Man-Made

I didn’t drink coffee until I was into my mid 40s.

Same goes for beer or any type of alcoholic beverage.

I was told what color of shirt to wear to church. I was told what type of activities I could join in on Sunday. No swimming because Satan controls the waters!

R-rated movies were discouraged.

When I decided to have a vasectomy, I was supposed to consult with my local bishop.

For over 40 years I thought God made the rules and it was my responsibility to follow them. I felt incredible amounts of guilt when I failed.

Until I realized it was all man-made.

God doesn’t judge me if I have an Americano with cream. He doesn’t care how I spend my time on Sunday or what I wear.

If there is a God I bet he cares more about how I treat others than if I’m wearing the right underwear.

I had followed rules created by men.

When I allowed myself to act outside these artificial restrictions I began to think for myself again.

And as for God? Man made him too.

Don’t Stop Asking

When many people know something is true, they stop asking questions.

This is especially dangerous when the truth isn’t based on science or provable facts, but rather feelings or hunches. I once belonged to a church that asked its members to pray to God if the church was true. If God gave you a feeling, it was true! If God didn’t give you a feeling, then keep praying until you got an answer.

It all feels so manipulative today.

one-true-religion

Millions….no billions of people were born into a religion chosen by their parents or other family members. Many never ask themselves this question: What if the only religion I know isn’t true? Or worse, what if the only religion I know is harmful?

Never stop asking questions. Never stop asking for evidence. Remain involved if the organization is a net positive in your life. But continue to be skeptical. Skepticism isn’t a sign of weakness, rather a sign of intelligence and willingness to change one’s mind.

One thought that helped me step away from my religion was asking myself what the chances were that I was born into the “one true” religion out of the nearly 4200 different religions around the world. From a probability standpoint, I had a .02% chance my parents chose the true religion. This exercise assumes one truth which is absurd on its own.

How do you like your chances?

Telling My Story on the Wardless Podcast

During my faith transition, I’ve found support in a number of podcasts. Most focus on why the person left their religion which can bring up a number of charged topics. That makes it difficult to share with family and friends who are still involved with the Mormon church.

Then I found the Wardless podcast. They are different because they focus on “what’s next” in a person’s life. And after over five years since my transition, I’m much more focused on “what’s next” than any doctrine or policy concern I had years ago.

Last week, I was invited to tell my story through an interview with Oliver. I’m really proud of how it turned out and have shared it with a number of close friends of various degrees of Mormon belief. Their reaction has been overwhelmingly positive so I’ve decided to share it here with the rest of you.

My Mormon Culture & History Resources

Since leaving Mormonism about five years ago, a number of people have asked me why I decided to leave after four decades of active involvement in the only church I know.

That’s not an easy question to answer. There is no smoking gun. My reasons are complex and may or may not apply to anyone else. But when anyone leaves a high-demand religion like Mormonism, there is a kinship to be found in others who understand what you’re going through. I hope these resources might help someone like me who was searching for help during a traumatic time of my life.

Note: If you are happy with your involvement in the Mormon church, please don’t read any further. I don’t want to drive you away from an organization that adds value to your life.

So who is my intended audience? Those who have questions about the historical truth claims of the church. If you have questions that can’t be answered in Sunday School or Gospel Doctrine class, this post might be for you.

This post is simply a collection of resources that helped me find truth as it pertains to the historical claims of the Mormon church. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list of  resources. These are the ones I found most helpful, and they greatly influenced my decision to step away from the church. Your mileage may vary.

Gospel Topic Essays

These are topic based essays the Mormon church has created over the past few years to help members better understand some of the more controversial aspects of their heritage. Each essay is posted to the official LDS.org website.

Which essays had the largest impact on me?

Books

Books about Mormonism have been a series of hits and misses for me over the years. Some books that came highly recommended to me didn’t hit home, while others had a big impact in my beliefs.

Here are a handful of books that helped me construct (or deconstruct) my beliefs. Some books have hostile sounding names which is unfortunate because it will drive some people away. I didn’t agree 100% any of these books, but they pushed me, made me uncomfortable, and helped me learn about myself and why I belive the way I do.

Podcasts

As I struggled to come to terms with my beliefs, I listened to dozens of podcasts as I walked around my neighborhood to get some exercise and clear my mind. Of all the resources listed here, these podcasts had the most impact on me. Particularly, the first podcast listed below. I’ve listened to all six episodes multiple times. Brent Metcalfe is one of my heroes and his story brought me to tears each time I listened.

  • Mormon Stories – John Dehlin interviews Brent Metcalfe, who is a former Mormon historian who worked at the church office building in Salt Lake City. He had a front row seat to the horrific Mark Hofmann murders in the mid 80s while working as a researcher for Steve Christensen, who was killed by one of Hofmann’s bombs.
  • Mormon Stories – John Dehlin interviews Dr. Michael Coe, who was a Yale anthropologist who specialized in the Maya and areas of South America where the Book of Mormon claims to have taken place. Coe takes a gentle and respectful approach to the subject.
  • Mormon Stories – John Dehlin interviews John and Brooke Mclay. John worked for the Church Educational System for 14 years. He also served as a counselor in the stake presidency and went through his faith crisis while serving as bishop. I enjoyed every second of this interview.
  • Year of Polygamy Series with Lindsey Hansen-Park. The amount of effort Lindsey put into this series of 100 podcasts is astounding. The podcasts focus on the individual wives of Joseph Smith. Many are heart wrenching, but each is fascinating and insightful. As you can tell my now, polygamy was a major stumbling block for me as a Mormon.
  • Wardless – This podcast is a recent discovery that I really enjoy. It takes a more nuanced approach to leaving the church and includes a panel of smart people who discuss various topics about Mormonism. Wardless touts itself as a “field guide” to leaving Mormonism, and does so in a respectful manner. I especially enjoyed the episodes about telling your spouse, friends and family about your changing beliefs in the church.

I could list dozens of podcasts from Mormon Stories because Dr. Dehlin interviews so many experts in Mormon history. Plus, he’s been at this for over a decade now so he’s compiled a list of over 1000  podcasts. It’s hard to go wrong with any listed on his Top 25 most popular and important podcasts.

Other Resources

  • CES Letter by Jeremy Runnells – Many people who leave Mormonism mention CES Letter as the reason they fell down the rabbit hole of Mormon history. I came across it later in my search for truth. Jeremy compiled a long list of questions he had about Mormon history with the hope that someone from the Church Educational Systems (CES) could answer them directly. Jeremy was interviewed by Dehlin at Mormon Stories if you want to learn more about this amazing man and how the church treated him once he landed on their radar.
  • Letter for my Wife tackles many of the same topics as CES Letter, but in a personalized letter format from a man to his spouse.
  • MormonThink explores historical facts about the Mormon church and tries to answer Mormon apologists who push back against those with questions.
  • FairMormon is the flip side to MormonThink. It’s written by Mormon apologists who try to faithfully answers questions about church history. Many of their answers left me feeling empty and manipulated.

I plan to update this post as I discover content that helps me formulate my beliefs whether they concern Mormonism or not.

 

Is Truth Optional?

A number of events over the past couple of weeks has me contemplating the importance of truth. Specifically, how important is truth when it comes to storytelling, history or religion.

Augustine-Quote

A few weeks ago, Kim and I attended an event where Carol Lynn Pearson discussed her book, Ghost of Eternal Polygamy. I haven’t read the book but was interested in the topic because polygamy was one of the first major issues I had with my church.

I knew Brigham Young married a lot of women, but I was shocked when the church admitted that Joseph Smith married at least 30 women, some as young as 14 and about 10 who were already married.

The bigger question I’ve considered is this: Is it worth investing my time and resources in a church that plays so loose with the truth?

I wish the LDS church had come clean with all the unsavory parts of their history before the internet came along and forced their hand. Put it all out there. And then allow each person to decide if it’s worth the investment the church asks of them.

One of my frustrations since leaving the church is that some friends and family assume I was looking for any reason to leave the church. They assume I lost my testimony or could not resist that Starbucks iced mocha.

But I didn’t lose anything. I gained knowledge and can speak to the history of the church in much greater detail than I could as a young missionary. I was willing to go wherever the truth took me, even if that meant out of the church. I didn’t select my desired destination and then search only for evidence that supported my decision.

That’s what I’d like my friends and family to understand. Truth matters more than feelings. Every member of every religion feels their church is the true one. Good feelings can come from reading a book, watching a movie or listening to music. How some religions tell their followers that feelings substantiate truth is absurd to me.

Especially when you say you are the only church on earth that has all the truth.

Be willing to demand the truth. And let it take you wherever it leads. In the long run you’ll be better for it.

Raising Children Outside of Mormonism

One thing I’ve noticed since stepping away from religion is how many choices I allowed it to make on my behalf. One quote I heard while I was a teenager: “When the prophet speaks, the debate is over.” In other words, you’re free to make your own choices, but the leader of the church has already decided what you should do…so choose wisely. I didn’t need to spend a lot of time figuring things out on my own because God’s prophet had already told me what to think and how to act.

For most of my life, I believed that prophets were directly called by God. I believed they spoke with God and were given important advice for them to pass along to his followers on earth. This advice would find its way into talks given each week at church, manuals from which lessons were taught as well as magazines and videos published and produced by the church.

There are few topics which prophets and other church leaders haven’t covered such as what activities are appropriate on the Sabbath, why Coke was OK but coffee was evil, and how many earrings are appropriate for women (one pair) to wear. And as a parent, it was easy to default to church policies instead of discussing it to see if it made sense for our family. That recently changed when the topic of dating came up in our home.

Mormons are taught at an early age that 16 is the proper age at which boys and girls can begin dating. So when our oldest daughter, who is 15, mentioned that she was going to be asked to the high school prom, Kim and I had a decision to make. If we were still attending church, the debate would be over.

Instead, something really cool happened. Kim and I discussed how we felt about our daughter attending the prom. We gathered more details about her date, her transportation to the dance, and the post-dance activities. We talked openly about the evening with our daughter. In the end, we didn’t see a problem with her going to the prom before she turned 16 and gave her permission to do so.

This is just one example of how things have changed over the past couple of years. I don’t blame the church or its leaders because they are trying to be helpful and provide general guidance to their followers. I don’t plan to throw away everything I learned as a Mormon. I still feel that dating in groups at young ages is wise, even if I don’t believe there’s anything magical or sacred about the age 16.

But Kim and I know our daughter better than any prophet or church leader, and we are in the best position to advise and guide her through her teenage years. This experience has made me reconsider a number of topics on which the church takes a particularly harsh and vocal stance. One of those issues is the church’s stance on homosexuality. I was taught it was a choice and an abomination before God, and I’m happy our children won’t grow up hearing such harmful language in church.

The good news is that our nation is growing more accepting of groups who have been historically marginalized. We’ve got a long way to go, but I like what I’m seeing in our youth who hear about the church’s stance on some social issues and wonder what all the fuss is about. Of course, everyone regardless of their sexual orientation should have the same rights as everyone else. Of course, women should have as many opportunities to serve in leadership positions as men do. And no, God didn’t place a curse of black skin on a group he deemed unrighteous no matter how many prophets claim such nonsense or how many times the curse is mentioned in the Book of Mormon.

These and other social issues are non-issues to most of the kids I meet. They strive to be accepting and loving and inclusive. Maybe one day the church will be just as progressive. But it’s too little, too late for our family. We’ve found happiness working through a number of difficult and complex issues together. Topics we thought were settled by the church are back on the table and open for discussion. It’s interesting that leaving the church has brought our family closer together.

Standing Outside the Temple

My grandparents on both sides of my family lived in Bountiful, or about 30 minutes from our home in Ogden, Utah. We visited them often. My grandpa Tingey was the first person I knew who owned an Atari 2600, and I spent many hours sitting on my knees at a wobbly card table playing Asteroids, Combat and Blackjack.

While the Tingeys were Mormon, my father’s parents were not, and I understood this at an early age, because they committed a major sin: they drank coffee! I loved to smell the coffee as I entered their home, but was reminded how breaking God’s health law could have a lasting impact on my body and soul.

Tingeys would attend special church milestones such as baptisms and confirmations. When I turned 12-years old and was ordained a deacon, the Tingeys gave me a leather-bound bible for my birthday and a matching Book of Mormon for Christmas. My grandmother took the time to write a note on the first page of each book stating how much she loved me and how she hoped I’d get closer to Christ by reading each book. She was a loving grandmother who made me feel like I was the most important person in the world when we sat around her dining table eating Snelgrove’s ice cream.

While we spent more time at Tingeys, we also visited my other set of grandparents; the Nordquists. They lived in a humble brick home not far from Bountiful High School that had a steep driveway to the side of their home. When my father would park the car, I’d open the door and race up the stairs to ring the doorbell. My grandma would always open the door, and then call to my grandfather, who was often watching 60 Minutes or All in the Family in their dark basement. My grandma Nordquist was an amazing cook, and if we were lucky, she’d make roast beef with mashed potatoes with gravy. They also kept Coke in bottles in the basement. That might not seem like a big deal to most, but some Mormons in the 70s and 80s believed that beverages with caffeine were against the Word of Wisdom. My parents didn’t purchase Coke and neither did the Tingeys so getting a cold bottle of Coke was a real treat!

My grandparents have passed away, but I think of them often. And lately I’ve been thinking about how I treated my grandpa and grandma Nordquist.

I loved them very much, but I also felt sorry for them because they were not members of my church. At times I felt superior to them, although I wouldn’t have admitted it at the time. While I was attending the University of Utah, I often visited them. One time I stopped by after school and we talked about religion for a couple of hours. They both expressed to me how they felt excluded from activities and discussions because they were not Mormon. I went home that evening bothered by what I’d heard because I felt I’d talked to them openly about my mission to Germany and other aspects of my life. I wish I had opened up to them about my questions surrounding polygamy and some aspects of LDS church history that bothered me. I wish I had found the CESLetter in my 20s instead of in my 40s.

Looking back to that time, I can understand how they would feel excluded. My three sisters and brother were all married in LDS temples which means the Tingeys were able to witness and experience each marriage as it took place inside the temple. But the Nordquists could not and were left to stand outside the temple and wait for the ceremony to end before joining up for family pictures.

At the time I was married, I didn’t think about it. I felt superior and blamed my grandparents for not putting themselves in a position to witness our marriage in person. I’m embarrassed to admit I used to think this way.

Now that I no longer believe in the primary truth claims of the Mormon church, I wish I could apologize to my grandparents. I left the church after they passed away, and I wish I could speak to them today and tell them how much I admire them for standing by their convictions while raising children in Utah where the pressure to convert can be immense.

For so many years, I felt I had found the truth and was better off for it. I had been raised in a church that teaches its members they belong to the only true church in the world. Other churches might possess bits and piece of truth, but Mormons believe they have ALL THE TRUTH. That doesn’t leave a lot of room for alternative ideas about religion.

Today I realize my grandparents were many years ahead of me in recognizing no one church holds all the truth or recipe for happiness.

I take some solace knowing I carry on a part of them as I raise my children to be critical thinkers and be leery of anyone who claims to speak for God.