I was born and grew up in the city of Tulsa, Oklahoma. My older brother and I were the sons of working class parents. We were raised Southern Baptist and, along with our parents, regularly attended a local Baptist church throughout my childhood and early adolescence. I must say I did see a lot of hypocrisy in the Baptist faith, however, certainly no more than I later saw in the LDS faith. I took away from my Baptist upbringing certain values which were instilled by conscientious Sunday School teachers. Most notable among these was a priority system that placed God first, others second, and myself third. These priorities have stayed with me, at least in part, to this day.
When I was five years old my family moved to a home which was next door to a house with a garage apartment in which lived LDS missionaries. Throughout my childhood I remember infrequent contact with the residents of the apartment next door but they were overall good neighbors. I remember a pair of sister missionaries who lived there once who gave a friend and I cookies for shoveling snow off their sidewalk and porch. One of those sisters was also an English teacher who occasionally helped my brother with his school work. I don't remember any of the missionaries over the years actually doing any proselytizing in the neighborhood until I was fourteen years old. When I was fourteen there were two motivated Elders who struck up a conversation with my father and got themselves a dinner appointment along with an appointment to teach my parents and I the first discussion. That was in the summer of 1973. The first discussion was the first significant information I had ever heard about the LDS Church, what it was and what it was all about. Not knowing any better, I was quite impressed with the Joseph Smith story and at that point I began to listen to the missionaries. As I recall my parents and I took four discussions together after which the two of them decided that was enough. I, however, liked what the Elders had to say and began a routine from then on of hanging out with them at their pit in their off time. There were many Elders who resided next door from the time I embraced the Church till the time I was baptized and thereafter. My routine consisted of coming home from school, doing homework, watching TV, then milling around waiting for the guys to get home. I became very familiar with the LDS missionary lifestyle. We had a lot of fun doing guy stuff though. I remember sometimes at the end of the week the guys would be a discussion or two short and I would hear..."Oh Staannnn .......will you come over here for awhile......." I would go over to their apartment and they would open their flip chart, breeze over some pertinent Church doctrine, count it as a discussion, and then we would go out and toss around the football. I remember them cutting a lot of corners in the name of fellowshipping a prospective member, like going to movies and other places. Hanging out with the missionaries was overall a fun time for me. Over the years I got to know many Elders who lived in that apartment. Several were zealous true believers like the one who baptized me but it was obvious that some were there merely to please their family. All were trunky young men who were counting down the days till Hump Day and Departure Day. I think deep down seeing the struggles that some of these poor guys put up with in their day to day life as a missionary averted me from seeking to go on a mission after I joined the Church.
I began to attend church with the missionaries after hanging out with them for about a year. This was not something that sat well with my Baptist parents at first. My father was smart enough to realize that what religion I chose to follow was not something he had any control over so he eventually let me have my way. I went to church with the missionaries off and on for over a year. Because of my age I was not GQ'ed until I was sixteen. The night I consented to be baptized was an experience in and of itself. Two new Elders who had just moved in earlier in the week were in need of a baptism. When they found out that I had the six discussions something on the order of five times and had not yet consented to baptism, our evening bull session turned into a wrestling match, all in good fun of course. One of them pinned me to the floor and asked me, "Stan, are you going to be baptized?" I defiantly said, "No!" Then his companion poured cooking grease in my hair! (Does anyone think I would have had substantial enough grounds to claim duress later?) Anyway, at that time we were talking about the sixth discussion before and after our bull session/wrestling match and I did eventually consent to baptism that evening. Truly, I thought that baptism at that time was reasonable in spite of doubts I had regarding certain Church doctrines. In retrospect I see that I was then just a little boy with a little mind who had heard the message repeated enough that I had taken it to heart. As it turned out, becoming part of the group dynamic wasn't nearly as much fun as hanging out with the guys in their pit.
I initially flunked my baptism interview with the Stake mission leader. The guys did not prepare me for the abortion question. At the time I really had no opinion of the abortion issue but I did think that aborting an unviable fetus or terminating a pregnancy to save a woman's life was reasonable. The interviewer of course did not agree. After he conferred with the Lord in prayer and the Stake President by telephone I was cleared for baptism. I do vividly remember my baptism. I was baptized in January 1976 in what later became the Tulsa East Stake Center which had an unheated font. It was about as close as I ever came to joining the Polar Bear Club.
I do have bitter-sweet memories of my first year in the Church. Holding the Aaronic Priesthood office of Priest and performing the duties connected with it like blessing the Sacrament gave me a new found sense of importance. I did experienced my first love and first case of heartbreak with another newly baptized Church member. I recall around the beginning of my Senior year of high school my Bishop approaching me with 'mission calling' in his eyes and asking me what my plans were for after high school. When I told him I was taking my physical for the Navy in a couple of weeks he grimaced like he was getting a rectal exam with a police baton. I remember most of the Aaronic Priesthood quorum advisors heavily pushing the idea of serving a mission. I remember tuning out most of that nonsense. I also remember that aside from my continuous contact with the missionaries, my contact with other Church members in my day to day life at school was virtually non-existent. I most certainly got no encouragement from my parents to continue in Church. Although I was now a baptized member, my primary source of support for faith in my new religion was the missionaries. Other than the Elders, my closest associates at school were all non members and were all into Senior year partying. After awhile I joined them in a few outings. I eventually got a job which kept me busy on weekends and I stopped attending meetings. In spite of all of that I still embraced and deep down wanted to believe in the restored Gospel according to Joseph Smith. I knew I would eventually return to Church. I just was not ready to deal with the whole litany of responsibility involved with being an active member at that time. It was this period, the second year post baptism, that I began to explore other avenues to achieving a sense of inner peace. These included frequent sojourns into various occult practices such as card reading and astrology which served well their purpose in my life at the time.
In January 1978 I entered the Navy. Although I did attend a few LDS services to get out of the barracks on Sunday mornings during recruit training, I was still inactive for most of my first two years of service. I was in Hospital Corps School in San Diego when I learned of the revelation in April 1978 which gave men of black African ancestery the Priesthood. Since the doctrine forbidding blacks to hold the Priesthood was one of the things I had a problem with, I remember suddenly feeling much better about the Church. A returned missionary in my Corps School class was rather upset by that revelation though. He seemed to have a genuine need to feel superior. In hindsight I must say that I am thoroughly ashamed for having chose to involve myself in such an organization which had such an overtly racist policy for so long.
In spite of the party line of the Brethren being a little easier to accept, it wasn't till I got homeported in San Diego on a surface vessel that I again began to attend church again with any regularity. There were the religious wars on the ship with the born-again fundamentalists who incessantly pushed their version of the one-size-fits-all plan for happiness. Even when I was a Church member I felt that religion was a personal thing and not something that should be worn on one's sleeve. I must say that the religious debate grew old for me. During my second deployment to the Western Pacific in late 1980 I experienced the watershed event in my life that pushed me over the hump from youth to adulthood. The ship I was serving on rescued over 280 Southeast Asian refugees. I was a second class hospital corpsman and the ship's junior medical department representative. Being a small combatant vessel, we did not carry a medical officer as part of ship's company. My boss, an independent duty corpsman, was gone due to an emergency leave situation so I was the only medical department representative onboard. My ship was involved in two refugee rescue operations during this time, one which occurred in heavy seas. During the rescue in heavy seas a 14 month old refugee child died in my arms. Needless to say I got stressed out over such an incident and not long after went seeking that seemingly elusive sense of inner peace. Since frequent off duty drinking and womanizing wasn't getting me where I felt I should be spiritually, I made a vow to myself that when I got off cruise I would go back to Church. Given we were only going to be in San Diego for six weeks before going to the shipyard in Bremerton, WA, I made a vow to myself to get back active in Bremerton. I spent the last eight months of my first enlistment in Bremerton and attended Church as often as I could attend meetings. I attended Institute classes on Wednesday nights for the first time since I was baptized. It was during this time that I got more familiar with the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants than I ever had previously. In spite of my studying and praying I must say that I saw and felt nothing that supported my faith in the Church besides those stalwart members whose faith seemingly carried them and those around them including me. This is where I became somewhat aware that I was dependent upon the faith of other people just like I had been dependent upon the faith of the missionairies when I first joined the Church. I didn't really give this any consideration at the time since Church provided me with the social outlet that I needed. In that sense it was beneficial. This dependence did become a pattern of behavior of mine which would last until I finally was able to rationally question why I was involved in the Church and finally remove myself from it.
I returned home to Tulsa in December 1981 after my first enlistment in the Navy and remained in the Naval Reserve while I attended school and worked at a local hospital. I also remained as active as I could be in Church but since I was either working or drilling with my Reserve unit on most Sundays my attendance was infrequent. I changed wards once in the three and half years I lived in Tulsa then. When I moved to my new ward I was approached about taking a calling as the Young Adult Sunday School instructor. In a ward where YA returned missionaries numbered almost in double digits why on Earth would I be called for such a job? That's the question that kept swirling around in my head as I stood up in Sacrament Meeting to be sustained in my new calling. Well, an LDS doctrine scholar I wasn't. Teaching a room full of RM's was like swimming in a shark tank. I asked my Bishop to release me from that calling after about three months. He complied with my request and thanked me for accepting the calling when I did. I never held any more callings in the Church other than home teacher after that. I did stay active in Church though, at least as far as attending meetings, paying tithing, and observing the lifestyle hoping to eventually receive some enlightenment and gain for myself that ethereal intangible which is fundamental to the Faith know as a Testimony.
In June of 1985 I moved to Oklahoma City to attend school at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center. Again, I worked nights on the weekends and made it to Church when I could. I moved to Norman, OK at the end of my first year of school at OU in June of 1986. I quit my weekend job and was able to attend Church more frequently in Norman. In reality I was the happiest I had ever been in the Church during the time I lived in Norman. I mean life was good. I was in my Senior year of college, the Sooners were the reigning National Champions in football, and my ward had a lot of very good people in it. If ignorance was bliss then I had found Nirvana. Since the Sooners were winning, tickets to home football games were rare commodities. The Norman Stake had a contract with the university to clean Oklahoma Memorial Stadium after every home game. The earnings were used to pay the building fund. Those were the OU glory days of the 80's. I would watch the Team on TV hang half a hundred, usually more, on the visiting opponent then wait for the crowd to thin out before heading over for stadium clean up. It is so unbelievable to imagine that me, one who is now a diehard OU fan who bleeds crimson and cream, first set foot in Oklahoma Memorial Stadium at Owen Field as a minimum wage laborer for the LDS Church! There I was though after the OU home games, picking up cups, nacho trays, peanut shells and cigarette butts. Now knowing the net monetary and asset value of the Mormon corporate empire, memories like that one tend to make me angry. Its just another thing of which I've been learning to let go.
In the Spring of my Senior year of college (1987), I by chance was able to locate my first love who had joined the Church the month after I did in 1976. We became an item again for a short while before and just after my graduation from college before we toned it down. It was shortly after the word got around my ward somehow that we had toned it down and were no longer thinking in terms of marriage that I got a call from a member of the Relief Society. This sister called me and explained that there was a divorced sister in the ward who had expressed to her an interest in meeting me. I got this call the week after I had taken my Navy commissioning oath. I was leaving for Officer Indoctrination School in Rhode Island in a couple of months and I thought I had nothing to lose by meeting someone. Little did I know just how much taking this RS member up on this date to meet this person would alter the course of my life.
I had just had my Patriarchal Blessing and received the Melchizedek Priesthood a couple of months before I got this call from the sister. Again, I still had no real Testimony of my own. I was still waiting for the enlightenment which would motivate me to progress up the spiritual chain of command of faith. Having gotten through school, I felt the next step for me was to get married. I was abiding by the counsel of the Brethren as best as I could but had no real prospects. Not to worry, leave it to the Saints to help their own.
I kept the date to meet this divorced sister. The RS member who called me set it up for an evening at her and her husband's place. It went well and we initially liked each other. She gave me the impression that she had been aware of my presence for the year I had been in Norman but lacked the courage to approach me. She was attractive and that got my attention as attractive eligible LDS women seemed rare. I didn't see her for about a week after that then when we saw each other again, at another money making function for the Church (taking inventory at a department store), there was no doubt that the attraction was mutual. We continued to see each other after that with increasing frequency. No doubt I was in love/lust. I actually did do what the Brethren would have recommended. I fasted and prayed with a sincere heart about my love and commitment to this person. On a break from a three day class I was taking at the Oklahoma City VA Hospital I got my answer. I got that indescribable warm fuzzy in my bosom while sitting on a bench in the warmth of the sun on an Oklahoma July morning. I knew from what my heart told me that morning that she and I should get married. I made my decision to commit to this person solely on the counsel of my heart. Did I ever allow my heart to sell me a bill of goods
Love most certainly is blind. It was in this case anyway. I assume responsibility for setting myself up for what became to me the worst ordeal of my life, however, had it not been for a well meaning member of the Relief Society odds are this whole thing would have never been. This woman and I were married by the Norman Stake President thirty days after we met. Marrying this woman meant having to embrace all of her baggage for better or worse. Our marriage on such short notice most certainly was NOT discouraged by the Bishop of our ward or the Stake Patriarch who was in our ward. Once the honeymoon was over I became all too familiar with the some of the deep, dark, dirty secrets which are common in the Church but never talked about openly and which have been well highlighted by other contributors to this story list. Had I wanted to set myself up for failure I don't think I could have done better than this marriage.
My now ex-spouse had been previously married to a true believing Mormon. They both joined the Church early in their marriage and were later sealed in the Salt Lake Temple with their two daughters. He had spent eight years in the Navy and they had moved to Norman when he left the service so he could go to school at OU. While in Norman they were all quite the happy, church going LDS family or so it seemed to the people at church who knew them. While he attended classes, she worked as a beautician and was their family's sole source of support most of the time. He was the scoutmaster at church and was the one who got his wife and children to Church every Sunday. Evil always seems to be found where its least expected.
Incest has always been an alien concept to me.
It was eventually discovered that my ex-spouse's first husband had been carrying on an incestuous sexual relationship with their oldest daughter from the time she was three years old until she was almost ten. This, of course, was the beginning of the end of their marriage. The Church did take appropriate action with this person and immediately convened a Bishop's Court, excommunicated him (the whole time with her weeping at his side) and basically drop kicked his ass out of the community. But wait, that wasn't his only transgression. Early in their marriage, according to my ex-spouse, he raped her and had been frequently verbally abusive. This had profound and long term psychological effects on her. After it became clear to him that there would be no reconciliation with my ex-spouse, he found him a disfellowshipped inactive Church woman from out of state and married her. He left the state with her to avoid paying his duly adjudicated child support shortly thereafter. Since there was at that time no means to procure funds awarded in judgment without incurring more legal expense and court costs, my ex's LDS attorney who was the Bishop of the other ward in town dismissed her efforts and told her "Let the Lord deal him now." or words to that effect. Her first husband's departure from the life of my ex-spouse and her two girls happened approximately five months before we met.
There was not a day in my marriage to my ex-spouse that I did not have to deal with fallout generated by incest, spouse abuse, and financial abandonment committed by a deadbeat in some way, shape, or form.
The week after my ex and I were married I departed for Officer Indoctrination School in Newport, Rhode Island for six weeks. My first duty station after OIS was Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton, CA. Having been a Navy spouse once before, my ex was smart enough to realize that if we were married before I went to OIS that the Navy would pay to move her and the girls to California with me. That is what happened. Shortly after our wedding, I heard my ex explain to a friend of hers how we met. She said that she had known about me and had seen me in Church for over a year but after finding out that I had been in the Navy and was a student she wanted nothing to do with me. The truth is that she did not really become interested in me until after I had graduated from college, had my degree in hand and gold bar on collar. Needless to say, hearing this raised a great deal of suspicion in my mind regardless of how innocent the Relief Society sister who set up our first meeting thought it was. All the people who knew us both in our ward in Norman thought we were such a nicely matched couple. The deserving sister who met a knight in shining armor and who both had the Gospel. Matched, married, and moved far and away to live happily ever after. Well, at least matched, married and moved far away. So much for happily ever after. This turned out to be no fairy tale romance. If there is a silver lining to this black cloud of a story it is that while we were in the throws of marital strife at Camp Pendleton I did begin to question if I could achieve contentment and fulfillment living according to the Church's prescribed formula for temporal and eternal happiness.
It was while we were at Camp Pendleton that I experienced first hand the blatant ineptitude of LDS lay clergy to counsel and advise people who present with real life problems. When it became apparent early on that I did not pack the gear to deal with a lot of the problems I was faced with in our domestic situation (dealing with a difficult adolescent girl who had been sexually abused and an unhappy spouse's situational depression superimposed on chronic depression amongst other things), I initially sought help from our local Bishop. In all fairness to him, he was a fine gentleman who was a Marine Corps Colonel. When my ex and I explained to him our situation and the difficulties we were having, he offered us nothing but his counsel that if we would stay together and get to the Temple that we would know no greater happiness in this World. This is when I was faced with the reality that there were some things that prayer and scripture study could not overcome on their own. We eventually got into family counseling at a local civilian mental health center.
for the duration of the time we were at Camp Pendleton. For the first year we were married my ex, more often than not, had a depressed affect. I was not happy about our situation either but I sucked up guts and got through the best I could. When her depression was eventually addressed with our marriage counselor, she was referred to a psychiatrist who prescribed for her the new (at the time) antidepressant drug, Prozac. I must admit, my ex's affect improved a great deal with the benefit of this pharmacologic intervention. The particular agent which was prescribed, however, would come back to haunt us later.
During our time at Camp Pendleton our ward divided. The demonstration of ineptness of LDS lay clergy's ability to adequately and appropriately deal with the real problems of real people was again witnessed in our dealings with our new Bishop. Again, in all fairness to him as an individual, he was a seemingly very learned and well polished gentleman. This fellow had a Doctorate in pharmacology and worked in research and development for a pharmaceutical firm which manufactured chemotherapy drugs. He was certainly well educated but was obviously lacking in human relations and counseling skills. As is usually the case this gentleman as Bishop parroted the party line of the Brethren. Since neither my ex or I held a Temple recommend he exhorted us to become worthy of one so we could be sealed in the Temple. At that time one pressing question that I had which I did not ask and never found an answer to was 'How is a being sealed in the Temple going to make a bad marriage better?' I was reluctant and actually afraid to go to the Temple at that time out of respect for the level of commitment it represented. I also realized that my marriage to my ex was something that was not going to last. I knew it was only a matter of time before one of us had our fill of difficult daily living that much of our mutual incompatibility as well as the dynamics of our domestic and financial situation imposed on each of us. All the same, that very learned, well polished gentleman who by divine authority was called to be a Judge in Israel sent me home from our first interview with him with a terrible self deprecating sense of guilt for being a less than zealous believer in the values which identified us as Latter-Day Saints. It served to exacerbate my own situational depression. I had already decided long before that I did not want to marry my ex in the Temple because we were both already so miserable with each other. We just took it one day at a time and dealt with life and each other and our situation as best as we could. I, however, began to deeply question if I could ever achieve the happiness that I was always told that could be mine if I stayed on the straight and narrow Gospel Path. The realization which hurt me the most regarding my failing marriage was that love alone was not enough to conquer all of our problems. My rose-colored glasses had all but faded clear.
There is a take-home message from this part of the story for those who are investigating Mormonism and for those who may be reevaluating their commitment to it. One of the things that impressed me most about the Church when I was a youth hanging out with the missionaries was that it had no paid ministry. Being from the same town as Oral Roberts, I liked the idea that men could be committed to serving God without the benefit of financial compensation. As has been pointed out in several other stories in this list, LDS lay clergy usually consist of ordinary priesthood holding members who are merely taking their turn at serving in the calling of Bishop, Counselor, Stake President, etc. Although they claim to be called of God and are set apart for the calling by the laying on of hands and although most have a fair amount of life experience in the Church, most have no formal education in human relations, psychology, or counseling. Most also have no formal training in dealing with the real life problems of other people or how to recognize possible signs of abuse and most have no experience in crisis intervention. If the Clergy is one agency within the current social milieu available to assist the individual in problem solving, these things must be noted. In most other denominations, clergymen and women must meet basic minimum standards in human relations and counseling before graduating from Rabbinical school or Seminary. With that in mind, although other churches have paid ministers, perhaps their congregation members are getting a little more for their 10%.
I will be the first to admit that with regard to my naval career, both enlisted and commissioned, I have led a very charmed existence. Toward the end of my tour at NavHosp Camp Pendleton I applied for and was accepted to the Navy Nurse Corps Anesthesia Program. I detached from Camp Pendleton on July 12th, 1990 with orders to the Naval School of Health Science in Bethesda, MD. I arrived in Bethesda to check in for school on August 2nd, 1990. On my drive into Bethesda I was listening to National Public Radio. Saddam Hussein had marched into Kuwait. While all my friends and colleagues back at Camp Pendleton mobilized immediately to Saudi Arabia for Desert Shield/ Desert Storm, I enrolled for classes at the Naval School of Health Science and George Washington University. Due to the difficulties the ex spouse and I were having, and since her youngest daughter was still living with us at the time, I felt three moves in two years was too many and insisted they move back to Norman and stay there while I took two years to get through anesthesia school. Our marriage, however, did not survive that long. After I completed the first phase of school at NSHS and GWU, I was sent to do my clinical phase at Naval Hospital San Diego. This is where I learned the true meaning of misery which wasn't entirely due to the awful treatment I was subjected to as a student. I came the closest I had ever come in my life to having what lay people call a nervous breakdown where I was completely incapacitated by stress. A lot was due to the stressful nature of the specialty in which I was training. Learning to make life and death decisions quickly in the operating room carries with it an abundance of stress of its own as most reasonable people can imagine. However, thanks to my then spouse and her Prozac managed depression, in October of 1991 an incident occurred 1375 miles away that gave me a little more on my plate with which to deal than my fellow student colleagues.
I will state up front that this part of the story will top just about anything tabloid TV can offer when told in its entirety. For the sake of brevity I will only impart the highlights.
It was an October Wednesday afternoon when I got the page informing me I had just received an emergency phone call from my brother-in-law back in Oklahoma. When I called him back as soon as I could get to a telephone he told me the news of the event that was the beginning of the end of my marriage to my ex and the beginning of the largest mess which I've ever had to deal with in my life.
Have you ever heard someone spout off idle threats and then just shine that person on like they were blowing smoke? Well, I heard my ex state on several occasions that if she ever had gun she would kill a certain individual. Not that I could have done anything about it being half a continent away and all, however, she did make good on her threat.
Long story short, the dynamics and the relationships between the principles of the case are lengthy and convoluted but it comes down to the following: My ex with Prozac managed depression responded to a suicide note left on her doorstep by her inactive Church member niece. A search of the niece's nearby home by my ex and her daughter yielded a .25 caliber automatic pistol. The niece was nowhere to be found. Distraught and desperate to find the niece, my ex called the niece's sister who called her father. The niece's father (my ex's oldest sister's ex husband) who had a long track record of sexually abusing the suicidal niece (and once even tried to rape my ex when she was 16) showed up at the niece's domicile with my ex and her daughter present. This niece's father was that certain individual mentioned in the preceding paragraph. After he made a phone call and he and my ex had a quasi-civil conversation, she walked him to the door. As he was walking to his car my ex raised the pistol and fired one round which hit him in the back. He was obviously surprised and frightened by this action. He immediately got into his car and took off down the street. As he bled out into his chest he lost consciousness and the car crashed into a brick wall next to a house. For all intents and purposes he was dead on scene. The emergency medical response team extricated his body from the wreck, performed a token attempt at resuscitation, and he was pronounced dead at the local hospital an hour later. During this time the suicidal niece showed up unharmed from her suicide attempt. Lucky for her all that huffing carbon monoxide did was give her a headache. My ex on the other hand wasn't so lucky. The police began their initial investigation of the incident by questioning her. She told them everything that happened after which she was read her Miranda Rights then handcuffed and taken to the local detention center where she was booked on a complaint of murder in the first degree.
It was approximately 2:00 PM PDT when my brother-in-law ran the facts down to me over the telephone. I was boarding a plane at San Diego Lindbergh Field at approximately 5:30 PM later that afternoon bound for Oklahoma and a world class mess. It would certainly prove to be a defining moment of not only my marriage but my entire adult life to that point and the definite end of my belief in the one-size-fits-all blueprint for temporal and eternal happiness as taught by the Mormon Church. I was, however, intent on doing the best I could for my ex under the circumstances.
Upon hearing the news of this incident I automatically switched into crisis mode. It was midnight when I landed in Oklahoma City so the next morning I immediately began seeking legal counsel for my ex. I knew quite well from having served as a juror in a criminal court case once that the most favorable judgments usually went to those who could afford the best legal representation. I managed to seek out and retain one of the meanest mercenary lawyers in the Cleveland County Oklahoma jurisdiction before noon. My ex's arraignment was at 2:30 PM. I attended with most of her family. I kept thinking "What is wrong with this picture?" There my ex was in the courtroom, wearing a dayglo orange jumpsuit handcuffed to four other surly looking male suspects who were also being arraigned on various charges. Talk about indignity. The judge was a good 'ole boy who seemed to have a pleasant disposition as he looked over all the specifications of the State's charge against my ex and made sure all the i's were dotted and all the t's were crossed. He got very serious as he looked at the charge and frowned as he looked at her and said "A possible punishment if you are convicted of this charge is DEATH BY LETHAL INJECTION!" That prospect didn't seem to phase my ex in the least. She was actually quite proud of what she had done, at least until her Prozac level became subtherapeutic and gravity of the situation created by her action finally settled upon her the following day.
After the arraignment where my ex's bond was set at $100,000.00, I anxiously awaited the medical examiner's report of the decedent's autopsy. Since the decedent went unconscious while driving his car after which it crashed into a brick wall at a speed fast enough to cause the roof of it to buckle, he did have a few serious injuries attributable to the crash. In light of this fact, there was a reasonable possibility that the ME would state the cause of death as injuries sustained in the crash in which case the State's charge against my ex would be downgraded to shooting with intent to kill. That would mean her bond would be significantly reduced. The ME, however, officially reported the cause of death as the gunshot wound. So, the State's charge of Murder in the First Degree stood for the time being as did her 100K bond. It was the Monday following the incident when I learned of the ME's report. Knowing that my ex would not free any time soon since there was no way possible I could amass any cash or assets anywhere near the amount of her bond, I set about to liquidate our household as there was nobody available to maintain it. I had till the end of the week to make arrangements and move all our household goods out of our rented home in Norman. I also transferred custody of my ex's daughter to her sister and brother-in-law who lived about an hour and a half away. I was able to get everything done before having to return to San Diego the following Saturday. In all fairness to the Church members in Norman, I did receive a fair amount of moral support and a limited amount of logistical support in moving things. A legal defense fund was set up for my ex. She received a total of around $765.00 from her friends and associates, $500.00 of that was from one person, her former Bishop. The bulk of her legal funding, however, fell to me. It was a tab that ran me well into five figures when everything was said and done.
As can be expected, it took awhile for me to work through the events of late October 1991. In my mind my ex had acted out her favorite fatalistic fantasy at the expense of many people and for that I remained quite angry at her for a long time. After the most difficult week of my life I returned to San Diego. I resumed my clinical training and did my best to put the shambles of my personal life out of my mind while I was in the operating room. I actually did okay for awhile. It wasn't until my ex's preliminary hearing in January that I began to feel the stress of the situation. It just so happened that after the first of the year our anesthesia staff and faculty began turning up the heat on us trainees to perform. It seemed like all the stressors in my life were coming down on me at once. It was late in January, almost two weeks after my ex's preliminary hearing, that stress began to harass me like a vicious dog in that I began to show outward manifestations of it. These consisted of weight loss, fatigue, and most noticeable shaking in the OR. I felt something had to be done so I requested that the attorney I retained for my ex begin divorce proceedings in early February. It was more of an afterthought of the criminal proceeding which was pretty much over at that point.
One of the benefits of having gone through this ordeal was the fact I got a crash course in the workings of the Oklahoma criminal justice system. It was, to say the least, enlightening. As I somewhat alluded to previously, in the United States criminal justice usually comes down to how much justice a defendant can afford. I did my best to see to it that my ex could afford a fair amount of justice which she got. I learned that the zeal with which a murder charge is pursued is directly proportional to the socioeconomic status of the victim. Not to minimize her crime but to demonstrate what I mean, at least in this case, when the prosecution discovered what a scoundrel the decedent had been (in addition to engaging in incest which was well known, he had previously served six years in the penitentiary for a second degree murder conviction which was overturned on a technicality), the assistant district attorney prosecuting my ex became willing to settle for a plea bargain. That mean mean mercenary lawyer who I retained to represent my ex managed to get her first degree murder charge reduced in a plea bargain agreement to first degree manslaughter. When she was sentenced in March she received a four year prison term. A four year prison sentence for shooting and killing a man with willful intent. She went to a medium security facility to serve her time. Her previously clean criminal record worked in her favor. She was sent to work release in early December of 1992 and paroled in late January 1993. She was discharged entirely from the Department of Corrections in January 1994. So, with this experience to refer to I am not at all surprised by stuff like the O.J. Simpson verdict. For the record, my ex spent less time incarcerated than O.J. did! I could go on about the pitfalls of our illustrious legal system, but that's another whole other issue. Back to my story.
A reasonable question would be where did this mess leave me and how did it affect my feelings toward the Church? Well, I've never felt more alone than when I made the decision to divorce my ex. Some told me I was cutting off my nose to spite my face. I likened it more to amputating a gangrenous limb which, if left to continue to spread infection, would eventually kill me. All of her family thought I was a low down shit for divorcing her while she was in prison. None of them, however, helped out with her legal expenses to any significant degree nor were they subject to the kinds of stressors I was in what I was dealing with concurrently with this crisis. Through all of this ordeal I did continue to attend Church. I did enjoyed listening to other people's talks in Sacrament meeting. Hearing about the problems of others tended to take my mind off my own for awhile. It also was about the only way my faith in the organization was being sustained. Church is such a wonderful refuge for anyone who prefers not to think. Since I already had my hands full with another endeavor which required that I think a great deal in terms of scientific theory, I was content to still believe without factual basis in the divinity of Joseph Smith and the teachings of the Brethren who had done all the necessary thinking already in spite of the fact that one of their big core doctrines did not work for me in the worst way. The doubts which I had at my baptism years earlier and which had been suppressed for so long, however, were beginning to get louder. As far as how I related to Church at that point though, I was content to be what I term an outskirter, a baptized member who attended meetings, observed the lifestyle, did home teaching on occasion, and held no callings. That was my comfort zone and that was fine.
I struggled and persevered and finally got through nurse anesthesia school graduating in September 1992. Most people when they graduate from such a program feel they have a great deal to celebrate. At the time it seemed to me that I had achieved an empty victory in spite of having not been admitted to the psych unit and still being financially solvent. After my divorce and my bout with the high stress generated by school, I began to slowly turn inward. My first duty station after graduating from school was Naval Hospital Great Lakes, Illinois where I arrived in November 1992. I took a personal vow to take control of my life so far as I was able to and was going to do the things I wanted to do for a change. I was going to progress in Church at my own pace and not give in to clerical or social pressure to do anything in it. This approach was not a great deal different than I had dealt with my involvement in Church before. It was going to take a lot to motivate me to get out of my aforementioned comfort zone. As I sat through many a meeting in Illinois, the one statement by the Brethren which grated on me with ever increasing harshness was "No other success can compensate for failure in the home." I found myself wondering what the hell was I doing there. I still had no real testimony and that was a fact of which I was growing ever so much more mindful. A defining moment for the final three years I spent in the Church occurred after I had been in Illinois for about three months.
As the Elder's quorum assembled after the General Priesthood meeting one Sunday, one of the quorum counselors stated out loud to everyone that he wanted to see me outside. We both went out to the foyer and sat down on a couch. He proceeded with small talk then inquired if I was settled in enough to take a calling as Elder's Quorum executive secretary. I began to explain to him about the ordeal I had just been through the year before with my ex. He looked to me to be a little surprised and a rather annoyed that I wasn't accepting the calling immediately. I told him that I was struggling with gaining a testimony and that I could do the easy stuff like abide by the Word of Wisdom, the Law of Chastity, and pay a full tithing but believing to the point of taking on such a commitment as what he was asking to do was a bit much. I told him I would have to really pray about it and I would get back to him the following week. At this point I had gotten hip to the scam of callings so to speak. I actually did pray with a sincere heart about taking this calling and I felt absolutely nothing. The next week before the beginning of the General Priesthood meeting this brother asked me if I was going to accept the calling of Elder's Quorum executive secretary. I told him no, I was going to need more time before I was ready. He gave me an extremely pissed off look. He also took a poke at me in what he said out loud to the Elder's Quorum as he was making the pre-lesson announcements, something like "Being a member of the quorum involves more than just paying a full tithing." I thought to myself, "Does that mean I get a refund?" I wasn't about to do a thing that I wasn't prompted by the Spirit to do.;-)
The one thing that kept me going to Church in Illinois was the fact that the Gospel Doctrine Sunday School instructor was extremely good. This gentleman was an attorney with a corporate law firm who had minored in history in college. As we studied the D&C in his class he also gave a good account of the concurrent US History of that era and how certain events related to the early Church. It was still the faith promoting, sanitized version but it held my attention for awhile. Toward the middle of 1994 I was getting increasingly more disillusioned with my own membership in the Church. Had it not been for the efforts of a very conscientious, well meaning home teacher who snagged me as I was ditching Sunday School one Sunday I probably would have gone inactive in the Fall of '94. I ran down to him the story of my ordeal with my ex and how I felt about having to deal with the awful experience of my marriage and he was quite receptive although not really sure what to say to me. He felt that it would be a good idea if I sort of started all over again by taking all six of the missionary discussions. That sounded easy and familiar so I agreed to do so. I also took myself out of the Gospel Doctrine Sunday School class and began to attend the investigators class. The problem I had which was obvious even to him was that I had no testimony.
This conscientious home teacher mentioned in the preceding paragraph was an outstanding young man from Austria. He came from a very strong Austrian Church family and had been sent to Idaho on his mission. He and his new wife made it a weekly event to have me over for their family home evening along with the missionaries. We would have dinner then have a discussion. I felt a lot of the same feelings as I felt when I first had the discussions twenty years before. This time, however, I was not a disaffected youth pondering the imponderables. I could sense words being put into my mouth and explained this to the missionaries and my friend. They wanted all my agreement with the Gospel precepts they were teaching to come from my heart. So did I but those doubts I had about the divinity and inspiration of Joseph Smith were getting too great to dismiss and, to make matters worse, I did not know why. I continued on in hopes of receiving the necessary enlightenment to gain that ever elusive ethereal intangible which is fundamental to the Faith known as a Testimony which I was badly lacking. I believe what I just explained was evidence of growing pains. Intellectual growing pains. I was becoming less afraid to question things and more dissatisfied by pat answers. I did however keep my mouth shut and go with the flow for the time being since this period of fellowship was providing me a social outlet.
There were some indignities that I did experience in my final few years in the Church. On the lighter side of the issue is something which will give all you BYU alums who are reading this a chuckle. As many of you will recall, my Oklahoma Sooners met BYU in the 1994 Crapper, er, Copper Bowl in which OU got their ass kicked by the Cougars. Since I was my ward's token Sooner, I was invited the home of a member who was a BYU alum along with a few other members. I, of course, was the only one attired in crimson and cream. I remember walking into his home humming "Can you feel the love tonight......";-) After the Cougs handily disposed of the Sooners by a score of 31 to 6, I was so pissed off I told everyone present "I'm not paying any more tithing! Its all going to support LaVell Edwards and BYU!" I remember repeating this statement a few times the following Sunday at Church. This was originally all in good fun between college football fans. It took over one more year for me to realize I had a better reason than this to stop paying tithing to this religious organization.
On the darker side of the indignities issue is something that really has nothing to do directly with the Church but something that actually motivated me to get up and speak in Sacrament Meeting. On April 19th, 1995 the worst act of violence perpetrated by US citizens on US citizens since the Mountain Meadows Massacre in 1857 took place in Oklahoma City when the convict Timothy McVeigh detonated a truck bomb which destroyed the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building killing 168 people, 19 of whom were young children. I along with most other Americans was stunned and quite upset by this act. I was particularly affected since I had actually been in the Murrah Building several times. I had taken my Navy commissioning oath in the Navy Recruiting Office on the third floor. I also knew people who were actually near the blast. The Sunday following the bombing was the first time in my life I ever actually sought out the Bishop of my ward to beg him to let me give the opening prayer in Sacrament Meeting. The Bishop granted me the privilege I requested and I delivered a real unintended tear-jerking prayer and followed up with a brief statement of who I was (as not many people in the ward actually knew me) and where I was from and thanked everyone who had supported the folks in OKC with donations to the Red Cross and other agencies. This did get me noticed. A few months later I was approached by a counsellor in the Stake Presidency. The ward I was in badly needed a membership clerk and he wanted me to take the calling. I had a better reason than not feeling the Spirit this time, I was being transferred back to California in two and a half months, not a reasonable time frame to invest in training someone for such a job. When he insisted that I still take it, I refused and that was that. In December of 1995 I was transferred to a small naval hospital in Central California.
The first thing I did when I got to my new duty station in California was call the Bishop of my new ward to get directions to Church. I began attending meetings right away. Shortly then after, coming to Church began to lose its appeal. As I sat through the meetings I could not shake the doubts and the ever present questions which had been nagging me and which were gaining ever increasing validitiy in my mind. Is the Church true? Was Joseph Smith divinely inspired? Are the Standard Works besides the Bible credible? I really did not know. Even my Austrian friend in Illinois who is as stalwart a true believer as they come exposed a chink in his armor of faith during a telephone conversation we had after my move to California when he said "Even if the Church isn't true it still made me a good person." Hearing him candidly verbalize this slight ideation that the Church might not be true actually did much to fuel the fire of my ever growing doubt. Church was becoming less and less a spiritual refuge for me in that I did not feel it was meeting my spiritual needs. By that I mean listening to the talks of others as they expressed their faith and parroted the party line of the Brethren was no longer nurturing my sense of inner peace. I was no longer receiving comfort from the message. I wondered what was going on. Whatever it was, it was occuring all within myself. No person in my new ward and nobody around me in my day to day routine had any influence on my beliefs at that point. I was extremely tired of living on the faith of other people. Whatever was going to happen was going to happen relatively soon and I would be in control entirely of whatever decision which was going to have to be made. I was having more of those intellectual growing pains.
My 1996 New Year's resolution was to study the Restored Gospel and do one of two things: Either gain a testimony of the Gospel according to Joseph Smith and fully accept it for what the First Presidency claims it to be then get my Temple recommend and get my Endowments that year or leave the Church altogether. I had grown so tired of the uncertainty of the Church that I pushed myself to do this. It was an all-or-nothing proposition. When it comes down to it that's what membership in the LDS Church is: all or nothing. I believe most would agree that such a resolution is extremely bold for a person stricken with so much uncertainty. It would certainly require that I study, pray, fast, examine many facts, and above all.............it would require me to THINK! I was feeling more intellectual growing pains.
I would have the benefit of something in this undertaking that I did not have before, that being access to information which was not previously available to me.
In early January 1996 I gained access to the Internet. One of the first things I did online, after locating the OU Football Chat of course, was locate the World Wide Web First Ward which became a resource for Gospel Doctrine class. In doing this via a Yahoo search, I noticed there was a link to LDS "Opposing Views." A click of the mouse on "Opposing Views" led me to Eric Kettunen's Recovery From Mormonism website amongst a few other sites which contained useful information for someone honestly seeking the truth. As I read through the material Eric had compiled on Church History, the life of Joseph Smith, the Book of Abraham, the Book of Mormon, and all the other pertinent facts about the Church I had never been exposed to previously, it didn't take a great deal of creative thought on my part to understand why I had such feelings of doubt and why I never developed a testimony. While part of me sat back and quietly said "No wonder!" another part of me was extremely disappointed in finally learning the truth. Over a period of a few weeks it became obvious where I was headed with regard to that New Year's Resolution I had made. I, however, was still going through the motions at Church. I had been given a home teaching assignment. One of my families was the Bishop's family. I had made a couple of visits to them by the time I finally made my spiritual break with the Church and stopped attending meetings which was in April 1996. Having been the Bishop's home teacher put me in somewhat of a socially awkward situation when I made the decision to leave. More on that later. I had been a member of record for twenty years and four months. This was a decision I made entirely on my own with the benefit of information I had sought out. This action was my exercise of free agency. It was a BIG step in my intellectual growth process.
Having explained my New Year's Resolution to my home teacher, the word had gotten around in the weeks leading up to the time I left that I was struggling with getting a testimony. People were coming up to me at Church asking me how I was doing as if I were ill. When my home teacher visited me the month I actually left, I had prepared a resignation letter to give to him. He of course would not accept it and told me that it was the policy of the Brethren not to take such things in case I wanted to come back. I accepted this explanation at the time not knowing what my options were. Looking back now I can say without reservation that any organization with any such policy should have no problem pinpointing why they tagged with charges of arrogance and elitism. Prior to the final visit by my home teacher, the Elder's Quorum president stopped by to visit me. I explained what was going on and he told me I had to give all of myself unto the Lord, put all the doubt out of my mind, then pray for the truth which would be a crying matter. I told him I had tried it that way to a point and felt nothing. Then I explained that I felt I had given the Church a fair chance over twenty years. He then lightened up and said and I quote "The more education a person has the less likely they are to accept the Gospel." or words to that effect. He then got up an left. I thought about what he said for awhile. "The more education a person has the less likely they are to accept the Gospel."
That sent a powerful message in my mind as I thought about it. It brought to mind the words of Karl Marx "Religion is the opiate of the masses." It made me wonder if the Church was only for the ignorant or as Steve Martin so plainly put it in his movie Leap Of Faith, the suckers. Like I said earlier, Church is a wonderful place for anyone who prefers not to think. Given my awareness of all the new facts I never knew about my religion of the past twenty years, it was akin to hearing music in stereo after hearing it in hi-fi all my life. Not only that, I was using this newly available information to make a critical judgment, much in the same fashion I use diagnostic information to make critical judgments everyday in my job. I could sense that the folks at Church knew they were losing me. I think they could see the wheels turning in my head and knew that I was dead serious about my decision to leave. I had in fact acknowledged the truth of my situation and had stepped over the threshold. I had finally arrived at a state of enlightenment the likes of which I had never experienced. When I was a youth hearing the message, it sounded so good to me based on the facts as I knew them that I wanted it to be true and invested myself in the organization on the faith of other people. I now had the knowledge I needed to make an informed decision about where to direct the course of my life. Nobody put words in my mouth this time. I took a stand on the merits of the facts. I came to the realization that there is a fine line separating faith from gullibility. Since all of Mormonism must stand or fall based on the testimony of Joseph Smith, Jr., there was no doubt in my mind at the time I left the Church that he and his Restored Gospel had made that fine line a yellow stripe a mile wide. I left knowing that I had certainly made the right decision for myself.
If I had been a spiritual dwarf all through my twenty years as a Mormon, then I was even a smaller intellectual dwarf during that time. After leaving the Church I had to deal with a few feelings of shame. I think those feelings were indicative of having finally developed the intellectual capacity, as limited as it may have been, to reject something I should have rejected long before. My mind slowly but steadily rose out of a funk. My life was no longer defined by what I believed. Over a period of a few months my life became defined more in terms of what I did NOT believe. It didn't take long for me to realize that along with the capacity to reject Mormonism came the capacity to reject Christianity and for that matter, organized religion entirely. I found myself subscribing to Agnosticism regardless how much I wanted to believe in an abstract, unifying, supreme being up in the heavens. I still feel that the example set by Jesus Christ and his message of love one another is certainly one worthy of aspiring to follow. As I mentioned a couple of paragraphs back, part of me was extremely disappointed in learning the truth about Mormonism. It wasn't terribly unlike a child learning that there is no Santa Claus or Easter Bunny or an OU Sooner fan being told that there is no such thing as Sooner Magic (I still allow myself to hold out hope for that one though!;-) I know now that what I did in leaving the Church was necessary for my own personal growth and well being as a person. There are probably some people who achieve self actualization in spite of religion. It was plain to me that I, however, would not be one of them.
The actual process of leaving the Church was easy and painless for me as I had no family members or even any close friends who were in it when I left. When Eric posted the instructions of how to get one's name removed from LDS membership records on the RfM website in May 1996, I felt that was a reasonable thing for me to do. As I said earlier, I had been my Bishop's home teacher. I knew that he and all the Church members from work (there were four or five of them) were going to take my request to leave very personally. I sent off my first letter requesting my name be removed from Church records to my Bishop via registered mail in July 1996. He stopped by my quarters before I got back from work one day the week after he got it and left a note to the effect he was intent on carrying out my request but wanted to speak to me before he did. A couple of months went by. Nothing happened. I wrote him another letter in October 1996 again requesting that my name be removed from Church records. I also stated in this one that locating my membership record should not be a problem since I knew for a fact it was in his ward and that if he did not comply with my request within a reasonable time frame that litigation would result. This time he stopped by my office at work when I was not in and left me a note stating that was still intent on fulfilling my request but that he still wanted to speak to me first. Since he was a naval aviator being sent on det to various places, I cut him a reasonable amount of slack. When I had not heard back from him in December and since I wanted to bring closure to this part of my life, I sent him another registered letter requesting that my name be removed from Church records and I told him he had till close of business on December 31 to provide me with notification that my request was being carried out. I waited till I got the return receipt from the post office and waited a few of days. It was the week between Christmas and New Year's. I gave him a reasonable chance to respond to the letter then I called the LDS Membership Records Department in Salt Lake City on the afternoon of 31 December to see if any action had been taken. The clerk informed me that no action had been taken. I told the clerk that litigation would begin if this request was not acted upon immediately. The clerk, with a sense of urgency in his voice, said he would notify my Bishop immediately. I received a call from my Bishop on the evening of January 1, 1997. He just wanted to hear my version of why I left the Church. It was the first and last interview I ever had with him. He said the usual things I expected to hear from a Bishop like "It is with great sadness that I carry out this request." He also expressed concern over my threat to sue the Church. I told him I would accept his verbal confirmation that my request was being carried out. I also told him I had better things to do with my time and money than to litigate something that should not need to be litigated. On Monday, February 10th, 1997 my former home teacher who was now the new Bishop of the ward met me in the parking lot at my quarters as I got back from work. He handed me the letter stating that my name was being removed from the membership records of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints and that I had thirty days to rescind my request before I lost all benefits of baptism. He was pleasant and cordial as was I. We then wished each other good luck and he got in his car and drove away and that was that. I was finally administratively clear of the organization. Free agency. Man, there is nothing like it!
So where am I now? I don't purport to have all the answers to the imponderable questions of life but I do have a few answers as a result of conclusions I have reached concerning my life to this point and my involvement in Mormonism. Upon stepping over that threshold to enlightenment I began a steady move away from many long held attitudes I had toward life. Shifting away from the Mormon paradigm has made me a believer in being 100% self-reliant as is possible and reasonable in all aspects of living. This requires the individual to think independently of a group dynamic. This also requires that the individual assume responsibility for themselves and be accountable for their own growth process as a person. Never again will I depend on a religious, political, or business group to tell me what to think, how to vote, or with whom to do business. And never again will I ever make my happiness contingent on the actions of another person or religious group.
From where I am now looking back I can say that my journey to enlightenment via the Church was unnecessarily long with some difficult and avoidable side trips. So, what have I learned and what are some take-home messages for any of you readers who may have an important decision pending? I don't think I can advise anyone enough to take responsibility for your own happiness if you have not done so already. I can tell you that I know now that a one-size-fits-all pattern for happiness may or may not be in your own best interest regardless of how sweet the message may sound or how comfortable the association may feel to you. I will be the first to acknowledge that Mormonism is not just a religion, its a way of life. The LDS Church demands that its members live a very clean, healthy lifestyle and it does promote strong family values. I will also be the first to point out that these things are not exclusive to only the Mormons. I admonish everyone to be extremely circumspect with regard to whom or what you allow your time, energies and assets be subjugated. As I explained in my opening paragraph, if religion works for you then by all means indulge yourself in it. Religion after all, in my opinion, is merely a vehicle to assist the individual in achieving a sense of inner peace and spiritual contentment. Although many other factors may be involved in the process, religion is the vehicle in which everything is riding. If it works for you in that it is meeting your needs as a person, fine. Ride on. If it is not working for you then do not be afraid find a way to get off the thing and walk.
To those of you who may be investigating Mormonism, please read carefully all the information Eric has compiled on this website. The true believers will tell you it is all baseless propaganda from a bunch of disgruntled ex-Saints who, for whatever reason, could not find happiness in the only true Church on the Earth today. My hope for you is to be able to examine all sides of the issue and be able to make an informed decision. To those of you who may be struggling with the decision to leave the Church, my heart goes out to you. I know all too well how difficult that decision can be. Eric has made it somewhat easier with this website and with his formulation of a support network. It nonetheless is not easy. If you have the added dynamic of family members who are in the Church and are true believers, you have my deepest and sincerest sympathy. Whether you decide to stay in the Church or leave, neither will be an easy decision. To all: in the end may the decision you make be an informed one and ultimately the right one for you.
Stan A. Young
Write to the author of this story: Stan A. Young
Updated Novemeber 2001