Why I Left the Mormon Church

One year ago, Dane Rowley, a college administrator, husband, and father of two boys was a devout Mormon heavily involved in his church community. But, when a change in policy related to LGBTQ church members’ relatives rolled out in November 2015, he was forced to rethink everything he thought he knew about the church he grew up in…

If you haven’t read my initial interview with Dane, you can find it here. This interview is a follow up (a little over) one year later about where Dane stands on this issue today.

It’s been one year since I interviewed you on your choice to stand up against a new anti-LGBTQ policy within the Mormon church. At the time, you wrote a letter to your church elders- and were hoping for more dialogue. What happened next?

After several meetings with my local leaders it became clear that I couldn’t choose silence and they were not able to allow me to advocate as publicly as I was without calling a disciplinary council. My last meeting with my Bishop (like a pastor) in late January 2016 was actually a very positive one. Through that interaction I had a moment of real clarity in which I decided to leave voluntarily as a friend and brother instead of being kicked out as an enemy.

What factors did you weigh as you made the decision to leave the church?

First, I could not possibly agree to their conditions. To promise that I would never again speak out publicly against the Church’s highest leaders about anything is a promise I couldn’t make or keep and still maintain the kind of integrity and commitment to truth I hope I’m teaching my sons. So then my options were to leave or be removed. I thought about the church’s mechanism for excommunication. My first concern was for the toll it would take on me emotionally and by extension on my wife and sons.  I also know that at some point I’d be in a room with men I’d known for many years who would have to sit in judgement against me. Some of them had kids I taught in Sunday School or worked with in Boy Scouts. Others had served alongside me in various responsibilities. Going through that process would have unleashed feelings of fear, anger, sadness, distrust, and contempt on both sides. As much as I was hurting by how I felt I was treated I decided that I didn’t want to subject them or me to a process so rife with abuse and so antithetical to the path Jesus laid out.

What has been the most painful part about the process?

The pain and worry felt by my parents, siblings, and extended family all on my account. They have been hurt by my opposition to the church as well as my departure from the church. No son or brother wishes to cause their parents, brothers and sisters worry and pain. It is getting better but it has been the most difficult, perhaps only really difficult part of my journey. Secondary to that was to see the continued stories of suicide and pain from within Mormonism and that I no longer had any credibility or power to change from within. I wondered without my wife and I there who would sit in the pews to make room for the ‘misfits’? That has been painful.

What has been the most rewarding part?

That’s hard to narrow down. The first thing that comes to mind is how exciting it felt to just wonder. To know that I didn’t have all the answers and didn’t need to; that the paths ahead might be difficult and unpaved but that I was ready to move forward. I also have tried to show that there is life and happiness and joy beyond Mormonism. That might sound really weird to those who have not been a part of the community. But narratives that have been and are still being taught about leaving the church focus on how much the church protects and guides you through the storms of the wicked outside world. Staying on the ship is the only way to keep from spiritually drowning. Somehow life would crumble and everything would go wrong without the church’s theology and authority. I’ve taken it as a personal challenge to move forward with as healthy an attitude as I can muster. I’ve had times when I’ve been very angry and also deeply saddened by what happened and how the policy of November 2015 wreaked havoc in the lives of thousands, directly and indirectly. But I have tried to move past anger and sadness and am attempting to be an example of someone who can leave the church without it eating away at my sense of self, spirituality or family relationships.

When some of the concerns related to Civil Rights started to surface from the White House, I can’t help but think about your story. How (might) this journey have changed the way you’re thinking about your role as a citizen? Has it affected your civic engagement in any way?

It has affected my engagement in EVERY way. I think back to an experience I had in Germany in mid 2015 where I felt called in a sense to stand up with greater resolve against injustice and oppression. The experiences of those who fought and died against Hitler, those who resisted communist oppression, and those like Martin Luther who stood up with questions to ask all inspired me to fight and struggle and question. Everything I went through with the church simply encouraged me to keep moving forward despite setbacks or consequences. I’ve made mistakes along the way. I have some trusted friends and even a few strangers who have called me out on things I’ve done or said that demonstrated my ignorance or privilege. I’m coming to terms with the fact that I’m a bit of a bumbling or clumsy ally. I’ve at times not been as thoughtful as I should be or I get out of balance between the needs of being a dad, an employee and someone who feels deeply the needs surrounding me. But in my own small way I have experienced the consequences of speaking out. It isn’t comfortable or pleasant but the alternative is unthinkable.

Has your choice to leave the church made other moral dilemma(s) easier or clearer for you?

Not really. I think I’ve always been hyper-focused (sometimes to a fault) on trying to do the right thing or to find Truth and go after it with all I’ve got. If anything I feel freer to do that without fear of stepping over some arbitrary line drawn by a church authority. Clearer? Yes and No. As a parent I feel like the church provided a clear path or guidebook to follow. Now without that it seems like I’ve gone off script and I am constantly thinking and wondering how to be a dad for my kids in a significantly different context than the one in which I was raised. It is foreign to me and I hope I do ok. The unknown is scary and thrilling at the same time.

What did you tell your family when you decided to leave the church and how has that process been?

In February I told most of my family that in order to de-escalate and diffuse the impasse with the church we would step away and look for a new faith community. I didn’t say it explicitly at the time but the understanding was that the chances of us going back were remote. I did say that for the time being we wouldn’t formally resign or remove our names from the church’s records. We have since done that once we were ready. I can’t overstate how significant a decision it is within the LDS faith to have one’s name removed. It is seen as a great sin and an act that cancels out my baptism, priesthood ordination as well as the sacraments/ordinances that tie my wife and I together, our sons to us, and us to our extended family, past, present & future. My conversations with my siblings are varied. I talk more openly to some and have spirited, though always loving and respectful, disagreements. Others, I try to focus more on what we still have in common.

How do you interpret your faith now and what outlets for fellowship do you have now that you are no longer a member of the Mormon church?

Probably the most difficult question. My faith is and spirituality is something that is really in a state of transition. For so many years I had been placing questions, doubts, concerns, and beliefs on a shelf. When that shelf came crashing down a couple of years ago I began a process of going through the broken pieces and shattered remains to decide what I still believed, what could be kept and what could be discarded. I think I’ve elevated questions more than I had before and am less concerned about knowing the answers to all of my existential questions. The interfaith community at Cal Lutheran has really become my outlet for fellowship in many ways. As for an outside faith community or fellowship – we’ve been looking but haven’t really locked in on anything yet. It has been more difficult than I thought but we have enjoyed taking the kids to different churches and communities. I have hopes that we will at some point this year make a more focused effort.

As an administrator on a college campus, how has this affected your work with students?

My work with students has remained the same and I am as committed to students as ever. I think one change has been my work with my colleagues. I am surrounded by an incredible support network of friends at CLU and at universities and high schools around the globe. My connection with those friends has deepened this year. I’ve also been working with greater purpose on campus and within professional organizations on issues surrounding inclusion and access for women, LGBTQ international students, Dreamers, and so many others who are being threatened right now. At a few conferences in 2016 I wrote and co-presented on the topic of supporting LGBTQ international students and am hoping to continue to speak out in whatever ways I can this year as well.



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