To be honest during a lot of my social media experience it has somewhat felt like there is an elephant in the room when people ask me about the church and my religion. For me it is really complicated! And I have found through relating to so many other people online that it is complicated for a lot of people. So I wanted to share a bit about my experience… because I have found it feels SO good to not feel alone in a religion and to relate to people. I also realize that a lot of different people will read this and a lot may not know about the church and its lingo so to speak – so I have gone through and hyperlinked any terms or words used that you may not know what they are – hopefully that will answer your questions better than I could. Also, get cozy this is a long post.
I grew up and am a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints – my parents were both members when they got married. My dad actually baptized my mom when she was 16 years old. Both of my parents have really strong testimonies and we went to church pretty much every Sunday. We read scriptures (almost) every morning as a family, we prayed before every dinner, we had family home evening on Mondays, and we were basically your stereotypical members. We lived in Mesa, Arizona and for those that haven’t been there, it is basically a mini Provo, Utah (aka LOTS of members of the church there!) It was a bit like a bubble. Actually, it was VERY much a bubble.
I always felt a little different in the church because I was on the more “rebellious” side. I definitely loved to push the limits and I loved boys lol. As a member of the church I was always encouraged in church and at home to wait until I was 16 to have my first date. I did not wait til I was 16 and definitely did not wait til I was 16 to kiss a guy. I think my first kiss was in 6th grade and that just lit a flame for me and I was a very curious young girl. Looking back, all the “mistakes” I made that I beat myself up for and felt so dirty for, weren’t even that bad. I mean in the grand scheme of things, it was all very normal. I wish I had known it was normal instead of feeling so much shame for doing things that are perfectly normal for an angsty teen.
I think now as an adult it makes me resent certain things that I now see as incredibly damaging to youth. I am not going to get into all of it because a lot of these things are ward specific or even bishop and leader specific. However an example would be this: We are taught we need to confess sins to my bishop. So I definitely made my fair share of visits to the bishop and as a part of the repentance process I was told not to take the sacrament each time. As an adult I would never allow a bishop to tell my child they can’t take the sacrament. I see no purpose or lesson learned there. I only see shame and humiliation in front of their siblings. That is one example, there are more – but basically just things I have reflected on and want to make sure my kids don’t experience.
Fast forward to college and marriage. David and I got married in the temple – we got married in the South Jordan temple. I never really saw anything but a temple marriage to even be an option for me. Like I said – Mesa was a bubble and Provo was just an extension of that bubble. Looking back I am not sure I was ever going to be ready for garments and what that entails. The Mormon church’s version of modesty has always been incredibly difficult for me. It just doesn’t feel like me and never has. I always was wearing short shorts and tank tops growing up. My parents were not strict on this and always let me wear bikinis as well – which I am really grateful for actually.
I have learned that modesty is an individual thing – and garments are a private matter between the individual and God. I had made my personal decision that I would wear them except for photoshoots for the blog (back when they were more outfit posts and not lifestyle). I started to post photos of me on the blog where people could tell I was not wearing garments. This upset people, so many people, to a degree that I can’t even fathom. I had countless upset people commenting and discussing the matter on forums. I had someone even write a letter to my in laws saying “Brother and Sister Clark, you should be ashamed of your new daughter in law…” it goes on but that was the part that stuck with me. I couldn’t understand why people were so mad. This really created a rift for me and confused me.
Fast forward to being in New York City. I was really struggling with the community aspect but kept trying. I felt like we had moved into the best ward EVER. I was so excited – everyone seemed warm and non judgmental. They seemed “cool”. I desperately needed an open minded group of people who were open to me being a member of the church and doing my own thing. To me that sounds simple, just accept me for me and let me do my thing and you all do your thing. I had just been raving to David how much I just loved our ward, it really felt so welcoming, and that is when I found a forum online. There was this evil forum where incredibly hurt people go to be sad with other hurt people in the form of talking trash about other people who intimidate them. On this forum I read something like the following:
“Okay you guys, the Clarks moved into my ward and I have all the dirt. David gave a talk this Sunday and (blah blah said something about how his talk was SoOo LaMe) and Amber sits there on her phone and looks like she is trying out for a pageant” .. they kept going on and on. And in that moment I was literally CRUSHED. Every Sunday from then on I looked around at everyone thinking “was it her?” “could it have been her?” .. I felt so uncomfortable, so not welcome, and that really affected everything.
I kept trying to separate the two – the church and all the people who are from my same church who just tear me down constantly. It was SO hard for me to separate them. It honestly took years to separate myself from it all.
The biggest thing that helped me was anytime I would get a comment like “it’s so obvious you’re not wearing your garments” I just started saying, “you are right, I am NOT wearing my garments!” and anytime someone tried to tell me I was being a bad example I would simply do an internal eye roll and let them know that I think I lead with a great example of what a loving and hard working mother can look like. And as soon as I started to just talk about it openly is when I stopped getting SO much hate. Off and on over the years I would try to wear them again and realized sometimes I was wearing them just because of social pressure and never because my heart and testimony knew them to be what they are meant to be. I know that disappoints a lot of people to hear – that I don’t have a testimony of garments. I wish I could say I am sorry or that I care that it disappoints you but I am not sorry and I don’t care. I know that sounds harsh but I have really had to learn to TRULY not care what people think about me in relation to this topic to remain a member of the church. And I can honestly say that at this point I could walk into church and everyone could be thinking “omg I cannot believe she isn’t wearing her garments” and I would be like “okay cool. Hey, I love your dress” with my head held high. And not held high like the fake it til you make it type – but the kind where I really am just detached from the possible opinions.
My hope is that the church and we as members can learn to accept people who are doing the Mormon thing their way. I really don’t believe you’re all in or you’re all out – or that you have to be at least. I don’t know why that is so hard for some people to see.. I mean we always talk about missionary work and bringing people in but what about KEEPING the people in who are already there? Would you rather them just leave because they don’t do every single thing perfectly? Or I guess I should say, your version of “perfectly”. Because to me, my version is perfect. I feel 100% at peace with my relationship with God – I feel deeply that He loves me and accepts me for who I am. I am confident in the way David and I are raising our kids. I feel we have a spiritual relationship and put family and God first. I know you can love the church and not agree with all of it. I want to go to church on Sundays but also make sure my kids are not being held to standards that quite frankly, I find are unrealistic and curate a culture of shame. I feel like the culture of the church is slowly shifting in really positive ways and I hope it continues to do that.
Life ebbs and flows in so many ways – sometimes work is going really great and sometimes it is not. Political opinions change, friends come and go, our moods and thoughts are always changing, etc. I don’t know why the ebbs and flows of testimony and church experience are any different. It is perfectly normal to have questions and periods of reflection that cause you to wonder how you want to proceed.
I do know that I am a daughter of God. I know that we can be with our family forever in heaven. I know that Jesus came to earth and died for us. I know that God loves us and wants us to grow and learn on this earth and that means making mistakes along the way. I know He loves us, including our imperfections. I believe that all families look different – they don’t have to be a man and a woman and I believe that Heavenly Father loves all families regardless of what makes them unique and special. I believe it isn’t up to us to decide if someone else is “sinning” – only they themselves and God can decide that. I believe that we are all unique and what makes a happy and special life is so different for each of us. For some of us that may mean the Mormon church and for some that might not be. I dislike the narrative that anyone who leaves the church is unhappy because that simply is not true. The ultimate goal is to find peace and happiness in life and I have seen truly happy people from all walks of life and from all religions. It is not one size fits all. I deeply hope that we can be more accepting of people who are a bit in the middle – take some of it but not all of it – within the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints. If we can’t do that we will lose a LOT of really amazing people.
Here are some of the questions you guys had asked me on IG:
How has the church affected your view of sexuality if at all?
This is such a great question because I don’t think it is talked about a lot. I was very in touch with my sexuality from a somewhat young age and I do wish that I had felt more normal about that. The church is very extreme when it comes to how conservative it is with sexuality and I think that all comes from great intentions but can really be a recipe for deflated self worth if you go against it. I just hope to teach my kids that having those sexual feelings are NORMAL and I hope to have a lot of open dialogues about all of it throughout their whole life. I honestly have so many thoughts on just this topic alone, I really could go on and on.
How does David feel about you not wearing garments?
One of the things I love most about David is that he just lets me be me and accepts me for whatever that is. From DAY ONE of my journey with garments David has been 100% in support of whatever my heart and spirit is telling me to do. He has never once took issue with it in any way, shape, or form and has only been my supporter through this journey. I am not going to speak for David and his faith but he absolutely is in full support of me always and I am always in full support of him.
How do you feel about polygamy and Joseph Smith?
I think polygamy is really weird and I don’t like to think about it to be honest. Mormons do not practice polygamy – but yeah they did back in the day and it honestly weirds me the freak out. A lot of the details from that time weird me out. I try to just focus on God honestly.
How do you navigate the church while supporting LGBTQ+ members?
My opinion on this is different from the church and I have a really hard time with that. It makes me sad that so many feel alienated. I wish I had a good answer but I am still trying to figure some of these things out. I fully support LGBTQ + community with my whole heart.
How do you feel about the church’s stance on women?
A few versions of this question and this is tricky because I think the church’s stance is different from the cultural stance – if that makes sense. I can only tell you my personal opinion on women in the church. I think we as members need to teach young girls that they can have AMAZING and fulfilling careers.. AND be amazing moms and wives at the same time!! I think we should teach them to think about themselves and not place so much emphasis on marriage… and please for the love, NO more telling girls to pray for their future husband. Tell them to pray for themselves and work on themselves. They should not be thinking about marriage that young let alone praying for a man they don’t know yet. And I think teaching men to always be prepared to pull their weight at home and potentially be the stay at home dad to support their wife if she should choose to have a turn chasing a career. If we are teaching the girls how to sew and bake bread let’s teach the boys too. I am so lucky to have a husband who stepped up and is a hands on dad who supports me as I take on a career. I think we need to talk about those possibilities more and make sure girls know they can have dreams of being a mom but they can also dream about endless possibilities in addition to that. David and I also want to teach our kids about their Heavenly Mother and have them feel the female power through their prayers too.
So what exactly is your stance in the church currently?
Currently we go to church (or mostly doing church at home lately) almost every Sunday. I have some things I am still figuring out .. and how to exactly navigate those things I don’t believe and the things I do and how to teach my kids that. I think it is okay to show them though that they can think for themselves and figure them out just like I am figuring it out. I don’t feel like I need to be a perfect example in order to be a good example and so to be honest I consider myself an active member and am totally content with my role in the church at the moment. I teach Sunday School and love being able to learn from the kids I teach.
OKAY that is all for now – part two will be coming soon since there were SO many questions about this topic!!! Only respectful comments otherwise you gone – peace out.