Colten’s Story (Cousin)

Just a few more minutes.  You can do it, hold it in for a few more minutes.  Just long enough to park in the drive way, walk through the side door to the garage, into the house, past the kitchen, down the stairs and you got a straight shot to your room.  You can’t let them see the emotions waiting to burst forth, exposing your heartache to an outsider. Please don’t let them see me.  Please.

He was missing her again.

He wanted nothing more as he drove home from work then to be back in their 3rd floor apartment, cuddled up close under a blanket.  Their two four-legged fur ball ‘kids’ purring in their laps, enjoying the warmth and comfort their parents offered up lovingly.  Movie night.

Barely making it through the house and down the stairs before letting a small whimper choke out, he was thankful one of the longest 20 second journeys of his life towards his room had drawn close to its end.  As he reached the bottom of the stairs he couldn’t hold up much longer;  his vision started filling with a watery haze.  At last minute he pushed through towards the mini fridge with the Bud Light and the bottle of Yagermeister he’d purchased a couple of weeks back.

What’re you doing?  You’ve never had a desire to drink in this state, let alone by yourself.

Bottle in hand, he reverted back to his original path and ultimately reached his room, hurrying the door shut behind him.  Crashing to his knees and landing face first on his bed – it all came out.  He only vaguely realizes he’s bawling harder than he’s bawled before as he remembers something she recently told him.

Visions of the statement rush through him, like a searing hot knife through his chest.  Causing him physical pain, he imagines her lying in that familiar, warm, comfortable bed sleeping soundly.  She’s so gorgeous when she sleeps, with no worries to mask her natural beauty.  Peaceful and serene, she mumbles something barely audible as she gently reaches her right leg towards mine for comfort in the night; a soft gesture to express love, and remind herself that she’s not alone – except this time he’s not there.  She finds an empty void, and is jolted awake.  As she realizes where she is, who’s not with her, she feels her heart drop – that’s when the sobbing returns, with no end in feasible sight.

Why can’t she just understand why?  Can’t she believe that my love for her is deeper than any before her?  Does she honestly think that I’m doing this to myself, to us, so that I can live frivolously?

His senses remind him of the bottle in his hand.

I might as well.  If I’m going to be blamed for it, I may as well reap what little temporary benefit it has to offer.  Why not?  It’ll numb this pain. . . at least for tonight.

Laying there on his bed with red puffy eyes, a fresh stream of tears silently gushes down his temples and into his hair as he stares at the ceiling, his thoughts continue their torture.

Maybe I should just keep pretending.  If I keep pretending, we can be together.  And then maybe I’ll find some truth to the whole “fake it ‘til you make it” motto. I can do that, right?  Attend a church that gives me a gut-wrenching feeling every time I’m there, perform cultish ordinances in a temple I don’t believe is necessary to my eternal family, and sing praises to a man who I’m supposing to believe restored the one true church on this earth?  Shouldn’t be too hard.

His mind flashes back to that same 3rd floor apartment.  He’s doing homework on his new macbook at the kitchen table, while he can hear and smell his favorite dish cooking just behind him.  She always knew how to make him happy with her cooking, though she’d never acknowledge her own skill.  She didn’t always know how amazing she was.  He gets up from his homework, looks at her from behind as she works casually over the stove.  Suddenly, his hands slip from the sides of her hips, to pass one another as he gently curls her into him from behind.  He leans his face toward her shoulder as he gently leans in to kiss her softly on the neck just before whispering “I love you” sweetly into her ear.  His favorite thing was feeling her ears go up as part of her reactive smile. . . she leans the side of her head against his forehead and they both enjoy the brief, tender moment of bliss.

What’s the point, he thinks to himself, lying there with dried tears down the side of his face, drinking’s not going to do anything for the pain.  It never was.  I never thought it would.  But seriously, why wouldn’t I do the very thing that’s apparently taking all the credit for my leaving not only the church, but the woman I loved more than anything?  Why would I put myself through this hell? I’ve been lying to myself – and others – for too long.  I know I did the right thing by giving both of us a second chance at the life we each deserve. . . I just wish it wasn’t so fucking difficult.

As he sits up in his bed, he looks over at the unopened bottle.  Slowly, he stands up and submits himself to braving the journey to the mini-fridge just outside his room, to return the supposed culprit to its home.

(read Colten’s blog here)

(read more stories here)

Emily (Sister)

Growing up I thought I had the truth. I thought that out of all of the religions on the planet, the only true church was the Mormon one. I believed in it because that is what I was taught to believe, and I had many experiences that seemed to seal my “faith”.

For 23 solid years, I was completely devout. I attended church weekly (with few exceptions), read from the Book of Mormon daily, and prayed earnestly.  I was even labeled the family tattle-tale – Sneaking peeks at my older sister’s diary and revealing all her adolescent secrets to my mother – Among other things.  I was considered by most to be self-righteous and judgmental, but I didn’t think I was.  I thought I was doing what I was supposed to do, even though I had a hard time figuring out how.

Over time, I continued on the Mormon path, and after surviving adolescence and some family struggles (including witnessing multiple divorces, finding out my father was gay, taking on a sibling-raising role while my mom was trying to keep her head above water), I did what most 22-year-old unmarried Mormon women do – Sign up at ldssingles.com to find an Eternal Companion.

Okay, so most LDS women don’t do that, but since I felt like an old-maid at that point, and I longed for some normalcy in my life, I took the route of online dating and met a match.  We pursued a long-distance relationship and after 10 long months of dating (in Mormon terms), we were married.  A whole 2 weeks later I was pregnant with my one and only child.

Soon after marriage, I came to the stark realization that it was not what I was expecting and more than I could comprehend.  I started having conflicting feelings about how and why I could doubt something that had been engrained into me since childhood.  After all, I had prayed and fasted, been through the temple, made covenants, and lived my life in as pure a way as I could manage and here I was – feeling alone and unfulfilled.

Those feelings set the course for more feelings to flow, and questions to arise.  All of the doubts I had brushed off before and explained away with “church answers” would not take me shrugging them off again.  They demanded introspection and attention.

When I sought out those answers, through church text, church leadership and even apologist church forums, all I received was veiled criticism or outright bullying.  It always came down to what *I* was doing wrong.  And over time, I realized, I wasn’t doing anything wrong. I was being human, and I wanted to be treated humanely.  I wanted to be heard, and I didn’t have a willing audience.  It was very lonely and frustrating.

From start to finish, my process of leaving was 4 years.  So *763 words is not going to tell the whole tale, or describe every agonizing detail.  I will say that it was the most painful experience I’ve ever had and there were countless nights where I agonized – tearfully mourning the loss of a lifetime of “knowledge” and trying to navigate a new world where I was the master.

I don’t have it all figured out, but at the very least I feel a sense of a freedom that I never felt before, especially with humanity – to be someone who doesn’t have to look at another person through the glasses of self-proclaimed superior knowledge.  I am free to see someone because of who they are, not what they believe, who they love, or who they worship.  I only wish I could be seen through the same eyes by those who believe.  But to them, I will always be a sinner or apostate who will have to answer to God at some point – denying us the opportunity to truly connect.  And so it is.

 

(read Emily’s blog here)
(read more stories here)

Nathan’s Story (Brother)

His dilemma was frustrating:  Kneel or sit.  Kneel and his knees would throb by the end of the prayer, sit and he’d avoid the pain.  How does a 26 year old man avoid kneeling though, when he’d prayed that way morning and night for 14 years?  He didn’t.  He couldn’t.  Kneeling beside his bed and praying had been a source of comfort for so long, and on this cold night, that comfort would surely outweigh the physical pain.  He’d stay right there at his bedside, on his knees, as long as he had to.

He glanced up as his wife stirred in bed.  One of the cats was chewing on her fingers again.  Gently, of course.  She turned on her side, still asleep, her arm aimlessly searching the empty sheets beside her.  Quickly, but softly, he lay a hand on hers, squeezing three times to let her know he was there…and that he loved her.  If she were awake she would squeeze back four times, the fourth being a drawn out, tighter squeeze that meant “more.”  He wished she would squeeze back right then.  He needed it.

So much was unraveling in a life he’d worked so hard to obtain.  As a boy he’d imagined what his future would hold…pictured himself as a faithful, dedicated husband and father.  Every decision he’d made had been influenced by that vision.  While his high school and college peers were living for fun and in the moment, he was weighing the consequences of his decisions based on the future he wanted.

A family.  He was so close…

Tears began forming in the corners of his eyes.  Almost instinctively, he started praying.

“My dear Father in Heaven, I need you right now.  Please come be with me?  Thank you so much for all that I have.  My wife, my job, our home, my family and friends…everything.  You know I hate to start talking or asking for things before I express gratitude for a while, but if you could let me make it up to you next time…I really just need to ask for a favor.  Please, please don’t let them take her from me….”

The tears began spilling silently over his eyelids and down his cheeks.  He looked up to make sure he hadn’t woken her.

He repeated his request over, and over, and over, occassionally making the mistake of looking up at her again.  This was the third time in three nights he’d woken in the early morning hours, incapable of sleep, and rolled down onto his knees in search of any form of comfort.  Always begging, always crying.  Most of the time he begged for her happiness, hoping that meant she was by his side but willing to accept the opposite.  Sometimes though, he begged for the judging and the accusations to stop…

“Please help them remember who I am…”

They certainly didn’t remember at the time.  To them, questioning the church meant weakness, sin, unworthiness.  It meant he wasn’t good enough for their daughter anymore, and it meant silently convincing her that life with him would be unbareable, that he was incapable of raising children.  What made them think he enjoyed the position he was in?  Would anyone in their right mind actively look for opportunities to question the church they had served in, preached about, and defended for so many years?  Not likely.

“Please don’t let them take her from me…”

“Please help them remember who I am…”

His knees popped as he crawled back into bed.  He squinted his eyes to read the alarm clock without his glasses.  3:43 AM…he had been praying for over an hour.  No comfort this time though, only confusion.  And sore knees.  He gently positioned himself beside her, grateful for the warmth she’d created under the blankets.  As he settled in and began his second attempt at sleep, her hand found his again.  She squoze four times.

Tears….

(read others’ stories here)

The Top 10 Reasons Anyone Leaves the Mormon Church (satire)

top 10 reasons anyone leaves the mormon church

Everyone who leaves the church has a different story to tell: no two people’s experiences will have been the same; however, we all share one thing in common . . .

People like to come up with reasons for us.

I mean, it makes sense if you think about it.  Who knows better than me about why I chose to leave the church?  Well . . . you do, of course!   I’ve been so pleased to find out, from others, the real reasons I left that I thought I’d compile a list – the top 10 reasons anyone leaves the LDS church.

#1  To justify a sinful lifestyle.  The church says you can’t have sex.  You’d like to have sex.  So you leave the church so you don’t have to feel guilty having all the illicit sex you want; the other “reasons” you come up with are just illusions you’re putting up so you can pretend it was valid.  This is apparent and obvious to all of us because of the lifestyle you lead immediately following your departure from the church: you start drinking, move in with your girlfriend, and, lets be honest, you’re most likely experimenting with drugs as well.  I mean, what’s stopping you now that you don’t have your religion?

Lets weigh the options.  Eternal life?  The comfort of believing god is listening to you, that there is an almighty being who loves and cares for you and is sending you experiences to teach and nurture you?  The assurance of a bishop’s words after a loved one passes away?  The confidence of having a prophet who you believe is being led directly by god to help guide you and your family in truth?  Not worth it!  You could be having sex and drinking alcohol!

I don’t know who these people are sleeping with, apparently they have it better than me.  And, I know you look at me and think, “Damn, that kid could probably get any girl he wants!” but something seems to be messed up with my approach . . . because sex is good, it just isn’t THAT good.

Personally, I was temple worthy for an entire year and a half after I decided to leave the church (though maybe it was some hidden desire in me to live like a hedonist, I don’t know – maybe you can answer that for me).  For others it doesn’t happen that way.  Restrictions have been lifted and they feel free to explore things that were taboo before.  They make new friends who accept them in their new belief system, relate to them, and go drinking with them.

There is, admittedly, a psychological tendency we have to change beliefs to match behavior; we do take queues from ourselves by our actions.  If our actions can’t change to match our beliefs we will eventually change our beliefs to match our actions, it is a basic tendency we all have so we can preserve our self image as a strong person.  After 10 years of failed diets someone may say to themselves, “Ya, eating like this is bad for me, but I’m doing better than most Americans and I’m happy, so I’m fine with it.”

That can be a motivation to leave a religion; but, I’d say it applies about .05% of the time and is usually secondary to some more serious concern.  Those people who do fall in this group will usually just tell you, “Ya, I left because I wanted to drink.”  And usually they’re probably just saying that to be funny or avoid an awkward conversation with you and the home teachers you brought over (not that it helps), or to be sarcastic because no one is really listening to them anyways.

#2  Relied on your own knowledge, didn’t trust the spirit.  The wise man builds his house upon the rock, the foolish man on the sand.  Logic, reasoning, these are the “arm of the flesh” and anyone who builds their faith on these things will perish when the storm comes.  Their house will be washed away while the wise man stays strong and firm, rooted in faith, revelation, and humility to the spirit.

Of course then there are thousands of different faiths and religions out there and almost all of them claim to have had it revealed to them by the spirit of god.  Something happened in their life to make them open and teachable, they read something at the perfect time, the missionaries knocked on their doors when they were on their knees, or . . . they were raised in their religion and received divine confirmation that it was true.

Wait a minute . . . so Barbara believes she’s being led by god and yet she believes A, B, and C.  I believe I’m being led by god and god has told me B, C, and D but has confirmed that A is false.  Either god is “many faced” and likes to shake things up by having a diverse following, or there is something amiss here.  Like it or not, all religions are built on reason as well as faith (whoops, I may have just broken atheist code of conduct by saying that).  The “differences” between two people’s faiths quickly leave the realm of “they’re not open to the spirit” and enter the “Ya, but check out this scripture that says god is like this.”  

I prayed often, fervently, that god would lead me and not let me lead myself.  I felt, sincerely and completely, that god wanted me to leave the LDS church.

#3  Got a hold of some anti and lost the spirit.  Sister Sally, after hearing you talk about polygamy, or grace vs works, or this or that, gets that half-smile/half-condescending-“ok-I-get-what’s-going-on” look on her face, tilts her head knowingly and says, “Ok, what “anti” website did you go to?” (I call it the “poop smile” . . . it looks like they just ate some crap and are trying to smile through it anyways).  “Anti-mormon” – the all encompassing catchphrase for anything slightly contradictory to the LDS church.

I’m not going to be the doomsday evangelist who claims the LDS church is trying to control you . . . but to group everything antagonistic to the church in the “anti” category is a way of controlling information.  1st of all, the word “anti” isn’t what it seems.  Anti, literally, just means against, and in that sense the word is redundant.  Of course the baptist article is “anti” because it is saying the LDS church isn’t true.  We all knew that before we started reading it.  Do we use that preposition in the rest of our conversations?  “You’re just anti-us-having-more-meetings at work!”

What “anti” means as it is used in LDS culture is “unbalanced rhetoric.”  It means something is twisted, biased, and misrepresented with a clear agenda: to sway people from the LDS church.  As a mormon I could tell the difference between rhetoric and good argument pretty quickly, whichever side it was on, and I think most other people can too (at least I’d hope so).  FARM and FAIR are, in my opinion, some pretty good examples of piss-poor rhetoric used by pro-lds apologists.  That pamphlet put out by the local evangelical church called “Are Mormons Christian?  You decide!” that places out of context book of mormon scripture or prophet’s statements next to bible passages is a clear example of anti-lds rhetoric.  I chose to steer clear of both.  In fact I got so frustrated by people actually believing the stupid stuff in those pamphlets that I decided to create an anti-baptist tract called, “Do Baptists Believe in the Bible?  You decide!”  I then placed twisted and misrepresented baptist theology, or real theology, and put them next to bible passages, some of them extremely out of context on purpose.  I would use this for people who sincerely believed the crap their pastor had passed around about us to show them what it was like when people twisted their faith with an agenda.  Here’s the tract, enjoy 😛

There’s a very real difference between that kind of argument and legitimate, open, and truly fair criticisms of the LDS church.  Lets stop grouping these criticisms in with the joke above.

Even if it is unbalanced, though, people do not leave the church because of “anti.”  At least the vast majority of people who do read that imbalanced rhetoric don’t.  They leave it because they find out information in that anti that their church didn’t feel like telling them.  They leave because no one ever told them Joseph Smith had more than one wife until they found it on the internet and asked dad if it was true, incredulously.  In that way, the LDS church is shooting itself in the foot; the internet is here, its not possible to hide this stuff anymore, and they’ve started more diligently preparing their membership for these “anti” claims.

#4  You know its true, you’re just running from it.  You’ll come back.”  Um . . . ya.  Thanks!  And you know you’re a simple minded idiot!  Err, don’t you?

This is the motherlode epitome of someone telling you why you believe something.  In fact, they’re not even telling you why you believe, they’re telling you WHAT you believe!  Somewhere, deep down (so far down that you don’t even know it exists), you really do believe this stuff.  You’re just sinning to wash away your problems and you’re faking your happiness.  You may be “happy” but only in the worldly sense.  You couldn’t have “joy” like we do.

#5  Didn’t study it out enough.  The answers are there, the church isn’t hiding stuff, you have an individual responsibility to find things and shouldn’t expect to be spoon-fed everything.

Please don’t read this as prideful as its going to sound . . . I really try not to be a prideful person . . . but 9 times out of 10 the people who say this to me have never put the amount of zealous effort into the study of the scriptures and the church as I have, and I’m 25 and have been out of the church for 4 years . . . .

Ok, so that is  a prideful statement, but its also probably true.  I’m not the kind of person who was waiting for the church to spoon feed information and I’m not throwing a fit and playing the victim because the church didn’t tell me this or that.  I did my due diligence to find information out on my own using the church suggested avenues and certain things were still left unknown and hushed.  And those who have left but haven’t studied the scriptures and the doctrine as much as me don’t deserve this either; diligent book study isn’t the only way to find “truth.”  My process was very different than my sister Marinne’s: she didn’t have to study out all the doctrine for hundreds of hours she just didn’t like the exclusion and judgement towards other people.  In many ways, I think that’s a better reason to have left than mine.

#6  Wanted an easier life.  “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die!”  Sounds good, right?  Its difficult to be religious, to deal with all these rules and all these callings – wouldn’t it be easier just to not believe anything?  Think about all the money you could have if you didn’t have to pay tithing!

So yes, I just felt like putting a strain on every family relationship I have.  I didn’t mind the risk of losing some family members forever.  I really wanted to be alienated, isolated, criticized, and belittled.  I really wanted to toss away the future I had envisioned since I was a little boy.

Well, at least now I know I’m not just a hedonist, but am a hedonistic masochist.  I’m a complicated little bastard, aren’t I?

#7  Offended by a church leader or by some cultural thing.  The Church is true but it’s people aren’t perfect.  So, ya, that bishop told you you should stay with your abusive husband because marriage is sacred, but why should that shake your faith?  Did you build your faith on the people and the culture?  Or did you build it on god?  If it isn’t built on god than it will fail; people are bound to say things that aren’t right, be offensive at times, and make mistakes.

I get it.  There are crazies everywhere, why can’t the Mormons be allowed their fair share of crazies too?  That lady who says people with debt shouldn’t be allowed to have a temple recommend (not making that up), that elder’s quorum president who just can’t stop from getting into arguments every single lesson, that big uncoordinated kid who takes church ball way too seriously and shoves you to the ground . . . that has an affect on people, to be sure, but I think most people recognize that other people are often idiotic.

My question is, what percentage of a church needs to believe something until it could be reasonably considered more than just a fad, a mistake, or a cultural mishap?  Often these “offenses” people have aren’t due to human error at all, but doctrine that isn’t inclusive, that is sexist and puts men above women consistently, bigoted, and even racist, or some other very real offense to doctrine, not just culture.  And there’s something to be said for the impact doctrine makes on a culture: if a culture is unbearable something may be wrong with the doctrine that guides it.

#8  Your boyfriend made you do it.  If you just had better influences around you . . .

#9  Rebelling against your parents.  You’re just doing this to hurt them . . .

#10  You must be gay.  My brother and mom even entertained this thought about me when I left (briefly) . . .

Well, you get the point.  I was being facetious and over the top, but I sincerely hope something in that list offended you.

What we’ve done, those of us who have left the church, was difficult.  We love you, we want close relationships with you, and we’d love to have that effort returned.  Quit trying to project your reasons onto us.  Quit trying to explain what we’ve done in a way that undermines our value as thinking, reasonable, feeling, and honest individuals.  Quit interpreting us and let us interpret ourselves.  Believe us.  Trust us to tell our own story.  Is it not possible that we just left because we genuinely don’t believe it and found there to be too many troubling doctrines to stay in?

If I, a man, were to write a 10 page paper on how to deal with labor pains, how many people do you think would read it?  Would I have any authority?  Would I be able to convince people I knew what I was talking about?  Yet family members judge and classify us in extremely hurtful ways so that . . . what?  So that they can understand the decision we’ve made?  How many years has it been since straight men have been trying to explain homosexuality?  How many kids have committed suicide because a straight man told them the solution to their problems was this, this, and this and it didn’t work?

 

Respectfully – Shut up.  And listen.

 

It is with that in mind that I’ve invited a few people to tell us their stories in 500 words or less.  Please read about it here.

anti mormon rhetoric is ridiculous

Mormon PR: Redefining History at the Expense of Integrity

Its time to start getting into the specifics of why I made the decision to leave the LDS church.

To review, I’ve established that:

  •    I don’t mind debate – feel free to ask your questions and challenge my positions.
  •    I do mind assumptions about my character and don’t have to respond to personal attacks.
  •    I truly believed in the LDS church, worked hard on my mission, had “spiritual” experiences, and a vibrant testimony.
  •    My family is diverse and this lent an urgency to finding answers most people just put on the shelf, engendered from a desire to help bring them back to the gospel.
  •    I value truth as a principle, don’t believe there is a different truth for everyone, but recognize my bias and am tolerant and respectful of [most] faiths, though that doesn’t undercut the value of debate and cool-headed reasoning with those of other ideologies.

And now – to the heart of it.

I left Mormonism, in large part, because it is deceptive.    

Now, wait.  Pause.  If you’re LDS, right now the feeling you’re having likely isn’t a good one.  No one likes to hear the words I just said, but please stay and hear me out – I’m not an unbalanced person who’s about to go on an hour long tirade about how the church tricked me into doing this or that.  What I’m talking about is a serious issue that I can only hope will be rectified by the church’s future generations.

As a child our minds are open, and when someone we trust says something is true we believe them.  The world is simple, the truth easy because there’s no reason to question, and that’s inspiring.  Its inspiring to sit in general conference and hear that you were one of the valiant, foreordained to come to the earth at this time, entrusted with the responsibility of taking the true, restored gospel to the ends of the earth, that you have with you the power to save people from their heartache and pain in this life and from eternal suffering for the life to come.  Christ had come, died, taken upon himself our sins, and established his power and authority to last through his apostles, the great people who, through persecution, rejection, pain, and martyrdom, preached boldly that the savior of mankind had come and his truth was here to save.  That Church, that authority, and that message had been lost, and for generations people had stumbled in darkness, trying their best to understand god.  But others twisted the doctrine for their benefit, and over time truths were lost and distorted, the full power of god lost on the earth.  Now, however, 2,000 years later, you were here to take those truths back out to the world.  God had called a prophet again, given him power, authority, new scripture, and all the laws and ordinances that had been lost were restored to the earth.  And God, since you are his messenger, would be with you, giving you guidance, teaching you, and giving you spiritual power to open the eyes of the humble, confound the wicked, and teach the exact things God wanted the people to hear.  You were to be His instrument.

Whew, that feels good.  It feels important.  Believing that, 100%, as I did, gives you some urgency.

And then to find out the church’s claims were bolstered by lies, information had purposefully been withheld from me, and history had been misrepresented . . . to find out I was lied to . . .

It was terrible.

I had come to the Apostles with an open mind, expecting truth.  Answers.  Clarity.  They gave me PR messages, half-truths, and misrepresentation.  While struggling under the heavy weight of doubts and unanswered questions and working and praying to have those doubts resolved, my foundation of trust was slowly rotting beneath my feet.  I couldn’t believe in the church if I didn’t trust it – and it had earned my distrust.

My claim is simple: the Mormon church is dishonest about their history and doctrines and have chosen to misrepresent them to their own membership and to the world so they can have a better public image, so that current members will be less likely to leave and non members will be more likely to convert.  I believe that decision is deliberate.

Lets face it – the LDS membership has its work cut out for them.  They have a long history with, honestly, some pretty crazy stuff in it, they can’t just discount the men who said that crazy stuff,  and they’ve had active antagonism from day one.  The result is, to be transparent, a lot of misconception and misinformation on both sides.

Other Christian churches don’t have the problem of having to justify a sketchy history for a simple reason: if Pastor Bob is confronted by hippie Susie about how most Baptist ministers of the 1800’s used the bible to justify slavery he can simply say, “Well, they were wrong.”  Each church, while connected by common ideologies, share a loose structure and look to God and the Scriptures as the source of truth; any one person’s statements don’t need to be justified if they were contradictory to what the Bible “really” teaches (according to Bob and our society’s current interpretation, of course).  Catholics and Mormons don’t have that luxury.  They both have a long history, a rigid authority, and a tight organization; however, they deal with their history in a very different way.

How?  Catholics can claim an individual Pope was fallen and that doesn’t undermine the truthfulness of the church: the authority of the priesthood can pass through any man regardless of their level of righteousness (after all, we’re all sinners to a certain degree), and so even though this and that pope were genuinely terrible people who used the Church to gain power, money, and women, often exploiting the weakest and poorest in the quest to do so, the Church authority continued through them.  Mormons . . . well, Mormons can’t really do that as easily.  In Mormonism the President of the Church is also seen as the Prophet, Seer, and Revelator, the mouthpiece of God on the earth, the tool of God to keep the Church on the true doctrines and spiritual power.

“I bear you my solemn witness that we have a living prophet, seer, and revelator. We are not dependent only upon the revelations given in the past . . . we have a mouthpiece to whom God is revealing his mind and will. God will never permit him to lead us astray. As has been said, God would remove us out of our place if we should attempt to do it. You have not concern. Let the management and government of God, then, be with the Lord. Do not try to find fault with the management and affairs that pertain to him alone and by revelation through his prophet.”  (Harold B. Lee, “The Place of the Living Prophet, Seer, and Revelator,” in Charge, p. 112.)

Where Catholics can throw a bad pope under the bus completely, Mormons can only try to throw some of their strange ideas under the bus but have to keep intact the dignity of the person overall.  “A prophet is still a human being, after all.  They’re not perfect.  They still make mistakes.”

So yes, 207 years (since Joseph Smith’s birth), 16 prophets, 96 Apostles, and who knows how many General Authorities are bound to turn up some interesting statements and teachings antagonists can use to poke fun at the LDS and make them seem like a strange fringe group, especially when you consider how many social changes America has seen since 1830.  I get that, and I respect a Mormon’s right to say, “Hey, we just don’t believe that.”  While I think those more strange topics are very interesting lets not waste time quibbling over doctrines that haven’t been believed for 50 years.  Instead lets focus on the “biggies” that, I think, show the established pattern used by Mormon leaders in every other area of their history and doctrine.

Below you’ll find an index of articles I’ll write (and later I’ll have them linked from this index) about ways the LDS church has been or is being deceptive about its history and teachings.

  • Polygamy
  • Blacks and the Priesthood
  • “Millet Mormonism” (my own term – the shift into grace to appease and quiet antagonistic evangelicals)
  • “Milk Before Meat” (and other justifications for not showing your followers the whole picture)
  • Pointless things brushed over or misrepresented because they’re “weird,” but honestly not important (i.e. Joseph Smith never actually looking at the gold plates to translate them – instead, looking into a hat with two stones while keeping the plates covered)
  • The Missionary Scriptures – using bible passages to prove that the LDS church was prophesied of by biblical prophets and that they believed and taught some of the same unique doctrines the LDS believe today (temples, authority, baptism for the dead, three kingdoms of glory, eternal marriage, etc.)
  • More to come . . .

I think we can all agree that the church has changed.  I’m glad it has – I wouldn’t have wanted to grow up as a polygamist and I wouldn’t have wanted to be part of a church where blacks weren’t equal members.  What I’m challenging here is the approach the church has taken towards defining that change.  Recognizing the church’s approach on these two main issues can help us see what they’re doing with current changes still being made today, anticipate changes to come in the future, and interpret the fringe doctrines and statements most Mormons would prefer to forget about.

p.s. If you don’t think public image effects the way the LDS leaders present doctrine and history you’re probably one of those people that accepts every statement a politician makes without thinking first about how they have to attract voters and offend the least amount of people as possible.  Their answers are all carefully formulated to do just that.  Public relations is like sales: its done best when no one realizes its happening at all.  It is influencing every decision the church makes.  I’m not saying that’s bad (though I’d think “Christ’s true church” would just present its doctrine boldly and bluntly).  Its understandable – they are a huge organization and have many antagonists.  My issue here is with the way they’ve used PR – to distort, hide, and misrepresent their real history and doctrine.

Journal Entry 09/17/2007 (2 months before my mission ended)

mormon to atheist journal

09/17/2007

I just want to write down some thoughts and feelings I’ve been having.

I’m just a little afraid of what is to come.  My greatest desire is to be strong and active in the church and family, to have the spiritually uplifting and challenging opportunity to lead, teach, and help in the kingdom of God.

But I continue to have doubts and sometimes I visualize the future as something different — what if I DID go another route?  I’d be a minister, or I’d be trying to “open the mormon’s eyes,” or who knows what.  Mostly they’re just funny daydreams similar to when I visualize myself as being in a huge robot suit, throwing chunks of cement at the police cars and running up walls (haha . . . yup, I’m still a kid).  But I also want to make sure they’re not more (like real desires of part of me).

Perhaps the Lord is giving these doubts so that I’ll be lifted up to a serious study and really own the doctrine, not just being an average Latter-Day Saint, but having a firm grasp of truth so I can help others.  Or perhaps I’m just hurting myself.  Or perhaps Mormonism really isn’t true and the Lord is seeking to lead me to a higher path.

Now, when I say that I do so because I feel that to really know I have the truth I have to give each point of view a look at rather than just casting it away because it hurts.

I feel PURE KNOWLEDGE is the only answer.  Peace and confidence (the knowledge that I’m on the right path) will only come from that.  Just like we’re afraid of the monsters under the bed until we finally look under it or flip on the lights, pure knowledge will cast away unsureity and doubt.  I have to confront the stuff.  Prayer, fasting, study, and faith.

The problem is . . . when I don’t find that pure knowledge!  Or when I find things that would seem to actually go against our claims.

I tell God in my prayers, “I want truth, and I don’t want anything else.”

I catch glimpses of answers but then later those are swept away.  …

This painful question has come to my mind for the 1st time in the past little while: What would it take to get me to leave this belief system for another?  How many unanswered questions would I need to have before I left my current position of belief?  Would I ever?

That’s largely my fault for creating circular arguments:

  • Attack on Joseph Smith’s character.
    • look at our doctrines today.  Fruits, not roots.  History is uncertain.
  • No evidence of Book of Mormon.
    • testimony isn’t not based on evidence.
  • Attack on lack of biblical support for our doctrine today.
    • It’s in there, just not in your mistaken understanding of it.
  • Attack on our doctrine by biblical contradictions of it.
    • It’s just misunderstanding.
  • Attack on past prophets statements.
    • Not our doctrine.
  • Attack on JST.
    • the JST is just for meaning or interpretation, not literally what was lost.

I seem to always be avoiding the attacks.  So I’m hurting myself.  The attacks still sit there under my bed, bugging my imagination and mind.  I MUST SWEEP THEM OUT by getting light on the subject.

I need revelation and light.  I seek peace and assurance, in patience.  May God bless me, protect me, lead me, and teach me.  May I never be deceived by my enemy or by myself.  In Christ’s name, amen.

“They Overcame by Faith” (Homecoming Talk of Elder C, Dec 13th 2007)

Not all of you know what I was like when I was Mormon (or now, for that matter).  So, rather than explain it with new words now I thought I’d give you the chance to see Elder C for yourself: here’s my homecoming talk, given December 13th, 2007 and previously in Arizona.  In it you’ll find some of the spiritual experiences I cherished from my mission, a hint towards my challenge with doubt, and esoteric preaching to my dad (he was in the audience – forced to listen to everything I had to say!  I’m not sure if I ever told him these words were indirectly directed at him, but there ya go Dad!  You’ll know it when you see the two asterisks**).

“They Overcame by Faith”

Trials come to every human being, no matter where they are at in life.  They may come in the form of temptation, persecution, momentary failure, or doubt, but they will come to all people and they will always come.  Sometimes we will find ourselves with so much on our shoulders that we will wonder if it’s worth it to keep up the struggle, we will want to go an easier route, or we may want to give up completely.

When faced with such times we have a choice.  The choice is simple, but not easy.  This single choice will make all the difference in the world and for the eternities to come.  The choice is to be overcome by fear or to overcome fear by faith.

When I was in my 3rd area I had the great blessing of finding and teaching a lady named Renee McKnight.  We first met Renee when we knocked on her door and she said “I already have a church” and went to slam the door.  We were actually just looking for someone else, so we stopped her and asked if Billy was home . . . but it turns out Billy had given us a false address.  Renee was smoking, so we asked her if she wanted to quit, she said yes, so we offered to do a little workshop with her to teach her some weird ways to get rid of the craving for cigarettes.  So . . . we started.  She had smoked for years and had never successfully quit.  Each time we helped her decide to quit something would happen and she’d be smoking again in 2 days, or sometimes she’d be able to will it out for a week.  It just wasn’t working, even though she had a strong desire to quit smoking.  As we worked with her we taught her how she could have strength through faith in Jesus Christ to overcome her addiction.  She asked us more and more questions about our church and gained a huge desire to be baptized . . . but just one problem: she couldn’t kick the smoking addiction.  She tried 4 or 5 more times, we accumulated more and more in our stockpile of coffee cans and cigarette packs she had surrendered to us . . . but each time she eventually fell.  On one of my last visits with her, since I was about to be transferred, something amazing happened.  She had given up giving up for a little while so she could get up enough will power for another attempt.  While my companion and the member couple who had come with us were encouraging and comforting her, a spiritual impression hit me like a brick.  I knew, I felt from the spirit of God, that if she would quit again, right now, she would succeed.  I promised her in the name of Jesus Christ that if she would quit right now, she would conquer her habit and she would be baptized.

Imagine yourself as Renee.  At this critical moment Renee had a choice.  She could focus on everything that was against her – all the failures of the past, all the fear of falling again, all the disappointment in herself, all the seeming impossibility of quitting – or, she could believe God could do what He said He could do.  She could be overcome by fear, but she wasn’t.  Renee overcame her fear by her faith.  Without hesitation she gave us her newly bought cigarette packs, her ash trays, and her coffee maker and coffee cans.  She was baptized a month later.

So, what is faith, and why is it so powerful?  Joseph Smith said “Faith is the moving cause of all action.”  Basically, faith is an expectation which motivates action.  I expect the light to turn on when I flip the switch, I need the light, so I get my lazy self off the couch to flip the switch.  If I had no expectation of the light turning on (no faith) I’d have no reason to get off the couch.  That applies to everything.  We work because we expect to get paid.  We sleep because we expect to have more energy the next day.  Everything we do is done because of faith.

On my mission when I didn’t have faith life stunk.  One week especially.  I was serving in a little town of 8,000 – Mt. Pleasant Iowa.  Each year a big festival happens called “Old Threshers” and tons of people come from all around to look at the old and new farm equipment.  So, when this week came I was pumped.  Usually there was nobody to talk to on the street and now there were hundreds and thousands!  It started on Wednesday . . . and at first it was great, but by the end of the week I had had one of the worst days of my mission.  We had talked to about 250 people in 3 days, about 150 of those said “not interested” before we could even say “Hi” and tell who we were, of the rest only about 7 of them let us talk to them for 5 minutes or more, a minister we knew followed us around and passed out anti-Mormon pamphlets, and it seemed like the only people who would give us the time of day were those who are antagonistic toward the church and only gave us the time so they could argue.  This had happened at other times on my mission too, but this time I let it get to me.  I had a choice, and I chose to look on all the negative rather than the positive.  I was done.  I had zero faith . . . so I had no motivation.  I seriously expected each and every person we talked to to be a jerk, to not be interested, to reject us, to be too busy . . . which isn’t exactly a motivation to try to share my faith.  But really, the problem wasn’t the trial around me . . . the problem was that I was overcome by the trial.  I acted by fear rather than by faith.

What would have happened if I would have said, “Look, this is lame, but I really believe God wants me to find people to teach, and I believe He’s preparing people and some people really need what I have right now.”?  I did that exact thing about a year and a half before.  I was serving in Beardstown Illinois, a little town of 6,000.  We didn’t have a church in town; we were part of a ward about 40 minutes away.  So my companion and I were asked to begin cottage meetings locally in an effort establish an official branch of the church later on.  I loved the challenge of it, but it proved to be a lot more difficult than we had thought it would be.  We would organize the hour long sacrament meetings, invite all the less-active members and all the people we knew in town, but sometimes it seemed like our efforts were useless.  Some Sundays we’d have 10 or 14 people a the meetings, which is exactly what we needed, but most Sundays we’d have about 3 people there, sometimes only 1.  At the end of a discouraging day when only one had come to the meeting (even though it seemed like the whole town had promised us they’d come) and when we had just had a bad experience with investigator, a defining experience occurred which taught me personally about the power of faith in God in overcoming trials.  We were walking down the street and my companion expressed what we were both thinking; he said, “Man, it’s been a really tough day!”  I immediately responded with a statement of faith:  “Let the bells of hell ring!  Satan can’t do anything as long as we listen to and follow the promptings of the Holy Ghost!”  At that moment I felt an impression to turn down the street to the left.  We saw an Hispanic couple go into an ally about 20 feet ahead of us, I shouted “Hola!”, we got there attention, ran up to them and told them about the Book of Mormon.  They asked us when we could come teach them.  Later we found out they had been at the town fair about 2 blocks from where we had met them when she had started feeling bad about being there; they left the fair, and at that moment we had turned left down the street and met them 2 minutes later.  We taught them the lessons, and they were married and she was baptized 2 months later.  The trial came, we responded with faith rather than fear, and the Lord gave us a miracle.

But even if nothing had happened because of our faith, success has nothing to do with how others react to you and has everything to do with how much effort you give.  I learned that in Beardstown as well, with the same companion.  After another discouraging day with the cottage meetings, my companion and I were pretty low.  We were so frustrated with the people in Beardstown, because they just didn’t seem to want to do anything, or care about the effort to establish a branch, or care about keeping their promises to us.  While feeling this way a scripture came to mind and I read it out loud to my companion.  This scripture hit me more powerfully than any other scripture has in my life.  I knew Nephi went through what I was going through.  The time and circumstances were different, but in Nephi’s words were couched a lesson specifically for me.  Nephi was a tireless teacher, a loving brother, a concerned father, a dedicated prophet, and he had spent his whole life trying to help others live as God wanted them to.  He lamented:

“. . . behold, there are many that harden their hearts against the Holy Spirit, that it hath no place in them; wherefore, they cast many things away which are written and esteem them as things of naught (they don’t give a junk, they don’t care at all).  But I, Nephi, have written what I have written, and I esteem it as of great worth, and especially unto my people.  For I pray continually for them by day, and mine eyes water my pillow by night, because of them; and I know that he will hear my cry.  And I know that the Lord God will consecrate my prayers for the gain of my people.  And the words which I have written in weakness will be made strong unto them; for it persuadeth them to do good; it maketh known unto them of their fathers; and it speaketh of Jesus, and persuadeth them to believe in him, and to endure to the end, which is life eternal.”  

We don’t always accomplish what we want to.  Sometimes we try to do something great, with the best of intentions, and it fails miserably.  But that’s not what’s important.  Whether it’s quitting smoking, teaching the Gospel, starting a Branch, writing the scriptures (Nephi’s trial), giving to the poor, or overcoming the unique temptations each one of us has, success isn’t really in accomplishing everything you imagine.  True success is measured by the effort you put into doing what you know is right.  Many in Beardstown didn’t seem to care sometimes, but I tried, and the rest is inconsequential.

**Some trials seem to never go away.  They’re like a thorn from a cactus that sticks into your finger: no matter how much you try to get it out some part of the thorn seems to stay in you and bug you all day long.  Paul had a thorn.  While we’re not sure exactly what his personal trial was we are sure that he didn’t like it at all and could never get rid of it completely.  He said his personal thorn kept him humble:

And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me . . . .  For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me.  And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.  Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.  Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ’s sake:  for when I am weak, then am I strong.  – 2 Cor. 12:7-10

Eventually, we will be delivered.  Eventually we will overcome.  Whether it’s our tendency to gossip, or pride, financial debt, temptations with immorality, addiction to a substance, contention with others, depression, being overweight, or whatever else our thorn may be, we must fix our eyes on Christ and not be overwhelmed.  We must push forward with faith and not be overcome.  I testify that the trials we have, once overcome, will do more to shape our eternal character than anything else.  I had some tough trials before my mission and through overcoming them through Christ I gained faith in Christ and the companionship of the Holy Ghost.  True strength.  I say with Paul, “. . . when I am weak, then am I strong.”  It’s when we need Christ the most that we really find strength in Him.  If I wouldn’t have had the trials I’ve had I wouldn’t have the strength I developed by overcoming them, and I wouldn’t have accomplished half as much on my mission.  I know that’s true.

I close with some quotes from Winston Churchill given by Elder Holland in a talk entitled “However Long and Hard the Road:”

On May 10, 1940, as the specter of Nazi infamy moved relentlessly toward the English Channel, Winston Leonard Spencer Churchill was summoned to the post of prime minister of England.  He hastily formed a government and on May 13 went before the House of Commons with his maiden speech.

“I would say to the House, as I said to those who have joined this Government: ‘I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears, and sweat.’  We have before us an ordeal of the most grievous kind.  We have before us many, many long months of struggle and of suffering.  You ask “What is our policy?”  I will say:  It is to wage war, by sea, land, and air, with all our might and with all our strength that God can give us: . . . That is our policy.  You ask, what is our aim?  I can answer in one word: Victory—victory at all costs, victory in spite of all terror; victory, however long and hard the road may be.”

Six days later he went on radio to speak to the world at large.  “This is one of the most awe-striking periods in the long history of France and Britain,” he said.  “Behind us gather a group of shattered States and bludgeoned races:  the Czechs, the Poles, the Norwegians, the Danes, the Dutch, the Belgians—upon all of whom the long night of barbarism will descend, unbroken even by a star of hope, unless we conquer, as conquer we must; as conquer we shall.” 

 

That is our task.  That is our aim.  “No matter how long and hard the road” may be we must have victory.  We don’t fight against Nazism today, and our battle probably won’t be fought with rifles and tanks.  But we may be assured that the road ahead will be tough – whether death in the family, failure in helping others, or our personal “thorns in the flesh” we will be tested and tried.  We must not be overcome.  We must overcome through faith in Jesus Christ.  In the name of Jesus Christ, amen.