My concerns with the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints began as early as I can remember. I cannot, in honesty, say that I ever believed without a doubt that the Church is true. Before I ever knew about polygamy or the denial of priesthood to anyone with African ancestry, I had sincere doubts that the Church is what it claims to be. That does not mean, however, that I never wanted the Church to be true. I remember as a child when we would read the scriptures as a family, and how they sounded so similar to my other storybooks. Of course, I knew that my storybooks and fairy tales were just make-believe. And although I felt that the stories in the scriptures were just as incredible (e.g., animals can't talk, except for the one time it happened in the Bible: Numbers 22), I also knew that to say so would be taboo. It was clear to me that, for some reason, I was expected to believe the scriptures literally, but other unrealistic stories as merely figurative.
As I grew older and learned more about the teachings of the Church, my questions and doubts grew stronger. They were unwanted, however, as I desired to belong, and the Church was the only social and familial environment I had ever known. It started with things as simple as the mythological sense of the Old Testament. I found it extremely difficult to accept that God would literally speak to Adam and his children as if over a loudspeaker, but that he did not do so now; or that people with black skin would be white except that God cursed their ancestor; or that people speak different languages because God confused everybody when they were trying to build a tower to Him. My questions continued to grow until I was a teenager, probably about 14. I distinctly remember being in a bookstore and seeing a book with an image of Joseph Smith which caught my attention. On the cover were five paintings of women. The title read something to the effect of “The Wives of Joseph Smith”. It was at that moment that I first learned about the hidden side of the Church. I discovered that what I had been taught and raised to believe as true was only part of the story, with a great deal more tucked away or only half explained. But I denied it at first. That couldn ’t be true. Why would any reasonable person be a member if that kind of thing had gone on? It must be one of the lies I had been taught to avoid like the plague. But after hearing about it again several times, I felt that I should find out for myself if there was any truth to it. In searching history to make sure it was a lie, I found that it was actually true, and that polygamy was just the surface of practices and doctrine that other "prophets" had preached as God's will that the Church now attempted to keep quiet.
Thus, my desire to believe that the Church is true slowly became a desire to know if the Church is true. When I understood that not everyone was born into an LDS family, I looked at religion in a new light; we are all born into this world having no preconceived notions about its purpose or where we came from or who brought us here, etc. The answers we are given to these questions are largely provided by our parents which were provided by their parents, and so on. In other words, we are given a choice; we can believe the one option they give us, or we can search other explanations. The natural tendency is to want to know, then, that they are right, not if they are right. But for some reason, that has never been enough for me. I cannot simply accept things that others say are true. I want to really know if they are true. I have taken J. Reuben Clark’s advice to heart and decided that real investigation of the Church is the most earnest route to know if it is true. By earnest investigation, I do not mean using the limited information given by the Church, as that is one-sided and only a fraction of the story. I want the full story so that I can make an honest judgment. To ignore the full story would open me to deception, misleading me with half-truths and biased history.
This is why, as a teenager, I began to look at other explanations for our existence and contrasted them to the doctrine I had been taught since birth, allowing my conscience to guide me. I began to look for answers to my questions about the Church. To my surprise, by wanting to know if the Church was true, I met opposition from everyone I knew. Almost no one cared what my questions were, what I did believe; they were simply angry that it wasn ’t what they had told me and what they believed. I clearly received the message that it was not okay to truly investigate the claims of Joseph Smith as a prophet and the Book of Mormon as Holy Scripture. Church leaders discourage any investigation that involves evidence they do not provide. But I knew that if the Church was actually the one organization with God’s truth on Earth, that He would want me to know that, and would help me to know that. As J. Reuben Clark stated, if the Church is true, then investigation should lead me to that conclusion. But if it is not true, then conscience allows me to do nothing else but to leave it and seek out what is true.
When I was finally “allowed” to make my own religious decisions, I felt closer to God than I ever had previously in my life. I felt as if I were seeking Him with my own eyes, free from the lenses of the Church. I felt comfort and peace, and was happier than I had been in a very long time. My joy was short-lived, however. A young woman with whom I had fallen in love told me she felt that we were meant to marry. I felt the same way, but the Church made it clear that a union would be full of obstacles unless I disregarded my concerns and took it on faith that the Church was what it claimed to be. Once again, I wanted to believe. She told me that her patriarchal blessing prophesied she would marry a returned missionary (which was never fulfilled), and so I went on a mission. My reason for going was very much for her, but also very much to serve my investigation. I knew that if I was ever to gain a testimony that the LDS church truly is of God, it would be on a mission where all of my time would be focused on the study of it. And I also knew that my hope with this woman depended on my gaining of a testimony. So at this point, I wanted to believe more than ever.
Once I was on the mission, she continued to point out the spiritual obstacles to our being together. I felt the desperate need to deliver something. I began writing letters about how well I was doing, how I had felt the Holy Ghost, how I was beginning to believe. But as much as I tried to believe, my reports of the results were all exaggerated. I felt good about what I was doing for the mere fact that it was an adventure, I was living in Europe, learning a new language, and felt I was helping some people. However, the more I studied, the more questions arose, leading to more doubt. As time was running out, I decided that I could do nothing but live my life as a Latter-Day Saint. My relationships with my parents and siblings were finally on the mend, for no reason other than I was doing what was expected of me. The possibility of marrying my alleged soul mate was finally within reach because I had paved the path. And it was mostly comfortable to me; I knew the drill, I spoke the jargon, I could live like that. I believed and still believe that the Church teaches good values, most of which I wanted in my family, so I decided that the questions I had were either not important, or I could live my life ignoring them. I would just keep my mouth shut for the sake of comfort.
When it turned out the young woman had been playing a reactivation game with me from the beginning, I considered coming clean and being honest about my feelings about the truthfulness of the Church. But I knew that that would just make her even more certain that she had made the right decision in slowly and painfully cutting me out of her life. So instead, I remained faithful in action and served as best I could, staying as active as I could in the hope that she would regret what she did to me, and fearing the social consequences that my honesty might produce. I continued on, insisting that it had all happened for some purpose I did not yet understand.
Eventually I fell in love with my wife, and one of the most attractive things about her was her unwavering faith. I thought perhaps I could lean on her in my most difficult times. I thought that I could borrow strength from her in the times I doubted. I had been taught my entire life that to give in to doubt was one of the worst mistakes a member could make, and I had accepted my fate of living in the LDS world, so I was naturally attracted to a woman who I hoped could help cover my doubts.
I remained in that pattern until March 10, 2009. I played the part of a true believer for the sake of my family’s peace of mind and status in the Church, to maintain my relationships with siblings and parents, and most recently to save my dear wife and precious daughter any heartache. Unfortunately, my conscience has been active this entire time. And I have been dying inside, knowing that I am living inauthentically . As I have continued to search for answers to my deepest questions, I have found only more questions and ended up with answers with which I fundamentally disagree. I am at the point where I cannot believe that Joseph Smith did the things he did under the direction of God.
An important catalyst to this decision was my daughter's birth. Family is more important to me than anything on Earth, and I felt more deeply than ever how important these questions are. I began to wonder if I would be comfortable with her growing up obligated to believe some of that doctrine that I feel is fundamentally contrary to the values I hold most deeply and dearly. I feared that she would one day learn the disturbing things that I have learned about the Church, and ask me why I never told her, and how I could possibly justify them. While I still leave it up to her to decide, I refuse to let her think I believe that I will be married to more women than her mother in heaven, or that she will have to share her husband with other women in heaven (D&C 132: 3-4, 6) and that God or I would be okay with that. I will not coax her to silence the little voice inside of her that says that is wrong for the sake of fitting in to the LDS world.
I believe that the Church is a good organization that attempts to create hope and love and peace. It does so much good in the world, and gives people a sense of belonging and community. I have felt a lot of that. The best friends I have ever had are LDS. The best people I have ever known are LDS . I love being among such people and witnessing the selflessness and charity and genuineness most of them show for the rest of humanity. It is unfortunate that what separates me from them is that I do not and cannot believe some of the things many of them do not realize they are obligated to believe. For the sake of understanding, and in the hope of preserving relationships with those I love, I have outlined my concerns in what I hope is a clear and plain way (see link on the right sidebar). I hope and pray that in reading the following posts and the outline of my concerns, others will be able to respect my decision.