I think it is time for me to write the story of my experience with the Church of Jesus
Christ of Latter-day Saints. I joined the church at the age of 18, and left just recently,
at the age of 25.
When I was growing up, my mother always took my brother and I to church. I remember when learning about prophets like Noah and Moses, asking the question to my Sunday school teacher, "Who does God talk to now?" I was told that he just didn't talk to people anymore. I remember feeling like that made the Bible fake; just a story. I lost interest in religion. I did become very active in a state wide Christian youth program, however, which became the most important part of my life through my high school years. All of the good friends that I had were people that I knew through those activities. As the end of my senior year approached, I dreaded graduation, knowing that I would no longer be able to participate in the youth program.
It was at this time that I met a girl who was a Mormon, and we started dating. She made it clear from the start that she would only marry a member of her church because she wanted to be married in the temple. For me, she was the spiritual friend that replaced the youth program that I would not be able to be a part of anymore, and our relationship grew very quickly. I appreciated the fact that her family was very serious about their religion. They actually prayed, and read the "scriptures". They were basically a good example of a Mormon family. I learned that they believed in prophets today, which as you know, I really wanted to believe.
When I met with the missionaries, I felt like all of the things they taught me were things that I had believed all my life. I wanted to believe in it. I wanted an "eternal marriage". I wanted to be serious about religion. I was what is referred to by missionaries as a golden investigator. The circumstances of my life led me to a point where the Mormon church seemed to make perfect sense for me.
The one problem that I had was that I could not get an answer to my prayers about the Book of Mormon and Joseph Smith, as the missionaries said I would. I read every day, and prayed every time I read, and I never got any kind of an answer. But I was so excited about everything else (and wanted to believe it) that I just assumed that there was something wrong with me, and that was why I wasn't answered. Besides, my girlfriend's family believed it (they all "knew" it was true), and I trusted them. How naive I was!
I spent a week that summer as a counselor for elementary school kids at a church camp, and brought the Book of Mormon along with me. I read it at every chance I got, because this camp was a place where I had always felt very close to God. I believed that if there were any place where I would get an answer, it would be there. Towards the end of the week, I was very discouraged that I had not yet received the answer I expected to get. One morning, I was sitting beside the campfire circle in front of my cabin reading when all of the kids started making their way to the showers. Several of them asked me what I was reading, and I didn't want to tell them because of the position I was in. I was afraid I might get nto trouble for having it there because this was a Methodist camp. Instead of telling them what it was, I answered, "It is a book like the Bible that teaches about God."
Later that day, when I was thinking about why I wasn't getting an answer, it occurred to me that maybe that had been my answer. After all, I was learning about God from the Book of Mormon (so I thought), and I didn't feel that I had lied to them. Believe it or not, I accepted that thought as my answer. I decided that since everything had made so much sense to me, and since it seemed like I had believed it all my life, that I must have already known it was true and didn't need any further confirmation from God. Rather than feeling that I didn't deserve an answer, I decided that God saw my faith and knew I didn't need one.
[[ Allow me to digress from my story for a moment.
At this point, I am convinced that this is VERY common among new converts to the church. The missionaries teach investigators about the church with a very fluffy wonderful approach, and most people WANT to believe it. There are exceptions, but it is a very desirable message, for people with not much religious knowledge. When you want to believe something, you will go to almost any lengths to believe it. When you add to that all of the "logical" proofs that the church perpetuates, it is easy to believe in the church as if prayers are answered when in fact they are not.
The church cautions members not to rely on proof, or signs (because if they did, they would all leave the church), but the church makes no effort to stop myths about archaeology, and loves to represent Joseph Smith as an unintelligent instrument of God who could have never made such things up. When people accept these myths, they try very hard to "get a testimony", and ultimately convince themselves into one. Due to the authoritarian nature of the church, and the constant hammering of phrases like "one true church", "restoration of the truth", "I know the church is true", "follow the brethren", etc . . . , it doesn't take long for a marginally faithful new member to be shaping his or her entire belief system on the church, which is just one of the factors that makes it difficult to contemplate leaving.
The church is also very friendly. They are getting more aggressive about this. New members are supposed to be assigned friendshippers even before baptism. Once in a circle of friends, there is a glue that holds converts to the church, and they can always turn to these friendshippers for "support" when they feel doubts, or have questions. New members are supposed to be asked to speak in church within the first few months (two or three). They are encouraged to bear their testimony, because they obviously must have one, right?
Once in the church, new members really do not have a chance to wonder if they really believe in it or not. ]]
Well, to keep the story going, I was baptized by my girlfriend's father. My baptism was a disappointment for me. I truly expected that even though I had not yet felt the Spirit, I would at my baptism and confirmation. It didn't happen. But, being "faithful", I decided that God simply knew that I didn't need that. After all, I "knew" that the church was true. And I was really pretty zealous about it in spite of the lack of confirmation. My mother was also baptized with me, and we both wanted to live the Gospel to the letter. I felt that I was gypped because I wasn't born into the church, and wanted to "catch up" to everyone spiritually.
I went off to college in New York where I immediately contacted the missionaries. They quickly became the best friends I had there and I went teaching with them a lot. After a few weeks, I decided to serve a mission. My girlfriend, who had moved to Utah, dumped me, and I decided that the purpose of our relationship had been to bring me into the church, and that I had no need for her any more anyway. I was already thinking like a Mormon . . . everything happens for the good of the Church!
[[ I have actually heard it suggested that TV and satellite technology were invented for the sole purpose of bringing general conference to the church members around the world. Satan, of course, has taken advantage of it as well, so beware! ]]
During the next year, I read the Book of Mormon four times, the D+C/PofGP twice, and the Bible once. I felt that since I had not had the opportunity to attend Seminary (high school scripture indoctrination classes for Mormon youth) like all the other missionaries, I needed to catch up if I was going to be able to do well.
After one year in the church, my time to attend the temple had come. Like my baptism, this would-be milestone was a disappointment. If anyone was in the right frame of mind to have a good experience in the temple, I was. [I say this because Mormons will assume if I didn't like the temple that I wasn't prepared well enough.] I had been looking forward to that day since I decided to go on my mission, and had prepared for it with study, prayer, and fasting. I had also been diligent in keeping all of the commandments so that I would be worthy to be there. Someone who read an early draft of this letter suggested to me that I was not ready to go since (as I have stated herein) I had never recieved an answer to my prayers. I suppose that is a legitimate argument from a Mormon point of view, but my reply would be to ask why I never recieved a answer, considering the honest and real effort I had made to do so! At the time that I was attending the Temple, I really believed that I had been answered, but in a way that was so quiet that I hadnt realized it when it happened. I doubt that it is uncommon for Mormons to feel this way. It is only in retrospect that I know I had never recieved an answer.
I will admit that I really like being in the temple. The Washington DC temple is beautiful, and there are actually places there where you can sit down and enjoy the quietness. (This is unlike most temples where every square foot has a use, and you are always in someone's way if you are not flowing in the direction for which the floor plan was designed.) But, I was shocked by the ceremony. I was told that if I read the books of Moses and Abraham, I would be prepared for the temple, and that there wasn't anything that was presented there that was different from what we can learn in the scriptures. Not true.
I liked the washing and anointing part at first. It seemed to me like a real ordinance. I enjoyed all of the blessings that were given during the ordinance, and felt that they were unique to me, like a blessing at a confirmation. It wasn't until later when I repeated them in ordinances for the dead that I realized that they are spouted off from memory and were the same for everyone. I also realized when we did a second endowment session that day that the "new name" is the same for every person that day. I got the same new name for the dead person as I did for myself.
[[ A couple years ago, I qualified as a veil worker and learned that there is a backup plan for that situation. People in the temple for the first time are required to wear a tag marking them as a first time patron. In that case, they are supposed to be given a different new name if they go through for a second session, like many people do. This keeps them from realizing that their name is not personal. When I went through for my second session, I took the tag off, figuring that I was no longer a "first time" patron. That is why I got the same name again. ]]
I asked my escort why the name was the same both times and was told that everyone is given the same name on the same day so that there can be a record of it. "What?", I thought. Where is the revelation? I thought it was supposed to be MY name? I was very disappointed by that.
Please do not get me wrong. I was disappointed, but I was not being unfaithful. There were things that I didn't understand, and things that seemed to be a let down, but I figured that these were things that I would understand as I went more. I had heard a quote by David O. McKay, who said that he had been attending the temple weekly for 65 years and was just beginning to understand it. I became fascinated by the temple endowment and decided that I wanted to understand it too. It is actually funny to look back and think about how I used to try to see meaning in all of the handshakes, signs, and symbols.
Since that first time, I have attended numerous endowment sessions and (as I mentioned above) even became a veil worker. [The veil worker stands behind the veil and acts as the Lord, giving instructions to the patrons and bringing them "through the veil" to the celestial room.] I liked to go because I really thought I was figuring some things out, but never anything that helped me in any way. I thought that the sign of the second token of the aaronic priesthood looked like the way a priest holds a person that is being baptized. There were lots of little tidbits of trivial interpretations like that, but nothing that in any way helped me know how I ought to live my life, and I never felt spiritual about it. I always felt relaxed at the temple, but I would always leave disappointed that I never had the kinds of spiritual experiences that so many other people claim to have. Like a lot of people do, I figured that there was something that I needed to repent of, and was always hard on myself for that. I never felt good about myself.
I left for my mission to Spokane, Washington in September of 1993. I wanted to do the best I could as a missionary, and the mission rules were very important to me. I believed that if I kept the rules, I would be blessed and have a successful mission. I quickly learned that to keep the rules meant to be persecuted by the other missionaries. That's right. . . I was persecuted by the "servants of God" for wanting to do what I thought God had asked me to do. For the first year of my mission, I was very obedient to all of the rules. I had no friends among the missionaries, not even my companions. I kept going only because I believed that it would help me to be successful.
About half way through my mission, I gave up on that. I hope that those words do not make it sound like I weaseled out. The fact is, I gave up on the thought that obedience would help me, not on the rules themselves. I was miserable. I was lonely. And, I was not being "successful" at all. It was when I was in Cashmere when this change happened. When I got there, the other missionaries in that area had been partying for a long time, and I thought that I was going to straighten the area out. I was treated horribly for two months, and considered going home. One night I added up all of the money I had available to me and thought it would be enough to get back to Maine if I stole our mission car. Instead, the president transferred everyone but myself and one other missionary. But, the whole experience left me changed. Prayer had not done a thing to help me, and neither had the rules, and I could not deny that.
For the second half of my mission, I was much more laid back. I didn't go out and date girls (very taboo for missionaries) or anything like that, but I also didn't fret if my companion wasn't out of bed immediately at 6:30am. I made a lot of great friendships, felt like I was myself again, and had a much better year. We were much more successful (if converting people to the Mormon church is a success. . . ug)
When I came home and started thinking about things, I was disappointed once again. Not with myself for giving up on the rules, but with the mission itself. I had tried to do it the way the "prophets" said it was to be done, and it didn't work. I kept this inside. I didn't want to talk about it with anyone because I didn't want people to know that I had broken the rules, or that I had doubts about something that had come from the Church leaders.
So, there I was, fully able to look back and see that all of the experiences that were supposed to be great and wonderful in the "Kingdom of God" had turned out to be a disappointment. My struggle to gain a testimony, my baptism, my temple endowment, and my mission. All I can say is that I am grateful that I never got married in the temple. That would have also been a disappointment, a waste, and I would be stuck now. But anyway, I didn't see this for what it is, or didn't let myself see it. I knew that I didn't really have what I could claim to be a testimony, but I was good at telling that story about the kids at camp, and people thought it was a great story. It did wonders for my appearance, but I knew that it didn't work for me. I studied the scriptures a lot, hoping that there would come a day when I would really know. I didn't care whether I had a great experience that I could tell people about. I didn't want that. I had that already, somewhat. What I wanted was something that really meant a lot to me, something personal. And it never came. I also knew that my baptism wasn't really special to me, though I told investigators that it was because I wanted them to be baptized. I new that I was disappointed with the temple, and with my mission, but I didn't put it together.
My life at this point revolved around the Church. I went to school so that I could get a good job to provide for a huge family without my wife working. I started bussing tables to pay for it because my family was deep in debt (thanks to paying tithing and paying for my mission). I was in the Young Men's Presidency and taught a Sunday School class. I had a few dating experiences with Church members, but none that I was actually interested in, and one that really hurt me.
After I had been home for a year and a half, I started wondering if I really wanted to marry a member of the Church. I didn't want to be disobedient, but there was no one in my area that I could even consider. (There aren't many Mormons in Maine.) I wondered if I would be happier with someone who joined the church, like I had. I started to consider the idea that it would be okay to date non-members. I was going to Institute one evening (the scripture indoctrination class for college-aged young adults), which required me to go to the University's other campus, where I knew very few people. I was going to have dinner at the student center there, and a friend of mine from one of my classes was going to meet me with her friends. That whole afternoon, I kept wondering if I would meet a friend of hers that I would end up dating. The more I thought about it, the more I hoped I would. By the time I got there, I knew that I was going to. That was when I met Laura. I will spare you the romantic details, but we began dating, and fell in Love.
[[ I just want to point out that I never believed that I had received any kind of revelation from God, especially about the Church, until this time. There are pivotal moments in people's lives that affect their course forever, and for me, this was one of those times. I knew that my life would change that day, and it did. Laura is a gift from God. Some Mormons have dared to tell me that it was Satan that was working on me that day. ]]
Laura is the most beautiful person I have ever met, both on the inside and on the outside. She is kind, energetic, fun, talented, and quite secure (I know that it is odd to describe someone as secure, but since I had only considered dating Mormons up to that point, her being secure about herself was something that was very new to me). We hit it off immediately. We had occasional conversations about the Church, and she attended with me a few times, and I was sure that she would one day join the Church.
The first dilemma came when she went to Europe one summer for a month (she was born in Slovakia) and came home and told me that she would never be able to join my church. I had previously decided that I would have to break things off with her if she ever said that. Fortunately, I was unable to go through with it. I told her that I could live with that as long as she could live with the fact that I would always hope that she would someday join the church.
Over the following school year, I slowly drifted away from the church because I felt like I was not keeping the commandments (by dating a non-member who had sworn to never join the church). I felt like an outsider. I hated it when I would tell people at church about her and they would ask "What ward does she attend?" Gee, no one ever assumed that a returned missionary would date a non-member! Once they knew she was not a member, all they could ever think to say to me were things like, "Where is your girlfriend? How's the missionary work going? Have you given her a copy of the Book of Mormon yet?" Blah Blah Blah.
Never did it enter my mind that maybe the church was wrong. I just thought that someday I would start going again and she would change her mind.
In the summer of 1998, Gordon B. Hinckley came to Portland to speak. Since the meeting was only two blocks away, and since I knew that I would kick myself someday for passing up a chance to hear the "prophet" speak, I went. My mother was there, and so was the family of my high school girlfriend. It brought back a lot of memories, and I really wanted to go back to church. The talk by GBH was actually pretty useless. Like always, he just bragged about how much the church is growing and how many new "mini-temples" they are building. But, believe it or not, I decided that I was going to deliver an ultimatum to Laura.
For us, a breakup would have been devastating. We have a very special relationship. It would have been the worst on her because it would have seemed that I was breaking up with her for the worst possible reason. . . because she wouldn't convert. To her, the religion thing didn't matter at all. She didn't have anything against the church; she just wasn't interested. She never understood why I felt like dating her was not okay with the church. Looking back now, I cannot even believe that I considered leaving her. To the church, it would have been a victory. My bishop would have patted me on the back and said, "She'll get over it, son, you did the right thing . . . the Lord is proud of you." Sickening. But all things happen for the good of the church, right?
She saw how I was feeling, and knew that I had been out of the church for a year. She saw it as a year in which I had been going "her way" and decided that it wouldn't hurt to go "my way" for awhile. This is how amazing she is. I never left her, but I am amazed that she never left me. Thanks to the church and my belief in it, I did some things to her that really hurt her, and she has never condemned me for it.
She met with the missionaries, and the two of us had some really awesome experiences together during those weeks. She had some really strong spiritual feelings, because for the first time in her life, she was thinking about God when it was her choice to do so. It was something that she had really wanted in her life for a long time, and it was happening. I interpreted all of it as her gaining a testimony of the church, and she sometimes saw it that way, too. She was reading the BOM and learning a lot from the missionaries, and even liked going to church, but she (like me) could not get answers to her prayers about the BOM and Joseph Smith. That really worried me.
One day she told me that she had prayed about whether she should be baptized, and really felt like she should. Her main feeling was that she knew it was a good thing to do, and she really wanted us to have a common ground as far as religion was concerned. To me that was enough. It seemed that she would eventually have a testimony because she was seeking it so much. It didn't occur to me that she was in the same position as I had been in.
She was baptized, and things seemed hunky dory for a few weeks, but she slowly started being bothered by church meetings, and never wanted to go. She finally, after two or three months, admitted to me that she did not want to go to church any more. She wanted to learn about God, and she wasn't learning anything by being there. Sacrament meeting was almost always a travelogue by someone returning from a vacation or a chance for a new family in the ward to introduce themselves and brag about where they had moved from. Testimony meetings were filled with people getting up and crying about how much they love Mom, or the ward, or their cat. (I am sure most of you know exactly what I am talking about!) Sunday school was almost always the same. The teacher would do the different lessons, but they somehow always led into her displaying a list of all the things that we are supposed to do if we want to go to the "celestial kingdom". On the last week that Laura went to church, they had a testimony meeting for the whole time in Relief Society, and NO ONE GOT UP TO SAY ANYTHING!!!!! The whole time was spent in silence. That was the last straw for her. She was wasting time, and not learning a thing. And I couldn't argue with her, either. I felt the same way. I was just used to it.
She told me that she didn't have a testimony of the Book of Mormon. She had stopped reading it, and was reading the Bible instead. I was faced with a dilemma again. Laura told me that she had begun to feel like God wanted her to sacrifice our relationship so that she could learn about Him, because she thought that I would never leave the church, and knew that she just couldn't stay in it. There I was, hearing her say the same kind of thing that I had said to her before. I understood now exactly what it had done to her, and I knew very well how she felt saying it to me now. I trusted her enough to know that she had really tried. She had wanted more than anything to believe in the church and to gain a testimony. Why hadn't she been able to? She had done everything that the missionaries asked her to do, and did so willingly. She loved the feeling that she was keeping the commandments of God, doing good things, and being clean from sin. She prayed, and studied. Why weren't her prayers for a testimony answered? I couldn't believe that maybe the church was true for me and not for her. The pat answer from the church would have been that she must not be one of the elect . . . not of the tribe of Ephraim. They really are sick.
For the first time since I joined the church, I had a reason to question whether or not I really had a testimony of the church. And I knew that I really didn't. I had something that I had made into a testimony, (the experience by the campfire circle) because I wanted very much to believe it. But, there was nothing that really told me that the church was true. I felt good going back to church again with Laura because I didn't feel guilty about not going, but I was also disappointed (as usual) from the start that I didn't seem to be learning anything from it. I could also tell that nothing that went on there was really going to give Laura what I knew she wanted.
Also for the first time since I joined the church, I had a reason to look at "anti-mormon" literature (a.k.a. FACTS) with an objective mind. I had read tons of it as a missionary, but always with the intent to disprove it. It never affected me. Now, with an open mind, I was amazed at how deceived I had been. The most significant things for me were the Book of Abraham plates and the Kinderhook plates, the credibility of the 11 Witnesses to the BOM, and the significant changes in the BOM. All of these things are available at Eric's web site, so I will not go into details.
It started as we were fasting. We decided to fast together to find out what we should do, and I was sure that this fast would result in us both gaining a testimony together. I thought that God probably hadn't given me a testimony all this time because it was supposed to be something that He was saving for me and my "eternal companion" to find together. It didn't go that way, though. I went to work on Saturday and when I got done, Laura had found Eric's Web site, and had printed one of the stories for me to read. I was mad at first. I read it and it seemed like I was able to prove that everything that the person said was wrong (many things were a stretch), except for one thing: The Book of Abraham. I knew that if that claim was true, there really was no way that I could explain it to her. Then I learned of the Kinderhook Plates. I didn't care whether it was a hoax or not. The relevant fact is that the church maintained for decades that it had not been a hoax, and then changed their mind in 1990. Either they were lying before, or they are lying now. Either way, their credibility is shot.
On Sunday night, after several hours of reading, it had sunk in that I was never going to go back to church. In many ways, I was surprised by how easily I seemed to accept it. There were too many things to mention that simply fell into place. All of those disappointments now made sense. The dilemma about dating Laura was gone. Some Mormons have told me that this is why I believed the material against the church . . . so that I wouldn't have to break up with Laura. They say that I have taken the east way out. After sharing my decision to leave the church with him, a mission friend wrote to me the following:
However you obtained my address please never write me again. As far as your reasons for leaving the Church I must believe that your ideas completely conflict with Christ's message that whoso was unwilling to leave Father, Mother, or family for Him was unworthy of Him. I think you are a likely candidate. Good day.
My Stake President told me that the first mistake that I made was deciding not to keep all of the mission rules, and the second was deciding to date a non-member. Those two things apparently led to my current apostasy. However, he assured me that if I am sincere in my desire to know and follow Christ, I will eventually come back to the church. How comforting.
Laura and I went for a walk that night, and I told her that I could no longer believe in the church. I apologized for being so hard headed about it. I cannot believe that I would have ended my relationship with her in order to "follow the prophet". We are now engaged to be married, and will no doubt have a great lifetime together.
Since I have left the church, I have been amazed a the ability of Mormon's to ignore the truth. I am sad to admit that I was once like that, but I guess we all may have been. I am not out to preach to them. I think that if people are happy there, then let them stay, but I marvel at their blindness [However, see next paragraph]. They really think that they are proving that they are faithful if they ignore logic and reason. I realize that if the church were true, there are some things that I would have to take on Faith, and that would be fine. But by definition, "Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1) The Mormon missionaries teach that in their discussion on faith. So, faith is necessary when we do not see things. However, faith is not necessary when we do see. I do not have faith that the sky is blue because I can see that it is blue. The problem with the Mormon church is that it suffers not from the lack of evidence to support it, but from the overwhelming pile of evidence against it. Faith does not make us blind to what we ought to see. Unless, of course, it is misguided.
[[ About Mormon Faith: Their "faith" is based on the notion that Jesus has paid the price for their sins only if they do all that they can. Mormons are never sure if the Savior will save them, because they think that they may make a mistake that would cause him to condemn them rather than forgive them. This shifts their focus from faith to works; always trying to be good enough to be forgiven through Christ. It is a paradox that hurts a lot of them greatly. For some who are sure they are keeping all of the commandments, there is no humble appreciation for Christ's suffering. For those who have problems, there is guilt and anguish fed by the fear that they may not be forgiven. In my years in the church, especially the two years spent as a missionary, I have seen these two extremes in a lot of people. For those in between, their feelings change from day to day. I think I was in that category.
For all of them, it is made to be an absolute prerequisite for salvation that they dedicate themselves to the church through callings, home/visiting teaching, missionary work, etc . . . ]]
Back to the story . . . Despite the ease with which I initially accepted the truth that night, I cannot say that it has been easy for me to leave the church. I certainly have not taken the "easy way out" as the Mormons would assume. (They probably all assume that it is the easy way out because they all feel like their lives would be easier without the church.) There are days when I wonder if I have made the wrong choice. There are days when I miss the friends that I had there. There are times when I really wish that they just wouldn't assume that I must be some kind of a sinner or something. They can't respect me for making the my own choice because they are convinced that I will go to Hell. I normally do not care what others think, but these are my friends thinking this way.
I have since stopped attending any church, and I am not even sure that I would call myself a Christian if asked to declare some sort of religious affiliation. I was talking to a friend of mine recently who is very active in his Christian church. I mentioned to him that in stepping back from Mormonism and recognizing that it was not the only true church, I have also found it necessary to step back from Christianity as a whole and recognize that it is not the one true religion. When he heard that, his reply was that he would hope and pray that I would find my way back to Jesus. I would never suggest that Christians are as bad as Mormons in this way, but his comment made it clear to me that most of Christianity as a whole is very closed minded.
I want to thank Eric for the quality of this site. The fact that it was not filled with dogmatic lies was what made it possible for me to read it. I also want to thank all those who have written their stories to be posted here. Many of you have been a strength to me, and I hope that this story will help others.
Anyone can feel free to write to me if you want help or support. My e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org
. Mormons need not write to me to call me to repentance, or bear testimonies to me because I have heard it all before. I am well aware of the church's official position on my official position.