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Sarah Scoles

Meet the New Mormons

Illustration by Lizzie Gill

Sarah Scoles| Longreads | June 2018 | 23 minutes (5,714 words)

It’s a summer day in Salt Lake City, and tourists are resting inside the Mormon Tabernacle, staring at the enormous, golden pipes of the Tabernacle organ, which are topped with carved wooden finials that appear to scrape the ceiling. These are the same pipes I stared at on a satellite feed from my hometown chapel in central Florida twice a year until I was 18. Although I’d remotely watched the church’s semiannual conference religiously as a kid, I’d never been inside the building until now, more than 12 years after leaving the church and becoming an atheist, and 10 after coming out as a lesbian. My parents have spent those years trying to come to terms with these shifts, but our détente has involved not talking much about any of it. This is the Mormon way.

It’s strange then to find myself in this Tabernacle, waiting for my mom’s plane to arrive in Salt Lake so that she and I can attend the Sunstone Symposium, a yearly gathering that includes liberal Mormons and ex-Mormons who are redefining their relationship with the church. But here I am.

Two young missionaries step up to the pulpit to demonstrate the building’s acoustics for those in attendance. One rips a newspaper, and I can hear the tear from my perch in the shadows at the back of the room. It sounds soft and wet, like the stories it contains might be smeared. The demonstration ends and the missionaries walk offstage, accompanied by a recording of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir: God be with you till we meet again. The harmonies burrow into my chest like they belong there, which in some sense they always will. The Mormon worldview shaped mine — I could speak in King James English at age 4 — even though the two now stand apart, like puzzle pieces where the outcropping of one is the cavern of the other. Only together do Mormonism and I make a full picture. Read more…