
Russel M Nelson visited our stake (he was a councillor to Thomas S Monson at that time). As my husband was on the stake presidency, we were part of a group invited to have lunch with his party, and my husband was in meetings led by him. During one of these, the men were told to give their wives a blessing. My husband kept forgetting to do this, and our stake president would keep reminding him, but one day my husband came into the kitchen and asked if I wanted a blessing. I said sure, and he started.
During the blessing, the first thing I was told was an enormous relief to me. I was told “the Lord is grateful for your questions”.
Remember, I was terribly worried he was thoroughly miffed with me!
To know he was grateful was wonderful!
My husband had no idea about my questions – especially that I’d had them for so long! He very much dislikes deep thinking, so I hadn’t gone to him with them.
In the next part of my blessing I was promised 2 things. First, “you are about to receive a significant improvement to your health.” Unbeknown to my husband, just a week prior, I had discovered a natural therapy that I’d tested and proven, and it had already made a good difference to my undiagnosed illness.
The second thing I was promised was “you are about to receive the wisdom you desire.”
After all the hounding about “the greater things” and all of my questions, this was INCREDIBLY exciting to me! I was so happy!
Within 2 weeks, I was doing a Google search. I wanted to know what Joseph Smith had said about past lives, as I’d read a statement supposedly from him, saying it was an evil doctrine, and another statement supposedly from him, saying it was true doctrine. Instead of finding what I was looking for, somehow a Christopher Nemelka came up, talking about an experience in the Salt Lake Temple with a resurrected Joseph Smith.
What was this?
The narrative, the tone of it, was so familiar to me. It sounded like the tone Joseph Smith had used when writing of his experiences. Like it was the same person writing! Because of this familiarity, I read with fascination.
I stopped when Christopher said he felt disappointed by the Lord’s apostles. I had been taught not to read anything that criticised the church, and taught that anything anti-Mormon was evil and could harm my spirituality, deceive me.
Yet what I’d read so far seemed righteous! Joseph-like. Christ-like.
I got on my knees and prayed. I asked if it was ok for me to read these things.
And then for the second time in my life, 29 years after the first time, I felt that strong, undeniable, pure goodness take over my heart. At church I’d been taught from a young age that the Holy Spirit would be our constant companion and guide, and that we should feel it daily. I thought I’d felt it hundreds – thousands – of times. Yet it had never felt like this! Not even close. I’d never been 100% sure I was even feeling it those thousands of times! I was never quite sure I wasn’t making it up in my head. But this was different. This was as obvious as if someone had switched a light on! And it was my answer – it was ok to read these things.
From what Christopher had written, I found The Sealed Portion.
I had never read such wisdom in my life! I had never heard such fairness! To every single person, not just the tiny handful of Earth’s inhabitants who were Mormon. Once you’ve heard wisdom that good, it’s so obviously correct that you’re amazed you never thought of it before! I read faster than I’ve ever read a book. I literally did nothing all day but read! Day after day until I’d gobbled up the whole book. I’ve never had so many WOW moments in my life – the buzz was incredible! I considered things I never had, realised I did NOT see people equally, as I’d always supposed. Learned to feel completely equal to every other person, of whatever degree of intelligence, of whatever faith, of whatever country. Of whatever financial situation. I thought I already had, but this book showed me how to do it better.
After this, I raced through all of the books Christopher had written, each time incredibly excited. To the chagrin and horror of my staunch LDS family and husband, I left the church after reading the first book. I left behind all religion, and will never go back to it! “All their creeds” are “an abomination” to me! The years since have been so, so, so satisfying! Peace keeps coming – more than I ever had in my life. My anxieties have gone. In the 6 years that I’ve no longer believed in Jesus, I’ve learned more Christlike attributes than 36 years as an uber dedicated Molly Mormon. I have almost regained my health. I am the happiest I had ever been.
The truth has SET ME FREE! Many of my decisions as a religious person were not really made by me. I thought I was in control of my choices, because I was choosing whether to obey church leaders or not. But I did things because “I was supposed to”, and not necessarily because that’s what I wanted.
I know now that I am not bound to obey these people, and so I have a different motive. If I help someone, I do it knowing there is no reward in it for me, not even a smiling God who saw me – just the pleasure of helping someone! Whatever I choose now, this is ME. How can I know who I am or prove myself in “the days of [my] probation”, unless I can have complete, un-manipulated freedom to be who I want? How influential are threats of eternal pain? Or promises of favours and blessings? The pressure of “leading by example”, “avoiding the appearance of evil”, worries of scorn and shame? My husband is a medical representative – basically a pharmaceutical salesman, who teaches doctors about his company’s drugs. He used to enjoy chatting to doctors and giving them free pens, post-it pads and things with the name of his drug on them. The medical industry has now outlawed giving even these small things to doctors, because these favours can sway a doctor’s decision of whether to prescribe the drug or not.
Christopher did for me what the medical industry did for doctors. So now I am like a doctor, with no dangling carrots pulling me in any direction, or punishments pushing and persuading me.
I decide who I am.
I no longer obey, trust, follow – I think for myself. I am who I choose to be. “The kingdom of God is within”. I now know how to avoid being deceived – even by someone who means well.
I want to do everything I can to make this world fair for everyone. EVERYONE. Every person, wherever they are. I don’t know of any other group but the Humanity Party that can do this – that’s even trying. That believes it’s possible. I feel like this is what I wanted my whole life, I just didn’t know.
Tanya McKee Devany