Before we get into this one, yes, I admit that was a MAJOR clickbait title. But it’s true.
I was recently approached by someone, a believing member of the LDS church, and was made aware of a statement I made in one of my posts that was untrue. I am someone that finds immense value in being honest, in correcting mistakes, and apologizing when I am wrong. I have to admit that I did think about quietly making the change to the blog without announcing that I had made a mistake, but I didn’t feel right about doing it that way.
The offending statement was from the last blog post, written predominantly by my friend David. In the introduction to his article, I stated that David was previously a fully believing member of the church who was as committed and had as strong of a testimony as anyone else. I stated that it is not fair to say that only those that were weak or never had a strong belief are the only ones that leave the church. Now on to the mistake. I stated, “The only requirement to end in our position [of no longer believing] is to allow yourself to be open to all available information, a desire to know objective truth, and a hunger to follow the rabbit hole to the very end.” This comment was factually incorrect and I apologize for making this untrue statement.
I was reminded that there are individuals that research all available information, that honestly desire to know truth, and have a willingness to continue researching to the end that come to different conclusions than I did. I have mentioned these individuals before. They have a nuanced faith. They believe in the church but that belief looks much different than what is taught in manuals and from the pulpit. They believe in a way that is more in line with factual history and what makes the most sense considering that history. Yet there are also those that conclude their search where I did and no longer believe. As such, it’s not fair to abdicate researching the truth claims of the church because you have heard that there are some other intelligent people that have looked deeper and continue to believe.
As an example, I’ve mentioned Brian Hauglid in my blog in the past. From my seventh article speaking about the incorrect translation of the Book of Abraham I quote, “On a related note, Brian Hauglid was a well-known Mormon apologist that has authored several books on difficult church topics. He is a professor at Brigham Young University and a visiting fellow at the Maxwell Institute. He also worked on the Joseph Smith papers project. He had agreed with many of the arguments contained in the church article on the Book of Abraham, until recently. In late 2018 he wrote the following: “For the record, I no longer hold the views that have been quoted from my 2010 book…I have moved on from my days as an “outrageous” apologist…I wholeheartedly agree with Dan’s [Vogel] excellent assessment of the Abraham/Egyptian documents…I now reject a missing Abraham manuscript…I no longer agree with Gee or Mulhestein. I find their apologetic “scholarship” on the BoA abhorrent.”” I have recently learned that Brian retired from BYU just this month, on July 1st of this year. After his retirement, he was interviewed on the Radio Free Mormon podcast. Speaking of the above comment that described Gee's apologetics as "abhorrent," Brian says he doesn't consider what Gee and his colleagues do as "scholarship," because he knows they purposely omit evidence from readers in order to mislead them. He stated that he no longer believes in the truthfulness of the church but attends for his wife to keep the peace. Brian is an extremely intelligent man that has seen and engaged in the intimate inner workings of those doing scholarship for the church. Yet he no longer believes.
I have been thinking a lot about my faith journey recently. I have thought long and hard about the role the LDS church will play in my life in the future. I have decided that this will be the last post that I publish on Facebook. I may or may not add articles to the blog over time, but I will include these without mentioning them on my social media. I have already removed the vast majority of Mormon friends and acquaintances from Facebook as part of deciding how to move forward with life. I’m not against having friends that are members of the church, some of my closest friends are, but I want friends that are REAL friends rather than acquaintances out of convenience or obligation. As far as what I want to conclude with, I’ve thought about and started writing the remainder of this article many different ways. I have completely or partially deleted these initial attempts several times.
I thought about including all the information contained within the Gospel Topics Essays as well as research from Fair Mormon to define what a nuanced faith looks like and how it differs from mainstream belief. For anyone that is interested though, there is an amazing website and podcast written by Rob Terry. He is a nuanced member of the church that has also spent years researching. His website is https://www.churchistrue.com/. There is a lot of information here but I would highly recommend his recent podcast. I have included the link to the written transcripts of his podcast episodes for those interested here: https://www.churchistrue.com/blog/. As of this writing there are less than ten episodes, so it is not prohibitively long. I will let his words speak for themselves but his view is likely what the church will be teaching in the future. To reiterate, he is an active, invested, believing member of the church that looked at all available information and has made his faith work in the best way that he could.
I did think about including changes to church teachings and doctrines that I believe are coming in the future. Just today I heard that there will be further changes to the temple ordinances (even though Joseph Smith himself said, “Ordinances instituted in the heavens before the foundation of the world, in the priesthood, for the salvation of men, are not to be altered or changed”). I also thought about including more information that is persuasive towards my strong belief the LDS church is not the one and only true church. Except I’m tired of these approaches.
As something different, I thought about attempting to start discussions by asking thought provoking questions, like: “Does it matter that God miraculously sent an angel with a sword to force Joseph Smith to take extra wives (ostensibly against his will) while not giving clear direction about how to practice polygamy or remaining silent when past leaders of the church were promoting racist theories about black people? What would it mean to you if it made more sense that there was no angel?” Another question might be, “Considering we know that prophets in the church can make mistakes and speak from opinion, even when speaking in their official capacity as prophet of the church, what would it mean to you that they seem to be teaching the philosophies of men mingled with scripture, when it is implied the church is above this?” The reason I would ask these questions would not be to persuade anyone towards unbelief but to help members of the church see that there are many, many ways to believe in the LDS church and that some actually make more sense than what is taught on Sunday. Hopefully this would expand spaces in the church for people that continue to want to be part of it but don’t fit the mold we have previously been expected to fit. I thought about trying to build bridges and create dialogue between mainstream believing members of the church and those that have a nuanced faith, progressive Mormons, or those that no longer believe. This is what I initially tried to do. Yet it hasn’t worked to this point, so I don’t hold much faith that this would work now. I guess there’s a reason you don’t talk about religion or politics at the dinner table. It very rarely ends well.
I’ve learned that dialogue is not very effective when it is one sided. I have had mostly brief interactions with people about these things but these conversations tend to end abruptly when others don’t know how to respond to my concerns. I have seen other people try to create dialogue, both from within (Rob Terry) and from without (Allan Mount from the Marriage on a Tightrope podcast for mixed faith marriages). I have seen how both of them can be ridiculed by the other side when their views do not agree with mainstream belief. Social media as well as social circles become echo chambers where only those that agree with you can be tolerated due to the lack of any desire to understand the other side. I have recently seen a meme that says it can’t actually hurt you to have a discussion with someone that doesn’t agree with you. Except very few people really want to hear or discuss the other side. I get it. It’s scary. But isn’t that why we like to tell scary stories around the campfire? Why many of us enjoy watching scary movies? Talking about scary things can be exciting. They can open your mind to other possibilities. These discussions don’t have to be controversial or confrontational. I actually went for lunch yesterday to have one of these discussions and, as always, it was comfortable and we both left feeling respected and, honestly, enlightened.
I did decide to include a little on how it seems like I have left the church but I cannot leave it alone. I have to agree, my journey out of the church has taken much longer than I wanted or expected. It has been over two years now and it has continued to be difficult for me. I find it interesting that other than a couple close friends, and a Fathers Day root beer, absolutely no one from my ward in Airdrie has reached out to me. People continue to be friendly if I run into them, but that’s about the extent. Yet, several of my children have had messages left for them. One of which was overstepping quite a bit. The pot sometimes calls the kettle black. I’m guilty of it as well, I’m sure, and I again apologize if that’s the case.
I see the last two years as an account of grief, loss, and honestly trauma. Not that the church has traumatized me per se, my time in the church was easier and more positive than many that leave. Yet, I do feel traumatized by certain losses and realizations. I feel negatively effected by teachings that have been ingrained in me that I am still trying to unlearn in order to move forward with my life.
I have come to learn that everyone that leaves the church processes this journey differently. At the death of a loved one, some grieve for weeks, some years. Some move past the difficult feelings relatively easily and quickly while others feel the pain for a very long time. Some seek support while others keep to themselves. Some are open and need to talk through their pain and others remain quiet. There is no cookie cutter way to grieve. There isn’t one right or correct way.
I am in a much better place than I was when I was a believing and attending member of the church. I see leaving as a gift I gave myself and my kids as we now have the singular opportunity to decide for ourselves what we will believe. I get to decide the path that my life will take, which from my perspective will be closer to objective truth. I have begun to find new meaning and purpose that is more powerful than I had within the church.
I continue to find it disheartening that the church, through its flagship magazine The Ensign continues to villainize me. "If you are struggling with questions or doubts about the Church or your faith, you won’t find truth by reading blogs or listening to podcasts from those who disagree with the Church or have left it." Except that anyone reading my blog has found truth. There were those that didn’t know Joseph Smith used a seer stone in a hat to translate the Book of Mormon. That was truth, admitted by the church (after having the stone in its possession since Brigham Young, yet not sharing this information openly for decades). If you didn’t know that before you read it here, you found truth by reading my blog. I shared that the Book of Abraham was an incorrect translation of the scrolls Joseph Smith found. If you did not know that before reading it here, I shared the truth. Whether you believe there were missing scrolls or not, we have the three facsimiles, and they were all incorrectly translated. If you didn’t know that before, I told you that. You learned truth from my blog.
I find it difficult when the church tells its members to actively avoid information, telling them to not trust blogs or podcasts from those that disagree or have left the church. This quote by Hugh B. Brown, who was an apostle for 8 years, then a member of the First Presidency for nine years, explains my feelings perfectly: "The honest investigator must be prepared to follow wherever the search for truth may lead. Truth is often found in the most unexpected places. He must, with fearless and open mind, insist that facts are far more important than any cherished, mistaken beliefs, no matter how unpleasant the facts or how delightful the beliefs." As I stated in my fourth blog, information can only be deemed Anti-Mormon if it is false. If the church has nothing to hide, any information out there should not be so disconcerting that members have to be told to actively avoid it.
In this article I’ve also decided to try to explain why I’ve been open about my faith shift. The church taught me to value truth and to share it to those that did not have it, especially if I believed it would make their lives better. I served a mission for the church for two years of my life doing what I believed at the time was this exact thing. If sharing the truth is so important to the church that it sent me thousands of miles away to convince people that their beliefs were not correct and that I had the right way, I hope you can understand why I have been open about what I believe is the truth.
The analogy that keeps coming to my mind in trying to explain why I have been open with my disbelief is one of investing for retirement. Let’s say you wanted to invest your money in a stock in order to save for when you were ready to retire. For your entire life, your family and most of your closest friends have been investing in the same stock. They are adamant that this stock will give you the best return on your investment. If you put all your excess money into this stock, they promise that you will be rich when you retire. They tell you that they have researched all there is to research about it and this is the best option. They have had experiences that tell them that this is the right way to invest.
However, I approach you and tell you that I have looked deeply into this stock and discovered that I strongly believe that you will not get the promised return. I tell you that over months and years of research, I have discovered that when you retire, you will not be rich. Rather, you will have lost your money and will have wasted the opportunity to invest in different stocks that would have been much more beneficial. Faced with this situation, would you choose to research the stock for yourself? Would you limit yourself to information that was given to you by the managers of this stock, or would you research every single other source of information due to the extremely high stakes? Would you only listen to the managers of that stock, considering their obvious bias? Would you blindly listen to me and pull all of your money out of this stock without first looking deeper for yourself? I honestly hope not! I would hope that if I were the investor and you had information that I didn’t, that you would tell me, even if it would be difficult to convince me.
When I tell you this information you say, “I’ve spent so much time, energy, and money on this stock. I’m going to lose so much if I walk away from it.” Yes, yes you are. It’s going to hurt, put you back for a while, and be hard to come back from. In the end though, it’s worth it. The only logical way forward for the investor would be to research all available information on this stock. Look up information from professional investors, explore the stocks competitors, and get advice from a financial advisor. That is the only way to determine for yourself the correct course of action to take. I’ve never said to take my word for anything, I’ve only ever said to research it for yourself.
I should also include here that some people may choose to continue to invest in this stock because it gives them comfort, even if the return may be less than expected. If the pain of making a change is greater than the pain of continuing to invest, perhaps it is best for certain people to continue rather than going through the difficult road of change. This is also a valid option as long as people have done the research and made a fully informed decision (this could also be read as having a nuanced faith).
I have recently been made aware that I have a rescuing persona. I suppose that I come by this naturally considering I am a Psychologist. It would appear that I have been trying to rescue my loved ones from something that I believe is false, whether they wanted rescuing or not. I’ve tried to share what I believe is the truth. Except when it comes to my loved ones, this isn’t my job. You are all adults, with minds and wills of your own. I need to respect that. I haven’t given that fact as much respect as perhaps I should have. For that, I apologize.
The fact is, the church works for certain people. Those people can be very happy within it. I personally know people whose lives I believe would be worse without having belief in the church. However, the church does not work for everyone. Not everyone feels joy, acceptance, meaning, or purpose in being a part of it. For those that it no longer works for, or for those that it doesn’t work for in the first place, that needs to be respected. More than respected even, when someone tells you that the church does not work for them it needs to be believed. I wish and hope that in the future the church focuses less on exclusive truth and more on trying to work for and be inclusive of a broader range of people. Yet my wishes and hopes about the church don’t need to drive me anymore.
As I was writing this post, I came to a realization. Call it an epiphany, a moment of clarity, a light-bulb moment, or the Holy Ghost; whatever you call it, it felt meaningful to me. I realized that I don’t need understanding anymore. I don’t need to care about being judged. I don’t need to rescue anyone from what I believe is false. It’s not my job. I’ve done what I needed to in order to move forward and I don’t regret any of that in the slightest. Now it’s everyone else’s job to figure it out from here.
I also came to realize that I don’t need to expect any certain behavior from anyone else. In the church we are told that if you do something good, you will get a blessing. When you receive any good thing in your life, it was because you were obedient to some higher law upon which that blessing was predicated. God is bound and must bless us when we do as He says, so we learn to expect blessings in repayment for doing good things. I have realized that I don’t need to live my life waiting for the universe to give back to me equally for what I give. I don’t have to focus on some cosmic sense of balance in order to decide what behaviors from others I expect as a response to things I say or do. I can be what I want others to be without any expectation of getting anything in return. I can model behaviour that I wish others to engage in, regardless of whether they ever behave this way towards me or not. I can check in on others to make sure they are okay without having an expectation that they or anyone else does the same for me or my family. I can give of my time and energy even if it is not given back. To summarize it all up in a nice package, complete with bow on top, I can choose to give to the world and humanity more than I get back.
This can be one way I find new meaning in my life. New purpose. I choose to be a good husband, not because of what I will get out of it but because I value being a faithful, kind, dedicated spouse. I can be a good father not because of what I get from my children but because I value raising good people, that are better than I am, and that are secure in the knowledge that they are loved. I can choose to be a good friend, not because it is an exercise that is perfectly balanced in how often I initiate contact vs. how often they do, but because I value the interactions we do have. I can be a welcoming and supportive son/son-in-law and brother/brother-in-law because that’s what aligns with my values, not because I need anything in return. I can be a good Samaritan to those around me because it is the right thing to do, not because I believe I will be repaid by Karma or some higher power. I can offer complete acceptance and inclusion, regardless of race or sexual orientation, without hesitation and without limit. I can be the change that I want to see in the world, not because it will make some huge impact, but because it might, at least to some.
In explaining my feelings during lunch yesterday, my friend said this sounded like a spiritual awakening. They suggested that it’s likely I needed to leave the church so as to continue my path towards becoming a better person. They also reminded me that it’s also possible for people to remain a part of the church and have a similar spiritual awakening, or to continue to progress towards becoming more enlightened themselves. I completely agree. I do believe that members of the church need to know all available information in order to make informed decisions before they can continue progressing though. I believe the church can give a basic foundation for building spirituality and growth but that in order to continue forward (think Fowler’s Stages of Faith Development from the intro to the Believer post), members must move beyond the milk that is taught in the manuals and search for the meat themselves. However, for certain people, remaining a part of the church is the right decision for them.
As for the role the Mormon church will play in my life moving forward, I’m not exactly sure. I think the healthiest direction would be to continue moving away from my association with it. The more I think about it, the stronger I believe that those that don’t fit the mold are not fully welcome in the church. I don’t believe that any effort I may make to build bridges of understanding would be seen as anything but confrontation. Some may disagree, but it’s how I feel. That doesn’t mean that I’ll never step foot in an LDS church again. After Covid has been figured out, one way or another, I’m sure I will attend at times. I would like to attend missionary farewells. I will be present for weddings, even if it will have to be from outside during certain parts. I might try to attend regular Sunday services at times to see if my hypothesis about my place in the church is correct or not. I know that I can have respectful conversations with those of faith about the things they find important while sharing my perspective in a non-threatening, non-judgmental way. I’ve done it before. There are at least some that are close to me that would agree. I realize that I likely have come across as confrontational in the past and for that I apologize.
I suppose this entire post, probably the entirety of my blog as well, could be seen as one epic YAGE (for those that don’t know, that’s Yet Another Grand Exit). It probably was, lol! Except that I needed it. It served a purpose to me. Just like those that post about Light the World, Easter, or Ramadan, everyone has the right to openly post to social media anything that is important to them. This was important to me. I say was because it’s not important to me anymore. It’s been almost a year since I posted my last personal article, my final thoughts. I suppose if anyone else makes me aware of any other mistakes or untruths in my blog I will publicly acknowledge, change, and apologize for them. Beyond that though, I’m moving forward. The world outside the church is a big one and life is a long time. I had better start living for my present and future rather than looking back at the past.
Post a Comment