So, I’ve been procrastinating writing this one for more than a month and I’m not exactly sure why. It could be because this is another article that may be difficult for members of the church to read. I have stated before (during my 6th, 7th, and 8th posts where I discuss my specific issues with the truth claims of the church) how I don’t enjoy writing about things that members of the church may see as antagonistic. I might have procrastinated because I am not quite ready to be done with these blogs, considering I only have one post left to write after this one. Or it might be because I AM ready to move on and I just want to be done with writing. I’m not exactly sure. But I have finally buckled down to write this second to last post so I can move forward with my own journey feeling like my blog is complete and I’ve shared what I needed to. And it’s a long one, so I apologize in advance, but I really don’t want to split this up. I want to be done.
My last post, or Kate’s post rather, has been read more times than my previous two combined (as of this writing). It just reached the top six viewed posts the other day, even though it’s a new post. I have joked with friends that it was probably because I didn’t include Kate’s name in my Facebook post, so people had to at least open the blog to find out who they might know that also left the church. But I wonder if maybe it’s because church members are interested to hear if my experience is not as unique as they had thought. Maybe there are legitimate concerns with the history of the church that have led to an exodus of faithful families leaving the church over the past 5-10 years. I am being completely honest when I say that I personally know between one and two dozen people from my past that have left the church specifically due to discovering problems within church history. New members to a local online Facebook support group for those that no longer believe in the church often have numerous friends in common with me. I think many believing members would be surprised at who else has left the church or who still attends but no longer believes. To reiterate, I don’t write these things to try to convince you I am right and believing members are wrong. I write to show that I am not an anomaly. We are not weak, deceived, or led astray. I, and those like me, have concerns that are legitimate.
But on to the current post. I will be listing aspects of the church that I believe are harmful. These issues may impact you or your family at some point. Now whether members justify these things by saying that other churches have these issues also, or that these things might happen but they won’t happen to them or any other justification, I hope that those that remain in the church will think about these things and keep them in mind for the future, just in case.
1. Unquestioning Obedience to Leaders
Members of the church believe that the leaders of the church, specifically the president, his two counsellors, and the 12 apostles are “prophets, seers, and revelators” for the world. Members believe they have been called essentially by God himself and whatever they say is God’s will. The expectation is that members of the church follow and believe everything they teach. But again, we know that these men can be wrong. They have been wrong in the past and the church (in the Gospel Topics Essays) has specifically disavowed things past leaders have taught. There is nothing stopping them from being wrong again, or even from being wrong in what they are teaching now. So, while they may be doing what they think is right, they can teach us things that are incorrect. And as I have discussed in my 8th post, I do not believe in the gift of discernment, which is what the church says is used when calling local leadership. So, to follow these men, whether global or local leadership, in EVERYTHING they suggest is, to me, harmful. I will discuss some of these things in later points but this one is an overarching concern of mine.
I have heard that we can still question what the leaders of the church say, but in the end, if we get any answer, whether by study or prayer, that is different than what the leaders have told us, it is automatically wrong. I wish more would choose what they believe rather than feeling forced to believe.
There are many ways for people to live their life. Even within the LDS church, members choose to follow certain commandments while not following others. Some choose to watch R rated movies or TV shows that are rated M. Some choose to drink certain teas, such as green tea or iced tea, which are against the Word of Wisdom. Some members of the church swear. Others only wear their garments occasionally rather than day and night as instructed in the temple interview. All of these things have been specifically denounced by the leaders of the church, but some members choose to do them anyway. I do not list these things in order to judge. I would actually prefer members of the church to live their lives according to what works for them. But the guilt and shame that can be created by going against the teachings of the church are harmful in and of themselves.
So, I wish members would choose for themselves what they believe and what they will follow. Use critical thinking and scientific research as well as follow your own conscience.
I understand the idea behind tithing. I get the principle. But if I am correct, and this church is just one of many churches professing to be the correct way, it is no different than the faith healers or televangelists asking for money, except we are required to give a substantial portion of our income to be considered in full fellowship. The personal bankruptcy rate in Utah, which is a Mormon majority state, is ninth in America. This means that 82% of the other states in the US have lower bankruptcy rates, even with a very large percentage of people in Utah paying tithing. I know of many families that struggle financially even though they pay tithing.
When an affluent, white, American man goes to Africa and tells the people that the way they break the cycle of poverty is to pay ten percent of their meagre income to the church, that is the definition of harmful. Ellipses were used in church manuals to remove a portion of the original wording of the revelation on tithing, removing the part that says that tithing is only to be paid if members have the means to do so. When leaders of the church teach members to pay your tithing even if you can’t pay for food, rent, medicine, or anything else you need, that is harmful. Paying tithing does not supernaturally prevent members from having serious financial struggles. And depending on local leadership, the church is not always willing to help when members are struggling.
I find it harmful that the church is not transparent about its finances. When asked about this in a TV interview, Gordon B. Hinckley, a past president of the church, lied and said that the reason the church is not financially transparent is because only members of the church should know where the money is spent. I have never been told where to find this information on the church website. I have never heard of anyone that knows where to look this up. If the church has nothing to hide, why not be transparent with how much they have and where the money is spent?
I wish members would either pay on the original teaching about tithing, their increase (paying 10% of what is left over after first paying all bill payments) or only paying tithing when they are able and only as much as they feel good about paying. Please don’t pay tithing if you can’t afford food or bills.
The church has a history, as well as the current practice, of marginalizing certain groups. I believe in loving and embracing all people regardless of their religion, race, gender, or sexual orientation. Whether you are Muslim, Jewish, Christian or Hindu; Black, White, Hispanic, or Asian; male, female, trans or intersex; gay, straight, bisexual, or otherwise; YOU HAVE EQUAL VALUE. PERIOD. The LDS church’s history of discrimination, both in the past and present, is not a sign of a true church. Either black skin is a curse or the church leaders were wrong. Either the Catholic church and all other non-LDS churches were the great and abominable church or the church leaders were wrong. Either women are to submit to their husbands or the church leaders were wrong. Either people that are gay are choosing to be gay or church leaders were wrong. The teachings of the leaders of the church have been found to be wrong over and over again.
The church will continue to be shown to be wrong on issues of discrimination. People that are gay or trans are amazing, caring, moral people. I have spent significant amounts of time hearing their stories and learning about their character. I find it horrific that the church teaches that their inborn desires to be who they are are considered part of Satan’s plan. Suicide within the gay community is higher in Utah than in other states where coming out is more supported. Youth who feel highly rejected by family members or their community when they come out as being LGBT have a risk of suicide that is eight times higher. The church’s stance on this issue is literally killing people. If your child was gay, what would you teach them?
In this area, I absolutely guarantee, the church will change its stance in the future. They have already changed their position on homosexuality being a choice (it has been scientifically proven that it’s not). The church has changed its definition of sin away from being gay without acting on it to only homosexual intimate relations being a sin. Whether it is in five years, a decade, or more, the church will one day allow people that are gay all the rights and privileges of every other member of the church, just as it did with black people. On this topic, the church is wrong, and it’s directly harming people.
4. Role of Women
Discouraging women from education, careers, and generally being anything other than a stay-at-home-mom is harmful. I believe that women can be successful outside the home in their careers as well as successful in their homes. I will teach my girls that it is important to get an education and to have a career. This creates options for their future. I want them to be independent, strong, and self sufficient. Not all marriages last and I want my girls to be able to have options if things don’t work out with their partner. I never want them to feel trapped in a relationship. Women should not feel like their role is foreordained to stay at home and raise children. If this is what they choose to do, that is their choice, but having options to live their best life is powerful.
Women will likely be given more responsibilities in the future as the church continues to focus on improving their past stance, such as with the recent changes to the temple endowment. Women will likely be able to do things in the church that they had not been permitted to do recently. In the past, women were permitted to give blessings of healing and this may occur again. There’s nothing doctrinally against a woman holding her baby during baby blessings. And I have heard rumors that young girls in smaller congregations may be permitted to pass the sacrament. I hope this continues within the church until women are permitted to be bishops (and in other leadership positions) and hold the priesthood.
I wish parents would encourage their daughters to get an education or other career training before starting a family. I hope that those women that desire to or who have chosen to work outside the home will not feel guilt or shame.
5. Potential for Abuse
Returning to the idea of discernment, the church teaches that local leaders are called by the Holy Spirit, by another leaders’ discernment of their character, and that these local leaders can be trusted completely. Yet we know that bishops, mission presidents, etc. have done terrible things in the recent past. The church does not require criminal background checks or vulnerable sector checks for members that work with children. This is extremely harmful. Will this catch all predatory behaviour? No, it won’t, but it will definitely help.
The church encourages and requires one-on-one interviews to occur between middle aged men and young boys and girls regarding, among other things, their sexual practices. A survey was recently sent out to members of the church asking if they believe children as young as 7 should have worthiness interviews on a regular basis. Currently, children as young as 11 are required to have regular interviews. In these interviews, youth are asked questions about their observance of the Law of Chastity. Questions can include masturbatory practices, viewing of pornography, and any other sexual contact. Again, I am not saying that all bishops or local leaders are predators waiting to victimize youth, but some are. Local leaders receive almost no training, which increases the chances of both innocent mistakes when providing counselling but also predatory interviewing. Inappropriate interviews are much more common than members realize. And it sets up the expectation that it is normal for youth to have discussions about sexual topics with older men. You can read hundreds of stories of abuse by leaders in the church here: https://protectldschildren.org/read-the-stories-2/
I find it difficult to fathom why the church would require two leaders to be present when dealing with money/tithing but only one leader is required when discussing sexual issues with youth. There should never be a time when a child is alone with a leader. The church has made it optional for children to request a parent be in the interview with them but this places the onus on the child. It should be a requirement that a parent must be present during any and all interviews. I would take this one step further and say that children should never be asked any sexual questions by a church leader, ever. The implicit idea that a child may be “unworthy” is extremely harmful.
When there is abuse, the church tends to rally around abusers and the focus is often on maintaining the “good name of the church” as more important than helping survivors. The church has had documents leaked about sexual abuse settlement payments that often amount to tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars. Tithing dollars. Survivors that are paid out are often made to sign a non-disclosure agreement. When a Bishop (leader of a congregation of several hundred members) is given evidence of sexual abuse within the church, they are advised to call a hotline. The number is not to the police or social services. The number is to the church’s lawyers, Kirton McConkie. The church has been accused of covering up or otherwise not reporting several higher profile abuse cases, as well as many local cases, by way of bishops consulting with lawyers to determine whether they absolutely have to report abuse or not. Because there is very little formal training of local leadership, bishops have often been found to try to help the abuser repent rather than involving the police. Survivors have been told that they need to forgive and forget while their abuser remains in their congregation while they “repent,” which greatly increases the chances of revictimization as well as further abuse of others.
A past Missionary Training Center president named Joseph Bishop recently admitted to showing pornography to and fondling at least two sister missionaries while president of the MTC in the 80’s. He was accused of rape but this charge was found to be spurious. He was not excommunicated and was allowed to keep his position as MTC president after the church learned of his abuse. Also, the individual that created the videos shown in the temple, Stirling Van Wagenen, was also recently convicted of sexually abusing at least two children. Even though the abuse was reported to the church many years ago, this man was not excommunicated but went on to work as a Brigham Young University professor and to produce many videos for the church. Rather than their abuse being ignored, these men should have been excommunicated and charged and it should have been the church that pushed for this to happen. But the church did not report these abusers, it did not excommunicate them, and it allowed them to either keep their callings or promoted them to positions of higher influence in the church.
I would hope that parents make the decision to never allow their child to be interviewed alone by a leader of the church. Even if you have no concerns whatsoever with your bishop, it sets a negative precedent. Parents should let their bishop know that it is required for them to be present whenever their child is meeting with a leader for any reason. Those that find themselves in a leadership calling where they are required to perform worthiness interviews should not ask about sexual questions at all. But as I know this will likely not happen until the top leaders of the church make these changes themselves, leaders should only ask the vaguest of questions, namely: Do you keep the Law of Chastity, and leave it at that. No further probing questions beyond that. Abuse should be reported to police EVERY TIME, regardless of what the church’s lawyers advise. Survivors should be supported while abusers should be prosecuted. EVERY. TIME.
6. Shaming Culture
Whether we are talking about sexual repression, the clothes one wears, the number or placement of piercings, or tattoos, people should be allowed to do what they want with their body. When it comes to these topics, I believe that it is the shaming and judgement from the church and its members that is harmful. I do believe there should be boundaries in what someone chooses to wear or the tattoos they choose to have, but if someone feels comfortable and beautiful, that is what is truly important. IT IS NOT THE JOB OF WOMEN TO PREVENT MEN FROM ABUSING THEM. To give the idea that women should not dress in a certain way or it’s their own fault if they are assaulted is victim blaming to its worst degree. Just because someone wears a tank top does not give anyone the right to assault her or to judge her. Saying that someone may have to accept a certain degree of responsibility if they are raped (which has been stated over the pulpit at General Conference by an apostle of the church) is horrible. Everyone is responsible for their own actions. People are not responsible for the actions of others. I find it interesting that Jesus taught that if thine eye offends thee, pluck it out. Yet this is definitely not taught in the church. Instead, the church places the onus on women.
Shame is also another result of a culture that teaches that we are constantly sinning. We sin if our thoughts are impure. We sin if we don’t read scriptures or pray enough. We sin if we don’t fulfill our callings or do our ministering. Shame can become a constant companion for some who don’t believe they are worthy. The belief is often created that we are never quite good enough. And fear is another common result when members doubt that they will make it to heaven. I have heard of members that were terrified as children and youth that they would be separated from their families in the afterlife due to their thoughts or actions.
The suicide rate for Utah is fifth highest in the U.S. The youth suicide rate is also fifth, but is double the average national rate. Utah consistently has one of the highest rates of mental illness and antidepressant use in the country. Shame and perfectionism are likely major factors in these statistics. The need for perfectionism, shame when one does not match this standard, and fear of never being good enough has to stop.
7. Separating Families
The church promotes itself as a family centred church, and in many regards, I agree that it is. But in certain situations, the church actually encourages or supports the separation of families. Typically, this occurs with someone in my situation, someone that no longer believes or no longer attends church. According to church doctrine, due to my unbelief, regardless of how good of a person I am, I will be separated from my family in the afterlife. They will go to a higher degree of glory than myself and I will not be with them. This idea of “sad heaven,” namely being separated from your family in the afterlife if they don’t believe and act exactly as they are told to, is horrible.
If you are not a member of the church, or if you no longer believe, you cannot be present for a friend or family members wedding if it is occurring in the temple. There has been a recent change where couples can choose to be married civilly and then be sealed in the temple soon after, but I wonder if there will continue to be stigma for those that choose to first be married outside the temple. If you do not fit the mold of being a clean-cut conservative individual, you will not fit in with your ward family. Time in callings is another situation that keeps members of the church away from their family. The practice of excommunicating members (intellectuals, dissenters, liberals, etc), particularly those that would wish to remain a part of the church, drives a wedge between these people and their families. I believe I have discussed the Strengthening Church Members Committee in the past but I find it harmful that a group within the church exists with the sole purpose of monitoring church members online posts for dissenting opinions, with the ultimate threat being church discipline or excommunication.
8. Mistrustful of Scientific Research
It is harmful to be mistrustful of science and scientific research if it does not agree with your faith. It makes people skeptical of professionals, such as myself. For instance, there is study after study showing that conversion therapy (AKA reparative therapy), which is the attempt to counsel a gay person into being straight, is EXTREMELY harmful. Yet the government of Utah has been fighting against ensuring this so-called therapy is banned.
Whether it is the vaccination issue, climate change, tea and coffee, sexual repression, or anything else that science has informed us about, it is extremely harmful to discount or cherry pick what you choose to believe. Yes, science is updating information and new theories may come forward in the future on certain topics. But some things have essentially been proven and we need to believe what has been found. Our best source of information is scientific research.
9. Lying for the Lord
Church leaders have been dishonest about church history or difficult doctrines if it protects the reputation of the church. I will include several examples. Official church histories omit references to Joseph Smith smoking cigars and drinking (up to and including the day before he died) to make him look better. The use of ellipses (…) in church manuals, or at times a complete unacknowledged omission, has occurred when original sources discuss his drinking and smoking. Joseph Smith retrofitted different events into earlier accounts of church history, such as angelic beings ordaining him to the priesthood. Joseph and early church leaders, while practicing polygamy, specifically denied practicing it in official statements. In fact, Joseph’s practice of polygamy was lie after lie to his first wife, Emma. She was not aware of the vast majority of his approximately three dozen wives. The 1890 Manifesto to end polygamy did not actually end the practice. Leaders of the church continued to lie to the federal government by engaging in polygamous marriages until around 1904, when a second manifesto was given. President Wilford Woodruff himself took another wife in 1897.
Leaders of the church were misleading when asked about the Strengthening Church Members Committee, the group that keeps files on any disparaging internet activity of members. In a TV interview, then prophet Gordon B. Hinckley stated that he didn’t know much about the doctrine that God was once a man that had been exalted and stated that we don’t teach that in the church, which is definitively not the case. Elder Jeffrey R. Holland has been dishonest on numerous occasions, such as stating that the church did not pay any money to Proposition 8, which was the fight against gay marriage in California. The church gave approximately $200,000. In another situation, Holland was asked in an interview if Mitt Romney, a Mormon presidential candidate in 2008, would have made oaths to cut his own throat before revealing information about temple ceremonies. Holland purposefully obfuscated the truth by denying it. After being pressed, Holland backtracked and stated that these oaths were taken out of the ceremony some time ago but were no longer part of it. Romney would have made this oath, however, as he received his endowment prior to 1990, when penalties were removed.
Church leaders and official church statements hide or obscure the history of the church when it is not faith promoting. Joseph Smith using the same rock in his hat to translate the Book of Mormon that he unsuccessfully used to find buried treasure was not discussed by the church until recent years. The Mountain Meadows Massacre and the numerous versions of the First Vision are both examples of things that were actively suppressed. And when changes are made, the church makes it sound like there was no change made and that it was never hidden. Members like myself, who have found these issues to be accurate rather than the anti-Mormon lies we were told they were, are then gaslighted into feeling like we were crazy for believing these things. The church leaders extol honesty but then, when it suits them, are not honest themselves.
The church doesn’t ever apologize for its mistakes (stated by First Presidency member Dallin H. Oaks), decision making through feelings is prioritized over critical thinking, the exaggeration of faith promoting stories such as the transfiguration of Brigham Young during the succession crisis, a belief in the church having a monopoly on the absolute and only correct way leading to self-critical/perfectionist/judgemental personalities, and condemnatory attitudes towards those that no longer believe or that leave the church are all harmful practices.
As I have stated before, I don’t hate the church. I want it to be better for the people that choose to stay. To be honest, I have thought long and hard about what role I want the church to play in my own life. I have thought about increasing my attendance, as it is my heritage. But for me to feel comfortable attending, I want the church to be more honest about its history. I want leaders to be more up front about how they receive revelation. I want them to recognize, admit to, and apologise for mistakes made both in the past and more recently. So, another thing that has changed is me being vocal. I was not too outspoken when I was a believer but I am now. People may wonder why. It is because I value honesty, and the church is not being honest about certain issues. I also want people in my situation to know they aren’t alone. If everyone just quietly faded away when they stopped attending, nothing would change or improve. By being vocal, I am trying to make the LDS community a better, safer place for those that leave and for those that stay.
For those active believing members of the church, please, PLEASE don’t dismiss this post. Whether you only take one point and make some kind of change, or whether it’s more, please think further into these items. Something on this list may directly affect you or a loved one at some point in your life. Be on the right side of what could potentially happen.
My next post will be my last. I may have other articles from those I have asked to write, but I will only write one more. I have thought long and hard on how I want to end these articles. The more I think about it, the more I wonder if the reason for my recent procrastination has been to give myself time to determine what I want to say as I wrap up my blog for good. I often doubt how many of my active LDS friends have actually read these but in the end, this is my personal therapy, and looking at it in that way, it is doing what I need it to. I hope, if nothing else, my own journey will become easier as a result of writing.
Dason ... this is the most interesting post you have put out to date! It was intriguing and thought-provoking. This statement really had impact: "This idea of “sad heaven,” namely being separated from your family in the afterlife if they don’t believe and act exactly as they are told to, is horrible." You have made the right choice in following your BRAIN, your heart and your conscience. I agree with your decision whole-heartedly and fully understand your reasoning. I am on the same page as you.ReplyDelete
Well thought out post. Thank you!ReplyDelete