Last Updated on February 2, 2020 by Jason Harris
I have seen tremendous outpourings of love and compassion in predominantly post-Mormon groups supporting those going through a faith transition. True “mourning with those that mourn.” In these same groups, I have also seen powerful expressions of love and understanding for those choosing to stay in or return to the Mormon Church. The truth is, I don’t believe deep empathy is possible in situations where fears block us from listening to, understanding and validating the feelings and perspectives of another who is in pain. This does not mean we have to agree with or fuse with perspectives that differ from our own. Regardless of agreement or lack thereof, I truly do believe at the end of the day, for the most part, we are all doing the best we can with what we have.
Following is a particularly powerful sharing of emotions and perspective shared by a close friend in a predominantly post-Mormon support group. I share this with his permission. I do so not as a statement of fact or “truth” or even agreement, but because I think his deeply heart-felt expressions are some of the most powerful, unfiltered and genuine windows I have seen into the suffering and grief so commonly experienced by those going through an LDS faith transition:
The Painful Loss of My Testimony
I didn’t want to leave. But I could not find a way to stay. My wife (who had previously resigned her membership) asked me why and this was my unmuzzled response. Admittedly a bit angry but I needed a place to speak my ugly truth before facing the changes ahead for me.
“Here are my concerns:
I am so sad. I am so sad. It isn’t true. This isn’t true. This isn’t Jesus talking or being represented. This is institutional and lacking in all things revelatory. I feel like I’m grieving a death. Mine. Your’s. The world’s. Truth is not in any of this.
Regarding honest and thoughtful truth seekers, we bully. We laugh. We dismiss. We call earnest seeking faithlessness. We shame those in pain. We refuse to listen. They. They refuse. I am listening and hearing…silence. Cold silence. I feel sick. I feel betrayed. I feel disgusted.
We claim to be a church of miracles and revelation and gifts. Then we show none of those gifts. None of those true revelatory experiences or evidences. None of those miracles. In fact, we are taught by our Apostles that to “have the faith NOT to be healed” has somehow become a sign of living faith. We are taught by another Apostle’s experience that to make a left turn that ends up being the wrong way is simply a divine gift of assurance that to turn right was the right way after all.
We are convinced that all policy is from God and therefore bears no responsibility by its members and leaders when it damages lives and destroys hope. “We do not seek nor do we give apologies” – regardless of whether the gaffe was clearly flawed (Mountain Meadows, polygamy, POX, prop 8, recently updated temple ceremony, privacy and secrecy that harbor sexual abusers and groom innocents for abuse, LGBTQ rights, race as a qualification for access to Priesthood, etc.) Horrific scars and ugly manifestations of racism, male chauvinism, bigotry, elitism, corporate greed, power seeking, abuse, murder, infidelity, extortion, shady politics, legal posturing – all to defend indefensible moral corruption. And when called out for it, the whistle blower is cut off and shamed. Then quietly, to save face, a policy is adjusted and trumpeted for the world to see how progressive we are and how evident it is that God is in charge.
“Inspired” leaders plagiarize the brave and valiant work of the underlings who are doing the real work of voicing the concerns from the bottom up. How is it we can claim we are led top-down by a God in Heaven when it is obvious that no real change occurs on human issues except from the bottom up? Who is really receiving the valuable revelation here?!
We speak and act like the dominant moral force in the world but refuse to involve ourselves in leading the charge on moral and physical welfare initiatives with the vast resources available to us – built on the backs of the members who are assuming that good is being done at all turns and costs. When in fact, a war chest of wealth is being accumulated via very human and sometimes hostile business practices “to be made available for the second coming” while the world is suffering in starvation, disease, poverty, depression, war, and would be truly transformed with those charitable contributions so needed right now. What does God need with our dirty money during the Second Coming?! Apparently, God does not have the ability to make a difference in the world without our money to bribe with? And how is it that we are a non-profit organization that preaches 10% contributions but contributes so little to the most meaningful needs of humanity? Are we not all beggars?
We are led by those who simply seek to maintain a system. Not a living, breathing, compassionate or loving support of individual humans with unique gifts, challenges, wounds, concerns to be lifted up and celebrated and honored for their individual miraculousness and beauty. Instead, we vilify those who color even a bit out of the lines (colored shirts and naked shoulders?!)
Just a system. A company that demands loyalty claiming it is God’s will. But it doesn’t resemble any of the things we celebrate as Christlike. We talk. We have endless meetings. We have manuals and handbooks. And conferences. We claim to hear but we do not listen. We are too busy proclaiming our absolute moral uprightness to learn anything. We ignore the pattern of Christ who challenged the norm any time it got in the way of compassion, kindness, graciousness, healing and reaching out to the outlier and the faithful alike.
Instead of healing and hope there is isolation and othering. The intent is not to lift but to hold down members, by the proverbial neck if necessary, through doctrinal shaming and peer pressure. And for those who will not be held down there is the unceremonious invitation to leave accompanied by dismissive tales of faithlessness, deception, and sin.
We celebrate and promote to positions of power those who do not think or question. We call blind obedience a virtue. And we refuse to see the value of honest questioning. We see these seekers not as a valuable voice but as a dissonant and dangerous threat to be avoided or rooted out – in the name of righteous indignation.
Shame on us for calling evil good and good evil. We are deceived. We are asleep. We are fallen. And we are oblivious to the reality that we have become a living, breathing, modern day Zoramite culture in every sense of the term: (vain repetition in testimony from the Sunday pulpit, claiming superiority to and distancing from those outside the Faith, focus on appearances, judging others who don’t look or talk the way we do). We celebrate our certainty and confidence in our righteous state of salvation and offer disdain rather than understanding for the “fallen” masses around us.
There is no making room for the “lost sheep” with differing views or perspective. There is no effort to make room, to listen with the intent to learn, or to evolve or grow “line upon line” because of it. We are going backwards. We are devolving into lesser beings.
We claim revelation but upon scrutiny we find the same basic values and principles that everyone in the world, including us, understands already. Then we claim these “new” virtues as ours alone and copyright them as exclusive to Mormons and no one else. We manufacture common sense human programs and then claim they are showers of revelation and God-speak that we use to validate our undisputed title as the One True Church. We then spend millions in marketing dollars to attempt to rebrand our now evil “Mormon” nickname and dismiss previous Prophet sanctioned Mormon-named campaigns as apparently not just lacking in inspiration, but apparently a victory for Satan.
Jesus and various prophets never focused on the titles or the institution. After all, as John the Baptist said, “God could raise up sons of Abraham from these stones”. Instead, He talked about the one true virtue – love. But our manifestation of that love has become outward labels (active members, endowed, sacrament takers, influential callings, active recommend holders, valiant missionaries, missionaries who have “returned with honor”, lifelong member missionaries, Priesthood holders, Young Women Medallion holders, seminary graduates, saved souls, white and delightsome, faithful home teachers or ministers or ministering brothers and sisters, full tithe payers, full Sabbath keepers, garment wearers, righteous, saved for the last days, sealed up, having our calling and election made sure, stripling warriors… and on and on. All to make us feel special, better than, more enlightened, separate, in but not of the world, All just labels to create false certainty that we are saved and justified in looking down on, or ignoring others outside our box who are doing just as much or more good – maybe much more – than we are.
Our living moral code of conduct is not found inside of us, but instead is fed to us from a Bishop’s handbook, a legal hotline, a Proclamation on the Family, a Political defense of the traditional (whatever that means) family, a pile of legal policies to defend our borders from the insipid evil ready to steal our souls, our families, our happiness, our safety, our meaning, our health, our marriages, our peace. But we never look out the window to see what the threat really even is or spend any time seeking after praiseworthy things that are not already part of our own dogma.
Anecdotes. Platitudes. Slogans. Doubt your doubts. Hate the sin, not the sinner. Even the elect are deceived. Stay in the boat. You can never be happy outside of the Church. You can leave Mormonism but never leave it alone. Empty chairs at celestial tables. Sheep and goats. So many goats.
We package and repackage the same old line and brand it as new and improved. We take husbands from their families with callings and claim that this is strengthening their familial bonds in some impossible way. We tell wives to have faith, to keep the home fires burning and to swallow the stark and blatantly obvious reality that they are not welcome or valued as leaders or receivers of enough revelation to even be trusted to have even a simple activity night without the Priesthood approval beforehand and presence during said gathering of the men in charge.
We are threatened by the very thought of a woman having a better idea, or heaven forbid a differing but more enlightened approach. We smile sanctimoniously and quietly tolerate the voices because we must. But we often ignore or patronize until we hear it from a “trusted” (ie male with authority) source. Then it is revelation to be valued.
We have women’s conferences, presided over by men of course, to show that we are equal but then proceed to fill them with condescending messages of the value of women – predominantly given by men who always insist on having the last word. Just in case there is an incorrect principle taught or authority intentionally or inadvertently usurped. We cannot bear the indignity of a woman presiding over men in any group setting, unless it is with the children, which is of course their proper place.
We forbid (????) the very act of talking to or about a Heavenly Mother while claiming that she is there. But so revered that we can’t dishonor her by mentioning her?! This is such a pile of trash. How this logic is manifested or accepted with any degree of seriousness or seen as anything other than extreme sexism and boys club patriarchy is beyond me. But because it is spoken by our leaders, it must be right. And all the while as people are hurting and earnestly grappling when these kinds of answers don’t add up, they are publicly made fun of and dismissed as childish musings of the faithless, the clueless, or both.
I am angry that I have been taught such offensive tactics and behaviors. I am offended that my tithing has been used to build a stock portfolio and not a women’s shelter or my own children’s college funds. I am sick that I have spent my best years and hours in callings chasing the carrot of righteousness by supporting inane programs and ego chasers trying to one up each other in the endless march of comparison to each other. We support mostly cultural pastimes as programs that give back far less value than they claim – especially given the high price in time and resources taken from families split for days and weeks at a time.
I am offended that obedience has somehow supplanted love of God and love of self/fellow beings as the first and second laws of heaven – despite the clear warning by Christ himself not to do so.
I am weary of the constant nagging of guilt and demand for more time, resources and effort all in the supposed name and glory of God when there is little evidence to me that this effort is truly effecting the world for good – other than to keep families blindly on the treadmill of belief in a dead system that has lost its conscience and its way to God.
We sexually shame our members from infancy for exploring their divine and healthy human sense of self and pleasure. We shame our women and girls into asinine modesty and Hitler-esque practices that are well beyond even the words written in their own handbooks. We shame our men (and women) into believing they are weak, depraved or addicted for the healthy and normal sex drives that all people have.
We vilify sexuality and frame it as dangerous and evil before marriage and try to define, for adults no less, the healthy sexual practice and expression of physical love of even the adults in committed marriage relationships. Even to the point of mandating what underwear is appropriate to wear.
We stubbornly deny the reality of outdated notions in the Word of Wisdom that are laughable and make it so shameful to drink coffee of all things while sheepishly looking the other way on other damaging health and nutritional practices that are harming our members far more. And we do this claiming that it is an act of faith. When in fact it is an act of foolishness.
We stubbornly cling to stories of plates and translation (oops, inspiration), scrolls, lost pages, etc to save face and to protect the good name of a founder who rewrote history to fit his narrative. We hang on doggedly to historical claims and apologetics, rather than focusing on the virtues and values that are just as meaningful as myth – Christ’s most powerful teachings were parables after all. Instead we hold to dubious claims of historicity – in the face of a steadily increasing stream of realities that expose these claims as questionable at best. This chokes out, for the truth seeker, any hope for the serious and continued embracing of the principles taught because of insistence by the Church on the manner in which the teachings were received.
We claim to be an institution of integrity but then shame, intimidate, and deny any accountability as a church for wrongs or need for improvement. We blame God for our racism, patriarchy, and hate practices, hide or shrug off dismissively our unpleasant history and discourage our members from seeking the truth any time that it does not cast the Church in a favorable light.
Our leaders throw under the bus any and all leaders or others (previous prophets, Church historians, Church artists, local leaders, members) and disavow them all if their actions (even those mandated by the leaders themselves) do not show well in the press. But they do not take responsibility for the decisions and faults that are squarely on the global Church leadership themselves.
They threaten our historians, our Bishops, our champions of causes, our seminary and institute teachers with Church sanction, job firings (for Church employees) and damnation if we dare to disclose anything that is considered inconvenient truth. After all, “some things that are true are not very useful”. Even when we begrudgingly admit that many of these things are factual or plausible, we somehow justify the hiding or distortion or nonchalant dismissal of these ugly parts as we try to protect the Church’s good name at all costs – even, ironically, at the cost of our integrity. And we do this claiming that by doing so we are defenders of some greater cause. Even though, hypocritically in Sunday meetings we condemn those who do not strictly adhere to our standards as “cafeteria worshipers” lacking in integrity, testimony, or commitment. How do we not see this bitter irony?
I mourn the loss of what could have been. I mourn the damage done to my family and to others – even those still believing who continue to punish themselves and to despair over the notion that it will never be enough. Because the truth is: It. Never. Was. And. Never. Will. Be.
Heaven help us all.”
The author of the expressions above wishes to remain anonymous for the time being. This is published with his express permission and wishes.