Why I Joined (and left) the LDS Church, AKA Mormon
A little about my upbringing
I was raised in an extremely religious but inconsistent and confusing environment. My father was an ordained Baptist minister but he was, quite possibly, the most sinful person I have ever known. My father did almost everything that he told my sisters and me not to do, he was rude, mean, he lied, cheated, stole and committed acts of violence against those in his family and anyone outside of his family that he thought he could get away with treating them that way.
I was preached to daily, mostly to the effect of how much of a sinner I was. By the time I was a teen I was well aware of the fact that my father was not, in fact, a man of God and that most of what he taught was not in line with the Bible or with the Baptist faith. For reasons I won’t go into right now, my father went to prison when I was eighteen, shortly after my family moved to Idaho. Let’s just say that my father didn’t always practice what he preached.
Before moving to Idaho I knew next to nothing about the Mormon Church. All I really knew about Mormons was they had temples with a golden angel named Moroni on the top, The Book of Mormon was one of their holy books, family was important to them and they spent a lot of time and effort on bringing new people into the faith. Oh, and I knew that my father hated them, and that is, perhaps, the biggest reason why I joined in the first place. My father always said a lot of horrible things about the Mormons and based on his tract record of truth, I had to assume that most, if not all, of what he said about them was inaccurate at best and an outright lie at worst, besides, I knew that joining would upset my father to no small degree and that he couldn’t do a thing about it.
The predominant faith in Idaho is Mormonism because when the members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints were forced out of Illinois after the death of their founder, Joseph Smith, their second leader, Brigham Young, led them out west to Utah. After the LDS Church and its members settled in Utah, Brigham Young started sending families to settle other areas and a lot of them were sent north to Idaho. Most of the first white settlers of Idaho who were not trappers or criminals were Mormons.
and the two missionairies who taught me about the church. The one in white baptized me (I am the one in the middle).
My family hadn’t lived in Idaho for long before we had interactions with Mormons. My boss was a Mormon and so were a lot of my co-workers, as was practically everyone I met. After working at the restaurant where I was employed at for a while they started having me train the new people and one of the young ladies who I had to train changed my life, though in retrospect, not for the better. The young lady’s name was Heidi, which turns out to be a popular name in Idaho and Utah. I was immediately taken with her, but alas, she never felt the same about me, despite my best efforts. From the time I realized she had no interest in me until the time she got married I held out hope that one day she would change her mind about me.
Naturally, I would do about anything to impress Heidi, including attending her church. While I did initially attend partially to impress Heidi, I want to make it clear that I did not in any way decide to join to impress her. I was aware of the fact that the LDS Church focused heavily on missionary efforts, but I had no idea that some people in the church would pretend to be your friend so you would join, nor did I believe some of my family members when they tried to convince me of it. I later found out that a lot of LDS people only care about you if you are either a member or are interested In becoming one.
At any rate, even if all of it was not sincere, the way people in the Church treated me made me feel truly accepted for the first time in my life, and what I had heard about the doctrine of the church, up to that point, sounded Christian. It wasn’t until I was preparing for my mission that I learned that the church goes to great lengths to control what investigators and new members learn about the church and that some doctrines are intentionally not taught or talked about until you have been a member for at least a year. On my mission I was even taught to deny some of the doctrine that might turn people away from the church, including the doctrine that following all of the rules of the church will enable a person to be a god in the afterlife and that the god the LDS Church serves is taught to have once been a man who achieved godhood by following all of the rules of his god, despite how well documented it is that the church believes it and that it is contained in canonized works such as the Doctrine and Covenants.
I was told while investigating the church that the church believes that all churches have truth but that only the LDS Church has all of the truth, and I believed that until I really read The Book of Mormon and realized that it says all other churches are the church of the devil. One of the practices of the church to keep people from doubting is to teach that anything bad that is said against the church, even if it is true, is inspired of the devil, and labels it “anti Mormon.” The church also teaches that it is bad to read anything about the church, from within or without, other than the approved lessen materials that are taught in church. People are taught that if they read outside sources or if they study “deep doctrine” that they will doubt the church and loose their exaltation.
Hawaii Honolulu Mission
No, it was not a vacation
Once I decide to join the church I was all in and I decided shortly after baptism that I would serve a two year mission for the church, though I would be sever years older than most of the other missionaries by the time I went on my mission. A big reason I wanted to serve a mission was because I felt compelled to share my delusion with the masses, but the biggest reason I wanted to serve was because the church stressed that it is the duty of every able bodied young man to serve a mission (it is optional for women to serve a mission), and because in LDS culture no woman wants do date, much less marry, any man who did not serve a mission.
The first time I really had any doubts or concerns about the church was when I went to visit family in the Midwest just before the September 11th terrorist attack on the World Trade Center . All of my local church leaders tried desperately to convince me to wait until I was stronger in the church before going to visit my family in the Midwest, and I soon learned why. One of my uncles wasted no time sharing information about the church with me that the missionaries and my bishop would not have dreamed of sharing with me, and it rocked my faith a bit, but while I was there I attended the LDS Church faithfully and was able to keep my doubts in check.
One thing that did bother me a lot on my visit though was when I was in the priesthood class in a ward in Oklahoma and a long time member brought up some of his doubts about the church and was asked, not too politely, to leave. That should have sent up a huge red flag, but somehow it was more of a tiny sign than a huge flag.
Idaho Falls Temple
Where I went to the temple for the fist time
The first huge doubts that I had about the church was when I went to the temple for the first time to receive what the church calls “the endowment.” After a rather uncomfortable ceremony where I was only allowed to wear what amounted to a sheet with a hole in it for my head while an old man put oil and water on me, I went to the main event where there was all sorts of chanting and rituals and I said to myself, “Holy cow, I am in a cult!” I immediately scolded myself for thinking that though and convinced myself that I just didn’t understand it.
I later talked to my stake president and he said that the more I attend the temple the more I will know it is of God, so I attended every chance I got until I left on my mission, but it seemed just as strange and uncomfortable every time.
When I went to the missionary training center I learned that what Heidi told me before I agreed to go to church with her, that Joseph Smith was not viewed as a god, was not correct. Perhaps Heidi did not know she mislead me, but I was shocked to read in the official training manual that I was given that the church believes that no one can go to heaven without the express consent of Joseph Smith, but I thought I was much too far in to change my mind and did all I could to ease my mind.
On my mission I was challenged daily by people who disagreed with the church and its doctrines, but most of the things said didn’t bother me much, but I did encounter a few things that bothered me a great deal, but I managed to mostly push them to the back of my mind until I returned home. One of the first things that bothered me was something I discovered early on in my mission, and that was the fact that a lot of the canonized works of the church contradicts other canonized works in matters of doctrine, etc, such as the Joseph Smith history saying that Joseph often wondered which church was correct or if the were all wrong together, and then on the next page, later in the timeline, when he encounters God he asked which church he should join and says that it had never before entered into his mind that all were wrong.
In my third of fourth area I knocked on the door of a pastor of a local Christian church and the ensuing conversation caused a lot of doubt. The man told us we could come in and give him our best pitch and he would allow us to continue uninterrupted for ten minutes, on the condition that after that we would grant him the same courteousy. I agreed and was convinved we would change this man’s mind, however, we did not even come close. It is obvious now that he looked a me like I now look at LDS missionaries, as confused young people who need to be taught the truth of Jesus.
After we gave our pitch and the pastor started telling us why the LDS Church is not Christian, my mission companion tried to interrupt, but I reminded him that we had given the man our word. I did not admit it to the pastor or my companion, and even tried to lie to myself about it, but when we left that house my testimony of the church was riddled with holes that I was never able to fill, despite my best efforts.
Close to the halfway point in my mission I tried to convert one of my uncles by way of letters and he was having none of it and sent me a long letter on the true origins of the Book of Abraham, one of the church’s holy texts, which is not as holy or inspired as the church claimed it to be. The new information on the Book of Abraham rocked my faith in the church in a big way. The short of it is that the church claimed Smith translated an ancient scroll into the Book of Abraham, but later the scroll was translated by Egyptologist and it was discovered that it had exactly diddly and squat to do with anything Joseph Smith said it was about and was just a common Egyptian burial text.
Upon reading my uncle’s letter I called my mission president to ask about it and instead of answering my questions he told me that I knew the Book of Mormon was true and that makes the church true, and if I didn’t know that it was true than I had better pray until I did know that it was true.
Why I eventually left the Church
After my mission you could say that “it” hit the fan and my life was turned upside down on so many levels. I had more doubts than ever and as a way to prove to myself that the church was true I learned all I could about it and became an apologist of sorts, even challenging anyone who dared question event the most minute details of the church, its history or doctrine. All of that study led me to the truth and eventually led me to leave the church. Jesus did say that the truth shall set you free.
One of the biggest things that bothered me from the time I joined the church is that the church stresses that the biggest thing is to have a testimony of the church, which is to have a spiritual witness that it is true. I had never had any experience that I would call a spiritual witness that the church was true, and when I asked about it I was told that the spirit didn’t tell me it was true because I already knew it, but that did not even remotely satisfy me.
Before, during and after my mission, I wondered why I was the only one who didn't receive a spiritual witness of the church. I later decided that no one ever receives a spiritual witness of the church but doesn’t want to be the only one who hasn’t so they pretend that they have like everyone else does, just like the story of the emperor with no clothes. A common saying in the church about a testimony is, “a testimony is gained in the bearing of it” which is basically the fake it until you make it approach, or in other words, if you tell yourself a lie long enough you will eventually believe it is true. One of the things that bothered me the most after my mission that I learned through study was that, despite every LDS person I had ever met up to that point telling me the opposite, Joseph Smith had a LOT of wife’s, some whom were children when he married them, and many of whom had living husbands when he married them.
Another of the things that bothered me was the implications of the common couplet in the church that goes, “as man is God once was, as God is man may become.” When you think about what it is really saying you realize the church believes that we can become a god just like the god the church serves by following all of the rules, which is how he became a god in the first place, which is by following the rules of his god. I stopped going to church when I asked my stake president about it and he told me that he didn’t have an answer but if I kept asking questions he would be forced to excommunicate me.
It was quite a while after becoming inactive that I stopped considering myself a member, and even longer before I actually had my records removed and made it official. Due to the teaching that the LDS Church is the only church that even has the possibility of being the true church, once I left the church I stopped believing in God altogether for a few years and went on a one man crusade to prove once and for all that God does not exist. Of course, when I gave up on God he did not give up on me and put things in motion to soften my heart and prove to me that he is not only real but loves me.
Three years after I left the church I became a born again Christian and have never been more content or at peace. There is a lot wrong in my life, but I know God is in control and I have an extremely blessed life. I now know that Jesus paid the entire price for my sins and did all of the work to get me to heaven, I just have to accept it. I now no longer worry about trying to earn my salvation or to earn grace by my works and I know that I am not saved by my works, I do good works because I am saved. I will share more details of my story, the things that caused me to doubt, where I found the information, my experiences in the church, etc. in other videos, podcasts and blog posts.
-Your brother in Christ, Gene.