if you choose to pursue any more than what is in the manuals

Deconversion

I didn’t expect things to turn out the way they did. After taking the missionary discussions and with the support and prompting of my friends and a few family members I was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints at the age of 14. It was a time of great happiness but also of heartache. I radically changed my life in order to join and conform to the church. This was not an easy decision to make. Being the only member in my family had its share of challenges and I had to put the church before my family in many instances. I have always been the “black sheep” of the family due to my conversion but I felt this was all justified because I was part of the one and only true church, as I was taught.

After being baptized I did everything I was supposed to do to be considered a worthy and faithful member. I followed the word of wisdom (no smoking, drugs or alcohol), didn’t date early, attended all my meetings and accepted all callings given to me. I enjoyed the close bonds I quickly developed with friends in the church. I loved seminary and served in the seminary presidency during my senior year. I did whatever was asked of me and I had no problem with it.

Shortly after high school I met my soul mate and best friend and we were married in the temple. It was a beautiful day and I was grateful for the love of close friends and ward members that attended our wedding. The only family that we had attending was my mom. She is not a member of the church so she had to wait outside for us until the ceremony was complete. Again, at the time I felt that it was worth it and that she would eventually join the church if I continued to be a good example of its true teachings. Then we would all be in the temple together one day with the rest of our family.

Fast forward seven years and we now have a child who is our little miracle. We are part of an LDS congregation with good friends and a lot of support. Until just recently I was serving in the Relief Society presidency and my husband was the Gospel Doctrine teacher. We did our best to make sure our lessons were well thought out and insightful. It was during preparation for a lesson regarding church history, doing some research online, that we gradually came across some startling information that had been left out of our church manuals entirely. It appeared as though great measures were taken to cover up the authentic history of the church. We were not expecting what we found.

Upon uncovering these facts it became impossible to believe the claims of the church. The things that I was taught were not correct. I was devastated. How could this be? How could I be misled this way, and for so long? How could I give so much of my time, talents and 10% of my income without knowing the truth? Why couldn’t it all be consistent with what the church leaders said? That would make everything so much easier. Unfortunately for us, there were too many wrongs to possibly make a right out of this situation.

I won’t go into specific details of our findings unless it is requested as I am aware that many would rather not know information that may be upsetting. If you are happy with your faith as it stands as a member of the LDS Church I would highly recommend not looking too deeply into church history or doctrine. I only say this because I was so caught off guard. You will very likely have a trial of your faith if you choose to pursue any more than what is in the manuals. Personally I am happier knowing the whole truth rather than the half truths and fabrications I was told, but that is not the case for everybody.

Throughout this discovery I have felt hurt, betrayed, used, abused, extorted and sick to my stomach. Leaving the church is not going to be a simple journey for us. It is definitely not the easy way out. We have so much to sort through and to try to understand. We still have a basic belief in God but all of the things that we claimed to “know” before are up for question. It is not a comfortable place to be, but there is no going back.

I am writing this in full disclosure so that I no longer feel the need to avoid the questions when others from church ask where we have been or wonder what we are up to. This is also an attempt to support the fact that we have done nothing wrong but have merely stumbled on some truths that we could not reconcile. As one president of the church said, “Each of us has to face the matter-either the Church is true, or it is a fraud. There is no middle ground. It is the Church and kingdom of God, or it is nothing.” – President Gordon B. Hinckley. “Loyalty,” April Conference, 2003.

In my view it is not right to baptize someone into a church without giving them an accurate history of that church and what it teaches. For some it may be possible to discover all of the skeletons in the closet of the LDS church and still remain a faithful member. If my husband and I were the only ones involved we might be able to play along and pretend we didn’t know what we know. But the fact is we cannot consciously lie to our child and cause him the hurt and confusion that we now feel.

I am aware of where the church stands on apostasy. I also understand that many of our friendships will be lost or severely damaged as a result of us resigning as members of the LDS church. That is not something I am looking forward to but I have to do what is right for myself and my family. If you too have these concerns, have any questions or need a friend, I am here and understand what you are going through.

27 thoughts on “if you choose to pursue any more than what is in the manuals

  1. I can relate to your experience, Jennifer. When you become a Mormon, the price is alienation from your peers and even your family.

    The brethren expect us to be selfless and obedient. All the while they themselves are acting like a selfish car salesman.

    Pair altruistic, idealist followers with a selfish, calculating leadership and you have the perfect recipe for exploitation.

    Obviously, there is more to the Mormon experience than exploitation but, sadly, that word describes the situation of many of us only too accurately.

  2. Just out of curiousity, did you happen to do any research on this topic that would have included the likely hundreds of pages written on whatever your topic is by both active members, former members, and non-members?
    I ask because my brother recently informed me that acadmeically-inflected Mormonsim remains virtually invisible to many members. I’m interested to know if you were aware of it at all and what role it played on your search for greater understanding on your topic.

  3. Thank you for the comments.

    Hellmut: When I mention “exploitation” I think of this definition:

    Utilization of another person or group for selfish purposes.

    Factoring in the concepts of tithing and consecrating of talents into the equation, and knowing what that “tithing” money has really been used for, I definitely feel that we as members of the Church have been exploited by the leadership.

    TT: Resigning from the Church was not a decision I took lightly. I read and analyzed LDS approved websites such as FAIR, FARMS, BYU research pages, Mormon Doctrine, Answers to Gospel Questions and teachings from current LDS prophets and apostles. I compared the apologist’s words with other active members including Grant Palmer, Richard Bushman, John Dehlin and many more.

    It didn’t take long to see the major problems and inconsistencies at the root of Mormonism. Had I been encouraged to study Mormon history from the beginning I would have come to this conclusion much earlier.

    -Jessica

  4. I like this post. It’s got a nice matter-of-factness about it. And I enjoyed reading all of the exit stories on offer here this week. I’m always impressed by those who’re able to type up these accounts without (apparently) succumbing to full-blown rage. I mean, when I read lines like this from Urban Koda … “The higher I got, it seemed the more crap I was allowed to know about” … that just makes me mad all over again. Maybe this makes me a petty and mean character, but thank goodness for schadenfreude and for the arrival of Mormonism’s demographic winter. And by the way, I’d agree that the academic study of Mormonism remains largely invisible to the rank-and-file, but speaking of demographics, I think that’s the rub that’s gonna wear the gloss off the entire project. Jessica’s story is going to become increasingly rare as the only fresh converts become those who are somehow impervious to information, i.e., the sort of folks who will depend on and burden the institution rather than prop it up with their skills and contributions.

  5. I don’t think there is a single negative piece of data out there that I haven’t already heard about the LDS Church. And believe me, I’ve heard a lot of them.

    And Jessica, I don’t think you need to feel shy about sharing uncomfortable information about the LDS Church here. By and large, the faithful Mormons like me who hang out here tend to have pretty thick skins when it comes to negative data about Mormonism.

    That said, I do think this story illustrates the need for a bit more practical defensive training on the part of the LDS curriculum.

  6. I’m always surprised when lifelong members are surprised that I was surprised to learn truths about the Church that were apparently well-known to lifelong members. (There’s a sentence and a half!) I found the initial information offered to me quite restrictive. In the missionary discussions and early years in the Church, there is rarely any mention of the many, many issues that will inevitably come to light as a convert matures in the Church. And what are we supposed to do with that information, exactly, when we learn it? Just press forward, despite feeling that crucial information was deliberately withheld?

    What does it say about the Church leadership that they behave as though their history were shameful while speaking as if there’s no reason for shame? Such doublespeak just makes it harder for converts or sheltered lifelong members.

    I remember being shocked to learn of the reason why Smith was in Carthage Jail. I honestly had no idea why he was there. I never really thought about it, as an enamored investigator and new member. I guess I had some nebulous idea that he was put there for being a Mormon, that he was persecuted even to the highest political levels. In fact, he had a very good reason to be in jail, but I can’t remember that basic fact EVER being mentioned in church, or by church members, or in standard church documents, or by the missionaries. Knowing more objective facts about the circumstances changed the whole mythology for me.

    TT, I believe that studying scholarly work about the Church is quite discouraged. When I decided to study church history in-depth (as a well-intentioned active member), I was explicitly warned against “university-type” investigations into the Church. Stick with the manual, and prayer, and temple attendance – that’s all you need. Intellectual work is too confusing and objectivity diminishes the effect of the Holy Spirit. That’s what I heard more than once.

  7. Well, that’s the thing. He didn’t really have a great reason – under the law – to be in Carthage Jail.

    Destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor?

    Nope. Perfectly legal under the Nauvoo Charter. Besides, the press wasn’t as “free” back then as it is now (and everyone pretty-much understood that). And there’s always the quite valid argument that the work of that paper was going to get innocent people killed.

    Destroying the type, was illegal. But it was a matter for civil court, not criminal. Do you have your landlord arrested for wrongfully refusing to return your security deposit? Joseph never should have been arrested in connection with that incident.

    Polygamy?

    Not a charge he was imprisoned over.

    Riot?

    Nope. The destruction of the press was conducted in an orderly fashion.

    Just thought I’d mention this as an example of how different people can see the same incident and the same facts very differently.

  8. But I agree that the LDS Church needs to be more open about stuff. If for no other reason than to take the wind out of the sails of those who want to make hay out of the general ignorance of the lay membership.

  9. If for no other reason than to take the wind out of the sails of those who want to make hay out of the general ignorance of the lay membership.

    Leave the Brethren out of it, Seth. OK? 😉

  10. I think it is definitely true that the milk-only diet is as much of a problem as the questionable stories themselves. I was struck by this most forcefully when watching (of all things) the South Park episode about Mormons. I’d heard the story of the lost pages of the BoM many times in Sunday School and seminary, and didn’t think anything of it. But if it had been deliberately hidden from me (or if I’d learned it for the first time without being “inoculated”) it’s clear that I’d have found it shockingly damning.

    It was the same with the Book of Abraham story I mentioned in my deconversion account here.

  11. Chino Blanco: I wrote this the night everything finally came together and I knew the Church wasn’t what it claimed to be. At that point I was in the “pain/hurt” stage of grief. I hadn’t gotten to “anger” yet. 🙂 I agree that there will be fewer and fewer converts to the Church now that everything is out in the open online. With the advancement of Google and so many web resources, Church leaders will no longer be able to keep investigators and converts in the dark with regard to Church history.

    Seth R: The original recipients of this letter were active LDS friends and family members. When I found out everything I did, being that the Church was such a huge part of my identity and I knew I could no longer participate, I felt the need to explain why. I sent this to everyone on my ward directory e-mail list, all of my friends from high school, college, my previous wards and all LDS family members on my both sides of our family. It ended up going out to near 220 people. It was something I needed to do and I don’t regret it for one minute.
    I respect your decision to remain a member of the Church after seeing the whole picture. As long as you know what you signed up for and what you’re a part of, I have no problem with it.

    Chandelle: Your comment that “crucial information was deliberately withheld” is exactly my issue. We were told a completely different story as investigators than what really happened. Even something as simple as how the Book of Mormon was translated, i.e. stone in hat vs. gold plates. I clearly remember the missionaries teaching me (and using visuals) of Joseph Smith translating with the gold plates next to him. They made no mention whatsoever of a stone in his hat, divining rods, treasure seeking, etc.

    “David Whitmer wrote: ‘Joseph Smith would put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine.'”
    Russell M. Nelson, A Treasured Testament, Ensign, Jul 1993, 61. (emphasis added)

    Also see: http://en.fairmormon.org/Church_history/Censorship_and_revision/Hiding_the_facts

    There is so much that has been changed by the time it comes down to the members. We all made a huge commitment to the Church without understanding the fine print. They deliberately try to hide the fine print from you and thus keep you from truly making an educated decision. That’s what I have a problem with.

  12. Seth, William Law attacked Joseph Smith because he had stolen his foster children’s inheritance and tried to cover it up by marrying them.

    Law who was liable for the children’s money confronted Smith in Nauvoo by publishing the Expositor. Smith struck back by smashing the printing press.

    Last I checked, theft was illegal in Illinois. Joseph Smith would have been convicted by any jury in the state.

  13. Chanson: I really enjoyed your deconversion story and your blog. It’s been really nice to find an entire community of people who are going through what we are. I would love to purchase a copy of your book when it is completed.

  14. Was that the reason he was in Carthage Hellmut? Is that what his arrest warrant said?

    I’d be interested in the source for the foster kid thing, in any case.

  15. Smith was initially arrested for inciting riot and the charge of treason was soon added.

    Jack does not know the legal veracity of these things, she only knows what the history books say.

  16. The source is William Law’s interview with the Daily Tribune on March 30, 1887, Seth. The orphans were the Lawrence sisters.

    I find it interesting, by the way, that Emma Smith fiercely opposed Joseph’s polygamous relationships but allowed him to marry the Lawrence sisters. Perhaps, Emma was concerned about her husband’s inability to account for their fortune.

  17. Hellmut,

    I don’t really want to pursue the Expositor debate much further. It was probably wrong of me to bring it up in the first place. I should have just said I disagreed on the facts and left it there.

    But I did dig up a response to Law’s skewed side of things:

    http://en.fairmormon.org/Joseph_Smith_and_polygamy/Mismanagement_of_the_Lawrence_estate

    Apparently, the actual court records and Law’s account don’t match up.

    I’ll leave things there on this subject and drop the matter.

  18. You’ve highlighted what I consider the downside to the current approach to curriculum and teaching. Aside from making the approved lesson materials boring as whale excrement, they’ve been decontented to the point of meaninglessness.

    Whatever your stumbling block was, you can be certain there are plenty of believing Mormons who are fully aware of it. All religions, and even Christianity more generally have their foundational mythology. Mormonism has the misfortune of having its origins close enough to be historically accessible.

    In many cases, I think the nature of the material is less disturbing than the feeling of having been lied to, or that information was hidden. Openness would be a much better approach. And maybe some day it will again be the policy.

  19. Chanson: I really enjoyed your deconversion story and your blog. Its been really nice to find an entire community of people who are going through what we are.

    Thanks!! I really like this community myself, and we’re glad to have you among us! 😀

    I would love to purchase a copy of your book when it is completed.

    There’s been a rather unfortunate and lengthy delay in the layout/production step, but you can read almost the whole think online: Exmormon.

    Wendy P. — Isn’t that article amazing? We were discussing it the other day (here).

    It certainly adds an element of timeliness to Jessica’s story (though apparently she wrote it some time ago). See what happens when you don’t follow the instructions in that article…

  20. Welcome Jessica.

    I’ve longer argued that truth can withstand scrutiny. I don’t believe in paternalism, particularly in terms of a religion and its members.

    Personally, being raised LDS, I was shocked to find out that God lived on a planet called Kolob. I had no idea. I too had faithfully attended seminary and all my classes. Star Trek TNG was popular at the time, and I thought the kolob idea was straight out of science fiction.

    So part of the problem is that some LDS may believe in Kolob, and some may not. But there’s not a great deal of information either way (“If you could hie to Kolob” was still part of the hymnbook last I checked). Is it doctrine? Was it a prophet speaking just as a man?

    When members discover this type of thing, some may not care, and may just assume there was a good reason for not being told. But the issue is, as I see it, eventually this type of thing adds up. One does find out about things like the Nauvoo Charter. How does a religion support the U.S. Constitution and martial law for a city – with a dictator as judge, jury and head of the army? The Nauvoo Charter was approved by the Illinois legislature, but I don’t know that it was constitutional OR that the legislature knew what rights they were granting. Granted, this was 150 years ago. But it is not a simple case, which is why it should be studied and discussed by LDS membership and scholars.

    Seth, I know you said you didn’t want to discuss it, but why was the accusation of polygamy so inflammatory if it was/were true? I’ve read the Expositor, and the paper seemed pretty harmless to me. Why change the dates on the revelation on polygamy – when the revelation was actually revealed, and when it was publicized?

    It seems to me, the general LDS population would be interested in this information – which is why there are so many places on the internet to discuss LDS history and this type of information. Some people aren’t interested, but clearly, some are and some want to know the “truth”, or at least want to know the history of their community.

  21. For highly political reasons, the Nauvoo region of Illinois was a powder keg ready to blow at any second.

    It wasn’t like the Expositor needed to light a bonfire to be dangerous. A few sparks would have been sufficient.

  22. Star Trek TNG was popular at the time, and I thought the kolob idea was straight out of science fiction.

    Elder Packer once criticized Mormon historians who tried to be “objective” by revealing “too much” about Mormon doctrine in the face of non-Mormon scrutiny. He said this objective church history “may unwittingly be giving ‘equal time’ to the adversary” because such history “may be read by those not mature enough for ‘advanced history’ and a testimony in seedling stage may be crushed.”

    This kind of thinking has resulted in like chanson said, a diet of milk and no meat for many members. The Church constantly fights its persecution mentality because its history is so accessible. The thing is, this historical accessibility is never going to change. The more Church leaders advocate “hiding” Church history from seedling members, the more selfish they seem, especially in the Internet age. But then official Church history is so “beyond where no man has gone before,” that there seems little choice in the matter. It’s gotta be tough on these leaders, IMO, because they have so much power, but are cornered in how to use it. Michael Quinn argues that the history of polygamy could have been resolved, contextualized, deflated, etc, by now had Church leaders not been so defensive about it.

  23. Thanks, Seth. I don’t mind you raising the issue of the Expositor.

    Of course, the Law interview requires a skeptical reading. For example, Law’s claim about the Rockwell confession is unreliable. My feeling is that that remark does not deserve much more credit than idle gossip.

    On the other hand, William Law knew exactly why he sought to confront Joesph Smith. In Sacred Loneliness does not contain any information that contradicts Law’s account.

  24. Compton’s work has been surpassed on this issue by additional research into Illinois legal records, as the article I linked to pointed out. Law was making assertions about assets that we now know from state records, were simply not there.

    Compton’s book is impressive. But he didn’t have access to this data when he wrote it.

  25. Seth R.,

    Your defense of the destruction of the Nauvoo Expositor, ordered by Joseph Smith, is interesting. I wonder, though, do you think the LDS Missionaries, and LDS teachers, and LDS filmmakers who depict the last days of Joseph Smith, for example, ought to point out why Joseph Smith was jailed (because he ordered the destruction of the press) and then follow it up with the defense of his actions as you have outlined (i.e., it was a civil, not a criminal matter, and so forth)? Should they mention what was actually in the Expositor, rather than referring to it vaguely and ambiguously as an “anti-Mormon” paper? Should they acknowledge that what was published in the Expositor was true and not (as church manuals have suggested) full of lies about the Prophet? Do you think the church should be open and forthcoming about the fact that Joseph Smith publicly declared that the church practiced monogamy while secretly practicing polygamy with teenage girls, including his foster daughters? Do you think if the church were open about these things, it would lose fewer members like the author of this post who are shocked to discover these things? Do you think more people would join the church if they were presented with the facts and the apologetic defense of those facts as you have raised here? Or do you think that Elder Packer is correct in advancing a program of systematic suppression of the facts in official church manuals and communications?

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