However, I was not convinced that my story would bring anything new or special to your site until I read the entry written by the former French missionary. You see, I also served a mission in southern France (Toulouse) from the summer of 79 to January 81. My name at that time was Sister Hoffman (maiden name). Although I was not able to determine if I personally knew this missionary, we definitely shared the same circle of influences. I took religion courses from George Pace at BYU and well remember his scolding from Elder McConkie. (Even then, in my most indoctrinated phase, I was concerned by the church's stance against emphasizing Christ.) I also vividly remember The missionary from Quebec, Daniel Lemire, since he was possessed of a remarkable deep speaking voice (all the more interesting contrasted with his short stature) and beautiful Quebecois accent. I was touched to realize that this missionary had been suffering from the same spiritual angst which haunted me my entire mission and also led me to consider suicide (which was not an option due to my conviction that God would be so angry at me for ending my life that my suffering would only continue in the next life). It saddens me to realize that throughout my entire journey in Mormonism I was surrounded by others suffering like me. We were all so well cond- itioned in Mormonism that we would not, could not, reveal our doubts to each other, so we all felt alone in our pain. It is for this reason that I have decided to share my own "travelogue", for perhaps there is something in my story that will provide the type of support and encouragement that I so longed for myself.
I was raised as a Methodist, although my parents were never enthusiastic in their faith. By the time I was a teenager, I felt that church was solely a social function which I could do without. When my older sister and her husband were tracted out by Mormon missionaries, they had just had their first baby and were feeling the need to pass on a belief system to him. In spite of her qualms about the priesthood ban to black men and to all women, and the pressure on women to stay at home and have lots of babies, they did join the church. I was also at the point where I felt that I needed resolution concerning my own beliefs and began taking missionary lessons as well. Upon praying about the Book of Mormon as taught, I experienced an emotional thrill new to me. I accepted the missionaries' explanation that this was God answering my prayer, and was baptized at nineteen (in 1976). I immediately transferred to BYU, and later my entire family joined the church. I threw myself into church activity with such intensity and devotion that even my sister (who had encouraged me to join the church) was concerned over the complete change in my personality. In retrospect, it was really a loss of personality rather than a change. I no longer had any ideas or opinions of my own, every thought or belief I allowed myself had to be church approved. For example, although I had never had much interest in marriage and children previously, I now accepted that this would be my main purpose in life. Much to my dismay, after finishing my degree at BYU, although I had valiantly served the Lord in many time consuming callings and studied the scriptures daily, and prayed three times a day for twenty minutes at a time, the Lord did not see fit to bless me with a husband. Perhaps I needed to share my fervent testimony in the mission field first, I reasoned, and sub- mitted my papers.
I was delighted to be called to France, as I had studied the french language previously. I threw myself into my studies at the MTC with the same single minded fervor I had approached everything in Mormonism, and soon memorized all the lengthy lessons and was on my way to Toulouse. Perhaps a succesful, spirit filled mission was just the tonic my lack-luster life needed. Although I fulfilled every church requirement with exactness, I always felt an inner emptiness, a silent depression, for I knew I could never be good enough to earn God's stamp of approval. I used to have nightmares about waiting with tension at the end of the world, wondering if my name would be included among those to enter God's glory. I certainly never felt the inner "peace of Christ" we were promised as faithful Mormons. I knew that I was going on a mission for the right reason. I only wanted to share the True Gospel, and was filled with the Book of Mormon stories of faithful missionaries converting thousands. France was known as a difficult mission, but that only strengthened my desire to be a mighty missionary, filled with faith, finding all those special spirits just waiting for us to have enough faith to find them and convert them to Mormonism.
Imagine my dismay when instead, I arrived in France to be told that my obedience was more valued than my faith, and to a senior companion who felt that it was her duty to constantly point out my faults. On top of that, the people of Bordeaux were NOT INTERESTED in our message. I wept every morning and night, and entered into a depression which lasted my entire mission, with varying degrees of severity. I called President Wheelwright and told him I needed to go home (this after 2 weeks in the field!) He convinced me to wait until our visiting General Authority (Brother Hale) came to inspire us with his guidance. My most vivid memory (backed up by my extensive journal entries) of Brother Hale's talk was that he berated us for being poor missionaries. The whole reason we could not convert people was due to our pitiful lack of faith. He berated the elders by insinuating that the sisters were far more faithful than they were (evidently to be compared poorly to a woman was his idea of the ultimate humiliation). I felt like crawling under my chair, for I knew that we could not be any better than the elders, for we were pitiful, too. We spent all day knocking on the doors of strangers, trying to spit out our pre-memorized introduction fast enough to beat the slamming doors. However, I decided to stick it out, even though I felt like the Lord was slaying my spirit. Perhaps this was to be my ultimate trial of faith that would finally earn me the peace of Christ.
I wept through those first few months, eventually being transferred to the beautiful southern city of Perpignan. I settled into the routine of knocking on endless doors, looking forward to any break in the monotony, even if it was just a district meeting with the elders. My inner depression was constant, and I sent home rambling letters expounding on my problems, "how could I earn the peace of Christ", and mentally debated the merits of suicide vs. admitting defeat and returning home. I once even got on the train (dragging along the ever present companion) and traveled to the mission back to the mission headquarters to convince President Wheelwright to let me go home. He assigned me to his wife, and she took two days to convince me that if I went home, I was consigning myself to a lifetime of spiritual failure and inactivity within the church. Ironically, even though my devotion to the LDS faith had thus far only brought me depressions and low self-esteem, I still could not consider that perhapse the church itself was in err. I had built my adult life on the church, and the though of leaving it was too frightening to contemplate. So I stayed on, alternating between resigned depression and inner pep-talks (also based on the little book "Drawing on the Powers of Heaven", popular in the mission at that time). When my mission finally ended, I flew home expecting life to get better, only to drop into another deep depression where I began to consider that there was no God at all (I could not yet conceive of a God outside the realm of Mormonism, God was so tied up in the church, He could not exist outside it). I was counseled by the stake president and told to have stronger faith and everything would work out. I returned to Provo for a year, and finding no happiness there, either, finally came back to Virginia for good.
Within a year I married a recently returned missionary I had known for only three months (we had a feeling we were to be married, even though we barely knew each other). I began teaching and had 3 children in quick succession. He, unlike myself, had a happy mission, largely due to his ability to ignore rules, relax, and have fun. Ironically, he had many baptisms (stateside) vs. my 2 baptisms (which immediately fell away). To my dismay, he continued his nonchalant attitude toward's the church's demands in our marriage (family prayer, home evening, scripture study, etc.). I felt certain he was failing our family as our priesthood leader, and that we would never "make it" to the celestial kingdom. This, combined with other problems due to our vastly different personalities (we had dated such a short time before marrying that we didn't realize we had nothing in common except the church), resulted in such marital stress I finally decided to see a "real" (non-LDS) counselor. Although that was frowned on in the church, I was in such a state of depression and spiritual angst that I felt I had no choice. Three children born within 4 years, teaching full time, numerous church callings, and a frequently absent husband due to his own work and church callings added up to immense stress. My counselor helped me to realize that I was seeing all of our problems through my own filter, and that sometimes reality and change depend on the ability to see clearly, outside of our own preconceptions. I did not stay in counseling long, but I learned enough to begin constantly praying that God would help me to "see things as they truly are, and not just as I believed them to be." I meant this in terms of my marital problems, but, perhaps inevitably, this attitude began to affect how I perceived my spiritual problems as well.
Mormons are so well trained to view any problem they may have with the church as their fault, since it could not possibly be the church's, that it is difficult to ever step out of that self-blame cycle. "If I were just a better person, if I just had more faith, etc. etc. I would have peace, I would be happy, etc. etc." Stepping out of that mindset took me several years.
Coincidently, (or not) at this time I happened upon the book "Emma Hale Smith - Mormon Enigma" in the library. Feeling "safe" since it was written by members, I checked it out. Thus began my long journey out of Mormonism.
I was truly shocked by what I read about Joseph Smith and his polygamous unions, which I had believed had been spiritual unions in name only, out of his respect for Emma's feelings against polygamy. Around the same time, I found Richard Van Wagoner's book "Mormon Polygamy" also in my library. I read each of these books over and over, taking notes and praying. I could not believe that God had sanctioned this mess. For example, did God tell married women to go ahead and marry another man (as a polygamous wife) while retaining the original husband as a cover? Did God tell Brigham Young that it was all right for a woman to leave her husband without a divorce, for a man with a higher calling in the church, since by marrying the man with the higher calling she was assuring for herself a greater degree of glory? Did God sanction the lying that went on to protect polygamy (which I was beginning to suspect had evolved more from Joseph's affection for women than from God's desire for... what? What desire of God could polygamy fulfill? Unlike most members believe, there was never a shortage of men in the LDS church. Even the leaders of the time admitted that.)
I could not yet doubt the truthfulness of the church, but I did begin to wonder if prophets make serious mistakes in guiding the church after all. Through anxious prayer (all of which was met with silence, except for vague feelings which I realized could have been my own, not God's) I finally came to the conclusion that the church was true, but prophets do make mistakes and polygamy was a big one.
However, (and I believe this is why the church teaches "once the prophet has spoken, the thinking is done" - to keep members from seriously analyzing the teachings of the prophets) once you open that door all sorts of other "mistakes" crop up. The Adam- God teaching, blood atonement, and racist teachings to name just a few. I had been in the church long enough and had studied enough to hear all those rumors, but had chosen to believe that they were just rumors based on Satan's lies. However, once I chose to believe that prophets could make mistakes, I began to study out those problems. I discovered that those, and many other outrageous doctrines actually were taught in the LDS church. I discovered the different, and conflicting, versions of the First Vision, as well as the historical problems with the Book of Mormon (which can be summed up shortly as "there ain't no way this stuff happened in real life!").
Shortly, I began to realize that what I was learning was making me seriously doubt that the church was the true church after all. But there could be no turning back. So I kept praying as I kept studying, pleading with God to let me know if indeed the church was true, despite all the evidence to the contrary. I talked with members about their faith, and found that most of the "absolute" testimonies they bear are really based on vague feelings (like mine had been) or on family tradition, or on the fact the church made sense to them (ie, the church as it portrays itself made sense).
After several years of study and prayer, I finally came to the inescapable conclusion that the LDS church was not the one true church at all.
Accepting this brought a certain amount of peace and relief (I felt relieved of the mental gymnastics I was performing to try to justify the church's history and doctrines). However, I also felt great sorrow and confusion. I had trusted God to lead me, I had built my life on Mormonism, I had spent my youth in its service, and look where it had gotten me. For some reason, I did not abandon my basic belief in God (as I once though I would if I ever discovered that the church wasn't true), so I kept searching , kept trying to make sense out of it all. It was at this point I could have benefited most from your site. I stopped attending the LDS church (my husband had also drifted into inactivity by this time). I felt drawn towards the same protestant churches I had once been taught to demean (regardless of what any Mormon apologist may profess about the church not criticizing other faiths, we ex-Mormons know that the founding tenet of Mormonism is that all other churches are false and do not have the power to save, drawing towards God with their lips only, and may even be, as Elder McConkie taught, the "whore on the water".)
Having been burnt once by authoritarian religion, I steered clear of fundamentalist groups which, to me, seemed as dogmatic as Mormonism. I wanted a church that could help me understand God without seeking to control my beliefs and thoughts through fear and domination. A friend suggested a nearby Episcopal church, and although all the attention to Christ felt strange at first, I quickly warmed to it. My priest constantly spoke of Christ's redemption, with the insinuation that His redemption was a gift given freely, one we could never earn. I began reading the Bible again, trying to understand it with my own mind, not the mind of Mormonism. I have come to believe and accept that grace, though nearly scorned in Mormonism, means more than "everyone resurrecting with a body". It means I can give up trying to make myself "good enough for God" because that is beyond my power. That is exactly why I never felt spiritual peace in all my years as a Mormon. Grace means God will take me as I am, broken and prone to sin, and heal me from the inside out.
I know that not all ex-Mormons agree with my interpretation of grace, but this is what has brought me peace. This is what I see as the greatest danger of Mormonism and other "top-down" authoritarian religions. When an earnest, sincere, God-seeking individual becomes involved with these various doctrines which teach that you have to earn your way to God, all sorts of abuses and mental problems can result. I lost the youthful personality and enjoyment of life I once had because I actually became addicted to religion, to the obsessive need to constantly measure my worth before God according to someone else's vision. I was so concerned about filling every point of the "law" (according to Mormon leaders) that there was no room for spirit. This is why I think it is important for ex-Mormons (and ex-Witnesses, and ex-what-evers) to speak out, particularly as I see the LDS church pouring huge amounts of money into its public relations system. The public will be treated more and more to the sanitized version of Mormonism we see on Homefront commercials. We need to tell our side of the story, too.
I formally requested that my name be removed from the church rolls in the spring of 1995. I made the decision to be confirmed in the Episcopal church, although I have equal respect for those who choose to never join a church again. Any individual church will never have my single minded devotion again. Although my still active family (and my husband's as well) have been very upset over my decision to leave the church and to bring up my children in another faith, I must commend them for still seeking to maintain positive relations with us. I only wish that one day they would be willing to consider Mormonism with an open mind. Although I can not push them in that regard, I must be ready to help them, or any of my former Mormon friends, if they ever come to that point. I am convinced that Mormonism (although I do not believe that its origins are Satanic, like some) is a very unhealthy system which breeds dependence and lack of original thought among its members, and is particularly devastating to women's self esteem. I do sincerely wish Mormons the peace of Christ, though I am convinced that it is extremely difficult, if not impossible, to experience that peace within the confines of Mormonism.
To those of you currently experiencing the pain of leaving Mormonism, I do want to hold out hope. The pain does recede, your life will regain balance again. One day you will be able to let Mormonism go, one day the bitterness will end, and trust in God can return.