The following letter, I sent to my family and close friends as I left the Mormon Church in October of 2008. My intention was to be upfront and clear, and to be understood about my journey, and hopefully to avoid ill feelings and confrontation. In that regard it was essentially successful. Although I know it caused my family great pain, and I know many meals were missed, and many tearful prayers were offered on my behalf, they have shown me unwavering love and continue to seek to understand what I have done. I have not been ostracized as many in my position have. I love them even more for that.
The price has been high, however. My leap resulted in the demise of my 22 year eternal marriage, the loss of respect in my highly LDS town, and a painful (but ultimately enlightening) journey for my two amazing children in their upper teens. There was also significant professional fall-out. Through a series of unanticipated corporate maneuvers, a large portion of my music recordings and publishing rights are owned by the LDS church where I am no longer viewed as an asset.
The letter was passed around more than I intended, raising my status from “disaffected” to “apostate”. In November of 2008 I answered a summons to appear at a Church Disciplinary Counsel to answer charges of “Apostasy and Other Serious Transgressions”, even though I no longer lived in that Stake. So I stood at the High Council table opposite the 12 men with whom I’d served in various church callings, and who would have continued influence on my children. I related my journey and expounded my position firmly. I was removed from Church membership. And the clouds began to part.
My journey since, though admittedly a difficult one, has shown me a new, wonderful, freedom of the heart.
This letter was not written for the public. It has taken me some time to realize that my story might be strengthening to some who find themselves in a similar dilemma, being a difficult and painful place to be.
So if I can help, I share it now.
I am not casual about my life-long quest for truth. Anyone who knows me even a little can attest to my constant searching, listening, and reading to learn more about the way things are.
From my earliest memories, I have been amazed by the wonders around me – art, music, literature, and science. I was taught by my father (a scientist and an artist) to love and respect the natural world. As a first-grader, Dad gave me a lab coat and I entered the school science fair. I never became an actual scientist, but through the years, I have paid close attention to advances in our knowledge of the natural world.
I was also taught in the faith of my forefathers, which I accepted without question. The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is more than a church. It is a culture - a way of life. From my youngest years, I stood in front of congregations and repeated the familiar phrases of testimony that I heard from the mouths of others, and basked in the warmth of praise from those around me. I was baptized at 8 years old, and embarked on the pre-plotted course that would one-day lead me to the Celestial Kingdom to be like Heavenly Father.
At twelve, I was ordained to the Priesthood. Deacon, Teacher, Priest. I learned leadership as I served in the presidencies of each of these quorums. I had a knack for pleasing my leaders. I was earnest in my quests. I began to devour everything written about our church. Between about 12 and 19, when I served a mission, I read everything I could get my hands on including all 7 volumes of The History of the Church, most of the Journal of Discourses, everything the Apostles and Prophets published (until the shear volume of that got out of hand.) I had their pictures on my wall. I wanted to be unfailing. I would become a polished shaft in the quiver of the Lord.
During this general period of my life, I also had some extraordinary experiences, which contribute largely to my current understandings.
I did not live my life in the pews, however. I played music in a band or two, pitched baseball, rock-climbed my fingers raw, mowed the greens at the golf coarse, dated a lot, back-packed, had many friends, both in the church and out. And I observed the world around me.
As I learned more about the world, I saw things that seemed to collide with the official Church doctrines. And I read things in our own history that seemed out of line with the current teachings of the Church, and my own sense of morality. I took these things to leaders and seminary teachers, who often gave me outrageous, implausible (to me) answers that required complicated intellectual acrobatics to explain and accept. Questions about geologic time, archeological discoveries, Pangaea, evolution, the Tower of Babel, polygamy, racism, Free Masonry, an American Garden of Eden…The answers given for all of these issues were unsatisfying, and I found myself with a drawer in my mental cabinet where these things were filed. My drawer of paradoxes.
I was often confronted by people that I met at work and elsewhere with details, historical events in the church and other issues that I had not encountered in the current church publications. My teachers assured me these were at best exaggerations, and at worst, lies spun by the anti-Mormons. Into the drawer.
Increasingly (though I would never have said it at the time) I found the culture surrounding the Church less than aligned with my inquisitive and artistic nature. I supplemented my social world with friends and groups who shared my quests of creative expression, sense of adventure and developing political leanings, and many of them came from outside Mormonism.
One day, in the summer after my mission, I was on a river trip through the Grand Canyon. There was a geologist in the group who explained the formations that slid by us. We floated past the oldest known exposed rock on the planet. “Vishnu Schist”. He even had a t-shirt that read, “Where were you when the Vishnu Schist hit the alluvial fan?” Geology was becoming real. And poetic.
As we drifted on for hours, I contemplated the majesty of it all. And I had an epiphany – The greatness of everything is the timelessness of it. Its vastness. We are such a tiny blip. Our efforts to confine creation to a scriptural time frame of several thousand years make God small. To think that He would take a short cut to create the Grand Canyon demeans Him. That He would make the world at once, complete with cohesive evolutionary layers, with all their flora and fauna of ages past blossoming upward and outward to the present, to look like something it’s not, makes Him a deceiver. The truth is written in the layers, and, as we know now, in our very genes. It has become clear that the earth is in fact billions of years old. And that is truly awesome.
These are some difficult hurdles to Mormon belief. Because of the way modern scripture corroborates ancient scripture, Mormons do not have the luxury to release many conflicting accounts as allegorical, as other churches may, they are painted into a corner. But as long as they stay closed in the drawer, we can go on.
When I was out on the road with music, I was widely known to be a Mormon. It came up in interviews and in general conversation. I defended it constantly, and I believed I was respected for it. So I was a bit taken back once when someone asked, “How can you know what you know, and believe what you believe?” Those words echoed in my head for many miles of silent driving. It is a fair question.
Shortly after that, I experience one long, dark, frightening night sitting alone in the highest seats of a grand stand of a darkened fairgrounds in Iowa, where the previous night I had played for thousands of people. A violent mid-western nightstorm raged. Something rose up in me that I couldn’t understand. In my divided heart raged a battle, while I sat wrapped in a plastic poncho. That night, something inside me flipped over. I drove on the next morning knowing that everything had changed. I had crossed a chasm. In my rear-view, I saw the bridges flaming behind me.
It would take years before my new and mysterious reality would reach escape velocity, and I would finally walk the plank into unknown new adventures. But it had already happened. As hard as I tried, it could not be undone.
I have given musical firesides and performances all across the country. I have born testimony of this church to thousands without flinching. I have faced rooms full of detractors with confidence - from Broadway stars to Baptist ministers, from songwriters to radio hosts. In retrospect, I have honed the art of crafting a presentation, mustering emotion, and leading an audience. And I did it honestly. Tears flowed and all felt edified.
I was watching “Les Miserables” on Broadway. As Jean Val Jean sang, “Bring Him Home” I could not restrain the tears. In that moment, I had another epiphany. I recognized that the feeling that brought tears to my eyes then, was indistinguishable from the one that moistens my eyes in moments of religious fervor. Yet “Les Miserables” is fiction. It is not true.
I started to take note of emotions and the sources they spring from. In my case, I can point only to the beautiful stories, compassion for others, powerful music, feelings of acceptance, or satisfaction from service, as sources for my feelings of testimony. I have never had an undeniable confirmation from the Holy Ghost while in the temple, during the sacrament, or in quiet moments of prayer or scripture reading, though I have so engaged, frequently and honestly for many, many years. And I know now that feelings and emotions are poor judges of truth.
In my case, belief is not something I can choose. It begins with the paradigm I inherited, and is adjusted by the evidence I encounter. I think that learning and critical thinking will always endanger our beliefs, because if we are honest, our beliefs will adjust by what we see to be true. If we are intellectually lazy, or not honest with ourselves, or stubborn, our beliefs will drift with the current of social validation. I am surprised to recognize that so many people choose to believe untenable things, in spite of overwhelming evidence. But that was never my nature.
Now, we are engulfed in a new age of information. It is easier than ever to research and to learn things that only recently remained accessible to just a few. So I have opened my drawer to scrutiny. I have thoroughly researched the major points of paradox to my faith. At the same time, I have tested again and again the promises of the scriptures, stretching for strength in testimony to balance my cultural participation in the Church. In the last year, I have read every word, once again, of all of the Standard Works. I have spent more time on my knees than in any other time of my life. And I have walked with my eyes open to the new knowledge of the age, and reached for wisdom to believe what is really true. That is the bottom line. Truth must prevail.
In the midst of all this, we have seen the Church retreat from implausible doctrines. And even change, deflect, and hide revealed statements of long-held doctrine in the face of scientific evidence, social pressure or the interest of public relations.
We define faith as “evidence of things not seen.” It is one thing to have faith in things unseen. It is quite another to believe in something in spite of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. We live in a time similar to the days of Galileo, when belief in the heliocentric solar system was heresy.
I have hoped above hope that as I studied, my faith would be supported; that I would find the paradoxical evidence lacking or at least only equal to my long-held beliefs, and I would nudge the scales toward tradition. I have sought deep and long for the promised witness from the Holy Ghost, clear and independent of the psychology of group belief, that would outweigh the mountains of scientific evidence built into the world about the way things are.
Failing this, and in the light of increasing incompatibilities between what we know about the physical world and the teachings of the Church; the historical attitudes of the Church and my own sense of morality, I have arrived at the conclusion that it would be hypocritical and dishonest to continue living the belief that this church is the One and Only. For the sake of integrity and honor, I must withdraw. LDS Emeritus.
In a sense, I will always be a Mormon. It is my history, my family, my culture and my heritage. I am proud to have descended from brave, principle-guided souls. My goal is to honor them in the way I live my life, seeking joy for my loved ones, my friends, myself, and all humankind.
I don’t expect to be fully understood. But I expect to be respected in this decision. Know that is not a sudden one. Though some will claim to know the causes and effects of my disaffection with the Church, and the order of events, it is not a matter of worthiness or wanting something different. And I have not been offended. It is plainly and simply the result of an ardent quest to be aligned with truth.
Please do not make me a project. I will not debate. Like all of us, I need your love and friendship, free from judgment and agenda. I believe with Neil Maxwell (and contrary to Mosiah 3:19), that man is inherently good. That we gravitate toward empathy, kindness, love. “If it were not so, we would admire a Hitler and despise a Ghandi…” (Elder Maxwell, April Conf.1983).
I find more humility, a grander view, more awe and inspiration by viewing creation from a more naturalistic perspective, than from a thoroughly disproven iron-age belief in how things came to be. I wish to move forward lighter, happier, less-fearful. Seeing all people eye to eye, as equals– not tasks.
I love you all.
Isn't it amazing that the LDS have no problem with people being cut off socially when people join the LDS Church. They remind them of whatever they can pull out of their.... to make it easier for the person. But when you leave, ...oh boy...they cut people off in a minute!! They do the very thing they are saying is so wrong!!
And thanks for the great work you're doing here. I know I've been shy. I've never participated in chat rooms and such before. I'll change that.
And you're from Springville? I just moved from there. Lived there for 10 years.
If it is any consultation, don't worry about the loss of an "eternal marriage". It does not exist, so you lost nothing. A marriage is the building of a relationship between two people. There is no difference in the building materials or the purposes of the temple and the Castle at Disneyland.
Don't sweat the perception of loss (other perceptions and a taught view) overpower the reality of you as a great person and you as a successful person. See the gallon of milk in the fridge and not the sad mistake on the floor :)
Way to often LDS will tell you how sad they are that you do not have this and that (and they do) but they still love you. I do not want their love, I want their respect. They can keep their holier than thou stuff and shovel it elsewhere.
I don't worry about that. I knew long ago that the Mormon concept of Eternal Marriage was a complete invention. I did mourn the loss of the marriage itself, though. I'm way past it now.
What an AMAZING letter!!! YOU r an amazing guy!!!! Thank you SO much for sharing!! Welcome to truth, freedom, real life!!! HUGS!!!
Very well put. :)
Life stinks sometimes because the field of dreams we are walking in was full of cattle a few minures ago. :)
Salt Lake tells me a story of "Manna from Heaven." Let them keep talking to those that listen, I know what I am smelling and what it is. I know that if there was cattle here a few minutes ago what the smell is and what it is. ..I also know what it aint, and it aint manna and its coming from them :)
...everyone stand in line, everyone just say "ah". Everything'll be alright if we just get along"..... "Get in Line" by the Bare Naked Ladies.
There's so much about what you wrote in your descriptive letter that I could see in myself. But there's one part that really stood out.
"belief is not something I can choose. It begins with the paradigm I inherited, and is adjusted by the evidence I encounter. I think that learning and critical thinking will always endanger our beliefs, because if we are honest, our beliefs will adjust by what we see to be true. If we are intellectually lazy, or not honest with ourselves, or stubborn, our beliefs will drift with the current of social validation. I am surprised to recognize that so many people choose to believe untenable things, in spite of overwhelming evidence."
Mormonism provides a current of social validation that indeed I was simply drifting along with to feel loved and belonging. Richard Dawkins describes the paradigm very well when asked what if he's wrong.
And yes, inspite of overwhelming evidence, facts, histories, current events, etc...people will cling to their long held beliefs and further entrench themselvesm, not just religious beliefs. Cognitive dissonance is one of those things I learned about soon after deciding to leave the church and helped me to sort things out. Here's an interesting article on All Evidence to the Contrary.
Again, thankyou Shane for putting into words what so many of us have experienced on our journeys. I find them to be unique, but also very similiar to each other.
All the best!