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Wednesday, May 29, 2019

13. Different Ways to Believe

In my last post I wrote about what people can do to support those going through a faith crisis or faith transition. It has caused more traffic through my blog than any of my other posts by far. I am really grateful for this, and I hope it has helped both active, believing members of the church as well as those that no longer believe or who have left. As a reminder, if you are an active member, please think about those friends or family in your life that have either stopped believing or have stopped attending church and reach out to them. Give them a call and tell them you love them. Even if you have said it a thousand times before, tell them again. Ask them how they are doing. Don’t call just to get the to come back to church. Tell them you will listen and you are interested in their experience. Set boundaries if needed but allow them to feel heard.

Before I get into what I personally believe now, I want to discuss different options or paths of belief for those that have learned about the difficult information regarding the church. I originally included specific personal values and behaviors that have either changed or remained the same for me but including this information made this post too long (as per my lovely wife, at least). I will include this information in a post of its own next time. But back to this article. A friend of mine recently sent me a great resource called Mormon Primer ( by Bill Reel. It lists several categories of belief, including mainstream, critical, apologetic, and reconciled.

Mainstream, traditional, or orthodox belief is essentially what is taught in General Conference by leaders of the church, over the pulpit in local church meetings, and from manuals produced by the church. These official doctrines and teachings are the most commonly held beliefs in the church. I would say the vast majority of church members fall into this category. Typically, members that don’t know about many of the difficult issues within the church or don’t have an in-depth knowledge typically believe this way. For instance, a mainstream belief is that the Book of Abraham was actually written by the prophet Abraham himself, in Egyptian, on papyri, and was translated into English by Joseph Smith. This is verifiably false. I am not trying to be difficult; this is just fact. Almost all members of the church are familiar with the mainstream category of belief so I will not go into depth here. But typically, those that do learn difficult information about the church do not remain mainstream believers afterwards.

The critical view is what I have discussed in posts 6 through 8. These posts are not an exhaustive list of the issues, they are the problems that were most impactful to me. As I no longer believe the truth claims of the church, my current beliefs fall into the critical category, which is that Joseph Smith was not a prophet and the Book of Mormon is not actually an ancient, historical book of scripture that was revealed by the power of God. Again, if anyone wants to research this position, feel free to read my sixth, seventh, and eighth blog posts. I will give sources on request. And I am open to respectfully chat with anyone that would like to.

The apologetic view is a counter-argument to critical points. This view is reactionary, where the apologist is confronted with difficult information and makes attempts to find any possible answer to these critical points, with the goal of retaining belief in the church. I will give several examples. Returning to the example of the Book of Abraham, an apologist view would acknowledge that Joseph Smith got dozens of things wrong when attempting his translation but would focus on the few things he got close to being right. They would suggest that while Joseph himself stated numerous times he was translating, he wasn’t actually doing so. They theorize that instead, Joseph was using the papyri as a catalyst to receive revelation. He would look at the writings, this would cause him to think about Abraham, and he would receive revelation independent from what was actually written on the papyri. In this scenario, it doesn’t matter that Joseph thought he was actually translating, it’s what he wrote that is important. The apologist would say that it is not necessary for a prophet to have seen Christ in order to be a prophet, that they have spoken as a man rather than as a prophet at times, or that we just don’t know why God would have commanded certain things. They might suggest that wherever scripture is not backed up by science, for instance a global flood, there might have been a local flood. Or that in situations that seem too fantastical (yes, this is a word, I looked it up), the historical authors were merely exaggerating or speaking metaphorically rather than literally. They realize the temple endowment is essentially the same as Masonic rituals and that we won’t really need signs or tokens to return to Gods presence after we die, even though we are specifically taught otherwise. They suggest that Joseph used Masonry as a way to teach principles rather than believing that God gave these exact or even similar rituals to ancient prophets. The apologist view suggests that while many other people from many other religions may have spiritual experiences telling them their church is true, their religions are merely a stepping stone, as the LDS church is the final destination and only true church on the earth. Somehow, Mormon spiritual experiences are discernably different and more reliable than others’ spiritual experiences. Essentially, the apologetic view is one that begins with the belief that the LDS church is true and attempts to make the evidence fit that conclusion, even if it makes less sense in the end. I am not a fan of this approach as I find it observably deceptive in its reasoning, but this is an option.

Finally, the reconciled view is a way to integrate the historical facts/criticisms into a new faithful approach. This view acknowledges many of the issues and does not try to dance around them but finds ways for continued (albeit nuanced) faith. People like Richard Bushman, the active member that wrote Rough Stone Rolling about the life of Joseph Smith, would fall into this category. For example, this perspective would view only the 1832 version of the First Vision as accurate, since is was the earliest account, it was written by Joseph Smith himself, and there was no need for him to embellish it. In the 1832 account, Joseph says he was 15 at the time, he saw one personage, he was told his sins were forgiven, he was told to keep the commandments, and that the world as a whole was wicked; nothing more. The reconciled view also acknowledges that much of the Book of Mormon is verifiably a 19th century product. Some with this perspective would say that there may be parts that are ancient while others would say the entire document is not historical at all. This view posits that even if the Book of Mormon is not historical, it does not necessarily mean it can’t be scripture given by God, much like other holy books (Quran, etc) may have been given by God and are scripture as well. The importance of any scripture is on building a relationship with a higher power. They would also minimize the importance of the incorrect translation of the Book of Abraham and instead focus on what was written within it. This view acknowledges that the prophet and apostles receive revelation in the exact same way as everyone else rather than communicating with heavenly persons directly. They realize that even prophets can and have been wrong in the past. Mistakes can be large and can take a long time to be fixed. They might advocate for welcoming differing viewpoints in church and an allowance for members to disagree with the prophets’ current teachings if they are harmful or inaccurate. The reconciled view would see much of scripture, including miracles, as metaphor rather than literal. Regarding tithing, the reconciled would suggest that each individual member should decide what they feel comfortable donating to the church, rather than a mandatory 10% of income. Regarding the Word of Wisdom, this view realizes that many early prophets drank alcohol, up to at least the very end of the 1800s. They view the original wording of the Word of Wisdom to be what should be followed, in that it should be taken “not by commandment or constraint” but that individual agency is important in choosing how best to take care of one’s own body. The reconciled view would say that the LDS church has overreached about its truth claims and that since individuals from other religions have spiritual experiences confirming their church is true, relying on the Holy Ghost or feelings to determine truth is also overreaching. The LDS church may have unique truth, but this perspective realizes that other churches may have unique truth as well. The idea here is that the church is just one instrument in the orchestra of God’s plan. Polygamy may not have been commanded by God at all and was possibly a mistake or it could have been abused by early leaders in a way not sanctioned by God. Many with this view hope for the day that polygamy can be called an error and the church can thus move away from this part of its history. They would hope that the current doctrine of polygamy in the church, that men can be sealed to more than one wife for the afterlife, will be done away. Regarding temple worship, some within this view would say that Joseph Smith completely plagiarized the endowment independent from God’s inspiration, copying Masonic ritual. They would suggest that temple ordinances may create a closer relationship with God even if they were not revelation from God. Overall, the reconciled view hopes that the leaders of the church will one day apologize for past racism, sexism, current homophobia, as well as other mistakes. A well-known active member (Jim Bennett) that has offered a rebuttal to the CES Letter, which is a document listing many critical historical facts about the church, has suggested that the church is wrong on its treatment of the gay community. He hopes that the church will change their hurtful stance in the near future and allow gay people full rights within the church. I prefer the reconciled view over the apologetic view as it is more honest and in tune with facts. Personally, this perspective did not work for me with the knowledge that I had but I know other members of the church that thrive within this view. For those that choose to remain active, believing members, I would suggest that this perspective is likely the closest to the actual history of the church and is most likely the direction the church will continue to move towards in the future. I believe that many of the recent changes to church policy have been in preparation for other major changes to come, which changes will bring doctrine more into line with past history and current understanding.

The reason that I have listed these options for belief is because the majority of members that know the difficult issues with the church have had to alter their beliefs. As Richard Bushman stated, “the dominant narrative is not true. It cannot be sustained.” The church will continue to make small changes to its official history and current practices, such as acknowledging that Joseph Smith used a seer stone to translate the Book of Mormon, to be more historically accurate and socially acceptable. In the end, I don’t want to start a debate on this topic. I am simply saying that there are categories of belief other than the traditional view that fit the facts of church history better than those we have been taught by the leaders of the church in the past.

The second part of this post is about what changes have occurred for me in regards to my beliefs. I have stated before that when your worldview changes as drastically as it does when you lose faith in a religion, you have to start from the ground up. You have to determine what, as well as why, you believe in certain things. During that process, change is inevitable.

I have been open about not believing that the LDS church is the one and only true church on the earth. I will take it a few steps further. I no longer believe that Christianity is the true form of worship either. And I am no longer sure that there is a God or higher power. I do believe that Jesus was a real person, but I do not believe that he was divine. I have many reasons why I believe this to be true but these are not the point of this post. If you would like to know, please ask. To be completely honest, I find the whole idea of one-true-churchism to be extremely harmful, regardless of which religion we are speaking of. But for myself and what I do believe, I currently identify as two separate but related things: I am a hopeful agnostic and I am a humanist.

To be agnostic means that you believe it is impossible to know for sure about the existence of God. I know this is where most believers would say that this is where faith comes in, but faith cannot be completely blind. I have had to weigh the evidence for and against and found myself here. Although, I do have faith that if there is a God, and after I die and come into his/her/their presence, I expect one of two things to happen. Either God will tell me that I was right, at least about the LDS church, or I will be told that I was wrong. If God tells me that I was right, I will still have been a good person living my life in a way that is upstanding and moral. The only way that a just God could judge each of us in a fair and benevolent way would be to judge by our actions and the intent of our hearts. So, in this scenario, I completely believe that I will be fine when I die. But if God tells me that the LDS church was the one true religion, I will say that it wasn’t made very clear. I will ask for God to explain all of the contradictions, all of the evidence against the LDS church being the one true church on the earth. I will say that I was following my conscience and that I was doing what I thought was right. And I fully and completely expect God to say, “You’re right. You were a good person and I know your heart. Come and receive all I have to give.” This may seem like a cop out, an excuse, or a justification. But the more I have studied the LDS church, the more sure I have become. I can honestly say that I am 99.9% certain that I am not wrong. But after all is said and done, I hope that there is a God. I hope that there is something after I die, thus the hopeful in hopeful agnostic. But there is no way to know for sure. Even if there is a God, there is no way to know whether it’s the Jewish, Christian, Muslim, Hindu or something completely different that we can’t even comprehend. But in the end, I find no compelling evidence that there is a God, so I choose to live my life by another set of morals and standards that align with what I believe to be truly important. I know that I don’t need to have a belief in a God to be a moral person.

As well as being a hopeful agnostic, I am also a Humanist. When I say that I’m Humanist, it doesn’t mean that I have joined any other religion or community. It means that I agree with the things that are espoused. As per Wikipedia, Humanism is a philosophical, democratic, and ethical life stance that emphasizes that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own individual lives. It embraces human reason, critical thinking, and scientific methods of understanding the universe. Preference is given to evidence over faith and they believe that all humans, individually and collectively, have inherent value.

To help others get an idea of what Humanism is, they created a list of suggestions that, if followed, would likely make the world a better place. You could consider them an alternative 10 commandments.

1.       Strive to promote the greater good of humanity before all selfish desires.
2.       Be curious, as asking questions is the only way to find answers.
3.       Harm to your fellow human is harm to humanity. Therefore, do not kill, rape, rob, or otherwise victimize anyone.
4.       Treat all humans as equals, regardless of race, gender, age, religion, identity, sexual orientation, physical ability, or status.
5.       Use reason as your guide. Science, knowledge, observation, and rational analysis are the best ways to determine any course of action.
6.       Do not force your beliefs onto others, nor insist that yours be the only and correct way to live happily.
7.       If you govern, do so with reason, not with superstition. Religion should have no place in any government which represents all people and beliefs.
8.       Act for the betterment of your fellow humans, and be, whenever possible, altruistic in your deeds.
9.       Be good to the Earth and its bounties, for without it, humankind is lost.
10.   Impart the knowledge and wisdom gained in your lifetime to the next generation, so that with each passing century, humanity will grow wiser and more humane.

Before I wrap this up, I wanted to include a roadmap for the direction of this blog. I had a great conversation with my wife the other day, and in discussing these posts, I decided that I would rather write fewer posts and be done with this blog rather than continuing to shoot for the goal of 20 posts total. I have been feeling a lot better about my personal journey recently and I am not feeling the need to write much more (thank goodness, amirite!?). I would, however, like to include several articles from a few people I know who are in different paths in their own faith journey. I have contacted several people and will post their articles as soon as they come in to me. I was hoping to have a post written by another previous member that went through a faith transition and left the church due to historical issues. Another post by someone that knows the issues but found a way to work through them by finding a nuanced faith. A third would be a believing friends’ perspective and experience with my blog and my journey. And finally, an individual from another faith that transitioned out of their church as well.

But I would like to personally write 4 more posts. As I stated earlier, the next one will be about personal values and behaviors that have either remained the same or have changed. Post 15 will be the positive aspects of the church and 16 will be what I believe is harmful and needs to change. In my final post, I will write about how life is now, finding balance, and moving forward. I want to finish with what writing this blog has done for me and whether I accomplished what I had hoped to at the onset of this experience. By that final post, I hope to hear from everyone and anyone that has been reading these, whether it has been a positive or negative experience. I have been working towards living authentically and I hope that anyone that has stuck with this to the end would feel comfortable sharing honestly how reading these has been for them.

Wednesday, May 15, 2019

12. How To Support Someone In Faith Crisis

I’m actually really excited about the next few posts. In this one I will be speaking about how to support those who doubt, who are in a crisis of faith, or who have left the church. In the next one I will discuss the different possible paths forward after learning about all the ins and outs of church history and difficult issues. I will include how my own values, beliefs, and behaviors have changed and where I have landed, at least currently. In the third post from now, I will discuss the positive aspects of the LDS church, and there are honestly many. So at least for the near future, the tone of these posts will be a bit different than those that have come before.

But this is the post that I have been waiting to write. The post that I think will help me, as well as those reading, the most. If you only read one of my posts the whole way through, make it this one. If you are a member of the church, I’m sure I am not the only one that you know that has serious doubts. I’m not the only one that has distanced themselves from the church or completely left. Whether they be your child, an acquaintance, a co-worker, or a friend, we all know someone that has decided to no longer attend church. And I promise, I will not be the last. In the future, you will hear about more people like me. People that you never thought would doubt or leave the church will do so. Some will leave due to difficult questions about church history, policy, or doctrine. Others that have served missions will stop attending. Individuals or couples that have been married in the temple will make known their disbelief, just as I have. It will be terrifying for them, and it may be difficult for you to understand how to approach the situation. In the end, this post is for both groups of people. It is for those that leave, so that they will hopefully receive support, as well as those that know people that will leave in the future, so they will know how to support them.

My hope in writing this is that those that struggle in the church have a bit of an easier time than I did. I hope that your friends and family will have a greater understanding of your journey when you have your difficult discussions, write your letters, or when you make your Facebook posts. I hope your fear is reduced by hearing these words and that you find strength and comfort from them. I hope you get the support you will need. And I hope that those believing members of the church will listen to and follow this advice when interacting with those friends and family that doubt or leave the church. Please honor their experience and give them the reassurance that you will remain close to them through their own search for truth, even if it leads them down a different path than yours.

Many of the points I will make here are taken from a video and slide presentation by John Dehlin called “Top 5 Myths and Truths about Why Committed Mormons Leave the Church” ( I contacted him and he gave his permission to include his work here. I have added some points of my own as well. I will first discuss things to avoid doing followed by things you should be doing when interacting with those that doubt or stop believing in the church.

First, the Don’ts:

Don’t: Make assumptions
Don’t assume why people have begun doubting or why they have stopped attending church. It is easy to make guesses based on incomplete information but you will almost always be incorrect. Making assumptions doesn’t get you closer to the truth but it will likely cause hurt feelings in the future.

Don’t: Believe the myths
Don’t automatically believe that people like me were obviously sinning, were offended, left due to being lazy, never had a testimony or didn’t have a strong testimony, or were deceived by anti-Mormon material. As I stated in my last post, Elder Uchtdorf has stated there are many reasons why members doubt or leave. The decision to distant yourself from the church is often a long, miserable experience that is not taken lightly. I was just like you, until I wasn’t. Someday you might be just like me. I will be here for you if that ever happens. But don’t believe the often-used reasons you have heard in the past. In my experience, they are simply and completely wrong.

Don’t: Guilt them, preach to, or lecture them
Don’t try to make them feel bad by saying things like, “You are ruining your eternal family.” “Your kids will grow up without morals.” “I know that you know it’s true.” As I have stated before, the process of getting to a point where we are comfortable talking to people about our disbelief is almost always long and difficult. We have gone through a lot and it takes a lot to be open with others. Please don’t try to convince us how we are wrong or how you are right. Odds are we have already fought this battle with ourselves and still came to the same conclusion. Guilt is never a good motivator.

Don’t: Tell them to just read the Book of Mormon, pray harder, or bear your testimony
Again, we have often spent months or years reading and praying. Many of us have gotten to the point where we no longer believe the Book of Mormon is historical or that it is scripture, so reading it would not help. I realize that telling us to read, pray, and bearing your testimony is what you have always been told to do if you or someone you know has doubts, but this is not how to help us. You need to understand why we have made the decisions we have in order to determine how to help us. We often have specific aspects of the church that no longer work for us. Any and all of these reasons are legitimate. We need answers to our specific problematic issues and there are often no faithful answers. While the church may completely work for you, just because it works for you does not mean it works for us.

Don’t: Tell them to repent or try to reconvert them
This one should be relatively obvious but I have heard many stories of family and friends being less than supportive of an individual’s free agency. Please realize that those that leave the church are doing so because they believe it is the right decision for them. Trying to tell us that we are wrong or are making a big mistake without knowing our reasoning is not going to help. We are not being prideful, if anything we are humbling ourselves by allowing ourselves to, at the very least, entertain the idea that we may have been wrong about our most dearly held beliefs. Calling us to repentance does not change anything, it only damages the relationship.

Don’t: Judge or fear them
I know how hard it can be to feel like people outside the church look at you differently because you’re Mormon. It can be a very uncomfortable feeling. Please don’t do the same thing by judging those that doubt or leave. During our individual process/transition, there will be changes. For different people these changes will look differently. I know some that decide to change very little and continue attending church while others stop attending completely and undergo drastic changes. Don’t judge us for these decisions. An example of this might be that we choose to drink black or green tea or coffee. While these things are against the Word of Wisdom, which church members believe is a commandment from God, people in my situation no longer believe this to be true. Some religions do not permit you to eat shellfish, or beef, or to own a dog as a pet. If you no longer believe that God is against these things, whether we are talking about eating beef or drinking coffee, it makes less sense to continue to follow these practices if, in moderation, they have been shown to be safe. Please respect our decisions and don’t judge us as less moral or upright if we no longer follow the specific practices you do.

Don’t: Avoid or shun them
I realize that it may be difficult to spend time with those that no longer believe the same as you. But we notice when people drop off the map. It’s hard to not feel like it is directly related to your disbelief. Know that it can be just as uncomfortable for us but we are desperately trying to maintain some semblance of normalcy when it feels like our world is falling apart. Please don’t remove us from your lives. I realize that those that no longer believe can be angry. This phase is almost always temporary. Most of that anger comes from feeling lied to. If you can imagine your parent not telling you that you were adopted, then finding out at age 40, but only because you got a DNA test, you would likely feel betrayed. They could have told you, but they thought they were protecting you. You would likely feel angry. But over time the anger softens and you can discuss your adoption without those angry feelings. This is an imperfect but somewhat similar analogy to what those like me feel like when we come to the conclusion the church isn’t true. Allow us some grace in this regard and allow us time while keeping us involved in your lives.

Don’t: Try to give answers if you haven’t specifically and significantly researched the issue
I can’t emphasize this one enough. Those that doubt almost always have specific concerns that they are struggling to understand in a believing way. Those that leave the church have decided that there are no answers to these questions that allow the church to remain God’s true church. Don’t try to give the typical answers. I know this is what seems like the right approach, but it isn’t helpful. We know the same gospel answers that you do. We were in your shoes in the past. We believed and were taught the same things.

Don’t: Refer them to apologetic sources (unless you are willing to hear a respectful response)
As I wrote in a previous post, an apologist is someone that has taken a position (the church is true) and subsequently looked for information to support that position. So, it may seem like a good idea to send a conference talk, or talk about how to faithfully cope with your doubts, or a link to the Gospel Topics Essays or FairMormon website. There are many reasons that people choose to leave the church as well as many catalysts for doubt. As such, without knowing why individuals have gotten to wherever it is that they are in their faith journey, sending this type of information is not often helpful. In my case, I have read almost everything that is available along this vein. I continue to read talks given by the general authorities on the topic of doubt. I follow FairMormon on Facebook and am updated on what they are doing. Others that have left the church based on social issues or other individual issues they can’t reconcile would likely not be helped by this information either. But if you do wish to send something, please be prepared for a response. If you have information you would like to give please be open to information that we have learned as well. This isn’t a tit-for-tat thing, it’s a respect thing. We have issues with the church that are difficult to resolve so please listen to us if you are offering information of your own.

Now, on to the Dos:

Do: Realize that we are seeking truth
The idea that someone that leaves the church may be seeking truth is something that I had never even considered when I still believed. Yet this is the predicament I find myself in. When I dug into church history and doctrines and discovered difficult information that I had never heard before, my goal was to determine the truth of these claims. As I continued my journey, and with the information I had found, I came to the conclusion that I could no longer believe that the church was the one and only true church on the earth. Please understand that while members of the church believe it is true and that there is no reason to look elsewhere, I cannot agree with this. Those like me seek acknowledgement that we are trying to determine for ourselves not only our own personal truth, but objective truth as well.

Do: Be kind
I understand that as a fully believing member of the LDS church, you may be hurting too. When a loved one makes choices that go against your beliefs, it can be hard to accept. It’s a relatively natural reaction to become angry, defensive, or argumentative. I’ve already stated how those that no longer believe can feel this way as well, so I’m not blaming or accusing at all. But even if you are hurting yourself, be kind. We are still the same people. We still want what’s best for ourselves and our families. We still want to raise our kids to be the best people they can be. But the way we do these things may look different. Please be kind even if we do disagree.

Do: Eliminate agendas
Those in my situation want contact from friends and family. We want support. We want relationships to continue. We don’t want to be a project. We seek acceptance for who we are, as in who we have always been as well as who we are becoming. Just be with us rather than trying to fix us. You may not believe me when I say this, but we aren’t broken.

Do: Respect their choices
As I have stated before, those that leave the church are changing. You may or may not agree but at least we believe it is for the better. But please respect the decisions we make. Before we stopped believing, our future was largely decided for us. We knew what was expected and many decisions about life were already made. And when you believe the answers come directly from God, you don’t have to question whether you are doing the right thing or not. Now, we have to reconstruct our world and determine for ourselves what is right and wrong. We also have to determine why things are right or wrong. If you see or hear about us making a decision that may be different to what you believe, try to understand from an outside perspective. For instance, if you no longer believed in the church, what decisions would you make? Why would you make them? What might you do different? If you can honestly separate your perspective from that of the church, you might be able to see why we make the decisions we do.

Do: Call your loved one and set a time to talk
This is one of the most important points of this post. If you haven’t had a good discussion about the topic of changing beliefs with your doubting friend or family member, please get in touch. Tell them that you want to understand. Tell them that you will just listen to what they have to say. Set boundaries beforehand if needed, for instance if you don’t want specific information, but let them know you are a safe person to talk to. Ask about their change in belief and invite them to explain it to you. As I have said numerous times previously, those going through a faith transition just want to be heard, understood, and respected. We want to be loved even though we no longer believe the same way we used to. But please, call and talk. Each person in my position will be open to discuss these things to a differing degree but as long as you love them unconditionally (and this has to be more than the “love the sinner, hate the sin mentality,” as I feel like this belief is extremely harmful) they will feel it and appreciate it immensely.

Do: Ask what they need and support them the way they want to be supported
Everyone is different, whether you are a believer in the LDS faith or not. Those that doubt or no longer believe should not be painted with the same brush. Each would likely prefer different methods or degrees of support from those close to them. For example, my wife is more private than I am, so she would rather people reach out to her without necessarily talking about church things, while I would rather these things not be the elephant in the room. There is nothing wrong with asking, “Hey, what do you need from me right now? I’m here for you and want to help.”

Do: Do the work to understand them and become more informed about the difficult issues
There are ways of doing this that would be considered “safe”. First, if you are a believing member of the church, you should read the Gospel Topics Essays ( All of them. In past posts I offered an out if individuals did not want to learn about difficult information. That was for the purpose of reading my posts. I did not want people to feel forced or even pressured to read difficult information in my articles. But for the purpose of understanding those like me, you definitely should read these topics. You should learn what the church teaches about the translation and historicity of the Book of Abraham, polygamy and polyandry, as well as the priesthood and temple ban for black people. You should learn about the numerous First Vision accounts, the translation method of the Book of Mormon, and commonalities of Masonic rites to the temple endowment. After you have researched the Gospel Topics Essays, you should move on to Fair Mormon ( Spend some time here to learn about the different issues that may have impacted your loved one. Again, the information on both of these sites is attempting to answer difficult questions from a believing perspective. In other words, these resources were written for believing members in order to help them remain believing members. There is a “but,” however. But, if you really want to know the ins and outs of these issues, you really need to go further by researching the sources cited. These can be found by scrolling down to the bottom of each article. Read each of these sources to discover for yourself what is being said rather than simply reading what these websites say the sources are trying to convey.

An example of why you should read sources for yourself is that the church often uses information contained in sources that is favorable while omitting information that is not. The Gospel Topics Essay “Translation and Historicity of the Book of Abraham” includes this quote from the source Letter to the Editor, Painesville Republican, Feb. 15, 1838: “I have set by his side and penned down the translation of the Egyptian Hieroglyphicks as he claimed to receive it by direct inspiration of Heaven,” wrote Warren Parrish, Joseph Smith’s scribe. But the church omits the following information from the same source: “For the year past their (Joseph Smith and Sidney Rigdon) lives have been one continued scene of lying, deception, and fraud, and that too, in the name of God.” To reiterate, the church used the first quote from a letter to a newspaper in order to promote faith while omitting that the writer stated, in the same letter, that he believed Joseph was a liar and fraud. To be fair, I have also found discrepancies in critical sources as well. I have not simply listened to the contrary voices about the church, as I was critical of the unbelievers just as much as I was of the believers. But this is an example of why it is important to read sources while looking into this information to determine for yourself the veracity of what is being said.

If you have made it this far, thank you. Thank you for being open enough to read through this post, not knowing what information might have been included. Thank you for being caring enough to look for information that might help you support those close to you that are in faith crisis or transition. And I will thank you in advance for those of you that will follow through with these points of advice.

In my next post, I will discuss the different options of belief after learning the difficult information that is out there regarding the church’s history. I will write about my own beliefs and values and how they have or have not changed. I look forward to continue to be open and honest about my journey and I hope that my vulnerability will be accepted without judgement.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019

11. The Fallout of Disbelief/Changing Relationships

In my last post I included the letter I gave to close family and friends expressing my disbelief in the church. However, I did not include an introduction or concluding statement. I wanted to have the post be in the exact form of what I wrote to those close to me, minus my wife’s name of course. Due to the fact that I didn’t include an intro or outro, I will write a few things here.

First, I wrote that letter in July of 2018, which was nine months ago. As such, some of the information contained within it may need updating. I realize now that I made it sound like I was struggling with my faith for years. This was not the case. While it is true that I found certain aspects of the church difficult or confusing, I believed it wholeheartedly. It wasn’t until I really began looking deeply into the church in December of 2017 that serious doubts began.

Second, my letter is an oversimplification of my process. I shortened the account of my struggles for the purpose of brevity but I want to clarify that this was a long and difficult process. Also, these sources were not the only ones I read. I researched other sources from believing members as well as those that had either never been LDS or used to be but did not identify as such any longer. As I have said in the past, I went into this wanting to come to the conclusion that the church was true but I wanted to research all available information. There was a lot to unpack but only so much space to write about it.

Third, I mentioned in the letter that I didn’t want to go into details about issues with the church so as to not force this difficult information on anyone. Writing my blog may seem like I have given up on that idea, but this is not the case. Reading my blog is voluntary. For those posts that have included difficult information, I have tried to add a disclaimer for anyone not wanting to get into the issues. I know of several active members that have been reading, but I also know of several that have chosen not to. I respect the decision to not read them. At least the information about my journey is now available. At the very least, my mind is clearer. In the past I have felt judged for my decisions, but now I remind myself that unless others have read these posts, they don’t have a right to come to any conclusions about me. Unless they understand the whys behind my decisions, they don’t get to have an objective opinion about those decisions. As I stated at the beginning, this blog is predominantly for me in my journey forward.

Fourth, I mention in my letter and in some posts that I made my decisions based on my conscience and my integrity. By saying this I am not trying to insinuate that those that are active members of the church are lacking these things. All I am saying is that I could not find a way for the church to be true with the information I had. As such, I needed to take steps away for my own mental health. There are some people that know many of the issues and decide to stay; but as I have stated before, these individuals typically have a very different set of beliefs than the average chapel Mormon and much different from what is taught by the leaders of the church. That being said, I respect everyone for whatever decision they make. I have said this before but I am not trying to convince anyone of anything; I am trying to help others understand me as well as externalize my inner feelings.

Next, my wife and I have since told our children certain aspects of where I am at in my journey. I plan on sharing some of what we have said to them in a future post. As a result of this openness, we may not engage with the church in a way that is considered average for most members. Once again, I hope this decision is not judged negatively. Along with feeling judged I have also worried that I am viewed as a disappointment. That no matter what other positive accomplishments I have made, or that I still have strong morals and values, I will still be seen as a disappointment. I hope I am wrong in this assumption.

Another aspect of this journey that I have gained insight on recently is that through the pain of traversing this faith transition, I realized I have focused mostly on the negative aspects of the church. I do not believe this is out of the ordinary for those in my position. I discussed the stages of grief and I believe this negativity fits with these stages. But I want to clarify that I do see many positives within the church. I am planning a post that will discuss solely these positive aspects and will publish it in the near future. But I wanted to reiterate that even though in these early posts I have focused on the negatives, there is definitely good in the church. Through writing this blog I am processing out these negative feelings and will hopefully be able to become more neutral.

Anyways, after that long preamble, I finally get to the topic of this post: The fallout. What happened after I made others aware of my change in beliefs? How were relationships affected?

The initial reactions were generally very positive. All of my family and friends that I gave the letter to were supportive overall. Each of them gave the message that they would love and support me in whatever decision I made. There were a few questions on what changes they could expect to see but nothing overly probing or uncomfortable. I have had brief discussions on certain topics with a few people on occasion but this has been rare. But while relationships have definitely not disintegrated, there has been a change. I can feel it. I’m assuming others can feel it as well. It’s nothing in particular that we are doing or saying but it’s more of an unsure feeling. What is safe to talk about? What do I say in this situation? Things like that. It feels like as long as we pretend nothing has changed, we are good. I still talk about the church, missions, etc., and I don’t mind this at all, the topic of how things are going is never discussed. Few call to see how we are doing. If there is communication, the subject is not touched or actively diverted away. It’s difficult feeling like there is an invisible wall between me and most of my close friends and family.

I made a post on Facebook in early August of 2018 as well, expressing my disbelief. It was a shorter version of the letter I posted to my blog but the foundation of it was the same. Except I offered cookies to anyone that remained my friend. I think it worked…The responses I received were, once again, quite positive. In private messages, I discovered that I was not the only one that had doubts. I was not the only one that had struggled with the history and the less known, more difficult aspects of the church and had their faith impacted. Some decided to stay active members while others had stepped away. Some continued to attend on a temporary basis while they decided how to tell those close to them, with the eventual plan being that they would stop attending. It helped knowing that I wasn’t the only one in this situation. That I wasn’t crazy. I had at least one person unfriend me on Facebook but there were likely more. I only had one person respond with a crying emoji but I can definitely understand why. We are taught that the church is true, the one and only church led directly by God. The decision to step away from that must be difficult for members to understand. So, I don’t want to make those individuals feel bad for their reactions. But it was comforting to hear that the intention of most of those close to me was to not have the relationship change.

But I now believe change was inevitable. Like I have said, many members of the church were initially very positive in response to learning about my disbelief. While some have tried to understand and talk to me about how I was doing or even asking what brought me to my conclusions (you know who you are and I want to publicly say it was appreciated!), the vast majority never discussed it again. I want to reiterate, I can empathize with this decision! In the church we are taught to not read or listen to anything that does not support the church, as it is deemed “anti-Mormon.” As I have included what I believe to be a fair definition for that term in an earlier post, I won’t go into that again. But for the vast majority of the past, the church has taught members certain things about those that doubt or leave. We are taught to doubt our doubts before we would ever even consider doubting our faith. People that doubt have been told they are never satisfied with answers but that we keep “whacking at moles,” constantly looking for another problem that we know can’t be solved. Those that leave are told their past faith and testimony were a paddy-cake, taffy-pulled experience, essentially telling us that we are immature and obviously never had a strong belief to begin with. We are shamed rather than understood. I have discussed how those that struggle with doubt or leave have been characterized, so I won’t go into depth here. But I will include one certain quote from an apostle of the church, Boyd K. Packer: “Remember, when you see the bitter apostate, you do not see only an absence of light, you see also the presence of darkness. Do not spread disease germs.” Needless to say, those like me are not spoken of favorably, which directly impacts the view others within the church have of us. It’s comments like these that make attending church as a non-believer extremely difficult.

It has taken until recently for any guidance to be given that is actually helpful or positive in regards to how members of the church should treat those in my situation. I will give two quotes, actually the only two quotes that I know of, that exemplify how we should be treated. “One might ask, ‘If the gospel is so wonderful, why would anyone leave?’ Sometimes we assume it is because they have been offended or lazy or sinful. Actually, it is not that simple. In fact, there is not just one reason that applies to the variety of situations. Some of our dear members struggle for years with the question whether they should separate themselves from the Church. In this Church that honors personal agency so strongly…we respect those that honestly search for truth. It may break our hearts when their journey takes them away from the Church we love…but we honor their right to worship Almighty God according to the dictates of their own conscience, just as we claim that privilege for ourselves.” Elder Uchtdorf suggests that members of the church should not assume why people leave and that there are numerous possible reasons. He acknowledges that our process can be a long and painful struggle. He concludes that our search for truth (as that is honestly what it is) should be accepted with empathy and respect just as believing members of the church would hope for the same for themselves.

“It is hard to understand all the reasons why some people take another path. The best we can do in these circumstances is just to love and embrace them, pray for their well-being, and seek for the Lord’s help to know what to do and say. Sincerely rejoice with them in their successes; be their friends and look for the good in them. We should never give up on them but preserve our relationships. Never reject or misjudge them. Just love them!” This quote by Elder Soares from the most recent General Conference is a great example of what people that doubt or leave hope for. We hope for love and acceptance. We hope that our struggles aren’t seen as a sign of divine disfavor. We hope that our successes aren’t seen as fleeting. We just want to be viewed as the same as we were before we expressed our disbelief.

Instead, we often end up feeling isolated and alone. And I believe it’s largely due to fear. My experience has been one of the better ones from what I have heard and read about. I have heard stories of parents kicking their children out of the house. Of people raising their arm to the square to cast out the demons that must be inhabiting them. I have heard of family completely shunning those that leave or screaming at them about the ruin they will bring to their family. But for me, this topic has simply been the elephant in the room. Members might think, “What if he says something that makes me doubt?” Or “What if he shares anti-Mormon material and I stop believing in the church?” “He obviously hates the church; this is so uncomfortable.” As I have said before, information itself is simply true or false, and we all have the right to determine for ourselves what makes the most sense. But at the same time, I don’t need or want to spout off about everything I have learned, where I learned it, or anything else. And I don’t hate the church or those that are in it. But I think members fear they might catch whatever disease of doubt I have. That the anti-Mormon material that we are warned against might infect those that believe and falsely make them doubt. And these things are contagious by way of discussion. I agree, it is extremely difficult to doubt or lose your faith. Having a fear of that is legitimate. But does the fear itself, that you might hear information that makes you doubt the church, make the church either true or false? Either the church is true or it is not. Any discussion we have will not change the facts. The only thing that could possibly change is your knowledge of certain issues. I just want to be heard, accepted, and understood.  I suppose I am just looking for support.

But I don’t want to make it sound like I have not received any support whatsoever. That is simply not true. I have not had anyone be negative or rude to me or my family. I have not had anyone disown me or tell me I was ruining my life. A few have reached out at times. Individuals have been positive in my interactions with them. That is not the issue at all. When I speak of wishing for more support, I mean a phone call, a text message, an invitation to wings to talk. I wish individuals would ask how I’m doing and what support my wife and I need from them. I don’t need people to comment on or like my Facebook posts. I don’t need anyone to publicly announce their support. I realize that everyone is likely doing what they think would help, which is trying to not have the relationship change. Maybe this is because this is the best that some can offer, and if that’s the case I sincerely appreciate it! Perhaps the reaction of not discussing this difficult situation is what others believe would be most comfortable for me.

An example of what this approach feels like is if I made people aware that I have cancer. I know it’s not a perfect comparison, and I definitely don’t want to minimize what those that have cancer go through. But if I did have some kind of serious illness, I’m sure I would initially receive phone calls, texts and Facebook messages expressing condolences and offers of support. But what if, from that moment forward, every time I interacted with anyone, they completely ignored that I had cancer. They never asked how I was doing or what they could do to help. They didn’t call my wife and ask what they could do to support her in this difficult time. They acted like I had never told them I had cancer in the first place. Thankfully I don’t have cancer and I realize that would be something much more awful to go through, but I thought this would help get my perspective across. I don’t need to discuss specifics. I don’t want to sit down and bash the church. I would just appreciate someone reaching out and saying, “Hey, this must be really hard. Do you want to talk? Is there anything I can do to help? What do you need from me?” Some have offered this and it has been amazing. In my next post, I plan on writing specifically on how to support someone going through a faith crisis or transition, so hopefully this will help others in the future. Long story short, ask about my cancer…shoot, I meant journey. I honestly don’t have cancer. Ask about my journey.

I also want to briefly discuss the impact that my faith transition has had on my wife. I have mentioned in past posts that my wife was upset when I initially told her that I no longer believed. She cried. A lot. On the night I told her that I no longer believed, she stayed up all night reading scriptures and praying. And crying. That was a long night for both of us. She has been in almost constant anxiety about the future. What will we teach the kids? How will we do it? What will change? Does he still love me? Does he still want to be married to me? Can our marriage survive this? These questions are common for those in her position, but just because they are common doesn’t make it easy.

I only bring this up because I don’t think people have realized that my wife has struggled through this process just as much if not more than I have. She has experienced almost exactly the same fear, pain, grief, loss, and stress that I have. It has looked a bit different, and may have been about different things, but those feelings have been there, and they have been overwhelming at times. Since last summer, we have had amazing conversations. We have also had extremely difficult ones. There have been happy days and absolutely terrible days. We have had to rely on each other through this process. But considering the situation, I’m sure she would have appreciated having someone in addition to myself to support her. Unfortunately, support was infrequent. And I am not blaming anyone. I don’t want anyone reading this to think that I am talking about them in particular. As I stated before, no one really knows what to do in this situation, so they do what they think is best. Perhaps she would have declined opening up if more support had been offered as she is a very private person. I don’t even know if she will let me post this information or if it will end up on the editing chopping block. However, because she is not a very outspoken individual, and asking for help is not really in her vocabulary, I wish more people would have offered support through those really hard days, weeks, and months. 

One thing I hope members of the church keep in mind if they are ever in a situation similar to ours: DON’T LEAVE YOUR SPOUSE! A few months ago, I read an article I found on the front page of the official LDS church website that stated that individuals should not seek divorce if their spouse goes through a faith crisis or faith transition. If your relationship is otherwise good and strong, do not separate due to differences in belief. I know of several mixed faith marriages that find a way to make it work. And they don’t just scrape along, they find a way to thrive. My wife and I have been listening to a podcast on the subject called Marriage on a Tightrope. I would highly recommend this to anyone with a spouse that is doubting or no longer believes. But please, don’t leave your spouse if the relationship is otherwise good.  It takes a lot of hard work and a lot of compromise, but it is worth it. I’ve spoken quite a bit about future posts. Another that I plan on writing is how we have learned to compromise in a mixed faith marriage.

One last sensitive topic I wanted to discuss is that I don’t know how to make friends outside the church. I have realized that I only have a few individuals and couples that I would consider close friends. Many of those are members of the LDS church. Because of my fear that these relationships will continue to change, and because I am afraid that I have burnt too many bridges with this blog, I wonder if it would be better to cut my losses and focus solely on making friends outside the church. Except, I only know how to do this in theory. Just talk to people at the kids’ activities. Invite neighbors over for dinner. I hear that inviting someone out for coffee is popular, but as a Mormon that’s not really something I have ever done before. My life was centered on being a member of the church and now I don’t know how to be a functioning member of…not the church. It’s terrifying, to be honest. I worry that I have doomed myself, and by extension my wife, to a solitary life where we don’t fit in. We don’t fit in with members of the church and we don’t fit in with those outside it. There is too much different in both situations. I want to have people that I am close with, that we are close with, but it seems impossible. That is another casualty of my disbelief. That feeling of isolation. The feeling of not belonging anywhere. Of never quite fitting in.

No one would choose this. This is not the easy road. This is not the path that someone lazy would take. This is the harder, more difficult path. I wish it was different. I wish I could make the evidence make sense in a different way. And I’ve tried. But I can’t.

In my next post, which I am extremely excited for, I will write about what people can do to support those that doubt, are in a crisis of faith, or no longer believe the same way they did in the past. Some of the ideas will be common sense. But they may also be difficult. It may mean that you temporarily put aside your own beliefs in order to love someone unconditionally. It may be difficult, uncomfortable, and scary, but I guarantee, it will help not only the person struggling, but also yourself.