Shooting the Messenger
I need to admit up right away that I’m both angry and bitter. I feel lied to and used. I converted to the Mormon church based on the things I was told by missionaries and members. I taught seminary and institute for over a quarter of a century. The church misrepresented itself at every turn.
Out of the Mormon Church
My wife and I left the LDS Church on August 7th, 2002, the same day that I resigned as Institute Director of the Pullman Washington Institute of Religion, and the LDS Church Education System (CES). I had worked full-time for CES for 27 years. I’m also a former bishop, high councilman, stake young men’s president, high priest’s group leader, ward mission leader, ward young men’s president, and more. I wasn’t a casual Mormon who lived on the fringes. At one time I was completely devoted.
I had been seriously looking for another job for some time due to harassment from Priesthood (PH) leaders and CES administrators. I couldn’t take it anymore.
The harassment grew out of the approach I brought to teaching seminary and institute. For over a decade before I quit, in order to live with myself, I felt compelled to teach the truth about the church’s drastic revision of history and doctrine. I was in an ethical bind—loyalty versus honesty. Mormons from the beginning have revised their history to create a sympathetic image of a people who have been persecuted and driven by ruthless, godless, hypocritical mobs. It isn’t true. It’s also a myth that their prophets and apostles have always been godlike, infallible, special vessels for revelations from God, and exemplary. After I learned the truth, I had to teach at least parts of it in order to live with myself while trying to find another job. I gradually lost respect for the church because they demanded that I be honest in annual temple recommend interviews, but I kept getting into trouble for being honest with students—they called it undermining their testimonies. Students found the honesty in my classes refreshing.
The Last Straw—Bishop L
On August 4th, 2002 our Bishop (Moscow Idaho 2nd Ward) called my wife and I into the office for an interview. We needed to schedule a temple recommend interview anyway. He began with the usual friendly chit-chat and gigantic smile that misrepresented his real intentions. After some small talk, I asked him why he had called us in to talk. His facial expression immediately changed from Mr. Happy to Mr. Troubled. He’s a chemical engineering professor at the university by profession so he has no professional training when it comes to theology or counseling. He wasn’t adept at using relationship skills. He’s more task oriented than people-oriented. Basically he was flying by the seat of his pants with enormous power given to him by the church.
He began by announcing that he was dissatisfied with our church attendance because we hadn’t been to church much that summer. I reminded him that in May, before the summer began I had written him a letter as a courtesy informing him that we were going to be out of town much of the summer because of an unusual number of family commitments. He seemed irritated about the letter and indicated that the letter appeared to him to be a lack of respect. I told him that I had the opposite intention when I sent it—to show respect for him, so he would know ahead of time where we were. I added that I thought I had gone the extra mile. He argued defensively for some time. You could see him searching for another tactic. He demanded suddenly that Teresa enter the conversation. He shushed me and said, “Let’s hear what Mom has to say! C’mon Mom, what do you say?” She agreed with me of course and tried to restate our intentions. He tried to drive a wedge between us and find an area of disagreement. It was a shallow attempt to divide and conquer. His tactics were tinged with desperation to prove a point. It didn’t work, so he finally stopped badgering her with rapid-fire questions. But he wasn’t through.
He asked me how often we attended church while out of town. I told him that it depended on where we were. Sometimes when conducting CES business in North Central Idaho I attended the ward where I was visiting PH leaders. He asked about when I was visiting a relative. I told him that I didn’t know how often I had attended, but not very much. He told me to be specific and tell him how many times I had attended and how many times I had missed when totaling all the out of town visits I had made. I told him I couldn’t be specific because I couldn’t remember because I wasn’t in the habit of carrying a calendar with me to document my meeting attendance. I had once questioned if that would ever become necessary. He grew more aggressive and his voice became louder and he demanded to know, “so most of the time or not?” I told him that “some of the time would be accurate I guess.” He again demanded that I be more specific. Again I told him I couldn’t. He said, “so are you saying not much of the time?” I said, “No probably most of the time,” trying to remember if most of my visits that summer had been to wards where I visited for CES business or whether I was out of town visiting parents or relatives. He continued to press me to get me to admit that I hadn’t attended church enough to meet his standards. Finally, he concluded this segment of the grilling with “I cannot renew your temple recommend because worthiness requires that you attend YOUR OWN HOME WARD.” I had just been released as a bishop a year and a half earlier. There is nothing in the handbook suggesting that that aspect of meeting attendance should be given so much emphasis. Before I could reflect and respond he decided to list another complaint against us.
He quickly moved on to the list of complaints that he had obviously compiled prior to our interview. He shot the next question at us, “why we hadn’t paid any tithing during the year?” I replied that we were going to pay our tithing in a lump sum payment at the end of the year or pay it with some investment stocks that we would turn over to the church at the end of the year, using the provision provided by the church in their handbook of instructions. I went on to tell him that my secretary at the Institute in Moscow, who was also the stake relief society president (her husband was the stake clerk) in the student stake, had been recommending for years that I try the stock option for paying tithing by turning over the equivalent amount of stock to the church at the end of the year in lieu of a check or cash. She and her husband had done that for several years. I explained that I didn’t see any tax advantages to using the stock option, but I wanted to reserve the right to do so just in case. I told him we were saving our tithing in a savings account in case we decided to pay it by check or cash. He wasn’t pleased and fired back, “But you’ve never done that before!” I agreed that we hadn’t but I wanted to reserve the option of doing it nevertheless. He was getting very perturbed with us. We were supposed to be feeling quite ashamed but we were unashamedly doing our best to answer his accusations. He seemed bent on making some bad accusation stick. Facts were not going to deter him. Evidence isn’t a factor when one’s beliefs, driven by strong emotions—feeling that you are right and good.
He suddenly moved on to the next problem, without any closure on the tithing issue. “You read the scriptures too much in Sacrament Meeting and Sunday School!” He acted like he had just accused me of stealing cars. I looked at Teresa in amazement and she looked at me with a curious look. I didn’t know if I had heard him right, so I asked him if he really said that I read the scriptures too much in church. He went on to tell me how rude it is of me to do that. We couldn’t help it, but partly as a defense mechanism and partly because this accusation seemed so ridiculous, we both chuckled in spite of ourselves. I patiently explained that I had taken my scriptures to church long before it became fashionable to do so, and that I enjoyed following along in my scriptures when talks and lessons were being given. He continued to tell me that it was rude. I protested that he should talk to the people who sleep, play tic-tac-toe, and wander around the hallways out of boredom, instead of talking to me. He wasn’t about to give in however. He insisted that I was rude.
He complained about some other things, and I told him that I wanted to appeal his decision not to renew our temple recommends. “Fine, but the stake president is going to have to tell me that I am wrong!” He seemed confident that that would never happen. I was absolutely confident that it would because his case against us seemed so petty, unchristian, and bizarre. How could the stake president support him? He was acting crazy! When I had served as a bishop I wouldn’t have dreamed of treating people the way we were treated. I didn’t know that he and the stake president were on the same page due to meetings they had held prior to our meeting.
The Last Straw—President D
The next day (Monday, August 5th, 2002) the stake president and I met during lunch hour at my office at the Pullman Institute. He was cordial in his “ah shucks, I’m just a simple farmer” way. It was appealing and made him approachable to some people in the stake—those who willingly engaged in the hero worship of leaders that the church encourages. He was famous for his homespun earthy stories about his farming experiences and family when he spoke to the saints. He began to tell me about the wisdom that my bishop possessed because “he bears the mantle of PH authority, as one called of God to be a judge in Israel. He has the gift of discernment.” He said his usual mode of operation in situations where the bishop and a ward member had a serious conflict was to talk to the bishop, then the person; and then “bring the bishop back into the loop to see if a miracle can occur.”
He listed the bishop’s concerns. I told the stake president that it sounded as if the bishop thought I was lying. He admitted that indeed the bishop didn’t trust me.
I discussed reading scriptures during the meetings too much and the stake president clearly didn’t want to address it. I pointed out how absurd and bizarre it was that I should be accused of that. I thought it demonstrated just how crazy and out of hand the bishop’s accusations were. He said that he doubted if it was the heart of the bishop’s concerns. I reminded the president that we spent as much time on that issue as any other subject. He clearly didn’t want to talk more about it however. I am guessing that it was so indefensible, that he couldn’t support the bishop’s point of view. He wanted to get to the stuff he felt he could make stick.
He said that he too was worried that I wanted to pay my tithing at the end of the year as a lump sum. I told him that I didn’t see what the problem was. Did he call everyone else in for an interview that chose to pay tithing in a lump sum at the end of the year? “No,” he admitted. He asked why I hadn’t been to tithing settlement in a while. I told him that when I was bishop I was too busy, because I was busy conducting tithing settlement too. And I think I had missed only one tithing settlement since being released. I wrote Bishop Lemon a letter with my last check (to bring us up to the right amount) declaring that we were full tithe payers the one time I had missed. He informed me that the bishop was pretty upset about the letter. I told him that he had never said anything to me about it. He replied that because I had failed to show up in person to the last tithing settlement, Bishop L had listed me as a part-tithe payer the previous year. I told him that I thought that was mean spirited and spiteful. He knew that as a CES employee, a condition of employment was that I must be a full-tithe payer.
I wondered aloud to the stake president if the bishop really thought I didn’t pay a full tithing. I paid on my net income, as I had done since being converted in 1970, “did that bother him?” I never got a straight answer. But apparently it did. I was supposed to pay more into the $6 billion per year corporation because they wanted more.
I’m still ticked off about the guilt heaped on us to pay tithing. “He that is tithed shall not be burned at his coming,” so says D&C 64:23. When Teresa and I were not able to put food on the table, we were continually coerced with guilt and fear to pay up. In Yakima, my first teaching job paid $6800 per year. Those were poor wages even in 1972. We couldn’t accept food stamps because the church forbade it—the dole, or welfare support from the government represented sin. While it was true that our meager tithing didn’t amount to much compared to the billions in income the church made each year, it killed us to pay it. But we were afraid not to, for fear of losing our souls. In the Mormon Church, when you’re baptized, you give up your rights.
The stake president addressed the meeting attendance issue. He was still trying hard to be folksy and down-home cordial. He needed to get back to work though and said he had a simple solution to this problem. He said I could do two things to earn Bishop L’s trust: (1) bring in my paycheck stubs and let him and the bishop calculate the correct amount of tithing I should pay, then pay that amount by the month from now on. (2) When visiting relatives out of town, I was to attend church and bring back information so my bishop could call the out of town bishop and determine whether or not we had attended; rather than taking our word for it. He smiled and said, “I think that will solve everything. You’ll gain his trust back in a few months or a year.”
I nearly fell off my chair. He could tell I was stunned. I asked him why I was being singled out and persecuted. He answered that it wasn’t that at all. It was a matter of my being in a very prestigious position in the church as an Institute Director. “Why you’re almost like a stake president, the way people look up to you. You are an example and are held to a higher standard.” I had never heard of such a thing before. I told him that there were no separate standards for different members, and asked him to prove his theory by quoting the handbook of instructions. He said he felt sorry that I wasn’t being more cooperative and he worried about my testimony. He wondered if I was strong enough to stand being chastised. We talked more, but to be honest it’s all a blur. (The reason I remember the things I do, and have written them here is because I took notes of the conversations and they are in my files.)
He left giving me a good-hearted handshake. But I was angry and confused. I wasn’t about to let he and the bishop tell me what I had to do with my own money and time. I had never heard of a church leader dictating how much tithing a member should pay. It was always said, “that’s between you and the Lord.” As a bishop I would never have dreamed of harassing a member in such a harsh way. I had never heard of attendance nazis checking up on a member’s meeting attendance when visiting out of town relatives. It was bizarre and I decided I wasn’t going to take it anymore.
I decided to leave work early that day—right after we finished the interview. Besides, I had already worked the 320 hours that I committed to CES. In fact, every summer, I always worked at least 80 to 100 hours more than I contracted to work so I would be prepared for the coming school year. Didn’t that kind of effort count for something or indicate something about my character? Not to the church or CES. I never once received a word of support or encouragement for my effort to put in extra hours during the summer months—time I could have used for vacation or really exciting home projects!
As I climbed into my truck, I called my wife on the cell phone. She was at work and when she answered, her first question was, “How did it go?” I answered, “Great!” She was really happy. We had been through quite a few of these inquisitions before so she was glad to be through another one. I asked her to meet me for dinner after she got off work and she eagerly accepted. We love to go to restaurants together.
After our conversation I drove from the Institute in Pullman, Washington to Moscow, Idaho, where my home is. On the way I racked my brain trying to find a way to quit. Then it all became very clear. I’d quit and trust that we would find a way to make it. Teresa and I could do anything we set our minds to. Teresa had tried to convince me of that a million times. I wasn’t going to waste another minute worrying myself sick because I was trapped by my dependence on the church for a paycheck.
I don’t believe that members of any church have to submit to mistreatment. I had gone through quite a bit of it already and I was sick of it. I was tired of working for a church whose main method of control is heaping guilt, shame and fear on members and threatening eternal unhappiness. I wasn’t willing to give up my right to question and think for myself another minute. I was sick of being blindly submissive, pretending that leaders of the church possess some special kind of inspiration or discernment when it is obvious to any thinking person that their actions are arbitrary and sometimes ridiculous. I was tired of being told that I was unworthy. I was tired of having them try to convince me that I ought to feel inadequate because I reserved the right to put their “answers” to the test. I was tired of being told that I needed to be more orthodox. Why didn’t they value honesty above orthodoxy? I was weary of being told it was wrong to teach the truth to members about the church’s history and past leaders. I was tired of pretending that simple-minded men (always white, men) are the wisest among us.
A hallmark of church leaders is that they appear incapable of dealing with the real complexities and subtle nuances abundant in most of our lives. Everything is seen in purely black and white, absolute terms. They offer cookie cutter, simpleton advice to all members no matter what the problem—read the Book of Mormon and pray about it. “The Holy Ghost will tell you what to do.” Trouble is, when you pray and reach a different conclusion than one of your leaders, you are the one who didn’t do it right or you weren’t worthy enough to receive the right answer. They never entertain the thought that Joseph Smith or one of the living leaders is just plain wrong. There is a sense of arrogant entitlement and control that leaves little room for humility.
I spent the rest of the drive home figuring out ways to quit and avoid financial ruin. If we needed to, we would rob our savings and/or retirement and pay off the house, and I would find another job. After all, I had a Ph.D. in Education Administration (emphasis in Higher Education), a Masters in Counseling and a teaching certificate, K-12. Why couldn’t I find something else? I got really happy and excited by the thought that I would no longer be subject to mind numbing and tortuous inquisitions, arbitrary rules and unyielding leaders who insisted that we regard their every decision as inspired of God. I had pulled back the curtain and saw that the wizard was only an old white guy trying very hard to prop up the fairy tale created by others.
When my wife and I met for dinner that evening, she reached across the table, grabbed my hands, smiled, her eyes gleamed (she has the most beautiful eyes) and she kissed me. I was eager to share the news. I waited for the waitress to finish her duties and after she left, I blurted it out. “I want to quit CES and the church!” She barely hesitated. She giggled with delight and immediately cried out, “YES!” She couldn’t believe I was finally ready to do it. She had wanted me to quit CES for years because of the amount of abuse heaped on me by insecure administrators for awful offenses like, “You say “stupid” a lot. (I endured a 3-hour verbal roast because of that one.) Now I was ready, even eager, to exercise the faith in us and the Lord that she had patiently held in reserve for decades.
I can’t describe how happy we were. Making the decision and then saying it out loud to each other lifted a ton of rocks off our shoulders. We ate our meal and planned our escape from Mormon domination. We both had ice tea—a sign of real rebellion!
Escape from the Church
The next day was Tuesday, August 6th. I called a good friend in Salt Lake who worked for CES’s benefits department. I only told him that I was thinking of making a change. I wanted to keep my cards close to the vest. He had attended dinner with Teresa and I at a Mid-Year Convention the previous February. We had told him that we were getting harassed and were thinking of getting out. So he wasn’t surprised when I called. Furthermore, he was gracious and helpful.
I spent the rest of that same day trying to determine what options to pursue to keep the financial pain and strain my quitting would create to a minimum. I made a pretty good income with CES. My base salary had been approximately $62,500, plus an extra $8,000 to $10,000 in summer income. I had grown used to living well.
My training and work experience for 27 years was in a pretty narrow area. Working in CES is all about teaching religion with a Mormon slant and being clever and funny. It doesn’t hurt if you are really good at sports and ping-pong either. There are 2 universities and 1 college within 35 miles of Moscow, Idaho and they really weren’t interested in my credentials or giving me an interview. I had tried for several years to find a job with no success. I thought I had a chance of getting on with the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Idaho. I had written a course for them and after it had passed the Curriculum review, I had been teaching it since 1999. I loved that course—Religion 204—Religion in Society. It took a sociological look at the impact religion has on society and the impact society has on religion. I was now living some of the issues we discussed in class—what happens when an institution doesn’t live up to its promises or doesn’t deliver the acceptable goods and services? Members leave. It’s called disaffection.
I couldn’t even get an interview as night supervisor at the student recreation center for 1/3 of my present salary. Truth is, they already had people in place or knew whom they wanted to hire before they advertised for the position. I got a pretty scared. I liked being scared about this problem instead of waiting for the phone to ring and having some CES administrator or PH leader summon me to another inquisition. I once got calls from two CES Zone Administrators from Salt Lake grilling me because I had referred a 30-year old married, law student to an article by Lester Bush out of Dialogue about why the church denied black members the opportunity to hold the priesthood (PH). I was told to be prudent and not undermine the testimonies of students. I informed the administrators that the person they were referring to wasn’t an institute student—he was a member of my ward who asked me for information while I was his bishop. I asked what my actions as a bishop had to do with my CES employment when in this case they were not related? I never got an answer, but I got warnings to be careful about what I discussed with people. It was a veiled threat to avoid anything that the church doesn’t want to have to answer questions about—especially if the answers reveal flaws in its leaders or the church bureaucracy. Apostle Dallin H. Oaks stipulated, “It is one thing to deprecate a person who exercises corporate power or even government power. It is quite another thing to criticize or deprecate a person for the performance of an office to which he or she has been called of God. It does not matter that the criticism is true.” (Dallin H. Oaks, Reading Church History, Ninth Annual Church Educational System religious Educators’ Symposium, August 16, 1985, Brigham Young University.) In other words, distort the truth any way you have to in order to protect and cover up for the “brethren” and their mistakes. Keep the mystique alive that they are infallible.
On the morning of Wednesday, August 7th, 2002 my wife and I looked at each other—both giddy and conducted a final check (before take-off). I asked her, “You want to go through with it? She said, “It’s your job, do you?” I answered, “Are you kidding? ABSOLUTELY!” We were thrilled and scared, but mostly thrilled.
I picked up the phone and called my friend in SLC at CES headquarters and told him that we were submitting our formal resignation, and asked for directions on how to proceed. He offered some wonderful words of encouragement and gracious support, and then told me what to do.
I called my Area Director in Seattle and told him that I wanted to submit my formal resignation to CES. His reply was so odd. He said, “Oh, so you’re going to do it then.” I answered “yes,” but I was puzzled by his response. He said, “Okay” and told me to put something in writing—an email would work. He needed something in writing for the files. That was the end of the conversation. I had anticipated that he would express concern, offer encouragement, double check to make sure I really wanted to go, ask why were leaving. Instead, the conversation ended abruptly. It was anti-climactic. I learned later that the stake president had previously called him and warned him that I was having problems of some sort. I don’t know exactly what he said to this day. I don’t care. But it had to be something like, “Ken is not being honest in his tithing commitments and we’re very concerned.” Whatever it was, after having given them 27 years of great teaching I was shocked by the lack of support and encouragement.
Breaking the News
I called 3 colleagues who I still love and who worked with me for 12 years while I was at the Moscow Institute and told them of my announcement. They knew that I had been really unhappy and intended to find another job. They were still shocked when I told them about the bishop’s and stake president’s interviews. They had heard me threaten to quit CES after enduring some awful roasts in the past. My colleagues were genuinely sad for me and full of empathy. One of my colleagues is the first counselor to the student stake president—one of them who had made my life a living hell. My other colleague was first counselor to the stake president who I had met with just two days before and wanted to examine my paycheck stubs to determine my tithing for me. They loved me but they really felt obligated to be more loyal to their PH leaders. I thought it sucked. They knew that the priesthood guys were way out of line, but they couldn’t bring themselves to admit it to themselves or me. They circled the wagons to protect their own jobs. They had told me in previous conversations how terrified it made them to think about leaving CES. They were convinced that they couldn’t make it outside church employment. I used to believe that too. Because of their paralysis caused by fear, they didn’t give me a lot of support. They gave their support to their fearless leaders, the stake presidents. Loyalty is more important than honesty in the church. I was supposed to teach the students to blindly obey infallible leaders.
It bothered me that PH leaders are unaccountable for almost everything they do. I told my friends that a system that rewarded atrocious behavior on the part of its leaders was sick and uninspired. It was a systemic problem and not a problem with an individual. I explained to my friends that I didn’t plan on ever coming back to church. I had lost so much respect for the system, rules, the hierarchal organization and the demand that “when the leaders speak the thinking has been done.” I was tired of being ordered not to think.
I was embarrassed that I hadn’t had the courage to leave earlier and I shared that concern with my friends. It really hurt their feelings to hear me talk that way. They love the church. They took it personally. I’m not surprised as I look back. I didn’t go out of my way to hurt them. I only wanted to let them know that when I said I was fed up and wasn’t going to take it anymore, I really meant it. I didn’t intend to submit to another phony, pompous PH leader ever again. There was some weeping on the phone. It wasn’t me. I was too happy, scared, enthusiastic, and anxious. I suspect they believed in their hearts that I had lost my soul. That’s effective brainwashing on the church’s part.
It’s a common theme that you cannot possibly happy without the church. When we would go to church dutifully on warm summer days and see our neighbors take off for boating and fishing trips or different church meetings, I think we all tried to convince ourselves that they were weren’t really happy—they couldn’t possibly happy—they weren’t members of the true church! After all, we were righteous Mormons, who went to church even when it hurt. We were members of the only true church. That attitude breeds arrogance as a means of feeling secure.
I love my friends, and still drop by the institute in Moscow to see them on occasion but I have to admit I have a hard time respecting them. They blindly support PH leaders whether they are capable or not. One of my colleagues had a favorite saying around the institute when he lied, bent the truth, or skirted church rules or policies while covering his tracks so administrators or PH leaders wouldn’t catch him. He said, “Ken, you just have to learn to play the game.” I told him that I wasn’t very good at the game-playing thing because it seemed too dishonest. He used to reply, “that’s how the system works.” I used to admire him because he was so clever, but it never felt right. It represented “the end justifies the means” ethic. I had heard church leaders preach against situational ethics a thousand times. Yet, when you work for the church, you don’t survive unless you know the system is based on situational ethics. The church is a bureaucracy as much as any other large organization. It displays the same bureaucratic characteristics. There is no difference in the organizational behavior of church employment or General Motors. You have to play the game and know how the system works to get along. An old saying at the church office building in Salt Lake City is that it’s the easiest place in the world to lose your testimony. That’s why my friends in CES will complete their careers and retire comfortably on a church pension and I won’t. I felt dishonest playing the game in an organization that prides itself on being above all that, but encourages hypocrisy in order to survive. Suck up to your leaders, say what they want to hear, and then when they are out of sight, relax and be yourself.
It’s my opinion that the leaders of the church encourage the use of devious tactics. Unwittingly or otherwise they have taught CES employees and some PH leaders that it’s okay to exaggerate or minimize to protect the church and its leaders. Joseph Smith made it a time-honored tradition in Mormonism to “beat the devil at his own game”—lie. Many Mormons believe that it’s okay to compromise the truth in order to protect the church, because you’re accomplishing a greater good. God’s laws trump the laws and rules of man. Interviews by Church president Gordon B. Hinckley to various media in the past decade prove my point. He has denied that the church teaches that God was once a man and that Mormons can become gods and goddesses. He knows that’s blatantly false. He has declared that only a small percentage of Mormons ever practiced polygamy (2-3%) when he knows (he’s an amateur church historian and has authored at least one book on church history) it was ten times that number. He denied that DNA evidence exists which contradicts the Book of Mormon teaching that Native Americans are descended from Israelites. The DNA evidence is clear and undercuts the Book of Mormon thesis that colonies of Hebrews are the direct ancestors of American Indians. He denied that Mormons led and carried out the Mountain Meadows Massacre though he knows differently. Members watch the Mike Wallace and Larry King interviews and learn that prevarication and deception is alive and well in the highest echelons of the church—all for a good reason—to create a pure image of the church and its people, and protect the church from embarrassing criticism. When President Hinckley acknowledges his deception publicly with a wink and a nod, members laugh approvingly (see Richard and Joan Ostling, Mormon America, p. 296).
One of my CES colleague’s in the student stake presidency gave a talk about me in ward conference not many months after I dropped out. He told the audience how sad he was that I left the church, (my active son was there and so were dozens of others who have talked to me about it) without giving my name. He said that my problem was pride. I stubbornly refused to humble myself before my leaders as a good Mormon should. I confronted him about it in person and he admitted his error and apologized. I told him if he ever wanted to give that talk again, he needed to invite me along and give me equal time to give them the real story. My son informed me that he had not told his audience about the PH harassment I had endured. It was a typical dishonest assessment of the situation, defending the outrageous behavior of flawed leaders who want to appear flawless by distorting the truth to make them look blameless. As I’ve said, loyalty is more important than honesty in the church. Deception is acceptable when defending the church and its leaders. To paraphrase, truth is the first casualty when defending the church and its leaders.
Conversion to the Church—Where it All Started
Teresa and I joined the church in 1970 approximately 6 weeks after marrying, during my sophomore year at Central Washington University (it was Central Washington State College when I attended). A friend introduced me to the church and it appealed to me. Without exaggeration, nearly everything he told me turned out later to be untrue. Church leaders are aware that members are pretty uninformed, misinformed and generally incapable of teaching others about the church. Nevertheless, there is never a word from Salt Lake about being honest or accurate in the lessons given to members. I didn’t learn that until after I was baptized that my friend had totally misrepresented most of the things he told me about the church. He was being malicious or sneaky. He was simply uniformed about the church’s history and doctrine. That’s not all that uncommon.
My new wife wanted to please me so she agreed to take the discussions with me and we joined together in April of 1970. Because the missionary discussions are pretty bland and do not really teach you about many of the strange beliefs of Mormonism (plural marriage, barring black Africans from PH privileges, man can become god, God was once a man, etc.). We were not fully aware of what we were getting into. Conversion is based on emotions stirred during missionary discussions and being loved by a whole group of people who seem extremely happy that you are investigating their church. Pray and “feel” the spirit. Listen to your “heart.” Does it “feel” right when you read the Book of Mormon and pray? Literal evidence or factual information is largely absent. But an emotionally charged atmosphere is present during the discussions. When it gets quiet during a missionary discussion a missionary or member may tell you, “that’s the spirit telling you it’s true. Do you feel it?” Virtually any good feeling is the Spirit. I must have had the spirit a million times while eating spaghetti and meatballs—it’s my favorite food.
A word about feeling the Spirit and “knowing” it’s true. The Karo tribe in Africa feels or “knows” that an toddler who cuts teeth on it’s top gums first, is a bad sign, and that it must be killed. So the elders sneak into a family’s shelter at night, steal the offending toddler, and kill it by throwing it in the river or leaving it in a wilderness area to die. They “know” that this is true the same way that Mormons know that the church is the only true church of God on earth. The whole church was convinced that Paul H. Dunn was a special vessel of God’s Spirit because of the miraculous stories about war and baseball he told the Mormon audiences, including fellow general authorities. Members felt the truth of his message in their bones. They “knew” God had anointed him with a special calling. Trouble is, he turned out to be a liar. None of his stories about baseball or war were true. It’s a dangerous thing to trust feelings completely. It’s better after having “felt” good about something to investigate it thoroughly, with a willingness to let the facts inform you.
Scriptural evidence consists almost entirely of proof texting when Mormons use the Bible. They lift a verse here and a verse there to prove a point, regardless of its context within the chapter or book. For instance, missionaries and teachers in church classes, and of all places in general conferences held every April and October, frequently use 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 to prove that the Word of Wisdom, the church’s prohibition against alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea, is supported by the Bible. This particular passage at first glance seems to indicate that one’s physical body is sacred and should be kept pure or face destruction. In reality, if one begins reading from verse 1 it becomes obvious that Paul is comparing Christ’s community of believers to a temple. He’s admonishing the church collectively to exhibit humility and spiritual maturity and rid themselves of some of the problems that plagued the church. It is not remotely related to a health code. I disturbed a fair number of people when I pointed that out while still working for the church. I was accused of mocking the leaders of the church. I was supposed to pretend that they were right when they were wrong to preserve their exalted image. That’s your duty as a teacher in CES of a member of the church.
Ironically, just a few pages away in 1 Corinthians 6:19 Paul does inform the saints in Corinth that “your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit. . . .” Of course that reminder isn’t to get them to stop using alcohol or tobacco. It was to bring to their remembrance that Christ bought them with his blood and therefore, they should honor God with their bodies.
I was too vulnerable at age 20 during the missionary discussions to stop and say, “No, emotions are not evidence that something is true.” They are just feelings. Sometimes they are indications of what kind of mood you’re in; sometimes they are the result of getting carried away in the moment; sometimes they are wishful thinking; sometimes they are completely wrong. But they are not dependable measures of truth or facts or knowledge. Of course, I wasn’t mature enough at that time think of that. I was swept away. I think I wanted the approval of the missionaries. I know I was flattered to death by all the attention the members gave us. My wife wasn’t. She carries a wonderful sense of healthy skepticism with her. It has served us well.
Had I been more mature, I would have questioned why the Mormons demanded such an unquestioned devotion and obedience to elderly white men, mostly from Utah and Idaho. It was hero worship. They treated them like old rock stars. Joseph Smith and the living prophets were elevated to exalted status. We were told that next to Jesus Christ, Joseph Smith was the greatest mortal who has ever lived because he had done more for mankind than any other human. That is scripture (see Doctrine and Covenants Section 135, verse 3) according to Mormons. Why didn’t I question that cult-like demand for obedience to flawed mortals? Why didn’t I question that Jesus and the atonement were pushed to the background and obedience to Mormon prophets was thrust into the foreground? Why didn’t I question, “Obedience is the first law of heaven?” That’s crazy! If there is a first law of heaven, it‘s free will, the right to choose for one’s self. Only later on when I was teaching for the church did it occur to me that a lot of talking time is given to reminding members that we fought a war in heaven to preserve the principle of agency—the right to make choices. Yet you were supposed to surrender your agency—to give it to God—that translated into giving it to the Mormon leaders because they speak for God. What they say is exactly the same thing God would say if He were present (D&C 1:37-38). They are literally the mouthpiece of God according to Mormon doctrine. So you wouldn’t dare question them for fear of offending God.
Mormons contradict themselves and each other when teaching their brand of religion or defending the faith. It’s not the members’ fault. Their leaders have said some really silly things but you’re not supposed to point them out or notice them. You’re also not supposed to notice that leaders routinely contradict each other, while supposedly receiving clear and direct messages from the same God. Imagine for a moment what kind of mixed up and confused being God must be to say one thing through Apostle Dallin Oaks (homosexuals may have something in their genetic make up that makes them that way, but we don’t know) and the opposite thing through Apostle Boyd K. Packer (homosexuals are the way they are because of mischief and sinful behavior—there is absolutely no such thing as a genetic tendency). There are hundreds of contradictions that you are supposed to turn a blind eye to.
It began with Joseph Smith who after translating the Book of Mormon as God wrote the correct English on his peep stone in the hat (so scribes said), promptly began to change the doctrines later in 1837 when the second edition was published. Smith had written in 1 Nephi 11:18 that Mary “was the mother of God.” When he changed his theology about God, he changed that passage in the 1837 version to read that Mary was “the mother of the Son of God.” In D&C 20:28, the church constitution, he wrote that the “Father, Son, and Holy Ghost are one God, infinite and eternal, without end.” As Richard and Joan Ostler comment, this “resembles traditional Christian creedal formulations.” (Mormon America) However, by 1835 in the Articles of Faith, Smith changed his view of God and said that God and the Son were two distinct personages, with the Holy Ghost being the mind of God. Later in the 1840’s Smith proclaimed that God, the Son, and the Holy Ghost are all separate beings. There is no real systematic theology in Mormonism. It’s always on the move, without repudiating the past statements that contradict the new position.
The new and changing views of even the most basic doctrines provide cover for those trying to explain the faith and find something in common with traditional Christians. If you’re arguing about religion with a member of another church and they accuse Mormons of being brainwashed sheep who are supposed to obey leaders without question, the Mormon can simply quote a leader who contradicted that idea and said the opposite—that Mormons are supposed to think for themselves. Mormons can rarely be pinned down in a debate about religion due to the many contradictory positions they may hold. But they don’t seem to notice it themselves. Their explanation is that God is merely giving new knowledge “line upon line, precept upon precept” as mankind becomes ready for it.
The missionaries were eager for us to “feel” the truthfulness of the Book of Mormon. Because I admired Elders B and A, we felt obligated to feel something during the missionary discussions. We “felt” something because the pressure was on to feel it. I was 20 and Teresa was 18. Basing your entire life on some sort of unidentifiable feeling instead of rational evidence places the vulnerable and insecure investigator in the uncomfortable position of wanting to please the missionaries. If they are weak like I was, they will try hard to do just that. Being such young newlyweds, we were vulnerable after a dramatic life-changing event. We were extremely insecure and I wanted their approval. I wanted everyone’s approval come to think of it. I grew up wanting approval. I look back and can plainly see the guilt and superstitious feelings I was carrying around about God, human nature, religion and spirituality. I was ripe for the picking. Mormons bring concrete answers to all of life’s most profound questions. I was too young to see that it was all too pat. But I wanted to learn all those simplistic explanations to all of life’s hard questions. I wanted easy answers for virtually every question.
Ideally, an investigator is supposed to learn a little about the church, hopefully not be introduced to the sordid historical problems the church desperately wants to keep hidden, then join the church in about 2 weeks. It’s a little like a used car salesman who doesn’t want a prospective buyer to check out their offer with other dealers, Consumer Reports, or other reliable dispensers of good information. The quicker you buy and the less you investigate the better. The only tool the used car salesman doesn’t have is one that the Mormons use routinely. “If you are given the opportunity of joining the true church then turn away from it, you are doomed for eternity.” That’s what the missionaries told us. We were young and impressionable and we believed them.
Another point that deserves attention when referring to the missionary discussions is the principle of informed consent. Ethics related to the practice of medicine require that a patient be given all pertinent information about the risks and benefits of a procedure before consenting to it. Mormon leaders ignore this ethical standard. When we were being taught by the missionaries we weren’t given a full disclosure of what Mormonism is all about—no one is, by design. The discussions, whether missionaries used a flannel board, insulting the intelligence of a guppy, or the big 3 ring binders with big pretty pictures, the little tiny spiral bound picture sets, are non-offensive and homogenized for a reason. They carefully avoid what is or at one time was central to Mormonism:
(1) God was once a man who lived on an earth and was married (and likely a polygamist),
(2) He lived such a good life he earned his exaltation,
(3) After he died He was resurrected with a perfect body of flesh and bone but no blood,
(4) So was his wife or wives,
(5) He received power to create worlds including this earth, from His Father in Heaven (who received if from His Father in Heaven, etc. Just keep going back into eternity until you need a Tylenol or Advil or something to stop the throbbing),
(6) He impregnated his wives a jillion times (yes, in the usual way—that’s why some guys really like this church!),
(7) They cranked out zillions of spirit children (that’s why some women aren’t particularly fond of the Mormon plan of salvation—they are assigned to be eternally pregnant),
(8) They fought a war in heaven to preserve agency and Satan was cast down to earth to tempt mankind and provide temptation,
(9) It is the duty of men and women to prepare bodies for as many spirits as possible (women get to practice having babies on earth so they can continue to do it for eternity,) and men get to put them there.
(10) Jesus was one of God’s spirit children just like the rest of us, making Him a spirit brother of mankind (equal but smarter and better behaved),
(11) Men and women are supposed to prove that they are worthy to live in the highest kind of heaven there is—the highest degree of glory of the celestial kingdom—based on their deeds in this life (Abraham 3:22-23),
(12) Only “valiant” members of the church will enter the highest degree of glory of the celestial kingdom (D&C 76:50-70). Others who are really good but don’t become members will be declared “not valiant.” (D&C 76:72-78)
(13) Jesus got his physical body because God the Father had literal, physical, sexual intercourse with Mary, making Him Jesus’ biological father.
(14) Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross didn’t really pay for the sins of mankind—it was during His pleading in Gethsemane for the Father to “remove this cup from me” that He paid for everyone’s sins—even though the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine and Covenants says He paid for everyone’s sins on the cross.
(15) Mormon leaders taught for decades that unless members practiced polygamy they could not enjoy the highest degree of the celestial kingdom.
(16) Mormon leaders taught that black individuals were unworthy to hold the Mormon version of the priesthood because they had been cursed by God for their lack of valiance before ever coming to earth.
(17) Joseph Smith changed his story about the First Vision from version to version beginning in 1832 and ending in about 1840.
(18) Joseph Smith radically changed the meaning of many verses in the Book of Mormon and Doctrine and Covenants after claiming that the original accounts had been revealed to him by God—leaving open the question, “was God confused or was Joseph just pulling your leg?”
(19) The Book of Mormon doctrines and beliefs do not resemble those that Joseph adapted, changed, revised, contradicted and altered later in his life.
(20) Joseph preyed on gullible young women and ambitious men to carry out his sexual fantasies—such that he would be incarcerated for the rest of his life for today if he were caught doing that.
(21) A mountain of good scientific evidence proves conclusively to fair and objective persons that the Book of Mormon could not possibly be what Joseph claimed. He made it up. The DNA evidence alone is enough to prove that, but there is so much more.
The violation of the principle of informed consent is brazen. There is no attempt whatever to inform investigators what is at the core of Mormonism or what some of the controversial issues are. The brilliance of the strategy is this. The young and naïve missionaries, most of whom have never read the Bible through, have not the slightest idea that those beliefs and issues contradict the missionary discussions of Mormonism either. They think they have been prepared by the crack troops in the Missionary Training Centers to handle important questions, yet they do not know the real history or doctrine of the church they are teaching others about. I speak as an expert on the subject. I taught, prepared, and trained the young prospective missionaries for 27 years. In the Institute program we taught Institute classes called Mission Prep. The class avoided anything controversial but central to Mormonism at one time or another. The counsel was always, “bear your testimony because no one can dispute your own personal experience with the Holy Ghost” or words to that effect. It’s unethical and borders on brainwashing. It boldly dispenses with the important ethical principle of informed consent.
I recall that shortly after being baptized, the Branch President called us in to inform us that we were placing our eternal lives in jeopardy if we continued to use artificial birth control. It was quite an intrusion into a very personal part of our lives. He found out because a gossipy member had been quizzing me on what kind of birth control we used, and I told him that we used the pill. President R convinced us that we would seriously jeopardize our chances of being able to dwell in the highest degree of glory of the celestial kingdom if we practiced any kind of birth control. He retrieved dozens of quotations from church presidents and apostles from his files that said as much. He rocked our world. We had married young with the idea that we would finish college and then begin to have children. However, being sure that God would punish us for eternity, we stopped using the pill and about 3 seconds later, Teresa became pregnant.
We pretty much lived by the rule that “when the brethren speak, the thinking has been done.” In fact that idea was reinforced over and over again for the next 33 years. It made our lives miserable because the brethren made unreasonable and sometimes impossible demands. It often placed us in awkward binds. I was supposed to be a model family man, but I was supposed to never turn down a calling even if it meant being away from home way too much. I quickly became a “Golden Boy” due to my craving for approval and the positive strokes that resulted.
Being a super-member of the Mormon Church meant that I was never home anymore. I was attending meetings and feeling very important. On the one hand, the church leaders threatened us with damnation if we didn’t have kids as fast and furiously as we could, but on the other hand, they never let me stay home to help raise them. It was a nightmare for Teresa. She concluded way back then that the church was a bunch of baloney. It couldn’t be true or else they would have more sense than to make such unreasonable demands on us. Having to raise a lot of small children without any help was killing her. But the church’s view of women was that they were put on earth to have as many children as they could bear and raise them. We were told that Mormons were supposed to provide homes for righteous spirits that waited in the pre-mortal existence to come into our families. If Mormons didn’t have a lot of babies, then those poor spirits would have to go to the homes of the Gentiles—non-members. That would be a tragedy.
Inherent in that teaching is a kind of spiritual arrogance. It is a not-so-subtle dismissal of women as little more than baby factories. They were counseled to raise up their children to the Lord, provide a perfect home, teach their children the gospel, always be happy and cheerful, make perfect home made bread and rolls, visit the sick, do visiting teaching every month without fail, be a great and beautiful wife, be intelligent and conversant with world affairs, and stay skinny—all this while having babies as fast as they could. We were never, ever, even slightly encouraged to use some sort of family planning or birth control to protect Teresa’s health. We were however reminded in various meetings over the years to avoid being selfish and think of the millions of spirits who needed to gain physical bodies.
By the late 1980s and early 1990s Mormons began to hear the brethren harp on having babies as fast as they could, less and less. After some overzealous PH leaders took it upon them selves to meddle too much by telling couples what kinds of sexual positions were approved of the Lord, they began to pull back. I remember sitting with President K in a temple recommend interview in Phoenix, AZ. He asked me if I had ever had oral sex. I was immediately angered by the question, but also under his thumb as a church employee. I asked him if he referred to . . . some technical terms I learned in college in a health class. He stuttered and seemed a bit flustered. He obviously didn’t know what the words meant. He regained his composure and asked if I had ever put my mouth to my wife’s genitals. Before I could answer, still embarrassed and wanting to regain control of the conversation, he began counseling me that it is the Lord’s will that men and women never engage in any kind of oral sex. He then went on to tell me that putting my mouth on my wife’s breast and kissing it was perfectly acceptable. After finishing he asked me if I had any questions. I was too stunned to ask any. Afterward I asked Teresa if she had undergone the same kind of “instruction” and she said, “no.” We both were so mad that we promised that if any meddling PH leader ever asked about our activities in the bedroom again, we would get up and walk out in protest.
The leaders received a lot of complaints about those interviews. Couples since that time have been given more control over their reproductive choices. The new handbook published in 1998 finally gave couples the right to make decisions about birth control, instead of threatening them with eternal misery if they used it.
Pregnancy dragged Teresa through a knot-hole backwards. Morning sickness turned into all-day, everyday nausea. She never had that “glow” that the Mormon men insist women get when they are pregnant. The morning sickness increased with each of our five children. Teresa was ready to die after our last baby. She was worn out. Her tank was completely empty and yet she needed to do more, or so the church told her over and over again. Most Mormons when being transparent and completely honest admit that they feel nagging guilt most of the time because they feel they are not measuring up in enough areas to be approved by God. The leaders use guilt in liberal doses to prod the members along.
After our first baby, we needed to go to the temple, get married again so God would recognize it, (D&C 132:15-19) and have the baby sealed to us so we could live together in eternity as a forever family. Otherwise, no matter how Christ-like we were for the rest of our lives, we would never make it to the highest degree of glory of the celestial kingdom (D&C 131:1-4). Though there is nothing in the Bible or Book or Mormon about temple marriage being a necessary pre-requisite, Joseph Smith added it to the Mormon requirements to be saved in the 1840’s. His reason for adding the eternal marriage component was so he could use it to cloak his polygamous activities. Nowadays, the church never refers to it in those terms, and most members are unaware of Joseph’s original intentions for the ceremony.
Our civil marriage in the Methodist Church a little over a year before would not be recognized by God in the next life because it was not performed in a Mormon temple. We were prepared for our trip to the Idaho Falls temple with solemn meetings with the Branch President. He spoke with a sense of awe and reverence for everything associated with the temple. He also chose his words very carefully to avoid revealing anything that should remain secret—sacred. He also spoke in a really deep, low, quiet voice, with great sincerity. I was convinced that if I were worthy enough, God would let me see angels in the temple. That certainly would explain the secrecy and whispery, low-talking by the Branch President.
We weren’t very smart. Teresa was hemorrhaging pretty badly from the birth of our first child. The birth had been a difficult one for her. We had no business jumping in the car with well-meaning Mormon handlers determined to get us to the temple in Idaho Falls, Idaho from Ellensburg, Washington. We didn’t have the money and Teresa needed to go see a doctor and stay home and rest. A blessing from a member of the Branch Presidency who knew that her bleeding was only Satan trying to stop us from being sealed, anointed Teresa with consecrated olive oil and commanded her to be healed. She didn’t stop hemorrhaging, but Satan was not able to stop us either! We also had a good, long prayer before leaving for the temple pleading with God to keep Satan from doing something bad to the Dodge Dart that we were riding in.
I didn’t see one angel, or departed spirit in the temple! I did get the jolt of my life. The ritualistic ceremony enacted by live actors in the temple was shocking, frightening, and disappointing. The special covenants were the usual kind except for the extraordinary promise to be willing to give everything including one’s life if the church required it. The penalties and oaths for not keeping secrets were bizarre and bespoke a kind of paranoia. I promised to have my throat slit if I ever revealed anything that I saw or heard in the temple. I wondered what all the secrecy was about. Years later when I learned that Joseph Smith borrowed heavily from Masonic ceremonies then added his own tweaks to it I learned why. His closest Masonic friends admitted that Joseph wanted the people to learn to keep a secret. His oaths and penalties were designed to cloak his subversive behavior—sleeping with other men’s wives, and preying on teenage girls with proposals of marriage—without his wife’s knowledge or consent. It’s estimated that 95% of the members during the Nauvoo period did not know that he was practicing polygamy, including taking other men’s wives while still legally married to them, because he was so adept at deceit and swearing others to secrecy. The church is still practicing the art of cover-up and deceit. A fair number of returned missionaries confessed to me during my years of teaching that they had no idea that Joseph Smith practiced polygamy. “I thought it started with Brigham Young,” is the usual response.
Teresa and I sat in our motel room after the temple experience in utter shock and decided that the temple ceremony was so weird we never wanted to go back. We didn’t even get to sit together in the temple during the ceremony. Men and women are separated. Now we were wearing the Mormon temple under garment. A 953 year-old temple worker told me during the official instruction in the temple that the garment was so sacred that we could not take it off except to bathe. He emphasized that we could not remove them for any other reason (except sports and swimming)! For several years afterward, we had sex while keeping our garments on. I feel really gullible revealing that. It’s humiliating. But I believe that the responsibility rests with the church leaders and temple workers. Why in the world wouldn’t the church leaders make absolutely sure that members were clear about garments—that you do not need to keep them on when having sex as husband and wife? I share this because as stupid as it makes me look, we’re not the only ones who received this kind of counsel. Others I have spoken to received similar advice and acted in the same way, until like me, they received “further light and knowledge” on the subject or decided it was just plain dumb.
I wish we hadn’t let the our handlers talk us into going back to the temple for another session to calm our disturbed minds. Our first impressions were correct. It’s worthless ritual devoid of any real meaning in my mind. The atonement is mentioned but certainly isn’t the primary focus of the endowment. I know. I was a set apart veil worker in the Seattle temple and I’ve been to the temple hundreds of times. There really is nothing profound about the endowment, notwithstanding the removal of embarrassing chauvinistic and bigoted segments of the ceremony in 1989-90. By the way, I love wearing decent underwear, instead of the Deseret brand. What kind of a group demands that you wear a certain kind of odd underwear accompanied with the threat that if you don’t you will not be worthy to live in God’s presence? What does that say about Mormons’ depiction of God? Don’t get me started.
I have done a lot of thinking about the temple. I had read and heard the quote by President McKay that he was just beginning to understand the endowment after decades of regular attendance. I worked so hard trying to understand the endowment that I got headaches after temple sessions. I memorized the whole session. I tried to mine the gold from the words and phrases. I wanted to understand the mysteries of the sacred symbolism. I talked to temple workers and asked them a million questions. It’s just not all that profound as I see it. I compared what I learned with others. The symbolism is not clear. It’s all a matter of individual interpretation. Everyone makes up their own ideas—some of them pretty bizarre. The symbolism makes sense when you connect it with its origins—Masonry, and swearing to keep secrets. No wonder they don’t want members to describe the ceremonies. The mystique would suddenly disappear and leaders would have to explain everything from odd temple clothing to the bizarre penalties that used to scare members. How would they explain the anti-Catholic and anti-Protestant themes used to mock their beliefs, until they were removed in 1989?
I believe that the temple ceremony encourages superstitious belief and an elitist attitude and class of members. You’re supposed to remember certain secret passwords and signs to give to God at heaven’s gate so He will let you into heaven? Either intentionally or otherwise the endowment and marriage ceremony creates an elite or super group of Mormons who are just a little bit superior to those who are not endowed. And a whole lot superior to the rest of the world. The endowed possess secret knowledge that only the worthy and elect are privileged to have. It elevates one’s own good deeds above the grace and mercy of Christ. Hello! It’s not sacred, it’s secret! It also pre-supposes that God is arbitrary and requires that any rewards in heaven are the equivalent to wages earned here on earth by good deeds.
In the spirit of being the patriarch in my family I messed up a lot. To encourage her, I’d tell Teresa to try to be like Sister ________. Finally she warned me to shut my yap about Sister _______ or I could go find someone like her! I started to get it. I got off her case. I stopped being a typical patriarchal male in the Mormon church. I really wanted to change. I loved Teresa a lot more than the church. In fact, one thing that kept me trying so hard to be a good Mormon was so I could live with Teresa in heaven after this life. I promised to stop badgering her about doing more missionary work, writing in her journal, doing genealogy, praying and fasting, having the missionaries over for dinner, being more perky and happy, bearing her testimony, being more enthused about family home evening, reading scriptures to the kids, and about a billion other things that only made her feel like she could never do enough to please the church leaders or me.
Working hard to earn our salvation took place in the 1970s and 1980s before the church began to reverse its course. Thanks to BYU religion teachers and other writers members learned that grace was a good thing. For a long time—over a century and a half, “grace” was like a dirty word. General authorities and BYU religious authors admit to teaching at one time that believing mankind is saved by the grace of Christ was false doctrine. Mormons hated being compared to certain conservative Christian groups who emphasized the role of grace in salvation. It was not uncommon at all in those days to hear testimony after testimony in general conference and the local meetings exhort members to do good works and earn their salvation. Grace was just a license to commit sin and still get to heaven. They mocked churches that emphasized the grace of God.
Something happened in the mid to late 1980s and early 1990’s though. So many reports came out about Mormon women suffering clinical depression in huge numbers and Utah being the Prozac capital of the world, that they eased off using guilt as a club and began to acknowledge that grace might play a role in helping a person gain salvation. Mormons needed some hope! In addition, the church hired a high-powered image consultant from New York who convinced the church to emphasize the idea that they too are Christians and value the role that Jesus played in bringing grace to mankind. I was a PH leader and saw some videos about savvy ways to handle the media and tough questions they pose. They took the advice and renamed the Book of Mormon, by adding, Another Testament of Christ to the title. Mormons not only could proclaim that they are true Christians, but they are the only true Christians, since they belonged to the only true Church of Christ on earth. After all Joseph Smith claimed that God told him that all the other Christian sects were wrong, an abomination in his sight, and corrupt. Bruce R. McConkie said, “so-called Christianity does not come much nearer the truth in many respects” than Greek, Roman or Norse mythology. “Believers in the doctrines of modern Christendom will reap damnation to their souls.” Mormon scriptures dedicate nearly two dozen pages to defining traditional Christianity as apostate.
Teaching for the Church
Almost immediately after joining the church I wanted to become an Institute Director in the Church Education System (CES), like Brother R, the Branch President/Institute Director at the Ellensburg Institute of Religion. He seemed so wise and had an encyclopedia in his brain when it came to answering church questions. Even when I was a Methodist boy growing up, I had always wanted to become learned in the scriptures. This was my chance. I was studying to become a schoolteacher at Central Washington. After baptism I decided to become a teacher for the Church Education System. It was a real status symbol to declare that you were going to become an Institute teacher. Several of the guys in the small branch had confirmed that it was their intention to do just that. They had served missions but I hadn’t. I’d have to study extra hard, and serve more diligently than others to make the grade if I wanted to teach for the church. I knew that I was up for the challenge. Ironically, none of them made it and I did. I wish I hadn’t. Our lives would have been so different.
Psychologically, it was probably one of the worst decisions for Teresa and I to work for. Working for the church meant I was going to be totally committed to it and do anything I was asked without questioning. Though I didn’t realize it because I was so young, I had just surrendered my right to think for myself and think critically about what ever the church told me was true. I would just swallow everything without complaint, assuming that all the flawed mortal men were speaking for God, like a good little CES soldier. If I had only questioned what kind of God would ask me to do some of the things they said he required! But I was on a mission to over compensate for not serving a full-time mission for the church. I had to make up for the fact that (1) I had not served in a 3rd world country, sleeping on dirt floors! (2) I had no miraculous stories about passing through an angry mob unharmed because God miraculously blinded them. (3) I had never raised anyone from the dead through a PH blessing. (4) I hadn’t spoken in a foreign tongue in the most eloquent way, converting a whole congregation without knowing what I had said. (5) I hadn’t dusted off my shoes and later read about the village mayor’s house burning down because he had cruelly treated the servants of God. (6) I had never confounded an evil priest causing confusion in the mind of a potential convert. (7) I had never cast out the devil from an investigator’s house. (8) Not even one Nephite ministered to me, let alone all three! I had heard all these stories and more from other CES teachers who solemnly swore that they had experienced these things while serving their missions. I began at a real disadvantage.
I wonder now why I didn’t question the teaching that was heard nearly every Sunday in church meetings and almost as frequently in Institute classes—the Lord’s prophet will never lead the church astray.” How silly. Of course a prophet can lead people astray. Joseph Smith, Brigham Young and the many of the LDS prophets have all taught things and did things that are crazy and border on incompetent. Most of them engaged in outright deceit. My counseling training led me to the conclusion that Joseph Smith was narcissistic and neurotic. If he were living today he would be compared to David Koresh or Jim Jones. It occurred to me long after I became employed by the church that the idea that a prophet cannot lead the church astray or teach false doctrine is just plain wrong. If LDS doctrine taught that a war in heaven was fought to preserve the right to make choices, then LDS prophets can make choices that are wrong. But the church wants to make sure that the authority of its leaders remains unquestioned. They cannot appear to be human, so myths like this one are kept alive. If you teach for the church you are supposed to make sure that the myth looms large in the minds of your students. Convince them that the prophet can never lead the church astray. Pointing out the truth will get you accused of undermining the testimonies of the precious youth—that’s what happened to me.
After graduating from College I became a schoolteacher. I taught 6th grade just outside Yakima, Washington. My goal was to get hired by CES as soon as I could. But first I had to teach Early Morning Seminary and get some church experience under my belt. I wasn’t around to help Teresa even though “no other success can compensate for failure in the home” is one of the church’s most popular slogans. After all, I was a golden convert—Wonder Boy! I loved the limelight and the church members and leaders loved my loving the limelight. I performed any duty they asked of me because I got positive reinforcement. I was ordained as a high priest at age 22 (as a convert of only 2 years—it was a sign from God!) and served on the stake high council in the Yakima Washington stake. I later served as a stake mission leader for the Young Adults in the stake. I served as a young men’s president. In addition to all of that, I was teaching school my first year and teaching early morning seminary every morning before school. I was never home, but I thought I was “all that and a bag of chips.” I learned quickly that as long as I kept repeating the idea that “the most important work you’ll ever do is within the walls of your own home” and other familiar phrases, I didn’t need to be home. The Lord would raise my children in righteousness because I was always out doing His work. I was putting the Kingdom of God first!
I wish I had been more assertive and pointed out the contradiction to the white men in Salt Lake who spent 94 hours a day doing church work. They were in no position to give advice on being a good husband and father. They testified that they were totally devoted to church work and were never home as far as I could tell. I needed to be home and be active in the lives in my wife and kids’ lives to be effective instead of running around with my shiny little briefcase attending meetings every night of the week. That’s still one of my biggest regrets in life. It became a sore point with church leaders when I began to come to my senses and refuse to be away from home so much. I decided in my mind, if you prophets are so smart, how come you don’t understand that a father needs to be home with his family, instead of “building the kingdom” in meetings every night of the week and weekends too? Why was it so inspired to call young married men with little children to be away from home so much? There is no virtue in the practice of burdening young mothers with all the work or raising a young family by themselves.
A Full-Time Church Employee
I began to dream that I could go to work for the church full time and enjoy all the prestige of being a walking encyclopedia of all things related to the church. I applied and was hired by the Church Education System in 1975. I should have never quit teaching sixth grade. I loved it and it was more fun that I ever had teaching for the church. I also loved teaching the kids in Early Morning Seminary. I thought if teaching for the church is this much fun, I can’t lose. As I look back, I could have taught a bag of hammers and it would have been fun. I just loved teaching.
I was hired and transferred for 3 years to Phoenix, Arizona to teach Released-Time Seminary. Like everything it had an upside and a downside. I loved most of the kids, but I had a hard time with a few others. It was hard because as a school teacher I had a curriculum, standards, and tests to measure those standards. Seminary was like teaching Sunday School. My boss Brother S told the teachers time and again that we were not to treat seminary like some “Mickey Mouse” operation. It was supposed to be a viable educational experience. It wasn’t.
Brother S was the District Coordinator and he was a tyrant. He couldn’t control his temper. He screamed at us young teachers and regularly cussed at us regularly. He accused teachers of bringing the spirit of Satan to the meetings. He would charge the atmosphere with guilt and nervous tension. You never knew if he was directing his wild accusations at you or someone else. It was hell to sit in those meetings. He would announce that there were traitors among us who were actively at work with the adversary to bring down the church. He used all the tactics of a cheap con artist in my view. He wouldn’t ever give a lot of specific information or invite discussion for a thorough investigation of his accusations. He never gave the floor to those who might dispute his words. If someone questioned him, he flew into a rage. He would embarrass and humiliate them in front of the group. I was on the wrong end of that experience more than once. I wrote him off as a non-professional (an idiot) who didn’t know the first thing about education theory or practice. He was a nut! He motivated me to question a lot of things. I decided to leave CES but got cold feet and came back for my second year of teaching seminary because we were in Phoenix, Arizona and I didn’t know what I was going to do to support my family if I quit. I was so far from home and our parents in the Pacific Northwest. I probably had a lot of options, but I had become dependent on the church, and convinced that they knew best what was good for my family and me. I thought I needed the church to make me live a good life so I could make it to the celestial kingdom.
I endured a fair amount of harassment from the Church Education System District Coordinator. Once he accused me of partying with the kids all the time because I scored exceptionally high on a student evaluation of my teaching. I thought I deserved praise. I had worked my tail off diligently teaching lessons the Mormon way, and trying hard to make it fun. He thought I deserved a good tongue-lashing and he delivered it. My wife who was present at the bizarre event was stunned—so was I. I began to think back on my 3 years teaching in the public schools in Washington State. The school administrators in the district exhibited far more dignity and grace than this weird church administrator. Certainly they were more professional. They were actually students of education theory and best practices. He was supposed to be a well-respected professional in the church.
After 3 years in Phoenix, I was transferred to Kennewick, Washington. I taught there for 12 years, in a Released-Time Seminary. I served on the High Council there as well as in the bishopric and as a stake Young Men’s President. I was getting tired of being the golden boy, and my wife didn’t think I was so hot. She just thought I was gone way too much. She was right as usual. Why did the church demand that I be away so much she asked? But I was getting better and better at seeing the light and resisting the idea that you had to blindly submit and simply obey the leaders. I was getting sassy!
During my stint in Kennewick I was called in by the stake president for a serious interview. He informed me that if I had not needed the time to earn extra money (my wife and I organized our own janitorial business that required that we clean office buildings every night), I would have been called to be the bishop. But instead, he was calling me to be a bishop’s counselor. It was bittersweet! The Spirit had told me that I would be a bishop before I was thirty-years old. I began to lose confidence in a testimony and feelings from the Spirit. I hadn’t admitted to myself yet that I could experience strong feelings that originated within me. I should have been more honest with myself. Back in Phoenix, at a fireside at Brother F’s home, a member of our ward who told exhilarating and faith promoting war stories about Viet Nam, had spoken one Sunday night. Teresa and I both were convinced that he was a fraud. I don’t know why, I guess it’s because I had seen liars before and he just fit the part. I felt guilty though because she and I were about the only ones not falling all over him, weeping because of the great spiritual feelings present in the room. Some claimed that it was one of the most spiritual meetings they had ever attended. Months later the bishop made the guy get up in a PH meeting and confess that he made it all up.
Reading as Therapy
In the mid 1980’s I purchased a copy of a book by two LDS female authors. It was entitled Mormon Enigma: Emma Hale Smith by Valeen Tippetts Avery and Linda King Newell. It was an honest, unsanitized, objective biography about Joseph Smith’s first wife. It hit me like a thunderbolt. I read it to Teresa as each new revelation about Joseph’s true character and behavior chipped away at my traditional beliefs about him and the church he created. Using impeccable sources it plainly revealed that Joseph Smith was a rank adulterer and compulsive liar for most of his life. His first career was as a con artist, bilking gullible people out of their money with the promise of locating treasures of silver and gold. It also revealed that the church leaders had gone to great lengths to hide the truth about its founder and revered prophet. Others who were loyal Mormons minimized his deception and adultery and only grudgingly admitted that Joseph had a few flaws. “But all prophets have a few flaws,” they reasoned. It had the effect of minimizing Joseph’s glaring problems with adultery and lying. I heard those excuses at a CES Symposium.
I shared the contents of the book with a good Mormon friend and he told me that I was stupid for reading that scum. He said, “You don’t read Playboy to learn that pornography is bad. You shouldn’t read garbage about Joseph Smith only to learn that he was human.” I thought he was going to extraordinary lengths to be loyal. I thought he was elevating loyalty above integrity. Teresa and I agreed that Joseph Smith wasn’t just flawed like the rest of us humans. He had the nerve to do things and command others to do things that were morally indefensible, then lie about it to top it off. I began to see him as a sexual predator and obsessive liar. The threats he used to coerce teen-age girls to marry him and consummate those marriages were intolerable. I resisted these feelings however because I depended on the church for employment. I was too chicken to follow through on my desire to be honest. I didn’t figure I had much room to criticize Joseph Smith if I didn’t have the courage of my own convictions. So I tried to make excuses for Joseph.
I began subscribing to Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. I also read Sunstone when I could get my hands on one. It was refreshing because these works were honest and objective about Mormon history, culture, literature, and not afraid to discuss controversial issues. It wasn’t the same old “rah-rah-rah, aren’t we great” stuff you’re fed in church all the time. I had a friend who I talked with in my ward who also liked reading objective sources. He had access to wonderful books and let me read all kinds of juicy things about church history and doctrine that I never dreamed existed. This added to my new reality that the church had drastically revised its history to erase any trace of flaws and embarrassing mistakes. He gave me information that proved that the church had lied when it denied that Brigham Young taught the Adam-God theory. He gave me B.H. Roberts’ Studies of the Book of Mormon that indicated conclusively to me that after studying problems in the Book of Mormon, Roberts, the greatest defender of the Book of Mormon, concluded that Joseph Smith possessed the creative imagination to enable him to create the Book of Mormon. My friend introduced me to the writings of Gerald and Sandra Tanner, former Mormons, regarded as evil, unscrupulous, anti-Mormons. They discovered and published Mormon lies and hypocrisy from 1830 to the present. I found that I could get more accurate and honest information about church history and doctrine from them than the church. I didn’t always agree with their interpretations of the facts, but the evidence they presented was impressive. The Tanners were more honest than the church leaders and scholars from F.A.R.M.S. who tried desperately to defend the church’s image. I found that the church leaders routinely lied to protect the way the church is viewed by those outside it. I discovered that the church regularly branded anyone who told the truth about church history and leaders—warts and all—as enemies and apostates. I began to recognize that church leaders regularly engaged in a practice called “lying for the Lord” when they felt it necessary to protect themselves or the church’s image of infallibility or goodness. They engaged in character assassination toward those who threatened their polished, slick, marketed image with facts about the church and its leaders. It began in the days of Joseph Smith and was alive and well in the current church.
I read well-documented works that described in an unbiased way, the history of the church. Then I noted what church leaders or CES leaders said about the author and his/her work. Almost without exception, the unbiased and objective works were heavily criticized. The church reviewers seemed to go to great lengths to attack the character of the author and use dirty tactics to discredit the work. If an author didn’t use enough references he was criticized for that. If he used many of them he was criticized for using too many. And in every case, the author would be attacked for undermining the faith of the faithful. The leaders demanded that everything be written to make it appear that God guided the church leaders in every thing. It seemed not to occur to those attacking honest historians that it demonstrates a lack of faith in your message to react in such a defensive way; that church leaders should welcome honesty and fairness; and that it is unbecoming a Christian to react in such a non-charitable way toward well-meaning members trying to remain ethical and honest. It saddened me to hear that excellent Mormon historians with impeccable credentials were threatened with loss of membership privileges, loss of employment in church schools, and in some cases, excommunication for being honest.
The evidence grew that the church wasn’t what it advertised itself to be. I began to attend graduate school to study to be a licensed counselor. At first, I was the suspicious, narrow-minded Mormon who believed that all one needed to know is the true gospel (Mormonism) in order to be successful at business, education, or anything else. I soon learned that I was a naïve, narrow, bigoted, little weasel. I learned that the theories of education, psychology and counseling were valuable to study in different contexts to gain an understanding of how great theories were tested and knowledge gradually increased in the social sciences. I learned that many of the great men and women of science were “inspired” to discover and invent wonderful additions to life though they may have been unbelievers. I marveled at the degree of Christian charity and compassion some of my atheist or agnostic professors exhibited. I felt small and wondered why I wasn’t better than they were because I was a member of the true church and a high priest. I was supposed to be superior since I was a member of the only true church! It dawned on me finally, after breaking out of the plastic bubble in which I was trapped, that the idea that the only good people were Mormons was wrong. I had never consciously questioned it. I had simply assumed that all the stuff the church leaders and members taught about not being happy unless you were a loyal Mormon was right in spite of all the evidence to the contrary.
I began to test the hypothesis that Mormons were happier and better than everyone else. The evidence was overwhelming that proved the null hypothesis to be true: Mormons are not happier or better than everyone/anyone else. It sounds so silly that I had to test it. I didn’t fully realize it then, but I began to discover that Mormons lay claim to all sorts of false evidence to prove their superiority.
They dredge up “social evidence.” For instance a non-Mormon scientist in California found that Mormons who live the Word of Wisdom, have a longer life-span than the population in general. Mormons cite his studies to prove that the church is true. What they don’t tell others is that Seventh-day Adventists have a better health record than Mormons. So by the logic of the Mormons, Seventh-day Adventists must be members of the only true church!
Another piece of popular social evidence is that Mormonism is the fastest growing church in the western hemisphere. Not only is that inaccurate, but it is hardly evidence that a church is the only true church of God. The real facts indicate that the Assemblies of God and Seventh-day Adventists consistently grow at a faster rate than Mormonism. By Mormon logic, the Assemblies of God is the only true church. In addition, Mormons conveniently forget to add that the retention rate of Seventh-day Adventist converts is somewhere near 80%. The Mormon retention rate is approximately 35% worldwide.
Mormons like to point to marriage and divorce rates and all kinds of other stats that prove that the Mormon Church is the only true church of God. But they have to be very selective. They must not share that the rate at which young Mormon girls report being sexually abused by family members is about the same as the rest of the U.S. They must not share that Utah is consistently referred to as the Prozac capital of the U.S. because of the disproportionate number of its citizens who use prescription drugs to combat depression. Since Utah is 70% Mormon it is highly unlikely that the Gentiles are making the rest of the state look bad.
Hanging Out My Shingle
After graduating with a Masters in Counseling I began a private practice on weekends and evenings. I had a thriving practice consisting of Mormons. I enjoyed working with clients on developmental problems such as depression, anxiety, and stress related issues and marriage counseling. I didn’t enjoy family practice or career counseling. I tried my best to stay abreast of the best practices in the field and apply them. Sometimes I was helpful and sometimes I wasn’t.
I really wanted to get out of CES and the church when I began to see the “good old boys” network in action. Time after time, some woman would be mistreated dreadfully by her husband and come in to seek help. In most cases the woman blamed herself for her inability to please her husband or make the marriage work. This neurosis, or feeling responsible for all kinds of things she couldn’t possibly control, invariably came from the church. Consistently the woman would quote some church leader or a Relief Society lesson that placed blame on women for not being able to keep a husband and children happy. I’ll cite a few cases.
In one case, a man was excommunicated for committing adultery on numerous occasions. I sat in on the high council court and I am an eye-witness. Instead of reaming the guy out and telling him what a rat he was, the stake president talked for no less than 30 minutes to the wife and mother of his 8 children. She got the lecture about being a better wife to her husband, while the adulterer sat there and beamed!
In another case, a woman told me that her children were reporting sexual abuse by their father, a member of the Elders Quorum Presidency. I told her to kick him out and get the bishop to help her support the kids—Mormons are famous for helping members using their welfare system. She called me back the next day and told me something incredible. She reported her husband denied everything and instead of helping her the bishop got mad at me and her. He told her that she was never to come to me for counseling again. I was out to destroy their eternal family, he said. He told her that he would handle the accusation of abuse and she was not to leave her husband or ask him to leave as I had advised her. He spoke with her husband who denied everything and cried and admitted to some lesser problems. The bishop confidently assured the wife that he feels badly now and she had nothing to worry about. I was ready to explode. Several months later the wife called me in awful distress. Her husband had “gotten to” another one of the little girls! I told her to leave. She said she was not only leaving her husband, she was leaving the church. She did. Mormons teach that you are to “follow the brethren and even if they tell you to do something wrong you’ll be blessed anyway for being obedient.”
I could go on and on with literally dozens of stories about incompetent PH leaders who presumed to possess some degree of skill in counseling despite never having spent one minute in formal training. They instead relied on their “mantle of authority” that gave them access to special inspiration from God. In point of fact, these fumble-boys ruined dozens of lives, or gave some of the most ludicrous “counsel” I’ve ever heard. One bishop loved to rail against all the “worldly” counselors who were trained without the benefit of inspiration. His solution to literally every marriage problem he heard was to “go on a date every Friday night.”
I became convinced that women in the church did not stand a chance unless they happened to be in a ward with a bishop who accidentally got it right. Yet, as every good Mormon knows, the person who doesn’t sustain his bishop does not sustain the president of the church. By extension, that person does not stand approved of God. In other words, Mormons are supposed to presume that what the bishop advises them to do is what God would tell them if He were present. It is ridiculous to believe that. It’s so much a main thread in the fabric of Mormonism however, that members are routinely asked in interviews if they sustain the local leaders of the church. If they don’t, they face serious spiritual consequences. They are guilty of apostasy.
Counseling taught me how important it is not to give up the right to think and make decisions about your own life. It de-programmed me and separated me from the idea that church leaders always know best when it comes to your life. I remember fighting that principle one day in a bishop’s office. He was reassuring me that he was inspired with regard to some counsel he gave that I rejected. I countered with a question: “Tell me what’s going on right now in my son Matt’s life! Tell me what I need to do. Tell me what I need to talk to Kenny about!” Of course, he wanted information about my boys. I told him that if he was truly inspired by God, that he only had to repeat the words that came to his mind from God. I demanded to know what God directed me to do. He stammered a bit and admitted that he didn’t know the slightest thing about current affairs in my household. I pointed out to him that that was precisely why I didn’t believe he was inspired. If God truly spoke to him he wouldn’t be fishing for information. It didn’t impress him but it was a watershed moment for me. I began to declare my independence from the mindless submission to white males (always white and always male) who merely flew by the seat of their pants, pretending to be something they are not.
Mark Hoffman and the Forgeries
Most Mormons were at first elated then troubled by the documents that Mark Hoffman, forger extraordinaire, began tramping through the First Presidency’s office with. Members first thought that the documents would prove beyond all doubt that Joseph Smith was a true prophet, the version of history taught by the church would be vindicated and the church would be proved to be the only true church on earth. Oops. In time, it became clear that the message from the documents was that Joseph and others were uneducated, superstitious and too prone to make up stories about the appearance of heavenly beings.
When the Salamander Letter was published, CES began to churn out all kinds of defensive statements and a packet of material to provide some damage control. I still have it in my files. It indicated that sometimes a spirit was referred to as a toad or salamander. It also admitted that Joseph had indeed been prone to some superstitious practices in his younger days. Though Joseph had been off the mark when younger, he undoubtedly saw God and the Son just like he said, the printed material insisted.
After pictures of President Kimball holding the magnifying glass with a liar and forger standing next to him with his arm around him, it was not encouraging to learn that the Lord’s prophet, who held all the keys of the dispensation, including the keys of discernment (in spades) had been duped. He and all the other apostles didn’t have a clue. Despite all the stories I had repeated in seminary to the kids about the all-knowing power of discernment the prophets possessed, it turned out that they were as easily fooled as anyone else in the scam-capital of the nation. In their eagerness to suppress documents embarrassing to the church, they had shelled out over $900,000 worth of merchandise and cash (I’m partial to cash myself) to Hoffman.
I read books about the Hoffman affair—4 of them. Except for the one by Turley where he defended the church no matter what, the other 3 admitted that the leaders had been fooled and that to one degree or another and they had been eager to suppress information that indicated just how involved and fooled they were. In my mind it bordered on obstruction of justice. It made me more angry when after the affair, Dallin Oaks told half-truths and took the press to task for accusing the church of less than sterling conduct. He deliberately tried to deceive the public into believing that his error filled tirade was accurate and that the church had been a victim of unfair publicity. I lost more respect for the modern church leaders.
I still remember talking to a CES colleague about the whole Hoffman affair after he was sentenced to life in prison. I asked him how he felt about the church’s conduct and the fact that they seemed to be no more inspired than the “man/woman on the street.” He went to great lengths to defend the church and the leaders. After all, they were gentle and trusting men who took people at their word in good faith. Because the colleague was my boss I didn’t challenge him. But it was obvious to me that when it suited them the Mormons regaled each other with stories about the God-given power of discernment prophets possess. Now when it was obvious that they were simply older gentlemen who had duped, they were extra gentle and compassionate.
I was burning out as a seminary teacher in Kennewick, WA. I wish I could say that I was a great teacher the last couple of years. I wasn’t. I was terrible. I think most of the kids felt like I loved them, but some of them will tell you that I was awful. I needed a change. I didn’t believe a lot of what the church taught and I was getting cynical.
I almost took a job as the director of a program run by a hospital. I contracted my services to them as a counselor for an eating disorder program in the evenings. I didn’t take the job, even though I desperately wanted out of CES because I wasn’t convinced that the program, at that time a cash cow, was going to survive. I figured I’d be out looking for a job within a year. I was wrong. It took the program a year and a half to fold.
CES offered me a chance to move to Moscow, Idaho and teach Institute and work on my Ph.D. I jumped at the chance. It took a little rangling, but we finally made it. Though CES had made the promise, they wanted to back out of their commitment. Some friends and I argued until they agreed to move us. It was a relief. While I was arguing with the Zone Administrator from Salt Lake I thought to myself, “you’re going to get fired for being so bold.” I kept reminding him that when CES makes me make promises they make me put in writing so they can hold me legally responsible for my promises. If they believe it’s that important to keep one’s word, they should keep theirs to me. Because a friend and colleague agreed to take another position, it all worked out.
It was a refreshing new start for me. I decided to rededicate myself to teaching what the church had asked me to. After all, if I was going to crow about ethics I needed to be ethical and stand behind commitments I signed my name to. So I tried to overlook all the faults I could find with the church’s leaders, the doctrine, the drastically revised history and all the rest. I wanted to avoid controversy. I had had quite a lot in Kennewick. In fact, the summer we were moving I was put on probation by CES for not paying a full tithing. I freely admit that I didn’t. I had all kinds of financial difficulty. I didn’t manage my money well, and besides the move from Kennewick to Moscow was really expensive. My house in Kennewick sold for $25,000 less than the one we bought in Moscow. Houses were way more expensive in Moscow, Idaho (home of the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival). We had to borrow money for the down payment or we could not qualify for the loan. We were not healthy financially. My Area Director was compassionate and told me to get my tithing in order, instead of firing me.
After settling in at Moscow I tried to learn how to teach Institute and administer church programs in the Lewiston Idaho and Pullman Washington stakes. I had my plate full. But it was different and I liked it. I had grown so tired of high school age students—though I hastily admit that 95% of them were great. It was refreshing to study with university students.
I thought that the church expected me to become well-read and knowledgeable about all things connected with the church in order to answer questions and teach interesting lessons in depth. I studied hard and loved it. I also determined that since the kids were older I could be more honest with them about church history, scripture, and doctrine. I freely shared articles like Lester Bush’s on the history of denying Blacks the PH, articles from a Phoenix newspaper about the finances and the LDS church, revisions to the Book of Mormon and the Doctrine and Covenants (D&C), the fact that Brigham Young really did teach the Adam-God theory, and that there was no real evidence that Joseph translated anything correctly connected with the Book of Abraham. He was just plain wrong. As the years went by and the kids responded positively, I continued to expose them to more material that I read about. Joseph was completely fooled by the Kinderhook plates—a hoax to make him look like a phony—it worked! When teaching Presidents of the Church I tried to expose the kids to the idea that prophets are only human. I used President J. Reuben Clark’s famous talk entitled, When Are the Writings or Sermons of Church Leaders Entitled to the Claim of Scripture? (Dialogue, Vol.12, No.2, p.68) It was never received very well. I taught the kids that Bruce R. McConkie’s Mormon Doctrine is no more doctrine than a collection of their own sermons and writings and private interpretations of scripture.
More Graduate Work
In 1992 I began taking the coursework for my Ph.D. in Education Administration with an emphasis on Higher Education. I had thought about pursuing a counseling degree and going into private practice as a way to escape CES and the church but it didn’t work out. I wasn’t eager to spend the rest of my life counseling people 40 hours a week, and besides the University of Idaho did not want to accept my 2000-plus hours of supervised clinical work toward the degree. So I chose higher education, thinking I could find a job at the University of Idaho.
I was again impressed with the teachers who taught my graduate school classes. They were so respectful of my Mormon leanings, though I knew that they didn’t agree with the church’s views. Once again, I realized how narrow my profession was. I was not familiar with significant theories and practices of administration and management. The structure of institutions of higher education was unfamiliar too. I knew nothing about the appropriations process and state funding. But I was eager to learn. I also wanted to meet with as many UofI administrators as possible to build a network of people to help me find a job.
In my coursework I was asked to develop critical thinking skills—good administrators do that. I even took a course in it from my major professor. I enjoyed looking at a problem from all points of view instead of harboring biased feelings and defending a point of view no matter what. That got me in a little trouble however with a CES colleague. Mike and I attended the critical thinking class together one summer. One exercise involved presenting persuasive arguments for both sides of an issue. During one of those exercises I was asked to defend homosexuality and be as persuasive as I could. I did my best. After class, Mike took me to task for throwing my principles out the window. I told him that my principles were still intact. All I had done was practice some critical thinking skills. It occurred to me that he represented the typical church leader and CES colleague. They were afraid or unwilling to participate in exercises which might expose them to other points of view. They preferred to remain narrow and unaware. It made me want to leave CES more than ever.
During one CES region faculty meeting I remember telling the teachers that I didn’t think it was wise to put all R-rated movies under one umbrella—bad! I told them that I had seen some that were thoughtful and uplifting. I insisted that we ought to ask our students to think for themselves and help them develop parameters for making decisions that were consistent with their values. I was assailed and accused of being disloyal to the prophet. I defended myself by saying that I was not defending material that was obviously gratuitously sexual or violent. I was defending violence of the Saving Private Ryan type (although I don’t think I used that movie as an example—I can’t remember). It was necessary to portray the evil and the good of a World War. They disagreed, and asked me how I could ever justify telling a kid that it was okay to see nudity. I told them that nudity is a matter of context. I asked them to consider the LDS doctors who not only see women nude (at least to some extent) but they often feel for lumps in the women’s breasts and check their pubic region. I reminded them that my wife was an RN and she routinely had to check and handle men and women’s sexual organs. Nudity I explained again is a matter of context. If it is intended to merely gratify some sensual desire it was probably gratuitous. If nudity served some higher purpose, it often was not wrong at all. They were totally unconvinced and thought of me as some kind of pervert. I thought worse of them. In defense of my good friend and colleague at the Moscow Institute, he defended me. He had his Ph.D. in Family Science from BYU and had opened his mind to explore more than the sheltered ones. It made me feel good to hear him defend me. I loved and admired him for that.
I missed some CES meetings because of graduate school. I caught heck for it. One anal retentive (if you believe Sigmund Freud’s theories) Area Director yelled and screamed at me for quite a long time on the phone on more than one occasion because I was going to miss a meeting. He called Salt Lake and tattled on me—Ken’s going to miss our Mid-Year Convention this Year because he says he has to take a Mid-Term! I got warned that I couldn’t use school as an excuse to miss meetings. I explained that whatever I missed I could learn from my colleagues in Moscow and Pullman. The Area Director explained that I would be missed because of the camaraderie. I didn’t say it but I wanted to say that I didn’t feel all that much camaraderie in the group. I tried to be friendly to most but I found many of them to be petty and narrow. When I wasn’t at a meeting I was told I was missed the next time they saw me, but it was done in a way to make me feel guilty, not to express genuine care. When I did attend, I was teased about my tie, my coat, my shirt, you name it. I couldn’t really express my opinions because I was thought to be a bit radical. When I did express it I had to temper it to the point that I was not honest. I was withdrawing quite a bit. Besides, Teresa hated going to Mid-Year and other meetings so badly that she often did not go and I was a kind of bachelor at those things. I hated it. Anyway, I got in a lot of trouble for not going to meetings.
I hated those meetings. I hated the Sunday meetings. I hated stake conference meetings and the rest of them most of the time. They were just such a waste of time to me. What in the world did all those meetings accomplish? What great projects that bettered the community or world came out of those meetings? They were absolutely intramural and in my mind, little gossip sessions where people, puffed up with feelings of self-importance, talked a lot but rarely said much. I cannot believe that all those meetings made much of a difference. But you were always blamed if you did not go.
I’m going to tell you about one meeting and get off of the topic. It will become as boring as meetings themselves. At a CES meeting (one of the last Teresa and I attended), we were broken up into small groups. We were to discuss some conference talks and develop some deep, deep insights to bring back to the larger group. For 45 minutes Teresa and I listened to the CES Pharisees and their wives (I honestly have a genuine affection for most of them most of the time) talked about how awful their non-member neighbors were. After all, they watched videos that were not always up to the standards of the church. They didn’t keep the Sabbath holy. They did all kinds of things that made these poor Mormons’ feel so very uncomfortable “living in the world.” Finally it was obvious that Teresa and I were the only ones who hadn’t contributed anything to the discussion. We were invited to speak. Teresa wasn’t about to and I was afraid to. After they wouldn’t quit prodding I said in a kind way, “I do not share the same experience with the rest of you. My non-member relatives and friends are often better examples of goodness than me. I find that I’m too busy trying to learn from them and copy their example to me to judge them. I do not believe that because I’m a Mormon I am superior to them in any way.” I tried not to be judgmental and pompous. After all I was disgusted by their superior and judgmental attitude. It would not be becoming of me to fall into the same ditch. They took it really well. They all began to back pedal and say, “Well when I spoke about my neighbor I didn’t mean . . . . “ It was pretty neat. All I was trying to say was that Mormons don’t have a corner on the market when it comes to spirituality or goodness, despite what they tell each other on Sundays, out of earshot from those who are not Mormons.
I completed my coursework and took a 6-month sabbatical to complete my dissertation. I had been working on it for over a year when I took the 6-months off. I received a lot of encouragement and advice from those who had taken terminal degrees. Most of it was great. It helped immensely. But one piece of advice I kept getting from many of the CES colleagues was to “just get the piece of paper so you can be on an equal footing with the guys across the street!” That meant that I didn’t have to learn anything in order to get the respect from secular education administrators and teachers. It also implied the naïve assumption that at a research institution—a university—the only reason the teachers and administrators there have a degree is so they can advance—they never really use them. Finally, it gave away the fact that CES professionals by and large never use the excellent knowledge and resources they receive from an intense focus on some area of academic interest. I never considered only getting “the piece of paper.” I wanted to learn all I could to become more competent and grow as a person as well as qualify for other employment.
I graduated in May of 1997 and felt really good. I had achieved a goal I never dreamed I’d achieve back in high school. After all, I graduated 22nd in my class, and there were only 55 in the class. I wasn’t a serious student. In fact I was a goof off and enjoyed all the social amenities that accompanied public education at a small high school. I don’t know how many of my classmates know I’ve achieved the milestone, but they will tease me mercilessly about my awful handwriting, by bad grades, the childish pranks, and the fact that I couldn’t stay in the lines when I colored in first grade. I still can’t, but I learned that it’s because I’m special and creative!
CES had an agreement that after receiving a terminal degree I owed them five years of employment or I had to pay back the money they had given me for classes. I could not afford it and I began to think that since I wasn’t getting into that much trouble, I might find a way to retire from CES. After all a person can retire at age 55 and I was 47 at the time. What if I can stand it for 8 more years?
By the way, I had written a dissertation on recruitment to LDS Institutes of Religion. I studied the recruitment techniques used presently and found that CES lacked a real coherent, research based recruitment program. I also found that most of the methods and tools they used were not the most effective. It was not a popular presentation to the Area faculty. So I put the dissertation in a drawer and forgot about it. My wife and I look at it in the campus library from time to time. I guess it suggested that CES had a lot to learn and that message didn’t come from the general authorities. It came from some punk in Moscow, Idaho who had actually studied the matter in a systematic way. My close friends in CES (the ones I could trust) used to sit around and discuss how silly it was to think that our contacts with students made a real difference. These were college students. They made the decision to attend Institute (or not) based on their own internal values. Parents weren’t around to persuade or coerce them. They had minds of their own. We used to laugh about the kids that we were close friends with sat for hours in our offices and talked about all kinds of things, but they never came to Institute class. We shared stories about how one year we recruited our brains out and it didn’t increase our attendance at all, in fact it went down. Then another year, when we didn’t recruit at all, our attendance went up. This was consistent with another finding of my dissertation. Internal values and motivation are the best predictors of attendance, rather than the methods involving persuasion or coercion by PH leaders and Institute faculty.
Called to be Bishop
In 1997 I got another strong prompting—really clear—“you’re going to be called to be a bishop.” This sounds cynical but I knew that it would help me avoid controversy. When CES guys are called to be bishops or members of the stake presidency, they are treated differently. They are accorded much more respect. You’re given a degree of credibility that you would not possess otherwise. Often times in meetings instead of addressing a colleague as “Brother Davis” they are addressed as “President Davis.” It’s a real status symbol though many will deny it. Well, I waited for the prompting to come true.
I was summoned to the office of the stake president. I told my wife, “I’m going to receive a call to be the bishop of the Moscow 2nd ward.” I wrote it on a piece of paper and took it with me to the stake president’s office. The stake president, an attorney and one who resembled a god-father figure in mob movies (according to my kids) said in his gruff, gravely voice. I’m going to call someone to be a bishop in your ward. I thought, “Hey, maybe I actually got a real message from God.” Then he continued, “How come your name was not even on the list of potential candidates?”
I was fingering the piece of paper in my pocket. Rats! I was wrong again. I was speechless too. I asked him what he was referring to. He said that he thought I was inactive because I wasn’t in church all that much. I told him that my calling was to teach Gospel Doctrine and I shared the call with 3 other teachers, so I only taught once a month. I told him that I took the opportunity, since I had a light-weight calling to visit wards in our stake and the other stake that I administered CES programs for. It gave me a real good opportunity to meet with PH leaders on Sunday when they actually have time set aside to discuss issues that are important. I told him that I also visited my parents in Southeast Washington once a month. He wasn’t happy. He said he wanted me to be in church more often.
I was assigned as the stake president’s home teacher. I actually enjoyed it. He was gruff but likable and funny. I loved his wife who was funny. But they were definitely more conservative than me. Nevertheless we had good visits. I wasn’t a 100% home teacher. Some months I just didn’t want to go. He used to tease me about it and I would counter that if he went inactive while serving as stake president that was his problem; not mine.
I was called to be the bishop about a year later. The same stake president asked me if I thought I could refrain from so many CES visits to other wards. I said, “yes, I do it because it’s my choice and I like it.” He handed me a letter from the First Presidency (or the signature machine) calling me to be a bishop. I was happy!
I loved being a bishop. I still say it was the best calling I ever had in the church. I was called to serve as the bishop of a married student ward. It was a pretty good sized ward but I was called just before the students left for summer vacation and work. They all got a good look at me and then left. I was a little heavier then so I probably wasn’t as good looking as I am now!
I came to the office knowing exactly what I wanted to do. I wanted to focus on the grace and mercy of Christ as the Bible teaches it. I wanted to be quiet about Joseph Smith and exalting him as the premiere member of the human race, as was done in most of the other wards I attended. I wanted those called to teach to make open up the class to discussion and set an atmosphere that is open to lots of opinions and points of view, without criticism. I wanted to skip meetings where possible. I wanted to love the members and put everyone on notice that no one in the ward will be coerced by guilt. I wanted to allow members to quit church jobs if they weren’t happy serving. I wanted to announce publicly and frequently that I was no more inspired than they were—if I gave them counsel it was from Ken Clark based on his vast experience and knowledge of all things!!!!! They should be as ready to leave it as take it. I wanted to visit them in their homes as often as I could and eat their cookies and love their kids. I wanted to model PH administrative methods for the young men and women in leadership, so they would learn that guilt and shame are not good church administration tools. Finally, I wanted to emphasize that those in the community not of our faith were often better examples of Christ-like living than we Mormons were—we should learn as much as we can and humbly thank them.
The effect on the members was wonderful. I wouldn’t change a thing. I loved most of my time spent serving. I didn’t kill myself and put my family last on the list because all my kids were grown and out of the house. My wife took a job working at an Assisted Living Facility in Pullman on weekends and didn’t come to church. We transferred her records to our ward so some other nosey bishop did not make trouble for her.
During sacrament meetings I asked people to come up and create a “Spontaneous Ward Choir.” It was fun. We didn’t guilt people into joining the choir if they were too busy or just wanted to be home with their families.
I skipped meetings whenever I could. We held PEC, Welfare and other meetings of that ilk via e-mail on Wednesday nights when the ward leaders reported their activities. I asked them after “discussing” things with them if they thought we had enough other business to hold PEC. Most often they said “no” and I agreed.
We focused all sacrament meetings on Christ and the effect His life, example and atonement has had on us. I took time to instruct them on the concept of grace—we really are saved by grace!
I cancelled all the meetings after sacrament meeting several times a year so we could enjoy time at home with our families.
I got called to task by a ward member now and again for not emphasizing the life and service of Joseph Smith. I always smiled and responded with, “I prefer to emphasize the Savior of the world and his mission.”
I got to be in the same ward as two of my sons. That was great.
I was privileged to inject a lot of humor into our meetings. I wanted the members to know that if we possess the good news then we can be “of good cheer.”
I was released after 3 years. I was not aware that the student stake president harbored a lot of animosity toward me for my style of administration as a bishop—particularly the practice of canceling meetings wherever possible.
The Beginning of the End
I was released in May 2001. I had not met or seen the stake president for over 8 months and when I contacted his second counselor, my CES colleague at the Institute, that was the only way I could get information about my release. I tried to prepare the ward so whoever was following me as bishop could step into a smooth running operation. I didn’t know that the stake president did not want to talk to me.
After I was released I felt good. But trouble was brewing. Wow! I got a big shock when my CES Area Director from Seattle came over for an annual evaluation. He told me that he had some serious discussions with the stake president whom I served under. That stake president had written on an evaluation form for CES that I was not worthy to be hired as a full-time employee of CES! I couldn’t believe it. What had I ever done to him? His complaint was that while serving as a bishop I didn’t attend the number of meetings I should have—particularly Personal Interviews with him. I was astounded. Here was that meeting thing again. I asked my AD if he had said anything else about my performance. He had. He admitted that all the kids in the ward loved me, my ward led the stake in all important statistics, and in all other ways I had done a great job—but I had missed several interviews with him. I could clearly remember missing at least one. I apologized to him afterward and asked if he wanted to reschedule. He curtly answered no. I honestly couldn’t remember missing others unless I had to conduct faculty meetings in other regions of Northern Idaho. But I remembered calling his executive secretary and telling him that I had a conflict. Even CES policy states that when it comes to CES work requirements, they trump ecclesiastical meetings. The other stake president who I had served under before the formation of the student stake had realized that they had made a mistake by scheduling interviews with me on nights that I was required to conduct faculty meetings of teach an Institute class. He and I only met once but he understood. This guy didn’t even try to understand. He tried to get me fired.
I didn’t get any help, support or sympathy from my AD. Thank you so very much Richard! He wasn’t about to question a PH leader in my behalf. I questioned my AD. After recovering somewhat from shock, I asked him what justification a stake president had for claiming that I was unworthy to work for CES for differences in an administration style totally unrelated to CES? My administrative style as a bishop was not something that CES should consider as a condition of employment. If the stake president had a problem with me why hadn’t he talked to me about it instead of harboring it like a festering sore? Wasn’t he supposed to be the example of what a Christian disciple’s conduct should be? I saw him as a petty sourpuss. But that didn’t help my job security with CES. The last thing a CES employee wants is a stake president on the hunt for his job. Because it didn’t matter how illogical, how untrue, or how invalid his criticism were, I was in the cross-hairs and my AD wasn’t going to help me. I was in trouble!
The Noose Gets Tighter
Even though my Area Director could not muster the moral courage to support me it appeared that he recognized that I was a gifted teacher. He appointed me Region Faculty Chair, responsible for planning and conducting in-service meetings for CES full-time faculty in the region. I sat on the Area Training Council, the group responsible for planning training meetings. I think he valued my opinions. I honestly don’t know. Because he began to nit-pick at things that I thought were moronic from that period on.
For instance we met about something a colleague had complained about. I had written an email to those in my region giving information about a CES meeting where participants would share their feelings about President Hinckley’s book, Standing for Something. I added a silly note because I thought it was funny. Sometimes I poked fun at the seriousness with which members regard anything written by the church leaders. I said in the email that I had heard that President Hinckley’s less active brother had also written a book called, Sitting for Nothing. Most of the guys got a kick out of it and told me so. I had responded to a silly moment while sitting at the keyboard. I certainly didn’t mean to offend anyone. My AD gravely informed me that I had hurt someone’s feelings. I laughed because it was so much like a sixth grade level issue. He got upset because I wasn’t taking the matter more seriously. I asked him how I could when it was so juvenile to tattle on me. If someone had a problem with a sophomoric and admittedly stupid remark by me, let them come to me and tell me. “I’ll apologize and be done with it. Why make it a major issue?”, was my response.
The AD surprised me and replied, “Well, that brings me to another serious matter.” My colleague was too afraid to confront me with the issue because I intimidated him the AD reported. I told the AD that if the guy was about my age (1) he should be ashamed for acting so childish and helpless, (2) be willing to admit that it was juvenile to play the role of the victim as an excuse not to do the right thing and talk to me, and (3) it was silly to tattle to the AD. Besides I added, “Richard, as the AD you’re adding fuel to the fire by allowing the guy to get away with this nonsense.” I tried to make the point that scripture says to talk to me directly (D&C 42:88) if there was a problem. I thought I’d better find a job or I was going to get fired or go crazy. My observation is that when it is convenient to use scripture to whip the members into shape, leaders never hesitate to use it. When leaders are contradicting scriptural advice, they ignore it.
Believe it or not, Richard brought that issue up at least two more times. He just wouldn’t let go of it. Once was during a meeting with my wife. I nearly exploded when he did. I asked, “when are you going to let that issue go?” My wife questioned him and asked why he continued to bring up such silly issues. He began to quake and shake and said, “I don’t know what to say Teresa.” But more of that later.
I had to endure another big inquisition. It was in February of 2002. My colleague at the Moscow Institute, K contacted me and told me that I was in a huge amount of trouble. He told me that President M (the stake president of the student stake) had been given an email that was very incriminating. He said M called him to tell him that I committed a serious and grave sin. He told K that the email was very damaging to my career and he intended on calling Salt Lake CES Administrators about my misstep. In reality M was searching for something to discredit me.
The next thing I knew I was on the phone with the other stake president in town who said that we needed to sit down and talk—The Seattle CES AD, President M and himself (Kirby—the one who told me to bring in my paycheck stubs so he could calculate my tithing). I told him that I’d be happy to sit down and talk about the email or anything else. They were all very concerned about some things I had written in my email as well as some other “serious” problems. At the time I was serving on the High Council under Kirby and we were getting along famously, even though he admitted that he didn’t like me at all before he got to know me. That’s all right. I didn’t like him much before or after getting to know him. I never felt like I could fully trust him. I was right. He loved the spotlight and had a way of speaking in a folksy and humble way that always managed to make him the “star.” I thought he tried a little too hard to be admired. It also bothered me that he betrayed confidences. In his talks when he would get carried away (by the Spirit of God) he had a habit of telling stories about the personal lives of individuals in our stake boundaries. I had done a fair bit of counseling for free as a gesture of good will and I knew who some of the people were he was talking about. I lost some respect for him because of that. It indicated an insatiable desire to be loved, at the expense of stake members’ privacy.
He is also a liar. He promised me that he would not let M go on a tirade again about my service as a bishop over a year earlier because it did not pertain to my performance as a CES employee. He said Jack was really upset and wanted to meet and he wasn’t sure he could control Jack because he was so angry at me.
We all sat down for my last inquisition. I was pretty comfortable because Kirby had promised me that M couldn’t pile on old, past, irrelevant issues. It was after that one that I told myself and my wife that I would never sit through another one of those kangaroo courts again.
Of course the first item was the email message. The subject of the message was faith. I wrote it because some of the concern that I had that some young women in the class had that it wasn’t acceptable to stand and bear their testimonies by saying, “I believe. . . .” I told them that it was fine to do that and probably more honest. I told them that I did it and intended to do it more because it made me feel more comfortable than declaring, “I know the church is the only true church on earth!” I also pointed out to them the places in scripture where Jesus exhorted his disciples and other believers to “Be not afraid, only believe (Mark 5:36).” I pointed out the root word in Greek for the word faith (pistis) and it’s basic meaning is to believe. I had pointed out to some other students that the Mormon articles of faith, composed by Joseph Smith all save one begin with the words, “We believe. . .” I gave those who say “I believe” a great deal of credit for being honest and admitting where they were spiritually.
It didn’t matter that I thought I had written a substantive and valid message about the concept of belief and faith. It didn’t matter that all my examples from scripture were verifiable. M wanted his pound of flesh. He said I had undermined the faith of the students. Kirby and Richard (CES AD) all solemnly agreed. I thought it was ironic. They were talking about the same faith that I described in the email message. If all the students already knew everything, my little message could not have possibly had any negative effect. My point was that saying “I believe” is an admission that they don’t know something beyond any doubt. I meekly apologized and admitted that I must have not put enough thought into my email message. I apologized for offending any students. I informed them however, that not a single student had expressed any dissatisfaction with the message. I suggested that they tell me who exactly was offended so I could personally apologize. They couldn’t or wouldn’t identify any. I asked them if they wanted me to apologize to the entire class and explain my sin and ask for their forgiveness. They didn’t think I should do that either. I wondered if I was just being called in for a good dressing down to make M happy and feel good about himself. It was obvious he didn’t want me walking out of the meeting still gainfully employed with CES. Why is it wrong to encourage students to be honest? If they feel more comfortable they may share their honest feelings by using the phrase, “I believe.” To this day, it sounds reasonable. I gave students credit for being willing to share their testimony at all in a public forum.
The next cardinal offense on my part came from M too. He wanted to know if it it was true that I had once told a woman (about my age) who attended Institute, “you have a right to your private political opinions, I have a right to mine and Gordon B. Hinckley has a right to his.” I admitted that indeed I did. I also pointed out that we read messages from the First Presidency declaring that all Mormons are free to hold their own political opinions without any coercion from the leaders of the church. Members are encouraged to exercise their views by voting at the polls. They agreed and seemed stumped for a second until Jack added that he thought that the way I had said it to the woman was the problem. I defended myself a little adding that the woman had displayed more than a little “attitude” toward me during our discussions, and in the interest of simply agreeing to disagree, I turned around in the hallway—she was following close behind and wouldn’t drop the issue—and I did in fact snap at her after begging her to drop it several times. I pointed out that I had a woman waiting at my office door who was petrified that she might be seen waiting to visit with me for a counseling appointment. I tried to stop the woman from my class from continuing down the hall to my office. They didn’t buy it. It’s true though. Because the arguing woman was the neighbor and best friend of M and his wife, he was steamed.
By now, it appeared that I was slipping through his carefully crafted net. At this point in the meeting, he was seething.
The third cardinal sin I had committed was that when asked by a young woman in class, “Brother Clark, have you ever seen an R-rated movie?” I answered, “Yes.” She asked me how I could ever do that since the prophet had advised members against seeing R-rated movies? I explained that despite what the prophet says, members are not robots. They still have to make informed decisions. It’s wise to set up some parameters for making decisions like that. I explained that I never saw R-rated movies that displayed gratuitous sex or violence. I made the decision to attend ones that had a noble and uplifting message such as Saving Private Ryan or Schindler’s List. The discussion went on a lot further, but that is the gist of it. Apparently the girl had told a PH leader and M grabbed hold of it so tight his knuckles were white. He milked it.
All present expressed their horror and righteous indignation that I would ever go to an R-rated movie and then undermine the kids’ faith by admitting it. I asked them if they were advising me to lie. They said they there were ways to answer the question without admitting the truth. And they stressed again, I should have never gone to an R-rated movie.
Richard, the CES AD sat silently all the while, piously nodding in agreement every time another barb was thrust into my side by Kirby and Jack. Richard and I had attended an R-rated movie together in Provo, Utah several years before when we attended a CES symposium! Like the others, it was not a movie containing gratuitous violence or sex, and had a noble theme. He didn’t admit it of course.
Another twist is that M, the pious stake president who was going for my jugular with everything his retired Air Force experience could muster, had a reputation for being the one of the most foul-mouthed baseball coaches ever to work with the young 15 year-old ball players in Moscow! Those poor kids endured some of the worst crude and vulgar language one can imagine—and they were merely teens! A bishop whose boy played on the team informed me.
I stopped trying to explain to them that an R-rated movie isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the world. I didn’t go into a lot of detail except to say that I would have invited Jesus and President Hinckley to watch the movies I had seen.
I began to apologize when I saw I wasn’t going to persuade them that I might have a valid argument. I needed to walk out of there with a job. M misjudged me. He thought I would fight, scrap, and exhibit all kinds of rebellion—that would help prove his case against me. He didn’t expect the apologizing. After all, the verdict had already been decided before I walked into the room.
They hadn’t pinned anything on me at least to the degree that M had imagined. So they began to change the reason we came. They decided that admittedly, none of those offenses was all that serious, but collectively they “revealed a pattern of disturbing behavior.” To make the case, Kirby decided to bolster their case by using my behavior as a bishop—the exact material he had promised solemnly he would not allow Jack to bring into the conversation. Incidentally, I’m proud of everything I did as a bishop. I don’t have a single regret and neither do my ward members.
I hadn’t attended enough Personal Priesthood Interviews (PPIs) to satisfy Jack. Those are meetings between a bishop and stake president where they discuss ward issues. Jack’s PPIs were boring because he rambled on and on about all kinds of things. I defended myself and he became so angry that Kirby gently said something to both of us that was obviously pointed at Jack. I reminded Jack that he had cancelled many PPIs because of his bout with shingles. He vehemently denied it. He was being less than honest to make his case.
Jack asked me if it was true that while serving as a bishop I had wadded up a letter from the First Presidency that ordered us all to hold 3 hours worth of meetings on a Sunday closest to Christmas Day. I had. I had already promised my little flock that we would go to sacrament meeting and then be dismissed to go home and spend that precious holiday time with our families instead of sitting in church meetings. They were filled with resentment at my irreverence for the prophets’ orders. I would do the same thing again in a heartbeat.
Kirby told me that I was not orthodox and he didn’t see anyway that he would ever let his daughter attend my classes. I was dangerous. I couldn’t be trusted. All I could do was sit and listen.
Richard decided to get into the act. He asked me in front of the group why I had a sign on my door “telling students you don’t want to see them.” I corrected him and told him that the sign on my door “asked” students to please make an appointment. They were all very displeased and ordered me to get rid of the sign. “It tells kids you don’t want to talk to them.” I explained that I was the one at the institute who visited with the kids, not my colleague. I’m the one who dispensed free professional counseling, and plenty of it. I’m the one who the single ward bishops referred their problem kids to. I’m the one the bishops in the town wards and the student married wards to referred their tough marriage cases to. How could I possibly be accused of turning students away? Again, the facts weren’t about to side track them from their duty—to humble me, and perhaps fire me.
After they all took turns pummeling me for no less than 3 hours, we began to talk about my future. Jack had to excuse himself and missed this part of the discussion or I would probably have been fired that night. Kirby I think, was too afraid to confront Jack, but being fair minded enough to know that I had been railroaded somewhat, held the discussion while Jack was away. It was decided that I would have to be moved. Kirby asked me what if CES wanted to move me to Southeast Idaho. I told him candidly, “I’d quit.” He believed me. He looked to Richard. Richard said that there was going to be an opening in Pasco, Washington. I could be moved there perhaps.
I had to excuse myself to go present a lesson to the Relief Society of my ward on healthy family relationships. I was supposed to go and act cheerful and upbeat. I was beaten to a pulp. I had saved my job but I was definitely going to be moved. I gave the lesson. I was supposed to meet Teresa and Richard for dinner at a nice restaurant afterward. I was so depressed. They had successfully beaten me down, and I had no energy left.
Teresa and I had dinner with Richard. He didn’t offer any concessions. He said that when a stake president and a CES man lock horns, there is only one thing to do—move the CES man, no matter how wrong or pig-headed the stake president is. Teresa appealed to him to explain that crazy rationale. Richard’s reply was, “Teresa I don’t know what to tell you.” And that’s all he would say. Richard told me that he and Jack would have more meetings.
As it turned out, Kirby got hold of Jack and talked to him some more that same night. He tried to calm Jack down because he was fuming. Kirby told me later that it bothered him that Jack was so intent on exacting some revenge on me. He was livid because I was still employed I guess. Kirby told him to try and reconcile and give me a chance.
There was talk about me being transferred. K, my colleague at Moscow, Jack’s first counselor in the stake presidency, tried to be upbeat. K told me he was trying to protect me. Looking back I think he threw me to the wolves. He tried hard to get me transferred and tried to convince me it was for the best. T, my other CES pal and colleague at the Pullman Institute (Kirby’s first counselor) was also encouraging but I think he caved in when I needed someone to defend me. That information came from later conversations with Kirby. He admitted that he always asked about me behind my back and gathered information that way. The reviews my colleagues gave me, at least the way he reported them, were never very good. I think those scared little guys were not about to risk their secure employment to stand up for me. After all, I was going to be okay—just uprooted and moved away perhaps. Why risk your own job for a friend? Because of later public comments by my Moscow colleague and “friend” it was obvious that he thought I had brought all of this on myself. He ran away as fast as he could to distance himself from me. hat’s a big part of CES—look out for number one.
After the initial shock wore off and I had a day or two to talk about the infamous inquisition with Teresa, we became angry and determined to leave CES as soon as we could. I told my colleagues as much and Kirby too—after I began speaking to him again. He called a meeting a few weeks after the inquisition and I told him that I was disappointed that he had lied and betrayed me. He admitted that he let Jack have a go at me. I didn’t need that information. I had already experienced the blunt end of it. He wanted to make up. I told him I wanted to be released from the high council to look for a job. He quickly agreed, and two days later, they sustained a doctor from the area to take my place. The doctor had had an affair with a beautiful nurse at the hospital a few years before that was the story of the day at the hospital. No one who worked there respected this good Mormon doctor. Part of the reason was because his wife was one of the most respected people in town. She had ethics, morals, and more character than all the Mormons in town. She had quit the church years before. But he betrayed her trust to the maximum levels imaginable. He was known all over town for being very “touch”—hands on thighs, rubbing, caressing, etc. if a beautiful blonde came for an appointment. That was my replacement on the high council.
I received a phone call from Richard from CES headquarters in Seattle. He said we ought to talk. I told him that he was the last guy I wanted to talk to. So we didn’t talk. We attended a Mid-Year Convention in Spokane about a month later. He approached me and shook my hand with his big grin and patted me on the shoulder and said, “what’s wrong Ken?” I looked him in the eye and answered, “What do you think?” He knew, and left me alone. Later I got in trouble because I “made” his wife Betty feel badly because I wasn’t my old usual, friendly self. I was supposed to buy into the dysfunction and feel responsible for her bad feelings.
We ended up leaving the convention early to get me to the doctor. I had a sinus infection. I was never so glad to have had one. It felt much better than sitting in meetings with a bunch of earnest and intensely sincere guys and their wives who (1) “know that this is the only true church on the face of the earth; and, (2) the Lord will never let his prophet lead us astray; and, (3) when the Lord speaks the thinking has been done.”
After a couple of weeks, Richard decided to tell me that we had to meet. I told Teresa. He was a little hesitant when Teresa showed up. She asked him why he failed to defend me instead of contributing to the feeding frenzy at the last inquisition. Something odd and remarkable happened when she spoke. He began to tremble and shake uncontrollably. He answered, “I don’t know.” His voice was quivering. She asked him why 27 years of exemplary teaching meant nothing to him and the stake presidents who tried to take my job? He said, “I don’t know what to tell you Teresa.” He kept quaking—every inch of him. Teresa asked again, “Richard, what are we supposed to do?” He was still shaking and gave his repetitious reply again, “I don’t know Teresa. I don’t know what to say.”
Teresa asked him what the real complaints against me were. “How can we defend ourselves against complaints if we don’t know what they are?” His answer again was, “I don’t know what to tell you Teresa. One of the bishops said that Ken was a wolf in sheep’s clothing.”
I asked him, “What are you talking about? Why didn’t you tell them to come and talk to me?” He said, “I don’t know Ken.” I thought he was going to begin to cry under the strain.
He was still trembling and from our vantage point could not make it stop. I wanted to know why he didn’t admit that he had gone to see an R-rated movie with me a few years ago, instead of lecturing me about morality and acting innocent during the last inquisition. He said he forgot. I told him I was absolutely unimpressed with his administrative ability because he sat there and let them cover all the old ground about my not attending enough meetings to suit Jack whiles serving as a bishop years earlier. “Why didn’t you put a stop to that?” He answered, “What was I supposed to say Ken?” I said, “You tell them that we’ve been over all that and it doesn’t have anything to do with Ken’s employment! Is that so hard? After all, that’s your job Richard! I told him that I thought he was the epitome of incompetence if “I don’t know” constitutes his best response to simple questions about his behavior. There was no response from him.
He brought up some other issues that we had covered long ago—all old that supposedly had been dealt with such as the one about my joking around about the inactive brother of President Hinckley writing Sitting for Nothing. I was really upset at him by now. I couldn’t believe that he dredged that up again.
The meeting ended with Teresa and I looking at each other wondering (1) how does this guy climb to the top of his profession as an administrator; (2) was he merely a lackey for the stake presidents to control like some puppet; (3) why would it have been so hard for him to be honest and more assertive with the stake presidents? (4) why in the world would he tremble and quake uncontrollably when he was the one with all the power and authority in the room? We believe that he had orders from Salt Lake to do something and report.
He promised to do all he could to relate “my side of the story” to Salt Lake. He said it was their decision what to do with me. I asked him as we stood ready to open the door for him, why he hadn’t understood my feelings before. He gave his usual response, “I don’t know.” I told him that if he had any questions about where we stood to please ask me and I’d repeat it. He said he knew where we stood.
Teresa and I were desperate to get out of CES!. The church is under no obligation to provide a fair hearing, due process, or any other guarantees that workers for a state, federal or municipal entity are entitled. They can fire you on a whim. It says so on every letter of appointment—their preferred term for contract. In the last paragraph of my contract dated 7-9-02, it reads, “It is understood that your appointment may be discontinued without cause (italics mine) at any time by CES.”
Because my colleague T, at the Pullman Institute felt burned out he wanted to switch positions with me. He got his wish. I was appointed as the Director of the Pullman Institute. His enrollment has been steadily declining over the past couple of years and others thought the Institute needed some fresh blood.
Director of the Pullman Institute
I began moving my things from the Moscow Institute of Religion to the Pullman Institute. It was odd that I was on probation, skating on thin ice, one foot on the banana peel, and all the other clichés, with CES, yet I was being promoted to Director. It was bizarre and I was discouraged. The job market wasn’t good and I was sick that I might have to stay in the church teaching one more year. I was wracked by guilt too. I was too scared to quit; because I was afraid of losing our home; our cars; everything. I felt guilty because I was taking the church’s money but I didn’t believe the falsified history and doctrine. I felt unethical for teaching their version; but I felt threatened if I didn’t.
As packed my 96 boxes at my Moscow office and laboriously unpacked them again in Pullman, I tried to think of a way to get through the year without stirring up trouble with my honesty. I decided that I would teach courses that were less controversial. I decided to teach Old Testament, New Testament, Biblical Hebrew, and the Book of Mormon. I also determined that I would ask volunteers to teach any courses dealing with church history or the latter-day prophets. That way I wouldn’t be as likely to be asked questions that might evoke unseemly stories about church leaders. Most of those questions come up in church history, Pearl of Great Price, or Doctrine and Covenants courses. Because the church leaders have revised and re-written so much history and latter-day doctrine it is difficult to avoid being asked questions that I would feel required to answer truthfully. For instance, in church history, evidence clearly points to Joseph Smith’s 1832 version of the First Vision as the most accurate. Yet it is not the official version approved by the church. In fact most members don’t know that an 1832 account exists and contradicts the official version. But in fact, the 1832 account was written before Joseph felt it necessary to embellish and add details that cannot be substantiated. It describes a vision not unlike visions that Christian ministers of his day describe. Its message is one of forgiveness, like common visions in his day. There was no charge that all the churches were wrong, and that he was called to organize a new one. It did not cause Joseph to change his behavior as he suggests in his later, revised accounts. It did not constitute a call to the work as his “official version” suggests. It sounds just like other evangelical Protestant epiphanies until he began to change it, to sound much more dramatic. All the evidence supports the earliest accounts of his experience with prayer and a forgiveness of sins, rather than the expanded and re-worked version produced later in his life (1838) that Mormons regard as the official version.
That is merely the first problem of dozens and dozens that one comes across when studying church history, Pearl of Great Price, or the Doctrine and Covenants. Add to that the translation of the Book of Mormon problems (evidence indicates he didn’t translate anything, but merely used his imagination and sources available to him), the restoration of the priesthood—he never mentioned anything about a miraculous visitation from angels to restore the PH until 1834-35. His revelations when first prepared for publication in the Book of Commandments were later revised and expanded making many events appear more miraculous than first explained. And then they were placed in the Doctrine and Covenants. Members are unaware of the duplicitous nature of the history and doctrine of their church. To me it constituted false advertising and fear of the truth.
I was resigned to remain in the church and try to teach and lay low until I could find a job. I had made up my mind that if I could find something before the school year ended, I would resign immediately. I just couldn’t find anything. I had applied for jobs that I felt absolutely confident about but never received a request for an interview. One of the funniest was when I applied for the night supervisor’s position at the Student Recreation Center at the University of Idaho. The ad said that they wanted someone with administrative experience, a Bachelor’s degree, and a list of other qualifications that I possessed 10 times over. I never even got an interview. The one interview I did get was for a 5th grade teaching position in my hometown of Benton City, Washington. I received serious consideration but didn’t get it. I can’ understand why. I had been out of public education for 27 years.
Mormon students from Washington State University dropped in the office and offered me some very gracious compliments that summer as I moved in. They had seen the list of advertised classes for the fall semester and were very enthusiastic. That institute had been losing students for a while and the enrollment drop was a concern to some. I knew that I could attract lots of students. I thought the classes would pique their curiosity and then my teaching style would keep them in the classes. I had developed a pretty unique teaching style at least for the church. I tried not to dominate the class by becoming a talking head. I developed questions that stimulated the students to think and ask questions of their own. I didn’t find it necessary to give the students all the “right” answers as CES faculty are trained to do. For instance when teaching a lesson on missionary work for the Doctrines of the Gospel class the prior semester, my big question was, “Do Mormons practice the principle of informed consent when doing missionary work?” It was a much different approach than most were used to. It caused students to reflect about their ethics while recruiting for the church. I can honestly say that in the 33 years while I was a member, I was never cautioned about ethics and honesty when doing missionary work. To the contrary, I heard laughs, chuckles, and some gentle mocking at non-members on many occasions when a member would report how dishonest tactics had been used to stump someone during a religious discussion. Confronting the principle of ethics was a refreshing change for most of the students.
After spending weeks getting the institute’s web site up to date, the course schedules out, and lots of other duties, not to mention the sheer load of unpacking, I was getting resigned to my fate. I wrestled with my conscience. I was so conflicted. I didn’t believe a thing I was going to teach the next two semesters, yet I was doing it for the money—I was too chicken to simply quit and take my chances. I didn’t respect myself very much.
I continued to search for jobs but it wasn’t going anywhere. I had visited with the president of Lewis-Clark State College, who I had known when she served as an Assistant Dean at the University of Idaho. I also conferred with the Vice-President of Student Affairs at the University of Idaho who was a good friend and taught classes for my doctoral coursework. Neither of them had anything to offer me. Both generously offered to write me outstanding letters of recommendation.
My 27 years working for the church was an obstacle for most employers. They simply didn’t believe that I had learned anything that would transfer to an institution of higher education. I thought they were wrong but that didn’t matter. While the church hadn’t given me anything in the way of good, solid philosophy, theory and practice of administration in higher education, my academic coursework had and so had my teaching for the University of Idaho. I thought, “If I can get them to interview me, I can convince them that I am current when it comes to administration philosophy, theory and practice.” I couldn’t get an interview however. I asked the Department Chair of Religious Studies to hire me. She said she didn’t have any money. I had the highest evaluations of any faculty in the department including my colleague K who taught there too. But that didn’t help.
I was depressed. I was scared. I didn’t know what to do. Was I really going to end up teaching for the church another year? What about going to boring church meetings and all the rest? Was I going to keep paying around $5,000 or more per year so I could keep my job? I was so worried because I just couldn’t see the stake presidents leaving me alone for another year. I felt like a carcass that the buzzards were circling.
That’s about the time that Bishop Lemon called us in for the interview that we flunked for not paying tithing by the month, reading scriptures too much in church, and not attending our own ward enough. Of course the stake president pushed me over the edge when he said to bring in my paycheck stubs so he could calculate how much tithing I should pay, and let them check up on meeting attendance every time I left town to visit out of town relatives. I ought to kiss those two guys for their outrageous tactics. They drove me to quit.
A few days after I quit I contacted both my friends again by email—the president of LCSC and the VP of Student Affairs at UofI. I told them that I had resigned because I couldn’t take it anymore. I didn’t have a job and needed some advice. Should I agree to do something like janitorial work, take classes; do an internship, or what? I was at the Pullman Institute when I emailed them. I was packing my 96 boxes again. Because some stuff belonged to CES I was only going to pack 83. After sending the email and before heading for home, I called my home and checked my messages. I had a message on the machine from the president of LCSC. She said she might have something for me.
I drove home and called her. She said that their Director of Grants and Contracts was taking a leave and it had come as a surprise to her and the Provost in a meeting that morning. They weren’t sure how they would replace her. She came from that meeting to her office and read her email. Mine was the first message and she said, “why not Ken?” We talked about the job, but she didn’t want to tell me very much before she did some serious checking with other senior administration. Besides she had meetings in Boise and couldn’t get back to the matter for while. She said she would call back in a week or so Was I interested? I told her that I was extremely interested.
Hope is the mother of happiness. I was ecstatic. I waited for a week to hear some news. I did some checking on websites to see what the grant writing was all about. She called back about a week later. I was babysitting my grandson Jake. We were shooting baskets outside, and I got a phone call. The president told me that if I wanted the job of Interim Director of Grants and Contracts it was mine. I would begin sometime in September on a part-time basis, and then begin full-time duties on November 1st. Neither of us was sure I would like it or could learn it. It wasn’t just a matter of learning to write a grant. It was the entire process of grant administration—both pre and post award duties—grant writing is only one small aspect of it. But both the president and I were happy. She is a caring person, spiritual, approachable, and extremely intelligent. She wanted to help me.
She invited me to her investiture as president of LCSC in August, and asked me to attend an all campus meeting where I was introduced to the faculty and staff of LCSC. I felt uncomfortable. But I was also excited, happy and optimistic. I kept telling myself that I had written a dissertation so I felt that I could make this work.
I’ve completed a year at LCSC and the search process for a permanent Director of Grants and Contracts. I am the candidate the president and committees selected. My salary rose considerably, and none of it will go to Mormon taxes. Teresa and I have enjoyed this last year more than any since we were married. We have not lived as comfortably this year as in the past, but it’s been full of so much more joy and peace. We are not being ordered to wear temple garments (Mormon sacred underwear) not being told that we’ll suffer the Lord’s wrath for drinking iced tea; not suffering awful dread every time Sunday rolls around because of the requirement to go to lots of meetings, not being assigned to spend evenings out every month home teaching and visiting teaching, not being asked to attend the high priests socials and activities, not being fed a steady diet of “the leaders of the church will never lead the church astray—so don’t question anything, just be submissive and obedient.”
Soon we will have our names removed from the records of the church. I resent it that Mormon bishops and other ward leaders talk about us in their PEC, Welfare, and Ward Correlation Council meetings. I resent it that they number us as Mormons as if we are faithful, after we have made it clear that we want nothing to do with the church’s meetings and activities. We’ve given ourselves a year to think about it because we don’t want to injure the feelings of our one son who is still active. Our other 4 children have had the wisdom and courage to leave the church—before we did. They tease us about not taking their advice sooner.
That’s our story. We were happy little Methodists enjoying life outside Mormonism before converting. At age 20 and 18 respectively, we were married and inducted into the Mormon way of life. We served in every kind of calling. If you’re curious, Teresa twice served as a counselor in the Relief Society, and twice served as a counselor in the Primary, and once as a Young Women’s President. She has served in many other callings too. I served as a counselor in the Elder’s Quorum Presidency and General Secretary of the Aaronic PH (remember that position?), High Councilman (3 times), Bishop’s Counselor (both first and second counselor), Ward Executive Secretary, High Priests Group Leader, Ward Mission Leader, Young Men’s President, Stake Young Men’s President, Stake Activity Committee Leader, Varsity Scout Leader, Primary Teacher, District Scout Commissioner, and Bishop. There were some other assignments along the way for both of us but it tells you that we were not just on the fringes of Mormonism—we were on the inside as far as you could get. Now we’re out again.
Are we bitter and hostile? A little, but we think about the church less and less every day.
Are we still friends with the members? I don’t know. We hold nothing against them personally, but they won’t talk to us anymore. We’re like lepers as far as the Mormon community is concerned. If they bump into us at the store there is awkward smiling and general conversation about the weather.
Will we ever go back to church? Never.
Are we Christians today? Yes, but we are not members of any organized denomination.
Some curious things to us are:
Mormons assume that if you leave the church you can’t be happy. Nothing could be further from the truth. We are happier than ever because they no longer have a grip on us.
Mormons assume that if you leave the church that your spiritual life will suffer. Not so. We feel closer to God than ever before, yet I am free to combine reason with my faith and ask hard questions. That produced uncomfortable tension in the church so it just isn’t done.
Mormons assume that you need the church to prod you to be good and do good to others. Nothing could be further from the truth in our case. We feel more like reaching out to do good to others. It’s very liberating.
Mormons assume that your family life is better in the church because of the emphasis on family. Not so again. We are closer as a family now because there is less judging based on narrow church beliefs. Instead of measuring everyone in the family against what the church says is right and wrong, we simply love each other and let them explore their own spirituality. We know that God loves us and his grace is sufficient. We don’t assume that our children who haven’t served missions and married in the temple are lost. It makes for a much better relationship.
Mormons assume that Christians believe in a kind of cheap grace that gives you license to sin, while claiming to be saved. Not true. Christians believe that they are saved by the grace of God because of Christ’s death and blood shed on the cross. They believe that grace entices one to do good and be good. Mormons try to earn grace by living well enough to qualify for it. That is an oxy-moron. Grace, by definition can’t be earned nor can you qualify for it.
Mormons deny that Christ paid for their sins on the cross and claim that He did it in Gethsemane. The Bible, Book of Mormon, and D&C all teach that Christ paid for our sins on the cross. Jesus’ own words in the D&C are clear in about a dozen places. For instance, D&C 35:2 says, “I am Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who was crucified for the sins of the world. . . “ There are many other passages in the Book of Mormon and D&C just like this that they ignore for some reason.
Mormons believe and actively teach that their prophets will never lead the church astray. They already have. Joseph Smith was a con man using a peep stone to trick the gullible into paying him to locate buried treasure. It was a well known scam perpetrated by him and he was arrested and found guilty for it in 1826. He lied about his past. He lied about the first vision, and the 3 witnesses (they later claimed that they didn’t actually literally see the gold plates, rather it was in a vision in their minds), the restoration of PH authority, and plural marriage. He heaped lie upon lie while trying to conceal his sexual appetite for young women—lots of them— under the guise of polygamy, which he claimed was revealed to him by God. When he was caught having sex in the barn with a 19 year-old maid in their home (Fanny Alger) in 1833 it caused quite a stir. The church now claims that it was one of his first plural marriages. He was a sexual predator and a liar. I could begin a long list about Brigham Young but will confine it to the violence he perpetrated against other Mormons using William Hicks, Hosea Stout and Porter Rockwell (destroying angels) and non-members, as well as the Mountain Meadows Massacre. The ban on black persons to keep them from obtaining equal status in the church by denying them the PH is reprehensible. It definitely led the church astray. The Adam-God theory led the church astray. The oath of vengeance given to every initiate in the temple until the early 1900’s lead the church astray.
I only wish we would have left sooner to discover much of the beauty that life offers we were denied while in Mormonism.