Growing up in Utah
I grew up in the avenues of Salt Lake City while my dad was finishing his PhD at the University of Utah. As far back as I can remember, we were not considered the typical Mormons. As a kid I was exposed to the UofU/ BYU rivalry and I always felt like people were attacking my dad as if he was not a real Mormon since he didn’t go to BYU.
I don’t honestly remember ever asking if any of my friends from school were members or not. I just kind of assumed that they were, but I don’t have any memories of playing with school friends at church either.
I remember back when I was probably 6 and Stephen was only 4 that mom would let us walk the few blocks to Primary on Tuesdays alone.
Moved to Georgia
February, 1975 I was baptized in the Ponce de Leon building in Atlanta. Dad completed his PhD and we had just moved to Georgia a few months earlier. Our Ward didn’t have its own building yet. It was still under construction and the Ponce building was the closest font. The building used to have a very nice mural in the foyer showing the various stages of a person’s life from birth to death. Now all the meeting houses are so sterile and homogenous it’s hard to find any difference among them. They removed the mural in the 80s when they remodeled the building.
We were meeting at Rockbridge Elementary School on Sundays and at a local Methodist Church near Hwy-78 and Rockbridge Rd on Tuesdays for Primary. I remember my baptismal interview with Bishop Doyle Kotter in one of the classrooms of the elementary school. I don’t remember what I said but the story has been repeated that I was kinda spunky. Apparently when the Bishop asked if I thought this was the only true church I responded, “No, My church in Salt Lake is the only true church.” Then he tried to explain that all the Wards were part of the same church. To which I responded, “But this is an elementary school not a church.” This should have been everybody’s first clue that I wasn’t just gonna accept their claims at face value. I needed more details. They let me get baptized anyway.
I remember meeting on the old split schedule. Dad would wake up early and go to Priesthood meeting which was early in the morning. Then Sunday School was around 10:00am. Sacrament Meeting was later in the afternoon, like 4:00pm or something. Primary was on a weekday after school. We loved the split schedule because it frequently meant that we could go over to a friend’s house or have a friend over between the two Sunday session. Parents didn’t seem to object very often because it didn’t involve any more travel than they were already doing.
I feel like I was probably the typical good little Mormon boy right up until my teenage years. I don’t remember having any faith challenging interactions with anybody, inside or outside the church. Most kids thought I was weird because I was a “Yankee” and never got around to being critical of me for my religion. Even after I explained that Utah was not even involved in the civil war they didn’t care.
I do remember one day when the missionaries had come over to the house and I saw that they had a whole trunk full of Book of Mormons. I asked them why they didn’t hand out Bibles too. They explained that most people already had a copy of the Bible in their house. I don’t remember how old I was, but that actually surprised me. It was the first time in my life that I actually had to stop and think about what other religions believed. Well they can’t be all that bad if they still believe the Bible.
Middle School and High school I was always singled out during that week of history class when we talked about the pioneers. “Michael is a Mormon. Would you tell us a little bit about your family history?” Besides the normal embarrassment all kids have when they had to speak in front of the class this never really bothered me. I do remember a few of my other Mormon friends being as quiet as possible when I was called on. I guess they were just hoping that I didn’t call them out, but I didn’t care if people knew I was a Mormon.
My parents were not the typical Mormons by any stretch of the imagination. For starters they were very liberal, both in the classical sense and the political sense. Dad subscribed to Dialogue and Sunstone as well as The Ensign and he had a copy of No Man Knows My History on the same shelf as The Journal of Discourses. He instilled in me at a very young age that knowledge and information were not things to fear but things to soak up and enjoy.
Because of my parents liberal views towards most things I think teachers and church leaders just knee-jerk assumed that I shared their views. In some cases I did, in some I didn’t. In most cases I hadn’t yet made up my mind. I remember some very heated and passionate lessons in seminary about deep doctrine. As I reflect back on these decades later I’m pretty sure their arguments weren’t necessarily with me but I was filling a proxy for my parents. This gave me an interesting perspective. It was very eye-opening about the conflicting views on doctrine. But the most revealing aspect of this was the glimpse it provided into the minds of other members. As much as they had in common they could still find reasons to dislike each other.
I had a few very cool priesthood leaders in my teenage years. Unfortunately, they were very few and far between. Most leaders just seemed to use their position to bully their interpretation of politics as if it were gospel.
It became clear at this time in my life that “the Gift of Discernment” was hogwash. Once, I was accused of doing drugs by one of my leaders and not allowed to pass the sacrament while friends who actually had smoked the night before were still allowed to participate. One particular leader was all about image. He publically dressed me down for having my sleeves rolled up and a sloppy tie. That was the first time I skipped Priesthood meeting. Had he known that the reason I had my sleeves rolled up was because it helped hide the fact that my shirt was too small I doubt he would have responded as he did. But he didn’t bother to find out the real cause of the problem. He just criticized the symptom. The sloppy tie was completely my fault.
It was about this time that the bishop started using the pulpit time for partisan political speeches. I remember one particular flag waving and chest thumping speech the Sunday before a general election. I walked out of the chapel during the talk. It was very bad. I had been sitting behind my dad, the family took up more than one bench, and he didn’t realize I had walked out. Dad later apologized to me and said that he should have had the whole family walk out. My dad complained to the Stake President and the next week the bishop read the standard form letter from the First Presidency about elections, but that was the week after the election and any damage had already been done.
I still believed that the church was true and I did my best to remain active even though the bishop at the time and many of my leaders seemed to have it in for me and my family. I periodically attended another Ward just to see if things were different. They were nicer to me but then they soon started gossiping about me just attending that ward to see a girl. They didn’t bother to do the research that the girl in question was not even in town many of those weeks. So they assumed it was to see different girl. Also untrue. I guess the idea that a 17 year-old kid was struggling and trying to salvage his testimony was just too deep for them. It had to be hormonal. So to avoid further gossip I went back to my ward.
Making the decision to go on a mission was not the cookie cutter process for me that it seems to be for others. I didn’t even start the process until well after my 19th birthday. I felt like the leadership had so judged me that they wouldn’t have allowed me to go anyway. If there is such a thing as an answer to prayers then the change in the bishopric and priesthood leadership definitely qualifies. All along I was trying to do what I thought was correct. I never considered that the Church itself was the problem. I was just biding my time until some inspired leaders could help me out. So I turned in my papers.
When I finally went in for my endowment I had kinda given in to the fact that accepting the church and giving it my best effort was probably the easiest way to keep the rest of the people in my life happy. I’d never had the miraculous witness everybody talks about but I did believe, or at least I really wanted to believe it was true.
The endowment was really weird. I’m not gonna sugar coat it. It made me really uncomfortable. The penalties scared me a lot. Was this literal? Or was it just to intimidate me to not talk about it. I didn’t know. There were also several places where they announced that you could back out of you wanted rather than proceed any further and accept the penalties. That made me think that it was literal. Why issue such an escape clause about something that was just symbolic?
During the prayer circle I remember my mom looking at me with this smile like it was the best day of her life. I was just confused and assumed that maybe I’d understand it better as time goes on. During my time in the MTC I found that this was a common belief. You just have to go as often as possible so you can learn more. They say that you have to acquire a taste for some foods and some forms of alcohol. I don’t drink so I wouldn’t know. But if it’s nasty to start with why in the world would you want to condition yourself to it? In retrospect I feel the same way about the temple. I think the whole drive to go so frequently was just to condition oneself to the weirdness.
My whole life I had been interested in Japan. I’d even tried to teach myself Japanese a couple of times. So I honestly felt that my call to Japan was inspired. I’m sure it had nothing at all to do with the fact that I put on my application that I had studied a year of Japanese.
I wanted to be a good missionary. I really wanted to do my best. I tried really hard to be as obedient as possible. I quickly learned to love the people and I honestly felt like I was bringing them something of value.
My first missionary apartment had a copy of Joseph Fielding Smith’s Doctrines of Salvation. The four of us used it as a resource and treated it as if it was undisputable doctrine. Pretty soon other missionaries were asking to borrow the books to answer doctrinal issues, too. I remember more than one doctrine that caused me to second guess what I had been taught growing up. Since I resigned myself to the church being true and perfect I just did my best to conform my beliefs to what I was learning.
A few transfers later my apartment had stacks and stacks of old Ensigns. Similarly we used to scour them to understand the deeper doctrines. I soon noticed that many of the talks and doctrines were contradictory. Both interpretations couldn’t possibly be true. It was also about that time that I learned that some books from General authorities had been changed many times, specifically Mormon Doctrine. I was slowly learning that if you dig deep enough you could likely find a general authority who would support any position on every point of doctrine. So I didn’t know what to believe.
Confused, I wrote a series of letters to my mission president. I liked my mission president, but questions directed at him were kind of side-stepped. I was told to focus on the basics and not get hung up on the deeper doctrines. So I did.
My whole mission I tried to be as obedient as possible in hopes that’d help me find people to teach. It didn’t seem to work. As far as numbers go my most successful period was when I was companions with a guy who broke a bunch of the rules and sold the church like he would a used car. I wasn’t the least bit surprised to find out that he actually was a used car salesman. I couldn’t understand why the Lord was blessing a disobedient missionary and I was following the rules and not seeing the success. When I voiced this concern to the President he transferred me to another area but still allowed my old companion to keep doing what he wanted if it brought in the baptisms.
I extended my mission an extra month. Partially to make up for some of the time I felt like I hadn’t been giving it my all, but also just to stay in the country a little bit longer. I really do love Japan and I’d love to go back.
It was a little bit of culture shock for me when I got home. I’d been on my own for two years and it felt odd to move back in with my parents. I got a place of my own as soon as I could afford it. I was getting used to being on my own and wasn’t nearly as active as I could have been. I guess I was just testing my wings and trying to make decisions because I wanted to do it and not just because it was expected of me. The one exception was the YSA dances. I’d go to as many of those as I could. But that was primarily to hang out with Victoria.
Victoria and I opted to take out her endowments the day before the sealing. A lot of people were encouraging us to do it all in the same day. To me that just seemed like making the wedding day last a lot longer than it needed to. Victoria’s parents had quite a few non-member friends that were already going to be waiting for us on the sealing day so we couldn’t see making them wait longer. I had an ulterior motive as well. I knew that Victoria would have some questions about the weirdness of the endowment. I didn’t want our wedding night to be spent discussing that.
As predicted, after the endowment she had tons of questions. I did my best to help her answer them. It was a very awkward evening. Several times I had to caution her that her question may have crossed a line into what we were told we shouldn’t talk about outside the temple. I still wasn’t sure about how literal those penalties were and didn’t want to take any chances.
I have no criticism at all of our wedding ceremony. I enjoyed the small room and the limited number of friends and family. I didn’t have any non-member friends that I had to exclude so that wasn’t an issue for me as it is for others.
As a young married couple I remember trying to be good members of the church. We had primary callings and I finagled myself into an Assistant Scoutmaster position just so I could justify camping and hanging out on the weekends. I enjoyed the ward we were in. It was an in-town Ward of mostly college students, CDC doctors and Emory professors. In short, enough liberals that the Mormon predisposition to lean way to the right didn’t go completely unchecked. It was a nice period in my life. I don’t remember one single conflict with church leadership or members over doctrine. To this day I have some of the kids I taught tell me about how cool it was that I would read from Richard Bach books right alongside the scriptures.
I don’t remember exactly when, but about this time the church changed the temple ceremony. They took out several of the weirdest parts. But it’s not like they made a decision to rewrite the whole ceremony. It’s like they just redacted the script to remove the weirdness. Ever since then, when I’d go to the temple it seemed really cut and paste. I can tell exactly from where each sentence was removed. There are even a few sentences that refer things that have been redacted. They make no sense at all if you don’t know to what they are referring. The changes also removed the penalties that freaked me out when I was 19. So does that mean I am subject to those penalties and that newer members aren’t? Either the doctrine was changing or it was symbolic all along.
Kids and the Move to Utah
Aaron was born and I accepted a promotion with REI that moved my new family to Utah. At the time I thought the move was going to be a good thing. It was a promotion and Victoria was going to be able to transfer her work too.
It didn’t turn out anything like I had envisioned. With a newborn and with both of us working retail we seldom if ever saw each other let alone went to church. It was a lot of trouble to drag a kid to church alone so I think the only time we went to church was when both of us had the day off. And frequently we didn’t even want to go then either. It was nice to live close enough that we could walk to church. I hadn’t done that since I’d lived in Salt Lake as a young kid.
They gave me a couple callings, but I never gave them more than a token effort. I wasn’t really active enough to get into any doctrinal conversations. The one time I did speak up in Elders Quorum it was to criticize the teacher. He had gotten into an accident because he had fallen asleep while driving on Conference Sunday and listening to a live conference talk on the radio. He was blaming the general authority for his accident. “So let me get this straight, you were driving, while already tired, on a conference Sunday and it’s the GA’s fault you ran off the road?” I think that outburst is what got me called to the EQ presidency. They regretted that almost immediately.
Living in Utah I was exposed to some of the more extreme doctrines that aren’t focused on so much in the South. Many Utah Mormon’s believe and frequently still talk about the literal gathering of Israel, picking up a few of their belongings and moving to Jackson Co. Missouri. I found it odd that most southern Mormons have never even heard this or interpreted it as only symbolic. Add one more thing to my growing list of questions about literal v. symbolic doctrines.
It was nice living in the mountains, but living in the heart of Mormondom was kind of depressing. I guess I was expecting some kind of utopia. Utah politics are just as corrupt and hypocritical as any other state in the union. It was embarrassing to read about corrupt business deals and the like and know that it was members of the church who were involved. On a side note: I lost count of how many times members would use the ward phone list to stop by the house to talk to us about “an exciting business opportunity”. In every case I politely told them I was not interested and pretty much guaranteed that they wouldn’t talk to me again if we bumped into each other in the halls at church.
Move back to Georgia
Shortly after Rachel was born we made the decision to move back to Georgia. My extended family never came to see us, even though we were less than an hour away. My job was not panning out and it was quite a hardship on the Georgia family members who did want to see us.
The ward we moved into was about as extremely opposite to the ward we were in after we got married as you could imagine. Where the Atlanta ward had CDC and Emory to help control the lean to the right, our new ward had businessmen, bankers, corporate lawyers and accountants to lean it even further to the right. As if that wasn’t enough it was the home ward to the mission president and two Area Authority General Authorities. Suffice it to say they weren’t gonna let me get away with quoting Jonathon Livingston Seagull in my lessons. Quite the contrary, I found that I was getting pulled aside and chastised every time I had a talk or opened my mouth in Sunday School. At least twice I was publicly rebuked by an area authority for something I had said in a talk. It was pretty obvious that when they spoke they expected the discussion to be over. So much for getting new insights by having access to General Authorities. Not only wasn’t I getting answers, the fact that I even had the questions was being criticized.
My new job at the phone factory would pay for me to get a degree so I started going back to school at nights. I typically got off work at 4:00pm and most night classes started at 6:00pm. Rather than drive all the way home just to spend a few minutes with the family and turn around and drive back I would drive straight to school after work. I’d find an empty room to work on homework. When that was done I’d head to the library. I love libraries. Sometimes I’d just wander, with no specific topic in mind, and see what books I found.
On one of those wanderings I found Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer. I was familiar with and liked his writing style so I read the book and found it very fascinating. I was still in the mode of a true-believer and so when I read it I was able to put up a barrier between what these FLDS nutballs were doing and what the real church does.
It was about that time that I also found the LDS section of the library. They had a copy of the RLDS Doctrine and Covenants. It too was an enlightening read. Why were some of these revelations drastically different than the LDS version? Why were some of these revelations included in this book but not in the LDS version? Again, since I was still trying to believe I just wrote off anything negative and accepted the positive.
I didn’t know what it was called at the time but what I was doing was called motivated reasoning. There are several subcategories to this type of thought process, but suffice it to say that it is not a logical way to analyze any subject. But that’s what I had been doing my whole life. I’d accept the good things I learned about the church and dismiss the aspects I disagreed with.
On that same shelf in the library they had a book that analyzed the Book of Mormon using modern forensics techniques. By doing word usage counts, letter frequency counts, and several other literary tools analysts are able to create sort of a fingerprint for the author of a document. They then compared the Book of Mormon to several other written works of people they suspected could have authored the book. Joseph Smith’s personal writing style was as close to an exact match to the author of the Book of Mormon as the researchers were able conclude.
To use a metaphor that other have used: When I found evidence that went against my faith I took that evidence and quietly placed in up on a shelf. I’ll get an answer to that later. It’s not important right now. I should concentrate on the basics and not get bogged down in this. Etc. I just kept filling up that shelf in hopes that eventually I’d be able to make sense of things.
Allowing Myself to Question
Sometime in 2001 I got called to work in the Elder’s Quorum Presidency. I enjoyed it but these little doubts and questions kept bugging me. I went in and talked to the Bishop. He really didn’t tell me anything that I hadn’t been told before. And honestly I think I kind of freaked him out. At this point I was still doing my best to believe. I just felt that my own doubts made me feel rather inadequate to help other Elders who were struggling and I didn’t want to lead anybody astray.
After releasing me from my Elder Quorum calling they called to teach Aaron’s primary class. I loved working with kids and this seemed like a great chance for me to get back to basics. In retrospect, it was that attempt to get back to basics that uncovered more than I ever expected and caused my shelf to just come crashing down.
In primary it’s a big deal for the kids to memorize The 13 Articles of Faith. It had been a while since I had memorized them. Also since I was a kid they had changed a few of them, nothing earth-shattering, primarily just updating to more modern language. I remember staying up late until I had memorized them all in their new form.
I thought it would be cute to show the kids the Articles of Faith the way I had memorized them, at the same age. I began looking for resources and couldn’t find anything on the official church sites. Then the Ensign published the Wentworth letter. This was supposedly the origin of the Articles of Faith. I was excited to read it but my excitement turned to disbelief. They had edited the Wentworth letter, a historical document, to reflect the modern version of the Articles of Faith.
And the shelf came crashing down. If they would edit this document what else would they edit? For the first time I began to look at websites and resources that were not sanctioned by the church. Questions were being answered. Pieces of the puzzle were finally fitting together and making sense. Unfortunately, the picture that was coming together was not the picture I had created in my mind for the first 35 years of my life. It was like I was trying to but together a puzzle without the benefit of the picture on the box. I’d been given and idea of what the picture should look like but it wasn’t turning out that way. I kept getting frustrated because it wasn’t looking anything like I’d imagined it would and like I was being told it should. It wasn’t until I started ignoring the image I had in my mind of what it should look like that things started to make sense. Rather than force the picture to look like what I thought it should I just put the pieces together as I found them and let the picture decide the details. For the first time in my life I was not starting with the premise that the church was true and trying to shoehorn the evidence to fit that conclusion.
I remember driving home from work late one night after realizing that my church was not what it had claimed in tears. My eyes were so clogged with tears I had to pull over and regain my composure before I felt safe enough to drive again.
Talked to Another Bishop
I went in and spoke to my new, recently called, Bishop about what I had learned. He, like his predecessor gave me some pabulum responses and told me to, “.. stay close to my family.” It was no help whatsoever and only convinced me that LDS leadership was ill equipped to help people with questions like mine. “Study, pray and obey” may be enough advice for seminary students who weren’t doing any of the three, but It was just not enough for an adult who was doing his best at all three and still not improving.
Rachel was about to turn eight and she was really exited about getting baptized. Rather than make an issue about my lack of belief I avoided the issue and we got her Grandpa to baptize her.
About this time Victoria suggested that I start a blog. I’d been using her as a sounding board and research assistant. The blog helped me to organize my thoughts and put my struggles down on paper.
As part of my research I began reading and listening to skeptical blogs and podcasts. As it turns out there was a large community of scientists, educators and science enthusiasts that were applying the principles of the scientific method to all aspects of life. It made sense to me that religious claims too should be held to the same standards of evidence as other claims. This led my research into new directions and I voraciously consumed as much material as I could in this genre. For the first time in my life I felt like I was getting some answers to my questions and concerns. I just had to discard my premise, truly open my mind and objectively look at all the sources.
From books like The Demon Haunted World by Carl Sagan and How We Believe by Michael Shermer I began to understand the psychology of belief and how our brains trick us. I’d been exposed to the idea of logical fallacies in my high school debate class as well as in college critical thinking classes. These books reinforced the idea of looking for fallacies that could possibly lead to false conclusions. Sacrament meetings became exceptionally irritating. Now that I knew and understood the multiple fallacious ways of reasoning it was impossible for me to overlook these errors. Every few minutes an abuse of logic would cross the pulpit and my brain immediately tagged it and saw it for what it was. Fast and Testimony meeting in particular became a mentally grueling ordeal.
When Aaron turned 11 I was called to work in the Scouting program. I started out as an Assistant Scoutmaster and later was the Scoutmaster. I loved working with the boys, but it was torture working with the ward and stake leadership. They had no idea how the program was supposed to work and kept trying to force the boys into doing things that they didn’t really want to do. The stake leadership had set some very arbitrary rules to apply to scouts and they were not the least bit flexible. When I questioned them, I got a lecture on obedience.
They released me as Scoutmaster after I lost my temper at a boy who thought he could get away with anything just because he was the Stake President’s son. I guess they thought they couldn’t run a program without me so they made me Committee Chairman. I soon got tired of kicking against the pricks and asked to be released from that position too. The church is capable of pulling off a really good young men’s program. But it’s insulting to Baden Powell’s program to refer to it as Boy Scouting.
By the time Noah turned 8 I was in a non-confrontational mode. I no longer believed but I didn’t like rocking the boat either. So I baptized Noah. Nobody ever asked to see a temple recommend. I didn’t have one. And my bishop didn’t question me either, even though I’d told him my concerns. I guess he thought that by ignoring my problems they had all gone away.
After I left the YM program they called Victoria and me to be nursery teachers. I loved spending all three hours of church with her. It’s the best calling I’ve ever had. I didn’t have to delve into my doctrinal struggles. I hadn’t been to an Elder’s quorum meeting for quite a while anyway so this was actually keeping me active for all three hours each week. I’m a big fan of sitting on the floor and snack time to make any meeting go smoother.
After about a year of us being nursery leaders they were hinting to Victoria that they wanted to release us. She told the bishop point blank that it would probably mean that I would go inactive. They didn’t heed her advice and released me. I haven’t sat through any more than sacrament meeting ever since.
Somewhere around this time I quit paying tithing. I’d seen the church refuse to pay for relatively minor repairs and safety items around the building. They’d already purchased peepholes for the classrooms but wouldn’t pay the additional cost to actually install them. Then I’d seen them pay for medical bill for members who couldn’t afford to pay because their primary income went to feed their cat collection. They’d paid for car repairs, but then wouldn’t pay for gas so the member could use the newly repaired car. Then they went and started a multi-million dollar ad campaign.
If the ad campaign wasn’t bad enough it required that we remove a perfectly nice brick sign in front of the building and in its place put up a stamped metal sign that looks like it belongs in front of and office park and not a church. To make matters even worse they didn’t file for a building permit and they put the sign too close to the road and it had to be moved because the DOT was widening the road. So right now there is a sign foundation paid for with a few hundred dollars of tithing money under a new turn lane. The church spun this as religious persecution by local government rather than inept financial management.
After the hurricanes of the 2004 and 2005 seasons the church sent a bunch of folks down to help. They insisted that we all wear t-shirts that proclaimed that we were Mormon. Whatever happened to the idea of giving charity? Was this charity or an ad campaign? I know they were spending a lot on the humanitarian aid. It just seemed like they could have done even more if they weren’t so focused on the publicity too.
Up until about 2010, in spite of my doctrinal concerns, I’d been a full tithe payer. I became convinced that my money was not being used as I thought it was and finally stopped.
No more teaching callings
They gave me a calling to teach the Old Testament to a few 17 and 18 year olds. It was some of the guys I’d worked with as scouts. They were nice kids and we had some fun. While preparing one of the lessons I was appalled at the immoral lesson I was being asked to convey as if I believed it. It was a story about a prophet being commanded to commit genocide in the name of the Lord. I just couldn’t do it. A few years earlier we had stopped reading scriptures together as a family because Rachel was having nightmares. I couldn’t blindly continue teaching this stuff without raising the alarm. I sent the bishop a polite email saying I did not want to be called to any more positions that required me to teach doctrines that I did not personally believe.
Yet Another Meeting with Yet Another Bishop
So I got called in to talk to the bishop. This was the third bishop I’d spoken with about my struggles. I knew this guy a lot better than the previous two so we talked for over an hour. He really is a nice guy but it quickly became clear that he too had no idea what to do for me. I relayed my concerns about several topics and got pretty much the same, non-answer, responses. He was concerned that I hadn’t been studying my scriptures. I explained that really studying the scriptures was why I was where I was. At one point he asked me to rate my testimony of the Book of Mormon on a scale of 1 to 10. His mouth literally dropped wide open when I said, “3”. I personally despise these type of arbitrary numbers applied to non-quantifiable concepts. I said “3” was because I knew it would convey to him both my disbelief in the historicity of the Book of Mormon and my dislike of being asked to quantify that disbelief.
By the time Eve turned 8 there was no way I was going to baptize her. I just couldn’t do it. I talked to Eve and recommended that she ask Aaron to do it. At the time I thought this was a good idea. Aaron was working through some issues of his own and I thought it would be a good way to let him know that they were in the past and we were ready to move on. In retrospect I feel bad for putting him in that situation.
Aaron and Rachel coming out
Some time in early 2011 Aaron pulled Victoria aside. He started off the conversation by saying, “You’re probably going to hate me for this…” and then proceeded to tell her that he could no longer believe in the god they taught about at church. He was apprehensive because he didn’t have any idea of the struggles that I’d been having. Victoria brought him in to talk to me and we all assured each other that things were going to be just fine. He was pleasantly surprised that we didn’t chew him out. Quite the contrary, in many ways he was a braver man than I was.
I think it was the same day that Victoria and I talked to Rachel and she too confided that she no longer believed. In here mind there was just too much evil that was done in god’s name. She wasn’t referring to modern day people creatively interpreting the scriptures. She was talking about the scriptures themselves, the stories of genocide, slavery, abuse and murder that were directly commanded by a so-called loving deity.
Church was always something that I just did. Even though I stopped believing I still went through the motions. I tried to figure out if I could be a New-Order- Mormon, a cultural member but non-believer. I just couldn’t make it work. I got too irritated by the abuses of logic and reason from the pulpit. I began to feel like my presence in the audience without speaking up against it was being taken as tacit agreement. It just felt dishonest of me to keep it up. So I told Victoria that I just couldn’t do it anymore. Since September or so of 2011 the only time I’ve been in an LDS building is to pick up a kid from an activity, to help Victoria with one of her YW activities or a meeting with the Stake President. I also attended a couple Boy Scout Court of Honors because a friend was getting an award. But I haven’t sat through any doctrinal meetings for the better part of a year now.
The King Swing
In October of 2011 I typed out a long blog post and called it the King Swing. It was essentially my coming out as a non-believer. I no longer considered myself a member of the church and it felt dishonest not to let the people I love know. I expected a little fall out from family. So far I have received nothing but support from family and friends. Mom didn’t take it very well but it was still much better than I’d expected. I’m still waiting for the other shoe to drop with some people. Besides posting it on my blog I haven’t been rubbing anybody’s nose in it. Some family members still are going about their lives as if nothing has changed. I have a visitor tracker on my blog so I know who has visited and how long they stayed on each page. I’m content to let them bring it up with me on their own terms.
Meetings with Stake President and Scare Tactics to Get me Back.
Sometime in December, 2011 the Bishop and Stake President paid me a surprise visit on a Sunday afternoon. I was taking a nap. I’d gotten up early to donate platelets and had spent the rest of the morning cleaning up the house. Victoria just let me sleep. I swapped emails with the Bishop and Stake President quite a few times while trying to reschedule. We had at least three different meeting scheduled and every time they cancelled shortly before the meeting time.
I felt like I was being manipulated so I sent them a polite but firm email. The basic theme of the email was “What do you hope to accomplish?” and I laid out the path I had taken to where I was and what it would take to get me back. That got them to leave me alone for a few more months.
February I got an email request to meet with the Stake President. I accepted and went. I respect his perspective and what he believes his task is. I just no longer believed that he had any authority over me. I was criticized by some of non-member friends for meeting on “his turf”. But I wasn’t threatened by meeting in his office. To the contrary, I think I was more at ease. It’s a lot easier to get up and leave an uncomfortable setting than it is to kick somebody out of your house.
We talked for about an hour and a half. It was a pleasant conversation but I wasn’t charmed out of believing the church so I wasn’t going to be charmed back in. I wasn’t scared out of belief so I wasn’t going to be scared back in. I also explained to him that at this point I just don’t know what to believe in anymore. But I was much more comfortable with an honest “I don’t know” that a dishonest “I know”. We left on pleasant terms but I know he was frustrated that I didn’t have a witness of the error of my ways.
Shortly after that meeting he sent me a very disturbing email. I won’t share all the details. But he obviously sees doubt and curiosity as sins. He used four different euphemisms for “Satan” while making his points. He was clearly trying to scare me back into the church. I typed up a nice response but ultimately did not send it. I don’t think it would have accomplished anything. He pretty much told me that I was under the influence of Satan. With that mindset what could I possible say to persuade him otherwise?
I have yet to take the formal step of resigning from the church. Members sometimes refer to this as having your names removed from the records. The legal term is “resign”. I remember a Stake Conference speech from an apostle that there is no such thing as removing your names from the records or a “do not contact” list. The only reason I hesitate is that I just don’t want it to trigger another series of interview and interrogations. If they are comfortable to just leave me a lone I’m content too.
There are a couple online recovery forums that I frequent periodically. I feel like a fish out of water when I visit them. Most if not all of the posters are very bitter and antagonistic towards the church. I don’t share that. Lately I’ve been just kind of a lurker on those sites. I just don’t have the anger and frustration with the church that so many of them do. I really am content to live and let live. If the church works for you I won’t try to talk you out of it. If you want to have a talk about church doctrine or church history, I’m just as open to discuss it as I was before.
I think that most of the church leaders are good decent well intended people. I just no longer accept that they are divinely guided. That doesn’t mean that a conference talk about sharing each other’s burdens means any less to me. I still do my best to find the good in everybody and in everything. The Mormon Church has loads of good people and good doctrines. I will continue to do my best to learn from them and incorporate those teachings into my life.