WHY I HAVE LEFT THE MORMON CHURCH
BY TERRY BROWN (FORMER BISHOP AND 45 YEAR MEMBER)
[note: Terry's wife's story is at Mormon642 ]
I am the bishop that Simon Southerton, (author of ‘Losing a Lost Tribe’ on the Book of Mormon DNA issues) was referring to in his exit story. Simon was the first person I contacted nearly three years ago when I found out for myself that the Mormon Church is a fraud. I’d like to thank him and his wife for their support since our exit from the church. I now need to share my story. [Story posted at exmormon.org April 3, 2011]
When I was introduced to Mormonism in England in 1963 I was taught the gospel by two young missionaries, who over a period of time presented a number of discussions outlining the story of Joseph Smith – his ‘first vision’; the coming forth of the Book of Mormon; the restoration of the priesthood and other ‘keys’. It all made sense and fit together perfectly, as far as I could see. And what sealed it for me was that if I prayed about it I would receive an answer for myself by the Gift of the Holy Ghost. I followed this direction and I did indeed, as far as I was concerned, receive the witness. Over time I learned more. Eventually I married in the temple, had four sons who were brought up in the church, who served missions and they too married in the temple, as all good Mormons do.
I served in a variety of callings over the years, including Branch President when I was only 25, later a Bishop for six years. I was a counsellor to five different bishops and served on a couple of high councils. We as a family had the usual store of ups and downs, trials and tribulations as we liked to call them, and although I had over time become somewhat cynical of some of the church leadership, I had managed to let that go and still maintain my faith. I had always adhered to the counsel of church leaders to ‘follow the brethren’ (they will never lead you astray), read the Book of Mormon and other standard works, church-authorised publications and magazines – (don’t look at anti-Mormon material as it is false and will only allow Satan into your life and destroy your testimony).
We went through some very difficult times in the last ten years of our membership. Our third son married a young LDS lady from Japan (he had served a mission in Japan) and there were all sorts of troubles from the start. As we were trying to deal with this, members of the church, including a bishop and his wife, acted most inappropriately and caused in our view the situation to be far worse than it ought to have been. Some of their actions bordered on the illegal with regard to not allowing our son the access to his son that he was entitled to. In the end his ex-wife managed to leave the country and abduct our grandson, aided and abetted by some of these church members. We have had no contact with our grandson now since June 2005. We are aware that some of these members have contact with my son’s ex wife, but because they are under the delusion that they know what is right in our family matters, they are justified in their actions. I was bitterly disappointed that our pleas to two stake presidents and an area authority, in trying to get them to understand the situation, went unheeded and nothing was done. They had the attitude that nothing much could be done about it so they ‘swept it under the carpet.’ But we maintained our faith and soldiered on.
Over time our son, as a result of all this, ‘lost his way’ and drifted into inactivity. A few years later our eldest son and his family stopped attending church. Finally our second son came to visit us (he lived interstate) to talk to us because he was having a great deal of trouble with some of the doctrines of the church, and with some of the things he had found out about the origins of the church and its early history. This greatly worried us as he had always been the most stalwart of our sons and a real spiritual rock. He had served on the bishopric in his own ward and had become increasingly disillusioned by his experience with that particular bishop. He was released and then called to serve on the High Council. This proved to be just as demoralising for him as he saw very little inspired leadership, and many things happened that really disturbed him. In an effort to raise his spirituality and get himself back on track, he started reading websites such as, ‘Dialogue – A Journal of Mormon Thought’ and ‘Sunstone,’ hoping to learn more and improve his testimony. Unfortunately the more he researched the more he found that the simple story of the restoration, as I have previously mentioned, (and that he had taught as a missionary), bears little resemblance to the actual facts. So by the time he talked to us he had many doubts and concerns. We spent a whole evening and into the early hours of the next day talking with him, and to my dismay I found that despite all of my 45 years of church experience I was unable to counter some of the things he was coming up with. Next morning I gave him a hug, bore my testimony and sent him on his way with the standard Mormon answer to everything – ‘Pray, read the Book of Mormon, have faith and it all will be made clear.’
From that time on my wife and I increased our prayers for our sons, attended the temple, put names on prayer roles and fought against the realization that out of our four missionary/temple sons, we had lost two, and a third (always our strongest) was certainly wavering. In the following New Year, 2008, we travelled down to Melbourne to visit him and his family. Over the intervening months since we last saw him he had continued to attend church, but had asked for a release from his high council calling. When he expressed his concerns to his bishop he had been told to keep it to himself or church discipline would be necessary. This wasn’t exactly the counsel he’d been looking for. I had talked to my wife on the journey to Melbourne, and said that we needed to be open-minded, and should read the documents/books etc that he’d been troubled by, otherwise how could we have any credibility in denouncing it. I felt that he had been confused by anti-Mormon literature and I was sure we would find it easy to refute and get him back on track. I should have remembered that my son has a Masters degree, is highly intelligent and would not be easily fooled by the usual anti-Mormon claptrap. Over the next few days we talked for many hours about the issues that bothered him, and I read extensively the materials that he had gathered. Much to my surprise I found the articles well-written and researched. These were scholarly works. Many of the writers were current members of the church, some of course were ex members, however, everything I read was backed by evidence, notes, thoroughly researched and documented. This was not what I expected to find! By the time we were on our journey home we had pretty much come to the awful conclusion that the church is a fraud. The sanitised story put out and taught to us is totally at odds with the real history. We were disturbed and upset. Our study of polygamy and in particular the intrigues, lies, deception and skull-duggery of Joseph Smith and his inner circle during the Nauvoo period, was an eye-opener. We knew nothing of this. Since that time we have studied almost feverishly every aspect of the Mormon Story and found that on every level it doesn’t stack up. We visited the church-sponsored FARMS and FAIR websites and read extensively the articles put out by Mormon apologists. Their attempts to justify and discredit the authors and articles we had read were in most cases inept and clearly flawed. This increased our knowledge that the whole thing is indeed untruthful. We came to the realisation that the church has from the very beginning changed, covered up, left out and indeed re-written its own history to make it all fit, and that as long as you read only the authorised books and materials, you will remain a faithful member, living in your own little cocoon. We have found to our dismay that when we finally came out and announced how we felt, we were shunned by church leaders and friends alike. The most frustrating line that we would get from church friends was one of sorrow that we had lost ‘the spirit’ and ‘lost our way.’ They couldn’t read what we have found because they knew it would never sway them. We realised that that was exactly the way we had been before we took our heads out of the sand. The whole experience has been bitter-sweet. We feel so enlightened and free of the dogmas, the restrictions that we now see as part and parcel of the church. We also face a sense of loss and bewilderment. At times we wish we were still in our safe little Mormon world, but at the same time we understand that we need to move on.
I have decided to detail my reasons for leaving the Mormon faith. I will try to put it as logically and succinctly as I can. I feel that since I was converted on the belief of a simple story, I need to follow that plan of salvation in my rebuttal.
The First Vision
Joseph’s story of the first vision – there are at least three versions, none of which fully agree with the other. I was amazed to find that in the early days of the church no mention was made of it. This astounded me. It’s the very first thing the missionaries teach! It wasn’t until 1832 that the first version was actually written down in Joseph’s own handwriting. It doesn’t mention the Father and the Son appearing to him, only that the Lord appeared. An 1835 version talked of an angel appearing. The 1838 version is the version that we now accept as the official version. In it he was told not to join any church, as they were all corrupt, yet we now know that he and Emma joined the Methodist Church in 1827! What?
The doctrine of the Father and the Son being two distinct and separate personages was therefore not taught until about 1838. If you study the Book of Mormon there is clearly a discrepancy with regards to the nature of God the Father and Jesus Christ (being three in one) because Joseph hadn’t come up with the concept until much later. This ties in with the New Testament concept of the Godhead with which Joseph Smith was familiar.
The Restoration of the Priesthood.
Again, this is a retrofit. The story of the appearance of John the Baptist to Joseph and Oliver Cowdery, and the subsequent visit by Peter, James and John was again unknown to early church members and wasn’t taught until well into the Kirtland period, and backdated, and then added to the then ‘Book of Commandments.’
The Book of Mormon and its translation.
Again, the true story is nothing like the sanitised version as taught by the church. The truth is much more intriguing. Looking into a hat through seer stones was never taught to me, nor is it taught today. Many people have used the same old line ‘How could an unlearned boy have come up with the Book of Mormon? It could only be by the gift and power of God.’ Not so! Joseph Smith knew the Bible backwards. He had been brought up on it. The idea of ancient Israelites peopling America was not new. Many believed the Indians came from the Lost Tribes. The ‘View of the Hebrews’ by Ethan Smith was widely available. Oliver Cowdery was conversant with it. The ideas that I had previously thought were Joseph’s Smiths, were not new. Joseph Smith was a brilliant mind. Yes, maybe limited in some sense by his circumstances, but he was quite capable of concocting the Biblically based Book of Mormon, so much of which can clearly be found to have been plaguerized from the Old and New Testaments. And again, when studied carefully, can consistently be found to have been the writings of a 19th Century man. There’s so much more you can discover if you wish, as there are so many in -depth studies of his work that we were told never to look at – stick to the script, listen to the brethren, don’t be deceived – how many times have we been taught that.
For my wife and I, this was the issue that above all convinced us that Joseph Smith was not a prophet of God, but was in fact a scoundrel. We read Todd Compton’s book, ‘In Sacred Loneliness’ and began to see how this doctrine (supposedly essential for our salvation) came about. We were aghast at the levels of deceit in his sermons from the pulpit denouncing the practice, while at the same time he and a small inner circle were enthusiastically practising polygamy. The general member ship of the church did not know, neither did his wife Emma until much later. To top it off, he not only married multiple single women, but also many who were still married to other men. Were these the actions of a prophet of God? In the end it proved to be his undoing and brought about his untimely death - much different to the authorised version of the events leading up to the martyrdom. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints practiced polygamy until 1904, not 1890 (the official version). If you look up plural marriage in the current Joseph Smith priesthood/Relief Society Manual, you will find only a small paragraph stating that the practice was ceased by revelation in 1890, and since it is no longer a doctrine of the church it is no longer relevant. This is despite the numerous statements made by every prophet from Joseph Smith down to Joseph F Smith stating that polygamy was central to man’s salvation and would not be repealed before the Second Coming. If you study the previous manuals, Brigham Young, John Taylor, Lorenzo Snow, Wilford Woodruff, you will find no serious mention of the doctrine that these men so enthusiastically practised and proclaimed as God-given and essential to the salvation of mankind. Its as if it never happened. How could this be the workings of a true church led by living prophets.?
The Ancient Americas
Joseph Smith taught that the native Americans were a lost part of the House of Israel brought to the Americas by the hand of the Lord for His own purpose. The Book of Mormon was the record of this people and their dealings with God. Despite years of archaeological studies by both Mormon and non-Mormon scientists and archaeologists, no correlation exists between the Nephite/Lamanite nations and reality. There is no archaeological, anthropological, linguistic or historical evidence to support the claims of the Book of Mormon despite the best efforts of many good LDS scientists such as Thomas Ferguson. Nothing. On the contrary, scientific study has proven that the ancestors of the American Indian came across the Bering Straits from Mongolia over 10,000 years ago. In recent years DNA evidence has conclusively proved this origin to be correct. Mormon Apologists continue to pump out misinformation, faulty science, and all manner of theories to try to keep the myth alive. The fact remains that the Nephite/Lamanite people never existed, except in the fertile imagination of Joseph Smith.
Joseph Smith –Prophet of God
I’ve already spoken about the dubious history of the ‘first vision’ and the coming forth of the Book of Mormon, both of which in the light of current knowledge are very hard to swallow, but if Joseph Smith was a prophet, how come so much of what he said and did has now been discredited. If Joseph Smith received direct revelation from God, how do you explain D&C 124 in relation to John C Bennett. John C Bennett was a scoundrel, both before and during the time he was at Nauvoo. Wouldn’t the Lord know that? So how come he told Joseph Smith the opposite? Either the Lord was wrong, or was he not telling the truth? Or Joseph Smith made up the revelation and was wrong, in which case, why didn’t the Lord put him straight? It’s not too hard to know the answer to that one. Some Mormon apologists suggest that Joseph Smith was a little gullible at times. Maybe so, but when he comes up with a revelation from God, he’s a prophet. They can’t have it both ways.
Then we have the Kinderhook Plates – blatant forgeries which Joseph Smith pronounced authentic and promised to translate; statements about bones he found belonging to Nephite warriors (eg Zelph), which all goes to prove that he had a vivid imagination but no gifts of revelation, or translation, which brings us to the so-called ‘Book of Abraham.’
The Book of Abraham
I’d always accepted the story of Joseph’s translation of the Book of Abraham from papyri that came into his possession during the Kirtland period. I had no idea that it had in fact proved to be false as far back as 1967.How can a church still continue to publish and print a document that has now no credibility, and keep it from the members. And this brings me to the conclusion of my story.
The Current Church Leadership
Perhaps the hardest pill for me to swallow through this whole process was that I’d always revered the prophets of the church from David O’McKay to Gordon B Hinckley. I read all the glowing stories about them. I trusted them. Can you imagine how I felt when I discovered the real truth of Mormonism, and it began to dawn on me that these men had deliberately kept many things hidden? They had changed, sanitised, and sugar-coated church history, not only to make it fit, but to enhance the feel-good, and keep members in the church. I read about the Hofmann murders that took place in the mid 1980’s. Church leaders (prophets, seers and revelators!) were completely fooled by this man and his forgeries, which is bad enough. But when the proverbial hit the fan, and two innocent members of the church lost their lives, Gordon B Hinckley, Dallin H Oaks, Hugh Pinnock, did everything that was possible to reduce the fall-out for them and the church, so much so that by withholding information and deliberately hindering the investigation, a murderer of innocent people could have gone free rather than hurt the church’s reputation. Here they were dealing with this man to obtain documents that they didn’t want to see the light of day. That’s deceitful and bad enough in itself. Isn’t one of the questions to be allowed to enter the temple, “Are you honest in all your dealings?” It seems this doesn’t apply to the church authorities, as they like to call it, ‘Lying for the Lord.’
Gordon B Hinckley denied that he knew or that he had any dealings with Mark Hofmann (see detectives interview records) despite the fact that Hofmann had direct access to him and his office any time.
Hinckley personally hired Steve Christiansen to seek out documents for the church, including the McLelland papers which Mark Hofmann supposedly had. When investigating police officers asked him if he knew the now murdered Steve Christiansen, he said that he’d never met him. Police detectives were pressured from the top to not pursue church leaders, and were denied access to evidence from FBI agents who also happened to be members of the church. Local church-owned newspapers and radio were discouraged from writing stories that could cause embarrassment to the church. Finally, when a magistrate decided that there was sufficient evidence to go to trial, and after prosecutors made it clear that Messrs Hinckley, Oaks and Pinnock would have to testify under oath about their involvement, a plea bargain was arranged due to pressure being put on the senior prosecutor (a church member). In return for a full confession, life imprisonment, not the death penalty (as is usual in UTAH) was accepted and the matter never went to trial, so that these ‘good men of God’ would not have to testify under oath.
I was disgusted. I asked myself, ‘Is this true? How can this be?’ I’d always idolised Gordon Hinckley. I checked other sources to make sure that what I had read was true. It was, no mistake. Men of God? Prophets, seers and revelators don’t lie and cover up.
I now know that they do!
I believe in honesty and truth. Yet members of the church say to me, ‘Oh don’t worry about all that. Just have faith. It’s still true. They’re not always inspired.’ I’ve become totally disillusioned that people still want to believe it’s all true. It’s like a badge of courage for some church members. ‘Oh, I know all that stuff. It doesn’t bother me, my testimony is still strong.’ Of course, further questioning shows that they don’t really ‘know all about that stuff’ and just mentally sweep it under the carpet, never to be looked at too closely. ‘My witness is enough for me,’ they say. Well, I must confess I was that way too. I now know from study that the so-called witness from the Holy Ghost comes to anyone who wants to believe in any set of belief or dogma. Members of Muslim, Buddhist and other Christian faiths all have their own ‘witness’ of the truth. Of course, members of the church say that it is not the same, and that these other religions are a counterfeit experience. How arrogant is that? How can one possibly know how someone else feels? People of other faiths have exactly the same feelings about their beliefs. The fact is, it is a psychologically explainable human emotional feeling that is common to us all. We all go to our various spiritually-charged meetings and come out with the same feelings.
Truth is truth. You don’t get truth from untruth. It’s like trying to mix oil and water. Something that can be so easily and comprehensively proved to be untrue, as is Mormonism, cannot be suddenly, miraculously true because ‘the spirit tells you.’ Although faith must be relied on in any religion, I believe that if God is a perfect being, he would not expect us to accept something on faith when all the evidence points to the contrary. According to Mormonism, God is a God of order, not confusion. Why would he expect us to believe when everything tells us, it can’t possibly be true? That would certainly not be a God of truth or order.
So where has this journey finally led me? Well, I along with my wife Brenda have relinquished our membership in the church. I’m unable to remain in an organisation that continues to preach to the world about its ‘truthfulness’ when that is obviously untrue, and its leaders know it. Why would they seek to continue to cover up and hide things? Our youngest son and his wife have been put under a great deal of emotional pressure from her LDS family. Our other three sons and their families have all left the church. We try to maintain a good relationship with our youngest son and his wife, and allow them to make their own choices, not those forced upon them by others. We have lost most of our former church friends. It’s not their fault really. I can remember being on the other side of the street when some good friends of ours left the church over ten years ago.
It’s sad that despite so much good, ultimately the church does far more harm and hurts so many families by its continuing refusal to accept its past, and the obsessive need to keep promoting the same sugar-coated story and life-style in the hope that members will stay. I know from my research that despite its boasts of increasing world-wide membership, and that one day it will fill the whole earth, the reality is that the church’s use of statistics is particularly dubious. Membership records are retained of many former LDS who no longer consider themselves members. Of the total membership of the church, less than one third could be considered in any way active, and if you compare the statistics provided at each annual general conference with those of previous years, the numbers don’t add up.
We have found that large numbers of long-time members like us are leaving the church. With the continued expansion of the internet and other sources, the church cannot keep the lid on things as it has done in the past. I am sad, I’ve had many wonderful experiences in the church, and been involved with many fine people, but that’s not enough to make it true or make me want to stay. Sometimes I feel like shouting out from the roof tops, ‘Hey you guys. Wake up. It’s a fraud.’ At other times I just feel like quietly slipping away and getting on with my life, which is basically what I’ve done. If our friends feel safe and comfortable in their little church cocoon, then I have no intention of spoiling things for them. One of the good things is that we have renewed our friendships with those people who left the church several years ago, and that has been wonderful, in particular Kevin and Romy Thomson, who have shown us how to move on, and Simon and Jane Southerton. Simon was my counsellor and good friend when I served as a bishop, and who presented me with a signed copy of his book, “Losing a Lost Tribe”, which I treasure. He has been falsely accused of bringing us out of the church. The truth is, we already knew before we renewed our acquaintance, to set the record straight.
To any out there who are currently going through their own journey, I hope that some of what I’ve said may help. It won’t be easy, but I know it will be worth it. Truth is all important. Thank you for taking the time to read.
Recovery from Mormonism - The Mormon Church www.exmormon.org