I thought I should finally post my exit story. I am doing it in two parts. I know, I know, it's long.
Part 1 contains more of the uncertain, raw emotion in the early stages of my disaffection and Part 2 contains a calmer approach when my disaffection was complete and my whole family knew I no longer believed in the church. Both parts are part of my exit and I wanted to share both.
Part 1 (May 2010)
You are right that there is more to my struggle than church history. At the root of my struggle with the church is a matter of trust. Can I trust what the church teaches me about itself and can I trust that the church will be there for me and my family to help us be more united in Christ? That is what I believe is at the root of my struggle with my testimony of the church, and I'm not sure I can trust the church like I once did. Your letter helped me see that in a very powerful way. I'll try and explain. Sorry in advance for being so long winded.
I have considered having a very open conversation with you for some time but have always resisted, thinking that it would hurt you for me to be open about part of my past. There is no sense in secrecy any more. Funny you mention Bishop Jensen in your letter. He was the bishop who interviewed me for baptism. When was real young, before I was baptized, when we lived on 17th Avenue I had a few experiences that really had a big impact on me throughout my whole upbringing and well into adulthood. For all I know, you know about this stuff already, but we've never talked about it.
There was a time when I played across the street with that kid Bobby. From what I remember the family was pretty trashy. Anyway, in a shed behind Bobby's house, Bobby and I discovered a stash of porn magazines. We were just little kids and didn't know what we were doing but Bobby and I acted out the things we saw in the magazines, which meant performing oral sex on each other. I didn't feel right about it, but didn't want to say anything about it to anyone.
On a later occasion, Moe and I discovered a stash of pornography magazines that was at the edge of the neighbors yard. We looked at the pictures and acted out what we saw, meaning we performed oral sex on each other. I remember being the instigator of this. I remember either you or dad seeing us. Later, I remember you and dad talking to me asking me what I was doing with Moe. As you probably remember, I denied everything, shook my head 'no' and backed away. At least that's how I remember it. Maybe you remember more to this that I don't. I remember feeling horrified when you and dad confronted me and the thought of talking to you about it was something that I wanted to avoid so much that I lied about it.
On a later occasion, I was in the backyard of our other neighbor Adam and Jason. Adam was a little older and bigger than me, Jason a little younger and smaller. On at least one occasion, but maybe more than once, Adam and Jason took me into an enclosed area by their empty above ground swimming pool to play doctor. Adam was the doctor. He had me pull down my pants and inserted small objects into my body. I think I was 7 though I may have been 8. I'm not totally sure, but this experience made me feel embarrassed and insecure for a long time.
The reason I mention these things is because I remember feeling great shame over these things. I distinctly remember my baptism interview with Bishop Jensen. He came over to our house and we met in the living room. You and dad were there at first then left us alone. When you and dad left, I remember distinctly thinking "Oh no, now he is going to ask me about the bad things I have done, and he will find out and not let me get baptized because I've done these bad things." Of course, nothing of the sort happened. I don't even remember what we talked about, but I am sure it was pretty basic stuff - the same things a typical bishop would talk about with an 8 year old about to be baptized. What had a huge impact on me at the time was that I felt like I was not worthy to be baptized. As the years of my childhood went on, I spent many nights from time to time seriously worried that I had been baptized unworthily and that therefore God would reject me - that I had this dark secret stain that would ultimately cause my downfall.
As I grew up in the church my feelings of guilt and shame only increased. I felt like I had been baptized unworthily and that because I had done so I would suffer the condemnation of God. I felt like God wouldn't want me. I learned that baptism washes away sins but I didn't feel like my sins had been washed away because I never felt like I had repented sufficiently to even be worthy of baptism in the first place. I felt like I had lied to Bishop Jensen somehow by not telling him about the things I did with Bobby and Moe. I felt like when Christ came to judge the world, I would be exposed as the kid who was a liar and would have my sins shouted from the rooftops. But I was petrified and didn't have the courage to say anything to anyone about it. So it ate at me as the years went by and I never shared these things with anyone until sometime relatively early in my marriage when I shared this with [my wife].
In my teenage years, like virtually every boy, on occasion I was exposed to pornography and masturbated. But in the church I was taught that this made me unworthy, and I wouldn't be able to do baptisms in the temple or serve a mission or marry in the temple if I did these things and I should confess these things to my bishop. I felt incredible shame over this but was too afraid to say anything to anyone. I believe masturbation can be sinful and I believe pornography is almost always sinful, but as a teenager growing up in the church, these weren't just sins, these were the seriously damning sins, because, after all, "you can't get married in the temple if you do these things." This wasn't just sin. This was a super sin. Couple this with the church culture that encourages secrecy ("don't talk about past transgressions" "don't tell your kids you have sinned") and what I believe was typical teenage behavior became a cycle of secrecy, shame, repentance, secrecy, shame, repentance, secrecy, shame, repentance as the years passed, including (to a lesser extent) when I served a mission.
The first time I ever talked to a bishop about my struggle with pornography and masturbation was when I was in college after serving a mission. I didn't tell [my wife] about any of this before we were married. When I met [my wife], I was so happy and so full of joy that all desires for pornography and masturbation left me during our courtship and first year of marriage and I felt like I was cured so I didn't tell her about it.
But then, after about a year of being married, it crept back into my life. Having heard talks in priesthood meetings my whole life about pornography, and feeling the weight of my sins even greater because I was married and putting more than myself at risk, I knew that I needed talk to the bishop. I was very anxious about bringing this up with [my wife] but I didn't like keeping secrets from her and my conscience wouldn't let me keep it secret for long so I confessed to her and promised her I would go see the bishop to get things straightened out. She was devastated, of course, because I was suddenly not the righteous priesthood holder she married and, taking the church out of it, pornography can be very hurtful by itself.
Fast forward 7 years and four bishops later, I felt like I had tried everything and the same secrecy, shame, repentance cycle was going on, except during these years I was generally open with [my wife] and my bishops. I believe being more open about it was better than total secrecy, but it strained my marriage and there were some difficulties along the way dealing with bishops - though generally they were all very good men. By the middle of 2007 I was beaten down mentally and spiritually - convinced I had some fatal flaw that prevented me from being a truly righteous husband, and that things would never change.
One of the stake goals for 2007 was to "set a temple attendance goal that will stretch you" and I felt like I really needed the blessings that would hopefully come from doing this so I set a goal to attend the temple weekly. To do this, I needed to get up early enough to drive the 20 miles to the temple in time for the 5:30am Tuesday endowment session. This definitely stretched me and during the summer I attended that session very faithfully. Despite this fact, I really started to really struggle with pornography later in the summer. I continued to attend the temple and there was one day in the temple where I had the feeling that maybe I was in the wrong place. I continued to attend for a while after that and one day I was feeling particularly sorrowful the entire endowment session. In the celestial room I sat down and began to weep. I didn't understand why I was having such a hard time with pornography despite all my efforts to fight it for years on end. There was a older man I knew who I regularly saw in this temple session. I really liked him and knew him from when we used to be in the same stake together. He came up to me in the celestial room, shook my hand and said softly, "How are you doing?" I said, through my quiet weeping, "Not good." He continued to shake my hand and said, "You know what to do, you know what to do." I said, "I don't know if I do." He said, "Take it to the Lord, take it to the Lord." I sat alone for a while in the celestial room continuing to struggle emotionally. I've not attended the temple since.
Not long thereafter, I listened to the Priesthood Session of the October 2007 General Conference where L. Whitney Clayton said, speaking to those ensnared by pornography, "Go to your bishop immediately. Seek his inspired guidance. He will help you put in place a plan of repentance that will restore your self-esteem and bring the Spirit back into your life." When he said these words, I silently screamed "It's not true!!!" The 4 bishops I had worked with were all good men in their own way, but there was nothing like a plan of repentance to help restore me to the spirit. They were fumbling in the dark just as much as I was and essentially watching me circle the drain. I wanted to stand up and scream, "It's a lie! It doesn't work!"
This upset me so much that I wrote an anonymous letter to my stake president telling him that, in my experience, the church pounded the pulpit repeatedly telling me to see the bishop, but that bishops had little ability to assist me and it was incredibly frustrating. I then set up a meeting with the stake president to tell him I wrote the letter. I gave him my temple recommend at that time because I was so distraught about my recent experiences. It was a cry for help. I think he took it as a resignation from the church. The reason I wanted to meet with him personally was because I wanted to ask him directly, "Elder Clayton said in his conference talk that the bishop will put me on a plan of repentance to restore my self-esteem and bring the Spirit back into my life, are bishops given any guidance to assist people with this struggle? What is the plan?" When I asked him that, he said, smiling, "There is no plan. It is all by the spirit." When he said these words it was like the fog suddenly lifted from my brain, I saw the man behind the curtain, and I said to myself, "these men do not have the spirit." I was horrified because in that instant I realized that the problem was not just me (though I am not discounting my own sins at all), it was not the bishops who were doing the best they could with what they were given (which was very little), it was the entire system and the problems ran deeeeeeeep.
But of course, how could I know this? After all, I struggled with pornography and so I didn't have the spirit in my life. I was easy prey for Satan and so of course I was confused. It couldn't be the church because the church was true. It had to be me. I believed this. It was all me and my failure to be a truly righteous husband that causing all these problems for me. I just needed to have more faith and live up more closely to the covenants I had made. The stake president wanted to meet with me regularly so I met with him for about a 6 month period. The whole time, my bishop and the stake president would tell me things like, "you're a good man, you have a beautiful family, you do a lot for the ward, you have so many wonderful talents, etc" but the stake president also said some very hurtful things to me. He said that I just wasn't spiritual enough, I didn't really love [my wife], it was as if I was cheating on her, that there were grave eternal consequences for my actions, that he was considering bringing me in for a disciplinary council and he was very clear that he couldn't understand how I could have the problem at all as a married man. I didn't believe these things. I knew I loved [my wife]. I have never come remotely close to putting myself in a position of cheating on [my wife]. I felt I had sinned, but I felt like his helping me to repent was killing me.
But I also read in the Doctrine and Covenants that I should take my leaders words as if from the Lord's own mouth. I told my stake president, "the Doctrine and Covenants says to take the prophet's words as if from the Lord's own mouth and I have always understood that to extend to my local leaders as well. I am trying to do this, but I find myself questioning some things they say to me." I was talking about him. Without even a moment of reflection he immediately said, and this is close to verbatim, "you understand it right, you shouldn't question, you should take it all as inspired." I was a complete and utter mess after meeting with him for about 6 months.
Fortunately, and I give the church credit for this (the stake president included), I discovered a church sponsored 12 step recovery group for pornography addicts and began attending. The group was great. I still attend regularly and it has really helped me out. One of the steps of the group is "truth" with the idea being that part of recovery is that you must look in the mirror and see yourself for what you really are, with all your faults and all your sins laid out bare. This was a difficult process for me and involved a lot of soul searching, memories, and writing. During this process, I started applying the same concept to the church itself. What is the truth of church history, I wondered. If the church has sins in its past, doesn't the church need to come clean and not hide things like I need to come clean and not hide things? If that is an important part of my individual progress, isn't that necessary for the church to progress as well? It's not good for me to hide or minimize my sins. It should't be good for the church either, if they have any. Even though the group was helping me, I still had problems with my leaders (who I dealt with much less frequently at this point) and couldn't figure out why some leaders generally seemed to be so lacking in Christlike love and compassion towards me.
Then about 6 months ago, I don't know what brought it on, I started thinking about the First Vision started looking into it. When I realized there were conflicting accounts, it seemed to evolve over time, and when I learned it wasn't even really a part of the gospel discussion at all for the first generation of Saints (at least as far as I could tell going through half the Journal of Discourses), I thought to myself, "whoa, this looks like a big problem" but I was scared of the consequences of going down that road so I set it all aside and found a way to rationalize the inconsistencies. But I didn't feel at ease and this spring the floodgates started to open in terms of looking into the history of the church in more detail.
Throughout this process I have applied the same process I taught as a missionary - search, ponder, and pray. I have searched much, pondered much, and prayed much - certainly more than I did when I gained a testimony in the first place - and when I pray about Joseph Smith and the Book of Mormon now, the heavens are silent.
This brings me back to your letter. Now I know that dad has struggled with the same thing I have for almost 50 years of his life. After reading your letter, I remembered something from the scriptures (or maybe I read it somewhere from a modern day prophet) about people being cursed to the third and fourth generation because of the tradition of their fathers. I have had people reassure me "the church is just learning about how to deal with pornography, some among the current leadership has the notion that anyone who looks at porn is some sort of deviant because it used to take more effort to access but with the internet many good men have gotten trapped so they are just learning how to deal with this." In recent times, as I have looked at my sweet boys and have considered that they will probably be normal teenage boys who masturbate and get exposed to pornography, I have thought "do I want my boys to go through all the shame and anguish I have gone through thinking for so long that I am going to hell because of my sins? Do I want them to feel like they are just getting chewed up in the church machine that demands exact obedience and tells me that if I do not walk up to every covenant I made in the house of the Lord that day, that I will be in Satan's power?" That sounds like insanity to me.
I have had people reassure me that by time [my sons] grow up, the church will surely have learned how to better deal with people who struggle with pornography because good men who struggle with it or who have been close to someone who has struggled with it will have a better perspective and be in a position to influence church policy. I don't know how things have been for dad, whether he has had similar struggles with church leaders or whether he has just mainly kept it a secret from them, but the fact that he is still dealing with this at this stage of his life and that it has caused so much recent strain on your marriage truly breaks my heart and makes me think "the church has failed my dad for almost 50 years, has been failing me for 20, I have no confidence they won't fail my sons."
Why should I subject my sons to this same cycle of secrecy and shame and never feeling worthy enough? And for what? For a church that was founded by a man who was "commanded by God" to marry teenage girls and women already married to other men (sometimes without the other husband's knowledge) then lie about this to his wife for years, then finally tell Emma that she was commanded by God to accept these other wives or else she would be destroyed? That sounds like insanity to me. How is that godly? Or I am supposed to believe that even though D&C 132:63 says plural wives were given for the purpose of multiplying and replenishing the earth, that Joseph Smith wasn't having sex with most of these plural wives? That is difficult for me to believe, even if he has no children except from Emma (that I am aware of). A fuller picture of Joseph Smith makes him a harder person to trust. Why should I give him my un-questioning trust about the Book of Mormon or the First Vision or the temple covenants, etc? As I said in the beginning, my crisis is a crisis of trust. Despite all the good people in the church and the many good leaders, can I trust that, in the end, the church is the best way for me to get through this life? Can I trust that, in the end, the promises I have been given regarding the hereafter are really going to be there for me? Right now, it is very difficult for me to trust the church here or in the hereafter.
Dad and I, and surely [my brothers] and eventually [my sons] will be responsible for our own sins. The church didn't make dad or I masturbate or look at pornography over the years, but as I have dealt with this in the church myself and have talked to others of my generation who have gone through similar things that I have, it is almost impossible for me not to think that the church culture really helps normal teenage experimentation turn into an addiction in many cases. It was probably the same when dad was growing up and I don't have confidence at the moment that it will be different for [my sons].
The church starts with telling the young men (at least they told me) that if they masturbate or look at pornography they are not worthy to advance in the priesthood, or do baptisms in the temple, or serve a mission, or one day get married in the temple (which, we are told, is practically the whole purpose of our existence). Then they tell the young men that they are not to discuss transgressions with anyone except parents or the bishop - the people it is the hardest to gain the courage to talk to. So when the young men inevitably masturbate and are exposed to pornography they feel like they have sinned and are putting their eternal future at stake, but they see all the boys around them advancing in the priesthood and since they are told never to discuss sin with anyone, they figure that everyone else must just be more righteous they are, but they don't want to be the odd man out on baptisms for the dead or advancing in the priesthood so the incentive to not be totally open with the bishop is huge. So when I was asked by the bishop before becoming a teacher or a priest about keeping the law of chastity, I said "yes," even though on occasion I had looked at pornography or masturbated. And so, in my estimation, the church creates an environment where secrecy and shame can easily run rampant in a young mans life. And secrecy and shame over certain behavior can lead to addiction. Then, later, as you and [my wife] have experienced, addiction strains marriages, and this strain is intensified by the fact that a woman feels her eternal family is at risk because their husband, though perhaps a good man, is so much of a sinner that he isn't currently fit for the celestial kingdom.
I know that there are plenty of people addicted to pornography of all religions or no religion, but if the church is no better than anyone else (and is worse in some ways, from what I understand, pornography websites are accessed in Utah more that everywhere else in the US), what does that say about the church? To me it says the church is no different than any other church (and might be worse in some ways). But the church does not set itself up as just another church - it claims to be the one true church on the earth. And if God has one true church that has the fullness of His doctrine and the members of this church have the most direct access to His priesthood power, should't that be reflected in the lives of his Saints? Then why would (as I understand it) Utah have the highest use of antidepressant drugs in the US, and the highest teenage suicide rate, and the highest rate of porn website access? To me, this reveals some serious cracks in Mormon culture.
Recently, I have thought that perhaps God works equally through all people who call upon Him, regardless of their brand of faith. I believe that God seeks to bless all His children so why would he favor the plea of a Mormon exercising the priesthood over the plea of anyone else who calls upon Him? Why would he comfort the person who receives a blessing through the priesthood any more than He comforts someone of another church or no church who invokes God's grace for comfort? I have had many wonderful spiritual experiences and have had wonderful experiences with priesthood blessings. I don't discount these experiences at all. To me they tell me that God is real and that He loves me and seeks to bless me in many ways. But I'm not sure that I have felt anything or received any portion of God's grace that is unavailable to anyone else outside the church who calls upon God. I believe that God has certainly worked in my life through the church in many ways. But it's hard for me to say that there is something extra special about the way God works through the church by virtue of priesthood power or fullness of doctrine that he doesn't make equally available to all who call upon Him.
I'll finish with a few final thoughts. Throughout this process, I have always felt the eternal nature of my relationship with [my wife]. To me, our relationship is a miracle and will continue to be in the eternities. I believe that God has sanctioned our marriage and that our relationship is eternal. I have also always felt the eternal nature of my relationship with my kids, you and dad, and [my brothers and sisters].
Also, throughout this process, I have always felt God's love for me and have felt His love for me manifested in many ways. As I have recently studied Christ's life in the New Testament and have prayed to my Father in Heaven, I have experienced comfort and felt the gentle hand of the Savior beckoning me to come unto Him and cast my burden upon Him. I feel like He is pleading with me to make a leap of faith towards Him so He can lead me and my family to greater joy and happiness.
I feel like God has been leading me in this process. In particular, recently I feel as though he Has sought to teach me some things through three people I truly love.
The first person is my best friend Nick. I have shared my struggle with my testimony and pornography with him. We were talking about the Book of Mormon once and he shared with me a website that was a theory that some people have that the Book of Mormon took place in the Baja Peninsula. When I looked at this theory, it was like a light bulb went off in my head. "The 'narrow neck of land,' in my lifetime, has been theorized to being the Panama Canal, to somewhere in the Great Lakes region, to the Strait of Tehuantepec, and now, somewhere in the Baja Peninsula. The reason there has been no solid evidence to point to one of these places with any degree of certainty is because they are all looking for something that was never there."
The second person is a member of my stake presidency. I have a real good relationship with him and he has helped me in many ways with my struggle with pornography and with my stake president. He said to me once that it was impossible to prove whether Joseph Smith was or was not a prophet so we had to take a leap of faith, and that the rejection of Joseph Smith also required a leap of faith. I agree with this. He went on to say that if we leap towards believing Joseph Smith was a prophet then as a result of that leap we have opportunities to help people and serve others and experience the blessings of the church (or something to that effect). When he said this to me, it was like another light bulb went off in my head, "There are so many ways to serve and bless God's children in life. God loves all His children they all need His blessings. There are so many ways to serve God outside the church and all these ways are equally acceptable to God, because God loves all His children equally."
The third person is you. I know you love me Mama. I have always felt it. There is no perfect parent and it's a long, hard, never ending job. I hope nothing in this letter hurts you though obviously emotions run deep between parent and child. After reading the letter you wrote me, another light bulb went off in my head: "My family has been cursed. For fifty years, my dad has been cursed to deal with the same dang things I have, even if he is better at not letting it bother him as much as it has bothered me. For twenty years, I have been cursed with a church culture that helps inspire addictive behavior and makes promises it can't keep regarding the help priesthood leaders can provide. Am I now to let this curse extend to the third generation with my sons? Why should I help extend this curse to the third generation? There must be a better way."
Dad, stubborn though he can be, is a good person. I am certainly flawed, but I believe I am a good person. Dad and I certainly have our differences, but if dad has been going about this for almost 50 years in the church and your marriage has been strained recently, I have little confidence I will fare much better going the same route, and that horrifies me for my sake and [my wife's]. There's gotta be a better way. I don't have and answer for what that better way might be, but if the end result of dad's 50 year struggle and my 20 year struggle is that we are in a similar position, that tells me there has got to be a better way. And for the sake of the rest of my life and my family, I want to find it.
Mama, I've been very open with you - hopefully not too much so. But I love you and I believe people that love each other should be honest with each other. To me, honesty and trust and love are intimately linked. If I can't be totally honest with you, to me that is like me saying I cannot fully trust you - like I am putting a limit on our relationship and saying I can only trust my mama with this much, but not everything. But I trust you and trust in your love for me. If I have trampled on things sacred to you or offended you, I truly am sorry.
As I have reflected on these things recently, and yesterday after getting your letter, it breaks my heart that the faith of my fathers, and the faith of the first 34 years of my life, and the source of so much good that has come into my life, could be less than it claims and could be sustained only be refusing to look closely at the history or maintaining uncomfortable mental positions once the history is examined. I have prayed for a testimony, I have tried to lean on [my wife's] testimony, I have tried to lead on the testimony of Nick and others, I have tried to lean on the testimony Elder Holland bore to the missionaries in the MTC when I was there that if we did not know, to know that he knew. I have tried to gain a testimony in the bearing of it as is recommended. I have tried all these things and recently nothing has worked. My aim has always been to be Christ-like and learn the truth as best I can. Even if all of this can be solely attributed to my lack of faith or not having the spirit because I occasionally look at pornography and masturbate, this is the position I find myself in.
I've not made any final decisions about anything. [My wife] tells me I need to call a truce between me and the church and just not think about my testimony for a while and see what happens. I will try and do that. Though it is hard for me to see it at the moment, perhaps I will have some experience that makes sense of that which right now is chaos.
I love you Mom,
Part 2 (March 2011)
Hello dear family,
I wanted to send out an email to everyone so that everything is out in the open and we are all on the same page. I am sure there has been a lot of concerned conversations amongst many of you concerning my spiritual welfare. Everyone in the family now knows that I no longer believe that the church is true, and rather than have things be discussed in hushed tones and whispers I thought it best to send out a message to everyone to make sure that we all know that everyone knows and to tell everyone my perspective. Believe what you want about why I stopped believing in the church, but Iask you for the courtesy of listening to my perspective.
If I could boil it down to one word, that word would be: trust. I no longer trust the church, and I'd like to explain why.
There are two fundamental reasons why I no longer trust the church as a whole (there are certainly plenty of individuals in the church I trust).
The first reason I no longer trust the church is that in my experience the leaders of the church collectively are incapable of assisting me with the challenges I face in life. I found through experience that I am better off trying to figure things out on my own rather that relying on church leadership for guidance. For my entire life, I have been told that bishops were necessary to assist me in repenting of my "serious sins." For almost a decade of my life, I repeatedly followed the counsel which I had been given from various pulpits at church to seek out the counsel of my church leaders if I looked at pornography.
Though many of the bishops I counseled with are incredibly fine men, when I looked back on my experiences as a whole after about a decade, I realized that there was almost nothing in terms of real help. Instead, at the end, I felt worthless, hopeless, and spiritually crushed. And in my agony, when I still reached out to my church leaders because I really and truly believed that this was God's established order, my stake president told that there was no plan the church had to help people, but that it was all by the spirit. In that moment, I felt like I had been kicked in the stomach because I realized that when my leaders were trying to assist me with the spirit, really they were doing little more than watching me circle the drain. This was the pivotal moment when, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, I realized that there was no great and powerful priesthood power, there was just an ordinary man behind the curtain. However, even with this experience, I blamed myself for my thoughts and continued to believe for quite some time.
I was later told by the stake president that I did not love my wife, that my actions were the same as cheating on her, that I just wasn't spiritual enough, and that there were going to be "grave eternal consequences" for my actions. In the end, I realized that I was giving the leaders of the church too much power over my life. I had set them up to speak for God (as the D&C says), and by placing them between me and God, I had made the church leaders my idol. Looking back, I realize I was guilty of the sin of idolatry.
Now, I see the leaders of the church as men like everyone else and do not believe they have any special access to divine power by virtue of the priesthood than what is available to any other person on earth. There are plenty of good church leaders, but in my experience I found that collectively there was nothing special that was assisting me with the challenges I face in life. This is the first reason why I no longer trust the church.
The second reason I no longer trust the church as a whole is because I do not believe the church is honest about its history and foundations.
In the Gospel Principles manual there is a lesson on honesty. There is a part that says:
"Lying is intentionally deceiving others. Bearing false witness is one form of lying. The Lord gave this commandment to the children of Israel: “Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbour” (Exodus 20:16). Jesus also taught this when He was on earth (see Matthew 19:18). There are many other forms of lying. When we speak untruths, we are guilty of lying. We can also intentionally deceive others by a gesture or a look, by silence, or by telling only part of the truth. Whenever we lead people in any way to believe something that is not true, we are not being honest."
There is another part of the lesson that says:
"To become completely honest, we must look carefully at our lives. If there are ways in which we are being even the least bit dishonest, we should repent of them immediately."When we are completely honest, we cannot be corrupted. We are true to every trust, duty, agreement, or covenant, even if it costs us money, friends, or our lives. Then we can face the Lord, ourselves, and others without shame. President Joseph F. Smith counseled, “Let every man’s life be so that his character will bear the closest inspection, and that it may be seen as an open book, so that he will have nothing to shrink from or be ashamed of” (Gospel Doctrine, 5th ed. , 252)."
I believe in this teaching. I believe in honesty. I strive to be honest in all my dealings and in all my relationships. I have never sought to deceive anyone about what I think or believe or what I know. I have never lied to any of you about what I believe. Nonetheless, I do not believe that the church follows this principle as they explain it in their own manual. When I studied the history of the church and the lives of the prophets, I discovered numerous instances where the church leaders were not being honest in ways that were very troubling to me and a pattern emerged that to me was undeniable - the church is not honest.
This troubled me because I do not believe that anyone who deceives me about big things (to me) has my best interest at heart. If anyone would like specific examples, I will be happy to provide them. Nonetheless, you don't really need my help. There are tons of ways to do you own research and study everything from as many sides as possible. As Apostle J. Reuben Clark said about the church, "If we have the truth, [it] cannot be harmed by investigation. If we have not the truth, it ought to be harmed."
When I first began to study church history in great detail, I did so with an eye towards strengthening my faith in the church because I wanted to believe in the church. Instead, the more I studied, the more troubled I became. In the end, I realized that in a universal sense, truth cannot conflict with faith. I realized that if I felt a conflict between truth and faith, then the problem lied with my faith, not the truth. I realized that if faith led to truth, then there would necessarily be hundreds and thousands of conflicting truths throughout history because people in the world have had and continue to have faith in many different things pertaining to God. This made no sense to me. Rather than seeking to have faith to help me not be concerned with facts and the obvious (to me) conclusions based on the facts, I chose to follow where I believed the truth led. I made truth, as the hymn The Light Divine says, my "guiding star" and committed myself to following where I believed the truth led. And when Istudied the history from as many angles as I could, and did so with the same pondering and prayer that has served me well in all other endeavors in my life, I found that I could no longer believe that the church was what it claimed to be.
I did not do any of this in a vacuum. From the very beginning, I talked to [my wife] about my concerns. I also talked to mom. I talked to my best friend Nick. I talked to a member of my stake presidency. I talked to my gospel doctrine teacher. I involved all of these people because I trusted that if I was truly heading down a path that was not right, then I wanted to do everything in my power to draw upon the collective faith of those who loved me in hopes that it would steer me towards the truth. In the end, I believe I was steered towards the truth, but in a way that I did not anticipate in the beginning.
I know there are others who have experiences like mine and study the same things I have and maintain their belief in the church. If that works for them, wonderful. I am truly happy for them. Matters of faith are inherently personal, even within a family, and I believe there is room in a family for different perspectives in matters of faith. I do not look at anyone else in the family and need to see a reflection of anything I believe or think. For whatever reason, my experiences and study led me away from the church and for me personally, the church did not withstand close scrutiny. I believe I was led away because the church is simply not what it claims to be. If you want to believe that the real reason I don't believe is because I am sinning or got offended, be my guest. I cannot control what you believe and make no attempt to do so. God is my judge.
Regarding my sins, I hope we all (myself included) will follow the teachings of Christ and let he that is without sin among you cast the first stone at me. (John 8:3-11). Do I sin? Of course. Just like the rest of us. Does God look upon any of our sins with the least degree of allowance? I don't believe so. Does God give you the spirit when you repent of your sins but refuse to give me the spirit when I repent of mine? Are any of us the judge of one another to determine if we have repented? Are any of us the judge of one another to determine if we have the spirit? Christ taught us to judge not, lest we be judged ourselves. (Matthew 7:1-5) Even if you go with the JST version where it says "judge not unrighteously," who among us is capable of righteous judgment against one another? Judgment is the Lord's. And besides all of this, what do any of our sins or righteous actions have to do with whether or not the church is what it claims to be? In my mind, absolutely nothing.
If you are concerned about my peace and happiness, know that I am more at peace with my standing before God than at virtually any time during my life. Though it has certainly been traumatic for me to face my long-held beliefs, this sense of peace I feel before God tells me I am on the right path to me. Is my life easy? Of course not. Life is stressful in many ways. Would there be less stress in my life ifI believed in the church again? Maybe. Maybe not. There was certainly plenty of stress in my life when I believed in the church. And besides, my stress level or my happiness has nothing at all to do with whether the church is what it claims to be or not.
Let me try to answer a few questions that you might have:
What about the Book of Mormon?
I don't know the particulars of how it came to be, and I believe there is much good in the book, but Ido not believe that it is a true history of a real people. For me personally, I do not believe the Book of Mormon needs to be "true," in a literal sense, to be the source of many good teachings.
What about your patriarchal blessing?
I believe fundamentally my patriarchal blessing is similar with most other male patriarchal blessings. To my knowledge, every male who receives a patriarchal blessing is told to serve a mission, marry in the temple, raise a family, serve in the church, and so forth. Though I have read very few personally, my guess is that the more patriarchal blessings that are examined, the more similar they all sound.
What about your family?
I love [my wife] and [my kids] more than anything. They mean the world to me. Ibelieve our relationships are eternal. I believe that God's greatest glory is available to us as a family. Ido not believe that sealing in the temple is necessary for a family to receive God's greatest glory in this life or the life to come.
What about the rest of your family?
I love mom and dad. I love [all my brothers and sisters]. I wouldn't trade my family for anyone.I am so thankful for the way I was raised and for the memories and experiences I have had in our family. I believe there is no reason our family should not continue to have joyful experiences together.
How can you do this to your family?
My family deserves my honesty and integrity. Though there have been times when I have considered that an easier path would be to just keep quiet and go along to get along, my conscience does not allow me to do that. I fear far more the results of hiding my inner thoughts and beliefs from my family that the results of being truly open and honest with them. As for my kids, they don't know about this, but I never lie to them about what I believe. When I feel it is appropriate to do discuss these things with them, I will. And I will be as open with them as I have with all of you. They need to know who their dad is just as every child in the world should. In the meantime, this is between [my wife] and I and I trust that you will respect my wishes that no one else besides [my wife] and I discuss any facet of this with them at all.
What if you are wrong?
If I am wrong, I can confidently approach God and say, "God, you created me. You know me. You created my brain. You gave me the capacity to think and to reason and to determine the truth to the extent my human capacity would allow. You gave me my conscience. You gave me my spirit. I used every tool you gave me and honestly followed where I believed you were leading me in my life. Nevertheless, your judgments are just, and I am so grateful that you are my judge."
What, specifically, are your problems with the church?
I have been intentionally vague in this email about the specific points of church history or doctrine that trouble me. If anyone wants to know exactly what it was that bothered me, I will be happy to discuss it separately. However, I did not feel it was appropriate to discuss those things openly in this email out of respect for the different beliefs among us. I will only discuss any specific points of church history or doctrine if it is done respectfully.
What do you believe?
The essence of my belief is expressed in 1 Corinthians 13.
1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
To me, the greatest expression of love is the life of Christ.
Let me end with something I believe we all can agree on - the eleventh article of faith.
"We claim the privilege or worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may."
I love you all so much. I am so grateful for my family and would not trade any of you for for the world. Were I to go back in time, I would make every decision the same. I don't regret any big decision I have ever made.
I am, as ever, your husband, son, brother, and friend, and my greatest desire is to live up to the ideals of what all these relationships can be.
I love you,
the first part made me cry.
Let me start this reply by telling you how touched I was by your openness and courage in sharing your exit story. Like you, I have been through and am still going through the very same challenges you have faced in your life, and like you, I have piled on an enormous burden of guilt and shame as a result. You are not alone in this struggle. Like you, I sat and talked with bishops about these issues over the years and realized they, while being good men with honest concern for my spiritual welfare, were incapable of providing me with the help I needed. I do agree with you that the church does foster a culture of sexual confusion, where general authorities preach against what they see to be sexual misconduct (masturbation especially) and yet offer no proper method for young men and women to prepare themselves physically in that stage of their lives for a healthy sexual relationship in marriage. In some cases, and worse, to declare that such behavior is a sin "second only to the shedding of innocent blood" can inflict irreversible psychological harm. In some extreme cases this harm has led some young men to commit suicide (google search "Kip Eliason" and see for yourself-another insight article on this very subject is "History of Mormon Attitudes on Masturbation" by Malan & Bullough, found on Google Scholar). Unlike you though, my faith in God has slipped. I hope you find peace and wish you the best.
You are not flawed you are a human being with all the natural desires we are all born with. Religion uses those desirers and turns them into fears to control the masses. It is basically the same in most sects that it is a sin for the commoner to have sexually experiences but is justified by God for the leaders to do what they please. Recognizing that the church was false and that God Does Not Exist lifted the universe off my shoulders’. Sin is a cultural biased and your laws are based on erroneous conclusions. Sure we need laws in place to protect individuals but they should make sense and be based on the rights of the individual not on a religious theology. The body is beautiful and not something to be ashamed of. Europeans have a healthier concept of the body then the North Americans. Join a nudist colony abd perhaps the desire to see something hidden will diminish and the desire to see a nice fashion will increase. Here are a couple of my thoughts.
The Word : If we accept Jesus or any other prophet as a man than we can analyze his teachings and keep the good that will befit society, If we accept them as a God or spokes person for God than we are compelled to follow them blindly.
God and Accountability When there is a god than there is reason for explanation. The statement ‘ It is his will’, takes all responsibility off the real culprit. There is also someone to thank and someone to curse other than the true cause of the effect. When we understand that there is no god, then there is no condemnation; We have to except the natural circumstances and consequences if any. Have compassion, but not necessarily acceptance for those who are the cause of a bad affect. Many are lost in a faith that gives them a false sense of free agency, and gives them a false sense of self-righteousness.