These past couple of weeks since that fateful meeting with my now former bishop on Feb 14 2016 has been days of contemplation and deep thought on the choice that has been made. I have spent much time reflecting on how I feel now that I have made this decision to leave the church behind as I try to re-evaluate my life and where I go from here.
Having A community of like-minded people holding similar beliefs I do believe is important for any person. Human beings are naturally social creatures and need social interaction with others to be happy in this life. Having a religion and a regular church to go to fulfill this need very effectively. It is also why the human animal tends to organize itself into family units, cultures, countries, etc… These social construct serve a role that benefits the species.
I have pondered on, and still am, the reasons why I went to church to begin with. Why was I there? What purpose did it serve for me?
I was born and raised into the LDS culture and church. This was not something that I was “converted” to but rather was raised in. I was surrounded by Mormonism in every way, from every angle, every day. The idea that I could just walk away never occurred to me, and even If I had realized that I do not know that I would have. Mormonism was all I had known when it comes to religious and spiritual life. It was simply the way it has always been. It never occurred to me to not be Mormon. After all, I had been taught my whole life that this is God’s church and that only in his church could I find truth. Children will believe virtually everything their parents tell them. It does not occur to them that their parents could be wrong. Their parents usually believe what they teach. It is jut the way it is. I cannot fault my parents for instilling in me the doctrines they have come to believe so strongly themselves.
What was it like being raised in the LDS religion? I spent most of my childhood and teenage years absolutely miserable. My home life was a wreck, my religious life was spent in guilt and shame. Anger at myself, my family and Bishops and God. I hated life growing up Mormon. My troubles were not all related to the church but church was a big part of my life growing up. I was never really converted to the church in my youth. I spent my time attending because my Mother would take me to church not because I wanted to go. I would go to Young Men’s because it was expected of me. While I enjoyed the camps and other activities it was just part of life. I had no reason to question it. I went to church because it was where I could worship God and it was what I had been taught throughout my entire life. I have come to realize now however that we can worship God outside of organized religion. I do not need church to love and serve God.
Growing up with endless shame and misery, usually connected to masturbation, which was I am sure what led me to stop going to church once I turned 18. I found myself drifting spiritually with no authentic testimony of the church at all. I never doubted God’s existence however I never truly believed that the “church is true” mantra that we are taught from day 1 in church nursery.
There was a time in my life when I was not attending church for a couple of years. I was living with my then fiance, who is now my wife. She wanted to go to church. She wanted at that time of her life to be an active and good Mormon woman. She was raised in the LDS church as well. Neither one of us knowing anything different naturally went back to the LDS church. After all it never occurred to us to go elsewhere. It was the church after all, the only real church right?
Within the church Culture people speak of being converted to the church. I did not think much on this or really understand what that means. Now as I have spent time pondering on what these things mean, It is clear to me that there is a difference between being converted to the church and being converted to Christ and God. The mantra we constantly here is the church is true and we must uphold it as the be all and end of God’s truth. To question the truthfulness of the church is to question God. And God will not be pleased. For quite a while I adopted this mantra as my own. After all if God lives, and Christ is my savior, then logically the organization which taught me these things could only be God’s one true Church. This church must then be true, and if the Church is true then Joseph Smith and all the leaders after him must be Prophets etc…
This attitude of one must accept everything that we are taught in the church as God’s truth and never question has come to feel like worship of the church and not God. To question anything in the church is to question God.
As I think back on this I have come to understand I was not converted to the church, But rather I was converted to God. It is God that I must worship in my heart, mind and soul not the church.
I have had moments of highs feeling such gratitude that I am now free of the control, threats and degradation that comes with not accepting everything that is taught within the church, and admittedly moments asking if all this was worth it. The path of least resistance is easier and many will take that path. That is a path I had been taking for years, paying my tithing, going to church, never speaking out of turn and always doing what was expected of me.
Looking back on my decision I can’t help but think what has the church truly done for me. Over the last 10 years I have paid close to 50,000 in tithing, all the while I have seen my debt increase, and month to month have seen very little if any at all decrease. I have struggled on so many months just to pay the bills. I have spent upwards of 6 hours a week just commuting to and from church with my family and 3 kids by public transit. I have lost so much time with my family. I have invested incalculable time, money, and resources into this church and have had constant guilt, shame, frustration for things that are not sinful at all. There was a time that I would feel guilty if I so much as saw another woman naked in picture or otherwise, intentional or not. I would be wracked with guilt because I had masturbated one day. Every time I felt like I had been unfaithful to my wife and was a horrible person, but I kept going because I truly believed that is what God expected of me in order to enter heaven. Weekly church was a constant challenge. I would get cranky and hungry, the kids would as well. People get mad and it is contributes to disharmony and frustrations. I have put so much into the church and received so little in return. At least little good in return, however I have revived plenty of bad. I do not mind admitting that my current perceptions may be colored by my recent experience. One thing I do know however is that all the social benefits that a church provides are not exclusive to that one church.
We have the scriptures within our home and access to all the information we could ever want or need on religion, God and Christ. We do not need to hear from the pulpit every week about God as we can study the scriptures and seek knowledge of him and his gospel from the comfort of our own homes. The church does not offer anything that cannot be provided via other means.
These realizations have come to me after experiencing the mental mind games that the church leaders are programmed to play with the members whenever they dare question a doctrine or policy. The sad thing is, local leadership does not even realize what they are doing, because it has been programmed into them just as effectively as it has each one of us. Very few relatively speaking break through the barriers of their conditioning. I have come to realize that God’s truth is not found in a church but in our hearts, in the scriptures. It is through much prayer and faith that we come to know Gods truth, not from old men who demand conformity to their interpretation of the scriptures.
Looking back on my time in the church I can recognized that while I may be headed on a different path than the church would have of me, I do recognized that the LDS church has also taught me a lot. Without the LDS church in my life I may never have come to know God and my savior Jesus Christ. I likely would not have many of the values that I have now. The LDS church, despite it’s flaws and questionable history, still teaches many good and wholesome principles. I have learned the importance of family, respect and love for others from the LDS church. I hold no resentment or anger towards the LDS church. I am forever grateful for the good and wholesome things that I have been taught within its teachings. The LDS church has served as a stepping stone to higher knowledge and understanding of God. While the leadership, policies and methods of dealing with members leaves much to be desired there is still good in the LDS church. It is not all bad.
What is difficult for me as I learn more about the church history that has been hidden and kept silent from me for as long as I can remember, (as it was pounded into me to never read literature about the church that is not from the church as this is anti-Mormon literature and they won’t tell the truth, only the church will) is asking how can the church which brought me to knowledge of God and helped to build up my testimony have behaved in such a way as it has. How could a man like Joseph smith truly have been a prophet while engaging in highly questionable behavior. I feel as if I have a strong Testimony of the Gospel but am torn with how I got such a testimony. I love God and I love all that I have been taught about who he is. And yet, the troubling behavior of the church as a whole causes me much pain in my heart to see what was supposed to be such a God-fearing organization turn out to be a controlling, manipulative, secretive organization that is not concerned with God but power, money and control.
I have often thought to myself, If the church had been open, honest and truthful in so much of its history, rather than back tracking, deflecting, avoiding, and quietly admitting, under the radar, its faults, but only after carefully worded, scrutinized admission that deflect the guilt and rationalized ungodly actions and decisions, I could honestly have let it slide. I could say, yes that is how the church started. That is truth and I would continue my activity in the church without hesitation, confidently knowing that this church stands on the bedrock of truth, admitting publicly with full disclosure of its history and faults. I would have so much respect for the church and could honestly testify that this is the true church. God accepts it with all its faults. Instead it is a church that teaches a carefully crafted, selective truths, combined with outright lies and misleading information to its members and declares it truth. (eyewitness accounts for example report Josephs smith translating the plates by looking at a stone in a hat, the plates were not even present during the translations, while every depiction of translation shows Joseph reading from the plates themselves, both versions cannot be true and leads one to wonder if the plates even existed at all.) When the church does admit to the truth, it does so quietly, without publicity, and only after much public pressure and criticism and demands to answer to the inconsistencies in the preached version of truth and historical evidences. This church it seems does not have the integrity to speak to the truth until forced to do so in order to answer for its lies, omissions and deceptions.
I would like to leave you with this music video by Darren Hayes, I feel that it reflects how I am feeling with my relationship with the LDS church at this time and sums up my feelings well.
That being said however there are many more things I will be writing about in the future that will likely be in opposition to much of the current LDS position on many different aspects. This is but the beginning of my journey as I start to Explore the truth behind the faith that I was raised in.