Sojourner in the Lone and Dreary World: Two Years Among the Apostates

My first foray into the online Mormon world occurred when I was 18 years old.  As a young clean-cut Mormon getting ready to go on a mission, I was looking for anything about Mormons my own age, and people who could understand not only why I was choosing to live the way I did, but why I was choosing to go to Korea for two years. Mormons from highly-populated Mormon areas seemed to be living in the “promised land,” the land of “milk and honey.” I never thought my initial journey on that now-defunct message board would lead me here.

Hi, I’m Zelph and I’m a Modernist

Hi, I’m Zelph and I’m a Modernist

With the “I’m A Mormon” ad campaign recently hitting the shores of Australia, frequent Mormon Expression board commenter Martin Jacobs was prompted to consider it’s message in light of trends he sees emerging in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.  I found his analysis intriguing enough to merit stepping aside and letting him mount my soap box as a guest blogger.  I hope that you find his insights as  fresh, challenging, and thought provoking as I did when I heard them for the first time.

Hi, I’m Zelph and I’m a Modernist
by Martin Jacobs
The tag line “I’m [insert name here], and I’m a Mormon” superbly clinches the current advertising campaign by the Mormons. However, I suggest that the message that it projects is not the gospel of Jesus Christ, it’s not even the gospel of Mormonism’s founder, Joseph Smith; it’s modernism. More

What’s Wrong With The Mormon Church?

Martin Luther hanging the Ninety-Five Theses

Martin Luther hanging the Ninety-Five Theses

Today is October 31st, “Reformation Day”.  It was on this day 494 years ago that Martin Luther nailed “The Ninety-Five Theses on the Power and Efficacy of Indulgences” (commonly known as “The Ninety-Five Theses”) unto the door of The Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. “The Ninety-Five Theses” is widely regarded as the primary catalyst for the Protestant Reformation.

And while readily acknowledging that I’m no Martin Luther, it is with a hopeful spirit for reformation in our lifetime that I offer these Ninety-Five Theses to a modern church that, in my opinion (as well as in the opinion of many others) is badly in need of it. More

The Parable of The Box

I was first exposed to this parable via Chad Spjut’s Exmormon Foundation 2010 Conference Presidential Greeting.  I offer it to you now  in the hope that this powerful, articulate, and poignant expression of the life experience of so many resonates as deeply for you as it did for me.

"Inside the box was security and safety. Inside the box was reality."

"Inside the box was security and safety. Inside the box was reality."

The Parable of The Box
by Anonymous Utahan
There once was a boy who lived all his life with a cardboard box over his head. His parents taught him that he should never take the box off, for doing so was dangerous and foolish. The box protected him from the scary world outside of it.

On the inside of the box, he could make out some letters, and he could see the outlines of the box around him. His world was brown cardboard. His parents taught him to study the inside of the box carefully, for in it was all the wisdom he needed to navigate life. Inside the box was security and safety. Inside the box was reality.

Some of his friends told him that they had taken off the box and life was much better, but he didn’t believe them. His parents made sure he stayed away from these people, who clearly wanted only to hurt their boy. More

The Baby and the Bathwater

I wonder if anyone reminds a newly released prisoner to not “throw the baby out with the bathwater?”

Is there something positive to be sifted out of a stint in the slammer? With a regular schedule for meals, exercise,  no crime, no alcoholism, and no drugs (theoretically) one would think to recommend looking back and focusing on keeping up with the positive side of prison existence. Or not?

Context is everything and if you are not making positive life choices completely freely and independently it doesn’t register as the good life. A stint of not doing anything bad doesn’t really help in making the tough positive life choices.

Leaving my religion, coming out at as gay man, getting divorced… were life altering modifications that all came with the advice to not “throw the baby out with the bathwater.” More

Cousin A

I have a cousin (one of nearly a hundred), I’ll call her Cousin A.  She is not near to me in age or experience.  For most of my life I have thought of her, if I thought of her, as a rather sheltered, shallow little girl.  She married young — to her just-home-from-his-mission high school sweetheart — when she was just barely out of high school.  In the years that followed I heard about her now and then . . . the wife of a medical student, mother of a growing family, always cute and always stylish (in a Utah kind of way).  She seemed to be all the things I imagined a good, inexperienced, Mormon girl from Kaysville would be.  To be honest, I was a bit jealous.  She was what I thought I ought to be.  Until the day my mother told me that Cousin A had been hospitalized.  She had tried to cut her own finger off.

In one moment, this cousin whom I had always dismissed as just another perfect Utah Mormon leapt to life in my mind as a flesh and blood, complicated and very human being.  I worried and prayed for her.  My own years-long fight with depression was something I could never wish on another human being.  I pressed my mother for information, which often came to her second or third hand, but I felt this need to know. Thinking of the pain she must have been feeling, and the fear and pain her family — her little children, her husband and parents — would be feeling, broke my heart.

I was on my way to our most recent family reunion when my mother told me.  Cousin A had, in my mother’s words, “decided she was lesbian.”  While my mother spouted theories linking this unexpected announcement to scheming fellow patients in the psych ward where A had been in treatment, I thought about how it must have felt for her to have grown up as a good little Utah Mormon if all the while she was feeling an attraction to other girls around her.  What did it cost her to keep up the facade that I accepted so dismissively?  What kind of self-loathing is necessary to willingly take a knife and try to cut off your own finger?

I thought about this cousin when I listened to Boyd Packer tell members of the LDS church that homosexuality is completely unnatural and that God would never allow someone to be created who just was homosexual.  I wondered how she felt to be told that those feelings, ones she fought so hard that they ripped her apart inside until she took the battle out onto her own skin, were entirely within her control?

I know how I felt.  I felt angry.  I felt sad and hurt.  In President Packer’s formula the solution to all the problems of addiction and sexuality is simple:  The priesthood knows the answer and if you go to your priesthood leader they will provide genuine, even miraculous help.  That, I know, is very often not the case.  Although I have had wonderful relationships with many priesthood leaders — bishops, branch presidents, mission presidents — I have also witnessed the efforts they have made on behalf of people with addictions or other major problems and I what I have seen most often are futile efforts that result only in pain and additional guilt for the people they are trying to help.  I have known individuals who have endured the efforts of one leader after another, to no avail, even when the person in question follows every piece of guidance to the best of their ability.  It is easy to blame that failure on the addict or sinner.  But the claim, made by President Packer, and endorsed by the church, cannot be true if the results of that power rest entirely on the person being helped.

I do not have any desire for the church I was raised in to be wrong.  It would be simpler and nicer for me if they were right.  But the evidence of my eyes, my heart, my spirit and my experience is that President Packer, and the church, is wrong.  History will prove that they are wrong, just as it has in the past.  Meanwhile, the church will go on training girls and boys like Cousin A to fight themselves, no matter what the cost, and families will continue to be broken and individuals will continue to suffer and even die because, in truth, they are what they are and the need for human contact, for affection and connection, sexual and otherwise, is as natural and essential a part of their makeup as it is of ours.  It is easy for one man to tell another that “all he has to do” is to forgo, for the rest of his life, all the joys and comforts of companionship but there is nothing loving or compassionate about that.

My Father’s Way

My Dad thinks I should keep my recent de-conversion to myself.  He thinks I should close my mouth, go back to church, walk the walk and just be a member, while inside I go on thinking and believing whatever makes me happy.  That is what he does.  I wonder if it isn’t the most Mormon thing about him.

The LDS Church isn’t exactly dishonest.  It is political.

I mean that in the worst way.  The Mormon church is out to make friends and if it has to fudge the facts a bit here or obfuscate the truth a bit over there, well, that seems to be the price of being the ‘true‘ church in a disbelieving world.

A bit of uncomfortable doctrine on the shelves, like eternal progression or polygamy?  Nothing a careful choice of words can’t smooth over.

Consider one example from the Pearl of Great Price Student Manual for the Institute and BYU course Religion 327 (copyright 2000):  On pages 28-29 the manual covers the history of the book of Abraham ending with the story of the discovery and subsequent return to the church of papyri fragments.  No discussion is made of the studies performed on those papyri nor the resulting discovery of a disconnect between what Joseph Smith claimed the papyri said and what we actually know that they said.  What we do get is the following paragraph:

The book of Abraham is an evidence of the inspired calling of the Prophet Joseph     Smith.  It came forth at a time when the study of the ancient Egyptian language     and culture was just beginning.  The scholars of the 1800s had scarcely begun to     explore the field of Egyptology, and yet, with no formal training in ancient     languages and no knowledge of ancient Egypt (except his work with the Book of     Mormon), Joseph Smith began his translation of the ancient manuscripts.

If you read the two paragraphs together you get this implication:  The church has fragments of the papyri and because of that there is evidence of Joseph Smith’s ability as a translator.  Now, to be clear, the manual does not actually say that.  The two paragraphs are separate.  But in the gaps between, in the place where a more honest description would explain that many scholars, LDS and other, have studied the papyri and have found clear evidence that these are the papyri Joseph Smith used, yet no evidence that his “translation” was accurate, that is where this manual lies.

This is just one of many examples of official obfuscation in Church publications and communications.  Meanwhile, the scriptures tell us that the truth sets us free.  But in order for it to set us free we have to know the truth in all its imperfection and complexity.

Which makes me wonder as many have wondered before me:  Why is the Church so afraid of the unwashed truth?

I want to be free and that is why, unlike my father and unlike the Church itself, I am not comfortable tucking my own beliefs safely inside myself.  To me that feels like prison.

The journey out — A small bit about me, Tierza

Way back when I was a student at BYU, right before my mission in 1996, I came upon a quiz you could take to see if you were an interesting person.  Now, understand that I do not consider myself remarkable at all.  You wouldn’t notice me in a crowd.  I just don’t stand out. But when I took that quiz I aced it:  Ever been in a flood? Check!  Survived a volcanic eruption? Check!  Lived in Alaska?  Check!  Endured hurricanes? A tsunami? A hostage crisis?  Had bears try to get in your bedroom?  Had the passengers in the plane behind yours on the runway have to push your plane out of the mud?  Worked in a packing plant for 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, without a day off, for over a month? Check, check, check, check and CHECK!  Of course those last few items weren’t in the quiz itself but once I got going I couldn’t stop.  Never mind that the tsunami was a terrifying 2 and a half inches, nor that the earthquakes happen every day in Alaska and weren’t much of a big deal, nor that the ‘hostage crisis’ was one I shared with almost the entire student body of BYU back in 1992.  I was, at least on paper, interesting after all.

It seems, according to this quiz, that the more dangerous and uncommon your life has been the more interesting you are.  The problem with a quiz like that is that what is uncommon about your life may not be anything you can control:  Most of my adventures took place in Alaska where I lived because my parents chose to live there.  It is also quite likely that what sounds good on paper just wasn’t that exciting in person:  All that dangerous stuff is only makes you interesting if you survive it.

Which is why, in my life, I have mostly avoided the dangerous stuff.  I don’t even like conflict.  I want things to be safe, simple and predictable.  As a teenager I was fond of declaring that I was glad I had been born in the church because I knew that I would never have been converted.  I could never have gone against the opinions of my family and friends to set out, on my own, to follow an uncharted path.  I couldn’t take the disapproval.  Ironically I knew this because I wasn’t really converted to the Church, and I knew I would never have the courage to leave the religion that had defined the lives of my ancestors for five and six generations.

I’m 37 now.  And this year I came out of the disbeliever’s closet.  I quit attending the LDS church.  I told my husband, my bishop and then my father and, eventually, my mother about my decision to stop attending.  It took more courage than I thought I had.  In fact, in the month it took the bishop to release me from my callings as ward chorister, music chairperson, young women’s personal progress leader, and Relief Society teacher, while I felt obliged to keep teaching and leading the music and, of course, attending church, I had a complete emotional breakdown that landed me in the hospital and intensive outpatient therapy.  To leave the church was to risk the emotional connections with every family member and friend that sustain me day to day.  It meant that my introverted and non-thrill-seeker soul would have to step out on the edge, look for connections and identity in places beyond my narrow, lifelong, Mormon identity.

Joyfully, most of my relationships remain intact.  My husband loves and supports me in my journey.  My father and mother are trying to understand and love me.  I still associate with friends from church and, as I try to be honest but kind with them, they are honest and kind to me.  I still fear.  I fear that their kindness is missionary work and not genuine.  I fear my husband with grow tired of me and my new visions of life.  I fear my mother will never be able to think about me without crying.