Monday, March 22, 2010

At 53 He's Still Happy, Healthy, and Ex-Mormon -- Don't You Hate That?

To: Abbottsville Fourth Ward
From: Donna Banta
Subject: Happy Birthday, Honey!

Mark Steven Banta was born March 22, 1957 in San Jose, California, where he was raised Mormon in a loving home. The son of a school teacher, every summer he and his sisters were treated to camping trips across the U.S. and Canada. Mark's family also attended an LDS ward that provided him with a comfort zone of good friends and exemplary role models. He worked hard, excelling in school, sports and church, where he was the president of all three of his Aaronic Priesthood Quorums. At 18 he opted to attend BYU on an academic scholarship. It was the only school he applied to. Then, at 19, he agreed to serve an LDS mission. The Church sent him across the globe to Indonesia, to what would be a transformational event in his life.

Many LDS returned missionaries recall negative experiences. Doors slammed in their faces, guilt over lack of converts, pressure to convert everyone, strange companions, illness, filthy living conditions, etc. Mark had none of this. His was the "dream mission." It began in the Missionary Training Center when in a general meeting, President Max "The Ax" Pinegar pointed to the seven Indonesian missionaries, ordered them to stand, then to the other Elders' envy and disgust declared, "These are the only missionaries allowed out without suit coats." (This announcement was followed by a commotion of scared boys putting on their jackets.) Mark later learned that Indonesian law did not permit him to tract door to door. Also he was required to take two week-long trips to Singapore to renew his visa, where his only requirement was to "stay out of trouble." His housing included a housekeeper and cook, and he had a laid back mission president who didn't care about statistics. Basically Mark spent his mission sight-seeing, chatting people up, bashing around Singapore, and committing various missionary faux-pas such as flirting with the local girls, ogling a smuggled copy of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition, and wading in the Indian Ocean. (Satan rules the waters, you know.) Once he and a companion sat behind the gamelan during a performance of The Ramayana, an experience he insists everyone should have. In retrospect, Mark wishes that he'd gone to Indonesia to study Javanese culture rather than to teach people about Joseph Smith. He also wishes he could have dressed more appropriately (no suit coats notwithstanding), and that he hadn't spent 3+ hours in church every Sunday. Nevertheless, Mark's mission, coupled with his childhood travels, left him with a hunger to see and experience a world far beyond the confines of Mormonism.

After Indonesia, he returned to BYU, and all of its scintillating social venues. For a couple of years, he bore down on his accounting books and generally avoided the dating scene. Finally his father sent him a check, along with the instruction to spend it on a date with a nice girl. The "nice girl" he selected happened to be me, a sarcastic convert from Southern California with a growing disenchantment with Mormonism and religion in general. We married in the Oakland Temple on December 27, 1980. Mark's little sister waited outside, along with my mother and my close friends, as they were not deemed worthy to witness the secret ceremony. Then we started a family, and did our best to "stay close to the church."

Mark had long been concerned with my complaints about the faith. But as our children began to come of age, he grew more aware of the patriarchal nature of Mormonism, its innate racism and homophobia, and the anti-intellectual message it conveyed. Also the personal demands seemed unreasonable. He wasn't sure he wanted his daughter marrying at 18, or his son serving a mission at 19. (Not everyone gets to go without a suit coat.) Like many who have posted on Recovery from Mormonism, Mark's dissatisfaction with Mormon culture led him to a deeper study of its doctrine and origins, and finally to the conclusion that it was not the right place for him and his family. Losing one's faith is never easy, particularly within a system like Mormonism, where those who leave are often shunned by family and friends. Mark was disappointed by many he admired, pleasantly surprised by a few.

Since then Mark has spent his Sundays enjoying family and friends, going to a movie or the beach, sitting in a cafe in Paris, exploring Manhattan's Central Park, drinking a pint in a London pub, or hanging out with Post-Mormons at the San Francisco Ferry Building. He swelled with pride when he watched his son and daughter receive their college diplomas, something he feared might not happen had they been raised as Mormons. Then he shed a tear at the wedding of our son, which he attended along with me, his little sister, and all the family and close friends who could be there. -- Something he's fairly certain would not have occurred had we remained in Mormonism.

My dear friends from the Abbottsville Fourth Ward, please do not drop by with cakes, casseroles and a birthday message from The Ensign. As always, I am serving his requested dinner, this year Boeuf Bourguignon, and a good bottle of wine. That is, unless you have a nice tawny port -- his favorite pairing with The Ensign.

Happy Birthday Honey!


  1. Donna, that was very sweet. Thanks!

  2. Please pass on our warmest wishes sans casserole, mais avec torte au goute de citron. The card got lost in my black hole of a house.
    xox your heathen relatives in upstate NY

  3. Love my heathen relatives. Also loved the heathen cake you sent him!

  4. My temple name is DeborahApril 4, 2010 at 5:59 PM

    Those pictures are fabulous, esp. the black and white one. Your kids are lucky to have you two as parents!

  5. This is the post I got flamed for by my "friend."