No single event led us to this point of departure (or is it a point of arrival?). Perhaps some background information on both of us will help you better understand our journey.
My family on my father's side goes back to pioneer days. My mother's family joined the church when she was young. She was raised in the church just as my father was. My mother's father had a drinking problem. He also smoked, though he was a member of the church. When I was born, my grandfather vowed never to drink or smoke again, and he kept his promise. As I was growing up, he was the High Priest Group leader. My father went on a mission as did many of his eight other brothers and sisters. My father's parents went on a welfare mission when they were older. My father, unlike my grandfather, did not have many "important" callings in the church. But both of my parents always had callings. My family at home occasionally had family home evening and we occasionally would read in the scriptures or have family prayer. I am the oldest of seven brothers and sisters. I always wanted to go on a mission and when I was 19, I was sent to the Germany Hamburg Mission.
Andrea is the tenth of twelve children. She was born in Salzburg, Austria. Her parents were converts to Mormonism from Catholicism. Her parents also held callings as they were growing up. Andrea's father, who is now deceased, was even a branch president in Salzburg for a short time. Her family held family home evening more regularly and held family prayer morning and night without fail. Three of her older brothers and sisters went on missions. Due to conflicts with her parents (due partly to their raising five of the grandkids as well as their twelve children), Andrea moved out of her parents home shortly before she was eighteen. She went and lived with other members of the church who were active and well-off financially. The father of the family she stayed with later became the long-serving branch president in the Haag branch in Austria. His example was important to Andrea. He has since left the church for doctrinal reasons and is an outspoken critic of the church in Austria, appearing even on national television to discuss the truth about the Mormons. When Andrea was 21 she went on a mission to the Germany Hamburg Mission. Andrea's experience going through the Swiss temple, alone, the day before she was to arrive in Hamburg on her mission, was the seed that eventually led to her leaving the church. She felt like she was a part of the Punch and Judy Show. She kept praying that God would forgive her for the strange things she was doing during the endowment. The only thing that kept her in the session was recognizing that her parents and many of those she looked up do all went to the temple regularly. If they did all the crazy things in the temple she was now experiencing for the first time, then it must be okay for her to do it too.
Obviously, we were both in the same mission. We were there at the same time too. We served under President Richard K. Klein, currently an Area Authority in Utah. He was a strict conservative, but a likeable man and a hard worker. I served as the Mission Secretary/Secretary to the President for six months. I will never know if I was called to this position because I had admitted to a bout of masturbation and the president wanted to keep and eye on me, or whether it was because I was the only elder who could type 65 wpm. My stint in the mission office was my first real experience with church leadership. As a youth, I had been the deacon's quorum president, teacher's quorum president and the Bishop's Assistant as a priest, but this was different. Although I was always uplifted spiritually at our Zone Conferences and Leadership Meetings, I noticed how much the Elders jockeyed for positions of power and how much emphasis was placed on minute rules. I learned rebellion on my mission because of the shear number and stupidity of the rules we were forced to comply with. Those who did not comply were not spiritual, I thought, so I complied. I eventually left the Mission Office to serve as a district leader, which I did for the rest of my mission (another 10 months). Andrea, being a "Sister", was not allowed to hold leadership positions. We both still value our mission experiences, but not for the reasons active members might think. We view it as a sort of Peace Corp experience, a big service project.
I went to BYU after I returned from my mission. At a mission reunion held on BYU's campus, I met Andrea personally for the first time. While we were engaged, I attended BYU Study Abroad in Vienna, Austria. It was in Vienna that I was first introduced to democrats and intellectuals, some of whom where my professors there, and all of whom were members of the church. I value this experience perhaps more than my mission. It was here that I finally learned to think for myself. It was here that I first learned about the book of Romans in the New Testament, and grace. After Vienna, I considered myself a democrat and an intellectual.
Andrea and I married in the Manti Temple because that was where her sister had married an American returned missionary, and it was also where my parents had married. I was so steeped in the Mormon tradition that I actually criticized her prayers for being too rote! That thought now makes me shudder. We had our first child after reading in Mormon Doctrine that it was not appropriate to delay having children for any reason. I regret not having spent a little more time courting my spouse early in our marriage rather than raising a young boy. Andrea regrets nothing about children and could handle 10 more just fine.
Shortly after our first child was born, I was selected to serve as an Intern with the State Department that the United States Embassy in Bern, Switzerland. As I was waiting for my security clearance, we stayed with friends and family in Austria. One of those friends was Dr. Alfred Mika, the Haag branch president, and the family that Andrea had lived with before her mission. It was there, half-way across the world, as a newly formed intellectual, that I was introduced to Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. I was fascinated. Alfred had the whole series it seemed and I read as many articles as I could during my short time there. That was the first inkling I had that something wasn't right with the church--and I never let it go. I learned about polygamy, masonry, differing versions of the first vision, the blacks and the priesthood issue, and the mass excommunications from the French Mission in the 1960's (I think it was then).
Andrea was skeptical and concerned about losing her faith, though she had her own doubts. When we returned, I had graduated from BYU. Shortly thereafter I started law school. I received offers from several schools, including BYU and the University of Utah. I chose the University of Utah, and I am so glad that I did. Law school at the University of Utah was my first exposure to radical thinking and sustained intellectual scrutiny. My values were constantly challenged and thus were constantly being molded. I worked with the homeless, gays, minorities and others and expanded my horizons like never before. Alfred, our friend from Austria, flew to Utah during the Sunstone Symposium in 1992. It was there that I was exposed to the most interesting information I had ever learned about the church. Tables of books, Sunstone, Gerald and Sandra Tanner, lots of exmormons. I then started to subscribe to Dialogue and Sunstone.The next year I tagged along with Alfred and his friend who had returned to investigate the truthfulness of the church--Alfred was still the branch president at the time. They visited the church archives and investigated issues raised by Fawn Brodie and many others. By the end of their visit, it was clear that they had not found the magic documents they were looking for. They announced they would be leaving the church. Later that year we got a letter from Alfred that he had left the church and that his prominent LDS family would no longer attend church services. Although at the time I had many of my own doubts, I thought this was a rash step. My thinking was that Mormons are an ethnicity, not just a religion. You can't just stop being one, so why not play the game as best you can, while entertaining all the doubt you want? Andrea, who still had not read much of what I had read, secretly maintained the doubts she had all along.
After graduating from law school, I took a job as a government attorney and was transferred to Florida. Once there, I entertained the thought of becoming inactive. Nevertheless, we decided to try church once. We were asked to speak shortly thereafter. Everyone liked our talks, particularly mine. A member of the high council was there. They needed a new Elder's Quorum President so they asked me. I was a great speaker so I had to be a true-blue Mormon, right? Well, I played the part, but I never enjoyed it. I was radical and didn't care about rules and statistics. I'm sure I wouldn't have lasted long, but luckily we moved into the other ward at that time. I was released. But because I was such a catch for the new ward, I was immediately called as the Executive Secretary. This was my first experience in a bishopric. It was boring really. Everything was so business like. We made decisions about callings then prayed about them. The answer was always yes. At times, things were too business like. It seemed the whole affair was devoid of the spirit of Christ. I felt like I was in the mission field again, with its focus on rules and statistics rather than Christ. I remember in particular one shocking event. A poor family had moved into the area and was looking for a home to rent. In the mean time, they had no where to stay. They had left a home where there was much drinking and smoking and they didn't want to raise their children in that environment. They were inactive, but nonetheless Mormon. The bishop basically refused to help them, saying it was their own fault, they should turn to their family first (the drunken brothel they had just left) and because they chose to leave a home they couldn't even expect members to take them in until they found a place to live. My wife and I took them in anyway--but this was an outrage. Blame the poor for their own poverty and sooth your conscience when you refuse them assistance. So very Christlike. Not.
Nearly a year later, the stake we were in was split in half. They formed a new stake with the new stake center being our chapel. I was such a good Ward Executive Secretary, I guess, that they called me to be the first Stake Executive Secretary for the new stake. I was excited and somehow honored, so I took the job. All the time I had continued my studies of Dialogue and Sunstone. My sister also announced that she was lesbian and eventually married her girlfriend. All of these events, and other's reactions to them, continued to draw me further away from my belief in the church. What finally gave me the courage to part ways with the church was my experience in the Stake Presidency. They meetings were long, and often. But what was worse, they were constantly focused on silly rules (white shirts and ties, length of shorts, dress standards for youth, chaperone issues). The stake president himself actually got into heated exchange (via letter) with the stake president of the stake we had been formed from--all over money! None of the high council talks were inspired. They president just told the each council member to pick a topic and write an outline. Those topics were then divided into the year and given on the month they I had assigned for each. There was not even an attempt to maintain the appearance that the monthly message was what the stake president was inspired should be preached throughout the stake on that month. What I despised the most was the absolute requirement that Aaronic Priesthood boys wear white shirts or they couldn't pass the sacrament. They wouldn't be given baptismal temple recommends and would basically go to hell! Likewise, Melchizedec Priesthood holders had to wear white shirts at all times to set the example for the youth! You had to take the sacrament with the right hand and women couldn't wear pants in the chapel. These were the affairs of the kingdom of God! This is what the Stake Presidency spent six hours every week discussing and enforcing. I'm sure not all stakes are this way, but one is enough evidence of serious underlying problems in the organization.
We had a visiting general authority during our first annual conference. That was interesting too. Nothing magic or special about him. Though I did like him. He was clearly less rule oriented than our stake president.
My wife and I had stopped paying tithing at about this time. Almost a year later, when tithing settlement rolled around we told the bishop we couldn't afford it. He threatened us by saying that he hoped Christ didn't come (implying we would be burned if he did!). The threat didn't work. I had always assumed conversations with the bishop were confidential, but eventually our "sin" was communicated to the Stake President. I had been teaching institute during this same period of time and was not following the official lesson plan. I taught a lot about grace. I even talked about grace when I was speaking in several wards under the direction of the Stake President (he didn't screen the talk beforehand). Word of my radical teachings (grace) must have gotten out too, though the tithing thing was what caused the Stake President to visit with me. He asked about the tithing thing, and basically scolded me for not having more faith or more financial acumen. He also warned me to stay away from Dialogue and Sunstone. I basically told him I could handle it. The next week I was released. I also stopped teaching institute (on my own). We were planning a move and that was the official premise of the release. But the move was months away. I was happy to be free of the onerous meetings anyway.
Not long after my release, I remember Easter Sunday. The member of the bishopric who was responsible for getting the talks lined up just assigned random topics for Easter Sunday (he had obviously forgotten it was Easter). What's worse, those who actually spoke on Easter either forgot too, or felt so obligated to follow the "inspired" topic assigned to them that they didn't once mention anything about Christ or his birth or death or resurrection! I knew then that someday I would leave the church. It was not Christ's church. There was more talk of Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon than about Christ and matters were getting worse.
We now live in Alabama. We decided to continue to go to church, but we eschewed callings. There seemed to be less emphasis on clothing here (white shirts were merely encouraged, in Florida you would be "tapped out" if you tried to pass with a colored dress shirt!) I actually was the Sunday School President, but luckily that required no effort. I never went to ward council meetings, though I was often invited. I had enough of bureaucracy, rules, etc. When my wife was called in by the bishop early after or move, she told him not to give her a calling because she no longer believed the church was true. Since that day, he seemed to avoid us. We only recently had home teachers visit us, probably on assignment to save us. Consistent with our Easter experience, the speakers on Christmas Sunday likewise never mentioned Jesus Christ, not his birth not his life or death--nothing! They talked about BYU and Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon. I was in the wrong church!
Shortly after moving to Alabama, I discovered Eric's website. This time my wife became as interested as I was. She and I read all of the letters posted there. We realized we were not alone. That others had seen that the church was not true and not only survived after leaving, they thrived! We wanted to thrive. When the time was right, we knew we too would leave the church. It happened just this week [Jan. 1998]. The time was right, we could wait no longer.
As Columbus said "Nothing that results in human progress is achieved with unanimous consent. Those who are enlightened before the others are condemned to pursue that light in spite of others." Our parents and siblings do not know. We are concerned about breaking their true-blue Mormon hearts. My brother is on a mission in Florida. I don't want to mess that up and become a pariah in the family. Andrea's brother has left the church and her mother was hurt. She doesn't want to inflict more hurt. Luckily, her family is in Austria and my family is in Utah. If they ever ask us, we will tell them. If it ever comes up, we will not hide who we are. Right now, though, we see no need to announce those who have looked up to us for so long that we are condemned to follow the light we have found in spite of them. We are leaving the church to remain honest with ourselves and avoid problems with our children. We are convinced that the church brainwashes them. All they learn in Primary is "follow the prophet, he knows the way!" Even our nine year old son won't hear us talk of leaving the church. Because he is a minor, we are having his name removed as well. He can decide later in his life. At least he will have all the information we now have. If he chooses to join the church then, we will support him and love him--though I hope we will be more successful in raising him than that.
God help us in this exciting journey. We are free at last to pursue our dreams and worship God according to the dictates of our own conscience, not the dictates of a man in his eighties who all but admitted in the national media that he does not speak with God as Moses did. He speaks to God just like we do, and God speaks to him just like he does to us. That being the case, who needs a prophet? I prefer to eliminate the middle man and save 10% to boot!
Write to the author of this story, David updated Feb 2012