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.
- 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.