At this point, it is hard for me to remember the past without comparing it to the present. But, I think, maybe a series of anecdotes will help pull together a story of how I came to leave Mormonism, and why.
When I was 5 years old, I remember getting into a fight with my best little friend. We had both come out of church, and there, in the parking lot, we quarreled over which one of us belonged to the “only true church.” Both of us had obviously learned about that in church that day, but we were in separate wards. Since we didn’t realize that both wards were in the same “church,” we were angry that the other was trying to steal what was rightfully our own.
A couple of years later, my parents moved us back to where they grew up, to get us out of the city. In the small, rural Utah city that my other 7 brothers and sisters and I now call our home town, we were surrounded by Mormons and family (also Mormons). Nearly everyone I ever knew growing up were also members of “The Church.”
At 8, I was excited to get baptized, believing that I would have a very special clean feeling when I came up out of the water. I don’t remember having that feeling, except as I tried to force it into reality. I do remember feeling so special and important, though, getting all the white clothes on, practicing how to go down into the water without letting any hair come up, and then actually having my dad, all dressed in white too, say that specific prayer and dunk me.
What happened after baptism was less than wonderful. I was terribly sin-conscious for a while. Believing that I was “perfect” as I left the water, and now it was up to me to actually live perfectly, or die repenting, I repented often. At least at first. I remember how guilty and scared I was all of the time, and how often I ran upstairs to kneel by my bed and say “Please forgive me.” But after not very long, it was enough to do a summary, “Please forgive me for everything bad I did today,” at the end of the day. And then it became once a week. And then, well, it became only when I did anything that really offended my conscience. Trying to keep up with keeping up with it all was much, much, too much, work.
I remember the day that a new family moved into my ward. Immediately they were asked to put on a “program” for us in Primary, and they sang two songs I’d never heard before: “I’d love to see the temple” is the opening line of the one, and maybe the title. The other had the line “I always want to be with my own family, and the Lord has shown me how I can…” Instantly I was in love with the idea of getting to go to the temple. I knew, from those songs, and from what else I was taught in the following years, that it would be there, inside the temple, where I would feel the most beautiful feeling I’d ever felt, and I would know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the church was true.
Testimony meeting, I should add here, was something that made me feel ashamed, and yet, I could not get past this fact — I did not understand what it meant for a church to be “true” — so I never did get up to bear my testimony. Month after month, I wanted to get up and say what I should say, and be the good kid I was supposed to be. But I never did. I just couldn’t, because I couldn’t get my mind around it.
When I was a teenager, I went to be baptized for the dead. I went once. It was so embarrassing… they had us shed our clothes and walk from one room to the other in just this open-sided sheet thing… it was just in front of other girls, but I was very shy and modest… and mortified! Then, when covered up in a big ole heavy baptism thing (I don’t remember if it was a dress, or jumpsuit, or what), I walked down in the big font and got dunked in the water for several names. I remember hoping I’d see spirits. My older brother had said he’d seen my great-aunt who had passed on already; I wondered if she’d show up to prove to me that the church was true, too. But she didn’t. I didn’t see any spirits.
I do remember, though, how often I felt as though evil spirits were around, watching me. I had learned in Seminary that the proper way to discern whether a visiting angel was a good one or a bad one was to offer him your hand. If he shook hands with you but you couldn’t feel his hand, he was from the devil. If you could feel his hand, or he refused to shake, he was from god. That information is in the Doctrine & Covenants chapter 129 (I do know now that there is a chapter in the Book of Mormon that tells you how to get an angel to come visit you). I’d prayed so many times to get an angel visit, so I’d know, like Joseph Smith did, what was the truth. But, again, no angels.
My high school sweetheart went on a mission, and I went to college. I asked my bishop, while my boyfriend was gone, if I couldn’t please go too. He looked in his bishop’s handbook and told me that I needed to stay home and try to get married. Well, nothing doing! I wasn’t going to marry someone else. So I dated lots of RMs [returned missionaries] while I waited for him. I thought I was such a good kid… but looking back, I realize that I was so much like the world in my college days.
When my “future eternal companion” got back from his mission, something was wrong. He didn’t explain it to me then, but having become friends with him later, I now know that he had had an experience on his mission, and had shied away from me because he knew I wanted to get married in the temple.
I met and married a man that I did not want to marry; I married him because he convinced me into giving him my virginity. I felt that if I did not marry him, I was stuck with a sin that could not be covered. He had three sons. In the 6 ½ years of our marriage, I believed I was forgiven for my wrong doings (which included having become an alcoholic) because I was doing such a saintly thing by taking care of three kids that weren’t my own.
It was while I was married, and absolutely miserable (though I didn’t realize it), that the phone rang one day. It was my mom. In my early life, she had always been the beacon of Mormonism to me. She baked her own wheat bread from wheat that she ground herself. She sewed our clothes. She had us write in journals. She had us learn piano and other instruments. She made sure we did our homework and got good grades. She grew a huge garden and bottled the veggies. She was a wonder-Mormon. And always with a (locally) prestigious church job… Primary president, Choir director, Relief Society President, etc.
So when she called and said “I don’t believe Joseph Smith is a true prophet,” my world turned upside down.
Turns out that my dad, who had had problems with the church since his mission, had been “activated” by the local bishopric, by being given the job as Sunday School teacher. He started the year that they were studying (from the LDS manual, of course) the Old Testament. Now, my dad is a thinker, and a questioner. And he wanted to do a good job. So, he studied. And he studied. He went way outside the church-approved manual. He found some cigar-smoking historian on the satellite and started recording him, listening and taking notes. And he learned. In fact, he says now that it was the historical facts that he learned that pulled him into the Bible. After believing the Bible was wrong all his life, he was learning that the historical information that the Bible was presenting was actually, v
The next year, he taught the New Testament, again studying and studying and bringing new information to class. The next year, it was the Book of Mormon, and then the next, all the extra stuff… Church History, Pearl of Great Price, and Doctrine & Covenants. And he kept on studying. What he came to realize in the process were three important things. One, the Bible was believable. Two, the other books were not the same. And three… he learned the gospel message.
He taught what he learned at church, praying all the while that someone in his class would hear what he was saying. And someone finally did. My mother.
Back to the phone call. Aghast, I asked my mother, “Does this mean you don’t believe the Book of Mormon?” No, was her answer. I was in spiritual limbo. If what I had believed all my life was not true, I needed to know what was!
My dad began to send me articles he had written. Some were about the errors he’d found while studying the Book of Mormon. Others were about the Bible. After not very long, I picked up my own Bible and began to read it. Amazingly, I found that it was understandable! All those years before, I’d been so confused, and as a result, bored by the Bible. I had been trying to find Mormonism in its pages, and not being able to do so, had determined that I just wasn’t “spiritual” enough yet to understand what others were seeing there. Like the “two sticks” of Ezekiel, for example. Whoever knew that that was talking about the Bible and the Book of Mormon must have such a close link to God, I’d thought. And now, here I was, reading it in plain English, and hearing it loud and clear. It was as if… as if the scales had fallen off my eyes.
I remember the day I prayed “the prayer.” I said something like: “God, I don’t know what I’m getting myself into here, but please forgive me and let Jesus be my Savior.”
God took the reigns from there. My marriage fell apart (my husband’s adultery), and with it, God shook loose the baggage and garbage I’d collected in my life. He then started to rebuild me. And He has done a much better job than I ever EVER could have thought to. I was hopelessly lost in my own sin and despair when He found me, lost and clueless as to how to get a life worth living.
Though there’s no ending to the blessings that God has brought into my life since then, there are some sum-ups I need to give before I conclude here. First of all, my parents, (who decided to stay in their small hometown and be a sore thumb to those who didn’t want to wonder why they would leave the church) have outlasted the rumors that they were joining a polygamy group and other such speculation. A few people who were told not to talk to them (when and because they had asked to be excommunicated) even questioned the church on the order, and eventually read the Bible and are now born-again themselves. My brothers and sisters… all of them are officially “out” of the Mormon Church, and all but one are born-again believers in Christ.
My high school sweetheart, by the way, the one that didn’t want to marry in the temple when he got back? I found out eventually that he’d run into a Christian while on his mission, one that showed him the Tanners’ book on all the changes in Mormonism since its beginnings. He was sequestered, to put it lightly, the last 6 months of his mission, as a result of bringing his findings to his mission president. Many years later, he is also, now, a born-again believer.
There are a couple of things that I need to make clear before I finish. First, I never knew what God-worship was when I was a Mormon, because I never knew who God was. I felt like He was a very nice white-haired old man, but I wasn’t that impressed, nor did I need to be. The focus was never on Him, but on me, and what I was doing. And what I was doing was learning to lie to myself, because no one is as perfect as they let on, when they think they have to be. Secondly, I was convinced I was a pretty good person; the bad things in my life were the fault of someone or something outside of myself. I can see clearly how both of those misalignments of thought and attitude are fostered inside the Mormon religion. Thanks be to God He showed me my wretchedness, His perfection, and of course, His Grace and sufficiency. Thanks be to God, He reached down to save my life. How could I have ever gotten out of all the messes, being the righteous victim of the huge, evil world? How great it is to know the Conqueror!
My prayer for the Mormons I know, and even those I don’t… that God will bring them to a place where they MUST consider who He is, what He wants, and why. Please God, show them the kind of mercy that you have shown me!