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.