Wednesday, September 06, 2006

WHY SHOULD A MORMON BOTHER TO PRAY?

I have considered writing my thoughts and feelings regarding the LDS faith for a very long time. After I stumbled across this web page I have felt an overwhelming desire to put my feelings down on paper. So I have decided to follow the feeling, maybe more to organize my own thoughts than anything else, but I also believe it is important for others who are considering the decision to leave the LDS church to know that they are not alone.

I guess it is important to give a little history of myself. I am 25 years old, I am a multi-generational Mormon. I served a 2 year mission, I served in the mission office as an assistant to the president, I was married in the Salt Lake temple, I am still married. I have held numerous church callings throughout my life, and until recently always paid a full tithing. This is not to say that I have always been a "perfect child". I went through a "phase" as a teenager where I had severe questions as to the reality of God. I questioned all authority. For a short time in high school I would have even described myself as an atheist.

Then I met my current wife. In typical Mormon girl fashion she notified me after a year or so of serious dating, that I had to either straighten up or ship out. She needed to be married in the temple, and if I wasn't going to live my life worthy to go there with her she needed to move on to greener pastures. Well we had a fight over this issue because I was upset that she could not just love me for who I was.

After we fought that night I had what I would still consider to be a spiritual experience. She was sitting in my truck crying as I drove her home, and I looked over at her and something hit me, I just had the overwhelming feeling that I was throwing away the best thing that had ever happened to me. By the time we arrived at her house I had decided that I would give her way a try rather than lose her, but I gave her no guarantees. At this time I was drinking quite heavily and smoking cigarettes. (She never had done any of the above, and it is amazing to me that we ever fell in love, but that is another story!)

Well, not surprisingly, as soon as I started going to church and getting more involved with learning more about the "gospel" I felt an acceptance from her family and from my own that I had not felt for a very long time. This felt good, suddenly my parents trusted me again! (All because I attended church.) And her aunt and uncle and grandparents embraced me. I was accepted! Wow, suddenly all these people liked me. I was part of the norm. My partying friends still stuck by me, but thought I was very delusional. I began to pay tithing, and lived the gospel to the best of my ability. Things were going great. I was reading "church approved" books, and was very naive in not even considering any other alternative at this time. I went and got my patriarchal blessing, which is pretty much a fortune telling session.

But the blessing was a very moving experience, I was an 18 year old kid searching for answers and meaning, and this blessing promised how successful I would be on the condition that I remained faithful to "the church". It was that very night that I decided I had to serve a mission. I wanted to marry my then girlfriend but felt that I would be cheating God if I did not first serve a mission. I did not feel that I deserved the blessing of temple marriage unless I could first prove my devotion to God.

The next thing I know I was sitting in the MTC. I remember thinking that I would not last a single day on a mission because I may slip up and swear. I was also naive in thinking that very small sins would get one sent home from their mission. (I was way off base there!) Anyway, my mission was overall a very positive experience. The only thing I really regret was not knowing more about the church before I left.

I do not feel like I "wasted" two years because I learned a great deal about sales and marketing, and interacting with others, and teaching. I guess I also regret being in the position of "returned missionary" in SLC because it makes it even more difficult to express how I feel about the church now. There is a much higher expectation placed on me now than if I had never served a mission. This is unfortunate in a way because it makes it very difficult to make an honest decision.

The main reason I am grateful for having served a mission is that it made me question what I believed. I sincerely believe that without this experience I may never have looked deeper into church doctrines. I want to relate a pivotal experience for me, this is the experience that I feel caused me to begin to question what I really believed.

My companion and I had been teaching a black man the lessons. He happened to be married to a white LDS woman. We had an extremely good relationship with him. Some of my fondest teaching experiences are from working with John. We were almost through the 6 discussions and things were right on track. He was "golden".

Well one day we showed up to teach John and the mood was quite different. He was laughing and joking as usual but things seemed strained. John said that he had spoken with his mother about the church and that she had told him something ridiculous about the church.

He was laughing like he could not even believe what she had told him. Well after a little prodding he came out and said that his mother had informed him that the church had not allowed blacks to hold the priesthood until 1978. He burst out laughing, waiting for us to join in I'm sure. Then he must have seen the serious expressions on our faces.

He stopped and asked if that wasn't the most ridiculous thing we had ever heard. Then we dropped the bomb and told him that this was indeed true. He began to cry out of anger and rage. "When were you planning to mention this???" He asked. That phrase is still burned in my mind. Then he shouted "I will never join a church that has been racist!" and left his own home in tears and we were left sitting on his couch with his now hysterical wife.

My companion seemed to simply write it off by saying that John did not have the spirit or was unwilling to soften his heart to the spirit. I could not deal with this so easily. I asked myself over and over: When was I planning to mention this important bit of information to him?? After he was baptized?? After he had devoted 10% of his income for a few years?? After he had gone through the temple and made serious commitments to the church?? He was certainly never going to hear about it at church.

We had no plan to ever discuss this doctrine with him. Then I pondered the question, if I were a black person, would I accept this gospel?? Would I worship a God who was racist?? Would I worship a God who "punished" or "cursed" people with "skins of darkness"??? It was certainly an easy doctrine to accept if you were white. But I had never considered it from an alternative perspective.

I talked to my mission president and accepted his explanation. I don't even recall exactly what it was, something to do with "Gods ways are not the ways of man" and that "after I died these things would be made clear to me."
I went on with my mission, this question buried in the back of my mind. After all there are members of the church who are black.


They must be able to deal with it some how, and I was sure I would understand at some point. Well as time went on I must say that I became very proud of my abilities to teach the gospel and to use the Bible against the Protestants in the area. (I served in Indiana) I had a sure testimony of the gospel. I felt that the gospel was bullet proof.

Nothing could affect my testimony because I KNEW it was true. I read church books constantly, I truly devoured information about the gospel. I even ended up needing glasses because my eyes became so tired from constant reading! I would wake up an hour early just so I could get more personal study time. I loved learning about the church.

Well at one point we had an investigator who had been given a copy of the infamous "God Makers" book by a friend. I recommended that she let me read it first so that I would be able to show her the errors of the book as she read it. ( I was not afraid to let anyone read anything about the church because I KNEW it was true and I was confident that I could confound any attempts to disprove the church!)

I stayed up all night long reading this book, I was shocked, I had never read literature written against the church. Some of the ideas in that book really hit home! I was scared. Had I been deceived??? I was in tears, I was ready to call my father and ask him to let me come home.
I prayed and prayed for a testimony to know that this book was not true. Nothing came. But the next day I visited a member who had an extensive library of church books and borrowed the book "The Truth About the God Makers" This book pointed out many of the obvious errors in the original book. And I had also realized that many of the things written in the "God Makers" were just outright lies.


This immediately turned me off to the book because it was easy to discount the entire book if they were willing to promote lies. But it did plant some seeds of doubt. And I began to read more about controversial subjects from "church approved" books.
I spent the rest of my mission doubting the gospel. I kept this hidden, except for in occasional interviews with my mission president I considered him to be a great man, and I still do. And when he told me that someday I would understand, I believed him. I wanted to believe, after all I had many spiritual experiences. I had felt the spirit. So these nagging doubts were just a test of my faith. I was certain that I would make it through this with my testimony still in tact. So I continued on with my mission. Trying to avoid phrases like "I know this church is true" to keep my integrity.


Well I made it through the full 2 years, and consider my mission a success, if only an outward success. I "converted" people to the gospel. I toured the mission doing zone conferences and teaching the other missionaries how to teach the gospel. And how to get investigators to "commit" to the church.

My girlfriend had waited the whole time. I came home and it was as if I had never left in a lot of ways. We began dating immediately, and we already knew we were going to get married. I still had my doubts about the church, but still felt that I would eventually reach the point that everyone around me seemed to be at. That point were I would understand, or at least be able to better accept that my doubts would never go away.

Well I was shortly engaged to be married, we were afraid that if we waited too long we would surely sin and become unworthy for temple marriage. Besides, what was the point of waiting we were sure we were destined to be together. I again ignored my doubts. I caved into a lot of social pressure and went through with a temple marriage.

The temple had always made me feel uneasy, even from the first time I attended. Even though I had grown up in the church I was in no way prepared for that bizarre ritual. I remember my dad trying to warn me about how strange it was and my mom got pretty mad at him for talking negatively about the experience. Anyway I remember the feeling of how cultish it was in the temple, hand signals, robes, strange vows and symbols. Swearing to never talk about it. But again, I was convinced that the problem lied within me and that one day I would understand. After all, many of the General Authorities of the church are surgeons and attorneys, they would be smart enough to get out if this was really that bad, right?

I did not have many of the issues surrounding temple marriage that I have read about on the Internet. My entire family is LDS and my wife's family is also. It probably would have been worse for us the other way around. But again, I did not stop to think about this from the perspective of a father of an only child who cannot attend her wedding because he is not "worthy" or a "member". This now seems very insensitive and insulting to me.

Well my wife and I started out lives here in SLC and attended church and paid tithing and the whole nine yards. I began to have discussions at work and at school with people and found many of my old questions about the church resurfacing. I have always had a bit of the "rebel" in me and often associated myself with "non-members" simply because I was interested in their opinions about life. Not to mention that many of the members I knew were self righteous judgmental and boring. I simply did not care for their company.

Well to make a long story short, I opened my mind and started to sincerely re-evaluate what I believed in. The more I studied about the church, the more I doubted it. (This continues to be the trend!) I came to realize that the things I had a testimony about were not original to the Mormon church. I could still be honest, loving, charitable, kind, industrious, and everything else that was good about the church with out being a Mormon. I then realized that all of the things that bothered me WERE original to the church. Polygamy, blacks and the priesthood, the Book of Mormon and the facts that disprove it, Adam God theory, the whole "we are right and everyone else is wrong" attitude, Mormon prophets contradicting each other, the temple ceremony, The Book of Abraham and the list goes on and on.

Towards the beginning of this search I had a temple recommend interview with a member of my ward bishopric. This was really an eye opener! I frankly discussed my feelings regarding the church. He simply told me that I needed to pray about it more. When I explained that I had prayed and fasted regarding these issues, and still felt that God was telling me that certain doctrines were incorrect, he recommended that I pray some more.

So I guess my question is, why should a Mormon even bother to pray? They already have all the answers in the handy dandy lesson books. And if you should choose to pray about an issue, and find that your answer is not in line with what the church teaches, you can rest assured that it is you who is wrong. And that your answer was from Satan and not from God. So again I ask, WHY BOTHER TO PRAY ABOUT ANYTHING??? Remember..."when the brethren speak the thinking has been done". (that little phrase really scares me now)

I finally came to the realization that I could no longer live a lie. This lack of integrity was literally killing me spiritually. I needed freedom from this organization. This has caused a great deal of stress in my life as my wife and family still strongly believe in the church. I am not strongly vocal about my beliefs, but I also do not hide how I feel when asked. I have decided to be honest about this issue and let the chips fall where they may.

I feel a new found freedom, I do not feel that God gave me my intellect for me to ignore it. And when so much of the church caused me to question I knew he would be disappointed in me for blindly following like a sheep instead getting out of something that I no longer believed true. I don't necessarily think the LDS church is evil, although I am beginning to lean that way, I just do not feel that it is for me. I respect a persons right to believe in whatever they wish. I sincerely believe that if Mormonism makes a person happy they should devote themselves to it, personally it did not make me happy.

Sorry for the rambling nature of this letter, but I felt compelled to write it. I just wanted to share how I feel so that others will know they are not alone. I didn't say much about it but it was a life changing experience when I had a heart to heart with my dad and he admitted many of the same doubts.

Without hearing that someone else felt the same way, who was also a Mormon, I am not sure that I would have ever pursued my "quest" to know whether or not the church was really true. I probably would have only continued to doubt my own spirituality and "worthiness". I do know that it is important to know that you are not alone when you are trying to leave an authoritarian organization like the church.

BRAD HUDSON LEFT MORMONISM WHILE ON HIS MISSION FOR THE MORMON CHURCH


I was born and raised in the LDS church. I was a pretty typical "good" Mormon kid -- very active in the ward and in the young people's organizations. I had a very strong testimony, which I shared often.

I entered BYU as a freshman in 1976. I was accepted into a new, experimental program called the honors colloquium. It was an interdisciplinary approach to education, combining subjects that were traditionally taught separately. The professors were definitely "liberal" by LDS standards. One of the first books we read was Juanita Brooks' book on the Mountain Meadows Massacre. The atmosphere was very open, and no subject seemed off limits for critical analysis or discussion.

As part of the colloquium, we were required to prepare a paper as part of a major project. I had heard something about controversies surrounding the Book of Abraham. I wanted to do a paper on the Book of Abraham, and my roommate and best friend agreed to work with me on the project.

To research the paper, I went to the special collections in the BYU library. That was where they kept the "anti-Mormon" literature. Students could not check the material out, probably out of concern that zealous students would destroy it. I also read everything in print by LDS authors on the subject that I could find. I even tried to interview Hugh Nibley, the LDS "expert" on the Book of Abraham, but was rebuffed in a terse conversation in which he told me I shouldn't bother with such things.

We organized the paper by first describing all the criticisms that had been made of the book. We then summarized all the possible explanations and solutions that had been offered by LDS authors. We did no original research -- just summarized everything that we had found.

As we were preparing the paper, my roommate told me that he thought it was very important that we include our testimony that we knew that the LDS church was God's true church and that Joseph Smith was a prophet of God. I felt funny doing this, because I wasn't sure it represented a very scholarly approach to our subject, but I agreed. After all, I didn't want anybody to think we were implying that Joseph Smith wasn't a prophet, did I?

As part of the assignment, we gave an oral presentation to our instructors and fellow students. We did it in two parts -- I think the two parts were on consecutive days. The first session laid out the various criticisms and problems. At the end of the first session, the other students were dumb struck. A few were in tears. After the second, in which we presented the possible "solutions" people were more talkative and seemed to feel better. Our basic conclusion was: we know the truth, there are lots of different explanations to choose from, and we are sure there is an explanation out there somewhere.

At the end of the whole exercise, I felt dishonest. It felt wrong to write a scholarly paper based on the assumption that we already knew the answers. In hindsight, our instructors should have called us on the carpet for our approach. If I recall correctly, we received an excellent grade.

In the fall of 1977, I was called to a mission on the Navajo reservation. My best friend received his call at about the same time. We went to Provo together to go through the temple. I was shocked. Nothing had prepared me for the endowment ceremony. This was in the bad old days before the blood oaths were removed. Did my eternal salvation really hinge on knowing some secret handshakes and phrases? Did my church really believe that all other churches were of the devil? I had lots of questions and doubts, but since we were instructed never to discuss the ceremony outside of the temple, I never voiced them. I just clung to the belief that God must know what he is doing, and trusted him.

I spent several weeks in the Language Training Mission studying Navajo. During this time, I struggled with my testimony. I wanted desperately to believe, but found that my doubts crowded in time and time again. Just when I felt I had taken a step forward, I slid two steps back.

I arrived on the reservation at the start of winter. My mission president was George P. Lee, a Navajo who had been appointed as one of the church's "General Authorities." He was very dynamic and inspirational. He constantly pushed us to do our best for God and for the Navajo people. I was thrilled to have such an inspired man as a mission president. I had one personal interview with him that put me on a spiritual high for days.

Being a missionary to the Navajos was often discouraging to me. They treated us politely, would invite us in, would listen to our lessons, and would send us on our way. Even when someone agreed to be baptized, they seemed to drift away into inactivity in a short while. Our records were full of inactive Navajo members. We baptized a few young children and one of my companion's parents. But the conditions on the reservation were very depressing, and I constantly struggled with the question of whether we were doing any good for the people.

In my second area, we lived in a small apartment in the back of a laundromat behind a trading post. The trading post was run by church members, who were very kind to and supporting of the missionaries. They also had a copy of the documentary history of the church, which they lent to me. I started reading it during my scripture study time. I made it through the first five volumes.

The more I read, the more problems I found with the church. I began to realize that the church of which I was a member bore little resemblance to the organization founded by Joseph Smith.

As winter turned to spring, our efforts turned to "placement baptisms." At that time, the placement program was the LDS church's major effort to bring Lamanites (the LDS term for Native Americans) into the church. Children were taken from the reservation into LDS family homes throughout the country to attend school. Many Navajo parents wanted their children to participate as a means of getting them away from reservation and into what they perceived to be a better environment.

There was one catch......to participate, you had to be a church member. So, every spring, lots of children would be baptized so that they could participate in the program. We were told that the previous year there had been 900 placement baptisms. The mission was very gung ho with this program, but there was little discussion of the impact of separating children from their families and their cultural heritage for three fourths of every year.

President Lee gave us a stirring speech on placement. He stressed to us that conversion continues during placement, so we should not hold people out of the program because they weren't really converted. We shouldn't worry about whether they really have a testimony before baptizing them. If they applied and were doing well in school, our orders were to baptize them. If we pushed the program, we would help fulfill the promise in the Book of Mormon that the Lamanite people would "blossom like a rose."

The more I read from the church history, the worse I felt. The more I studied, thought and prayed, the more problems I found with the church and what it claimed to be. I started compiling a list of problems. It became harder and harder for me to go out and teach. When I got to the part of a lesson where I had to bear my testimony (even memorized in Navajo), my stomach would tighten into a knot. I became physically ill and couldn't go out to teach.

Finally, I realized that I couldn't do it anymore -- tell people that I knew the church was true when I had such serious doubts. I felt like I was in a fog, and I didn't know what to do. I wrote this in my Missionary Journal:
I took Wednesday for a huge personal inventory. I went across the little footbridge that spans the San Juan River, took my "problem list" of things that I had found out about the church that disturbed me. I wanted to come to a decision. I was tired of putting up a front. I was teaching things, not only that I didn't know were true, but even had serious doubts about. I was lying to myself, the people and God. That's a crummy way to live.

I had, many times, when I reached the testimony bearing part of a discussion, gritted my teeth and said to myself "Here goes another lie." I was a good actor in high school -- I think the training helped. I could fool everyone -- almost all of the missionaries thought I was strong. Yet I couldn't fool two important people -- myself and God. So -- something had to change -- I couldn't keep going like that anymore.

I sat out in the bright sun, by the river, with the biggest, hardest, and most significant decision of my life before me. One the one side was staying -- a good life in the church, a chance to serve, almost all of my friends, [my girlfriend], the respect of my home ward, my grandparents, BYU, the church values and standards. Then there was leaving -- a loss of all those things, an insecure future ... but also a facing up to all of those questions, doubts and fears and a renewal of integrity that I hadn't experienced in a long time.

I took my list -- prayed hard to God for wisdom, guidance, and courage, and looked carefully at each item. I said to myself "Is this basis enough to discard friends, values, a whole way of life?" I had, I think, 27 items on the list. After three I knew the answer -- I had to go. I laughed and almost cried as the relief and peace flooded into my soul. I stood on the bridge, staring up the river, knowing I was going home, knowing that God would take care of me.

In practice, leaving my mission wasn't quite that simple. I was lucky because my parents were also having their doubts about the church. I called my Dad and told him about my problems. He told me "Just be honest with yourself, do what you know is right." I was getting cold feet and told him I wasn't sure what I would do and told him I didn't need him to do anything yet. After a couple of days I realized that I was just stalling, and called to ask him to drive out from California to pick me up. When I called, I learned that he had left two days before and would be there that night. My mom said that he "just knew to come."

But I was pretty well conditioned by authority, so I was determined to leave through official channels. I called my zone leaders and told them I was leaving and that I wanted to see President Lee. They said to drive down to meet with them, as President Lee was in Salt Lake for General Conference. The mission assistants also drove up to meet with me. I spent two hours talking to them. They tried to persuade me to stay.

They told me that I was going off blindly, that I had no plan. They had a plan. I would be transferred to the mission home, where I would study the Book of Mormon and try to regain a testimony. I couldn't explain all my doubts to them, but simply told them I didn't believe and I couldn't be a missionary any more. They didn't understand.

We returned the next day because President Lee wanted to speak with me on the telephone. The missionaries that had been friendly and cajoling the day before were stone faced and tense.

A definite wall had gone up between us. President Lee called, and my diary records what happened next:
He started with reminding me all that Jesus Christ had done for me, he lived and died for me -- and now I was turning my back on him, and kicking dust in his face. That's what he kept saying over and over -- that I was kicking dust in the face of Jesus Christ. That hurt -- but what could I say?

First, he said he would come right down. Then he wanted me to wait until Wednesday so he could give me a priesthood blessing.

He asked me why I was leaving -- and I told him. He didn't believe me -- told me that that was just an excuse. Wanted to know why. He couldn't accept that I just didn't believe in what I was doing. He said that Satan had led my father away, and through my father was leading me away.

He told my that I was making things worse. He warned me against planning on repenting later, that I was almost throwing away my chance to go to the Celestial Kingdom and become a God.

He offered me every out: a new area, a transfer to the English side [of the mission], a respite in the mission home, a different mission. I turned them all down.

He said "Do you want to talk to President Kimball? Would it help?"

I said that I would -- but it probably would not help.

He asked me if it would help to talk to him. I said that it probably wouldn't (after all, we were talking then).

Events took a definite turn for the worse.

He said "It sounds like your mind is already made up -- before you even talked to me."

I said "I think it is President."

He then said something that still rings in my head -- and will for a long time.

"Elder Hudson, by the authority of the Melchezedic Priesthood, and in the name of Jesus Christ, I command you not to leave the mission. [pause] "And if you do, something will happen."

Stunned, I flatly said "What?"

"I'm not telling you Elder, and I say it in the name of Jesus Christ, Amen"

Click.....

My brain exploded and my soul cried out that this was wrong. This shouldn't be happening. The only things this man of God had used to "persuade" me to stay were guilt and fear. I told the assistants what had happened, and they were stunned. They said I must have misunderstood.

They called President Lee back. I did something he had asked me to do -- I prayed. It only took a couple of minutes, and any lingering hesitation or doubt fled. I was leaving, and there was no question about it.

The assistants came back in and told me that President Lee had instructed them to go on about their work and not attempt to counsel me anymore. We did have a last prayer, and I said a tearful goodbye. My father asked me if I was sure that I wanted to leave, warning me that I would probably be excommunicated. I told them it didn't matter.

President Lee was right -- something did happen.

The last thing in my missionary diary is a newspaper article titled "Mormon Elder Excommunicated." The funny thing is, the article isn't about me. It is about George P. Lee. It says he was excommunicated for "apostasy and other conduct unbecoming a member of the church."

A couple of years ago I drove past the trading post. Well, now it's just a gas station and the laundromat has been torn down. The footbridge is still there, although there are a few planks missing. I looked up the river, and could still feel the peacefulness that filled me when I realized that the church was not teaching the truth, that I didn't believe, and that I had the courage to face the truth no matter what the consequences. The most important lesson I learned from the LDS church is that living a lie is actually a slow, painful spiritual death. It is much better to face the truth and live.

Brad Hudson

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