I have anguished over my involvement with the LDS church for the last year. I cried many tears as I tried to make sense of a church I once deeply loved and which brought me many good things throughout my life, but which made me feel like I needed to divorce myself from it. I really am grateful for all the good I’m taking with me. I have many dear family and friends who still love the church, and I know they probably won’t understand why I felt the need to leave. But I do feel deep in my soul that this was the right answer for me. As painful as it was, I did what I felt compelled to do.
First of all, here are the reasons that did NOT cause me to resign:
- Wanted to sin
- Was offended
- Didn’t pray enough
- Didn’t read my scriptures enough
- Was lead astray by Satan (at least I haven’t seen him or talked to him. I figure if he were leading me astray I would have abused my kids or sought out prostitutes or something drastic like that)
Those are all typical stereotypes of why people leave the LDS church. Until my faith transition, I had no idea there were other reasons people leave the church. So what are my reasons? When I first decided I no longer believed in the truth claims of the LDS church, I thought I should leave because of the “all or nothing” proposition that I had heard from top LDS leaders. If it’s not literally true, then it’s all a big fraud, right? Well, not so fast. I discovered there are people who stay in the church even though they don’t have literal beliefs in the truth claims. I don’t need my church to be 100% “true” because I don’t believe God has a one true church. There are many paths to spirituality, or even just a happy life. I don’t believe God would only have 0.2% of the world’s population in his one true church, and have the rest stumble around in error. But I DO expect my church to “do no harm.” Before I list the harm I believe the LDS church commits, let me say I don’t think it’s done with malice. The problem is the leaders of the church literally think they speak for God. In my opinion, that never ends well for any religious organization. Leaders are just human beings, and they can pray and hope for inspiration, but God doesn’t literally tell any religious leader exactly what to do. Not in the LDS church, and not in any other church. I look at LDS history, and I see many mistakes, like polygamy, Brigham Young’s Adam-God theory, blood atonement, treatment of blacks up until 1978, and the current treatment of LGBT people. So what harm do I think the current LDS church does?
Treatment of LGBT People
Guilt and Shame
As I’ve been attending other churches, I’ve been amazed at how they don’t dwell on topics that induce guilt and shame. Instead they talk about how God loves us, or how we’re automatically worthy because we are human beings. The leader of a congregation shouldn’t decide if we’re worthy, or decide if we’re allowed to take the sacrament. An LDS bishop is a man who thinks he literally speaks for God and is the judge of the ward. I just can’t go along with that. I have seen too many people harmed by a well-meaning bishop who ended up really hurting someone because he thought that person shouldn’t be allowed to take the sacrament due to a lack of repentance. That should be a decision between the person and God. We shouldn’t need an intermediary between us.
One time one of my sons remarked to me: “It’s no wonder kids end up looking at porn, because the church won’t stop talking about it!” I thought those were wise words. How about trying to inspire our youth and lift them up, instead of telling them how evil they are for masturbating or looking at porn? Don’t the leaders remember how much guilt they felt when they were young? And now they’re heaping it on our current generation.
What if the LDS church refocused all of its considerable missionary, temple and money-earning operations into actually helping people who lack food, clothing, shelter and education? Imagine the force for good the LDS church could be! I’m convinced people would flock to the LDS church when they saw how much it was helping their communities. When members discover their tithing dollars go to pay salaries for General Authorities, they can become very disillusioned. I spent my two year mission telling people my church had no paid clergy, and I was proud of that. I now know that’s wrong. The church calls what the General Authorities are given a “small stipend.” So how much exactly is that? I have read reports that the apostles make hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Since the church doesn’t disclose any of their finances, how can we know? We can’t. You pay your tithing to the church, and it’s a black hole. Again, this is a problem caused by men who think they literally represent God. They don’t have any oversight or accountability because they can’t possibly make a mistake with God at the helm, right?
Not Coming Clean on Church History
How can a 43-year-old member of the church, who never once missed a church meeting out of just not wanting to go, who served a two-year mission, who never missed a day of seminary in high school, who served in many high callings including as a counselor in two bishoprics, know so little about actual church history? When I started to read church history for myself this last year, I felt duped and angry. All of that information had just been sitting there on the internet for me to read. But what I read wasn’t really anything new. Yes, websites like CESLetter.com and MormonThink.com had organized the information to make it easier to find, and the LDS Essays had been put out to try to refute some of the “anti-Mormon” conclusions. But none of that changed the fact the church had not come clean to me about the history in my 43 years as a member. I can only conclude the church doesn’t think its members should read about the real history, since the church hasn’t bothered to advertise the essays. The essays appear to me to be a last-gasp effort to save those who run across the CES Letter or Mormon Think. Instead, for me, the essays were my expressway to unbelief in the LDS church’s literal truth claims. Maybe if the church had been honest with me about their history my whole life, I wouldn’t have been so crushed when I read the truth at 43-years-old. At least give us the opportunity to learn about real church history for ourselves so that we can make educated decisions on our involvement with the church.
As a man, it had never dawned on me before this last year how women are marginalized in the LDS church. Women have no real say in the way the church is run. Every decision that impacts the ward, stake or the global church is made by men. The church is losing so much wisdom by not letting women help run the church. Maybe the policy against LGBT couples and their children would have never been instituted if there had been women in the meetings to say “Hey, I’m not sure this is such a good idea. This doesn’t seem very compassionate.” That might sound like a stereotype, but I know without my wife to help me, I would make a lot more dumb decisions than I already do. She helps me to understand the other side of things that I wouldn’t see without her. As it is, we’ve tied one hand behind the church’s back by not allowing women to have a material impact on how things are run. A Relief Society president has her budget and teaching topics dictated to her by men at one level or another. She gets to go to PEC, but as the only woman there, she can feel outnumbered and more like a token woman in the meeting. Would we allow this kind of treatment in our government or in the workplace? Of course not. But somehow God is more misogynist than our secular organizations? I’m not buying it. It’s not the kind of organization I want to be a part of.
Can the Church Be Redeemed?
I’m a bit of a pessimist, but I do believe the church could save itself. They need a big-time reformation like what the Community of Christ (formerly the RLDS Church) has done: come completely clean on church history, quit claiming to be the one true church, allow for non-literal believers, allow LGBT people to have full-fellowship in the church, and allow women to have positions in the church where they can actually help lead at the local and global levels. I said the church could save itself, but I don’t think it will. The top leaders of the church, all of them men, have too much faith in their mandate from God. I believe they’re doing their best, but they’re unfortunately blinded by their authority and their callings. My heart breaks for the pain they cause many people. On the other hand, I know many people are genuinely happy going to church, and I give the church credit for that. But I can’t overlook the harm they do to people, so I felt compelled to resign. This is only my journey, and no one else’s. I won’t judge anyone for staying, just as I hope people won’t judge me for leaving. We’re all trying to do what we think is right, and that’s the best we can do.