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Wednesday, March 27, 2019

6. What Made Me Lose My Faith Part 1 – Church Acknowledged Problems


I will reiterate, for those members who believe their life would be worse if they lost faith in the church, don’t continue. If your marriage would not weather your loss of faith or if you were to start questioning, don’t read this post. If you are happy and honestly don’t want to know difficult information for whatever reason, do not continue reading. IF YOU DO CHOOSE TO READ THIS, PLEASE DO IT WITH YOUR SPOUSE! I’m not kidding. I’m not being dramatic. I believe that you would be better off to read this together, to go through any possible faith alterations together, rather than to go through a faith crisis or faith transition and then tell your fully believing spouse. From someone who has taken this path, please listen to this advice.

But if you choose to read this, I would ask that you ask yourself one question before you continue: If the church is not true, would I want to know? Think about it for a moment and be completely honest with yourself when answering.

This will be an extremely difficult post. This is the first of several posts where I will list some of the major issues that broke my shelf and convinced me that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka Mormon or LDS Church) is not true. For Part 1, I will be discussing issues that the church has acknowledged. I consider that these issues have been acknowledged by the church because I have found information on the official church website for each of these topics. This post will be difficult for me to write as well as for members of the church to read.

Writing this post is difficult for me because I worry that, by posting this information, I will be seen as anti-Mormon and that I may lose friendships or that friendships will be irrevocably altered/damaged. I worry that members will read these things and complain to my local leadership and as a result I might be called in for a disciplinary council, with excommunication being a possible outcome. I worry that people will think I hate the church (P.S. I don’t…). But I write these things for several reasons. I stand by my statement in the first post that this is therapeutic for me. It helps me process. I write these things because I believe people have a right to know. I was not given proper informed consent when I was baptized into the church, so was not aware of the vast majority of these issues. I want people to know that I’m not crazy for my loss of faith. There are legitimate issues. I write these things because if people like me remain silent, the church won’t become better (take the recent temple changes as an example). But I do not write this for the purpose of destroying faith. There are those that continue believing while knowing these issues, although their faith is much different than what is taught by the leaders of the church. But I do believe that everyone has the right to make the choice for themselves while knowing all the information.

This post will also be difficult for members of the church to read. Even though in this post I will be discussing issues that the church has acknowledged, I will be including other information that I have learned. This information does not promote faith in the church. There will likely be many that write off this information as anti-Mormon lies. They may think that I have been led astray by Satan and I am deceived. Others will find ways to make this information fit into their current belief. People are obviously allowed to believe whatever they want. But I have researched these things for more than a year, with much of that time being while I still believed and wanted the church to be true. Even with this mindset, the evidence, in my opinion, is overwhelming. So, it will be difficult for members of the church to digest. For those of you who have made the choice to continue, please reach out to me if you want to talk. I will provide sources upon request. I will support anyone who needs it without judgement. I will be straight with you but I am here for you if you need it.

I have no idea how long this is going to end up being but here is my summary for this post. I will be discussing issues in order of how impactful on my faith transition the issue was. From least impactful to most, I will be discussing:

1.       Kinderhook Plates
2.       Masonry and the Temple
3.       Witnesses of the Book of Mormon
4.       Book of Mormon Translation, Geography, Lamanite Identity, and DNA
5.       Problems with the First Vision
The last three points will be discussed in the next post.
6.       Polygamy/Polyandry
7.       Race and the Priesthood Ban
8.       Book of Abraham Historicity

I actually had no idea which issues I was going to include or how they would end up being ordered. I do find it interesting that the least impactful and most impactful items have physical evidence that reinforce the conclusions I have come to.

Before I get into these topics, I will say that for the vast majority of those that lose their faith, there is not one smoking gun topic, no one issue that PROVES the church isn’t true, although point number 8 was extremely impactful for me personally. The majority of post-Mormons find that there are dozens of issues that just add up. So, with this in mind, and with one more warning to MAKE SURE YOU ARE ACTUALLY WANTING TO DO THIS, I will begin.

1.       Kinderhook Plates
I will begin each of the topics with what the church acknowledges then include other information the church does not. From the website we learn that a group of men in 1843 supposedly dug up six bell-shaped brass plates that were found near a skeleton, outside Kinderhook, Illinois. The plates appeared to contain ancient writings. They were brought to the founder of the church, Joseph Smith. The church article states that there was no translated text that resulted from this encounter. The article does reveal that Joseph remarked that they contained “the history of … a descendant of Ham through the loins of Pharaoh king of Egypt.” The church article goes on to claim that “Joseph evidently did not attempt a revelatory translation…but rather appears to have compared the symbols on the Kinderhook plates with other ancient artifacts in his possession.” The church acknowledges that these plates and the engravings were eventually determined to be a hoax.

There are several issues with the church’s characterization of what actually occurred. The article does not include the information that the hoax was specifically created to test Joseph Smith’s ability to translate ancient text and to discern the hoax. Joseph reported having a specific and special ability to translate ancient languages through the power of God. This is how he claimed to translate the Book of Mormon, as well as the Book of Abraham, which will be discussed in point 8 at the end of this post. In the case of the Kinderhook plates, he failed the test. He also failed to utilize the power of discernment to determine the falsehood, which discernment members of the church believe leaders and members have through the Holy Ghost. The article says there was no translated text as a result of his inspection, and while this is technically true, the article edits out a portion of the quote about “the history of … a descendant of Ham.” A lengthier excerpt of the quote reads as such: “I have translated a portion of them [Kinderhook plates], and they contain the history of the person with whom they were found. He was a descendant of Ham…” So, the church specifically left out the part stating that Joseph claimed to translate the plates while the article later claims that he didn’t provide an inspired translation. The article minces words to discredit this event.

In the end, Joseph was not able to determine that this was a hoax. God did not tell him, through revelation, that these plates were fake. Joseph claimed a special God-given ability to translate, as he had apparently done in the past with the Book of Abraham, and he was not able to determine the engravings were unintelligible scribbles. Joseph lied about being able to translate the engravings by giving a faulty interpretation. These plates were not an ancient record of a descendant of Ham. They were fake. This raises troubling concerns with Joseph Smith’s claims to receive revelation and to translate ancient text.

2.       Masonry and the Temple
As a preamble to this point, I will respect the sacred nature of the temple ceremonies for members of the church by not including specifics about current temple ordinances. The article on on masonry states that freemasonry is a centuries old organization that grew out of European trade guilds. The masons re-enact a story where they advance by degrees using handgrips, key words, and special clothing. Many early Latter-day Saints were Masons, including Joseph Smith, who joined in 1842. Soon after Joseph became a Mason, he introduced the temple endowment. The church article agrees that there are similarities between the masonic rituals and the temple endowment. Their argument is that there are also many differences. The article acknowledges that there are no masonic documents before about 1400AD. The early Masonic narrative about where they came from was that their ancient forebears built Solomon’s temple. The article acknowledges that the rituals of Freemasonry appear to have originated in early modern Europe, not Solomon’s Temple. Less than two months after Joseph Smith was made a Master Mason, he introduced the Temple Endowment. Many early church leaders described the endowment as quite similar to the masonic rituals. They believed that masonry was a degenerated form of ancient temple rites, which Joseph Smith restored.

The church makes attempts to emphasize how there are differences in these rites as a way to assuage the confusion members may feel due to the shocking similarities. It is like someone who plagiarizes a paper but tells their teacher after being discovered, “See here, these few words are quite different,” while there are paragraphs of copied material. The fact is the symbols, oaths, handgrips, and terminology, especially of early temple rites (the ceremony has changed quite a bit from earlier iterations) are almost identical, and in some cases word for word the same. Many of the parts that have been taken out of the endowment (such as the graphic penalties pre-1990) were almost perfect copies. Many of the symbols on the exterior of temples, such as the compass, square, level, sun, moon, and stars are also masonic symbols. On October 15, 1911, in Messages of First Presidency, 4:250 it states “Because of their Masonic characters the ceremonies of the temple are sacred and not for the public.”

The early church leaders tried to make sense of these stark similarities by saying that masonry came from Solomon’s Temple (1000BC), which rites came from an earlier source all the way back to Adam and Eve. But as the church stated in its article, the evidence tells us that masonry goes no further back than 1400AD, with the specific similarities between the temple endowment and masonic rites being no earlier than in the 1700s AD. Masonry does not have a history going back thousands of years, it only goes back hundreds, not enough to make sense of these similarities. Even Fair Mormon, the believing apologetic website, admits both that freemasonry does not go back to Solomon’s Temple and that it is clear that freemasonry played a role in the development of the temple ritual.

Another problem is that historically we know what occurred in ancient temples. The ritual sacrifice of animals. Nothing resembling masonic rituals or current LDS endowment ceremonies occurred anciently. So, it would appear that Joseph Smith copied copious amounts of the masonic ritual when creating the endowment. The typical argument that the masons got their rites from ancient sources does not hold up under investigation and Mormon scholars acknowledge this. Temple rituals were almost certainly plagiarized from Masonic rites and were not a restoration of ancient worship.

3.       Witnesses of the Book of Mormon
The article on the Witnesses of the Book of Mormon tells us that the first edition featured two testimonials: one by a group of three witnesses and another by a group of eight. The three witnesses (Oliver Cowdery, David Whitmer, and Martin Harris) declared that an angel showed them the Gold Plates that Joseph Smith used to translate the Book of Mormon and they heard the voice of God telling them that the work was true. An additional eight witnesses (all members of the Smith and Whitmer families) declared that Joseph showed them the plates and they were allowed to handle and examine them. The article states that there have been accounts that some witnesses denied having seen the plates with natural eyes but only saw them as if they “saw a city through a mountain.” The article acknowledges that witnesses “employed a variety of phrases” to describe the encounter, including seeing them with “a spiritual eye.” Many of the three and eight witnesses either left the church or were excommunicated, though some few did return. The article and many members use the claim that the witnesses never denied their experiences as proof of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon.

What the church tries to minimize is that there are numerous accounts of the three witnesses saying they only saw the angel and plates in a visionary state in their minds or that they only saw the plates when they were covered by a cloth. John H. Gilbert, the typesetter for most of the Book of Mormon, said that he had asked Harris, "Martin, did you see those plates with your naked eyes?" According to Gilbert, Harris "looked down for an instant, raised his eyes up, and said, 'No, I saw them with a spiritual eye." John H. Gilbert, "Memorandum," 8 September 1892, in EMD, 2: 548. At least four other accounts describe Martin Harris saying almost exactly the same thing at several different times. One was in 1838 when several apostles and high ranking leaders in the church left, Stephen Burnett, one of these men told of the reason: “When I came to hear Martin Harris state in public that he never saw the plates with his natural eyes only in vision or imagination, neither Oliver nor David & also that the eight witnesses never saw them & hesitated to sign that instrument for that reason, but were persuaded to do it, the last pedestal gave way, in my view our foundation was sapped & the entire superstructure fell in heap of ruins, I therefore three week since in the Stone Chapel...renounced the Book of Mormon...after we were done speaking M Harris arose & said he was sorry for any man who rejected the Book of Mormon for he knew it was true, he said he had hefted the plates repeatedly in a box with only a tablecloth or a handkerchief over them, but he never saw them only as he saw a city throught [sic] a mountain.”

All of the witnesses had extremely close ties with Joseph Smith and his family. Martin Harris had a substantial financial stake in the success of the Book of Mormon. Many of the witnesses left the church and joined other leaders of break-off LDS sects and other religions. After Joseph’s death there was a succession crisis. Most of the witnesses did not follow Brigham Young but followed James Strang. Strang produced his own set of plates, called the Voree Plates, and said they were given by God in much the same way Joseph claimed to receive his plates. And the majority of the witnesses believed him. By 1847 not a single one of the surviving eleven witnesses was a part of the LDS church. Many of these witnesses were called liars, counterfeiters, thieves, etc by Joseph Smith later on, making their characters questionable.

David Whitmer made the following statement: “If you believe my testimony to the Book of Mormon; if you believe that God spake to us three witnesses by his own voice, then I tell you that in June, 1838, God spake to me again by his own voice from the heavens, and told me to separate myself from among the Latter-day Saints…” So, was David lying when he said God spoke to him? Or was he lying when he said he saw an angel and the plates? He does not sound like a trustworthy source of information.

Martin Harris was an extremely superstitious man. Before joining the Saints, he had changed religion five times. After the succession crisis, he joined four more different sects as well as the Shakers. There are accounts that he believed the sputtering of a candle flame was a sign that the devil wanted him to stop reading his scriptures. He told someone that he had been walking and talking with Christ, who was in the form of a deer. He also stated that he had seen the devil who had four feet and a head like a jack-ass. Another statement he made was that he had just as much evidence for a Shaker book as he did for the Book of Mormon. The Shakers at the time also had numerous witnesses claim that they had seen an angel and knew their modern book of scripture, the Roll and Book, came from God. Why are their witnesses less trustworthy and those of the Book of Mormon more so?

As for the eight witnesses, there is convincing documentation that they only handled plates through a cloth or while in a box. There are also accounts of several of the eight witnesses that state they only saw the plates uncovered in vision. There is evidence that there was a physical object that Joseph Smith had, perhaps plates of tin, but that these were kept concealed at all times. Joseph would tell people that God would destroy them if they looked at the plates. Knowing this information makes these witnesses less credible.

These people grew up in a time rife with angelic appearances, visions, treasure spirits, folk magic and the like. These types of miraculous events were not unique experiences to them. So, while they may never have denied their witness to the Book of Mormon, neither did they continue with the church. They testified of other books of scripture. They made statements that they did not see with their natural eyes but in vision. The evidence of these witnesses’ testimonies were not as convincing as I originally had heard.

4.       Book of Mormon Translation, Geography, Lamanite Identity and DNA
The church has several official articles for each of these issues but I will summarize them as best I can. The church has taught that Joseph Smith used the “Urim and Thummim” to translate the Gold Plates from Reformed Egyptian to English. These instruments were clear stones placed in rims similar to glasses. The church taught that Joseph looked through these glasses at the Gold Plates and a scribe transcribed his translation. The church now acknowledges that after the loss of his original 116 pages of the Book of Mormon, Joseph exclusively used a rock in a hat to dictate the words in the Book of Mormon with the plates not being looked at at all. This same rock was found while Joseph was digging for treasure, and he used this same rock to charge people money to find treasure, but he never found any.

The church used to teach that the people of the Book of Mormon (the Nephites and Lamanites) came from Jerusalem, sailed across the ocean, and became what is now the First Nations people. We were taught that these people spread over all of North and South America. The church taught that both continents, and especially the United States, were saved for a righteous people and none could get here except led by God. The heading to the Book of Mormon used to say that the people of the Book of Mormon became the “principle” ancestors of the American Indians. This has since changed to “among” the ancestors of the American Indians. The prevailing theory now is that there was a very small area where these people settled, which has not been found.

The facts of this matter are that the church was deceptive about the translation of the Book of Mormon. Church historians/prophets have said that Joseph Smith did not use a seer stone. Bruce R. McConkie, a famous Mormon general authority, stated that peep stones were of the devil. Now the church acknowledges that Joseph used the stone in his hat to translate.

There is an absence of convincing archeological evidence for the Book of Mormon peoples, as well as no evidence for a Reformed Egyptian language. DNA tells us that the First Nations people were originally from Asia, not Jerusalem, so the church has had to change it’s narrative. Joseph Smith himself stated that there was a monumental battle at a specific hill, the Hill Cumorah in New York, where two million people were killed in war. This would have been the largest death toll of any single battle ever until the modern world wars. Yet there is no archeological evidence of any deaths, weapons, or armor at this hill. Joseph Smith stated during the Mormons numerous migrations that they were walking where ancient Nephites lived. He reported finding the skeleton of a righteous white Lamanite named Zelph in central Illinois. It is clear that the original founder of the church and prophet believed it was revealed to him by God that all First Nations people were descended from these Book of Mormon peoples and they spread over all of North and South America. But with modern scientific findings disputing this, the church has had to change its story.

5.       Problems with the First Vision
The article on the church’s official website states that Joseph Smith was visited by God and Jesus Christ in 1820 when he was 14 years old. The church acknowledges that there are numerous accounts of this vision that are different from one another. There are actually upwards of nine different accounts. The article states that these differing accounts tell a consistent story but emphasize different parts in each retelling. The first account, and only one written by Joseph himself, was written in 1832, a full 12 years after the events in 1820. The article discusses how the discrepancies were merely differences in emphasis rather than different stories. Joseph stated that he told people about his experience at the time and he was persecuted as a result. The official account given in church history that we members grew up with was given in 1838, which was 18 years after the event itself and 6 years after Josephs first handwritten account. The church acknowledges that there are critics who believe the events described became more miraculous as time went on in each subsequent account. The latter three accounts report there being two personages (God and Christ) while the earliest account only says there was one (The Lord). The article focuses on different ways the accounts can be interpreted in order to make sense of the differences. It is opined that the differences indicate that Joseph had increased insight over time, or in other words, that he remembered the event better as time progressed. The article concludes with the common idea that the only way you can gain knowledge whether Joseph saw God and Christ and was told to restore the true Church is to pray about it.

The first and main issue I have with the First Vision story is that there is absolutely no record of it anywhere until at least 10 years after it supposedly happened. Joseph stated that he told his parents. His mother was known for writing down the family’s history but she did not record that Joseph had seen God. Joseph stated that he told many people, including a preacher, and that he was persecuted mercilessly for the story. Yet there is no documented evidence for this in any newspapers or journals. The only documented evidence of persecution at the time was about Joseph’s treasure digging, which there is significant documentation for.

There were numerous opportunities for leaders of the church to record this event in official church publications, including numerous official histories of the church, but these histories were vacant when it came to the First Vision. In Joseph Smith’s 1835 history of the church, he claimed his first spiritual experience was in 1823, where he prayed to know if God existed. An angel, whom he stated was Nephi (not Moroni, who later was attributed to this visit) appeared to him. Why would Joseph ask if God existed in 1823 when supposedly God and Christ appeared to him in 1820?  The Book of Commandments, which was the precursor to the Doctrine and Covenants, did not mention the First Vision. The first important missionary pamphlet, “The Voice of Warning” included information about the Book of Mormon but nothing on the First Vision. The evidence suggests that the general church membership were not taught about it until the 1840s and even then it was not a prominent story. Early church leaders, including the second president and prophet Brigham Young, specifically stated in the early 1850s that God did not appear to Joseph but angels did. President Gordon B. Hinkley stated “Our whole strength rests on the validity of that vision. It either occurred or it did not occur. If it did not, then this work is a fraud.” So, the importance of this event cannot be understated.

Scientific literature is clear that memory and recall decline over time. The article suggests that with time Joseph’s insight and memory improved. This argument cannot be sustained. There is documented evidence that the religious revival that triggered Joseph Smith to pray and have his First Vision did not occur until 1823-24, not 1820 as reported. It is also interesting that there are literally dozens of accounts of other people having visions where the Lord would appear to them in the early 1800s. Norris Stearns 1815, Elias Smith 1816, Solomon Chamberlain 1816, Charles G. Finney 1821, and Asa Wild 1823, among others all had visions that were remarkably similar to the one Joseph Smith claimed to have in his first account of 1832.

There are also major discrepancies between the accounts. In his earliest account he stated that he had already determined that all other churches were false before he prayed. He reportedly came to this conclusion by studying the scriptures. Yet in later accounts he states that it had never entered his mind that they were all wrong, at least not until God told him that this was the case. There is evidence that Joseph tried to join the Methodist church in 1828. Why would he do so when in 1820 God specifically told him that “all their creeds were an abomination in his sight”? The date of the vision fluctuates between 1823, 1821, and 1820. Who appeared to him changes between the subsequent accounts from a spirit, to an angel, then two angels, Jesus, many angels, and finally to the Father and the Son. Leaving out that God appeared in the early accounts would be like saying that the mayor came to your birthday party but then five years later telling someone that the mayor was there but so was the Queen. Why leave out this information when the prevailing belief at the time was that God and Christ were one? Why not call this important discovery to others attention from the earliest account?

While these differing accounts bothered me, my main concern was that there was absolutely no record of the First Vision occurring for at least 10 years after it supposedly happened. Even with ample opportunity for recording this in official church histories, scriptures, pamphlets, etc. The initial heavenly visitation was that of an angel speaking of gold plates. This was the origin story of the church for many decades. The First Vision was not canonized until 1880. All of these things led me to believe that the First Vision event never occurred but was a later addition to add legitimacy to Joseph Smith’s claims to authority given by God.

As an aside, Joseph Smith did the same thing with the miraculous account of the priesthood being restored. Members are taught that John the Baptist and Peter, James, and John appeared and restored the priesthood authority to Joseph Smith. Except in the meeting minutes contemporary to the actual event, it is reported that Lyman Wight gave Joseph Smith the priesthood. This is confirmed in Rough Stone Rolling, a biography of Joseph Smith written by an active believing member of the church. We don’t hear of the angelic appearances for 5 years after the event supposedly happened. David Whitmer, one of the three witnesses stated, “... neither did I ever hear of such a thing as an angel ordaining them [Joseph Smith, Jr. and Oliver Cowdery] until I got into Ohio about the year 1834 – or later [5 years later].... Oliver stated to me in Joseph's presence that they had baptized each other seeking by that to fulfill the command. And after our arrival at father's sometime in June 1829, Joseph ordained Oliver to be an Elder, and Oliver ordained Joseph to be an Elder in the Church of Christ.... I do not believe that John the Baptist ever ordained Joseph and Oliver as stated and believed by the same.” Richard Bushman, stated, “The late appearance of these accounts raises the possibility of later fabrication.” He goes on to say, “Moreover, he [Joseph] inserted the story into a history composed in 1838 but not published until 1842.” There are several additional sources of evidence that show that Joseph later edited or added information into revelations he previously received as if they were written the altered way in the first place.

Wow, this post has gone long. The final three issues on polygamy/polyandry, race and the priesthood, and the Book of Abraham are actually much bigger for me that these past five, so I will make a separate post for them. But I want to reiterate something before I close. I have been thinking about this for some time now. I want whoever reads this to understand that I don’t hate the church. I want it to improve. I might feel more comfortable attending in the future if the church became better. And it’s important to note that if the church is not the one and only true church on the earth, it’s still a good church. It is one of many places for people to gather to learn and grow together. To become better people. I want the church to learn and grow and become better as well.

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

5. Journey Down The Rabbit Hole/How My Shelf Broke

Before I get into the body of this post, I want to add a disclaimer. I will be doing this for the next two posts as well. The disclaimer is this:


I will not include much of the info here but I will include sources of information that are easily found online. If you don’t want even the possibility of doubting your faith, don’t look up any of the websites or books I reference. If your marriage could not survive if you doubted or lost your faith, don’t look anything up. If you want to know, please, research this information with your spouse. One of the things I wish I had done differently would be to have my wife take the journey with me. If you are happy in the church, and don’t care whether it’s true or not because you feel like its good, or you have had spiritual experiences, don’t research farther.

With that being said, two posts ago, I discussed several things that began to weigh on my shelf. These included not feeling spiritually filled by attending church, not seeing blessings from paying tithing and seeing that people outside the church could be just as happy and well off as people within, discrimination against LGBTQ persons, and not receiving answers to prayer at a time when I felt like I was at my lowest. During my last post, I discussed potential definitions of the term anti-Mormon. The situation when I feel like the term anti-Mormon is appropriate for information is ONLY when the information is false. Individuals can be anti-Mormon when they promote violence, if they are unduly mocking or critical, or if they knowingly share lies to discredit the church. This leads me to the topic of this article: my process of searching for the truth.

With doubts weighing on me, I reached out to several friends within the church. At this point I realize that many of my doubts were rather trivial things, things that many other members of the church could relate to and push through. But because I had been feeling this way for some time, I felt like I needed advice on how to feel better about attending church. My goal was to figure out what I was doing wrong that I would feel these negative feelings and to find a solution to allow me feel joy in attending church. To reiterate, I was still attending every Sunday. I was reading my scriptures, saying my prayers, obeying the commandments, etc. It had not even entered the realm of possibility that the church was not true.

The advice that I was given was to keep doing all of the things I had been doing and answers would come. Keep doing what I had been trying to do for months and years and I would receive support from God and things would get better. This common advice in the church is called the Primary Answers. When you are struggling, go back to the things you learned as a child, which is to read your scriptures more, pray more and more earnestly, fast, go to church weekly, attend the temple, keep the commandments like paying tithing, etc.

So, I did just that. I kept trying. I kept reading scriptures, kept praying, kept on keeping on. At some point, I don’t know how long exactly it was, I asked myself, “How long do I keep doing this without feeling strengthened? How long do I keep doing this without seeing the blessings that were promised?” Eventually I reached out to another friend within the church. I noticed that he had made several posts on Facebook that were pro-LGBTQ marriage, which is against church teachings. I pointedly asked him how he could believe in supporting gay marriage yet still believe in the church. He replied that while he still attends church, and he sees many positives within the church, he doesn’t believe many of the things taught there. He no longer believed that the LDS church was the one and only true church. I was incredulous, as I had no experience with someone attending church but not believing unless they were not a member. My friend had gone on a two-year mission for the church, was married in the temple, and did all the things you would expect from a fully believing member. I asked him what made him feel this way? And so, the journey down the rabbit hole began…

He told me to read the Gospel Topics Essays on the official church website, I hadn’t even heard of these articles so asked what they were. He said they were the official response to difficult questions about church history and doctrine. As of now, these essays include: Book of Mormon and DNA Studies, First Vision Accounts, Plural Marriage in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Race and the Priesthood, Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham, Book of Mormon Geography, Masonry and the Temple, Lamanite Identity, and Kinderhook Plates, to name a few. While I had heard of some of these issues, some were completely foreign to me. I had never heard of potential issues with the Book of Abraham (which is considered a modern book of scripture Joseph Smith translated from ancient Egyptian papyri) or differences in First Vision accounts, where Joseph apparently saw God and Jesus Christ and they told him to restore their true church. So, I began reading. Voraciously would be a good word to describe how I read. I devoured the essays. While some of them made sense and seemed like good answers to these difficult questions, others did not make sense. And when I looked into the sources that the articles were referencing, some didn’t support the context that they were being used in. So, I asked my friend for more information.

He directed me to an unofficial believing website called Fair Mormon. These volunteers are known as “apologists.” An apologist is someone that offers an argument in defense of religious doctrines against critical information. While these volunteers do not offer official answers, the website is quite large and attempts to answer many of the hard questions with the best explanations that Mormon scholars could muster. This website made me aware of the literally dozens, if not hundreds, of issues with history and doctrines of the church. I had no idea about the vast majority of these problems! For instance, I heard from leaders of the church that critics stopped trying to disprove the Book of Mormon because it was a practice in futility. The Book of Mormon was too perfect and beyond reproach. I also heard from a past prophet that there were no other teachings like the Word of Wisdom, the church’s law of health, at the time that Joseph revealed it, which was proof that it came from God. Through the Fair Mormon website, I learned that these were not true statements.

This website is a much larger source of information than the Gospel Topics Essays, and took much longer to get through, but after months of study it seemed like the same result. Some of their explanations made sense, but much of it didn’t. Many of their arguments weren’t strong and, looking at the sources, almost all of the research was based out of Utah or were given by the same several Mormon apologists. Often the sources were taken out of context when used to prove their points. It didn’t seem right to me that the same Utah Mormon researchers kept coming up in these sources or that non-Mormon scholars never reached the same conclusions as those within the church. For me, if the church were true, the answers would be the same regardless of who the researcher was. If the church was true, everything the church taught would be backed up at a future date through science and research, which didn’t seem to be the case.

After feeling like the answers from Fair Mormon were not adequate, I asked for other sources of information. I bought and read a book called Rough Stone Rolling, which was written by an active believing member of the church but who was also more honest about the history. In this biography about Joseph Smith, he addresses many of these problems from a believing perspective. He reported some issues with the official narrative of church history, such as that the priesthood being restored by angelic beings to Joseph Smith could easily be a fabrication; how people closest to Joseph Smith accused him of having an affair with a teenager named Fanny Alger; and how Joseph Smith used the same rock he found while treasure digging, the same rock he used to “see” buried treasure in the ground (although he never found any treasure), to translate the Book of Mormon. The author, Richard Bushman stated, and I quote, “For the Church to remain strong, it has to reconstruct it’s narrative. The dominant narrative is not true; it can’t be sustained.” This information was given by an active, believing member of the church who looked into the history of the church and found this information. He came to the conclusion that the church was still true, but that it had also been inaccurate in sharing its history.

Reading from these sources, which were given by active believing members, had my shelf in shambles. It had not completely broken, but the way that these apologists talked about their version of faith in the church was completely different than what was taught over the pulpit or from the leaders of the church. I realized that some members who knew of these major issues could still continue to believe in the church but they had to completely alter what they believed to fit history, which was not what the church officially taught. In the end, I am happy that these people can find a way to make belief work for them. But it would not work for me. It seemed very wrong to me that people that knew about these problems, many of these issues being historical fact rather than opinion, believed in a completely different version of the church than everyone else I knew. I didn’t feel good believing in this way; I couldn’t do it. It seemed to me that they were taking their pre-formed conclusion that the church was true and made attempts to fit the evidence, rather than looking at all the evidence then coming to an unbiased conclusion. This is the basis of scientific inquiry. So, I decided that I would leave any biases at the door. I would follow the evidence, using the principle of Occam’s Razor (the simplest conclusion is almost always the correct one), to form my conclusion.

I want to take a moment to describe how I was feeling up to this point in the process. I was absolutely gutted. I had no idea about these issues. I had never heard of the vast majority of these concerns about the church, likely due to these issues being labelled as anti-Mormon lies. Yet these things were verified as actual issues by these several believing sources. The explanations to many of the issues were not satisfactory. So, I was hanging on by a thread. I want to reiterate that I began this process to prove that the church was true. I wanted it to be. But learning these difficult things about the church had my entire world crumbling. Many of those closest to me and almost all of my closest friends were members of the church. My life was centred around these teachings and cultural practices. Allowing the thought that the church may not be true was devastating to me. I plan on making a post in the future about my personal grieving process but know that this was not some decision I made with little consideration. I pored over this information for months, and there are other sources of information that I researched that I still have to discuss.

From this point forward, I began studying the church from outside perspectives. As I previously explained, I had researched enough that I was already holding on to my testimony of the church by a thread. The only thing keeping me holding on to hope at this point was likely fear. Fear of what life would look like not believing in this church. Fear of what would happen to my relationship with my wife. Fear of the impact on relationships with those important to me within the church. I could not imagine what the future would hold for me if I let go of that last thread of hope that the church was somehow still true.

The first thing I read that was from a source outside of believing members of the church was the MormonThink website. Actually, I should reframe my statement. Many of the authors of this website are either active or previous members of the church, ranging from Young Women’s Presidents to Stake Presidents. Some contributors still attend and some don’t. Some still believe the church is true but know the church has not been truthful in their portrayal of its history, while some no longer believe. The introduction to their site is as follows: “MormonThink is concerned with truth. It is neither an anti-Mormon website nor an LDS apologist website. Instead, for each topic we present the strongest and most compelling arguments and explanations from both the critics and the defenders of the Church. It is then up to the reader to decide where the preponderance of the evidence lies and which side has dealt more fairly with the issue. Because we aim to be as complete and impartial as possible, we welcome contributions from readers who can strengthen the positions on either side. As a result, we present a range of viewpoints, privileging those we believe are the most accurate, consistent, and empirically valid.”

This sounded like it was exactly what I was looking for. The strongest arguments from both sides. Allowing the reader to decide what makes the most sense to them. A range of viewpoints. This sounded like it was more in line with determining truth by compiling all the information available and forming a conclusion based on what the evidence shows.

Before I continue, I want to return to the definition of anti-Mormon. This is the point that my last blog post becomes important. I discussed how information can only be anti-Mormon if it is false. Since there is only information presented on this site, that is the criteria I was focusing on. Is the information true or false? So, with this in mind, I dove in.

As I read this information, I experienced every emotion imaginable. I experienced relief as these answers finally began to make sense. I would research the source material and realized that what was presented on the website matched what the source was actually saying. I experienced sadness as many of the answers that made the most sense were against the truth claims of the church. I experienced disgust with a prophet of the church in the 1800s saying that if a mixed-race couple had a baby, both they and the baby should be killed. I experienced anger towards the church and leaders for being deceptive by presenting a whitewashed history. I experienced fear about how to tell my wife that I no longer believed the church was true. I suppose the fear was the worst. Because it was at this point that my shelf was destroyed. Shattered to a million pieces with no chance of it ever being repaired again. Some will think that I was led astray by anti-Mormon material. But as I have said before, information that tells the truth cannot be anti-Mormon.

I want to go on to describe how I told my wife and how crushed she was when I told her I no longer believed. As I, literally, sit here typing these words with tears in my eyes at the memory, I want to share how horrible that discussion and evening was. The subsequent months were not by any means easy. I want to tell you about the shame I initially felt thinking that I was a terrible person for not having faith in the church. I want to relay the terrifying feelings of, at the very least, my perception that I would be judged by members of the church who might eventually find out I no longer believed. I want to write about the feelings of isolation after being open about my disbelief. Most members of the church did not really know what to do with me so they ignored that anything was happening with me at all. I want to share how difficult taking this path was. But all of this will have to wait for another post.

I have read many things since my shelf broke. An Insiders View of Mormon Origins. The CES Letter. View of the Hebrews. The 1830 version of the Book of Mormon. The Book of Commandments. I have probably read nearly every talk given by a leader of the church having to do with doubt. These upset me. I have read almost every talk about those who leave the church. These are wildly inaccurate. I have likely read every one of the major articles defending or criticizing the church as well as every response or rebuttal to these documents. I have had to decide what was accurate history and what was not. I have had times where I would read information that was critical of the church, look deeper, and find that the information was not accurate. So, I want to dispel the idea that I went looking for any and all information that disproved the church. Because that would be false. I picked apart each and every statement and found the ones that were true history. And the only thing that made sense, the only thing that connected all of the pieces, was that the church was not true.

That’s not to say the church is horrible by any means. But when a church tells its members that it is the one true church on the earth, it has to be able to support that statement. I discussed Occam’s Razor earlier. To continue believing in the church I shouldn’t have to make dozens of excuses for why it was ok that leaders of the church got things wrong. I shouldn’t have to engage in mental gymnastics in order to make the history of the church make sense. The simplest answer is almost always correct. The simplest answer is that The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is not the one and only true church on the earth.

I realize that I have not given too many details about the actual information that I found. That was on purpose. No, it’s not like the latest Marvel movie end credit scene where I tease a little and leave you thirsty for more. I know what this info can do to a testimony of the church, not because it’s anti-Mormon, not because it’s lies, but because it’s incompatible with the church’s truth claims. In my next post I plan on discussing the Gospel Topics Essays. This information, while acknowledged by the church, was difficult for me to learn about. But it is a good intro into some of the major problems with the church’s truth claims. I will include a large disclaimer in my next two posts, but please don’t read them if you are a member and worry about the fallout of possibly having doubts or losing faith. If you want to read them, read them with your spouse. But in the end, we all have our free agency.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

4. What exactly is Anti-Mormon?

For this post I want to clarify and discuss a term that members of the LDS church are very familiar with.


The reason that I bring this up at this point is because I am about to begin explaining my journey learning difficult information about church history and doctrine. While in my next post I will not discuss specifics about what I learned, I will describe where I found this information. So, it is important to discuss the legitimacy of the sources of this information, especially for members of the church that have been primed with the belief that anti-Mormon literature is everywhere, waiting to deceive. In the church, we are taught to stay far away from any information that suggests the church isn’t true and it is all labelled anti-Mormon. If said information does not support that the church is true, we are told it is simply not true. Defenders of the church often throw around this term in an effort to de-legitimize the information or person sharing the information. Anti-Mormon is used like the boogeyman to scare members into immediately discounting anything heard. I don’t want to say that there is no such thing as anti-Mormon literature; I believe that there is, but not everything that is not in agreement with the church can justly be labelled anti-Mormon.

Similar terms are used in several different religions. The Jehovah’s Witnesses use the label “Apostate Literature.” Scientologists use the term “Suppressive Persons” or “Potential Trouble Sources.” Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints use the term “Anti-Mormon.” I’m sure this is not an exhaustive list of religions that use similar terms to discourage their members from researching information.  So, let’s take a journey together to discover if we can determine a definition that actually fits the term anti-Mormon.

Before I begin an attempt to define what anti-Mormon means, it may be interesting and helpful to discuss a very brief history of its use. The first time it is used is in the Louisville (Kentucky) Daily Herald in 1833, three years after the organization of the church. The article was titled “The Mormons and the Anti-Mormons.” A political party called the “Anti-Mormon Party” was created in the early 1840s in Illinois. This was in response to Joseph Smith, the founder of the LDS church, holding complete political power over the region due to the large number of Mormon immigrants to the area. The party was short lived and disbanded after the death of Joseph Smith and after the members of the church left Illinois.

In the past and continuing to the present day, the term anti-Mormon has been used whenever there has been opposition or push back against the beliefs or practices of the LDS church. I will fully admit, the early members of the church often had terrible things happen to them. And some of these events have no justification whatsoever for the pain that was caused to these people. But the reasons behind why these things were done are not often discussed, or are explained away as having no reason other than people hated the Mormons. Members of the church identify as a persecuted people, seeing it as a sign of being God’s chosen. But whether we are speaking about the loss of the first 116 pages of the Book of Mormon, the US government putting saints in jail for polygamy, or Joseph Smith destroying a so-called anti-Mormon printing press, there are often reasons behind these actions that the church does not acknowledge. Rather than calling the people that did things anti-Mormon in an effort to make Joseph Smith or the church itself seem beyond reproach, perhaps we should discuss background information as to why certain events took place.

Now on to defining what anti-Mormon actually means. The LDS apologist website, Fair Mormon, defines people that are anti-Mormon in this way: “that they oppose, dispute, or are against the well-established beliefs of the Saints.” So essentially, the term anti-Mormon means anyone that disputes the beliefs of members of the church. Which is easily applied to anyone that does not believe the truth claims of the church. Which is 99.8 percent of the population of the earth. It is even more if we factor in the approximate 30% activity rate of the church (60-70% of names that are on the rolls of the church are not regularly attending meetings). By creating such a broad definition, the term anti-Mormon can be used with impunity towards people or information. But is a broad use of the word accurate and fair?

So, how should we define what it means to be anti-Mormon? I will offer several definitions, beginning with definitions that I think fit the term well. Then I’ll include definitions that are common but may not accurately portray the meaning behind its use. I’ll follow this up with several definitions that I do not believe are accurate and fair uses of anti-Mormon.

1.     A person that promotes that violence be used against members of the church.
This is how the term anti-Mormon was used most often in the past. Mobs would force early Saints from their homes. Church members were beaten or worse. Regardless of the reasons behind such behaviour, every time that violence is used against any member of the church BECAUSE they are a Mormon, this can be considered anti-Mormon. 

2.     Information that is false and is negative towards the church.
A fitting use of anti-Mormon would be attaching it to information about the church that is not true for the purpose of vilifying the church. An example of this is to say “Mormons aren’t Christian.” They are, they believe in Christ just as much as any other Christian church. They may not believe the exact same things about Jesus Christ, but they do believe many of the same basic teachings as other Christian religions.

Another example would be to say that the founder of the church, Joseph Smith, was a pedophile. He has been accused of this because Joseph married girls as young as 14 years old. For members of the church that may not believe me, as this is information that is not well known, please research the Gospel Topics Essays on, the official church website. Now while Joseph did marry at least one, possibly two 14-year-old girls and numerous other teenagers, this does not make him a pedophile. The definition of a pedophile is an ongoing sexual attraction to pre-pubescent children, generally considered age 13 years or younger. So, considering this, Joseph Smith does not fit the definition of a pedophile. False information or people that propagate false information for the purpose of making the church look bad could correctly be called anti-Mormon, as long as they are aware the information is false. They could simply be ill-informed of the facts, so would then be ignorant rather than anti-Mormon. I would say that to constitute a label of anti-Mormon, a person must be engaging in an ongoing pattern of knowingly sharing lies about the church.

3.      Information that is presented in a negative, sarcastic or unduly critical way.
This one is a bit iffy for me. The question I present to you is this: Does the tone of the presenter of information make said information, or that individual, anti-Mormon? What if the information is true? I would argue (and I will in a subsequent point) that true, correct, and accurate information cannot itself be anti-Mormon. Information is either true or false. If it is false, it may be called anti-Mormon. But if it is true, it is just that: true. So, if a person is sharing accurate information in a negative or sarcastic way, does that make the person anti-Mormon? I don’t think this is necessarily so. For example, if I were to say, “I think it’s so disgusting how the Catholic church has covered up all those child abuse cases,” does that make me anti-Catholic? I would say no. The information is true and I am allowed to be disgusted by these types of situations. This one is a gray area for me as some people that have never been members of this church or people that were previously active members may have been hurt by the church in the past. They may be frustrated with what they perceive to be harmful beliefs or practices. But does this make them opposed to all members of the church or the church itself? Maybe. Maybe not. So even if truthful information is presented in a negative way, it may not be fair to label that person anti-Mormon.

4.      Holding the church to a higher standard than it holds itself to.
This is a tricky one as well. I don’t want to be negative or overly critical of the church as I respect the vast majority of members of the church. They are amazing people and I do not have a problem with “chapel Mormons” on the whole. But I have also been open about no longer believing the truth claims of the church. So, where I see the church falling short of its duty to lift people up and strengthen them, I believe I am allowed to be critical. So, this begs the question, can I be considered anti-Mormon for expecting more from the church?

One example of many that I could give, is that I expect the church to do better in screening it’s lay leadership. I expect the church to require police record and vulnerable sector checks of any member in a calling dealing with children, especially bishops. Within the church there is a belief that when you are extended a calling (a voluntary job), it is God that is really the one calling that person through inspiration of the Spirit. The power of discernment would tell the bishop or stake president if they should not extend a calling to a specific person. Except we know from experience that members of the church in leadership callings can do terrible things. Several weeks ago, a bishop in Utah was arrested for running a prostitution ring. He had been convicted of a sex crime in the past, before he was called as a bishop. The church has to do better to screen its leadership. And saying so does not make me anti-Mormon.

5.      Not agreeing with everything the leaders of the church teach.
The head of the LDS church is considered the “president” of the church as well as a “prophet, seer, and revelator.” It is believed that he is the only one on the earth that can receive revelation from God for the world. From childhood, the children of the church are taught a song called “Follow the Prophet.” Essentially, the children are told to follow the prophet or else they will go astray. Follow the prophet, he knows the way. Members of the church are taught that it is not possible for the prophet to lead us astray as God would take that man out of the position if he tried.
But we know that prophets can lead us astray, as it has happened in the past. Brigham Young, the second president and prophet of the church, taught that black people were not valiant in the war in heaven before we came to earth. While they were permitted to come to earth for a body, they were “cursed” with black skin. They were not allowed to receive the priesthood or attend the temple to seal their families together for eternity. It wasn’t until 1978 that the church proclaimed that people of African descent could now have these privileges. In a recent Gospel Topics Essay, published on the church’s official website, the church stated that it disavows these racist theories of the past. The unfortunate truth is that as late as 1949, the First Presidency of the Church, consisting of the prophet and his two counsellors, stated that the priesthood ban was not a matter of policy but of doctrine. So, for nearly 150 years, and up until quite recently, the church and prophets taught something that was not only incorrect but was harmful for an entire group of people. It was harmful for African people within and outside of the church by perpetuating the idea that they were somehow less than everyone else. And this was not the only time the church and prophets have changed teachings/doctrine, nor has it been the last. So, is it fair to call someone an anti-Mormon for not believing everything the leaders of the church teach? No, it’s not, as prophets can and have been wrong in the past. 

6.      Things that don’t feel good yet are true.
Many people believe that vaccines cause autism. Some believe that the earth is flat or that astronauts never landed on the moon. They believe these things based on either their feelings or incomplete or inaccurate information. But how good is their evidence? In the church, a lot of stock is placed on feelings. We are taught that if you want to get an answer to a question, pray about it and the Holy Ghost will tell you the truth of all things. The way this occurs is by a warm or peaceful feeling. If you get a confused or negative feeling, you can know that the thing you prayed about is not good or not true. But are feelings an accurate indicator of objective truth? I don’t want to take away from an individual’s spiritual experiences, as I realize these can be quite powerful. After all, I have had them myself. But can feelings tell us what is either true or false? I would emphatically say no. Many people from many different belief systems believe they receive answers to their prayers that their church is true. That God wants them to continue within their religion. How can these all be correct when different answers are received? How can someone say that their spiritual experience is valid while all others are incorrect?

Another example of something not feeling good but is true is The Nauvoo Expositor. This was a newspaper that printed only once before it was destroyed by Joseph Smith and members of the early LDS church. This event led to the imprisonment and killing of Joseph. We are taught that the Nauvoo Expositor was printing slander and lies about the prophet Joseph Smith. But has anyone reading this blog actually read what was printed? I have. It’s fascinating! The paper was printed by William Law, who had been a member of the First Presidency with Joseph Smith. William became disaffected with the church and was excommunicated. But does anyone know why? The church says he was anti-Mormon, essentially silencing all questioning about the reasons why. William Law was unhappy with Joseph Smith because Joseph made several unwelcomed proposals of polygamous marriage towards William’s wife, Jane. Not many members know that Joseph Smith married numerous women who were already married to active members of the church. This is also acknowledged on the official church website,, in the Gospel Topics Essays. So, William was justly upset. What William Law published in the Nauvoo Expositor was the truth about Joseph Smith’s polygamy and polyandry at a time when Joseph was still offering “carefully worded denials,” which means he was lying about it. Joseph was practicing polygamy but was not doing so openly at the time, so when William printed this information, Joseph was angry, and as the mayor of the town, ordered the printing press to be destroyed.

Now, members of the church are taught only that the Nauvoo Expositor was printing slanderous lies about the prophet. This was not the case. As discussed before, just because the tone of the information was negative (William was upset that Joseph proposed marriage to his wife!) does not make it anti-Mormon. The information was also the truth, which does not make it anti-Mormon. So just because information doesn’t feel good, yet it is true, does not make that information anti-Mormon.

7.      Anything that is not faith promoting or doesn’t paint the church in a positive light.
On November 19th, 2003, the irreverent cartoon South Park aired an episode titled “All About Mormons.” I did not watch South Park as I found it a bit crude for my personal tastes, so I did not see this episode at the time. But I heard about it. And members of the church were not happy. The episode centres on an LDS family that moves to the town of South Park. While the main characters do say that they are the nicest family ever, the bulk of the episode is about the founding of the church and the Book of Mormon. The tone is satirical and sarcastic. Not all of the information is completely accurate but it is quite close. Particularly the part where it discusses how Joseph Smith translated the Book of Mormon using a seer-stone in a hat. Again, this information is on the website in it’s Gospel Topics Essays. This episode was considered anti-Mormon for its tone as well as spreading the “lie” that Joseph used a rock in a hat to translate the Book of Mormon. Except, the church now acknowledges that this is exactly how Joseph did it.

I was taught that Joseph used the “Urim and Thummim,” which were two clear stones set in something like the frames of glasses. Urim and Thummim are terms you can find in the bible. But the idea was that he looked through these divine instruments to translate, with the gold plates sitting in front of him as a reference. But the truth is, after the loss of the first 116 pages of the Book of Mormon, Joseph never again used the plates, or the Urim and Thummim to translate. He would put his seer-stone in his hat, place his face in his hat to block out extraneous light, and the translation would appear in the stone. And this was the same stone that Joseph used when he charged people money to find buried treasure (which he never did find). This is not what I was taught as a teen before leaving on my mission. This was not acknowledged until years later.

So, was South Park anti-Mormon for bringing this true information to light before the church was ready to? There is definitely as case for this, due to the tone of the episode. And for some reason, the creators of South Park seem to be preoccupied with the Mormons, after all, they created the hit Broadway musical, “The Book of Mormon.” Which from my understanding is not exactly reverent towards the church. But the specific information about Joseph using the same rock in a hat that he used while treasure digging was not anti-Mormon. It was the truth.

8.      Things that the church used to call anti-Mormon but are now acknowledged as accurate.
This brings me to my last point. The church has recently began publishing Gospel Topics Essays on its official website. These are difficult to find unless you specifically search the term but they are there. These began to be published in 2015 and new articles have been uploaded as recently as a few months ago. Many of the topics of these essays have been called anti-Mormon lies in the past. There are many of these articles which the church obviously tries to explain in a faith preserving way, but the fact is that the church now acknowledges that many of these things were true and accurate. I will not include many specifics in this post, I plan on writing a post about these Essays in a few weeks. But suffice it to say that the church has changed its position on several aspects of its history and past teachings.

One specific example of past information that used to be considered anti-Mormon which later was acknowledged as the truth is the Mountain Meadows Massacre. Juanita Brooks wrote and published a book detailing how church members, and possibly to some degree Brigham Young (the president of the church at the time), were involved in the slaughter of a wagon train travelling through Utah in 1857. The church originally taught that it was Native Americans that killed these emigrants. Evidence shows that it was predominantly members of the church at the time, including high ranking local leaders, that murdered these innocent people. Without going into too much detail (this post is already longer than I wanted it to be), the book was labelled anti-Mormon. Juanita was asked to not make any comments while at church (essentially being disfellowshipped) and even her husband was asked to never pray at church. Currently, her book is carried by Deseret Books, a well-known publisher associated with the church, and is considered accurate. Yesterdays anti-Mormon lies seem to become today’s truth.

So in the end, what is anti-Mormon? I believe that information can be anti-Mormon only if it is false. How do you determine if it is false? You have to research it yourself. You look at the sources and interpret them in a way that makes the most sense to you. A person can be anti-Mormon if they use or propose others use violence against Mormons BECAUSE they are Mormon; if they are unnecessarily critical, mocking, or sarcastic; or if they knowingly share lies about the church to try to discredit it. These would be the only situations that I see the term "anti-Mormon" being appropriate.

I will close this post with a pointed and vulnerable question: Am I considered an anti-Mormon for writing this blog? Some members of the church would say yes. Some would say not yet, but that I may become one depending on the direction of future articles. While it is lessening recently, I do worry about what members of the church think of me. But I would say that I am definitely not anti-Mormon. Almost all of the people that are closest to me in this world are members of this church. I love and appreciate members for the good and hard-working people they predominantly are. I recognize that the church teaches many good and positive things. I am not bitter towards church members and I do not want to destroy the church itself.

The vast majority of people like me, those that are trying to shed a light on certain factual aspects of the church, are not trying to destroy the church. We don’t hate all aspects of the church. We want it to be better. We want the church to be honest and to stop engaging in certain harmful practices. We want leaders to accept advice from professionals, backed by research rather than expecting complete obedience. I would love nothing more than to have my community back. But before that can occur, I hope to see change.

In my next post, I go back to telling my story. I will discuss the actual process of my faith crisis, including the point at which I began to have serious doubts, when cracks began to form in my shelf. I will describe my shift in perspective away from “I already know it’s true, how do I make this information fit that conclusion” to “I will follow the evidence to whatever conclusion is supported.” I will discuss generally where I looked for answers but will not include too much actual information about the things I learned. That post will be more about what happened and what it was like for me. In the end, I will discuss what it was like coming to my personal conclusion that the church was not true.

Saturday, March 9, 2019

3. The Beginnings of Doubt

To preface this post, I had a friend say to me after reading my last one, “Sounds like you’re really getting controversial in the next one.” I have actually planned out around 19 total posts, with hopefully about 6 extra articles written from a few other people close to me. And I don’t plan on getting controversial until at LEAST four articles from now…

Seriously though, today will be a very general overview of the beginnings of my doubt and how weight began to be added to my shelf. These are things that aren’t explosive or surprising but I believe many people will likely relate to them, regardless whether they are a member of the LDS church or another faith tradition. So as far as being controversial, to quote Aragorn in The Lord of the Rings: “…IT IS NOT THIS DAY!” *Groan*, my geek is showing, better move on…

Before I get into how my doubt began, I will describe certain shelf items that did not particularly bother me. I believe many members of the church also know of these issues but carefully place them on their shelf to be addressed at some unknown future time, possibly not until the afterlife when the belief is everything will be made known. This experience is likely not unique to the LDS church. My personal list of known items that did not bother me included issues that science was at odds with. The scientific age of the earth, including the presence of dinosaurs, does not match the creation story within the young earth narrative. Science tells us the age of the earth is in the billions. The Adam and Eve story and the Bible tells us it is 6000-7000 years old. The idea that there was no death on the earth until the fall of Adam and Eve does not make sense when you factor in dinosaurs. But this was not a major issue for me. Science also tells us that there was no global flood such as documented in the Noah and the Ark story. Evolution is extremely well documented in numerous areas of scientific research including embryology, comparative anatomy, paleontology, biogeography, etc. But evolution does not make sense with the idea that God created all life, including humans. Science has shown numerous benefits with both black tea (especially green tea) and coffee, but these beverages are still against the Word of Wisdom within the LDS church. But for me, none of these issues were enough to even crack my shelf. I found ways to work around these inconsistencies or decided consciously to not allow them to bother me. But they were there and were likely weighing on my shelf when other issues began to pile up.

There were also issues with church history that I knew about, which were difficult or impossible to explain, but that somehow weren’t major issues for me. Polygamy was one. I would wager that almost everyone in the church knows of the church’s history with polygamy. There are ways that we learn to either compartmentalize or explain away this information but we learn to put it on the shelf, essentially to ignore it. Our church has also had a significant past of racism. People of African descent were not allowed to receive the priesthood or engage in temple ordinances to seal their families together. All other worthy members were allowed these blessings. This was not changed until 1978 (more than a decade after the American Civil Rights Act) and no clear, official reason was given for either the original ban or for the ending of the ban. Again, there were common explanations within the church for why this was okay or why God may have commanded this, and these worked for me, at least for a time.

Now on to the things that did start to weigh on me and my faith. There was no major event per se that began my journey. It was more of a slow wear. Many of these items may seem mundane but as the title of this post suggests, these were the beginnings of my doubt, not what actually began cracking and breaking my shelf. When I first joined the church most of my closest friends were members. I was energized by spending time with them, whether at church activities or otherwise. When I was on my mission, church was a pleasant break to recharge from the pressures of finding new people to teach. When I returned home and began attending the Young Single Adult Ward (a congregation consisting solely of young adults age 18-29) I was surrounded with friends and enjoyed engaging in church. After getting married and having children, attending church began to be more difficult. Not that I slowed my attendance, I definitely didn’t, but it was not as second nature as it had seemed in the past.

Having children put a strain on the church experience. Having to wake up early on the weekend in order to get everything and everyone ready was always stressful. Feeding the kids, getting them dressed, teeth brushed, hair combed, etc. on top of my wife and I trying to get ready ourselves was difficult. And I’m sure my kids are not the only ones that bicker. By the time we were heading out the door, I was not excited to be going to church; I was exhausted. During the first hour of church the congregation worships together. Prayers are offered, hymns are sung, talks are given, and the sacrament (similar to communion) is passed. My main preoccupation during this hour became keeping the kids occupied and quiet. This made it very difficult to focus on the lessons being taught and increased the feelings of stress.

Callings began to feel like busywork rather than an opportunity to serve others. It was often easier to help the random stranger at Walmart who was struggling to get that heavy item into their vehicle than it was to prepare a lesson for the youth. It was more fulfilling to spend time with my family than it was to go home teaching another family in the ward that didn’t seem thrilled to have me visit. Attending meetings on Sunday or during the week became something that was dreaded. In the end, I was not doing these things because I wanted to. I did them because I felt obligated. I was not feeling spiritually uplifted or recharged by attending church. Church was contributing to my feelings of being drained. I believed that God wanted me to be doing these things, so I tried to do them. But I did not see the promised blessings of trying to be obedient and fulfilling the expectations of the church.

This feeling that I was not being spiritually filled by attending church became difficult for me to ignore. In the church we are taught that as we do things that God wants us to do, we would be blessed. The form of these blessings could vary: improved finances, health, being more in tune with the Spirit, but most importantly that we would be happy. And not just happy, we would feel joy. The only way to feel joy, true and lasting joy, is to believe and do what the church teaches. Leaders of the church teach that people outside the church can feel a variety of emotions and sensations, but they can never feel joy as members of the LDS church do. I can honestly say I did not feel this lasting joy that was promised.

Another difficult issue that weighed on my shelf was tithing. We are taught that God expects us to pay 10 percent of our income to the church. If we do not, we are not considered a member in good standing. We are not permitted to attend the temple, which is a symbol of being in full fellowship. If a member of our family or a close friend is getting married (and it is expected that they are married in the temple), you cannot attend their temple wedding unless you have been paying 10 percent of your income. We are taught that if you have to choose between paying your bills and paying tithing, pay your tithing. If you have to choose between feeding your family and paying tithing, pay your tithing. If you have to choose between being evicted from your home and paying tithing, pay your tithing. The idea is that God will bless you if you pay your tithing and it will all work out. And if you don’t pay your tithing, you are robbing God. With tithing being so important for your standing in the church, I do not think I am alone when I say that I almost always paid my tithing.  It was always my goal to be a full-tithe payer, but there were times when I did not. I began to notice that during the times I did not pay tithing, I actually had more money and I was less stressed. It seemed to me that I was more blessed, at least financially, when I did not pay tithing than when I did. I also noticed that there were people outside of the LDS faith that did not pay tithing, and many seemed just fine or even quite well off. It seemed like there was no correlation between paying tithing and being financially or generally blessed.

Another issue that I had problems with was the church’s stance on LGBTQ issues. As a psychologist, my training was in evidence-based practice. We engage in treatments that have been studied thoroughly and are based on the best outcomes for clients. If a treatment doesn’t work, we stop doing it. If it helps people live more fulfilling lives, we continue. So, in my training and research, I was taught and came to realize that the best treatment for people coming to terms with their sexuality is to encourage acceptance and expression. The evidence shows that LGBTQ people have the greatest chance for happiness if they stop fighting against who they are and live what they know is their truth, which is to be with the gender they are attracted to. Research also shows that for the vast majority, people who are gay are born that way, which is the opposite of what the church has taught in the past. The idea that being gay is a sin did not make sense to me due to these facts. I ended up having to partition my beliefs for a time. When I was at work, I would do what I knew was best practice. I came to learn that gay people are amazing, upstanding, and moral people who are just trying to live their lives. They are trying to be happy, just like everyone else. In all scripture, Jesus did not say anything about people that are gay. There is a grand total of three times in all scripture where homosexuality is brought up. Two are in the Old Testament, in Leviticus, right beside where it says if you curse (speak negatively about) one of your parents you should be put to death. The third is in the New Testament, in Romans, written more than 20 years after Jesus’ death by a man who never met Him. While the church’s issues with LGBTQ individuals weighed on me, it did not cause my disbelief.

Another concern of mine was that no matter what happens in life, no matter if it is something good or bad, the church has an answer for everything. And the answer is that the church is true. If I paid my tithing but I lost my job, God is testing me. If I paid my tithing and got a raise, it was because I paid my tithing. If I said a prayer to ask God to help me find my keys, and then found them, God answered my prayer. If I asked God to help me find my keys and I didn’t find them, it’s all part of God’s plan. If I was given a blessing and was healed, it’s a miracle. If I was given a blessing and wasn’t healed, I didn’t have enough faith or it wasn’t meant to be. If I prayed about an issue and didn’t get an answer for years, or if I never got an answer, it’s my fault for not having enough faith or not being able to discern the answer. There is no possibility that what the church teaches may not be true. We are taught that if you ever have doubts, you should doubt your doubts before you doubt your faith. And you should never doubt your faith. Those that doubt or lose faith are called “spiritually bereft” or are likened to “snake oil salesmen,” to cite a recent talk by an apostle of the church (one of the top 15 men in church leadership). People that no longer believe are vilified and while not expressly shunned, many leaders of the church have taught to distance yourself from these people.

Speaking of doubt, I find it interesting that within the LDS church we severely discourage those who doubt to do any sort of research into the history of the church (unless it is given through approved sources), and call anything that does not sustain the church being true as “Anti-Mormon.” But we strongly encourage those of other faiths to doubt their beliefs and to question their faith by researching material that is not approved by their church. The purpose of this is so they can join the LDS church, which is considered the one true church on the earth today. If other churches taught the exact same things that we teach our members, and everyone followed these teachings, no one would ever leave their church, which means none would ever join the LDS church. The missionary system would be in vain. If they were taught to never read any information about their church except what their church produces, they would never question the truthfulness of their church and have the option to join the LDS church. If they were taught that members of their church that leave were spiritually bereft, how could they possibly feel comfortable investigating the LDS church with the missionaries?

There is one more issue that I had throughout my initial doubting process. Before I began looking deeply into specific topics in church history and doctrine, I prayed. Over and over I prayed for some kind of answer that what I was doing was right, that the church was true like I believed it was. I asked for answers in whatever way I would understand them. I prayed for guidance to lead me in the right direction. At this point I still believed in the church even through these doubts. So, I asked God to let me know that He was there and that this church was the correct one. I would attend the temple, which we are taught is the most sacred place on earth, the place closest to God, and I would pray even harder to learn what God wanted me to learn. But there were no answers. Heaven was silent. I have thought long and hard on this. It doesn’t make sense to me why God would not answer my prayers when I was pouring out my soul to Him. If I had done wrong, I would correct it. I would redouble my efforts in being a good, believing member of the church. I would do whatever was required. But I did not hear from Him.

The conclusion of this post may seem anticlimactic. But as stated before, this was the beginning of my doubt. This was close to the turning point where I would open myself up to the possibility that things weren’t as simple as I had thought. Things weren’t as black and white as I had been taught. But this was still the very early stages of my doubt. Earlier, I alluded to a future post which may be considered “controversial.” I guess in this context, controversial means that yes, I will write about certain specific historical and doctrinal issues that did crack and eventually break my shelf. So, while some readers may have been hoping for more during this post, answers are forthcoming.

I want to reiterate that even with all of these concerns, all of these shelf items weighing heavily, I still believed. I still wanted to believe. I wanted the church to be true. It was my life and essentially all I had ever known. My future was clear. The direction of my life was laid out for me. Remaining in the church was what I wanted to do because it was the simplest path, the path that made the most sense. Anything else was terrifying.

The catalyst for my search for truth started at the end of November 2017, so almost a year and a half ago. And that’s honestly what it was, a search for what is true. I didn’t know it at the time but I would eventually decide that I would follow the evidence regardless of where it led me. If the evidence suggested that the church was true, I would wholeheartedly embrace my membership in the church. If the evidence suggested that the church was not true, well, I would cross that bridge if I got there. I believe it was this mindset that allowed me to eventually remove biases from my research. But I want to reiterate, that at the outset of my serious research, I was fully hoping and expecting this research to result in the answer that the church was true and I honestly wanted it to be true.

In my next post I plan on taking a break from storytelling and get into a question that has been on my mind recently. What exactly does “Anti-Mormon” mean. Whether we are speaking of information or individuals, how is this term defined and how is it actually applied within the church. I want to discuss what my definition of Anti-Mormon is and my reasons for this definition. This article might get published a little later than was typical with the others as I plan on doing my research as I explain these topics but hopefully it won’t be too excessively long before it’s ready.