A close friend of mine who wishes to remain anonymous recently saw in the shadow of the temple his story follows:
In October, I was fortunate to attend the Portland, Oregon, screening of the movie, In the Shadow of the Temple. The screening was hosted by the producers, Karen Di Millia and Dennis Lavery. Prior to the screening Dennis and Karen spoke for 10 minutes and explained how they started this project. After the screening they took questions and answers for roughly 30 minutes.
Lavery and DeMillia, who are not–and never have been–LDS, originally planned to make a movie about people who had left the religion of their youth. They attended a meeting of the Portland Humanist Society, explained their project, and asked if anyone had such stories they would be willing to share. In the course of discussing the project with members of the society, they were told that who they really needed to talk to was Sue Emmett, who had left the LDS church. After talking with Sue and others with whom she put them in touch, they decided to re-focus their project on the experience of those who have left the LDS church.
They did hundreds of hours of interviews over two years and edited it down to a 55 minute film. The film is very moving–a tribute to those who shared their stories as well as DeMillia and Lavery’s videography and editing skills.
About two dozen people appear in interviews in the film. Each story is unique, but a common thread runs throughout them all. All faced a similar rejection by family, friends and community. Some of those interviewed have left the church. Others no longer believe, but remain active because of family or community pressure. The latter are filmed in shadows, to obscure their identity. The film refers to these people as “Shadow Mormons.” They define “Shadow Mormons” as those who privately do not accept the exacting doctrine of the Church, but publicly profess to be true believers. They are in shadow to protect their relationships with family, friends and employers.
Someone commented to me after the film, “That’s you. You’re a Shadow Mormon.”
Yes, I’m a Shadow Mormon. Maybe that’s why this film hit me so hard. I haven’t believed in over 20 years – most of my adult life. Yet, during that time I’ve paid my tithing, gone to the temple, served in bishoprics and high councils and done all the things that were expected of me. Why? Because I am tied to the church by family and community.
The story of “Grace” (not her real name) resonated with me because it was so similar to mine. Her pain, and anger, were born of all the energy she has given to a religion that she doesn’t believe in. Finding out that the Church was not true was like a death experience for her. Like me, she tried following the Church’s teachings to fast, pray, read the scriptures and yet never felt she received the “burning in her bosom” that is promised in the scriptures.
What of the families and communities of these people? What are their stories, their experiences with loved ones who go through a process of losing belief and leaving the church. Only one person who was a family or friend agreed to be interviewed for the film. The believing husband that was interviewed told how he still loved his wife, even though she has left the church. What about the others? Are they embarrassed to say that the Church was more important than their relationship with the person who left?
The saddest stories, to me, were of divorce caused by one spouse believing and the other not believing. Michelle (another woman interviewed in the film) said her heart was broken that her husband would choose the Church over her. He told their marriage therapist that if she had not been Mormon he never would have married her. “There was more to me than being a Mormon,” she said. “And I thought that there was more to him.”
The dictionary defines empathy as “the intellectual identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.” We could all use a little more empathy for those around us. I have had several people tell me, “I can’t imagine how a person could leave the church.” Either they need a better imagination or they need more empathy. Maybe they just need to see this film.
One of the questions at the screening–one that Lavery could not answer–was, “How do we get the right people to see this film?” Sadly, many members of the church would not even consider it. (It screened in Salt Lake City in October and got almost no media coverage.) The film does not try to de-convert anyone or disparage the doctrine of the church. It doesn’t assert that someone is right because he or she believes, or that someone else is right because he or she leaves the church. This film is about accepting people regardless of what they believe, and about how we treat those who believe differently than we do. I wish every member of the church could see this film.
Watch Part 1 here.