Until April of 1998 I seemed to be a fairly typical member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I am a High Priest in the Church, have served a mission for the Church, and have held numerous positions, including service as Elders' Quorum President, Executive Secretary, and Second Counselor in the Bishopric. I am a graduate of Brigham Young University. In other words, at least on the surface, I seemed to be a rather typical member of the Church. But, in April, 1998, I walked away from the Church and have not returned. This is a brief explanation of what happened, and why it happened, to the best of my understanding.
Although I was born and raised in the Church, those who know me know that I have always had a slightly rebellious streak when it came to dealing with the Church. I probably got this from my father, who was also a skeptic. However, despite this little quirk, I was always "active" in the Church. I attended Primary, was ordained to the Aaronic Priesthood with my peers, was a faithful Deacon, Teacher and Priest. I attended Church faithfully, nearly every Sunday. I paid tithing. I obeyed the Word of Wisdom. I was chaste. I participated fully in the youth programs of the Church. And, I was basically happy to do so. It never crossed my mind that there was even the remotest possibility that everything they taught me in Church was anything but the full, unvarnished truth.
However, despite my unquestioning loyalty to the Church, the first little crack in my faith occurred somewhere around the time I was fourteen years old. I don't remember exactly when it happened, but I remember exactly what it was that happened. Joseph Fielding Smith published his infamous book, "Man, His Origin and Destiny." I didn't read the book at that time, but my father did, and he was extremely upset. He was a professor of Geology at BYU, and he was not the slightest bit happy about some of the statements made by Smith in that book. Of course, I was absolutely convinced that my father was the smartest man in the world, and I assumed that if he said that Smith was wrong, then he was wrong. Smith's fundamental position in that book was that scientists were wrong about evolution, the age of the earth, and the Great Flood. Later, I actually read those portions of his book dealing with those subjects, and I realized that my father was indeed correct, and that Smith was wrong. Dead wrong. This bothered me to some extent. How could a man in Smith's position in the Church be so mistaken? (Later, Smith made even sillier statements about other subjects that proved to me that he was not a very well-educated person, and certainly was not receiving any inspiration.) But, despite the fact that Joseph Fielding Smith was wrong about so many things, I was able to maintain my faith in the Church. For one thing, other Church leaders, such as David O. McKay and Hugh B. Brown disagreed with him, and they were obviously much smarter than he was. Nonetheless, there was this nagging little doubt, eating away at the back of my mind. It bothered me that a Church that claimed divine revelation for its leaders could have a leader who could be so wrong, and influence so many others to believe as he did.
The next thing that began to eat at me was the Church's position on banning the Priesthood from anybody of African descent. This just didn't seem right to me, and none of the explanations that were given made any sense. The argument that it was the result of divine revelation just didn't conform to my sense of what was right. When that odious policy was changed in 1978, I rejoiced, along with most other members of the Church. Nonetheless, it still bothered me that the Church continued to claim (as it continues to do to this very day) that this policy was the result of divine revelation. It didn't make sense to me that the Lord would consider Blacks unworthy to receive the Priesthood, until 1978 when He suddenly changed His mind. (I now realize that this policy was strictly the result of Brigham Young's racist beliefs, and had absolutely nothing to do with divine revelation.)
However, I remained faithful to the Church. In 1959 I was called to serve a mission for the Church on Niue Island, in the Tongan Mission. I served there, happily, from February, 1959 until August, 1961. It was one of the best things that I ever did, and I am grateful for the experience.
Upon my return, I re-enrolled at BYU, and graduated in 1963. I then went to graduate school at the University of Hawaii, and remained active in the Church. Upon receiving my MA in Geography, in 1965, I accepted a position as an Instructor at Bemidji State College in Minnesota. Again, I remained active in the Church, and held a number of leadership positions in the small branch in Bemidji. But, in 1967, I made a decision that was to prove the best one I ever made. I married my wife. But, she is not Mormon. She is Catholic. At the time many of my friends seriously questioned my sanity, if not my faith. But, I was convinced that she would accept the Church at the appropriate time, and I remained faithful to the Church.
I continued to be "active" and engaged in the Church when we went to Oklahoma, where I finished my PhD, and then on to Eau Claire, Wisconsin, where I had accepted a position as Assistant Professor of Geography at the Univ. of Wisconsin-Eau Claire. My wife was fully supportive of my callings in the Church, and it was never an issue that came between us. I changed jobs several times, and my wife remained supportive, and I remained active. In 1978 I accepted a position as a teacher at McDonell High School, a Catholic high school in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. At about that same time I was called into the bishopric of the Eau Claire Ward. I served in that position for nearly four years, until the bishop and his counselors were released. I never had any doubts about the Church during that time, although I saw some fairly strange things in my calling.
Following my release in about 1982, I continued to serve in a variety of callings in the Eau Claire Ward. Nearly all of my dealings with people in the ward were of a positive nature. I made many good friends, and I consider them to be good friends to this day. Despite my tendency towards iconoclasm and liberal thinking, I never had any negative experiences with anybody.
I suspect that the beginning of the end for me began about six or seven years ago when I first went on the Internet. My initial contact was very brief, but I logged onto a site that discussed Mormonism, where I took on the role of a defender of the faith. Later, when I got e-mail access at home, I logged on to Eyring-L, a discussion list dedicated to discussions about the relationship between Mormonism and science. It was a very rewarding experience, and I made some interesting contacts, and learned a great deal. I was, however, distressed to find that there are still many Mormons who believe that one cannot accept the scientific principle of evolution and "be a good Mormon." Many discussions ensued over this topic.
While on this list, I asked a question about legitimate scientific evidence for the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. There were a number of professional LDS anthropologists on the list, and they were able to provide me with a great deal of information. Unfortunately, the information basically boiled down to one thing; there is NO evidence that supports the Book of Mormon as an authentic, historical document. To the contrary, all of the known evidence indicates that Native Americans originated in Asia, not the Middle East. There is NO evidence supporting the contention that Native Americans are of "Lamanite" descent. None. Not a scintilla.
My own interest in anthropology stems from my experience as a missionary in Polynesia. Like most young Mormons sent on missions to that part of the world, I went there convinced that the Polynesian peoples were descended from Hagoth, of the Book of Mormon. Later, during graduate school in Hawaii, I came to realize that there is NO evidence of any relationships between Polynesians and Native American. Again, to the contrary of the Mormon Church teaches, the evidence indicates that Polynesians originated in Southeast Asia. This is in direct contradiction to what several LDS Presidents have stated. It was obvious to me that they didn't know what they were talking about.
I didn't realize it at the time, but I was beginning to suffer from a case of cognitive dissonance. What I knew to be the facts were conflicting with what I was being told by the Church.
The final break began in earnest about three years ago. By that time I had subscribed to another LDS-oriented list, Mormon-L. (A list to which I still subscribe.) We had a rather heated discussion about polygamy at that time, and it was pointed out to me that I simply did not know enough about the subject to discuss it intelligently. (A correct observation.) So, I decided to inform myself more thoroughly. I obtained some books and articles, by LDS authors, and read more about the subject. After considerable research, it was obvious to me that Joseph Smith had never received any revelation pertaining to this strange practice. Instead, it was more than obvious that he had claimed revelation, and begun this practice, as a result of his pre-occupation with young women. As a matter of fact, it was after his illicit affair with Fannie Alger, a young housemaid in his home, that he began the practice. (The Church now claims that Fannie Alger was his first plural wife, despite a total lack of supporting documentation.)
I soon realized that it was standard Church practice to obfuscate, cover up, and even lie about its history. Time after time, as I dug deeper into Church history, I discovered that there were consistent discrepancies between what the Church taught, and what actually happened.
Then, I found that the Church was not only covering up, but was excommunicating those who published the truth. (Michael Quinn being the foremost victim of this purge.) Boyd K. Packer has even gone on record of stating that "just because something is true does not mean that it is useful." It became apparent to me that the primary mission of the current Church leadership is to perpetuate the organization, at all costs, even if they have to lie to do it. (There is a phenomenon known as "lying for the Lord.")
By 1998, I was thoroughly disenchanted with the Church, as I learned of the establishment of the "Strengthening Church Members Committee", and other repressive practices emanating from Salt Lake City. By this time I was seriously questioning just about everything about the Church, but was still an active, engaged member.
By this time, my mother had come to live with us in Wisconsin. Although she had been a member of the Church all of my life, she had never been particularly engaged, nor did she think much about it. She hadn't been to Church in several years. While living with us, she began attending Mass with my wife. (Primarily because that lasted only about an hour, while LDS services went on and on and on for three hours.) She didn't understand much, but she enjoyed the short sermons and the scripture readings.
Two things happened, in rather rapid sequence, that led to me finally deciding to disengage. One day, while getting dressed, I suddenly looked at my temple garments and realized that the style of one's underwear could not possibly have any religious significance. (I was even more convinced of this when I later found out the relationship between the Mormon temple rites and those of Masonry.) That same week I received two calls from local priesthood leaders, informing me that the Stake President had requested that all members contact their legislators to ask them to oppose same-sex marriages. That really enraged me. In the first place, I totally disagree with the Church's position on homosexuality and gay rights. But, I disagree even more with the entry of the Church into the political arena, under the guise of "moral issues." This was the first time that I was genuinely angry.
I had come away from Church for several years with a vague feeling of annoyance at the dumb statements, poorly-written manuals, and intellectually mind-numbing lessons, but this was the first time that I was genuinely angry. At that point, I realized that it made very little sense for my wife and mother to be attending one church, which they enjoyed, while I went off to another, which I did not enjoy. So, I decided that we all would be better off if we went to Church together. I stopped attending the LDS Church, and went to Mass with my wife and mother. It was good to be together as a family. I never went back to the Mormon Church again. Following my mother's death, I also stopped attending Mass.
Today, I would describe myself as an agnostic. I don't know whether or not there is a God, or a life after death, although I sincerely hope that there is. I bear no ill will toward the Mormon Church. I value many of my experiences there. However, I realize that it is NOT the "one and only true church on earth today." It is purely a human organization, and like all human organizations it is seriously flawed. I have come to learn, through further study since disengaging from the Church, that there are many discrepancies in the history of the Church. (Differing versions of the "First Vision", substantive changes in the Book of Mormon, spurious origin of the Book of Abraham, the Kinderhook Plates, being just a few.) None of these makes Mormonism a "bad" church. They are, however, sufficient evidence to me that it is not the "true" church. (For that matter, I don't believe that there is such a thing.)
As I now reflect upon my life in Mormonism I often wonder what it was that was so constantly irritating. I couldn't figure it out for myself, but not too long ago there was a post on Mormon-L that clarified it for me. (A post from an active, engaged member of the Church, for what it's worth.) In that post it was stated that the Mormon Church continues to treat its members as children, and never lets them become adults in the Gospel. I think that the way BYU has been run under the inept administration of Merrill Bateman is more than ample demonstration of this phenomenon. The manuals are aimed at the lowest common denominator. We are urged to "follow the Brethren", who give instructions on what kind of movies to attend, what are proper activities on Sunday, what kind of clothing to wear, what hair styles are appropriate, what kind of sermons are appropriate for funerals, and now, at least in California, how to vote. Thinking is NOT encouraged in Mormonism. As a matter of fact, it is often punished, as is evidenced by the people who have been excommunicated for publishing things that did not paint the Church in the proper light, even though they were true, and the members of the BYU faculty who were dismissed for not following the party line.
Many people wrongly assume that I, and others like me, have left the Church because we were "offended" by somebody. This is a common, and seriously mistaken assumption. It is offensive in and of itself, for it assumes that we are such shallow people that we would leave the Church for some social indiscretion on the part of others. But, for the record, I have NOT been offended by anybody. Nor have I turned to a life of sin. At my age, it is simply too difficult. In any event, a lifetime in Mormonism has engrained in me a certain lifestyle which I have no intention of changing significantly at this point in my life.
I have not formally requested that my name be removed from the records. I describe myself as a "disengaged" Mormon. My culture is Mormon, and I can't do much to change that. I still have many friends in the Church, and I still value many of the experiences that I had in my fifty plus years in the Church. But, I have no particular desire to re-engage. I feel that I have "graduated." I am an adult, capable of making my own decisions. I enjoy conversations about Mormonism with others who are interested, and willing to diverge from the standard "Gospel Doctrine" type discussions. I bear no malice toward the Church, and do not try to convince others to follow me in my path. I feel that I know more about the Church today than I ever did at any point in my life. I also strongly feel (have a "testimony", if you prefer) that my current path in life is the one that is best for me. In other words, I choose to follow my own conscience, and fervently hope that others do the same.