I’m writing this post primarily for those who know me personally, but I’ll be including some contextual information for those who don’t.
For all intents and purposes (I was adopted when I was three days old, but that’s a whole separate story), I was born and raised in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. You know, the Mormons. Other than a few years when I was a teenager, I was active in the church my whole life. I graduated from seminary, I served a mission in South Korea, I got married in the temple soon after returning from my mission, and raised and baptized 5 children into the church. Most of this happened in Utah; I grew up in Logan, then moved to Salt Lake City when I was 22, where I lived for another 10 years, before moving to the San Diego area in 2003, where I’ve lived ever since.
A Year of Growth
2008 was a pretty big year for me. My wife, Melissa, and I had been experiencing marital problems for years (which I’m not going to delve into), and at the start of the year, we separated, with the intention of using the time to fix things and hopefully get back together. I decided that the best way to do that would be to fully commit myself to the gospel and ensure that I was a righteous priesthood holder worthy of my family.
For all of that year, I fully committed to living according to the teachings of the church. I prayed constantly, I fasted, I studied the scriptures and other books, and I strove to develop a relationship with Christ and live in a way that God would have me live.
I also met regularly with a counselor from LDS Family Services. I went for marriage counseling, which was a little weird, since Melissa refused to join me, but I was at least able to discuss many of the issues we had been facing. One of the factors leading to our separation had been that Melissa felt that she could no longer trust me due to me having been dishonest with her, and so a big focus of these sessions was honesty. By the end of the year, I felt like I had a very deep understanding of honesty, and was able to better recognize when I was being dishonest with myself. In addition, honesty became profoundly important to me as a virtue.
By the end of the year, my relationship with Melissa had improved significantly, and she hesitantly agreed to let me move back in with her early the next year. I couldn’t have been happier. But then something major happened.
A Turning Point
Shortly after getting back together, Melissa told me something that rocked my world. At the time we separated, and I decided that I needed to become a much more devout Mormon, she went exactly the opposite way. She felt that she had lived a life devoted to the church and its teachings, and that despite that, she ended up with a terrible marriage and was miserable. Therefore, she no longer believed in the church, and had basically become an atheist.
This took some time to process. The church was a huge part of our lives. I’d spent more than 36 years as a member. We attended every week with our children, and almost all of our friends and our children’s friends were also Mormon. Being Mormon was part of our very identity. But my new-found appreciation for honesty required that I ask myself a very important question: Did I believe in the Mormon church?
The answer was a very clear, “no”.
Why I Don’t Believe
The Book of Mormon includes a promise near the end that if you read it and ask the Lord with real intent, he will let you know the truthfulness of it through the Holy Ghost. Put simply, this is a feeling, and nearly all Mormons use it as the basis for their testimony.
Throughout my life, I had tested this promise, many, many times. One example is still very clear in my memory. I was trying to decide whether or not to serve a mission, and I did not want to go unless I knew that it was all true. I spent days fasting and praying, desperately pleading with the God to confirm the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon, or of the Church, or even to just let me know he was listening. Nothing happened. No feelings of warmth and love. Not anything. Eventually, I decided to go ahead and serve anyway, hoping that this confirmation would come. It never did. But I continued on, because I really wanted it to be true.
So here I was in 2009 lacking any kind of spiritual experience to use as the basis for my belief. In addition, over the years I had encountered troubling information about the LDS church. I detail some of them below. Examining these issues again without taking the truthfulness of the church as a given, I came to the clear conclusion that none of the truth claims of the LDS church were true.
One of the first things Melissa and I did after realizing that neither of us believed was to inform our children. We did so as carefully as possible, and also told them that they could make their own decisions. Some of them had already arrived at the same conclusion. The youngest said that he still wanted to get baptized, so I continued to attend and remain worthy for another 5 months to do that, but that was the last time any of us attended. That was six years ago.
Around the same time, Melissa and I decided to get divorced. That’s also a big separate topic, but suffice it to say that it was a good thing. I went on to meet Amy – who is also a non-believing Mormon – who I am very happily married to now.
Since I stopped attending, I have been happier than I ever was in the church. I feel like I am living an honest and authentic life. My children feel the same way. There are ups and downs just as with anyone, but we all feel like our lives have improved by leaving the Mormon church, and only wish we had done it earlier.
Up until the beginning of this year, I was content to simply no longer attend. But then I started becoming involved with online exmormon communities, especially /r/exmormon. Up until that point, I hadn’t really heard of or paid attention to the Mormon Stories podcast, but as some may be aware, its creator, John Dehlin, was excommunicated by the church. I felt that if Dehlin – who wanted to remain a member – wasn’t allowed to be one, then I – who had no interest in being a member – had no right to continue to be one, so I finally submitted my resignation, and as of a few weeks ago I received confirmation that I am no longer a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
John informs me that he’s now very happy to no longer be a member of the church. Just like me :)
I’ve shared this because I want my friends and family who are still members of the church to know where I stand and how I got here. I’ve attempted to be respectful to the beliefs of others, and hopefully I’ve succeeded. Many ex-Mormons have found that when they open up about their non-belief that believing members stop interacting with them. I fully expect to lose at least a few Facebook friends over sharing this, but it’s my hope that this won’t affect my relationship with the people I care about. Thanks for taking the time to read. Any comments are welcome. If you’d prefer to discuss anything directly, feel free to message me on FB, or ask me for my email address or phone number.
Appendix A: My Issues with the Church
In 2007, PBS aired a documentary called The Mormons. It included a lot of negative things about the church, particularly in regards to its origins and history, that I hadn’t really been familiar with before. These things troubled me, but I eventually decided to just ignore them.
A year later, while I was in the midst of my year of dedication to the church, I felt that my testimony was deep enough to take a closer look at some of these issues. In the process of researching, I came across the website for FAIR, which is an unofficial group of Mormon apologists. For every issue I had encountered, I found that they had a response. This was kind of a double-edged sword, though. Because they attempt to respond to virtually every criticism of the church, reading their website exposed me to many other issues that I hadn’t previously been aware of. Also, after a while, I begin to notice something about their responses. Rather than solidly refuting the criticisms, their tactic seemed to just enough doubt on the criticism to enable you to go on believing. Eventually, I found their answers mostly unsatisfying, and in the end, I managed to convince myself that God must have intentionally inserted problems so that you would have to act on faith. I now see how ridiculous that was.
So what are the specific things I found troubling? Honestly, there are too many to list, and the more I’ve studied the Mormon church and its history, the more I find, but here are the big ones:
- Joseph Smith’s polygamy. Specifically, the fact that the way he practiced it wasn’t even in accordance with the law that he laid out in D&C 132, that he lied to Emma about it and hid many of the marriages from her, that he lied to the church as a whole about it, that he married girls as young as 14, and that he married other men’s wives (some of whom were on missions at the time).
- The Book of Mormon. The anachronisms. The lack of archaeological, DNA, or any other kind of scientific evidence. The duplication of errors from the King James Bible. The similarity to contemporary books that Joseph Smith would have had access to. This is clearly a 19th century work of fiction, not a sacred, ancient record.
- The Book of Abraham. We have at least some of the papyrus that Joseph Smith allegedly used to translate what is now part of LDS canon. They bear no resemblance to what is contained in the book. The facsimiles don’t even remotely mean what he claims they mean.
- Racism. For a century and a half, black people were not allowed to enter the temple and black men were not allowed to hold the priesthood, and church leaders taught that this was because they were descended from Cain, that their black skin was a curse, and that it all stemmed due to being less valiant in the war in heaven in the preexistence. Then in 1978, God changed his mind and the church has tried to pretend none of this ever happened.
- Prop 8 and LGBT issues. As a member in California during Prop 8, I was unsettled by the way the church handled it, and the way they handle LGBT issues in general. I felt like the reasoning they put forward to support Prop 8 was dishonest, and the pressure they placed on members to contribute, canvass neighborhoods, etc., was unethical.
Appendix B: Worthiness
There is a perception among Mormons that when members leave, it’s either because they have sinned or want to sin. Mormons are in general wrong about why members leave, which this video from Mormon Stories addresses.
I wanted to address the topic of worthiness, though, because I have heard that people in my last ward (and others) may have mistaken ideas about why I left and perhaps why I got divorced. Specifically, rumors that I committed adultery, fueled by how quickly I started dating Amy.
Melissa and I decided to get divorced in May 2009. I’m not going to get into the specifics, but it wasn’t because of anything either of us had done. We were just miserable together, and it was hurting us and the kids. At the time, we both agreed that it would be okay for us to start dating other people, since the divorce would take a while to process. For practical reasons, we continued to live together until the beginning of September, at which point I moved out. Two weeks later, I met Amy for the first time and we started dating. Melissa was aware of this and even encouraged me to do so.