Part 1: Here I Stand

My relationship with Mormonism is complex. I have served as a commentator, critic, research, occasional defender, and a former member. I have been in the shoes of the skeptic and the believer; I have lived on both sides of the fence. My views on Mormonism represent a natural growth and progression—one that I think has been healthy and productive although it has proceeded through many patches of personal suffering. Real growth often entails pain and moving from one stage of life to another and is usually not easy.

My progression out of Mormonism began early in my childhood. Seeds of doubt were planted very young that took a long time to germinate and grow. I was never in hurry to get out of the Church and never really wanted to do so. Mormonism was not just my faith it was also my place in the world. It represented who I was and how I interacted with the world and was a large part of our family and cultural identity. Following my faithful mission and my return to BYU, I sought ways to make the faith work even though the gulf between the Church and reality were increasingly at odds. The world view that was perpetuated by the Church and the reality that was supported by reason, observation and science were irreconcilable when given more than a surface view. I believe there was always with me uneasiness—a general sense that something was just not right which grew over time to the point of being unbearable. Of course, during this phase I usually bought into the party line perpetuated by the Church which suggested that any problems were not with the system, but were with me.

Around 2003 I concluded that there were far too many factual and historical problems with the Church to be taken as literally, but the metaphor of my religion was sound and that it was a good influence in people’s lives. Of course, to accept this position you must reject the position the Church itself holds about its own state of being. Having arrived at this conclusion, I became more attune to seeing how the religion really did impact people’s lives in a negative manner. Not buying what the Church was saying prima facie allowed me to open my eyes a little wider and see what was going on around me. I found that the data just didn’t match the theory, not just in terms of historical practice but how the religion was supposed to play out in member’s lives. It was now much easier to see the pain and torment in individual lives that was caused directly by backwards practices and beliefs.

Further research and reflection on my religion followed until I attended my last meeting in 2005. This was my point of resignation from the Church. I no longer believed and I no longer wished to fellowship with the Mormons. However, much of my Mormon identity remained intact. I sought to find and help others who had followed the same path that I had. Since then, I have been heavily involved with organizations such as Community After Leaving Mormonism, Post-Mormon, Sunstone, and of course Mormon Expression.

I haven’t rejected my Mormon past, I have just grown beyond it. Mormonism is no longer an influence in that I no longer think as a Mormon. The institution doesn’t hold any sway on my world view. To me the Mormon Corporate Church is any other organization like Pepsi Co. The Mormon history is a subset of American history. The Mormon doctrine is any other belief system like Norse Mythology. And the Mormon people are another group of fundamentalist believers.

However, Mormonism has increasingly become an outside other, and I now emotionally react to it the same way that I emotionally react to Episcopalianism or Hinduism. I don’t feel like I am part of the system and I don’t think like a Mormon any longer. But this has a negative flipside; I am now much less empathetic of the strange belief patterns. I am especially less empathetic of those who support the organization in order to preserve individual relationships, especially when that support includes tacit endorsement of ideas that are antithesis to what I consider fundamental issues of right and wrong. Because of this, engaging Mormonism on an empathetic level and trying to tailor my message to not be offensive to liberal believers is becoming increasingly difficult. I do not have a problem with rationally engaging historical Mormonism, it is when I interact in the current practice today that problems are encountered. Interesting, I have not had many problems with real believers. It is those who reject significant parts of Mormonism but still desire to engage Mormonism on their own terms where the clashes tend to arise. But this is really a side issue. In my journey, I am no longer part of the tribe and questions on how far a believer is from the central fire of orthodoxy are not so interesting to me any longer. There are those who would have me fight against the orthodox believers but give the liberal believers a free pass. But the functional Church is built upon the backs of both types, and liberals are just as much a part of the institution. In fact, their inclusion in the ranks is probably more important in preserving the status power of the Church.

But what now? Where does this leave me? I am still fascinated by Mormonism but purely from an academic viewpoint. But when it comes to individuals, I cannot let me voice be seen as, in any way, endorsing the Church. I now believe everyone should get out of the Church and get out as soon as they can. I have in the past said that people should stay in the Church if it makes them happy. But I can no longer endorse this viewpoint. I believe that one’s person comfort in life does not give that individual a pass in the support of wrongful institutions. Unfortunately this puts me at odds with many individuals who share the same community in which I typically engage. I hold these individuals no ill will. But if you work to preserve the institution through so-called reforms, you and I are working at cross purposes. The institution is irredeemable in my eyes and our moral obligation is to get people out of the Church. I also reject the idea of taking on the trappings of the Church to help people see the follow of the Church. Trying to wrap the message that the Church is false in the language of belief is duplicitous and disingenuous in my eyes. Trying to hide your true beliefs in order to get people to more readily buy your message is a form of deception.

Today, I am a growing dynamic person. I want to keep it that way. Religion forces a static world view that has trouble adjusting to reality. I seek for things that make me happy, that make me satisfied, that stimulate my creativity, that make the world around more pleasant. I seek to build relationships of love, trust and caring. I want to enjoy myself and create the best life I can. The difference between this view and the view of religion is that there is one way to be happy and one path, all other paths are forbidden and if you are not happy with the one size fits all approach, then it is you that is defective not the institution. These ideas need to be weeded out and replaced with healthier approaches to life. Authoritarian, dictatorial institutions and this pursuit of satisfaction in life do not co-exist. I feel a stronger need to exit and stop supporting these harmful institutions even through tacit implication.

Next: Part 2: The Vanguard