This is an edited version of a post I made in the A Thoughtful Faith Support Group on April 25, 2017. Some people have found value in how I parsed and modeled my letter to my mother.
Next week will mark my 1 year anniversary of my shelf breaking from the “bomb” of stumbling across the Essays, CESLetter, Mormonthink, Fairmormon, Mormon Stories, etc., etc., all alone, here in Montana, with no one to talk to about this stuff. It was a painful 3-4 days, with very little sleep, that lead into weeks and months of obsessive consumption of online material, podcasts, books, etc. to try to reconcile the mess and put everything back into the box of orthodoxy.
6 weeks into my “dark night of the soul”, I found ATF, on June 16th.
I feel like I am in such a better place now–in great part to fellowship and support from groups like ATF. I have learned so much from you, my friends and fellow travelers, whom I’ve grown to love and appreciate more than words can express. In the beginning, everyone told me that it would get better with time, and many expressed confidence with “you’ve got this!” It is better, and I have confidence that I’ve got this 🙂
Now that I believe I have traversed the Anger and Depression Stages of Grief–and don’t revisit them with as much acuity or frequency–I have grown more comfortable making comments about the problems on public Facebook threads on the Timelines of people like Dan Peterson, Bill Reel, Randall Bowen, etc.
Inevitably, this has indirectly “outed” me with regard to my faith transition to growing number of family and friends.
Although I individually spoke with my siblings, my children, my father, and some of my LDS friends before now, I waited to share directly with my Active Believing Mormon mother or mother-in-law about my changed beliefs. I didn’t want to hurt their hearts.
Yesterday, with some anxiousness, my mother called my mother-in-law with worry about some of my recent comments on an LDS Apologist’s Facebook timeline. My mother shared my comments with my mother-in-law. So yesterday, they both knew. My wife discussed things with my mother-in-law’s by phone and seems to have resolved her primary concerns, and I wrote a email last night to my mother. Today, my mother replied to me with a supportive and beautiful response 🙂 I am very grateful.
I advocate the approach of one-on-one discussions/correspondence instead of group texts, group emails, or group Facebook messages to family and close friends about our faith journeys.
In case it could help others, I wanted to share with you my letter to my mother:
I want you to know how much I love you and how grateful I am that you are my mother. I love our family.
Susan is the love of my life. I love our children too and feel that together as a family, what we have is more meaningful than anything else in this life.
I have something to share with you that will be difficult and likely painful for you, but out of my love, trust, and respect for you, I’ve decided that it is time to share with you that my views about the Church have changed.
About 12 months ago, I stumbled across the Church History Gospel Topics Essays on LDS.org and read them. I read from the cited sources too. This triggered significant dissonance because I had always been led to believe that the things discussed in the Essays were anti-Mormon lies. As I studied from the cited sources, other Church sources about history, books distributed through Deseret Book, apologetic websites like FairMormon, skeptical websites, academic websites, and a myriad of podcasts, I came to the conclusion that the Church is not what it represents itself to be. After studying from the cited sources in the Essays and other Church history, I came to the conclusion that the Essays themselves contain demonstrable dishonesty and spin. I also came to the conclusion that more than 1/2 of all my foundational spiritual experiences testified to me of things, historical narratives, and doctrines that are not factually true. This absolutely devastated me and put me into a severe faith crisis. I experienced depression, anger, and other Stages of Grief.
I no longer believe Jesus Christ stands at the head of the LDS Church or that the Brethren are more than just kind men doing the best they can, while prioritizing faith and heritage over transparency and honesty.
I counseled with my Bishop for many hours over the first several months. I’ve counseled with my Stake Presidency for many hours since then too. I’ve had blessings. I’ve prayed and pleaded with Heavenly Father for hours and hours, and months and months to understand how I received spiritual witnesses of things that are not factually true. I’ve tried to understand why the Church continues to publish and distribute materials that are not factually true—many of which I interpret as intentionally deceptive.
From my lifetime serving in the Church as a faithful member, and from the things I have learned during these last 12 months of intensive study, I now believe that people of most all faiths have similar spiritual experiences to Mormons. Muslims, Catholics, Fundamentalist Mormons (Polygamists), Evangelical Christians, Buddhists, Hindus, etc., etc., all have spiritual experiences which are the same as Mormons. I believe that our Mennonite family members have the exact same kinds of spiritual experiences that you and I have had as Mormons.
The LDS construct of what those spiritual experiences mean for Mormons is that they are the Holy Ghost witnessing of the truthfulness of the subject matter, doctrine, ideas, community, scripture, ritual, etc. LDS doctrine is that these ongoing spiritual experiences from the Holy Ghost are exclusive to members of the Church. The doctrine is that others can experience the Light of Christ and that they can briefly experience the Holy Ghost to the extent He is witnessing of the truth to those investigating the Gospel. However, only LDS members are privileged to have an ongoing companionship and influence from the Holy Ghost and joy that comes from it, and if other people claim it, they are deceived—usually misled by the Adversary.
I believe Elder Nelson confirmed this claim of exclusivity of joy and experience of the Holy Ghost when wrote in his Christmas message (December 23, 2016), “The unrighteous may experience any number of emotions and sensations, but they will never experience joy! Joy is a gift for the faithful…When we choose Heavenly Father to be our God and when we can feel the Savior’s Atonement working in our lives, we will be filled with joy.” I understand this claim of exclusivity to be the LDS doctrine.
I now believe that the LDS construct of what spiritual experiences mean is false. Although I believe these experiences are real, sacred, and precious, I do not believe they are exclusive to Mormons, nor do I believe they are witnesses of truthfulness from the Holy Ghost. I believe now that they relate to the interconnectedness we have with each other and with God’s creations, and that different faith traditions layer their own self-serving constructs upon these experiences, claim exclusivity, and use them to support narratives that require sacrifice, devotion, and resources to institutions and leaders. Because my lifetime of spiritual experiences witnessed and testified of things that are demonstrably false, to retain my integrity I have to reject the LDS construct.
I had certainty and unshakable faith due to my lifetime of spiritual experiences under the LDS construct of what they meant. My certainty and faith was so strong that I adopted LDS beliefs that were contrary to reason, logic, science, justice, and even to the tenants of Christianity in the scriptures. Whenever I encountered stuff that didn’t make sense to me, I would put those things on a metaphorical “shelf” with faith that some day I would receive understanding or answers to those things. I believe now that this model was false and unhealthy.
I want you to know that I am the same person, with the same values and moral compass before I stumbled across difficult Church history. Honesty, morality, compassion, forgiveness, mourning with those who mourn, comforting those who stand in need of comfort, charity, seeking justice for the downtrodden and oppressed, love, and empathy are still among my core values. None of this has changed. I don’t want to sin. I haven’t been offended. I haven’t been tricked by anti-Mormon materials. I had an extremely strong testimony. I read my scriptures and Church lesson materials—and I still do.
(Although, after studying the actual and truthful history of the Word of Wisdom, I concluded that it wasn’t from God but rather an assimilation of the Temperance Movement of Joseph’s time, and that what the Church teaches and requires today is factually contrary to the Word of Wisdom as revealed in the scriptures anyway. As a result, I now feel healthier occasionally drinking coffee instead of Diet Coke, and I occasionally drink alcohol in moderation.)
The cognitive dissonance I experience attempting to participate in Church after concluding that it is not what it represents itself to be, and after concluding that the Brethren have intentionally suppressed and whitewashed church history, and still do so today, is too much for me. I don’t experience Christ or the Spirit in what I perceive is deception. I don’t believe Christ would direct the Brethren to do these things in the past or the present. With Susan’s support and even with my Bishop’s support, I started a Sabbatical from Church attendance beginning last August.
I haven’t told the entire family because I wasn’t ready. Last October, I told my brother and sisters, but I wasn’t ready to share my faith transition with everyone at that time.
People who follow my comments on Facebook will recognize that my views about the Church have changed. I am okay with that. Although, I haven’t yet decided to do a post on my own Facebook Timeline about my changed views.
When people ask you about my faith transition, my preference would be that you would simply say, “Anthony’s views about the Church have changed. If you would like to know more, you’ll need to ask him.”
I am doing much better now with my emotional and spiritual health. I have participated in support group workshops. I have found support groups online that really helped me. I have traversed the Anger and Depression Stages of Grief, and although sometimes I revisit those Stages, they are not as acute as they once were.
Susan has studied many of the same things I have, and she has not reached the same conclusions as me. Her testimony was developed and is based on different things than mine.
I will not proselytize you to my conclusions. If you have questions about the historical things that have been so difficult for me, or if you have questions about how I conclude that the Church is not what it represents itself to be, I will most likely refer you to things to read or podcasts to listen to. Although it would mean a lot to me for you to understand why these things are so painful for me, I don’t ask or expect you to read or listen to any of it. It is your choice.
I am happy to answer any questions you have about my experiences. I am happy to discuss things with you as you study them–if you choose to study them. But, those discussions would be led by you and at your request. You have your own spiritual and faith journey. You may very well reach different conclusions than me.
I want you to know that I fully support you in your activity and participation in the Church. I loved the Church, and it helped me become the person I am today. I am supportive of you sharing your spiritual journey with me, your spiritual experiences, your developing testimony, your understanding of doctrines, etc.
However, just as I won’t proselytize you, I ask that you do not proselytize me. Share with me what matters to you because it matters to you, not because you want me to conclude the same things as you.
I fully support Susan in her ongoing activity and participation in the Church. While it is often difficult living in a mixed-faith marriage, she and I immensely love each other, and we both trust that Heavenly Father would accept our earnestly striving for love and truth—even if she and I have different interpretations of what that means.
Our son has not participated in Church since he was in High School. Our daughter is active in the Church, and I fully anticipate that she will get married in the Temple some day—with my full love and support.
I still have an intense need and desire to feel connected with divinity, and the teachings of Jesus Christ and the Atonement still resonate with me. I continue to pray, read scriptures, and seek truth. I just cannot feel honest or authentic pretending to believe that Heavenly Father sustains and directs what today’s Brethren and the apostles/prophets of the past have preached as doctrine, the actions they took in the past, or the deception I perceive from them today.
I understand that this will be very difficult for you. I fear hurting your heart. My faith transition has been the most difficult thing I have ever experienced in my life. I have never shed so many tears, never cried to the Lord in such pain, never spent as many hours in earnest study and research, desperate to understand the truth and to learn what the Lord would have me do.
Please know that I love you, and that my changed views about the Church does not change this in any way. I am here anytime you want to talk or for anything you need.