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A Happy Ending
It is fairly common for Latter-day Saints to believe that people who leave the Church do so because they are unwilling to live up to its strict standards and want to rid themselves of the resulting guilt. My exit story fits perfectly into this chicken-and-egg argument. Why do I call it chicken and egg? Well, what came first, the loss of guilt, or a realization that the Church is false? Do former Mormons conclude that the Church is false because they want to rid themselves of Church-induced guilt? Or, instead, does their guilt naturally fade away after realizing that the Church is false?
People have a difficult time seeing facts that hurt. For most members, realizing that the Church is not what it claims to be can hurt psychologically, socially, and often economically. I greatly admire all the former members who had plenty to lose by leaving the Church, yet were still able to open their eyes and mind enough to objectively study the Churchís doctrines and history. I was not one of the strong ones. It was only after I had more to gain from leaving the Church than staying in that I was able to study it objectively.
Invariably, being a Mormon becomes less attractive after committing a sin that requires confessing to the bishop. If the repenting person cannot take the sacrament or attend the temple, then the visibility of their sin to fellow ward members becomes a source of embarrassment. Attending church loses much of its appeal. If this continues over a long period of time, and if one is not at risk of being ostracized by oneís own family, then objectively examining the Churchís truthfulness becomes easier. Studying the Church from another point of view becomes possible, even desirable.
But the question remains, Does this new paradigm come about because the person wants to live in sin? Are they too weak to live their lives according to the Gospel's standards? Of course I donít think so, but there is probably nothing I could say to convince many Mormons of that. As long as they define their lives according to the Gospel, then they will probably judge anyone who rejects it as misled by Satan, too weak to "endure to the end," or an outright sin seeker.
Therefore, I wonít pursue that question.
Rather I will ask one that is much more relevant, getting more to the heart of
the matter: Is it good to feel profoundly guilty about sins that are defined by
From his 1927 essay, "Why I Am Not a Christian," Bertrand Russell explained that "...there is a certain tendency in our practical age to consider that it does not much matter whether religious teaching is true or not, since the important question is whether it is useful. One question cannot, however, well be decided without the other. If we believe the Christian religion our notions of what is good will be different from what they will be if we do not believe it. Therefore, to Christians, the effects of Christianity may seem good, while to unbelievers they may seem bad."
That is simple enough. Nevertheless, most
Mormons donít seem to get it. They literally donít understand how a decent
person could judge their church to be bad in principle. It is common for them
to say it doesnít matter if the Church is true or not because it a great
organization that does far more good than bad; some probably go as far as to
say it does only good. I heard one of these common sentiments in late 1999 when
a missionary serving in
In addition to the Churchís history of sexism, white supremacy, and anti-democratic stances, the Church causes psychological harm to many of its members. It is not only possible to see logically that the church is false, but also to see that it is, according to the numerous testimonies of its victims, morally bad. To know that the Church is true people are told to pray, not for knowledge, but for a "good" feeling, a "burning in the bosom." However, many of its teachings and its fruits give me a bad feeling.
I accept the challenge to judge its truthfulness based on feelings. I do so by quoting its past and present leaders on the topics of racism, sexism, and authoritarianism. I then offer up the stories on this Web page for my challengers to read. After that I ask, Do all these things give one a good feeling about the Church? For those that maintain they do I can only conclude that they and I have different definitions of right and wrong, of good and bad.
I can not take seriously the accusation that, by rejecting Mormonism, I am shamelessly avoiding my responsibility to "choose the right." Why? Because the accusers are referring to a system of morals that I judge to be wrong ó not just difficult to follow as they simplistically imply.
Before telling my story I want to state that nobody in my family has ever accused me of being a sin seeker. In fact they have even complimented me for holding good moral values. I am tremendously grateful for their show of understanding and open mindedness. At the same time, however, I have read numerous stories about other former Mormons, the families of which have reacted very differently from mine. Consequently I can only conclude that my family is one of the exceptions rather than the rule. It is because of this ostracizing behavior (in addition to much of the Churchís doctrine) that I am critical of the Mormon Church and culture, and I apologize to my exceptional family for strongly denouncing what they hold sacred. Once again quoting Bertrand Russell, "It is not the happiness of the individual convert that concerns me; it is the happiness of mankind." Of course the happiness of my family is extremely important to me, but I wonít let that prevent me from doing my part to expose the Church for what it is in an attempt to bring happiness to a much greater number of people. In this, I hope they can forgive me.
I had better-than-average experiences growing up within the Mormon culture. I went through a rebellious phase in my early teens, but even then I was well accepted and liked at church. I had a personality that the Mormon culture rewards. I was outgoing, humorous, confident, and a relatively good speaker. I was the son of well-liked, respected parents, both of whom almost always held at least one calling or another. My dad served as bishop for a time.
Sooner or later, like all Mormon children, I had to come to a decision about which direction I was going to take regarding to the Church. At the age of sixteen I fasted for seventy-two hours to find out if the Church was true. The inevitable result ó after all, I had been indoctrinated since birth ó was that I gained a testimony. If I had found out nothing, I would have remained stuck in limbo. If I had found out it was false, there would have been serious difficulties at home. A dependent 16-year-old Mormon cannot expect his or her parents to accept such a conclusion without applying plenty of pressure to go back and ask the Lord again and again, until the right answer is finally reached. Therefore I didnít have much choice but to find out that it was true, and my subconscious mind understood that. Many Mormon boys miraculously gain strong testimonies just before their missions to enable them to survive the process. What I did was the same, only I did it a few years early.
Unlike many soon-to-be missionaries, I felt no pressure to serve the voluntary mission that the Lord commanded of me (three years after my fast) because it was something I sincerely wanted to do. From the age of 16, after seeing the light, my testimony never once wavered. My desire to serve the Lord was as strong as anyoneís could be. I was a truly willing and faithful follower.
My only disappointment was that the Church had recently reduced the length of missions from 2 years to 18 months. It was not long enough. I had indicated on a pre-mission questionnaire that I preferred a foreign mission, but knew that no choice would be given. I was willing and ready to go anywhere in the world.
I was called to
I was going to learn to love those
"children of God" whose "lack of [worthiness] in the
pre-existent life" caused them to be born "in flood-ridden
At least they were better off than the
"Negro, who, in the pre-existence lived the type of life which justified
the Lord in sending him to earth in the lineage of Cain with a black skin, and
possibly being born in darkest
Despite the fact that I implicitly understood what a mission was all about, I still expected it to be one spiritual experience after another. That was the official view of the mission experience, and that was exactly the view I bought. I realized I would be seeking converts, but did not conceive that the methodology used would be like that of a sales job. I thought that all my plans of action while on the job would be guided by divine intervention, not marketing strategies.
Needless to say my way of thinking was a bit naÔve ó and all too typical among missionaries. Instead of experiencing the envisioned year and a half of non-stop spiritual events, I experienced one door after another. It was a sales job that literally wore holes in my shoes. It was nothing but hard work, with no evidence of inspiration guiding me or any of my fellow missionaries.
Very little of what we did and said was left to chance. Even our testimonies, proclaiming that we "knew" that the Church was true, were a written part of the memorized lessons that we taught to people. This ensured that everything was presented just right. I soon realized that we were using polished techniques to sell our product. The product was club membership. The selling price was one baptism, ten percent of oneís income, and a lifetime of commitment. Once I comprehended the whole process I began to reconsider what my "testimony" really was.
How was it that this precious knowledge that I carried so deep inside my heart, this priceless gift that I was there to spread across the world, could suddenly be so easily and thoughtlessly replaced by a memorized line of script? I started questioning the reality of my most sacred possession. This process of questioning the Church was, of course, a difficult, in fact devastating, thing for me to go through.
The long, drawn-out process of questioning what, to that point , had been a given ó the Church is true and defining my life according to it is the right thing to do ó was heart wrenching, and it dragged on for a very long time. The very core of my paradigm, the way in which I defined my existence and its meaning, was challenged and threatened throughout my mission because I never saw any sign of the inspiration that I had assumed was going to guide us missionaries. All I saw in the way of "conversions" were the predictable results of standard sales efforts and the friendly socializing that the Church calls fellowshipping.
My testimony shriveled and weakened, but its roots were deep. It reached to the center of my brain and was the basis of everything I knew. It would never again be what it was from the age of 16 (my personal conversion) up and through to the first half of my mission, but, nevertheless, it would not die off completely for at least ten more years. The Churchís mind-molding techniques are indeed very effective. I now have a testimony of that fact, and that is one testimony I am sure to never lose.
One Sunday, more than three-quarters of the way through my mission, I experienced a watershed event. I was becoming more and more disillusioned and was terribly homesick. Boredom, mild depression, and 20-year-old hormones were all taking their toll. My birthday, a depressing event for most missionaries, was greeted with the news that my parents had moved away from my hometown. I wouldnít be returning to my friends back home. Under these circumstances, I had just been transferred to a new district and didnít know any of the members in my new ward.
My companion and I stood at the entrance to the chapel greeting everyone as they arrived. "Hello brother, hello sister," I said, shaking their hands, "welcome to church." Nearly the last to arrive were a strikingly beautiful girl named Mandy (not her real name), and her mother. The girl firmly shook my hand, and held onto it just long enough to start me thinking. She lingered and talked, paying me an awful lot of attention. Without warning, my evolutionary roots rushed to the surface like a strong, leak-proof basketball that had been forced to the bottom of a swimming pool, held there for more than a year, and then suddenly let go.
If that had been the extent of our contact and I had never seen her again I may not even remember that first meeting. But that didnít happen. I kept going to church, of course, and so did she. Not only did her interest in me not fade, it grew. And I was much too polite to ignore the attention of a beautiful girl.
Over the next few months we developed a very friendly relationship, and eventually I started phoning her in the evenings from my apartment. I was breaking an important mission rule, which would in turn lead to my breaking others that are much more serious.
One night towards the end of my mission I lay motionless in bed, staring anxiously at the underside of the bunk above me. I looked once again at the clock on the nightstand. Twenty minutes had passed from the time that my companion had climbed to the top bunk, and I hadnít detected any movement from him for almost 10 minutes. Sitting up slowly I strained to listen; his breathing was slow and steady.
Under the bedcovers I was already wearing my jeans. Carefully and quietly I slipped out of my pajama top into a T-shirt that I had hidden next to me. As quiet as a spider I left the room, moved down the hall past the open door of the other Eldersí bedroom, and out the front door. Once I was outside the apartment, I put on a pair of tennis shoes that I had been carrying.
After I was inside the elevator my heart rate slowed and I took a deep breath. The subway ran until and would get me to where I was going. In my wallet was just enough money to hire a taxi back home, which I planned to do in the early hours of the next morning.
Forty minutes later I arrived at the
It was a romantic evening. We cuddled, we kissed, and we explored. But despite ourselves, we remained virgins in the end.
An important, ubiquitous part of Mormon culture is guilt and confessions. This could be what caused me to share the details of my experience with a fellow missionary a couple of days later. More likely, though, I think it was perhaps just that foolish and infamous desire boys have to brag to one or more of their male contemporaries about sexual conquests.
During the second month of my mission, while still at the Mission Training Center (MTC), I had heard a talk given by a General Authority, I canít remember which one. In his talk, he related a story about a missionary that had sinned. Other missionaries in his mission were aware of what he had done, and, doing the right thing, they informed their mission president about it. This example was used to instruct us all to do the same thing if something similar happened during our missions. What I had done with Mandy was the exact example given in the talk: heavy petting. Now a fellow missionary, one who had heard that very same talk at the MTC, knew about it.
Two weeks later I again arranged to meet Mandy. Same time, same place.
The friend with whom I shared the experience of my first encounter ó who is to this day a good friend of mine ó called me up the night I had arranged to rendezvous with Mandy for a second time. When I told him I was going to go see her again he gave me a choice: I was either to confess to the Mission President, or he would do it for me.
He said he had been brooding over my story since the day I had told it to him. He couldnít sleep nights, he explained, and felt that he had no option but to force me to turn myself in. I sensed his sincere concern and didnít doubt for a moment that he was doing the only thing he believed he could. In fact, I even appreciated and admired him for giving me the choice, because I preferred doing my own confessing.
Every time my friend and I talk about that event, he cringes and begs me to forgive him for what he did. I wish I could make him realize that there is nothing to forgive. I perfectly understand why he did what he did, and I have never once held a grudge. He did what his indoctrination had taught him to do, and he did it out of love and concern for me ó as well as for his own eternal salvation, of course.
"I want to see her before I go," I said. "I want to say goodbye to her and explain that Iím going to confess to the President. I think I owe her that."
"I canít let you do that," my friend said. "If you donít promise me youíll stay home tonight, Iíll have to call the Mission President right now."
"Please," I begged, "just let me say goodbye. Nothingís gonna happen."
We argued back and forth until finally I convinced him I would only say goodbye, that nothing would happen between Mandy and myself, and that I would confess to the mission president the next morning. It was ten days before I was scheduled to go home with honors. I realized that wouldnít be happening now. I would instead get the equivalent of a court-martial, and I had no idea how my dutifully patriotic family was going to react.
My departure that night was the same as
the one two weeks earlier, as was my money situation. This time Mandy met me at
the subway station next to our apartment and rode with me to
As a result, the mood for this second
date had already been set. Levels of intimacy between seem to either remain
level or progress from one encounter to the next; one rarely has to start from
scratch. We opted for more privacy this time, in an even more secluded area of
the park ó never easy to find anywhere in crowded
On the subway on the way over, I had tried to explain to her the predicament that I was in. I assumed she would understand, being that she was a member of the Church. I started by telling her I had told a fellow missionary what she and I had done on our first date.
Her reaction was natural; she was shocked and more than a little upset. By contrast, my unnatural Mormon paradigm couldnít comprehend why she would fixate on the minor detail of my having told a friend about our experience. Why couldnít she understand that the only thing that mattered in the entire world, more important than world hunger or war, was my having to confess this to the mission president the very next day. I was on the road to eternal damnation and all she could think about was her own embarrassment. What was wrong with her?
Despite her reaction the mood was not destroyed. We sat on a park bench in the moonlight looking into each otherís eyes. The long silent invitation to act made my mind reel. I was confused with a flood of indoctrination. The priest inside my brain (from Woody Allenís All You Wanted To Know About Sex But Were Afraid To Ask) was himself seduced by what he saw through my eyes. The fact that a priest, an elder even, was consenting to this immoral act, multiplied the degree of the sin tenfold. Thornbirds fluttered overhead as I reached for some scarlet-colored thread and prepared to stitch a letter.
Because I knew I would be confessing to the Mission President the next day, the experience of lying in bed that night while waiting for my companion to fall asleep was very different from the first time. I was keenly aware of the eternal implications of what I had done on my first date with Mandy. On top of that I was actually planning, in fact anxiously waiting, to meet my accomplice in sin again. I was a serious sinner and was undoubtedly under Satanís influence.
Mulling over these disastrous realizations depressed me profoundly. I suddenly hated myself much more than usual, which was no easy feat since I had become an expert at despising myself for every minor infraction of the Mormon Godís ubiquitous commandments. I even hated myself for things I had not done (one can never do enough of what one is supposed to when they are a Mormon). I hated how pitifully weak I was. I hated my dirty, worthless soul. People donít care for those they hate, so I no longer cared about myself. Having reached that point, I no longer cared about anything at all ó a dangerous state of mind.
Such a state of mind isnít dangerous if it comes right before one heads to the confession ó though it can make driving there risky. Feeling this way about oneís self creates a deep sense of humility before God, causing the sinner to gratefully soak up the bishopís, priestís, pastorís, or mission presidentís, expressions of understanding, love, and concern. It turns Godís mouthpieces into heavenly angels with remarkable healing powers. Most notably is their power to promise sinners that they will once again become whole and worthy of self-respect, even self-love.
This particular state of mind was severe in my case, and what made it dangerous was that it didnít come just prior to my confession, rather it came before my next encounter with Mandy, the source of my sin. This was a problem. A boy that hates himself, and disrespects himself, is not going to respect his date. I had entered a vicious cycle; my feelings of despair and my "sinful" acts were feeding on each other. I had defined myself as a loathsome sinner, and therefore I longed to sin. The more I hated myself, the more I wanted to make myself worthy of hating.
Increasing "sinful" behavior in frequency, degree, and kind often happens simply because a person believes that they are a "sinner." As a result harmless behavior, if believed to be sinful, can lead to harmful behavior. Often the original behavior that has led a person to believe they are a "sinner" is not harmful to them or anyone else. This you-might-as-well-sin-since-youíre-already-a-sinner mindset is one way that religion produces irrational, neurotic behavior. Another is by forcing people to forgo reason in the process of deciphering right from wrong.*
Music was a dear love of mine from early on in life, and despite all the warnings from church leaders about possibly becoming possessed by its influence, I still broke this important mission rule. I bought cassettes by such groups as Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, and the Talking Heads.
I lay there that night, drunk with sin, waiting to date Mandy again, and waiting for my companion to fall asleep. While I waited I listened to the Talking Headsí album The Fear Of Music. I canít think of a more appropriate title for an album to fit that moment. Truth really is stranger than fiction.
I had already listened to it several times on my mission, but on this night it turned to pure evil. As I lay there listening, the room seemed to pulsate and I feared for my eternal life. I expected at any moment I may be possessed by an evil spirit. A former companion of mine had repeatedly feared being possessed by an evil spirit and had asked me to give him a blessing on one particularly fearful occasion. Suddenly, his experiences were no longer trivial to me.
Mandy was not dating the same person she had been two weeks before. I was caught up in a religious daze. Submitting to the evil influence guiding me, I switched to autopilot and accepted the invitation I read in her eyes.
Ironically one of the most emphasized doctrines of Mormon theology is free agency. The concept of free agency is that God allows all his children the freedom to do whatever they please. They can choose to obey him or they can choose to sin, and they will be judged according to what they choose to do.
This same religion teaches people that if they sin they will come under Satanís influence. It also teaches its members to feel guilty when they sin, and that the degree of guilt should correlate to the severity of the sin. Sins are ranked very clearly: first is the denial of the Holy Ghost, making one a son of perdition; second is murder; third is sex outside of marriage. This ranks premarital sex very high, right after murder, and heavy petting is near the top of sex offenses.
This ranking is contingent on knowledge, and as a missionary of course my knowledge was complete: I knew all of Godís commandments. This meant that I was a very serious sinner, and therefore my guilt was extreme. I believed, therefore, that I was heavily under the influence of Satan. Whereís the free agency in that? (Of course, as an atheist, I believe in free agency, but the state of mind that Mormonism had put me in was not conducive to clear thinking and mature, responsible decision making). Based on this logic my self-disgust and sinful actions fed on each other.
I kissed Mandy passionately. Thinking that I was being led into the abyss by Satan, I took her with me, tricking myself into believing it was all beyond my control ó regardless, Iím not sure I cared anymore. All was a blur. My brain was mush.
Needless to say, at this point I thought nothing of her welfare, only of my own, which was already beyond repair. She soon realized where this was all going and led me to a two-story boat that was docked at the pier. She took my hand and led me...or was I leading her...or was Beelzebub leading us both?
We lay down in the dark of the upper deck. Slowly and awkwardly we undressed. After situating ourselves somewhat, we unceremoniously exchanged virginities. The uncoordinated experience was unmistakably un-romantic. More importantly, it was dangerously unprotected. It was a stupid thing to do. It was, in fact, something I believe I would not have done had I possessed a clear head. If I had carried an iota of self-respect with me that night, I would have respected my date at least enough to care whether or not she got pregnant.
She never did, but thatís not the point. The point is that the idea of whether or not Mandy might get pregnant didnít even cross my mind, let alone whether or not it would hurt her psychologically to lose her virginity to someone that was about to walk out of her life forever. Ironically, the very same culture that had influenced me to remain a virgin until the age of 20 had also influenced my decision to lose it in a foolish, harmful manner. It did so by clouding my sense of reality, and my ability to prioritize what mattered.
As I exited the boat, the cells of my body felt like billions of tiny saturated sponges that were weighing me down. A dark heavy cloud was pushing me towards the ground, making each step an effort. The skin of my face hung like dough on a rack. "Youíre going to hell," I said to myself. "Youíre going to hell." I repeated it again and again.
Nearly an hour and a half later I returned to the apartment. The alarm that was supposed to wake me up went off almost the moment I lay down to sleep. After the other missionaries completed their morning rituals and left to proselytize, I called the mission president.
"I need to talk to you," I said. "Can I come see you right now?"
He surprised me by asking if it could wait until the next day. Couldnít he sense my desperation? If not, wasnít he, as mission president, in tune enough with the spirit to receive an inspirational message from God regarding the seriousness of my request? Missionaries, and most Mormons, actually believe such things. Obviously he did not understand that I was in serious trouble, and of course he shouldnít have been expected to.
Soon I was sitting in his office. My companion waited just outside in the mission homeís reception room. "I had sexual intercourse," I confessed to the president.
He was visibly surprised and quickly began asking questions. He asked where my companion was at the time. I gave him an overview of the night before and he quickly judged my companion to be innocent. His questions were then aimed at assessing my level of guilt. He knew he would have to hold a church court and sit in judgment of me. Therefore he needed enough specific information to make an informed ruling.
He asked if I had ever done anything like it before, either before or during my mission. He wanted to know the entire history of my relationship with Mandy, how I met her, how many times I had seen her and where, and everything that had happened between us. He asked if I had masturbated on my mission, and if I had read any pornography.
I wasnít the least bit surprised by any of his questions and honestly answered each one. Then he surprised me with a question about someone else. "Is there a possibility sheíll get pregnant?"
I had to think for a moment. "Yes," I said, realizing for the first time the earthly consequences of what I had done. The thought stunned me briefly, but it didnít make the situation seem any more serious to me.
I was placed under house arrest. I was not allowed to leave the mission home or make any phone calls. My companion was sent back to our apartment. Two missionaries from the mission home accompanied him. This was the only way to ensure that no missionary would ever be alone: three left and two returned. For the time being ó until the next monthly shuffle of missionaries from one district to another ó my companion was made part of a threesome. Other than spending lots of time in the bathroom, I had discovered the only way to get around the sacred rule of "thou shalt not leave thy companionís side": quietly sneak out at night (Of course I was not the first, or the last, missionary to have figured this out).
I had already lived in the mission home for four months as secretary to the president, so the mission home environment was neither strange nor intimidating to me. There were six missionaries living there and none of them were told why I was staying there that night. The financial secretary that had been my companion during my stint as secretary was still there. He and I had become close friends. Like everyone else, he could sense that something was seriously wrong.
During my lifetime I have woken several times from nightmares feeling relieved that my unfortunate predicament had merely been a dream. Usually I had committed some terrible act in my dream that would adversely affect the rest of my life. When I wake I suddenly realize that I will not have to suffer the terrible consequences of that act after all.
The next morning was the only time I have woken up and thought, "Oh no! It really happened!" Rather than waking from a nightmare, I woke out of a pleasant dream into one.
Later that morning I witnessed the only convincing evidence that the mission president may have truly been inspired. I was pushed to the forefront of his schedule and was soon talking one-on-one with him in his office again. The first question he asked was "Are you sure what you told me yesterday wasnít all just a bad dream and we can go on just the way things were before?"
I was taken back by his question. It fit too perfectly into the mold of what I had experienced when I woke up just a couple of hours earlier. At the time it didnít occur to me that he was possibly offering me an escape route. Maybe he was reaching for a way out of dealing with this problem that I had handed to him. But how could I possibly explain everything away as a bad dream? I judged his question to be a rhetorical one (which it most probably was).
"No, it really happened," I said.
Soon his two apes (a slang term for a mission presidentís assistants) were sitting on either side of him and the court began. I had never had my peers sit in moral judgment of me before that day (or since) and it felt strange. It will never happen again; I wonít allow it. Only 12 hours earlier I had confessed the most intimate details of my life to the mission president, and doing so seemed as natural and right as could be. Now I was admitting my sins to fellow missionaries, not as friends and confidants, but as judges.
The mission president gave an abbreviated version of my story for the record, periodically asking me to confirm. In this way I was merely required to admit my sins, saving me the embarrassment of describing them. The apes were not spoken to, nor were they asked to speak.
Before the judgment was handed down I was offered the chance to speak for myself. I fully realizing where this was headed, so after expressing the incredible amount of guilt I felt, I then made it clear that I didnít want to lose my church membership. I was sincere, and my mumbled, choked-up presentation attested to that fact.
The mission president made his judgment. After explaining that he understood I had never done such a thing before, and had no history of unusually sinful behavior, he recommended that I be "disfellowshipped." He asked the apes what they thought, which was the first time they were asked anything. They of course agreed ó what were they going to do, challenge the mission president? ó and my judgment was sealed.
I was surprised by the outcome. I had assumed that I would be excommunicated and lose my membership. It was my understanding that the act I had committed as a missionary was automatic grounds for excommunication. My father, a former bishop, later told me that he had thought the same thing. Therefore we were both surprised that I had instead been disfellowshipped.
Disfellowshipment is a form of probation in which a church member is not allowed to participate in church activities. A disfellowshipped member cannot hold a church calling or partake of the sacrament, and is not allowed to speak or pray during church services. I would still be a member, however, and this would make it much easier to return to the life I had lived before my mission began.
Excommunication (cancellation of Church membership) comes with the same restrictions as disfellowshipment, plus two addition ones: those that have been excommunicated are no longer allowed to wear their temple garments and are not allowed to pay tithing (though it is invariably explained to them that they can pay tithing through another church member if they wish ó hint hint). It takes a long time for an excommunicated person to prove that they have fully repented and are worthy to be re-baptized a member. A disfellowshipped member, by comparison, can return to full participation status much easier and much quicker.
So I was better off than I thought I would be, but I had still done something terribly unworthy of a missionary, and I wasnít going to return home with honors. Even though I retained my membership, I knew my parents were still going to be devastated. My parents had moved to a new ward and my mother was no doubt anxious for all the members of her ward to meet and fall in love with her humorous, brilliant, good-looking, well-behaved son. "Brilliant" and "good-looking" could remain part of her highly biased view of me, but the definition of "well-behaved" was something she had to look to the Mormon Church for, and it had already made its judgment: guilty ó which in turn would greatly diminish anything remotely "humorous" about my disposition. My trip home was not going to be an easy one.
One Mormon fatherís reaction to his son
having been stabbed while serving a mission in
...the young manís father [said] that there are worse things for a Mormon missionary than wounds or even death.
He said that when their church president came to their home Saturday and said, "There has been a problem with Bradley," the family was "worried that heíd done something unworthy."...
They were apparently relieved to find out that Bradley hadnít sinned, and had instead merely been viciously stabbed by drunken Russians. His father explains why they were so glad to hear this:
"You see, weíd rather have him come home in a pine box than do something unworthy," Dale Bordern said, battling to hold back tears....
Tears coursed down Bordenís cheeks as he explained the importance for his missionary son to "choose the right, do what is right, return with honor."
Christopher said he recently had come home from a mission in
related how he and fellow missionaries were told that in ancient
"We want Bradley to return with his shield, or on it," Christopher said.
Thatís pressure ó no question about it. If, God forbid, Bradley were to have succumbed to the tempting invitation of a pretty Russian girl who fell madly in love with him, and he with her, his family would rather he were dead.
One has to wonder what the Mackintosh family thought of the Borden familyís preference that Bradley come home in a pine box rather than "do something unworthy." Quoting from the article again we learn that:
was stabbed once in the stomach, and his fellow Mormon missionary, Jose Manuel
Perhaps the Mackintoshís would rather have seen their son come home outside of the pine box that he came home in, even if he had done something so human as to commit a "sin" as defined by the leaders of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
At the end of my court, in a very compassionate tone, the mission president looked at me and said, "Elder, this doesnít erase all the good that you did on your mission. You were a good missionary, with lots of success, and the Lord will remember that." Then in a somber, sad tone he said, "It will take me a long time to get over this, if I ever get over it."
Pressure built up in my face. I tried to fight back all the tears, but a couple escaped. I simply nodded, unable to speak.
My mission president apparently did get over it eventually. A few years later, while serving as a bishop, he was arrested for soliciting a prostitute and forcefully resisting arrest. He has since repented and returned to the fold. I chose another path.
That afternoon I was escorted to my apartment to collect my things. A flight was quickly booked for me to leave the next day ó just one week before the official end of my mission. I spent the remainder of that day with nothing to do but sit and ponder how painful my return home was going to be.
I had already packed, so the next morning was a leisurely one. More time to think. More time to dread. Standing in the lobby of he mission home, I was finally down to my last few minutes. The mission presidentís wife walked in and stood across the room from me. She asked nicely, and matter-of-factly, if I was waiting to be taken to the airport. I confirmed that I was, and we soaked up a moment of awkward silence together.
I wondered what she knew.
The financial secretary walked out of his office. He knew that I was about to leave, and he had a very strong hunch as to why. I smiled at him as best I could. He stood and looked at me for a moment. Then he walked over, wrapped his arms around me, and did something I will never forget. He wept.
At the time I felt as if I desperately needed to be comforted. Suddenly, though, I was comforting someone else, and it made me feel good. It was encouraging to know that I was still able to do so in my condition. I told him not to worry about me, that I would be fine.
I think he gave me what I needed more than anything else at that moment. I needed to be convinced that I was still worth loving, and he did it in an irrefutable way, by empathetically crying over my situation. Friendship doesnít get any better, or stronger, than that. I will always be grateful to him for that classy show of compassion.
The mission presidentís wife watched the whole thing. She said nothing. I again wondered what she knew.
Based on the description of my missionís final two days, readers might guess what a 20-plus hour trip home was like for me. It gave me a lot of time to dwell, plenty of time to shudder at the thought of facing my parents. It was lotís and lotís of time, but still it wasnít enough. I didnít want the trip to end. I wanted it to go on forever. I didnít want the plane to ever land. At the very least, I didnít want it to land at the airport where my parents were going to be waiting.
When the trip finally ended I sat and waited until everyone else was off the plane. I couldnít keep the flight staff waiting so I forced myself up and dragged my feet off the plane. When I neared the end of the exit tunnel, just before rounding the final corner where I would be in view of anyone waiting in the reception area, I stopped. I set my luggage down and leaned against the wall. I didnít want to walk around that corner where I knew my parents were waiting ó I didnít feel I could take it. I wanted to lie down, close my eyes and evaporate.
I knew I couldnít stay inside an airplane exit-tunnel forever, so I walked past the corner to face what lie ahead. I immediately saw my parents standing there all alone. Everyone else had left. This meeting was terribly hard on them as well, and my making them wait so long had made it even worse.
Dad forced a little smile. I know mom wanted to, but she couldnít. It was obvious sheíd been crying, and Iím sure she must have shed plenty of tears during the previous couple of days.
We exchanged big hugs, and then they took me home. They certainly still loved me. They made sure I understood that, and never once said or did anything to make me doubt it. My motherís dreams had been shattered, so it would be impossible and unfair to expect her not to have been terribly effected by what happened, but her love and concern for me was not diminished in the least.
The Borden family said they preferred that their
missionary son return to them dead with a clean record, rather than alive and
having done what I did. In stark contrast, my parents wished for nothing of the
sort. In fact my mother was angry that, as a direct result of my being disfellowshipped, I was disqualified to return to
The first thing a missionary does when he or she returns home is to give a homecoming talk. Not me. I was not allowed even to pray in church, let alone give a talk.
My mother had no doubt been talking excitedly to people in the ward about my return. Iím sure the fact that I would soon be returning was announced to everyone at church (I wonder how many noticed that I returned a week earlier than I was supposed to). The ward members were all certainly expecting to hear me speak on the first or second Sunday after my return. Instead, however, my return was merely announced by the bishop during sacrament meeting.
I stood up for everyone to see, and then sat back down without saying a word. Later, during that same meeting, the sacrament was passed around. Because I was a disfellowshipped sinner, I was unable to partake, and had to pass it on to the person sitting beside me.
All of these obvious signs sent a clear message to everyone in the ward: the newly returned missionary that arrived home a week early has sinned. The scarlet letter I had stitched in Victoria Park that night was now being worn by me every time I attended church.
People at church were nice, and I made some friends, but on the whole it was socially awkward and I hated going. I only went to make my parents happy. I knew I had hurt them enough, and I didnít want to do any more to them than I already had. So I went through the motions. None of this did my self-esteem any good.
Before long I met a girl that I started to date pretty steadily. The relationship developed to where sex became a regular part of it. In effect I was sinning while on probation.
My probation period involved regular interviews with the bishop and stake president. For a while I lied to them and said I was doing fine. Before long, though, I decided I had had enough. I no longer wanted to lie just so I could continue to participate in a charade I wanted no part of in the first place. I wanted to end it all. So I confessed.
At the time I had absolutely no harsh feelings against the Church. I had been programmed to blame myself for my unhappiness, and thatís what I did. I wasnít angry at the Church or any of its members, but I hated my life, and wanted to stop playacting. Something had to change and confessing was the only way I knew of to change things. Asking to have my name removed from church records, and my membership cancelled, never crossed my mind. I was still following the orders of my life-long indoctrination and was willing and ready to accept whatever judgment the Church gave me.
I didnít know if the Church was true or not. All I knew was that I was very unhappy in it and I wanted out, at least for a while. In the back of my mind I still felt that if any church was true then it was certainly the Mormon Church. I believed it was the most rational and logical of all religions, offering better, more thorough answers to all the deep theological questions. I decided to walk away from religion for the moment and believed that if I ever went back it would be to the Mormon Church.
I now look back at that belief of mine and laugh at it for two reasons: First, I had not studied other religions, so my assumption that the Mormon Church possessed the best answers was based on what I had been told by the Mormon Church itself. Second, I hadnít even studied Mormonism (which is typical of the vast majority of Mormons), so I believed it to be logical and rational based, again, on what it said about itself. So I allowed myself to remain in a confused limbo for years over a belief system that is anything but a logical and rational belief system; it is in fact very easy to refute.
I foolishly postponed investigating the Church. For the time being I just wanted out, and as long as all the unconscious baggage remained in my mind, confessing was the only conceivable way to do it. Unfortunately I waited 10 years to do my investigating. I say "unfortunately" because a recovering former believer of a particular belief system must come to terms with the question, "Is it true." Until that is done, there will always be a ball and chain to carry around, of various weights and sizes depending on oneís personal experience with the organization in question. When I finally did my studying and saw how easily the Mormon Church can be seen for what it is, I kicked myself for not doing it years earlier. The truth really does make one free.
A court was quickly arranged and I received a letter in the mail informing me of the time and date. I arrived at the chapel with my parents. They were not allowed to attend the court so they waited outside in the lobby. I was escorted in by my bishop. I wasnít prepared for what awaited me. Filling the small room to capacity were fourteen men in suits and ties standing around a conference table. I was escorted to one end of the table and stood there with their eyes upon me. It was the most intimidating moment of my life.
The first councilor of the stake presidency headed the hearing. He instructed everyone to sit. He explained the charges and asked me to confirm my guilt. After going over what I had confessed, I was then subjected to all the men asking me questions as if I were at a press conference. The questions involved actions going back to even before my mission and were mostly related to masturbation, pornography, and sex. Whether or not I had masturbated before my mission (two years prior to the date of my hearing) surely had no bearing whatsoever on the outcome of my hearing. The only reason I can figure as to why I was asked such a question, is that every man present must have wanted to feel he was playing a useful part in the hearing and therefore asked anything he could think of that hadnít already been asked by someone else. I went through the robot motions of indoctrination and answered all their questions, which is something I regret very much, because those men had no right to expect me to answer any of those questions. It was a perverted and bizarre expression of power by some men over others.**
When asked, I chose to say nothing on my own behalf, and did not plead to keep my membership. My bishop, a wonderful man, sat beside me throughout the hearing. I donít know the official logistics of court procedures, but the bishop appeared to be acting as a character witness in my defense. He spoke admiringly of my parents, saying they were a wonderful contribution to the ward, but, oddly, the only thing he seemed to be able to say in my defense was that I was very intelligent, something he repeated three times during his presentation. I appreciated the compliment but was wondering how that particular characteristic (putting aside the question of its validity) was supposed to help me in this type of a court, one where my eternal soul was on the brink for the deeply serious act of having consensual sex with another unmarried adult.
I was judged guilty based on my personal confession. The sentence was excommunication.
In closing, the officiator said he was not asking anything of me that was not also required of him. He, after all, was required to maintain a monogamous relationship with his wife. Masked behind his indignant tone, I detected what appeared like resentment. I felt as if he were taking the opportunity to vent a little frustration out on me with a declaration of self-righteousness. He was strong where I was not.
Not only did his tone of voice surprise me, but I was also puzzled by the fact that he said it at all. He certainly knew I was well aware of the fact that the Mormon Church required him to live a monogamous marriage. Why state something so obvious for everyone in the court to hear? I think the law of chastity, requiring that he remain monogamous, may have been causing him some frustration. Maybe it is these types of feelings that cause many members to assume that people leave the church so they can "sin" free of guilt. They think, If it wasnít for the Church, I could do such-and-such and not feel guilty. How that is supposed to work, I am not sure. Iím an atheist, but I could not cheat on my wife without feeling guilty about it. I seriously doubt that many Mormons put much serious thought into this common accusation.
This logic only works for "sinful" actions that are uniquely Mormon. Ironically, then, if the Church is false, an attempt to rid oneís self of church-induced guilt would have to be judged as a worthy endeavor. For example, it would not be sinful to hate doing genealogy, to hate reading scriptures, to stay home from church, to strongly disagree with Mormon leaders, to donate to worthy charities instead of paying tithing, and on and on. One is free to come to their own conclusions about the rightness or wrongness of what they do privately, either alone or with another consenting adult. If one claims people leave the Church so they can feel good about oppressing the disadvantaged or seducing other menís wives, then they are concluding that Mormonism has a monopoly on such morals, which is absurd.
Without Mormonism, would a responsible person live by the rule: anything goes? Certainly not. However, there is truth to the assertion that those who leave the Church will suffer less guilt from doing, or not doing, those things the Church defines as sinful to do, or not do. None of this has anything at all to do with the truthfulness of the Church. That has to be determined separately. But if itís not true, why suffer from unnecessary guilt? Isnít it worth the time to find out if the Church really holds up under careful investigation? Is there a believing Mormon in existence that doesnít suffer from uniquely-Mormon guilt? Why suffer through it if Mormonism is merely a man-made creation? Are the benefits of membership worth it? For Mormons who say ďYes,Ē what exactly are the benefits if it isnít true?
Were I to sit in that court today, I would not answer a single one of their perverted questions. I would ask for my church membership to be cancelled.
As for the stake presidencyís first councilor ending the court by saying that he required nothing more of me than is required of him, I have a belated response: "I wasnít married, nor was my girlfriend, so your comparison was senseless. Even more telling, though, is that The Churchís founder had sexual morals that would shock even people who approve of my having had consensual premarital sex. Joseph Smith had Ďsexual relationships with polygamous wives as young as fourteen, polyandry of women with more than one husband, [and] marriage and sexual cohabitation with foster daughters.í (The Mormon Hierarchy: Origins of Power, pg. 89, by D. Michael Quinn) Did any of you who sat in judgment over me that day even know that? If not, why did you all choose to remain so ignorant of the history of an organization you were, and perhaps still are, devoting a very large part of your lives to? Isnít it ironic, considering the behavior of the Churchís founder, that you sat before me as judges that day and declared me unfit for membership."
I titled this ďA Happy EndingĒ because I am living as fulfilling and meaningful a life as anyone can expect in this unpredictable world of ours. I donít think thatís possible to do when one devotes most of oneís time and energy to something that is false.
I can be contacted at: email@example.com
*In Atheism: The Case Against God, George H. Smith wrote: "To be moral, according to Jesus, man must shackle his reason. He must force himself to believe that which he cannot understand. He must suppress, in the name of morality, any doubts that surface in his mind. He must regard as a mark of excellence an unwillingness to subject religious beliefs to critical examination. Less criticism leads to more faith ó and faith, Jesus declares, is the hallmark of virtue... The psychological impact of this doctrine is devastating. To divorce morality from truth is to turn man's reason against himself... To the extent that a man believes that his mind is a potential enemy, that it may lead to the 'evils' of question-asking and criticism, he will feel the need for intellectual passivity ó to deliberately sabotage his mind in the name of virtue. Reason becomes a vice, something to be feared, and man finds that his worst enemy is his own capacity to think and question. One can scarcely imagine a more effective way to introduce perpetual conflict into man's consciousness and thereby produce a host of neurotic symptoms."
**Mormonism is a patriarchal society with very strict sexual moral codes. To ensure that members adhere to the rules, they are frequently interviewed by their male bishops in face-to-face, one-on-one meetings, and detailed questions about their sexual lives (including masturbation) are asked of both sexes beginning at the age of 12. In The Demon-Haunted World, Carl Sagan writes about the perverted aspects of the inquisition that I think offer a relevant comparison. "There were strong erotic and misogynistic elements ó as might be expected in a sexually repressed, male-dominated society with inquisitors drawn from the class of nominally celibate priests. The trials paid close attention to the quality and quantity of orgasm in the supposed copulations of defendants with demons or the Devil... ĎDevilís marksí were found Ďgenerally on the breasts or private partsí according to Ludovico Sinistrariís 1700 book. As a result pubic hair was shaved, and the genitalia were carefully inspected by the exclusively male inquisitors...." Of course Iím not saying that modern day Mormonism is the equivalent of the Catholic Churchís inquisition during the Dark Ages, but I certainly do believe that any patriarchal society such as the Mormon Churchís lends itself to instances of abuse, including sexual abuse. Other stories on this Web site seem to confirm this, as well as numerous media reports of the Churchís attempts to cover-up instances of sexual child abuse that were committed by priesthood holders.
Return to : https://www.exmormon.org
January 2004 - Updated Dec. 2007