I was delighted to find your "Recovery from Mormonism" page. I'm relieved that other people have experienced the same conflicts and confusion I have. Here's is my story.
As a child, I was awed by testimony meeting - that place where otherwise normal people would become emotional, in view of everyone, and bare their souls - often with a lot of weeping, especially by the older sisters. Emotional displays made me feel uncomfortable and I would have abandoned these meetings long ago had not my parents been there. Their silent presence signaled to me that all was well.
During one testimony meeting for youths, one of the older girls sobbed while she described her attempt to know if the church was true but her prayers were not answered. I thought, "I don't want to end up in her shoes." Later that night, I prayed to know if the church was true, but got no answer - disappointed, but knowing I had several years still to prepare for a mission, I was not overly concerned, just a little anxious. What if I never got a testimony? Would I become a bad man?
1979, my first year in seminary, was a great year. We studied the New Testament. It was there that I first began to know Jesus. On several occasions I felt a strong personal witness that He was not only a great teacher, but the Savior of the world. I was quite satisfied that I had gained the beginnings of a testimony
The following year, I studied the Book of Mormon, read it entirely - long before required because it fascinated me. I enjoyed the war stories more than the other stuff. But I never really got the same feelings about it that I had for the New Testament. I wasn't concerned much by this and just went ahead with my plans for a mission like my father, grandfathers and brothers had done.
I enjoyed my calling in Colombia and made many friends there, some of whom I still write to (they left the church long ago, Oh well). I was a "by-the-book" missionary and established a reputation as a no nonsense elder. I was however, never a zealot and often took liberal views on religion that unnerved my fellow companions. For example, it was clear that Jesus drank wine - the real stuff with alcohol in it - in contrast to what we were taught in seminary -- that "wine" in the new testament could be directly translated to "non-alcoholic grape juice". I also openly admired the Pope. He is a great man.
Most of my class work at BYU dealt with either the study of computers or the study of theology - two fields that have little intersection therefore no controversy. Biology 100, however, was different. Here we were taught evolution which I knew to be in conflict with the opinions of Boyd K. Packer and Bruce R. McConkie. All four biology teachers stood in front of the 200+ students in the Joseph Smith Auditorium and declared, "We are not here to tell you that evolution is a partial explanation of the origin of the species. We are here to say that all life forms, including humans, evolved from lower life forms. Man evolved from apes." They went on to "prove" their statement using the fossil record, DNA comparisons and so on. Then they quoted David O. McKay as saying, "The LDS church has no official position on the theory of evolution". To me, this was a stunning contradiction because many of the church leaders clearly taught that evolution was a false doctrine. I decided David O. McKay and my biology teachers were right. This meant that other church leaders were wrong. After careful consideration, I decided to be free to disagree with church authorities on any issue that was important to me. Ahh - the thrillof defiance - not easy for a young Mormon.
My world religions class also had an impact on my view of the Mormon church, and religion in general. I discovered that all religions had many things in common, that they had borrowed from and built upon each other: Judaism from Zoroastrianism, Christianity from Judaism, Mormonism from Christianity. The concept of absolute truth that permeates Mormonism began to whither in me.
Life was simpler when I could just think, "the church leaders are inspired of God and therefore are always right and we will just do what they say." It's more work to weigh every issue and decide for myself where I stand. There is a lot of stuff to think about in the Mormon church: Is the Book of Mormon true? What about Joseph Smith? How about polygamy, treatment of the blacks, modern prophets, temple ceremonies, priesthood for males only... the list is quite long.
I resolved to do some objective study of these issues and started with Frawn Brodie's excellent biography, "No Man Knows my History". I must say I was a little nervous buying it. Was I going to become an apostate? But then I said to myself, "What the heck, no reason to be afraid of a book - if it's a lie then discard it, if its the truth then hold to it; let the chips fall where they may. Don't be afraid to examine religion critically!". I was completely engrossed - not so much by Brodie's commentary or opinions, but by the sheer volume and content of diary entries and newspaper articles written about Joseph Smith by people who knew him. He clearly had numerous affairs/marriages without the knowledge or consent of Emma. Even if he had had her consent, the way he went about marrying these women was appalling. He was also much more than an uneducated farm boy - he was intelligent, he had a lot of charisma and he could tell a whopper of a good story.
In an attempt to be fair, I read Hugh Nibly's rebuttle entitled, "No Ma'am, That's not History". While he makes a few good points about Brodie's research, he doesn't satisfactorily deal with the volume of testimony against Joseph, nor the morality of practicing polygamy in secret. Vindictiveness, with which he characterizes Brodie is rampant in his work while hers actually has none. His references to her as "little Brodie" show disrespect for an obviously significant researcher and his general attitude toward her as a woman is chauvinistic. In my view his arguments are weak and I am disappointed in his defense of the prophet Joseph..
I talked to my wife about what I had read. She was happy to hear about this different view of the prophet (she had plans of her own to leave the church). My wife's family thought I was on the road to apostasy and dismissed the book as so much anti-Mormon trash. I told them that my religion teacher said the book was considered to be the definitive biography of Joseph Smith by non-Mormon scholars (who aren't necessarily on the war path against Mormons). And I tried to explain that my views were not based so much on Brodie's conclusions but on the mountain of diary entries including some from my own ancestors, life-time followers of Joseph, whose quotes I independently verified. My mother-in-law maintained, "I have never, ever doubted that Joseph Smith was a true prophet", to which I replied, "I still haven't ruled him out as a prophet but I'll have to rethink my concept of what a prophet is."
My wife decided this would be a good time to experiment with alternate life styles. She began drinking, doing drugs, sleeping around, etc. She considered herself a non-Mormon. I tried to tell her that there were plenty of reasons to live the rules regardless of whether or not Joseph Smith was a mouth piece of God; afterall, we still had Jesus and the Bible and the ancient prophets' words to rely on. But it was no use. One time she said, "If you ever say you know he was a true prophet, it would consider believing again." I was happy that she thought my opinion so credible, but I dispared knowing I could never honestly describe Joseph Smith in terms that she needed to hear -- even if it would save our marriage.
Eventually we divorced. Her family was not happy at all about this and placed a lot of the blame on me for "leading her out."
I moved to Denver to distance myself from this painful situation plus I wanted to get better acquainted with the "gentiles". I enjoy bouncing my "reformed Mormon" ideas off them. Denver Mormons are more tolerant than Utah Mormons but they still find my views unsettling. One bishop told me I sounded like those "skin head intellectual" guys in Idaho. He must not have thought me too evil though because he gave me a home teaching job.
Some Mormon friends think I'm an apostate. I don't. I still go to church, don't drink or smoke and do the things "good" Mormons do. I am a Mormon and I will always be one whether or not the church accepts me, because Mormonism is more than a theology, it's a life style and it's a life style that I happen to like. Most of what I believe is still based on Mormonism. Whether Joseph Smith was a true prophet or not, I am still enamored of his teachings (minus polygamy, united order and a couple others).
In spite of its authoritarian style of leadership, the Mormon church is a church of and for its people. There are no paid clergy. Every member is given a role to fill. Unorthodox views are not tolerated well but if enough members voice a desire for change, the leaders listen and slowly but surely the make improvements in the church. Blacks gained the priesthood in 1976 . Distasteful portions of the temple ceremony were removed in 1990.
Many of the letters I read on your page expressed disillusionment that many aspects of today's church were not revealed from the beginning; they evolved over time. But for me evolution is the strength of the church - the ability to adapt to a changing world and a changing membership. I look forward to the new emphasis of church leadership in coming years.
My "recovery" is different from most of your contributors, but I don't condemn any Mormon who has to leave in order to "recover". It is not easy being part of a cover-up church. But I have a family who is very entwined in the church and I love them very much. I can't see any benefit to me or them by officially leaving. I would much rather put my efforts into moving the church in the direction I like. I am just one man, but I suspect there are others like me -- Mormons who want to help steer the ship -- to the slight annoyance of its captain -- but never- the-less quietly affect the course of the ship. I expect it to be a life-long process.
I emphasize the Mormonisms that I like and de-emphasize the ones that I don't. I can't be a strong proponent the veracity of the Book of Mormon but I do appreciate the idea that Jesus Christ cared about and ministered to people other than the Jews. I can't support the notion that Joseph needed to marry 60+ wives but I can be concerned about the spouseless and the childless. I don't enjoy being dressed in a goofy outfit while watching re-runs in the temple, but I do enjoy associating with a God-loving people who give their money, time and talents to the beautification of a holy sanctuary.
My family doesn't know the severity of my crisis of faith, but I hint at it and they show no signs of disowning me. They keep praying for me and putting my name in the temple to which I say, "I'm getting way, way too many blessings. Stop all that faith and prayers stuff." But they don't.