Thursday, April 27, 2006

GROWING UP IN MORMONISM AND BECOMING A CHRISTIAN

I was born a Mormon, in England. I don't remember many details about my early life, but I do know that when I was young, my father was tried and convicted of child pornography. He had been a teacher. My parents got divorced, and when my father got out of jail he vanished. When you're young, you don't really understand that this is unusual; you just accept. I think I was five or six when this happened; I'm not too sure. I've since found out that my oldest brother was sexually abused by my father somewhere along the line. Anyone who thinks Mormon families are immune to this sort of dysfunctionality is kidding themselves.

When I was seven or so, my mother met a Mormon man who was in the US Air Force. They were quickly engaged and married, and this man (the only person I think of as my "father") loves each of us from my mother's first marriage very much. This is not to say we haven't had our disagreements--when I was a teenager, I considered my dad somebody best avoided. But recently we've become a lot closer. Of course, I'm skipping ahead a little bit, so I'd better back up some.

All my life, I had attended church--Primary, Sunday School, Young Men, Boy Scouts, the whole bit. I believed everything I had been told, as I'd never heard anything else. When I was 13, I was called to be Deacon Quorum President--most of the other deacons weren't even remotely serious about anything church-related. I tried hard to be the best Mormon, and expected to go on a mission when I was 19.

I guess while I was in high school things got a little weird. By the time I was 14, I was very much into computers (still am, I guess) and I realized I didn't have a whole lot in common with the other guys my age. The first church activity I stopped was Boy Scouts. My parents tried to encourage me to get back into Boy Scouts; when I told them I wasn't really interested in anything the Scouts routinely did (mainly getting together on Wednesday nights and screwing around for a couple of hours doing nothing) they suggested I try to integrate computers and Scouting. At the time, the Boy Scouts' idea of a computer merit badge was learning about punchcards and flowcharting. I understand this has changed now, but at that time I was already writing games in BASIC, so I didn't see a lot of common ground. Campouts were still fun, and I went on those, but the routine Boy Scout stuff was over for me.

The next thing that suffered was my Seminary studies. The first two years I was serious about it. I read everything I was supposed to read, finished all the home-study booklets (they didn't offer early morning Seminary in our ward), learned the scripture chase passages dutifully. But my junior year in high school, I just didn't care. I blew off all of the homework, although I still studied the scripture chase. (That was just memorization--I could handle that easily and compete well.) That year, my school studies also went down the tubes. I'd always been a straight-A student, but my junior year I began flunking school classes in a big way. I think I actually flunked three courses, completely. My parents couldn't understand what had happened to their "good kid", but they never stopped loving me and trying to get me to behave better. All the expectations were that I would still go on a mission, but now I wasn't so sure. I didn't see a mission fitting in with any plans to go to college--even though those plans were pretty much shot by my shoddy academic performance, I just couldn't imagine myself a Mormon missionary, when I could be going to school. But I sort of kept this to myself.

While in my senior year in high school, my father got orders to go to Germany, two months before my graduation--assuming I didn't flunk this year too, which was possible. My older two brothers and my older sister had already moved out, but I was only 17 and I wanted to finish high school. My parents and I agreed that I would stay in the US with another Mormon family in the Omaha area (where we had moved to eight years before). My younger sister, 15, would also stay in the area and complete her remaining two years of high school. My parents worried, but they knew that if anything serious happened, my older sister was still around, one of my older brothers was only as far away as Little Rock, and the church was there.

Well, the family I moved in with had three boys. The oldest was basically a psychotic hellion of about 8 years old. Part of the deal my parents had arranged with the family I was staying with was that I would babysit these children. Well, this child made babysitting very difficult. Shortly after I arrived there this child was hospitalized to try to determine why he was such a messed-up kid. After weeks of analysis, of having the child claim he heard demonic voices telling him to misbehave, of them wondering if he had multiple personalities, if he was schizophrenic, or what. When the Air Force decided to stop paying for this treatment, the hospital released him back into his parents' care. He was "better" for about a week; then he was back to his normal self. "Normal" meant that if he wanted attention, he would sit on the stairs and scream at the top of his lungs, endlessly. I was supposed to ignore this behavior, or tell him to take a "time-out", but this was about as effective as it sounds (not very). Unfortunately for me, I began to get a bit creative in my methods of dealing with this child. Once I tied his hands together and told him I wouldn't let him go until he shut up. Another time I showed him a morning star that I had. (For those of you who don't know, a morning star is a medieval weapon consisting of a thick, heavy stick with a chain at one end.

On the free end of the chain is a massive, heavy, spiked ball. It is a weapon meant to kill in a brutal fashion.) After several weeks we all went to "family counseling"; this child then told the counselor about these incidents. The counselor saw this child once a week for an hour (and he was normally impeccably mannered during this hour) so he no doubt thought my actions were completely unwarranted. They probably were, but if I'd been allowed to spank this child, I probably wouldn't have had to get creative. Nevertheless, I digress... the counselor had a social worker come by and inform this family that either I moved out or they took the child away. The family kicked me out, of course. (Later I heard that the father had molested his children, but there was never any evidence and I do not know if this was true. Even if not, this was hardly the "ideal" Mormon family.)

By this time I'd managed to (barely) graduate from high school. I'd somehow, probably on the basis of my ACT score, managed to acquire a full-tuition scholarship to the University of Nebraska at Omaha (UNO). I enrolled in school, found a cheap place to live, and kept my job at McDonald's to pay for it all. Since I had no car, I found it enormously convenient to stop going to church. I'd already stopped most other church activities while staying with this other family, but once on my own I never felt much desire to go to church. Sometimes my older sister would have a Sunday off (she was manager at a local Hardee's) and she would pick me up to go to church, but not very often. After a while I dropped out of school, and a few months later I quit my job in a fit of depression. A member of the church let me stay with him while I looked for another job, but after several months I still could not get a job.

Meanwhile, the family my younger sister was staying with had fared no better. The father had an affair, which just about ripped the family apart. (The perfect Mormon family strikes again.) My sister moved in with another family and fared much better for a while. My older sister decided she wasn't getting anywhere, and decided to join my parents in Germany. Since I had no job, and didn't think I'd be able to get one easily, I decided to go as well. Shortly after arriving in Germany, my older sister discovered that she was pregnant, from her long-time boyfriend. (I guess Mormon kids aren't really any better than other kids after all.)

So there I was in Germany, stuck on an air base in the middle of nowhere. We used to have a joke about Hahn AB: sure, it's only an hour away from anything interesting--at LEAST an hour away. Sure, you could walk off the air base any time you wanted to--but unless you spoke German (I don't), you wouldn't get very far. The only real thing to do was to be active in church, and the Mormon church certainly knew how to keep people busy, to forget how isolated they were. I was active in church again. I sang in the choir. I even started planning to go on a mission. (There was, after all, little else to do.) I met a great young woman. Life was good, and getting better.

But something happened. Somehow I never actually went on the mission. When it came time for that interview with the Bishop, where he asked me if I believed the things the Mormon church teaches (the Book of Mormon, Joseph Smith, etc.) I could not tell him that I had ever had that "burning conviction" that the "gospel" was true. So I told him that, although I had never had that feeling, that somehow I had always known it was true. What I was really saying was that I had always accepted that it was true, for no other reason than I had always been taught that it was true and that I couldn't conceive of such a large organization being false and nobody in the Mormon church knowing about it. (Okay, I was naive, but I was only 19.) I felt bad that I'd never had that conviction.

I'd read the Book of Mormon, and prayed about it... but never really felt anything. I'd stood up in Testimony meetings and borne "my" testimony, hoping that somehow I'd get one--always having been told that bearing your testimony made it stronger--but I never did. But I thought I wanted to go on a mission, so I said what I had to say.

The more I thought about it, about going for two years away from anything computer-related, the more I thought it was nutty. I had just started writing software that people were starting to notice, and things were getting better for me. At first I was heady at the thought that I was going to throw it all away, to sacrifice my future to advance the Mormon church--what could better prove that I believed the gospel, that I knew it was true? But the more I thought about it, and the closer I got to actually sending in that application, the more I thought it was lunacy to go on a mission for something I didn't believe in. I never went. I kept going to church, but nobody ever mentioned me going on a mission.

Incidentally, that nice young woman I met eventually left and, while in England, married a "good" Mormon man. This man physically abused her, beating her, and they were soon divorced. When I spoke with her last (a few years ago) she still had a difficult time talking about it. Another wonderful Mormon marriage...

When I was 21, I returned to the US and got a job in Texas, doing computer programming for a small company. Once again, I had no car; it was convenient not to go to church. Somehow I didn't miss it. I was living in such a remote location in Texas that the church didn't even try to contact me, although my parents suggested many times that I try to contact the church in the area. I didn't see the need.

In 1994, the company I worked for hired a new person. This company was so small that all three employees lived in the boss's extra house; one of us was completely intolerable to be with. So the new employee, Bryan, and I would frequently absent ourselves from the house and walk around the back country of Texas. Since we had plenty of time to talk, I decided this would be an opportune time to "preach the gospel" to Bryan.

We began by comparing religions. Bryan had been raised Christian, attended church all his life, and had been a pretty good kid. He explained Christianity to me according to the Bible, and I explained Christianity to him according to Mormon doctrine. There were numerous differences, to say the least. I was fairly certain in my convictions, and Bryan discovered that he was not certain enough of what HE believed to effectively "witness" to me.

After a short time, Bryan returned to his parents' home in Florida to retrieve some items he had stored there. Upon his return, his pastor had sent with him some information about "Mormonism" and why it wasn't Christian. Bryan began to relay bits and pieces of this information to me, things I couldn't answer. I'd never heard of the Adam-God doctrine, or the King James translation errors that appear in the Book of Mormon (from Joseph Smith plagiarizing from the Word of God and not quoting the King James correctly), or the fact that numerous changes had been made to all of the church's official "scriptures". I had no way to answer the charges he put before me. I had never been convinced that the Mormon church was really TRUE, but slowly I was becoming convinced that it had to be FALSE.

Early in 1995 Bryan and I left the company we had been working for and moved to Florida to start our own business. While staying at his parents' house, his parents shared some more information with me on the fallacies of the Mormon church. I was fairly certain by then that the Mormon church was completely wrong, but I was so frustrated with religion that I was cautious of accepting ANY religious sect as true, just so that I'd "have religion". My Book of Mormon lay closed and dusty; my weekly Church News (a Christmas gift from my parents) was routinely deposited in the trash. For a while I sort of floundered, not really sure exactly what to believe, but I knew there was a God, and that Jesus Christ died for my sins. I remember a conversation regarding religion I had with some young women at the time. Although most of those around us (we were at a wedding) were Christian, none of us at the table professed any firm convictions on the matter. All I knew was that the Mormon church was completely and totally wrong.

I had started attending church with Bryan, irregularly, and thought that perhaps there might be something there. I was distrustful, though, because I knew that so many "churches" taught nothing but fluff. Fortunately for me, Bryan attends a conservative, biblical church, where the Word of God is actually taught. I started attending weekly Bible study there, and over the course of several months, the Holy Spirit moved me to trust Jesus Christ alone for my salvation.

I don't feel bitter or angry towards the Mormon church, perhaps because I'm still young (24), and perhaps because I haven't had the harassment others have reported on leaving the Mormon church. Occasionally I receive letters from my "home teachers" in the local Mormon ward, asking me to join them in some ward activity. So far I have ignored these invitations, although I have decided if they send another, I'll respond politely, but firmly explaining that I am Christian and not Mormon, and that I am as interested in the Mormon church only as much as I'm interested in any other unsaved person.

My parents do not yet know I have left the Mormon church. I'm not entirely sure how to tell them, or my brothers and sisters and their spouses, who are all Mormon. My oldest brother claims to have left the Mormon church, but when my sister pressed him about his testimony of the Book of Mormon, he was unwilling to completely repudiate the book. I suspect he left the Mormon church only because his wife is not Mormon, and it would be inconvenient for him to be an active member, but I cannot say for sure.

Since becoming Christian, I have been amazed at the gross errors and falsehoods found in Mormonism. I'm still accumulating material on the Mormon church, mainly to try to convince my parents to leave it. I am constantly stunned at the brazen lies told by the Mormon church, its revision of its own history, and how they backpedal and retreat from positions no longer convenient to them. I have to wonder, at what level in the Mormon hierarchy do the people actually know that the whole thing is a sham?

Damien M. Jones

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