Hello, my name is Kristen Cranney and I live in Bentonville, Arkansas which is in the very NW corner of the state, home to Wal-mart headquarters, and where everyone you meet is a Razorback fan…go Hogs! You could call me a southern belle even though I don’t have an accent, at least not compared to most native Texans or Arkansans I’m pleased to know. I was born and raised by convert parents in a mixed-faith marriage in Houston, TX where I enjoyed many hot summer testimony meetings at Camp Liahona girls camp. I welcome humidity, but to this day am still deathly afraid of roaches! The only years of my life I’ve not lived in the south are my carefree and may I say a bit mischievous years at BYU-Provo and my amazing 18 months mission in Seattle, Washington. My mission journals are filled with stickers and glitter pen detailing my bedazzled, Mormon, miraculous life…which it truly was! My last summer of single-life bliss was spent as an EFY counselor at BYU. Twelve straight weeks of cheering at the top of my lungs, and testifying of the truthfulness of the gospel!
Since those “wild and crazy” days I now have to use a calculator to accurately know how many years I’ve been married, which is 17. Luckily, I married an amazingly awesome man, Daniel Cranney, who is kind, funny, smart, and most importantly was a temple worker while we were dating…so super spiritual too! Together we are raising five children ages ranging from 15 to 1. We now realize we have too many children, but we love each of them dearly and embrace the beauty and individuality of each child. The church was the lens through which we viewed everything in our lives, until two years ago when I began learning new things about church history and gradually became troubled with LGBT policies and patriarchy. My reality shattered, and the past two years I’ve been rebuilding my life back piece by piece. I’m thankful for the loving support of family members, local post-mormon friends, supportive active member friends, Sunstone, the John Whitmer Historical Association, and of course Mormon Stories and the awesome Thrive community!
What parts of the Mormon experience were most important or useful to you?
The first most important part of my Mormon experience was that it was true in every sense of the word! The truthfulness of the gospel is what motivated everything I did, as an adult. What I found most useful was the convenience of having a “built-in” social structure of the ward family.
What doctrinal or theological parts of Mormonism did you believe that were most important to you?
The Apostasy. I never found a deep spiritual connection with Joseph Smith, but what I did passionately love was the New Testament. My understanding of the Apostasy — “the falling away or loss of authority” — energized my testimony and love for Joseph Smith and a need for the restoration of the gospel! This clearly was evident in the coming forth of the Book of Mormon and the establishment of the restored church with original priesthood keys.
What spiritual experiences did you have as a Mormon that sealed your orthodox commitment to the church?
After I learned that my two older brothers were no longer in the church, I was very troubled. However, I knew I could never lose belief because of the sure witness I received that the Book of Mormon was true. While serving my mission, a feeling overcame me one morning while reading The Book of Mormon. At that very moment, I stopped and said to myself “this is the Holy Ghost telling me that The Book of Mormon is True.” I will never forget this powerful feeling. I also had a similar spiritual experience reading the New Testament, “This is the Holy Ghost telling me that Jesus is my Savior.” Six months before I lost all belief, I shared my testimony [as a Young Women’s leader] to the girls at girls camp saying that “the only thing that has kept me in the church is my spiritual conversion to The Book of Mormon, something I will never deny”…or so I thought.
How did you lose your faith in Mormonism (or Orthodox Mormonism)?
Reading Todd Compton’s book, In Sacred Lonliness coupled with listening to the Year of Polygamy podcast exposed a reality I didn’t even know existed. After concluding that Joseph Smith was not commanded to have plural wives by an angel with a flaming sword, my life literally changed. I was so spiritually liberated, but at the same time my mission was to answer this question, “What makes Joseph Smith prophetic?” Instantly, an in-depth study of The Book of Mormon followed. What an incredible, heart wrenching, amazing trip down the rabbit hole it was. Additionally, I simply could not reconcile the patriarchy and policies regarding LGBTQIA+ Mormons.
What parts of Mormonism were harmful to you?
Growing up with my parents in a mixed-faith marriage caused me to mourn the loss of a “forever family” which really caused a lot of needless suffering as a child/adolescent. The sadness would bring me to tears while singing songs like “Families Can be Together Forever.” I really felt bad for my mom — faithfully bringing us four kids to church alone every Sunday, not having a companion with which to share in the blessings of the gospel, and constantly enduring my dad’s antagonistic attitude against the church. At the same time, I felt my dad must be caught up in pride. If only he would soften his heart, he could have a fullness of joy. The church was a source of so many heartbreaking arguments in our home. Sacrifice truly was what brought forth “the blessings of heaven.” As a child, I felt different but also extra faithful as it was always my job to be setting a good example.
Polygamy – I agonized over this since I was a teenager, and is the one topic my husband actually feared I would bring up on a road trip because he was stuck in the car with me…nowhere to run! The thought of this repulsed me, and caused me to question how God could possibly command this or how this principle was at all Godly? This teaching along with the patriarchy caused me to seriously reflect why I, as a woman, am less valued in the eyes of God than a man. This is not something that a 16 year old should be worrying about. The thought of eternal marriage was wonderful, but also frightening.
How do you now explain the spiritual experiences that you had as an Orthodox Mormon?
After taking time to learn about different religions and belief systems world wide, I now have learned and witnessed that “spiritual experiences” are a natural and normal part of the human experience. Spiritual experiences are not unique to Mormonism or any other one religion. These experiences can occur in many different instances, and are most likely interpreted by the recipient to mean what is taught within their own religion/belief system and culture. I have been taught that the Book of Mormon and the church are true since I was old enough to have memories. I was instructed to exercise Moroni’s promise by praying to know if the Book of Mormon is true. I was promised to receive this confirmation by the Holy Ghost. I was taught what the Holy Ghost “feels like,” and “how to recognize it.” I had these natural feelings and experiences interpreted beforehand to mean exactly what I was told they were going to mean. These spiritual experiences tied me to Mormonism just as other’s experiences tie others to their religions or belief systems.
What was transitioning out of Mormonism like for you? What was most painful about it?
The most painful part about transitioning was the initial feeling of worthlessness. Everything I believed that made me special, worthy, respectable, and desirable was within the construct of the church. That was all gone.
What was most healing or joyful about the transition?
The most beautiful parts of this journey have been discovering I am worthy and whole for exactly who I am, not needing anything or anyone outside myself to make me such. Also, rejecting the desire to please others and learning to trust my own authority to be valid, sound, and what’s best!
In what ways did church leaders or members make your transition more difficult?
I haven’t attended church for 18 months, and still have not been contacted by a church leader about why I have stopped attending. It is as though I just vanished. Any contact I’ve had with my Bishop that I’ve initiated has been positive and supportive.
Were there church leaders or members who were helpful to you? If so, how?
Three sisters in my ward have meant the world to me through my transition! I was open and honest with my ministering sister, who I considered a friend. She sat and listened to everything for hours. I was vulnerable and real. She was loving, kind, and responsive. She and her husband read the book Bridges after my recommendation and gave copies to our stake presidency. My two other friends also invited me to share my experience. Again, these friends were so loving, and supportive. I continue to maintain my friendships with them, and are forever grateful for their willingness to listen. They, in turn have expressed gratitude for a greater understanding and awareness for those experiencing a faith crisis, and the extreme heartache and loneliness one may have.
What resources were most helpful in your transition out of Mormonism?
Mormon Stories podcast, Gift of the Mormon Faith Crisis, Dan Vogel’s youtube videos, John Hamer’s scholarship, and online support groups like Feminist Mormon Housewives and Latter-day Seekers. Of course my local post-Mormon friends!
What significant mistakes did you make in your transition?
I can’t think of any significant mistakes. I tried to carefully follow the “what not to do in a faith crisis” advice, so I really took things pretty slow. If there was one thing I could change, it would probably be trying to rein in information overload on people, and instead keep things short and simple. It can be hard when there’s a lot of emotion involved. I’m still working on this.
How has your leaving Mormonism affected your family relationships, friendships, job, neighbor relationships, social life, etc.?
Kristen and her twin sister, Erin
The hardest part about my transition was not wanting to hurt my mom. Because everything in her life is centered around the church, I knew our relationship may never be the same. I’ve mourned this loss every day, and still do. Although I’m sure she is sad that my “truth” has shifted, she assured me that she is at peace. She believes we all have our own path, and does not want me to be conflicted. I think we are both rebuilding and learning. I knew my mom would love me unconditionally no matter what, and we still share a beautiful relationship. She’s one of the most remarkable women I know! Through this transition, I have been able to more fully understand and empathize with my dad. Our relationship has been strengthened. His love and support for me has been constant through my life, and still is regardless of our personal faith convictions.
My relationship with my brothers has grown stronger, and they have been tremendously supportive during this process. My relationship with my twin sister, Erin, has always been close! We have journeyed our faith transitions together, sharing many heartaches and losses. We have also celebrated new beginnings and discoveries. I’m forever grateful for her constant love and support!
I consider myself blessed to have only gained more authentic friendships, and been given opportunities to make new friends. This transition has only strengthened relationships with my neighbors and community and has given us opportunities to socialize with them more. Our children’s friends were not members of the church, so this transition has not affected their social life at all. Lastly, my husband has been loving and supportive during this process, even when he was still believing. I love, cherish, and respect relationships with my believing family members and am grateful for the value the church brings into their lives.
How have you navigated communication and relationships with believing family and friends? Any tips on keeping those people in your life?
If there was any benefit to being raised in a mixed-faith home, it was learning to love and accept loved ones despite their belief or non-belief. I determined that I was going to decide what my relationships looked like with believing family members or disapproving believers. I decided that my relationships are not going to be dependent on the church (on my end). I will call them, offer love and support, and show up for them. They can love me for me… or not. I’m going to love them for who they are because I want to and because I care. If they cannot offer that same love back, that is their problem, not mine.
Which (if any) of your former Mormon beliefs/behaviors have you retained after your faith crisis?
I feel like everything is different!
In what ways have your beliefs/behaviors changed after your faith crisis?
I believe in “love one another” but not because “I have loved you”….but because I want to love and I believe in being a kind person. Everything I do is motivated from within, and not by obedience or a desire for blessings.
What are your thoughts/beliefs now about God and Jesus?
If I use the word God, it is used to mean that which is beyond my understanding…such as the source of life, the universe, and the feeling of love that connects all living things. I value the historical Jesus figure as a man who stood up to injustice of his day. If I would find any inspiration in following the teachings of Jesus, it would be acting as a savior for myself and seeking renewal (or resurrection) in my own life.
How do you now make sense of death and the afterlife?
I find that everything around me depicts a life cycle. The sun, stars, animals, plants, seasons, and even the earth. If life is a cycle of birth, life, and death then I accept death to be a natural, although difficult, part of life. If there is an afterlife of sorts, I accept that. If there’s not, I accept that as well. I don’t find thinking about the afterlife to be productive or beneficial to my life in any way.
Without the church telling you what is “right” and “wrong,” how do you establish your own sense of morality/right/wrong?
It was really important to me to find a replacement moral “structure” after I lost my faith in Mormonism. I visited several different churches trying to find a good fit for our family. I felt it was particularly important for my kids to have “direction”…or they would lose their way (or so I feared). I soon realized after about 6 months that we were thriving as a family without a church telling us how to live, asking for our money and time, or telling us why to be good. We were still kind people, we still did nice things for our friends and family, and we were happy. We started discovering and trusting ourselves. I realized, there’s actually nothing that a church can teach me about right and wrong that I didn’t learn from watching Mr. Rogers as a child.
Do you still value “spirituality” in your life (spirituality defined as “connection to something bigger than yourself”), and if so, what are your main sources of spiritual fulfillment?
I definitely feel spiritually connected when I am outside in nature. I’m able to connect to everything around my body in a real tangible way while at the same time being in wonder at the mystery and grandeur of our planet and my existence in it. I also find exercise and eating healthy to be spiritually uplifting to my soul.
To what extent have you found healthy and meaningful community to replace the role of the ward/stake in your life?
I have found so much meaning in my local post-Mormon community in my area. I’ve been able to keep some of my believing friends, but also have gained so many more authentic “post-Mormon family” relationships. I have also made so many new friends from online support communities as well as meeting new friends in person at conferences such as Sunstone, Thrive, and The John Whitmer Historical Association. I don’t feel I’ve lost community at all; I’ve actually gained community.
What meaning and purpose does life have to you now that you no longer believe in Mormonism?
The purpose of my life is to enjoy it! I find I appreciate the little things more in life. My connection with other human beings is deeper. I try to soak in everyday living in the now. My purpose is also to accept and not control life. Expecting my loved ones to grow, change, and desire new things along the way is the beauty of life. Cheering each other on is part of the fun.
If you are a parent, how has losing your faith in Mormonism affected how you parent?
When I was going through my faith transition I was pregnant with our fifth child. My outlook when I conceived that child was so different from the outlook I had when I gave birth. One of the reasons for having a child was the idea that spirits are waiting to receive physical bodies, and it is a responsibility, commandment, and privilege to raise them in the church.
After losing my faith, I became a more conscious parent. Bringing this child into the world was my choice alone. There is no outside source telling me why or how I should raise this child. This is OUR child, not Heavenly Father’s and it is my job to love and nurture this child. This child doesn’t have to earn my trust or be worthy in any other way than simply existing and being his own entity. It was a huge mind shift, but a liberating one.
If you are married or have a significant other, how has leaving Mormonism affected this Relationship?
My leaving actually drew us closer together. Although we were not on the same page at first, we still enjoyed in depth discussions about church history. As my faith changed I felt his complete and total love and acceptance for who I was. Though our future was still uncertain, we knew we would be okay if we still had each other and that’s all that really mattered.
How has leaving Mormonism affected your mental health?
Discovering that what I had believed my whole life wasn’t what I thought caused major anxiety, fear, and depression. What was particularly draining for my mental health was the 9 months of trying to attend church as a non-believing member. Also staying closeted from family members and close friends was very unhealthy. Once I was ready to share and to be authentic in every way, my mental health improved dramatically.
How has leaving Mormonism affected your sexuality?
My views on sexuality in general have changed drastically! For me personally, I found that my transition allowed sex to be more fully enjoyed, embraced as a normal healthy part of life, instead of something to be feared or shamed.
I definitely was able to more fully embrace and connect with my own body after shedding the garments. I was able to enjoy the clothing I put on my body everyday instead of feeling like my clothing choices were more like a uniform. This was incredibly transformative! I reclaimed my body, my sexuality, and expressed myself authentically. Sexuality on all levels has improved.
What aspects of your life are better after Mormonism?
I’m not living to check off boxes. I’m not living to fit a mold. I’m not living out of obedience. I’m not living to please others. I’m living for me!
What is your life still missing? In what ways could your life still be improved without Mormonism?
There’s nothing missing.
What final advice would you give folks who are transitioning?
There was a space of time where I didn’t know if I could ever be happy again. I lived with hurt in my heart all the time. People always said this to me, and it was hard to believe at the time, but “life does get better!” Please be kind to yourself. Find others like you to talk to!
Note: This post is part of the THRIVING Beyond Orthodox Mormonism project. See here to browse other profiles. To submit your own THRIVE profile, click this link.