While a Senior at BYU, His Research Raised Troubling Questions About the Foundations of the LDS Church
It is difficult to know where to begin my story. I am not certain exactly where things started, but the reader may already have an idea about where things end. To avoid missing some important detail to which only the reader may become aware, I will start at the very beginning and give a few details leading up to my conversion to Christianity. In the end I hope the LDS reader will give a second thought to the verse of scripture found in Mark 8:36: "For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?" (KJV)
I was born in Texas in 1971. My mother and father, both LDS, were visiting Texas as the result of a war at the time. My father had been drafted to fight in Vietnam and was in Army training there. Within a year of my birth we had returned to our true home in the Salt Lake valley, Utah.
I was raised in Utah and did the usual Mormon things. I was baptized at eight, conferred the Aaronic Priesthood at twelve, made an Elder at eighteen and served a twenty-five month mission in the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area.
It is easy to follow something taught to you from birth on. It is even easier to follow something if the culture surrounding you oozes appreciation and respect for living it. It is all the more easy to follow something if by rejecting it you lose all of that appreciation and respect from those you admire most. I first began to realize these points when I left my home to journey into the mission field.
On my mission I lived for the first time in an area where Mormonism did not flourish and an understanding of it was unclear. Many of the people I met and spoke with only knew of Mormon polygamy and thought the practice was still observed by Mormons. This may be attributed to afternoon talk shows with Mormon Fundamentalist guests.
Ignorance aside, my mission was the first time I learned to understand what it means to be a minority and to be the recipient of religious persecution. I was denied check cashing at banks where I feel quite certain a black coat with a starched white collar would have guaranteed me cash. I was nearly run over crossing the street in a crosswalk. I was yelled at, spit on, bitten (by a drunk man) and had large dogs sent out after me. In all, I survived but came to the realization that the LDS Church was not respected outside of Utah the way it is inside the state. For this reason, some may wonder why I continue to choose to live in Utah after leaving the faith.
Often when people discover I am no longer a Mormon, they began to question me hoping to discover some piece of information that will blossom into an epiphany surrounding my decision to leave. They never seem to be listening to what I say as much as searching for some hidden words, some meaning between the lines as to what went wrong with me. This is a security blanket for members of the LDS Church. They don’t believe that anything righteous, holy, or truthful could lead a person out of the faith. So to protect against just such a possibility, they place labels on people who leave. This one was an adulterer and excommunicated. That one was a drug addict and another one had some awful terrible experience on his mission that corrupted his thinking. That is the sort of thing a person begins to listen for when I speak so they may label me and be on there merry way, all the more faithful in their religion after speaking to me. If the reader is in these shoes, please consider with an open mind the rest of my story before finally categorizing me.
I was not discouraged by my mission, but rather greatly encouraged. I gained a zeal for searching the scriptures and a hunger for understanding of the truths surrounding the foundation of the Church to which I belonged. I read the entire Standard Works all on my own for the first time. I had never read the Bible cover to cover until my mission. I am convinced by speaking with the many missionaries with which I became acquainted that many Mormons never do complete this seemingly insurmountable chore. Many may question the wisdom of reading a book with over a thousand pages when only believing it to be "true as far as it is translated correctly." The reader may be familiar with a book of less than half the size of the Bible to be the "most correct of any book" and that "a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than by any other book."
For a moment I will make some basic assumptions. These assumptions guided me in my studies on my mission, and continue to do so today. The first is faith in the Holy Ghost: "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." John 14:26 (KJV)
These are the words of Jesus Christ and I believe them. Perhaps the Holy Ghost is the reason I believe them. For any Mormon over the age of eight who has been confirmed a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, the Holy Ghost is not only a source of affirmation to the truths taught by Jesus Christ, but also supposed to be a constant companion — provided the member has kept herself worthy to receive this gift. Either way, I feel comfortable asserting that God will guide the honest reader as she reads the Bible and confirm its truth.
The second assumption I wish to make is taken from the words of Jesus Christ: "And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free." John 8:32 (KJV)
These are beautiful words. Even more powerful is the effect they can have on the honest reader who seeks their certainty. Truth is freedom and truth is also eternal. My father once shared some wisdom with me when he told me, "Its either all true or its all false," speaking of the LDS Church. There is no halfway with Mormonism or with God: "So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth." Rev 3:16 (KJV)
With the basic assumptions that the Holy Ghost would confirm truth to me and that the truth would make me free, I buried myself in LDS studies following my honorable release from the mission field. I attended Ricks College and graduated after receiving the "Student of the Week" award for "outstanding and well balanced dedication to academic, personal, and religious responsibilities." I then moved on to Brigham Young University where I further intensified my studies into LDS history. I spent many hours on the fifth floor of the Harold B. Lee library. A wonderful collection of LDS history books is kept there both inside and outside of the Special Collections room. My most dedicated study would occur during the 1995-96 academic year. But before I give away the results of my studies, I should say that my luck was about to change.
In March of 1996 I became engaged to my wife, to whom I have now been married for nearly three years. The summer of ’96 became the most important for me as I was searching for absolutes that would cement my life to God in starting a family of my own. Joining me in my quest for knowledge and understanding was a non-Mormon from New Mexico who traveled to Provo to decide for himself whether the LDS Church was true. My fianc? also took interest in this challenge and together the three of us began to read and share conversation of the foundations of Mormondom.
By late summer I had stumbled across at least three facts of which I had formerly been entirely ignorant. One, that Joseph Smith waited over a decade to write his first account of the First Vision. That this account only mentioned one being and that the third of four accounts was the first to mention more than one being. I found this especially troubling because the foundation of the LDS understanding of the Godhead is based on this event.
Two, that the Egyptian papyrus scrolls from which Joseph Smith translated the Book of Abraham in the Pearl of Great Price had not been burned up in a museum as I had been led to believe, but were rediscovered by a University of Utah Professor in the back room of a museum in an eastern state. These scrolls, now translatable by Egyptologists since the Rosetta stone cracked the Egyptian language, were examined by the Church and led to entire families (those doing the examining) leaving the faith as well as the sealing off of the originals in a Church vault. Early published articles in the Ensign promised translations to later appear, proving the LDS Church to be true to the world. These publications never occurred, possibly due to the scrolls having more to do with the Egyptian Book of the Dead and less to do with anything related to Abraham. This troubled me even more since the only opportunity to prove Joseph Smith’s translations accurate only showed them to be entirely false and misleading.
Three, that the LDS Church is not the "only true and living church upon the face of the whole earth." I learned and realized for the first time that the LDS Church was an organization built upon a false foundation. This discovery was not simply the result of the two formerly mentioned points, but the culmination of a slew of discoveries made in my research. I would highly recommend a few good books that I will list at the end of this testimony – to those seeking to defend and understand the truth.
When I knew that the Mormon Church was not true, I did not know what to do about it. I was a senior attending BYU. I was about to be married with both my own family and part of my wife’s family expecting an LDS temple marriage. I was living in a community over 92% LDS who’s culture expected me to be Mormon. I was depressed by the facts I could no longer doubt. I was angry at those who fervently repeated testimonies with the five recommended points convincing me that lies were truths. I was hurt.
When a person is at their lowest of lows, God sometimes reaches down to lift that person miraculously from their pit to show them something better.
"Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me." Psalms 23:4 (KJV)
Looking back on the moment of realization, I often feel that a part of me died that day. I had previously held doubts and questions under breath, feeling that answers I hoped for were somehow trivial and less important than the general message of the LDS Church. That message seemed to be family first, morals nearly beyond compare, and dedication to the teachings of your faith. How could a religion that teaches such valuable lessons be false at the core? I have since come to an understanding that many religions teach valuable and moral lessons to people. I took a world religions class at BYU and learned many good things about eastern religions. However, the roadblock to this sort of religious relativism, that all paths lead to the top of the same mountain, was the point my father had made with me. If absolute truth exists, really exists, and I believe it does, then all religions could not be true because they each have their own set of contrary doctrines. And no matter how much respect I gain for other religions, none of them teach of Jesus Christ or salvation by faith.
"For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God." Ephesians 2:8 (KJV)
For a period of time all I could do was deal with my anger, sadness—even depression—and try to go on. My fiancé and I decided to be married by a Justice of the Peace rather than in a Temple or by a Mormon Bishop who would only counsel us to be married in the Temple. Family seemed quiet on the matter, but I somehow suspect they guessed we were not worthy to be temple married. Everyone seemed to settle for our decision.
I then continued at BYU for another year until I realized that I needed another ecclesiastical endorsement to continue the next year. Certain that I would hold true to the remaining things I had, foremost being my morals, I knew I could not lie to the Bishop. I had not attended my Ward meetings since my discovery—it seemed a bit pointless. I know that meeting together to worship is not just to glorify God and learn new doctrines, it is also to enjoy the social benefit of making friends who share your faith. Sometimes I think many Mormons meet almost solely due to the social benefit (or to avoid the social repercussions of not going).
Both Sarah and I realized we needed religion, but we were not about to just jump on board the next church to come along. So we spent some time in the Bible — I got a copy of the NIV Bible because I no longer felt that old English was any more sacred than modern English. We tried attending a Seventh Day Adventist church, but it seemed they were more focused on who was going to hell for not worshipping on Saturday instead of Sunday. It didn’t take us long to decide they were a bit too close to Mormonism.
Finally, we met a man who has made it his mission in life to share Christianity with reforming Mormons — Luke Wilson. His organization’s web site as well as his in person discussions with us (when he flew out from Michigan) were more than enough help to finish the job. I had always held on to the teachings of Jesus, even when I threw the teachings of Joseph Smith to the wind (Which are more important?). Both Sarah and I were born again into Christianity — true monotheistic Christianity.
Since that time, we tried for a while to have our names removed from the LDS Church records, but decided it to be much to big of a hassle and, for us, nothing more than a clerical error anyhow. We still live in a very high percentage LDS population. We still have some family that are LDS. Fortunately, we have each other and our relationship grows stronger all the time because of our new faith.
Family took things rather hard at first, but have softened to the idea that we are strong in our conviction of Jesus and his gospel. At times, things are difficult when LDS bullying (teaming up of LDS coworkers to explain just why their religion is flawlessly correct) at work takes its toll. But I just go home, talk to my wife, and together we go on.
In closing, I would like to leave a final thought for the reader. It’s alright to continue in the tradition of placing a label on me and moving on. It's okay to keep a closed mind to anything objectively written about the LDS Church and seek out only the faith promoting, warm fuzzy brethren sanctioned literature, even if that requires turning to fiction like the Legacy movie or the umteenth volume of The Work and the Glory. Just remember that after you die it's too late to investigate those serious questions kept buried in the back of a curious mind. It will also be too late to heed the admonition of Jesus: "Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." John 3:3 (KJV)
My Recommended Books for Questioning Mormons
After Mormonism What? by Latayne C. Scott
By His Own Hand Upon Papyrus by Charles M. Larson
Studies of the Book of Mormon by B.H. Roberts
The Mormon Hierarchy — Extensions of Power by Dr. D. Michael Quinn
The Mormon Hierarchy — Origins of Power by Dr. D. Michael