I've been fielding some inquiries about my decision and I felt I should post here an email I wrote to the Elder's Quorum President to help clarify my position. In my earlier post I wrote only about the recent policy change because I wanted to avoid a rambling rant and I wanted to be explicitly clear that I disagreed with that policy. However, my reasons for leaving the LDS Church are more fundamental than a single policy.
Below is the email I sent. It has been slightly modified from its original form for clarity in this format to a general audience:
I want to start by saying I appreciate you giving me some space over the last few weeks. I recognize that you may feel that you somehow failed in your calling over my decision to stop participating in the church, but that would be unfair to yourself.
I also realize that [the Bishop] feels that people leaving the Church is a private matter and probably hasn't discussed, with you, the conversation I had with him. That leaves you in the dark and wondering where I stand. I know that that is probably frustrating.
I want to start by telling you that I have no ill will towards you or the other members of the ward.
And I want to set a clear record about my decision.
I was born and raised in the Church and was a practicing member for all 30 years of my life. I know that oftentimes some rather dismissive reasons are given to explain why someone leaves the Church. The 5 most common being along the lines of: "They were just offended about something," "They didn't really understand the doctrine," "They felt being part of the Church was too hard," "They've been reading anti-Mormon literature," "They just wanted to justify their desire to sin."
Unfortunately, the continued propagation of these supposed reasons does members a disservice because they're rarely true and are often used to dismiss real concerns as the personal failings of individuals.
I was not offended by something anyone said in particular. I did 4 years of early-morning seminary and took all of the required religion courses at BYU as well as having attended services weekly for over 30 years--I understand what the current doctrine of the Church is. Having been raised in the Church the "hard things" are just normal to me. Unless the essays published under the direction of the First Presidency on LDS.org are considered "anti-Mormon" then, no, it wasn't because of that either. And finally, if I still believed in the Church I would have no trouble honestly obtaining a temple recommend--I don't have secret sins that I want to justify by leaving the Church.
So why did I decide to leave?
I consider myself to have high standards but I also recognize that people are imperfect. I'm willing to overlook a lot of faults, but I do place a very high value on truth, honesty, and transparency.
I believe that an organization that claims to have the only communication channel to God should be held to the highest standard of behavior. Sadly, my research into the Church as an organization--its practices, teachings, doctrines, and history reveals that the Church does not meet my standard of truth, honesty, and transparency.
But even this could be grappled with if the promise of receiving spiritual confirmation about its teachings were fulfilled. I have followed the guidance of Church teachings. I have prayed with earnest desire for truth many times throughout my life. I have never experienced anything that I could interpret as a response (for or against).
The only conclusion I can draw from my personal reflection and experiences is that if God exists He wants me to use the gifts of agency, logic, moral reasoning, and my conscience to come to my own decisions about how to live my life and not to simply put my trust in men claiming to have His gospel.
I believe I have given the Church a fair chance. And the closest emotion I can name for my feelings upon doing my own research is betrayal. The narrative taught in the lesson manuals is not what the Church admits is true about its history. Demonstrably false statements continue to be preached and taught as truth.
The misunderstanding of individuals is one thing and could be excused. But the Church puts a lot of effort into its published materials and they continue to be published with false and misleading statements long after the errors have been made clear and acknowledged. This intentional deception is unacceptable in an organization claiming to have not only some truth, but to be the only organization with the whole truth and a direct connection to God for further direction to keep us on the right path. Truth shouldn't need to be hidden. Truth shouldn't be feared.
I don't see myself as an enemy of the Church or its members. I do see myself as an advocate for truth, honesty, and transparency. Since the Church has a long history of organizationally fighting those principles it might make me appear to be an enemy to some, but that's not my view.
5 thoughts on “Disaffiliation Redux”
I just finished reading "The Crucible of Doubt" by Terryl and Fiona Givens and recently finished "Planted: Belief and Belonging in an Age of Doubt" and an older book, "Faith of a Historian" All were written by dedicated church members who were fully informed about church history and practices and still found a way to believe. They don't believe in the unquestioning way of the Iron-Rodder, but they found enough within the church to feel confident that they had a place within it. I couldn't help thinking that maybe if we used one of those books as a lesson manual for a year, maybe it would stem the flow of thinking-members leaving the church.
I found it reassuring to know that others shared a lot of my thoughts and weren't discouraged by the fact that so many church members would tell them they were wrong. Of particular interest was a common theme that we don't have to believe something just because a General authority said it.
Here is a section I particularly liked (although I may be violating copyright laws by copying it):
Brigham Young protested the perils of slavish obedience and submission: "I do not wish any Latter-day Saint in this world, nor in heaven, to be satisfied with anything I do, unless the Spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ, the spirit of revelation, makes them satisfied. I wish them to know for themselves and understand for themselves" Elsewhere he reaffirmed: "I am more afraid that this people have so much confidence in their leaders that they will not inquire of themselves of God whether they are led by him. I am fearful that they settle down in a state of blind self-security, trusting their eternal destiny in the hands of their leaders with a reckless confidence that in itself would thwart the purposes of God... Let every man and woman know, by the whispering of the Spirit of god to themselves, whether their leaders are walking in the path the Lord dictates, or not."
His beloved younger colleague, the colorful J. Golden Kimball, reminded his audience that "There are not enough Apostles in the Church to prevent us from thinking, and they are not disposed to do so; but some people fancy that because we have the Presidency and Apostles of the Church that they will do the thinking for us. There are men and women so mentally lazy that they hardly think for themselves. To think calls for effort, which makes some men tired and wearies their souls. No man or woman can remain in this Church on borrowed light." However, in 1945, a church magazine urged upon its readers the exact opposite, that "When our leaders speak, the thinking has been done." Many are familiar with that expression; fewer are aware that when President George Albert ,Smith learned of it, he immediately and indignantly repudiated the statement. "Even to imply that members of the Church are not to do their own thinking, " he wrote "is grossly to misrepresent the true ideal of the Church." (End of except from book.)
I like a quote by Henry Eyring that comes up on occasion;" In this church you don't have to believe anything that isn't true". I believe that - even when it comes from a speaker in general conference or a stake president or a bishop or a Sunday school teacher. My own father certainly believed that. I remember him saying something along the lines that if the church told him he had to believe the earth was 6000 years old (or something else that science has pretty well debunked), he'd be done with the church but as it was it was as much his church as anybody else's so he didn't need to leave because someone else believed differently. (very poorly paraphrased but that was the idea.)
I think over the years there have been those in the Church who have made a deliberate attempt to suppress information they felt was damaging to the church. I suppose they thought the members couldn't handle the truth. I think that mentality does more harm than good. I think more often, when it comes to boring sanitized lesson manuals, they were written by people who honestly didn't know any different. Sort of like the church magazine quoted above that said when the leaders speak, the thinking is over. Whoever wrote that, believed it but they were wrong. How many people do you know who have taken the time to study church history outside of what they were fed in SS? I think this is even true of a good number of general authorities. Being well versed in church history is not a prerequisite for moving up in the church hierarchy.
I have read that the information in the recent essays will be incorporated into upcoming curriculum. I hope this is true. It would show that the church is working to be more open about it's history and practices. The cynic in me regrets, however, that this is only being brought into the open because all the information is now so readily available on the internet. It used to require a lot of effort to delve into the church's unbiased past . Now it is yours with a few keystrokes. It has forced the church to own its history. Nonetheless, I remain convinced that there were a whole lot of people writing manuals and policies who had no idea what was in our history beyond what they learned in Sunday School themselves. I think of a lot of what we weren't told was out of ignorance rather than an attempt to deceive. We'll see if that situation is corrected.
Back to the books. I think these authors are well aware that not everyone receives any kind of direct confirmation that the church is true and that many never will regardless of how hard they pray. As you say, God leaves many of us (perhaps even most) to use our logic, conscience , and agency to make our own decisions as to how to best live our lives. Even Mother Teresa felt she had never received any confirmation from God that she was doing the right thing.
Wouldn't it be refreshing if someone got up in testimony meeting and said " I have never had the burning in the bosom that is supposed to tell me the church is true. I don't know that it is. I hope that it is and I choose to act as if it is because I think it makes me a better person and my life better. I accept the possibility that when I die, there may be nothing afterwards but if that is the case, what does it matter? I have still enjoyed more peace and comfort during my life than I would have had by not believing. Living a Christ-like life will make me happier now even it turns out death is the end."
There would no doubt be some in the congregation who would be horrified but I think there would be plenty of others who would be glad someone else said what they were thinking but didn't have the nerve to say.
Obviously, one does not have to be LDS or even religious at all to live a Christ-like life. Logic might inform them that living a benevolent, compassionate, honest, temperate life would make the world a better place for them and everyone else. And I believe that if someone lives that kind of life, there will be a place for them in heaven, (if it turns out such a place exists).
I recently had dinner with a woman I visit teach and one of her non-member friends. This friend talked about how she was not a religious person. But she talked later of how she helped out at the food bank and soup kitchen every week. I think that kind of service will get you into heaven a lot faster than spending hours every week in church meetings and then doing nothing to help others. Perhaps the time I spend in church meetings would be better spent working at a soup kitchen. (Of course, there is no reason you can't go to meetings and still find time for service and you should though I'm not very good at it. I'm pretty content in my own little world at home. That is one good thing about the church organization. It provides a system for service opportunities)
I am sorry you feel betrayed by the Church. I can understand that but honestly believe most of the inaccurate teaching was done from ignorance. Time will tell now that the information is out there. There are many, many things about the church I question too but I believe that its influence has been a blessing in my life. The Word of Wisdom being one example. I am grateful to have grown up in a home without alcohol, tobacco and other addictive substances. Alcohol and drugs, in particular, have destroyed many lives. Sure, some people use them seemingly without any ill effects, but many cannot and never using them prevents you from becoming one whose life is ruined. I never felt I'd missed out on anything by not drinking or using drugs or cigarettes. I believe the Word of Wisdom is a correct principle.
I think I am rambling now so will stop. I think it would be enlightening to read and discuss these authors' thoughts, one chapter at a time. Have you read "Planted"? Want to share thoughts one chapter at a time? Anyone else in the family want to join?
The last time the Elders Quorum Presidency was reorganized (must have been around October) I was asked to bear my testimony. I said something to the effect that I never could understand the people that stand up and say they "know" this and "know" that about the Church. The best I could do was to "hope" that certain things were true. That I didn't know why Joseph Smith wrote the Book of Mormon, but if it encouraged people to lead kinder lives and do more service then maybe "why" didn't matter much. I'm guessing it made a lot of people uncomfortable, but I did have some people tell me it was refreshing to hear an honest testimony.
I get the feeling that a lot of people are less in favor of the strict obedience form of Mormonism than it seems. I wonder how many people are in the chapel every week like I was just wondering, "Why can all these other people get confirmation that this is true, but I can't?" Then I really start to wonder how much of Church culture is just pluralistic ignorance (when most of a group privately rejects a social norm, but goes along with it publicly because they believe everyone else supports it.)
It seems like it used to be (like, early 20th century) more accepted to publicly disagree with the Prophet and Apostles. Especially when prophets used to publicly state that no one should do what they say just because they're the prophet. But that's not the church I know today. And maybe it's just pluralistic ignorance, but the public culture that I've always seen has been about strict obedience, never question the leaders, you shouldn't expect reasons for doing things, and don't think too hard about stuff. And it doesn't help to have current apostles that publicly state things like, "You shouldn't criticize Church leaders, even when the criticism is true" and "The Church doesn't apologize." Which, when coupled with the absurd statements that continue to propagate like "when the prophet speaks, the thinking is done" and "the prophet will never lead you astray," clearly set the tone that dissension is unwelcome.
Altogether I think it creates a serious problem of groupthink within the Church which holds it back from making meaningful cultural progress.
Oh, also, I haven't started reading "Planted" yet. I was in the middle of another book when it arrived. But I finished that one recently and will probably read "Planted" next.
Not directly on topic, but Mom's comment reminded me. Our lesson two weeks ago was on gifts of the spirit and I was assigned to talk for a couple minutes about the gift of "knowing that Jesus Christ is the son of God." I started by reading the preceding scriptures about how there are many gifts etc and then read the scripture saying that to some it is given to know that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. My commentary was just to say that if it is given to some, then the corollary has to be that it is NOT given to most. And I think that is fine. Lord I believe, help thou mine unbelief etc. Probably not the commentary they wanted, but that's what they get for asking me. Ha!
"pluralistic ignorance" - so that's the official term. I always called it the emperor has no clothes effect.